While the international community can’t seem to find solutions to the current crisis ravaging the Middle East, thanks to the media it’s caught the world’s attention and can’t be ignored, Pope Francis said.
He referred to the “overwhelming human tragedies” taking place in Iraq and Syria as a result of ongoing conflicts, which have caused millions to flee their homes.
The Pope’s words were addressed to participants in a Sept. 17 meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum to address the current humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria.
He said that Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are bearing the brunt of the weight, having received millions of refugees, he noted, saying they have been generous in welcoming those seeking to escape violence.
“Faced with such a situation and conflicts that are expanding and disturbing in an alarming way the internal and regional equilibrium, the international community seems unable to find adequate solutions while the arms dealers continue to achieve their interests.”
However, unlike in the past, the terrible atrocities and human rights violations which characterize the conflicts “are transmitted live by the media. Therefore, they captured the attention of the whole world.”
“No one can pretend not to know!” Francis said, adding that in his view, it’s obvious to see that those most affected by the wars are the poor. A non-violent solution is needed, “because violence only creates new wounds,” he said.
In attendance at the Cor Unum were several Middle Eastern bishops and representatives of various Catholic charitable organizations who work in the region. Among them were Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of Cor Unum; Msgr. Alberto Ortega Mart?n, Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Msgr. Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria and Bishop Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo.
Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, was also present.
Pope Francis urged attendees not to miss their “vital commitment” in caring for both the spiritual and material needs of the most weakest and most defenseless, particularly families, children and the elderly.
In Iraq and Syria, he said, evil doesn’t just destroy buildings and infrastructure, but also and especially “the conscience of man.”
“In the name of Jesus, who came into the world to heal the wounds of humanity, the Church feels called to respond to evil with good by promoting an integral human development,” the Pope said, and encouraged Catholics to strengthen intra-ecclesial ties and collaborative efforts.
“Please: do not abandon the victims of this crisis, even if the world’s attention were to lessen.”
According to United Nations, so far more than 200,000 people have been killed and over 1 million injured since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011. And 8.6 million people are currently in need of immediate humanitarian assistance in Iraq, while in Syria the number is 12.2 million.
Those internally displaced by violence number 7.6 million in Syria and 3.2 million in Iraq, while 4.1 million Syrians alone have fled since 2011, and are taking refuge in neighboring countries.
United Nations statistics show that currently there are 1.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon and more than 600,000 in Jordan.
An annual survey carried out by the Information Focal Point – formed by several Catholic aid agencies in 2014 and which is based at Cor Unum – Church entities in 2014 raised $126 million for humanitarian efforts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus, the countries involved in the survey.
While funding has gone up to $150 million so far in 2015, participants in the meeting expressed concern that the trend won’t last long, and that donors will soon tire of continuous giving.
The extent that aid reaches is widespread, ranging throughout almost the entire crisis areas, including internally and externally displaced persons, as well as areas that are risky and hard to access.
Organizations contributing to the survey note that the aid is distributed via at least 2,000 professionals and 5,000 volunteers, in addition to the volunteers, priests, and religious who work daily within dioceses and communities.
Key areas of intervention have been education, food aid, assistance in non-food items, healthcare and rent and shelter. Areas deemed insufficiently covered in the 7 countries covered by the survey were education, livelihoods, psychological and social support and rent and shelter assistance.
Priorities for the future were identified as education psychological support for children and families, healthcare, food aid, livelihoods and rent and shelter.
In comments made to CNA/EWTN News, Sept. 17, Msgr. Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, said that the Pope’s words on putting a stop to the arms trade hit on the essence of what needs to change if the current conflicts are to come to an end.
“I think it’s at a critical point to stop the flow of weapons to the Middle East,” he said, and cautioned that after years of war, “hate is gaining and gaining in the hearts of people.”
“People, they don’t trust each other. There is too much hate,” the nuncio continued, adding that “everybody sees this happening.”
“I think the international community must multiply the efforts in order to convince or to oblige the conflicting parties to see that they are able to reach some compromises.”
Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, told journalists during the conference that working with Catholic charities has been crucial in getting aid to those in need, thanks to the vast network they have.
Speaking to CNA/EWTN News, he said that the Catholic Church “has got a vast network, and it’s that network of people deep in their communities who have been there for generations who really know what is going on locally.”
He stressed the need to listen “very carefully to the expertise, the knowledge, the experience” of those who have been on the ground locally for generations as well as the charities that offer support from abroad.
“So it’s been a very, very important discussion to look at the intensifying of our partnership with such a strong network, as clearly the Catholic Church and the Catholic charities represent.”
By Elise Harris