The Meeting was attended by around 25 Catholic Agencies, out of which 13 were from Caritas in addition to CNEWA, Missio, C.R.S., Oeuvre d’Orient, Order of Malta, Jesuit Refugee Service, Saint Vincent de Paul, International Catholic Migration Commission (I.C.M.C.), A.T.S. pro Terra Sacta, CAFOD and Trocaire.
His Eminence Cardinal Robert Sarah President of Cor Unum led the meeting, and sharing the main podium were His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state; Archbishop Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Damascus; Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary general of Cor Unum; and Father Simon T. Faddoul, consultant.
The conference started with an introductory greeting by Cardinal Robert Sarah, followed by the word of his Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin who reminded the presence of the clear position of the Holy See — consistent since the beginning of the conflict in Syria — on the issue of human dignity and life, regardless of race or religion. The cardinal reiterated that there will be no military solution in Syria and that only through dialogue that peace can be attained. As for the Christians in Syria, Cardinal Parolin said, “Christians are called to build bridges between different communities,” adding that the Christians fear the future and they share the sufferings of their fellow citizens. However, all claims of persecution and news about persons being crucified cannot be accepted as truth without verifications and re-evaluations.
After a general update on the situation in Syria presented by Archbishop Mario Zenari and Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo, president of Caritas Syria, discussions took place regarding methods to share and centralize information to serve as a tool for better coordination between Catholic agencies.
The discussion panel concentrated on three axes.
- The first major axis concerned work inside Syria. The big questions are: What is the mission of Catholic organizations working in Syria? Is the coordination between Catholic organizations enough? How is the progress of Caritas Syria so far? Are there any opportunities for interfaith and ecumenical collaboration in responding to the needs? Finally, what message should Cor Unum convey to the bishops of Syria?
- The second axis concentrated on the information office that was established a year ago and delegated to Caritas Middle East and North Africa to improve coordination among Catholic agencies on regional level. The discussions focused on the work so far achieved and how this center is helping agencies to better understand the overall needs and how to foster coordination. Moreover, clarifying the scope and objectives of this center was evoked to improve transparency and at the same time preserve the privacy of each agency.
- The last session was dedicated to discuss the common priorities, how to respond to the position of the Holy See and how to raise awareness and advocacy for a just and peaceful resolution for the Syrian crisis, and adequate humanitarian response. Finally, the question of improving the role of Catholic organizations in the Middle East at the international platforms to foster the presence of Christian communities affected by the crisis was also a major topic.
CNEWA was represented at the meeting by Michel Constantin, the regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, CNEWA has been very active in responding to the humanitarian needs of the affected Christian displaced families in Syria and Lebanon.
The intervention of CNEWA’s representative focused on the following:
- In response to the mission of the Catholic organizations who are responding to the Syrian humanitarian needs, CNEWA believes that as Catholic agencies our first mission should be walking with the local church and providing help to enable all those heroic persons who are risking their lives and working under high risks in war zones to encourage Syrian Christians to remain in their homeland.
What we need to do is to clearly identify and sort all those who have been active in responding to the needs of the Christian displaced and refugees, inside Syria and in the surrounding countries and to fully support them and most importantly trust them.
We believe that in this exceptional time and difficult situation, there is no time to create new infrastructures either with inactive bishops or through independent agencies; the need is to reach out to the neediest through the existing infrastructure.
- With response to the mission statement mentioned above, we believe that all efforts and activities undertaken by Catholic organizations should be directed and should target the main objective of facilitating and encouraging the Christians to remain in their homeland. Accordingly, Catholic organizations should not of course discriminate between the needy displaced and refugee families, according to their religion or rite. Rather, at the same time while responding to the needs of non Christian families, the reach out should be through the local church or church affiliated institutions for the purpose of showing the real face of Christianity and to make those non Christian families less fanatic and more tolerant with their Christian co-citizens.
CNEWA/Pontifical Mission is already helping non Christian refugees but within this context of a mixed community and through the local church.
- As for the information center, it is very important to disseminate to all Catholic organizations who are willing to share information with others, the terms of reference of this center by answering the following questions:
- Is this center referring to Cor Unum or to the local churches?
- What is the main mission of this center: coordination or sharing information?
- What kind of information is requested from agencies: is it for already implemented programs or also for future plans and allocations?
- Is this center helping the local church and the Catholic organizations to better shape their strategies and efforts through provided information to respond to their main mission of maintaining the Christian presence in Syria and the Middle East?
In a practical terms CNEWA’s representative suggested that and in addition to the information and data collected from different agencies about executed programs and disseminated by Caritas MONA during the past year, the need is to look to the future, and to find out how coordination can lead to better services in reaching all those who are in need. The coordination should be extended to reach different local implementing partners on the ground and to define a clear plan and priority in each area. This type of coordination will give the chance to all Catholic organizations, to pool in this plan, their allocation of funds in a transparent and efficient way. And at the same time they can direct their fundraising efforts towards the uncovered needs.
At the end of the conference, Msgr. Dal Toso, secretary of Cor Unum, summarized the discussions stressing on issues such as reconciliation, fortifying Caritas Syria, developing proposals and projects aiming at revitalizing Christian communities, education, charity and finally the importance of conducting all activities with a personal and human approach.
Following are the recommendations of the conference:
- Concerning the work inside Syria:
- To summarize all contents of discussions and convey to the Syrian bishops and to encourage them to accept accountability and become more efficient and professionals.
- Ask all Catholic agencies working in Syria to meet at least once a month.
- Try to find certain recognition by the Syrian government to different Catholic agencies working in Syria.
- On the regional level:
- Make it clear that the information center confined to Caritas MONA is not a coordination committee but rather an information sharing center.
- To ask Caritas Mona to prepare a term of reference that will be discussed and approved at a later stage.
- It is very important that all Catholic agencies coordinate their advocacy and fundraising efforts to be conceived as one church.
- Concerning the common priorities:
- The reconciliation and peaceful resolution of the crisis is the first priority that reflects the position of the Holy See and we should all work in this direction.
- As for the priority needs: education, health and employment are the most urgent needs at present.
At the end of the conference, Msgr. Toso presented the following three points as points of reflections for coming conferences:
- Consider welcoming some refugees in western countries.
- Take into consideration the huge burden on host communities especially for small nations like Lebanon and Jordan.
- And finally advocacy for promoting peace process especially towards the western countries that are manufacturing and selling arms to Syria.