Jesuit in Homs: Disease ‘has captured some … is knocking on the door’

By Catholic News Service

A man walks along a battered street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, Sept. 19. (CNS/Reuters)

A man walks along a battered street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, Sept. 19. (CNS/Reuters)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — A Dutch Jesuit in the besieged Syrian city of Homs said those who remain are facing shortages of food and fuel — even abandoned homes have no food left.

“Disease has captured some of us and is knocking on the door of others,” said a letter by Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt.

“No food has entered our besieged region for more than 15 months,” said the Jesuit’s letter, dated Sept. 23 and released Sept. 26 by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, with U.S. headquarters in Brooklyn. “For months we were able to rely on local warehouses, but these are now empty.” Continue reading

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Agencies stretching to meet needs of Syrians displaced by civil war

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

Mohammad, 11 months old, is carried by his sister across an informal refugee settlement in late July in Qab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Only about one third of Syrian refugees are living in formal camps. (CNS photo/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

Mohammad, 11 months old, is carried by his sister across an informal refugee settlement in late July in Qab Elias in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Only about one third of Syrian refugees are living in formal camps. (CNS photo/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Governments and nongovernmental agencies are struggling to keep up with the needs and pressures created by the displacement of nearly a third of Syria’s population because of the country’s civil war.

Assistance to the refugees and displaced people is coming from around the world, although resources are thinly stretched.

Representatives of several Catholic agencies that are involved at various levels told Catholic News Service that their programs include helping make sure children can go to school and get help dealing with psychological trauma, as well as providing the basics for survival, such as food, water, housing and medicines.

Resettlement agencies, including Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, are preparing for the possible need for new permanent homes in other countries for thousands — or maybe hundreds of thousands — of Syrians who may decide they can’t go home. Continue reading

Syrian Christians targeted by outsiders, Syriac Catholic leader says

Mourners carry the coffins of three men into a church for their funeral in Damascus, Syria, Sept. 10. The Christian men were killed during a raid by opposition fighters on Maloula village northeast of Damascus. (CNS/Reuters)

Mourners carry the coffins of three men into a church for their funeral in Damascus, Syria, Sept. 10. The Christian men were killed during a raid by opposition fighters on Maloula village northeast of Damascus. (CNS/Reuters)

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Christians in Syria are continuing to be targeted by outside fundamentalist groups who have joined the country’s long civil war, said the head of the Syriac Catholic Church in Jerusalem.

Bishop Boutros Melki, Syriac Catholic patriarchal vicar, told Catholic News Service Sept. 18 that Christians fear that the situation in Syria will become like that in Iraq, where half the Christian population has fled since the American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In an interview after returning from Montreal, where he met with Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the bishop said the historic city of Maaloula, with its ancient churches and monasteries, became the site of fighting between rebel and government forces. Attacks against churches and Christian homes occurred and Christian icons and crosses were destroyed and defamed, he said.

“We can’t accuse anybody, but when we know about such actions we ask ourselves what does all this mean and why?” he said. “We always remember what happened in Iraq. Unfortunately, Iraq is still in a bloody nightmare.”

Several priests as well as bishops have been kidnapped over the past six months and have not been heard from since, he said. At least one priest has been confirmed killed. Christian civilians are also being targeted for kidnappings and shot by militias, he said. Continue reading

Displaced Christians in Lebanon experience a life in waiting

By Doreen Abi Raad
Catholic News Service

A woman clutching a rosary prays for peace in Syria with Lebanese and Syrian Maronites in Jounieh, Lebanon, Sept. 7. Lebanon, with its population of about 3.5 million people, has received more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the largest amount of any country in the region.(CNS/Reuters)

A woman clutching a rosary prays for peace in Syria with Lebanese and Syrian Maronites in Jounieh, Lebanon, Sept. 7. Lebanon, with its population of about 3.5 million people, has received more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the largest amount of any country in the region.(CNS/Reuters)

BEIRUT (CNS) — The misery experienced by Mariam and husband, Ephrem, and their three young children is just one example of hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Middle East, displaced by wars in which they are not participating.

The family’s place of transition is a single room in a run-down building in Beirut. It is a building full of people like them who have fled the war in Syria, all attempting to eke out an existence.

A glimmer of hope momentarily appears in the eyes of Mariam’s neighbors congregating on the stairwells when a stranger accompanies Ephrem to the family’s room on the third floor. That’s likely a reflection of their dream that someday, someone can arrange to rescue them from their misery.

The refugees requested that only their first names be used to protect their identities.

At first, just Ephrem, Mariam and their children lived in the room. But as the situation in Syria worsened, more of Ephrem’s family fled to neighboring Lebanon. Now, seven adults and five children are crammed into the small space. Continue reading

‘Fasting bread’ unites bakery, parishioners in concern for war victims

By Marian Cowhig Owen
Catholic News Service

GREENSBORO, N.C. (CNS) — Flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. With time and heat, a few simple ingredients can become a nourishing loaf of bread. And a community of Catholics in Greensboro is using that bread as an ingredient in a fulfilling spiritual life.

Workers at a Great Harvest Bakery franchise in Greensboro, N.C., prepare fasting bread Sept. 6 for local residents who want to participate in Pope Francis' call for prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. (CNS photo/Dave Vogrinc, Catholic News Herald)

Workers at a Great Harvest Bakery franchise in Greensboro, N.C., prepare fasting bread Sept. 6 for local residents who want to participate in Pope Francis’ call for prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. (CNS photo/Dave Vogrinc, Catholic News Herald)

Spurred by Pope Francis’ call for Christians worldwide to fast and pray for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world, parishioners of Our Lady of Grace Church and other churches in Greensboro are encouraging people to include fasting bread in their spiritual practices.

The use of fasting bread dates back centuries. When undergoing a spiritual fast, the faithful consume only bread and water. Fasting bread is intentionally simple but nourishing; those fasting will still feel hungry, but they won’t be harming their bodies by depriving themselves of nutrients.

“If you’re used to eating a certain amount every day, to eat only bread and water at certain times during the day is suffering,” said parishioner Barbara Markun, who took part in the Sept. 7 fast. “You’ll sacrifice what gives you comfort, for Christ. That propels your prayer to a different level — you’re taking it on physically.” Continue reading

USCCB Administrative Committee echoes pope’s plea for peace in Syria

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While standing in solidarity with the church and people of Syria, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee echoed the plea of Pope Francis that the international community immediately take steps to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Meeting in Washington Sept. 10, committee members said in a statement that a political solution, rather than a military response, was needed to resolve Syria’s 30-month civil war.

“We have heard the urgent calls of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and our suffering brother bishops of the venerable ancient Christian churches of the Middle East. As one, they beg the international community not to resort to military intervention in Syria. They have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation and will have unintended negative consequences,” the statement said. Continue reading

Human rights, religious freedom called necessary to lasting peace

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, speaks Sept. 9 at a conference on "Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land -- That All May Be Free" at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (CNS photo/Edmund Pfueller, Catholic University of America)

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, speaks Sept. 9 at a conference on “Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May Be Free” at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (CNS photo/Edmund Pfueller, Catholic University of America)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Retired Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, back from a recent trip to Jordan, said four essential elements to any long-range peace deal in the Middle East are human rights, religious freedom, an agreement on the Holy Land and forging a “path to peace.”

“The whole question of peace, the whole question of religious liberty, is so important,” Cardinal McCarrick said Sept. 9 at a conference, “Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May Be Free,” at The Catholic University of America.

The university co-sponsored the conference along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.

Cardinal McCarrick said that during his trip to Jordan in early September, he visited the Jordan-Syria border. “You can see the tremendous difficulty” of those fleeing Syria, he said, in light of an ongoing civil war and the specter of a U.S. attack on Syria over reported government use of chemical weapons there. Continue reading