Deacon educates about agencies' aid to Middle Eastern refugees - Catholic Courier

Deacon educates about agencies’ aid to Middle Eastern refugees

Two Catholic agencies currently are providing bright lights of hope in the otherwise grim landscape of despair in Iraq and Syria.

Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Near East Welfare Association both have workers stationed in the neighboring nations, which have been plagued by what Pope Francis recently referred to as “terrorism of previously unimaginable proportions.”

“It seems that the awareness of the value of human life has been lost; it seems that the person does not count and can be sacrificed to other interests. And all of this, unfortunately, with the indifference of many,” Pope Francis said Oct. 20, according to Catholic News Service.

Syria, once considered the most stable nation in the region, has been torn apart by a civil war that broke out in the spring of 2011. The extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has terrorized Christians and other minorities, killing many and forcing many more to flee their homelands. In many instances, ISIS militants have destroyed the refugee families’ homes and possessions, including their identification paperwork, said Deacon Kevin Carges, a CRS Global Fellow. Through this program, Deacon Carges frequently travels to other countries to witness CRS’ efforts, and when he returns he shares that information through presentations at parishes and schools. Deacon Carges has not traveled to the Middle East, but is offering presentations based on information gathered by his colleague, Caroline Brennan, senior communication officer with CRS.

On a recent trip to the Middle East, Brennan met a Syrian family that was trying to emigrate to Lebanon but was repeatedly denied passage through checkpoints because the mother and father lacked the documentation to prove their infant son actually was their child, Deacon Carges said. There currently are 7 million displaced people within Syria, and 1.8 million have been displaced from Iraq, according to Deacon Carges. Many of these refugees are living outdoors in tents, below highway underpasses or on church grounds. Before fleeing their homes, many Christians lived comfortable, middle-class lifestyles, added Michael La Civita, CNEWA’s chief communications officer.

“They went from being leaders in the community, being doctors and nurses and community leaders … to now they’re living in basements of shopping malls or in tents or in courtyards. They’ve lost everything,” La Civita said.

Christians in both Iraq and Syria tended to be well-educated, and because of this and ties with relatives who moved to the West, these Christians represented a “living bridge” between the East and the West, he added.

“They’re a moderating influence in a region that seems to be dominated these days by extremism. A Middle East bereft of its moderates would be a very dangerous place for sure. It isn’t just the moderate Christians that are leaving. It’s also moderate Muslims and moderate Jews,” La Civita said.

Both CRS and CNEWA are working to help those displaced by violence and extremism by providing such basic necessities as food, water, clothing, medical care and psychological treatment to the refugees, many of who have experienced great trauma. An alarming percentage of the children whose families have fled from ISIS forces, for example, are displaying signs of depression and post traumatic stress disorder, Deacon Carges said.

American Catholics thus far have been extremely generous in their support of their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, noted both Deacon Carges and La Civita. Locally, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano asked parishes in the Diocese of Rochester to take up an extra collection during the month of September, with the proceeds from the collection going toward CRS’ efforts in the Middle East, said Deacon Carges, who also serves at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.

Individuals also can help those suffering in the Middle East by following Pope Francis’ example and fervently praying for peace, La Civita said. They also actively seek out information about the crisis in Iraq and Syria and, armed with this knowledge, they can urge their elected officials to take action, he added.

Deacon Carges is willing to visit any parishes or schools that would like to learn more about the issue, he said.

“It’s a story that needs to be told, so I’m willing to go anywhere,” he noted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Deacon Carges may be reached at

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