God is not bound by manmade laws and nor should the Catholic faithful’s spiritual resolve to reach out to the least fortunate in the world.
Therefore, the Presbyteral Council approved Bishop Anthony B. Taylor’s recent proposal to partner with three churches in Lebanon to send money to help them develop and sustain their refugee programs, as a way for Arkansans to adhere to Pope Francis’ call of each parish sponsoring a refugee family despite restrictions on refugees entering the United States.
The Islamic State drove out Christians in Syria and forced them into neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Between three and five million have left Syria since 2011.
“It reminds us of how we’re obligated to receive and provide refuge to people that are in distress and our government does not provide a way for us to do that,” Bishop Taylor told Arkansas Catholic.
The Lebanese churches chosen, which have offered support to Syrian and Iraqi Christians, are St. Georges in Dekwaneh and St. Joseph and St. Doumeth, both in Bourj Hammoud, all in the Maronite Eparchy of Antelias.
There is also the potential for the two Lebanese schools and Arkansas Catholic schools and seminarians to start a correspondence.
“I hope to establish a human connection, more than us just sending money,” Bishop Taylor said, adding that letter writing may be difficult because of the language barrier, but sharing “pictures of what’s going on,” in the life of refugees is a possibility.
“The reality is that the countries near Syria have received a lot more refugees in more desperate circumstances than those going to Europe,” he said.
The initial connection to Lebanon was made by Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn to Bishop Camille Zaidan at the Eparchy of Antelias. Bishop Mansour will assist the Diocese of Little Rock with fund transfers, as his diocese already sends money to Lebanon.
“I would expect they’re responding to the most urgent needs — medical needs, food needs, to the degree they can,” Bishop Taylor said, adding that 20 percent of Lebanon is refugees. To put it in perspective, “Lebanon is the size of five Arkansas counties,” he said.
“It’s not so much that our parishes are doing charity to those parishes. It’s rather that we are asking those parishes to help us do what we are obligated to do. So they are our partners in providing help to a third party, which are the refugees,” he said.
About 175,000 people, who include refugees, are within those three parishes, located in a poor suburban area of Beirut. Bishop Taylor, a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, participated in a mission to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in October 2012 to learn more about the plight of Syrian refugees.
“There is great fear among the Syrian Christians, who are caught in the middle of the conflict and are concerned that their community will become targets of the violence. In fact, we heard many stories of Christians being threatened, a precursor to the sectarian violence which emerged during the Iraq war,” Bishop Taylor said in a 2012 Arkansas Catholic article.
In January, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, went to the Beirut suburbs to meet with more than 25 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, almost all Christian. According to Catholic News Service, an Iraqi Christian refugee said “maybe if all the bishops of the world — not just the United States — could pray to find a solution and get us out of this misery.”
“Human worth, human dignity and human needs transcend national boundaries. We as Americans, except Native Americans, are all descendants of people who came here in distress. Nobody immigrates because things are going great,” Bishop Taylor said. “Because we are the beneficiaries of being welcomed into a place where we could get a fresh start … we have a greater moral obligation than other countries to welcome refugees.”
Bishop Taylor appointed Msgr. Francis I. Malone, chancellor for ecclesial affairs and pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, to be in coordination with Father Walid Mallah, one of three priests in Lebanon helping with the partnership. Arkansas parishes who want to get involved or individuals who want to contribute money or ideas can contact Msgr. Malone, with assistance from Teri Tribby, parish life/outreach director at Christ the King. As of press time, seven Arkansas churches inquired about how to help, Bishop Taylor said.
“Obviously it wouldn’t surprise anyone when we do hear from these priests in Lebanon they’ll certainly identify some financial needs that may be beyond our reach but anything contributed to the cause would be put to good use,” Msgr. Malone said. “We’re really starting from ground zero.”
As it is the Church’s obligation to “speak light into the darkness,” Bishop Taylor said ending the hateful rhetoric is vital in the United States.
“Call out the demagogues who are hate-mongers in our society and who are using people’s fears of the unknown, using that as a tool in order to manipulate the public and gain support playing on their fears. It ends up creating an environment in our country that is hostile to anyone who is ‘other’ and also devalues human life, as if life in some other part of the world is less precious than life here,” he said. “If it weren’t for this fearful and hate-monger environment, our country would be in a much better position to open our arms and welcome refugees, much like we did at the end of the Vietnam War for instance.”
Bishop Taylor said even small Arkansas parishes can participate because multiple churches would be contributing.
“We belong to a universal Church,” Msgr. Malone said. “Whether we’re speaking about immigrants that are coming from Mexico or refugees in Lebanon, we’re talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
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