|Habeeb Meera and his daughter Dalia in Damascus, Syria.|
I was able to better understand the personal toll of war when I met the Meera family. As a producer for Salt + Light Television, I interviewed the Meeras for an episode of Catholic Focus. They had recently resettled in Canada, having escaped a dangerous suburb of Damascus. Ironically, this Iraqi family of six moved to Syria in 2005 to escape the violent aftermath of the fall of Sadaam Hussain. Living in what used to be a Christian neighbourhood of Baghdad, the eldest son had been kidnapped for ransom (and subsequently released), while the daughters had to resist pressure to convert to Islam. Threatened by anonymous phone calls, the family could take no more.
Initially, Syria provided a welcome refuge. But after the civil war broke out, life became even more terrifying than what they endured in Iraq. It wasn’t safe enough to leave the house.
Fortunately, the family was approved for refugee status by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. St. Anthony of Padua parish in Brampton, Ontario, working with the Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto, facilitated their arrival in April 2012. St. Anthony of Padua is one of 166 parishes in the archdiocese that are participating in the federal refugee sponsorship program.
The volunteers from these parishes understand that our role in the Syria crisis is not to be passive TV observers who occasionally tweet our concern. There’s a lot more we can do.
It starts with prayer. Last Saturday, Catholics around the world heeded Pope Francis’ call for a day of fasting and intercession. Here in Toronto, St. Michael’s Cathedral was filled for a solemn prayer vigil. The faithful in many other dioceses throughout Canada will be praying and fasting for Syria this Saturday, April 14.
Material support is also desperately needed. The Canadian bishops have launched an appeal for humanitarian relief, which will benefit those in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries. Donations can be made here through the Archdiocese of Toronto website.
While there are many ways to help, all of us are called to make it personal, in solidarity with those who feel the weight of this war every day.
Kris Dmytrenko is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.