venerdì, dicembre 26, 2014

 

Christians in Lebanon and Iraq feel abandoned by the West

By Sydney Morning Herald
Christopher Prowse
*

Last week I was part of a delegation of seven bishops who visited Beirut in Lebanon and Erbil in northern Iraq. We went to offer spiritual and material support, to see the situation for ourselves and listen to their needs.
We encountered exceptional hospitality and kindness.  The people were so happy we had come to be in solidarity with them.  Upon hearing of Australia's own experience of terrorism in Martin Place in the hours before we arrived in the Middle East, they immediately offered their own solidarity with us.
We met with senior church and government officials, but we also met with ordinary people including people forced out of their homes by Islamic State militants. In the last six months more than 125,000 Christians have fled Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq. A similar terrible fate has fallen on Muslim, Yazidi and other groups in the same area.
There were the two elderly Catholic women for example, from Mosul in Northern Iraq who initially refused to leave their homes.  The militants gave them three impossible choices: convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax or flee.  Ultimately, they chose to leave but were not allowed to take anything with them.  Punishment was death.
In another example, there was the young Syrian couple with a baby.  They came over to greet me at a gathering at Caritas Lebanon, in Beirut.  They seemed so serene and trusting of God despite their precarious situation.  I thought of Joseph and Mary when they had to flee to Egypt with their baby son, Jesus.
The Lebanese Catholic leaders were delighted with the visit of the Australian bishops. Lebanon's population has surged by one third with refugees mainly from Iraq and Syria, placing great pressure on the country and its infrastructure. The Lebanese feel the plight of their people and the refugees has been forgotten by the world, because they are not in a conflict zone.
We also met with Erbil's Archbishop Bashar Warda, who has led a remarkable effort to resettle displaced people in tents, caravans, apartments, along with education and health.
One of his priests, Fr Douglas Bazi, greatly impressed me.  As his "new" parishioners were offering testimonies of the terror that eventually drove them to the safe haven of his parish, he was looking on keenly.  His non-verbal attentiveness to their sharings, his empathy in their every expression, sorrow, and his encouragement made me comprehend this shepherd's great love of his sheep.
In absolutely every place we visited, there was a Christmas crib.  So many of the cribs in Iraq were made of tents, just like the ones used in the re-settlement camps in Iraq.
It made me recall a conversation I had with one of the bishops.  He said that the main question asked by the displaced is "Where is God in all this?"  He answered by saying that God had never left them in their struggles.  God was present in the tents.  Having the Holy Family placed in one of their tents generated much devotion and deep Christian hope amongst the despairing.
These displaced people and refugees live in very difficult conditions. They are losing hope of ever returning to their homes. They are worried for the future of their children when all their resources must be put to survival, not education.
The delegation of Australian bishops have made a commitment to help support 1000 displaced or refugee families to Easter 2015. It is not enough, but it is a start. To fund this action Australia's bishops designated  December 7 as a national day of solidarity and prayer for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Donations can be still made through local Catholic churches. The money will be distributed to people through local bishops and priests and Caritas Lebanon.
We also ask Australia's government, in solidarity, to increase the refugee intake so we can accept more refugees from Lebanon and Iraq. However, most want to return to their homes when safe to do so. The dramatic decrease of the Christian population in the Middle East is unprecedented and a cause of great concern.
Who could blame those many Christian people in Lebanon and Iraq who feel forgotten and abandoned by the West? The visit by my brother bishops and I was just a first step to proving them wrong.

* Christopher Prowse is Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn

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