To help Syrian refugees, get to roots of war, Melkite archbishop tells EU

Melkite Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, Lebanon, distributes Communion to Syrian refugee families at the Melkite Catholic archeparchy in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in this 2017 file photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Raed Rafei, CNEWA)

By Catholic News Service

BRUSSELS (CNS) — Aside from humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and concrete efforts to help them return to their homeland, the international community should work toward eradicating the roots of wars and violence, an archbishop from Lebanon told members of a political party holding the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, whose diocese is near Syria’s western border, addressed the plight of Christians in the Middle East and Syrian refugees April 3 with the European People’s Party, a conservative and Christian democratic political party.

“Our situation is one of the deepest suffering and trauma,” said Archbishop Darwich, who was born in Syria.

“What is happening in the Middle East today is a chain of events against Christians, unfolding since 2011. All these actions send a message to Christians in the area that they don’t have a safe place anymore,” he said.

“The fact that they became minorities in these countries is not an excuse for anyone to neglect the critical situation they are passing through,” Archbishop Darwich said.

He stressed that Christians have always played a crucial role in the region and strive to foster peace, justice and democracy.

He also noted that Lebanon’s episcopal committee for Christian-Muslim dialogue, for which he serves as president, is “working hard so that religions would find new ways to present their respective creeds as partners allied and not as adversaries.”

“Religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence,” Archbishop Darwich stressed.

As for the refugee crisis, Archbishop Darwich underlined that eight years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita and has the fourth-largest refugee population in the world.

More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living scattered throughout the tiny country among its existing population of about 4 million people. In addition, some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and thousands of Iraqi families dwell in Lebanon.

“The pressure of this situation on the Lebanese hosting community is felt in all sectors, including education, security, health, housing, water and electricity supply,” he said.

Archbishop Darwich noted that his diocese, located about 18 miles from the Syrian border, “had the leading role” in helping displaced Syrians.

“We supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon till today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible” to the international community because they do not live in camps, he emphasized. As a result, he added, the Christians “are always neglected from any support or help.”

However, the archbishop pointed out that the “tragedy of refugees is not restricted to a specific sect because all Syrians have suffered for almost eight years now of a new holocaust.”

Various Catholic agencies such as Caritas members, including Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need have helped the Syrian refugees.

Archbishop Darwich’s diocese is in the Bekaa Valley and provides refugees with help that includes rent assistance, clothing, education, health care, social support and daily hot meals at the diocese’s St. John the Merciful Table.

While acknowledging the humanitarian role many European countries and international nongovernmental organizations have played “in reducing the impact of this long and ferocious war,” the archbishop pointed to the challenge of helping refugees return to their homeland.

Melkite Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, Lebanon, blesses a meal as he visits a Syrian Christian refugee family in their dwelling in his diocese close to the Syrian border. The diocese is helping 800 Syrian Christian refugee families in its area. (CNS photo/courtesy Melkite Catholic Diocese of Zahle)

Archbishop Darwich stressed that refugees’ return to Syria “cannot be realized unless the international community itself provides the means … political and economic help in practical measures. Not only to put an end to their suffering, but also to assist them to contribute in the process of reconstruction.”

“I sincerely believe that the international community is expected to plan for eradicating the roots of wars and violence rather than dealing with their consequences, because great countries are known by great achievements and great deeds,” Archbishop Darwich said.

He added that the international community also must work toward putting an end to poverty, instability, occupation, oppression, fanaticism, fundamentalism and major wars.

“This is not wishful thinking,” the archbishop said. “This is a pure call for generalizing justice among the whole world, and for the implementation of U.N. resolutions. … Otherwise, we will always have to encounter demand for financial and humanitarian aid, because cruelty produces cruelty, and suppression produces suppression in an endless circle of violence and injustice.”

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Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is supported in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA (www.acnusa.org).

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