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Praying with refugees in the Middle East: faith in action
Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Jesuit Refugee Service team visits the home of a woman in Homs, Syria. (Tomy Kilahji / JRS Syria)
(Beirut) March 26, 2015 – At a time of increasing extremism, people drift apart. Consumed by war and subjugated by fear, it is difficult to hold onto hope. As the specter of violence and terror has crept into all of our homes; we must make a great effort not to give in to despair.

January and February brought a grim start to the lives of millions of people in the Middle East. The violence in Syria and Iraq has escalated. Living conditions in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have become more difficult for refugee and local host communities. The bad news seems to flood in non-stop. The cold and bitter winter challenged people's resilience to the elements, and also to the war. The prospect of peace seems further away.

I am often asked if I find working at Jesuit Refugee Service in this environment depressing. In some ways, if I allow it, it can be. The context in which we work is anything but cheerful. It is easy to be overcome with a sense of failure, loss and grief for what we have lost as a worldwide community, for how we have failed the Syrian people.

Usually when I feel that way, something happens – a conversation, an email, a random encounter – to remind me that I am privileged enough to work with people who defy this madness every day. They inspire me, even after four years of the same senseless violence. Across the region, my colleagues are working tirelessly to deliver vital emergency assistance, education, emotional support, care and most importantly, hope, to those who suffer and are threatened by the banality of death daily.

They do so without complaining, without demanding much. They do so because they believe it is their civic duty from one citizen to another. While we are all of different faiths and nationalities, we share a deep belief in our common humanity.

The home-visits teams spend time with people who are suffering intensely. These simple gestures reaffirm a sense of solidarity between people that the war has all but destroyed.  

The children in our projects are taught the value of tolerance, dignity and respect for all, with the hope that as our future generations, they will repair what is now being broken.

Our teachers and staff lead by example, working in teams of mixed backgrounds, religions and ethnicities. Every day, they are the proof that violence and divisive rhetoric is not the only way to exist, nor the way forward for the region as a whole. 

JRS teams in the Middle East carry out their work under immense pressure and often at great risk to themselves and their loved ones. Mothers, fathers, daughters and brothers, they are the embodiment of interfaith dialogue and cooperation. To put it simply, they are faith in action.

Reflections for Prayer
As fear drives up walls between communities of different ethnicities and religions, our teams dismantle these walls through small acts every day. 

by Zerene Haddad 
JRS Middle East and North Africa Regional Communications and Advocacy Officer

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Ephesians 4:2-4

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love,

striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:

one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call.