March 21, 2016 Monday of Holy Week
During Holy Week and the first few days of Eastertide, I will be traveling with several colleagues from the Presbyterian Church, USA and our Moderator, Heath Rada, in Hungary, Greece, and Germany. Our purpose is to follow along the path of Syrian migrants who have fled the war in their homeland and are seeking safety throughout Europe and the world. As the United States continues to struggle to practice welcome to these neighbors from the Middle East, countries in the European Union are struggling as well. Germany has provided a haven for many, but borders are closing throughout many countries and migrants are stuck on the borders of Greece and in Turkey, seeking safe passage and refuge. Throughout this journey, we will be conversing with faith partners, who are engaged in this work, and trying to see through the eyes of our Syrian refugee neighbors in order that we might share what we have seen and learned back home. It is significant to me that this journey takes place during Holy Week, when Jesus walked his way toward the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem on a path that has become known as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, or Suffering. For many Syrians who have fled their homeland as the war there enters its sixth year, the migrant journey—fraught with desperation and danger and the risk of death—is a via dolorosa, a way of suffering that too often ends in refugee camps, poverty, a reception marked by suspicion rather than welcome, or even a return to the place from which they sought to escape. Some fortunate few find safe harbor, welcome, and a chance to build a new life. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, working with partners through the ACT Alliance and Church World Service, has been providing financial resources to support those seeking to provide welcome and care along the journey. Each day of Holy Week, I will post photos and a reflection to mark this journey, and to honor those who are walking this via dolorosa. PDA’s catalyst for Refugee and Asylum, Susan Krehbiel, will also be posting facts and figures about the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East to give context and scope to these reflections.
As I write, I am mindful that many of those migrants whose path we are following practice faiths other than my own, with differing beliefs and paths toward God. It is not my purpose to ground the journey of so many, whose religious beliefs deserve our respect, in my own tradition; but since it is from the Christian faith that I find the words and images to make meaning; it will be from that narrative that I frame these observations. At the Palm Sunday service in my home church in Louisville, the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell preached from the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 that speaks of the death of Jesus as an emptying of himself, a choice to relinquish power through accepting crucifixion, a shameful death reserved for those who were non-citizens of Rome. He thus identified himself, in his dying, with those who were powerless, poor, and barred from the privilege of belonging. Speaking about this contrast between our human obsession with power and success and Christ’s embrace of a way many considered shameful, Cynthia quoted New Testament scholar Diane Bergant who said: the best way to enter Holy Week with (Jesus) is in the company of those with whom he has identified himself: the poor and the broken, the humiliated and the marginalized; those who suffer the abuse of others…If we are to be saved we must go where salvation takes place—in our streets and in our homes where violence rages; in the dark corners of life where despair seems to hold sway; wherever the innocent are abused or the needy neglected; wherever there is misunderstand or fear or jealousy. We must go wherever Christ empties himself for (us).
It is a deep prayer for Holy Week that the journey we undertake today may take us to those very places, with the One who is Way, Truth, and Life for us.
The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
- In 2016, the world is experiencing the largest number of refugees and displaced persons since the end of World War II – Over 60 million persons.
- Syria is the single largest humanitarian crisis. Today there are 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). This figure includes 2.1 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 28,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. Only 1⁄2 million of these are living in refugee camps, the vast majority are living in cities, towns and rural areas across the region.
- In 2015, the number of Syrian refugees continued to grow in the Middle East as the violence raged on and the death toll in Syria reached a quarter million. In the midst of such human tragedy, international aid to the surrounding countries waned, leading to cuts in food and other basic needs.
- In 2015, 1,015,078 individuals arrived in Europe by sea in search of safety and hope.
- As the UNHCR describes them: Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants take their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate bid to reach Europe. The vast majority of those attempting this dangerous crossing are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin. Every year these movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life.
For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.