Every one of us has been deeply moved by the images and news accounts of the refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. These men, women and children must leave their homes due to political instability, war, religious persecution, hunger, rape and murder. This is a human tragedy not seen since the Second World War. Children, who should be living in a stable home environment, playing with their friends, getting an education, live in fear and wonder where they will sleep and find food. Some are taken from their families and sold into slavery. Families take perilous journeys in substandard boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek safety in Europe. Many have drowned trying to make that crossing. It is difficult to fathom that this is happening in our day and time.
The chief cause of this human suffering is ISIS. People of all faiths, even Muslims, suffer under their tyranny. Most of the energy of ISIS is directed at cleansing Christianity completely from the area. Mass slaughter of whole Christian communities, beheading of men and women and even mock crucifixions are just part of the ISIS terror campaign. Ancient Christian sights, churches and monasteries, some going back to the 3rd century, are being blown up to wipe out any trace of Christianity.
The suffering is growing worse in Syria since civil war broke out there. In 1991 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Today it is estimated there could be as few as 150,000. A century ago in Lebanon 80 percent of the population was Christian; today it is less than 40 percent after years of strife including the kidnapping of 13 nuns recently.
In response to the refugee crisis, Pope Francis called on European parishes and religious communities to each offer shelter to a migrant family. He also announced that two parishes in the Vatican would each take in a family of refugees. These are concrete examples of our Blessed Lord’s Gospel message that when we clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, we do it for him and we will be called into the kingdom of heaven.
We simply cannot ignore the suffering of these brothers and sisters. Evil has happened in history because good people did not stand up in time to stop it. Sometimes we must all raise our voices in solidarity. Let us, wherever possible, contact our political leaders, those who form public opinion and the media and inform them of the need to raise public awareness of this tragedy and the persecution of Christians in this troubled part of the world.
We can also raise our voices in prayer. Wherever groups gather to pray, whether it is the rosary, a holy hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament or daily mass, let the intention of our suffering brothers and sisters be part of our prayers.
Catholic Relief Services and Caritas have already begun to bring help to these victims who are fleeing from danger. Please be generous and help whenever an appeal is made for donations. A link to CRS can be found on www.cathdal.org. In the past, parishes in our diocese showed true Christian spirit and welcomed families from South Vietnam after the war and more recently, those who fled Hurricane Katrina. May we all show that same spirit in whatever way we can for those suffering today in the Middle East.
May we include a daily a petition to Our Lady, Help of Christians, that she take into her loving embrace our brothers and sisters undergoing such suffering today.
Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas Internationalis, via CRS on Facebook