Extreme charity: How beleaguered Syrian Christians are helping those who are ‘worse off’

The president of Caritas in Syria, Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, is in Rome this week. Michelle Hough of Caritas Internationalis spoke with the bishop and she asked Catholic News Service to share with its readers his reflections that she wrote down and compiled about what the Syrian people are going through. 

By Bishop Antoine Audo 

ROME, Italy — Last year – 2014 – really was the hardest of all for those of all us who live in Aleppo. The level of destruction in the city reached its peak. Rockets were raining down on us, we often didn’t have electricity or water and the nights chilled us to the bone.

But we must avoid complaining. When I gave my homily at the beginning of Lent, I told people, “I really can’t talk to you about fasting as we’re always fasting. But you have to remember that there’s always someone worse off than you.”

We must focus on visiting the sick, elderly and lonely. As Caritas, we work on projects, but I’ve told the staff that we must personalize as much as possible what we’re doing and visit specific people every single day. It’s just like what Pope Francis says – we need to come out of ourselves and go to the existential peripheries.

syria camp turkey

Syrian refugees warm themselves around a fire Dec. 3, 2014 in Ankara, Turkey. (CNS photo/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

Caritas Syria is there to help all Syrians of all faiths across the country. We work in six regions: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Littoral, Horan and Jasiré. We help people through programs which provide food, medical assistance, educational support, help with paying rent, help of the elderly and counselling.

Not so long ago I came out of my house and there was a Muslim man sitting on the ground outside who had been helped by Caritas. He got to his feet and said, “We know who the Christians are, they are worth their weight in gold!”

Everyone keeps saying that the situation in Syria is like the ones in Lebanon and Iraq, that we need to wait a few years before the war stops. They say that there can be no military solution to the conflict and yet they continue to send arms and to train armed groups. There needs to be a political solution.

People believe because of Daesh and others that this is a Muslim-Christian war, but this isn’t true. Christians are respected by Muslims.

Young people in Syria need to be educated in peace so that they can build and defend it in an Arab and Muslim context. This means by not provoking or humiliating the Muslims and Arabs and by respecting others.

syria rubble

A boy carries belongings Nov. 17, 2014 as he walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in Aleppo, Syria. (CNS photo/Hosam Katan, Reuters)

This war has destroyed whole neighborhoods, without forgetting the booming industries that were in Syria and the farming. Half of Syria’s inhabitants are either internally displaced or are refugees. Eighty percent of the workforce doesn’t work. The rich have left, the middle class has become poor and the poor have become destitute. Many people have become poor and ill because of the insecurity and the near-destruction of the economy.

We are tired and enough really is enough. There is great sadness in Syria at what has happened. It’s difficult for me to think about the hopes for the future of the next generation of Syrians.

syria hug

Anaadi Ahmad, 24, from Babr Amr in Homs, Syria, holds one of her children in 2012 in a tent at an informal refugee camp in Al Four on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. (CNS photo/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

However, we hope to one day build a real sense of citizenship based on the respect of human rights. When this happens, there must be a healthy distinction between politics and religion with religion not being used to the ends of political power.

Syria is a beautiful country with deep roots in history and humanity. It is a place where people of many religions and cultures can live together as a model of human rights and of civilization. It is a country I love.

audo

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, poses for a photo in Dublin Nov. 25, 2014. (CNS photo/Sarah MacDonald)

Bishop Audo was born in Aleppo in 1946 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1969. He was ordained a priest in 1979 and received his doctorate in contemporary Muslim political thought at the Sorbonne University, Paris. He also studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and was a professor at the University of St. Joseph, Kaslik, Lebanon. He was ordained Bishop of Aleppo in 1992. He is president of Caritas Syria and serves as a member of the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue, and Migrants and Travelers. 

 

U.S. government releases song about the danger trains pose to migrants in an effort to stop illegal immigration

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON –- While Central American leaders are attempting to confront the issues causing a flow of unaccompanied minors from leaving their countries, and the U.S. grapples with how to handle the surge, the federal government also has turned to music in an effort to impede illegal immigration.

A migrant travels north toward U.S. on a train in this file photo. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A migrant travels north toward U.S. on a train in this file photo. (CNS photo/Reuters)

As part of a new multimillion dollar “Danger Awareness Campaign,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned the creation of a catchy Spanish song with the aim of discouraging families in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador from sending their children to the U.S. border after crossing through Mexico.

The song titled “La Bestia,” or “The Beast,” begins with the sounds of a train coming closer. As it speeds down the tracks, drums begin to play and the sounds of the locomotive are quickly replaced by a snappy Caribbean beat created by specialized xylophones.

The song tells the story of the “wretched train of death” that carries thousands of migrants each day from Mexico’s southern Chiapas state to cities farther north, where passengers are forced to get off and continue to the U.S. border by other means.

Although many believe that a ride on “The Beast From the South” is the only way to secure a better life for themselves and their families, the song’s lyrics tell a different tale. “With the devil in the boiler,” the train is compared to a menacing snake whose “womb of iron” threatens to swallow riders whole.

Passengers are described as cattle riding to “the slaughterhouse, taking hell’s route within a cloud of pain.”

Although the lyrics may instill fear in the heart of any listener, the song has become a surprise hit in Latin America. Playing on 21 radio stations across Central America, the song depicting the real dangers of migration seems to have won the hearts of many Latino listeners.

But just as the song says that the Beast “does not know about favors,” apparently neither do radio stations — listeners in the Latin American countries are not being told how or why the song was originally devised. Almost a “Truman Show” situation, the only people who seem to have recognized it as propaganda seem to be U.S. journalists.

Many news organizations have contacted the song’s composer, Carlo Nicolau, to ask him how he feels about working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for this mission. “I thought I was going to bed with the Devil,” Nicolau told The Daily Beast, a news and opinion website. “But I’ve learned that a lot of (border control agents) are risking their lives to help people not die.”

What the song’s lyrics leave out is that gang members have hijacked all routes to the train and are charging potential passengers $100 or more to board “The Beast.” In addition, it neglects to mention that passengers are risking robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder.

The most shocking aspect of the song is that it is not the first that the U.S. government has commissioned aimed at potential migrants. In 2009, the Border Patrol released “El Mas Grande Enemigo,” or “The Biggest Enemy,” on a five-song CD that aimed to convince Mexican listeners of the dangers of attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally.

International newspapers report migration situation with blend of truth, hope

Guatemalan migrants deported from U.S. arrive at airport in Guatemala City. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Guatemalan migrants deported from U.S. arrive at airport in Guatemala City. (CNS photo/Reuters)

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON -– Amid all the U.S. news media reports on the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border with the influx of children and adults, we decided to take a look at how the local press in Central America is reporting on the situation.

As gang violence remains rampant throughout El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -– one of the drivers for migrants coming into the U.S. — local newspapers seem to be doing their best to maintain a sense of hope in the articles they publish.

While daily news outlets such as El Universal in Mexico have a duty to report the truth regarding the dangers of migration and the likelihood of deportation, they also attempt to encourage Latin Americans by focusing on small victories in the fight for U.S. immigration reform and increased relief services for migrant populations.

Although U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed his support for increased deportation of migrants in a recent interview with ABC News, El Universal presented a positive twist on the story in a July 14 article titled ‘Congress ready to give more funds.’

“I would definitely pass emergency funding targeted for what’s necessary,” Goodlatte said, “but most of the money that the president is asking for is to continue the process of further transporting these children and adults further into the United States. And that, I think, is what the American people don’t like to see because they know that that is not deterrence and that will result in even more people coming into the country. The projection for next year is 150,000 unaccompanied minors. It’s already projected to be more than 90,000 for the rest of this year.”

Other news outlets have attempted to describe the difficult process of deportation by highlighting the help that individuals receive once they have been returned to their home country. Media also is reporting that various agencies of local governments in Central America are meeting to assess the ongoing situation and discuss solutions.

El Heraldo, a daily newspaper in Honduras, reported a story about the first 18 mothers and 22 children returning to Honduras from the U.S. by focusing on the support that the Catholic and Protestant churches provide for these individuals in a July 14 article.

“We are working to develop a reception plan that first and foremost makes these families feel welcome,” said Ana Garcia de Hernandez, the first lady of Honduras. “In order to do this, we have asked for the support of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, so that each returning flight has that spiritual accompaniment, because these families are enduring a very difficult emotional situation.”

As young children continue to disappear throughout Central America, Prensa Libre, a daily newspaper in Guatemala, showcases stories about kidnapped children being reunited with their families and Pope Francis’ thoughts about the “humanitarian emergency.”

Although all of the Spanish-language papers I read described the suffering that migrants endure as they attempt to flee violence in their home countries, they also featured articles promoting hope and encouraging their people to look forward to peace and security in the future.

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