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Catholic aid agencies hope for big rise in donations

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Three Catholic charities who joined forced with Canada’s bishops last fall to raise urgently needed funds for Syrian refugees hope many Catholics will give generously now that the deadline has passed for matching government funds.

Feb. 29 was the deadline for up to $100 million in matching government funds for the Canadian Syrian Relief Fund.

Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace executive director David Leduc said he is grateful the international development minister extended the deadline to the end of February. So far, it has raised $2.2 million.

“We definitely received an increase in our donations since the (deadline extension) announcement was made,” Leduc said.

Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need Canada and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada combined forces with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops last fall to mount their first-ever joint campaign.

Leduc pointed out 13.5 million Syrians have required immediate humanitarian assistance. “That’s roughly a third of our own population here in Canada, to give you an idea, roughly, of the scale,” he said.

Humanitarian projects Development and Peace has helped fund have included medical supplies, distribution of winter supplies, basic household items, food vouchers, housing assistance and educational activities for children.

“The Syrian people have suffered so much over these past five years,” said Leduc. “As the nation becomes ever more mired in crisis, the civilian population is suffering horrendous violence on a daily basis.”

“Canadians’ acts of solidarity are needed more than ever, both to provide assistance and to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict,” he said. “We hope that Canadians will continue to show their solidarity towards the approximately 4.3 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and the millions of others still in Syria,” said Leduc.

For both Aid to the Church in Need and CNEWA Canada, the big rush in donations came before Christmas.
“You always have a flow of generosity around Christmas,” Aid to the Church in Need Canada national director Marie-Claude Lalonde said. “Also, it was all over the media, every day. This helped all charities raise money for Syria. You still hear about Syria but it is less constant.”

Aid to the Church in Need has raised $415,305 so far for projects that include helping displaced persons in Syria with housing, winter clothing and baby supplies. Through the local churches they have helped fund reconstruction projects in the Syrian cities Yabroud and Homs where some Christians have returned. Lalonde says her agency “stands by Christians who choose to reinvest in the land Christians have inhabited since the beginning of Christianity, despite the ongoing war.”

“We need everything,” she said. “All basic necessities have to be covered. This is going to be a struggle for a long period of time.”

They are hearing more and more reports of starvation being used as an act of war, she said.

“We’re currently providing clothes, shoes, food and toiletries for 250 orphans from the region of Homs; soap and sanitary products for more than 400 families; and now we’re trying to build or rebuild a school for almost 1,000 pupils,” she said. They are also assisting in the basics of food, shelter, medicines, electricity for 5,000 people in Aleppo. They provided 5,000 pairs of pajamas for kids, all distributed by the churches in the area, mostly by some religious sisters, she said.

CNEWA Canada national director Carl Hétu points out CNEWA has been in the Middle East for 90 years and the Syrian crisis is not the first the agency has witnessed. “Our role all along is to accompany the local church in whatever crisis they go through,” he said. “The Syrian one is a major one, so we’re there with the church and the people to help them survive this big mess.”

So far CNEWA Canada has received about $890,715 in donations it has directed mainly to those in need inside Syria or in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon.

“The funds raised will provide emergency supplies, such as necessities for babies, food, water, heaters, clothing and blankets,” said Hétu. “The donations will also help with education as children have often missed up to three years of schooling; health care to assist with conditions such as depression, cancer, stroke, heart issues and diabetes; along with spiritual support such as catechetical programs for Christian families.”

Hétu stressed the Feb. 29 deadline does not mean people should stop giving to Syria after that.

Both Lalonde and Leduc agree. In coming months, Leduc said the focus will be on trying to reach the Syrians who are blocked off in areas under siege.

Hétu also appealed to Catholics to pray during Lent for an end to the war and for the success of ongoing peace talks in Geneva.

As the peace is being negotiated, old issues are coming to the fore and taking attention, such as the long-standing conflict between the Turkish and the Kurds, the Russians against the Turks, and “a lot of unfinished business,” Hétu said. “Some are using this conflict to settle old scores, which makes peace very difficult.”

Many regional and world powers are also involved in the conflict, making it very complex, he said.

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