Sunday, March 5, 2017


Preparing for Sunday Mass

We began Sunday with Mass celebrated in Greek with the Latin Archbishop of Athens, Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolotos.  After Mass, we met with two other Greek Bishops to discuss the Church's response to the huge influx of refugees.

After Mass we had a good discussion about Caritas Greece and the Diocesan Caritas organization.  They are working closely with CRS and other Church partners to deal with the large number of refugees.  The flow of refugees into Greece has been virtually stopped with the E.U. accord whereby Turkey will handle the influx and flow of refugees.

Former Airport now rows of tents
Today we visit a camp housing refugees from Afghanistan.  It is actually the former airport buildings which have been empty for over 15 years.  The airport has been divided up into three camps, and we visited one of those.  Greek government authorities are in charge of the camps, but CRS has a good presence there offering cash assistance to the people to purchase food nearby and to sustain their families.

The old airport has been divided up with make-shift dividers affording some privacy.  Entire families live in a small enclosure, and get their government issued food from a central location.  The airport restrooms serve the people, and special shower areas have been installed.

Visiting a Family in their small space
These Afghan refugees fled their homes and towns because of the violence and persecution by the Taliban members and ISIS members.  These refugees were primarily members of smaller groups or sects--a few Christians, but most Shiites living in the midst of the Sunni Taliban and ISIS.  Taliban and ISIS fighters have no qualms about walking up to a Shiite on the street and shooting him or her.  Fear of this type of life forced them to leave, traveling first into Iran, then into Turkey, and finally into Greece.

CRS is working throughout Greece to obtain empty apartment buildings which they then fix up, and move families out of the camps into.  The families we met were mainly middle class Afghans with professions such as shoe maker, baker, and store owner.  They are all anxious to work again, and to contribute for the upkeep of their families.  This approach is similar to using the unfinished houses spread across Iraq.

One of the most urgent needs is for the children to get their education.  One Afghan young lady took it upon herself to begin informal classes for the children, and now has two Greek teachers assisting.  But life in this makeshift facility is simply inadequate for any type of normal life.

The goal of the Afghans we met was to reach Germany.  Many have a few relatives living there, and they would have a place to go if their asylum petitions are accepted.  The process is long and arduous, and months go by between various interviews and bureaucratic steps.

The universal plea and cry of all the refugee families we met across the Middle East is loud and clear:
we want a better life for our children than what we have had to endure, and we will make all the sacrifices needed to get them onto a sound path forward.

[To assist the wonderful work of CRS, visit: ]