Armenian Catholic Bishop Mikael Mouradian was a young teen when Lebanon’s civil war broke out in 1975.
His past and his present as Eparchial Bishop of all Armenian Catholics in the U.S. and Canada prompted him to attend a “Hope for Middle East Orphans” event at Incarnation Church in Glendale March 7, where representatives from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association spoke on their humanitarian and pastoral support work.
Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 to share the love of Christ with the poor and the churches of the East, CNEWA helped thousands of suffering Middle Eastern Christian families last year, including 125,000 impoverished children living in war-torn Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, India, Ethiopia and Iraq.
Last year, CNEWA assisted 17,000 Syrian refugee families in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. More than 40 percent of Syria’s population has been displaced due to the country’s civil war which began in March 2011.
“It could be health care, food, heating oil, diesel fuel, or warm clothes for the children,” noted Robert Pape, Jr., CNEWA director of major gifts. CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and implement reasonable solutions. Besides assisting with humanitarian needs, CNEWA also seeks to build up the church by supporting seminaries and encouraging dialogue between the peoples of the East and the West.
“It’s sometimes very difficult for us to understand exactly what is going on in the Middle East,” said Atonement Father Elias Mallon, CNEWA’s education and interreligious affairs director, in his remarks following the March 7 prayer service for peace in the Middle East at Incarnation organized by parish deacon candidate couple Serj and Alice Harutunian.
“Right now, we’re focusing in on [the problems of Middle Eastern] children and the elderly, but, to put this into a context, the [overarching] problem is war and instability,” said Father Mallon. “We could take all the children and give them everything they need, and if we don’t solve the war, it will start all over again.
“What most Americans are completely unfamiliar with is how small these Middle Eastern countries really are. Except for Saudi Arabia which is big and empty, most of these countries are very tiny with incredibly huge problems.”
A major problem in the countries of Syria (slightly larger than North Dakota with a 10 percent Christian population), Lebanon (one-third smaller than Connecticut), and Jordan (slightly smaller than Indiana) is that the median ages in these countries are 22.7, 30.9 and 22.6, respectively.
“What that means is you have a huge population of children and adolescents without work and you also have a time bomb there for the smaller children who are not going to school,” said Father Mallon. “One of the biggest tragedies in Lebanon [during the civil war] was for years children weren’t able to go to school regularly. You lose a generation. Those [teenage] children who did go to school [had] no work and nothing to do but hang out on the streets and maybe get picked up by the most radical group.”
Noting that the 9 million displaced Syrians due to the civil war is more than twice the population of Los Angeles, he pointed out that the 2.5 million Syrians who have fled their country — mostly to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — are putting great pressure on the host countries’ overtaxed economies. The refugee population in Jordan currently exceeds 10 percent of its nearly 6.5 million people and could potentially reach 20 percent, said Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the UN last September.
“Syrian Christians tend not to go into the refugee camps,” pointed out Father Mallon. “They tend to go in and stay with relatives [in other countries]. It makes it look like there are fewer refugees but actually means that there is greater pressure on the economy. A family of five overnight can become a family of ten.”
“If I leave you with anything today, the message is: ‘I’m sorry, it’s worse than you think,” said Father Mallon. “We need to be aware of this, these are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Christians and our fellow human beings and we need to do whatever we can to help relieve them in their needs.”
Among CNEWA’s goals to help youth in 2014 are to help even more refugee children from Syria and Iraq, repair orphanages in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine, educate “untouchable” children in India, support Christian youth groups in Israel and feed more hungry children in Ethiopia.
Bishop Mouradian told The Tidings at the conclusion of the program that he attended the event to show his support for CNEWA’s many programs. “To me, it was important to come as an Armenian from the Middle East because it is the place where I was born and grew up,” said Bishop Mouradian. “At a young age, we saw war and we lived in war for 18 years.
“I know a lot of people who have been helped by CNEWA in the Middle East: schools, seminarians, families, young people in universities,” said the bishop. “I think that, as Christians, all of us are called, especially in Lent and the time we are living in now, to do a good deed [like] the good job CNEWA is doing.”
For more information on CNEWA, a papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support, log on to www.cnewa.org or call 1-212-826-1480.