By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis kicked off a virtual meeting of Church leaders in the Middle East on Thursday with a video message.
The meeting focused on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq, as well as in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. It took place Thursday afternoon on Zoom, and was organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Dozens of representatives of local Catholic charities and Churches took part, including aid organizations, diocesan representatives, and religious congregations which operate in the Middle East.
According to a press release, the meeting sought to improve coordination between various Church institutions in order to improve the lives of people suffering in the region.
Building up a just society
Pope Francis expressed his support for this goal in his video message.
“Every effort—be it small or great—carried out to promote the path of peace,” he said, “is like adding a brick to the structure of a just society, which is open and welcoming, and where everyone can find a place to dwell in peace.”
The Pope added that he often thinks about those from the Middle East who have been forced to flee their homes due to the horrors of war.
He especially lamented the plight of so many Christians who fled the place of their birth, where their faith first blossomed.
“We must work to ensure that the Christian presence in these lands continue to be what it has always been: a sign of peace, progress, development, and reconciliation between peoples,” he said.
Dream of returning home
Pope Francis also recalled refugees who would like to return home, and urged the international community to guarantee their safety and the economic conditions necessary to make their return possible.
“Every effort in this regard is precious,” he said.
Caring for migrants
The Holy Father then turned his thoughts to the Catholic agencies providing humanitarian assistance in the region.
He offered “a word of encouragement to you all who, following the example of the Good Samaritan, work tirelessly to welcome, care for, and accompany the migrants and displaced persons of these lands, without distinction of creed.”
Pope Francis recalled his oft-repeated reminder that “the Church is not an NGO.”
“Our charitable work must be inspired by and in the Gospel,” he noted. “Our assistance must be a tangible sign of a local Church which helps another Church that is suffering, through the wonderful means of Catholic agencies of humanitarian and developmental aid.”
He called it “one Church helping another Church!”
The Pope concluded his video message to Church leaders in the Middle East with his assurances of his constant prayers and blessing.
“May this meeting bring your nations abundant fruits of prosperity, development, and peace, for a new life.”
Church’s work helping millions
As the meeting’s organizers noted in their communique, the Church’s vast network of aid agencies has allocated more than US$1 billion for Syria and Iraq since 2014.
This assistance has provided emergency aid for more than 4 million people each year.
The UN estimates that 11 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, and some 4 million Iraqis are in similar situations.