This Sunday marks the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees. On this day, founded by Pope St. Pius X in 1914, the Catholic Church honors the families around the world who’ve made the difficult but courageous decision to migrate abroad in search of new opportunities and a better life. But we also remember in a special way the refugees who, like the Holy Family, have been forced to flee violence and persecution.
Sunday is a good day to reflect on how, in our lives as Christians, in our communities and in our church, we’re living up to the call of Jesus to welcome the strangers in our midst. And this year it’s an especially pressing question because, according to the United Nations, there are more refugees than ever. Nearly 60 million people across the globe are refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons. That’s the largest number of forced migrants in history.
The plight of refugees is deeply concerning to our Catholic Near East Welfare Association family, from our staff to our generous supporters and partners: the priests, bishops, sisters and lay people of the Eastern churches who live in service to others. As people reaching out to the poor on behalf of Pope Francis, we work in many places marred by conflict, where, tragically, human rights are violated daily. Helping refugees is a major part of what we do. Here are four ways that, together, we are assisting migrants and refugees during the coming year:
Health care. After ISIS captured control of the Christian heartland of Iraq in the summer of 2014, some 130,000 Iraqi Christians took refugee in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. We’ve helped open three medical clinics and two mobile clinics to care for the displaced Christians, Yazidis and other refugees who can’t return to their homes. In 2016, we anticipate the clinics will help about 4,000 people each week.
Food aid. Jordan has been a welcoming safe haven for refugees fleeing their homelands, but deep-rooted fear leads many vulnerable minority groups — including Christians — to avoid the refugee camps. This means they don’t get much-needed assistance from large international relief organizations. Instead, Christians often turn to churches for help.
In Jordan, CNEWA partners with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to provide food tickets to refugee families, who can use them to buy food at grocery stores. The beneficiaries include both Iraqi and Syrian families. The tickets ensure they receive safe, nutritious food, while also upholding their dignity by giving them the freedom to make their own purchasing choices. More than 2,000 children currently benefit from this modest but meaningful program.
Spiritual comfort. Nearly seven decades after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, more than 5 million Palestinian refugees are still under the care of the international community. CNEWA helps Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza, but we also do it in a rather unique place: a refugee camp in Lebanon that’s exclusively for Christian Palestinians. There, we support a small community of three Little Sisters of Nazareth, who are trusted friends, advisors and spiritual counselors to the 500 families of Dbayeh camp. They’re a visible and enduring sign of Christ’s presence to the poor.
Advocating at the United Nations. Officially registered at the United Nations, CNEWA participates in the NGO Committee on Migration, which exists to “encourage the promotion and protection of migrants and their human rights, in accordance with the United Nations charter.”
This year, we’re working with other Catholic and civil society organizations to call attention to the special needs of women with children in the exodus of refugees from war-torn Syria.
In a world with more forced migration than ever before, it’s vitally important for the Catholic Church to be a leader in efforts to relieve the suffering of refugee families.
Thanks to our supporters and collaborators, CNEWA is making a genuine contribution. On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank you for making it possible. But I also want to ask that, as you gather with friends and family this Sunday to celebrate Holy Mass, please offer a prayer for the world’s migrants and refugees.