In the run-up to the third anniversary of the war in Syria (15 March), Catholics around the world held candlelit vigils and prayed for peace as part of a global campaign to end the bloodshed.
The #WithSyria campaign saw prominent landmarks around the world lit up in solidarity with the people of Syria. Nelson’s Column and the Eiffel Tower were both illuminated with an image by the artist Banksy entitled 'There is always hope', which featured a young Syrian girl reaching for a red balloon. In London, Cardiff, Paris, Moscow, Melbourne, New York, Jordan and even Darfur, thousands of red balloons were released to carry a message of hope for Syria.
As part of the campaign, more than 100 humanitarian organisations – including CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund, World Vision and Islamic Relief – launched a joint plea for world leaders to commit to ensuring that the war does not last another year, while faith leaders called on people of all religions to pray for peace.
Bishop Declan Lang, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference International Affairs Department, joined the appeal for prayers. He said: “As we complete the third year of the uprisings in Syria that started on 15 March 2011, the levels of human loss and suffering are staggering… The bloodshed must stop, but for this to happen, we should stop looking at the crisis in Syria in terms of winners and losers. Rather, we should strive to stem the violence, increase our humanitarian assistance to all the needy and help turn the equation into a win-win one.
“Today, I pray for all Syrians across this broken country as I also urge every man and woman of faith to do so too. After all, our Lenten journey should help us redouble our efforts in the sure knowledge that the crucifixion yields to the Resurrection.”
CAFOD Director Chris Bain said: “After three years of conflict, the crisis can seem overwhelming, but the prayers, donations and solidarity of Catholics in England and Wales are a source of genuine hope for our brothers and sisters in need. The steadfast support of parishes, schools and individuals is making an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of vulnerable Syrians.”
Julie Siddiqi, Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Britain, said: “For three years Syrians have endured unacceptable suffering. The impact of this crisis has been devastating. It’s wonderful that the Abrahamic faiths and the British public have come together to pray for an end to this conflict. The vigils that are being held around the world show the people of Syria that we care and that we haven’t forgotten about their pain and suffering.”
The campaign was also endorsed by a huge range of political leaders and public figures, including David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Boris Johnson, Justine Greening, Jim Murphy, Hugh Grant, Simon Pegg, Yoko Ono and Richard Branson.
As well as praying for peace, Catholics in England and Wales have responded generously to CAFOD’s Syria Crisis appeal, donating more than £2.5 million in the last year. Thanks to these donations, the agency’s Church partners have reached thousands of families in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, providing food, shelter, healthcare, blankets, heaters and safe places for children to play and learn.
Siraj Daker, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, said: “It is not easy for me to ask for help. In Syria I never had to ask anyone for assistance. But receiving support from CAFOD’s partner Caritas Lebanon is better than getting one million Lebanese pounds. I am so happy that they stand side by side with us.”
The United Nations estimates that 9.3 million people are in need of aid with Syria – a figure that had risen sharply from 6.3 million in June 2013. More than 6.5 million people have been driven from their homes with the country, and at least 2.5 million refugees have fled abroad.