Day of Prayer for Syria
Currently, there are two million Syrian refugees in the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. An estimated five million Syrians are internally displaced within Syria. Nearly half of a million Iraqi refugees have sought refuge in Syria during the Iraqi war. But between last summer and the first months of this year, about 70,000 Iraqis headed back home, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In roughly the same period, as violence flared in Iraq, about 41,000 Iraqis entered Syria. 
Let’s not forget about the largest refugee group in the Middle East, the Palestinians. There are nearly five million registered in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority) with the UN. 786,000 Palestinian refugees reside in nine official and three unofficial camps in Syria. As of July this year, 71,000 Palestinian refugees who had been living in Syria have fled into Lebanon. 450,000 Palestinian refugees live in twelve overcrowded refugee camps spread out through the country of Lebanon. Also, almost 800,000 Syrian refugees that have entered Lebanon. Add it all up and that’s close to 900,000 refugees entering the small country of Lebanon. Jordan is also absorbing 500,000 refugees. Zaatari camp is now Jordan’s 5th largest city. The picture below is an aerial view of the camp.
To sum up, you have a humanitarian crisis in several different countries with several different nationalities. Large groups of refugees roaming across the Middle East, crossing borders, traumatized, and seeking relief. A catastrophe.
Why lob these stats at you like a grenade? Just to shock you? This is the reality of the situation and these are only numbers, not personal stories of loss and suffering. Can you imagine the heartbreak?
I hesitated to write this post, but it’s been so heavy on my heart. The sheer mess of it all, and it is unfolding before us...the real stories, the real suffering, and the real absence of a clear answer. What is the answer? Are we even asking the right questions? Are we concerned with the Syrians? What would be best for them? What about for the Palestinians caught in this? Or the Lebanese or Jordanians or Turks or Iraqis, the countries absorbing the Syrian refugees…what about them? Or even the Iranians? Or are we looking at the situation wondering what’s best for us?
In many ways, I wish I hadn't lived in the Middle East. I wish I hadn’t seen what I’ve seen and know what I know. I wish I could bury my head in the sand and forget it. Why? Because it complicates my life, I can’t see black and white when I look at the Middle East. I see pain. I see suffering. I see injustice. I see the world allowing it to happen. I’ve always heard with knowledge comes responsibility.
As someone who says I follow Jesus and his teachings what does it all mean? To look at those numbers, shake my head, and continue on with my life. What’s my responsibility? To protect the vulnerable. To weep with those who weep. To work towards peace. To never tire of doing good. To work towards the interests of others and not my own. To love others as myself. To pray without ceasing. To show mercy. To love justice. To be like Jesus to a hurting world.
Pope Francis has invited Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers who are "men of good will" to join him in prayer and fasting on Saturday, September 7 for Syria. Maybe this is a beginning. To be united, differences aside, and boldly ask for mercy for those hurting in the Middle East. I can’t think of anything more beautiful, to meet violence and political posturing with prayer. It's an invitation I'm eager to accept.
“The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace." ~Pope Francis