Aid agencies join forces on quake relief

Development and Peace - Caritas Canada and three other organizations (Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada and Canadian Jesuits International) are combining efforts to raise funds to respond to the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

Another blow to Christians in Syria, Turkey

By Michael Swan and Susan Korah, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Four Canadian Catholic organizations have joined forces to deliver aid and support to Turks and Syrians who have lost family, their homes and their livelihoods to the massive earthquake that rumbled near Turkey’s southern border with Syria.

Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada and Canadian Jesuits International have launched a joint appeal for funds, with the full backing of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

To donate or for any inquiries:

ACN:  Toll free #: 1-800-585-6333 Ext 228
CJI: Toll free #: 1-800-448-2148
CNEWA Canada: Toll free #: 1-866-322-4441
Development and Peace-Caritas Canada: Toll free #: 1-800-494-1401

Related: CCCB Media Release: English /French


The official death toll has reached 36,000, with over 31,000 on the Turkish side and more than 5,000 in Syria. But an ongoing civil war in Syria and a slow government response in Turkey has led many to doubt these numbers. There are more than 13 million survivors in the quake zone and four million collapsed buildings.

“As Catholics, we are compelled to come to the aid of our brothers and sisters in dire circumstances, like the thousands of families that have lost loved ones or are injured and have lost their homes,” CCCB president Bishop Raymond Poisson said in a release announcing the Canadian joint venture.

The joint effort makes sense because the four organizations combine to provide pathways for aid to find its way to the most vulnerable. Development and Peace partners with the Caritas network on both sides of the border. Canadian Jesuits International supports the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been working in Aleppo with people displaced by the war for 12 years. Aid to the Church in Need has relationships with bishops, pastors and religious communities on the ground. CNEWA also works with local churches in Turkey and Syria.

“Our partners in the Caritas family are already mobilized on the frontlines, providing blankets, food and emergency shelter for families who find themselves on the street,” Development and Peace said in an online appeal to donors.

The offices of Caritas Anatolia in Turkey were severely damaged and the Cathedral of Iskenderun at the heart of the Diocese of Anatolia completely collapsed, according to a report from Caritas Internationalis. Despite this, Caritas in Turkey has set up a hotline to co-ordinate efforts to help and teams have been gathering people in safe, open spaces, trying to distribute hot meals and clothes.

In Aleppo on the Syrian side of the border the Caritas Aleppo offices were destroyed and Caritas staff have lost their houses, but Caritas Syria is opening shelters to accommodate those most in need.

Before the earthquake hit, 4.1 million people in northeastern Syria were dependent on humanitarian assistance. One of the sources for that humanitarian assistance is the Jesuit Refugee Service.

“People are shaken and frightened, with many who preferred to remain outdoors in the cold and rain fearing aftershock,” Jesuit Fr. Tony O’Riordan reported from Aleppo. “The Jesuits have opened their building in Aziziyé (a suburb of Aleppo), which was declared safe, where displaced people can find shelter and support… As the weight of multiple traumas makes the future seem daunting, we pray that the Syrian people may soon find healing and peace.”

The scene of this disaster is part of the cradle and historic heartland of Christianity. It has been home to communities that were among the first in the world to embrace Christianity.

Antakya in Turkey, which has been reduced to rubble by the earthquake, was once known as Antioch. It is where followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

Syria’s Christian community too is one of the oldest in the world. Christians from this area still speak Aramaic, Jesus’ mother tongue.

Christian populations in both countries have been depleted by a turbulent history of religious persecution, displacement after the First World War and, in the case of Syria, the ongoing 12-year civil war. The Islamic State at its height in 2015 impoverished and uprooted Christian communities throughout Syria.

“The damage caused by the earthquake in less than one minute was worse than 12 years of war,” Aid to the Church in Need executive director Marie-Claude Lalonde told The Catholic Register.

“The Church in Syria is in shock,” said Regina Lynch, project director of ACN International, in a news release. “Even as far away as Beirut (Lebanon), people have taken to the streets, worried that another explosion is about to rock their country.”

“I’m standing in front of the Greek Orthodox Church in Aleppo,” Xavier Stephen Bisfits, ACN’s project officer in Syria said in a recorded message sent to The Catholic Register. “The façade of the church is badly damaged.”

Churches, despite being impacted themselves by the earthquake, are rallying to help people of all faiths and ethnicities who turn to them for relief.

Greek Catholic Archbishop Emeritus Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo was injured when his house collapsed, and one of the residents, Fr. Imad Daher, died in the ruins, Lalonde said.

“In Aleppo, Carmelite nuns confirmed that they are hosting five families in their convent, even though they are usually a cloistered community.”

Churches in Aleppo are using their halls as shelter for those who have fled structurally fragile homes.
“Churches are safer, which is why are going there,” Lalonde said.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is also helping earthquake victims in Aleppo, said Dr. Adriana Bara, national director of the international pontifical charity in Canada

“We are currently helping the Blue Marist Brothers, a community in Aleppo, that is sheltering 1,000 families in Aleppo, collaborating with Franciscan Friars and Salesian Fathers,” she said

Bara relayed a message from Br. Georges Sabe of the Blue Marist community in Aleppo. Sabe said the situation is overwhelmingly tragic, and that the Blue Marists had opened their doors to hundreds of families in urgent need of food, clothing, medication and, most of all, warmth and comfort in this harsh winter.