Repairing ravages of war

Interfaith project members encourage reflection on those affected by the Iraq War

“The greatest sin is indifference.”
— Pope John Paul II

by Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

The weekend of Feb. 13-15 is the sixth anniversary of worldwide demonstrations for peace in Iraq and the anticipation of the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq that will follow in March.

The Central New York Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project is asking the community to take some time for prayer, education and action to raise awareness about the suffering of those affected by the Iraq War.

Fred Fusco, director of social justice, disabled and public policy for the Syracuse Diocese and a member of the CNY Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project, said, “People need to know the suffering this war has caused and hopefully they will want to take some kind of steps to alleviate the suffering that was caused by it. Our government initiated the war — without any provocation from Iraq. Our media hasn’t spent any time educating the public about it.”

Fusco said people in Iraq have lost family members, their homes, health and safety. According to the website, almost 70 percent of Iraqis do not have access to safe drinking water, fewer than 20 percent have access to adequate sewage systems and over 40 percent live on less than one dollar a day. Unacceptably high poverty and unemployment rates are compounding the crisis. Women and girls have been victims of kidnapping, murder and rape by individuals and armed groups. Ethnic minorities, including Christian, Mandaean, Yezedi, Turkoman and Palestinian populations have also been particularly vulnerable to ongoing violence and unrest. In addition, those Iraqis who have worked with the new government and U.S.-affiliated and other international agencies have been subjected to violence and unrest.

Very few of the displaced have been able to return to Iraq. Among those who have returned, many are not able to live in their original homes because they have been taken over by other families. People who have left Iraq and fled to neighboring countries have no means of supporting themselves because they are not allowed to work, and so they have been steadily depleting their savings and selling what they could take with them just to afford a place to live in. It has put significant stress on those communities that are trying to host refugees.

The CNY Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project group, which consists  of 15 people representing various religious denominations throughout the Syracuse area, have met twice a month for the last year to discuss ways in which they could educate people on the issues associated with war. “We’ve also talked about how we could direct people if they want to make a monetary contribution or a gift of their time, such as sitting down to talk with a vet,” said Fusco.

Fusco said that through the group’s involvement and service to Iraq refugees, they discovered that the people who worked as professionals in Iraq are unable to work in the U.S. He gave the example of an Iraqi physician who emigrated here and is unable to practice medicine because he has not been able to afford the cost of a series of exams he is required to take in order to get licensed. “We’d like to get a fund set up for that,” said Fusco.

The CNY Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project group also sponsored the Wounds of War Lecture Series last year at Le Moyne College. “The lectures addressed the problems that the displaced people living in Iraq are struggling with as well as the struggles facing refugees and veterans,” said Fusco.

In an attempt to educate people about the suffering, Fusco distributed packets of resource material to parishes in the diocese, major religious congregations in the area and members of Interfaith Works in Syracuse. The group hopes that the faith communities will utilize the materials he sent as a part of their worship and educational programs on the weekend of Feb. 13-15, or at a more appropriate time.

The resource materials include Scripture readings, a poem for meditation, stories about refugees, a reflection from an Iraq War veteran, prayers for peace and children’s activities. Also included are suggested action steps for young people, adults, families and congregations. The resources also include a listing of books for consideration.

Rev. Craig Schaub is also a member of the CNY Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project group. As pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Syracuse, he plans to use some of the resource materials in the upcoming worship service on Sunday, Feb. 15. “I’ll incorporate some of the prayers that were included and I’ll also focus on some of the refugee stories in my sermon,” said Schaub.

Harsey Leonard is also a member of the CNY Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project group and serves as chairman of the social justice committee at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in DeWitt. Leonard said that his congregation’s service on Sunday, Jan. 25 was devoted to recognizing the problems in the Middle East. “It was a very interesting and provocative service,” he said.

Magda Bayoumi, an Egyptian immigrant who frequently speaks in the local area about Middle East issues, gave a presentation entitled,  Why Do they Hate Us? “We also had a parallel service in the religious education program for our youth,” said Leonard. “They discussed current issues.”

May Memorial has been working since August with an Iraq family that they sponsored. Leonard explained that the father worked as a welder in Iraq with a U.S. military contractor. His life was threatened and he was severely injured when the vehicle he was riding in was bombed. He was targeted because he worked with Americans. “He and his wife have six children and they are also expecting twins,” said Leonard. “Now, he is unable to work. They are truly victims of the war.”

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