Melkite Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, Lebanon, distributes Communion to Syrian refugee families at the Melkite Catholic archeparchy in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in this 2017 file photo. CNS photo/courtesy Raed Rafei, CNEWA

CNEWA focusing on Middle East crisis

By 
  • April 18, 2019

The Christian crisis in the Middle East will continue to absorb much of the time and money raised by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Canada, CNEWA-Canada executive director Carl Hetu told The Catholic Register.

Whether it’s the Iraqi refugee crisis, the Syrian refugee crisis, youth unemployment in Palestine or besieged Christian communities in Egypt, Hetu sees needs among Middle East Christians that outstrip the tiny agency’s capacity to raise funds.

CNEWA raised over $4 million in Canada in 2018. About $1.2 million went to support Church-led projects in the Middle East.

“If we want to secure a Christian presence in the Middle East, then we need to continue our work,” Hetu said. “Because a Middle East without Christians is no longer the Middle East.”

CNEWA, founded in 1926, works with Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe, assisting in everything from emergency aid to education. 

CNEWA-Canada launched “Christians Can’t Survive Without You” last May — a fund-raising campaign that culminated in a Toronto benefit dinner for Iraqi Christians attended by Chaldean Eparch of Mar Addai Bishop Bawai Soro and Toronto’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Thomas Collins. The dinner raised nearly $16,000.

The enduring crisis Christians face from the Euphrates to the Nile means that in 2019 CNEWA will simply continue the same fund-raising campaign under the same banner, said Hetu.

“People really do care, I think, more and more about the fate of Christians in the Middle East,” he said. “Because it concerns them as Christians, as Catholics. They are very much, I think, touched by this as Catholics. An attack on a Catholic (in the Middle East) is an attack on us here. It’s all that connectivity.”

CNEWA fund-raising has remained about constant, topping $4 million the last five years running, Hetu said.

With an economic crisis in Lebanon hitting Iraqi and Syrian refugees there hard, plus the refugee situation in Jordan, more than 40 per cent youth unemployment in Palestine, and continuing pressure on Coptic Christians in Egypt, the biggest challenge CNEWA faces is deciding where the greatest needs are.

For now, CNEWA is looking closely at how it can assist Christian refugees of the ISIS caliphate, some of whom are beginning to filter back into their own villages and neighbourhoods after the military defeat of the terrorist empire.

“What are the Christians going to go back to when the infrastructure is gone, their church gone, you know?” Hetu asked. “They may as well stay in Lebanon, but they don’t want to stay in Lebanon. Because the Lebanese are going through chaos right now, losing their jobs.”

With food bank lineups lengthening around Beirut, Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees — many of them Christian — are feeling less and less welcome in the nation of six million.

“So, how are we going to help them go back to their home? Right now we are in the planning stage,” Hetu said.

By 2020 CNEWA and its Church partners in the region expect to have plans in place both for Syrians stuck in Lebanon and Iraqis exiled to Kurdistan in the north of Iraq. The plan has to support equally those who decide to return and rebuild and those who believe they have nothing to return to, Hetu said.

While the ISIS aftermath has a high profile, there remain other, enduring challenges in the region, according to Hetu. 

“The situation is getting worse for Palestinians and for the Christians,” he said. “We’re very worried about that.”

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