Joint Catholic-Protestant project in Italy gives hope to Syrian family

(Photo: WCC Marianne / Ejdersten)Representatives of the World Council of Churches visited Greece in October 2015 to strengthen efforts in support of refugees in Europe and the Middle East. The WCC solidarity visit was hosted by the The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the [Orthodox] Church of Greece.

The renowned Bambino Gesu children's hospital in Rome is treating a seven-year-old Syrian girl suffering from a rare form of eye a day after arriving in Italy with her family.

Falak al Hourani, her parents and her younger brother Hussein came to Rome thanks to a "humanitarian corridor" project initiated by the Rome-based Catholic Sant'Egidio Community and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy.

The al Hourani family fled their home in Homs, nearly three years ago due to the conflict engulfing Syria and went to Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, Vatican Radio reported.

The family's arrival in Italy is the first of an estimated 1,000 refugees being brought to the country in an ecumenical project aimed at deterring people from making the perilous journey by sea.

Now that peace talks aimed at ending the five-year old Syrian civil war in which the United Nations estimates more than 250,000 people have perished.

U.N estimates put the number of internally displaced people in Syria at more than 6.5 million, while it says 13.5 million people inside Syria are classified as "in need of assistance."

In December the coalition of Protestant and Catholic organizations reached an agreement with the Italian government to provide travel and integration services for refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.


The government will provide humanitarian visas to ensure the right to take up residence, the World Council of Churches said in a statement.

The visas will not allow passage to other countries in the European Union. Christian agencies will furnish airline tickets to Italy as well as accommodation, assistance with asylum procedures, educational opportunities and Italian language courses.

Sant'Egidio's Cesare Zucconi told Vatican Radio, "The churches together with the Italian government are issuing, for the first two years up to one thousand humanitarian visas, so up to one thousand people, more or less, will come from Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia in the next month."

Regarding the plight of the family, Zucconi said the family had been living in bad conditions and had no money, just like many of the thousands of other refugees that have fled to Lebanon from Syria.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has welcomed the initiative, one of a number of private sponsorships helping refugees to rebuild their lives.

With the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), Sant'Egidio has opened assistance offices in Morocco and Lebanon, with the future possibility of a third office in Ethiopia.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said in December, "This admirable agreement is an essential early step in addressing the humanitarian crisis facing many places in the world.

"It is a model for churches, related faith-based organizations, governments and the international community to act together in the interest of humanity."

Copyright © 2015 Ecumenical News