For One Jesuit, Syrian War is Professional Challenge, Personal Heartache

Jesuit Father Nawras SammourFor Jesuit Father Nawras Sammour, the ongoing conflict in Syria is both a professional challenge and a personal heartache. As Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) regional director for the Middle East, Fr. Sammour lives in Damascus, Syria. He was born in Aleppo, Syria, where his mother, brother and sister still live.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have died and millions have been displaced in more than two years of fighting between President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels seeking his resignation.

“Sometimes I can’t believe we Syrians have reached that level of violence,” Fr. Sammour said. “I’m shocked. Shocked. We need to step back and realize that we went too far.”

According to Fr. Sammour, the situation is so tense and so divided, particularly among different Muslim groups, that Syria’s small Christian communities may be frightened. But with Christian aid programs and partnerships with others providing assistance, they also enjoy a certain respect as non-partisans looking only to help others.

With the help of funding from a variety of agencies — including the worldwide Caritas network and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services — JRS has about 250 paid employees in Syria and another 300 volunteers. They visit displaced families living in shelters, abandoned buildings, mosques, churches and monasteries and provide food and basic necessities.

JRS runs field kitchens that serve 20,000 meals a day. They provide medicine to the chronically ill, operate a clinic in Aleppo and provide psycho-social support to almost 5,000 children, offering them a safe environment where they can play and try to keep up with their school work.

Fr. Sammour said the situation in Syria “is not calming down at all. The tension is worse. People are nervous. Syria is much more fragmented, and fear is much more established in the hearts of people,” he said.

The work with the children, though, may be the seedbed of a better future. The children come from Christian as well as Sunni Muslim and Alawite Muslim families, and the JRS team is earning the trust of their parents.

“That will help with long-term reconciliation,” Fr. Sammour said. [Catholic News Service]

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