By DOREEN ABI RAAD, Catholic News Service | Published February 5, 2015
BEIRUT (CNS)—Officials of a pontifical aid agency said they saw much that needed to be done in Lebanon—if they could get beyond crisis mode.
Economically strapped Lebanon is now hosting more than 1.5 million refugees—mostly Syrians—putting a strain on the country’s infrastructure and resources for its existing population of around 4 million people.
“So much of our energy is a crisis intervention status, keeping people from starving, from freezing to death with these cold spells, keeping people from getting very sick and even dying from simple maladies and physical problems that can develop into something serious,” said Msgr. John Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
“But because of the uncertainty of the (refugee) crises, we have to look at what will be the next level of assistance. … There’s housing issues, educational issues, longer-term health issues, post-traumatic issues,” he said, adding that counseling is needed for children that have been through “horrible” circumstances.
Msgr. Kozar—joined by Carl Hetu, national director of CNEWA Canada, and Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, co-treasurer of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops—spoke with Catholic News Service at CNEWA’s Beirut office about their Jan. 19-23 visit to Lebanon. Before arriving in Lebanon, they visited Jordan; in both countries, they are helping Syrian and Iraqi refugees and the communities that support them.
Iraqi families have continued to flee to Lebanon since the Islamic State purged Mosul and the Ninevah Plain of Christians. In sharing about their meetings with church leaders, the delegation said they learned from Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni that Armenian families from Syria, Iraq and Turkey are also seeking refuge in Lebanon, requiring the patriarchate’s help for relief services.
As the crisis in Syria and Iraq lingers, more help is needed, they said.
“We are in a posture of extreme gratitude to our donor public, the wonderful, generous people in Canada and the USA that have responded,” said Msgr. Kozar. “And we want them to know they are making a huge difference, but please don’t stop, because there is so much more that we need to do for all the Middle East.”
Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, New York City-based CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe to identify needs and implement solutions.
“We show our solidarity at every level with heads of the church, various patriarchs, church leaders, church providers, the religious congregations that provide marvelous—sometimes heroic—service, laypeople, also and the (CNEWA) staff here working amazingly in reaching out to the thousands of thousands of refugees,” Msgr. Kozar said.
The delegation’s itinerary in Lebanon included visiting a school run by the Good Shepherd Sisters for refugee children in Deir al-Ahmar in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border, and meeting refugees in a nearby tent settlement camp. There they experienced firsthand the sisters’ witness of God’s love to the mostly Muslim refugee population.
“They just have this radiance of love that’s infectious,” Msgr. Kozar said of the sisters.
Bishop Gendron credited the sisters for the welcoming way the refugees accepted the delegation and invited them into their tents.
“They realized that they are being loved,” he said of the refugees. “And so it opens up all doors.”
“They were so welcoming, they were so happy to have us to come in the tent and have tea with them. And that’s so important to keep people’s dignity,” said Hetu.
“They always thanked us. But before leaving they also said, ‘Don’t forget us,’“ Msgr. Kozar said.
The delegation said the Catholic organizations and agencies—CNEWA, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas—cooperate with each other and complement one another in their relief efforts.
“And that has been the strength of the church: We are able to pull our resources together to talk to one another, whether it’s in Jordan, Lebanon or Iraq,” Hetu said. “It shows the church at its best.”