Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 26, 2008
Help besieged Iraqi Christians settle in the peaceful West
Vulnerable refugees need many countries to open their doors
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
The Syrian government has treated all Iraqi refugees equally, and allowed them access to public schools.
About one million Iraqi Christians lived there before the start of the war. Up to half of them have fled. Those living as refugees are experiencing dire poverty and many have suffered violence. Living as many as 20 to a small room, they cannot afford rent.
Some European countries like Germany are looking at opening their doors to vulnerable Christian refugees.
Bishara hoped to personally urge Ottawa government officials to do the same, but an uprising by opposition groups, spearheaded by Hezbollah, prevented him from leaving Lebanon. Militias shut down the airport, the seaport and the road to Syria with burning tires and debris.
While Bishara advocates resettlement as the only option for Iraqi Christians, he urged support for Christians in other Middle Eastern countries so they can maintain communities that have existed since Biblical times.
"We should not allow a Middle East with no Christians," he said. The land where Christ was born should not become a mere tourist attraction where people can view the remains of churches and convents.
"Christians have an important role to play as they have always done."
Christians in Lebanon play a unique role in the Middle East. They form an estimated 40 per cent of the population, the highest proportion of Christians in any country in the region. Though Christians are more numerous in Egypt, they form only 10 to 15 per cent of that country's 77 million people there.
In Syria, the government treats Christians relatively well.
"They have lots of freedoms," he said. The Syrian government has treated all Iraqi refugees equally, and allowed them access to public schools. However, there are not enough places in the schools.
Christians are free to build churches. The government even gave the Greek Orthodox and the Melkite Catholics a free piece of land.
In Egypt, however, Catholic or Orthodox Copts must obtain a permit to repair a church's crumbling facade and permission may take years, he said.
CNEWA supports both the Catholic and Orthodox Copts. "We are a Catholic organization, but we see both Christians as one," he said. Many are poor, living in remote regions.
CNEWA also supports the formation of priests at seminary, the formation of religious sisters and orphanages run by religious congregations.
In Lebanon, CNEWA helps needy people affected by war, with projects focused on maintaining a Christian presence in the country, especially in remote villages.
Throughout the Middle East, CNEWA's support goes directly to Christian families through income generating projects, or the building of water reservoirs or concrete irrigation canals. Even $5,000 or $6,000 can make a difference for several families who depend on agriculture for their living, Bishara said.
"We found out that this is the best way to at least put down the rate of immigration of Christian families," he said.
CNEWA (www.cnewacanada.ca) helps raise funds for these projects. CNEWA is a pontifical mission of the Holy See.
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