THE onset of winter, with
strong winds, rain, and freezing temperatures, is adding to the
hardship suffered by tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled the
fighting in their country to seek refuge in Turkey and
The Priest-in-Charge of St
Nicolas's, Ankara, Canon John Higgins, this week issued an appeal
for prayers and practical help. "The problem is that we are caught
in the middle of something with nightmare potential. From the east
and south-east come dramatically increasing numbers of refugees,
fleeing terror, persecution, and starvation."
As many as 9000 are
estimated to be in the Ankara area alone. At the same time, "the
first of the freezing winds tells us winter is almost here, and in
a few days, or a couple of weeks at the most, we shall see
temperatures driven to minus 25 and below," Canon Higgins said.
As well as prayers, there is
a need for clothing, blankets, and money for fuel and food to meet
"this urgent and growing need". (For more information, email
email@example.com.) Canon Higgins also commended the work
being done to help refugees in Turkey by the Jesuit Refugee Service
(jrs): it was "totally ecumenical in its working", erecting no
barriers between Christians and Muslims. He said that the JRS team
in Turkey was "effective, committed, and inspirational. I know,
because I see them at work."
JRS representatives in Syria
have also issued an appeal for help, saying that, as temperatures
are dropping, there is a shortage of winter supplies. "We buy what
we need and when we can. It's difficult to find all the supplies
that we need, and it's never enough compared with the demand," the
assistant director of JRS in Damascus said.
For now, JRS has managed to
provide mattresses and blankets for the 3000 displaced people in
Damascus. This number increases monthly, however, as more families
from outside the city seek refuge in the capital. In the wake of a
recent surge in violence in Damascus, as bombings and fierce
gunfights are breaking out in many areas, it has become
increasingly difficult to ensure the procurement and safe delivery
of emergency supplies for displaced people.
"We have 1250 food baskets
in stock: this will last us one more week," a JRS volunteer said.
"After that, if the Syrian Red Cross is unable to replenish its
supplies, then we will have to source the supplies for the food
Save the Children has also
launched an appeal to help Syrian refugees in Iraq, Lebanon, and
Jordan to cope with the cold weather. "The heart breaking stories
we're hearing from Syrian refugees as winter approaches underline
the fact that this crisis is rapidly deteriorating," said the chief
executive of the charity, Justin Forsyth. "Every day, new refugees
are arriving, but the funding required to give them the help they
need is simply not there. The international community needs to
match its diplomatic and security concerns with funding to help
children. Unless there is a surge in funding, thousands of children
are going to spend a bitter winter without proper shelter from the
cold, and many will become sick as a result."
Save the Children says that
400,000 refugees are living in tents, barns, unfinished buildings,
and other temporary shelters that are ill-equipped to provide
protection from the cold.
The pain being felt by the
Christian community in Syria as they face an uncertain future was
compounded by news of the death of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of
Antioch, Ignatius IV, at the age of 92. He died in a hospital in
Beirut on Wednesday of last week, and, after his funeral there, his
body was taken to Damascus for burial on Monday.
The late Patriarch was born
and brought up in Syria. He studied mathematics and philosophy in
Lebanon, before entering the ministry. He became a bishop in 1962,
and was elected Patriarch in 1979. In recent years, he had sought
to keep good relations with the ruling regime, while trying to
provide a bridge between the leadership of the country and those
seeking change, whether Muslim or Christian.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
said that Patriarch Ignatius would be remembered as "one of the
most outstandingly gifted, energetic, learned, and holy Orthodox
hierarchs of our age. His work with young people has been of
enormous significance; but he will also be remembered for his
generous encouragement of some of the most creative Orthodox
theology of the 20th and 21st centuries." More recently, Dr
Williams said, "he has been a tireless worker for reconciliation in
Syria, and his death will be a serious loss to all those who are
struggling for a sustainable and just future for that troubled
Pope Benedict XVI praised
the late Patriarch for having "offered luminous testimony to faith
and charity, working with dedication for the spiritual elevation of
the flock entrusted to him, and for the noble cause of
reconciliation and peace among men". The Pope also paid tribute to
"the positive and effective contribution the late Patriarch
Ignatius made to the process of conciliation between our two
Churches. Let his memory invite us to continue on the path of
dialogue and the search for full communion in Christ."
The Metropolitan of three
southern provinces in Syria, the Most Revd Saba Esper, has been
named as a temporary successor to the late Patriarch.