“They are living in tents without bathroom, without water and without anything.” —May El Hachem of Rome’s Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital, speaking at a Vatican press conference today about the plight of Syrian refugees, many of them children. The doctor spoke as part of a panel announcing the launch of a special Vatican-led task force to bring medical care to the refugee children who have found safety in camps in Lebanon
Pope Francis Acts
From words to action.
Eight months into his papacy, Pope Francis is not slowing down at all; in fact, he is picking up the pace.
The day after Francis issued his first major expression of his “vision” for the Church as a source of joyful missionary work throughout the world, and two days after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and agreeing with him that the victims of the civil war in Syria need humanitarian aid, the Vatican announced the creation of a special team to go immediately into areas of Lebanon bordering Syria to bring humanitarian medical assistance to thousands of children living in refugee camps.
The team should be on site in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, bordering Syria, by early December.
Coming immediately after the Francis-Putin meeting in the Vatican on November 25 — where, according to a Vatican press communique, both men agreed on the need for peaceful initiatives in the Middle East to head off the possibility of a wider regional war — the announcement of this “Special Vatican Mission” on behalf of the refugee children of Syria is the first new, concrete initiative of Pope Francis to bring his personal charity, so well known now around the world, to bear on the concrete situation of children made homeless by the Syrian civil war.
At a Vatican press conference today to announce the creation of this special team, the Vatican official in charge of charitable initiatives on behalf of the poor throughout the world, Cardinal Robert Sarah (photo, from 2012), the head of the Vatican’s “Cor Unum” (“One Heart”) office, said the emergency mission will get underway in Lebanon in the first days of December.
The Vatican team will be stationed in the Bekaa Valley, bordering on Syria, where thousands of Syrian refugees have fled from their country’s civil war.
Sabah said the mission must be seen in the context of Christmas, which is now drawing near.
“The holy feast of Christmas is drawing near,” Sabah said. “It is a period in which unfortunately consumerism often overshadows the message of the proclamation of the birth of Christ. We believe that the most beautiful gift that we can give to help the children who suffer due to the Syrian war is that they rediscover their smile and are able to continue to live, accompanying them in a growth that must be not only material, but also and above all spiritual and humane.”
The funds currently available for the mission will allow the team to work for about three months, providing medical care to between 3,000 and 4,000 homeless children who are at risk of disease, officials said.
The “health mission for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon” is being promoted by Cor Unum, by the Rome children’s hospital Bambino Gesù (“The Child Jesus”) and by Caritas of Lebanon. Speaking at the press conference were Cardinal Sarah, Prof. Giuseppe Profiti, President of the Bambino Gesù hospital, Padre Simon Faddoul, President of Caritas in Lebanon and Dott.ssa May El Hachem, head of Dermatology at the Bambino Gesù children’s hospital.
Cardinal Sarah will himself travel to Lebanon from December 4 to 8 to follow the launch of the project by Caritas of Lebanon.
The project will be based in the town of Deir El-Ahmar, a predominantly Christian village in Lebanon, and will work in the surrounding refugee camps and in Muslim villages as security permits
Sarah said more than 2 million Syrians have become refugees in recent years, with some 800,000 in Lebanon. He said 52% of the refugees are less than 17 years of age.
So the majority of them are children.
More than $78 million has been contributed by Catholic groups around the world to help the victims of the Syrian crisis. This aid has been distributed in Lebanon, in about 20 Syrian villages, and also in Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, and Armenia. Some 60 groups are working in the region, supported financially by 43 institutions.
In Russia, Similar Concern for the Christian Presence in the Middle East
Meanwhile, in Moscow, center of Russian Orthodoxy, and of considerable interest in the wake of Putin’s visit to the Vatican on Monday, Patriarch Kirill today expressed concerns about exodus by Christians from Iraq, according to Interfax, the news agency of the Patriarchate. Kirill spoke at a meeting with the Iraqi Ambassador to Russia, Ismail Shafiq Muhsin.
“We know that Christian communities have been subjected to violence,” Kirill said. “Very many people have been killed just for being Christians. Many people have left Iraq under the threat of death. We believe it is in a way a catastrophe for civilization because Christians and Muslims have always lived in peace on the territory of your country.”
A Moving Video on the Syrian Refugee Crisis
The Rome-based news agency Rome Reports today released a moving report on the plight of the estimated 2 million of Syrian refugees.
Editor’s Note: I wanted to thank the “Founding Members” of our “Urbi et Orbi Foundation,” aimed at working to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox. We seek further support. –Robert Moynihan
Please Consider Reading This New Book on Pope Francis
Entitled Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope from the Americas, this new book on Pope Francis by Robert Moynihan, the author of these letters, was released on April 30 by Random House.
Pray for Me is geared toward those who would like to accompany Pope Francis on his journey of faith in the months and years ahead.
Here are links where you can order the book:
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“Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” –St. John of the Cross