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crs lauralton webAntoinette (Toni) Iadarola, president of Lauralton Hall in Milford, holds an award presented to the school by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) on Feb. 26. From left are Soha Menassa, who spoke to students about the work of CRS in Lebanon; Peggy Jean Craig from CRS; Dr. Iadarola; and Maria Isabel Barboza, CRS relationship manager in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)

MILFORD – Calling the refugee crisis in Syria the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II, Soha Menassa, project manager for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Lebanon, explained how CRS is responding to the mounting needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

According to Ms. Menassa, who spoke Feb. 26 at Lauralton Hall as part of the CRS Rice Bowl Lenten speaker series, at least 7 million people have been displaced inside Syria, and another 2.5 million have fled to the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Half of the refugees, she said, are children, “and half of those are not in school with no educational or cultural stimulation.” Moreover, she noted, 45 percent of the children suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 60 percent show signs of depression.

Not only do people suffer from a lack of food, shelter and medicine, but many arrive with no personal belongings, no photos and no documents, she said. Challenges range from malnutrition and forced child labor to language barriers among adults and restrictions on employment and education.

She noted that one mother arrived with only her baby on her hip. “She didn’t even have the documents to prove that the baby was her child,” she said.

Ms. Menassa focused on a project run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. CRS is working with the sisters, who have had a presence in Lebanon since 1893, to provide basic life necessities, such as food, fuel and health care, to some of the most marginalized and vulnerable refugees from Syria.

“I want to challenge you,” she told students. “You live in the most powerful country in the world.

“Some of you ask what can you do.” Responding to the question, she urged students to become aware of global situations, advocate for causes among friends, pray for humanitarian relief and peace, write to congressional representatives, and support the Lenten Rice Bowl campaign.

“One dollar a day during Lent adds up to $40, which goes a long way,” said Ms. Menassa, who suggested small sacrifices such as giving up coffee and candy.

She said a donation of $35 pays for a school kit; $50 buys a hygiene kit of soap, blankets, buckets and diapers; $100 funds a kitchen combination of a stove, plates and utensils; $150 pays for a winter package of blankets and heaters; and $1,600 covers a latrine for 200 children.

“It was very powerful,” said senior Vivienne Strmecki, about Ms. Menassa’s talk. “It made me more aware of the problems and struggles people face.”

In recent years, students at Lauralton have participated in CRS’s Global Solidarity Initiative, designed to educate and engage young people about global issues and encourage them to take faith-filled action on behalf of the poor and vulnerable.

Last year, for example, Lauralton chose to integrate the topic of peace-building into its curriculum, encouraging students to explore conflict in the community as well as at the global level.

For its “valuable partnership in the creation of a national outreach program for Catholic high schools in the U.S.,” CRS presented an award to Lauralton Hall president Antoinette (Toni) Iadarola, to honor the school’s “outstanding commitment” to people in need around the world.

“Lauralton is the only Catholic high school in Connecticut that’s partnered with Catholic Relief Services,” said the school’s president, in accepting the award.

As the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the U.S., Catholic Relief Services provides assistance to people in need in 93 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.