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Praying with Refugees in Syria
Thursday, September 01, 2011

A family of refugees from Iraq now living in Syria. Both children are handicapped. The greatest anxiety experienced by Iraqi refugees, who have been welcomed in their hundreds of thousands into Syria, is the fear their host nation will become another Iraq. (Peter Balleis, S.J. — Jesuit Refugee Service)
By Anne Ziegler
Assistant Project Director, Aleppo, JRS Syria

(Aleppo, Syria) September 1, 2011 — Since the beginning of this year, the situation in a number of Arab countries (including Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Lybia, Syria and Bahrain) has changed considerably — caused in great part by popular political movements. This has not only led to changes in the political regimes or bloody confrontations, but has also created much forced displacement of peoples.

In some of these countries — such as Libya, an important transit point for Europe-bound Africans — migrants have occasionally been the focus of attack, and thousands of workers from neighbouring states have been forced to return home, without jobs or any means of subsistence. Refugees and migrants have seen their precarious situations worsen due to political and economic uncertainty, affirmations of ethnicity, and periodic outbreaks of violence.

The greatest anxiety experienced by Iraqi refugees, who have been welcomed in their hundreds of thousands into Syria, is the fear their host nation will become another Iraq, a country almost completely disintegrated and made prey to random bombings, killings and kidnappings.


Reflections for Prayer

The 'Arab Spring' has an extremely varied combination of causes and motivations, and each country faces its own specific reality. The interests of particular national and international groups, which can only lead to injustice and disorder, coexist alongside the legitimate demands of populations.

Upon arrival in Syria, I was shocked to learn this country had welcomed in as brothers and sisters more than one million Iraqis, granting them free access to primary and secondary education and primary healthcare services.

All this is despite the fact that Syria is far from being a rich country, and has also suffered the consequences of several years of drought. "Ahlan wa sahlan" (welcome) are certainly the words I have heard used most here in the Middle East, where there is a thousand-year-old tradition of hospitality and peaceful co-existence.

This generosity is only possible when everyone and every language, faith and ethnic community feels respected for who he or she is, and is recognised as a benefit to all. Exclusions and generalisations sooner or later lead to frustrations, tensions — whether at national, regional, global level — which open the door to violence.

Let us pray that this tradition of welcome and hospitality regains all its former strength, and that the other is once again welcomed as a brother or sister, that overtures take precedence over recoil and rejection, and that a spirit of cooperation and mutual trust is rebuilt little by little.

Finally, may the Lord continue to strengthen JRS projects in the Middle East so that they may truly be places of peaceful coexistence, where people celebrate together and overcome paralysing fears.


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Suggested Reading for Prayer

Genesis 18:1-8

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot.

Looking up, he saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: "Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.

Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.

Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way."

"Very well," they replied, "do as you have said."

Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, "Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls."

He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.

Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.