[ACNS] Anglican churches and congregations around the globe are responding to the Syrian refugee crisis with offers of help, support, prayers and political lobbying.
In New Zealand, the Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson has joined forces with his Roman Catholic counterpart, Cardinal John Dew, to call on the government to double its annual refugee cap. Since 1987 New Zealand has capped the number of refugees it will receive at 750 each year - a number that has remained unchanged since it was introduced. The two are now calling for that number to increase, saying that there is a need for “an urgent collective response.”
“The response is government-led and can involve communities and churches working together,” they said in a statement.
Within the province, the diocese of Wellington has said its congregations are ready to house and provide financial support for 40 families - around 160 people - as part of a “One family, one parish” initiative.
The Bishop of Wellington, the Rt Revd Justin Duckworth, has asked every congregation across the Diocese to take responsibility for one refugee family. So far, around 40 out of 60 congregations have agreed to take part and more are expected to follow shortly.
“In the Diocese of Wellington we aspire to serve the ‘last, lost and least’”, Bishop Justin says. “We cannot have this as a core part of our identity and not respond to this overwhelming human tragedy in a practical way.”
He continued: “As a country we have been criticised for not doing enough to respond to the refugee crisis. We want to say loudly and clearly, as the Anglican Church of New Zealand, that we are prepared to help in a practical way.”
In Australia, the Archbishop of Sydney Dr Glenn Davies called on the government to develop a “comprehensive response” to the crisis.
“One of the most significant characteristics of a civilised society is the way it treats those who are the most vulnerable,” Dr Davies said. “In our own country we have sought to address the needs of children, the intellectually or physically disabled, and the aged, all of whom suffer a disadvantage that is not common to the ordinary working Australian. However, as our world is larger than Australia, so our vision for vulnerable persons ought to be larger,” he said.
“Our TV screens have been awash with images of desperate people fleeing the war torn areas of Syria and Iraq. While it has been pleasing to see the way in which Germany’s Chancellor has responded to this humanitarian crisis with an open invitation to settle within her borders, not all countries have shown the same kind of generosity. However, the crisis is too great to be ignored - too great even for Europe to solve on its own.”
He has called on Australia to increase its refugee quota from 20,000 per year, saying: “I ask that urgent consideration be given to this, as well as other measures Australia could take to alleviate the suffering caused by the Syrian crisis.”
Their calls follow a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby last week in which he described the crisis as “hugely complex and wicked.”
“There are no easy answers and my prayers are with those who find themselves fleeing persecution, as well as those who are struggling under immense pressure to develop an effective and equitable response,” Archbishop Welby said. “Now, perhaps more than ever in post-war Europe, we need to commit to joint action across Europe, acknowledging our common responsibility and our common humanity.”
The four bishops in the Church of England’s Diocese of Chelmsford said that they and their churches “stand ready to play our part.”
In a joint statement, they say: “As national and local responses develop we will be delighted to work with willing communities (Christian, other faiths and non-faith) and civic leaders to offer sanctuary and welcome to any refugees who are admitted to our area, including providing accommodation. We are currently looking into practical measures to help the situation.
“There is a real and urgent need to act locally in the face of a global challenge, and respond to the UN’s plea for resettlement. This would be in keeping with the finest Christian and British traditions of championing human dignity and offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution.”
The Primate of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, is calling on Anglicans in the Province to adopt a three-fold approach to the crisis. In a joint statement with Adele Finney, director of the Province's World Relief and Development Fund, he is calling for Anglicans to lobby politicians to demand easier access to the country for Syrian refugees with family already in Canada; for Anglicans to commit to providing 10,000 resettlement places for government-assisted refugees; and for Anglicans to contribute to the Province’s relief agency.
“In times past Canada has taken extraordinary measures to welcome refugees in crisis,” the two said. “It is time for us to do so again.”
Commenting on the haunting photographs of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body was washed up on a beach in Turkey before being carried off the beach by a policeman, they said: “The Turkish policeman is us. Alan Kurdi is our child.
“We knew that in the first moment we saw their pictures in today’s newspapers. We knew that in our gut, and when our heart’s cry poured out through our eyes. Our senses involuntarily respond and urgently demand that we act individually and as a human community.”
Syria isn't the only source of refugees. Many refugees are fleeing the conflict in South Sudan and are heading to neighbouring countries, including Ethiopia.
The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East is actively engaged in supporting them. In an update on the website of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Rt Revd Grant LeMarquand, the assistant bishop in the Diocese of Egypt, described some of the recent work that had been carried out, from providing food to helping restore weather-damaged churches, including the Holy Family Anglican Church which serves refugees in the Ethiopian town of Dima.
“These churches in the camps serve not only as worship spaces, of course, but as multi-purpose community gathering places,” Bishop LeMarquand said.
The diocese has also sent funds to churches in the Ethiopian towns of Tiergol and Matar to help them buy locally available food. “The local churches there have managed to buy food locally and get it to refugees awaiting ration cards,” Bishop LeMarquand said. “The Matar congregation also asked for some Nuer language liturgies, hymn books and Bibles. We gave them liturgies and two English Bibles, but we have no Nuer Bibles available in the country at the moment. We gave them one hymnbook and will get them more soon.
“We are told that the refugees in these three places have now been processed by the UNHCR and 1,000 a day are now being moved to a new camp called ‘Pinyudu 2′ – Pinyudu 1 is an old camp where almost 70,000 ‘permanent refugees’ already live.
“We have at least 10 churches in the Pinyudu area already – the new camp will have as many as 75,000 people, so we will need several new churches. As soon as the people are moved, our local clergy (refugees themselves) will be able to contact the newcomers, find the Anglicans and help them to establish new congregations.
“I know that there are at least a couple of South Sudanese clergy and some lay readers among those newcomers going to Pinyudu 2.”
The Church of England has issued a prayer for the refugee crisis:
Heavenly Father, you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love.
We thank you for opening the hearts of many to those who are fleeing for their lives.
Help us now to open our arms in welcome,and reach out our hands in support.That the desperate may find new hope, and lives torn apart be restored.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Our Lord, who fled persecution at His birth and at His last triumphed over death.