A few days before Christmas, we published an urgent appeal by Della Shenton from Parishes for Peace who was leaving for Jordan, to spend Christmas with Christian refugee families, living in cramped conditions in the grounds of a Catholic church. Della asked us for cards with messages, or donations to buy small gifts for them. The response was very generous and Della has sent a message of thanks to ICN readers.
THINKING OF YOU - PRAYING FOR YOU - WE LOVE YOU
These are the messages Della Shenton took with her in over 1,000 Christmas cards when she flew out to Jordan on behalf of 'Parishes for Peace'. The cards were from Religious (CJs and Franciscans) and from parishes in Cornwall, Devon, London, Somerset, Worcester, Surrey, Lancashire and Cumbria together with 220 wrapped and labelled presents for 56 Iraqi Christian refugee families being cared for by three parishes in Jordan.
"It was a drop in the ocean of this terrible religious persecution," said Della, "but it was a beginning, to be in direct communication - which is what Parishes for Peace is all about. Their joy was nothing compared with ours at the opportunity to give and to share", she added, speaking of the experience of the ten days meeting, listening, laughing and learning from these brave Christians who left everything rather than deny their faith.
The plight of these 7,000 or so who came to the Church for help is hardly mentioned in the media. They are families with young children, teenagers and grandparents. All are registered UNHCR refugees, in transit for an indeterminate period, waiting in uncertainty for visas for Australia, Canada, America or Britain. To date they have been waiting for 18 months. They are doctors, engineers, teachers, businessmen, skilled craftsmen - an asset in any community - but as refugees not allowed to work in Jordan. They are therefore entirely dependent on donations and handouts from the major charities to pay for rent, food, water and heating. There is nothing like enough funding, and this is where parishes in the UK can step in and plug the gaps by directly befriending families known to be in need.
Parishes for Peace is set up to support the refugees by linking parish families in the UK with Iraqi Christian families (1,300 of them) in Amman, developing a relationship, preserving dignity and helping to relieve the isolation. Working with the parish priests alongside the major charities, Parishes for Peace will provide food vouchers, money for mid-morning lunch and transport for the children, English lessons for the adults, and much-needed "outings" as highlights to look forward to.
"Whilst there, all the families living in portacabins on parish car-parks were finally moved into flats in Amman with help from the Vatican, with Caritas paying most rents. They were without furniture but at least were dry; hungry and cold - but safe. Parishioners, priests and foreign donations from charities like ours helped with money for food, heat and essential furniture. Parishes for Peace broke a funding deadlock for two desperate young families with a donation that enabled them to move. Their smiles in the photograph tell all.
Even with so little, they always invited us to eat with them. We will go again to Jordan on 24 February en route for a pilgrimage to the biblical sites - and this time for a day trip out with their priests to the Baptism site of Jesus at the Jordan River, followed by lunch, which has been sponsored by Weybridge parish. "It will be a great day to remember - and I hope the first of many" added Della.
If you would like to know more about Parishes for Peace, or for a presentation for your parish, school or parish group, please contact: Della Shenton Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01803 314868 Mob: 07808 957604
There are more pictures on the ICN Facebook page.