CNS PHOTO | MUHAMMAD HAMED, REUTERS
Syrian refugees wait to receive aid at the Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria in this photo taken in January.
The Canadian bishops, along with Development and Peace, have launched a special fundraising campaign to raise emergency aid for Syrians suffering due to chaos in their Middle Eastern homeland.
Roughly seven million people within Syria need emergency assistance and more than 1.6 million people have fled the country because of violent repression.
In a letter to Canadian Catholics, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is calling for solidarity with Syrians through prayer and works of charity.
"As a community of faith, let us pray to God to bring justice, peace and healing to the region," Smith said in his June 19 letter. "Let each of us do what we can to provide assistance and aid to our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria and its neighbouring countries."
The bishops' campaign, run jointly with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), begins June 30. It will culminate with a day of prayer and fasting for the people of Syria and the Middle East on Saturday, Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
Donations to the campaign should be sent to CCODP (www.devp.org) prior to Sept. 14. Parishes and dioceses will also hold collections to raise funds for the campaign.
Revenue collected in the campaign will help the extensive work in the Middle East being conducted by Catholic charities and development agencies, especially Caritas Internationalis.
Smith said that, according to CCODP and Caritas Internationalis, about 7,000 Syrians a day are fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The crisis in the country is believed to have already cost some 90,000 lives, and a third of Syrian hospitals are not functioning. By the end of the year, half of the Syrian population will be in need of assistance.
Pope Francis, the archbishop said, has asked all Catholic charitable organizations to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people who are often defenceless.
The vast majority of refugees arrive in other nations with little more than the clothes on their back, Smith said.
The vast numbers of destitute people are placing unprecedented strains on the communities and services of the host countries, he said. Several Canadian dioceses and religious communities are working to bring Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees to Canada to begin a new life.
Smith said all efforts to help the victims of the Syrian tragedy must be supported by intense prayer.
"When we fast and pray for the people of Syria and the Middle East on 14 September, let us lift up to the Lord the needs of the Syrian homeless and wounded, their broken families and shattered lives, and pray for an end to the hostilities and for lasting peace."