“We’re happy there, we have a lot of cousins,” Kaai’s children told him. The plan was to return one day.
But three years later his relatives have abandoned the neighbourhood that was once 99- per-cent Christian, said Kaai. They were forced to flee the area along with other Christians because of the Syrian civil war.
Now, Kaai would like to get the word out about just what is happening in his homeland. Kaai, a member of the Arab Christian Council at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church in Thornhill, Ont., is chairman of a committee that is raising awareness about the plight of Syria’s Christian refugees.
He is working with other Syrians, Eastern Churches and Canadian government officials to launch a Syrian refugee program. The Knights of Columbus at his parish has committed to helping new Syrian arrivals settle in Canada.
His parish is organizing applications to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Office for Refugees in the Archdiocese of Toronto to sponsor Syrian refugees.
The council is renovating the web site www.churchesforjesus. org to help raise funds “to rebuild Syrian and other churches in the area that were destroyed due to war,” said Grand Knight Hikmat Dandan. Dandan launched the site in 2000, when he was a member of the Knights North York Council 4393, to help rebuild a Lebanese church.
“Once the situation in Syria stabilizes, we will sponsor one church at a time, tell its story and help get donations for the rebuilding effort,” said Dandan.
When Syrians flee their homes, bombed out churches are often the last reminder that Christians have lived for centuries in some of Syria’s now empty neighbourhoods.
Early this month, Pope Francis and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman appealed to the international community to provide humanitarian assistance for the Syrian refugees that have flooded into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The United Nations says that more than 1.3 million people have fled Syria since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began 26 months ago. More than 70,000 people have died in the fighting.
“A lot of Christians in Syria have moved to the west coast, along the sea, where they are protected because it’s Alawite territory,” said Carl Hetu, executive director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada (CNEWA).
Alawites are typically on the side of the government in Syria’s civil war.
According to Hetu, many Christians remain in Syria, although many others have fled to neighbouring countries.
“The ones in Syria are also forgotten. They are also going through hell,” he said. “In Syria right now, what started as an honest and good demonstration against this government for democracy has turned into an ugly war.”
CNEWA is raising funds to aid Syrian Christians and plans to work with local churches and local religious orders, such as the Dominicans and Jesuits. It will also work with the Melkite, Syriac, Maronite and Greek Orthodox Churches.
“We work with all the networks on the ground to find the Christians, to make sure they get services ranging from schools for the kids, health care (and) psychological aid to wait it out,” said Hetu.
source: The Catholic Register
Canada's Catholic News Source