Dear President Trump,
We write to you out of deep concern for the people of the Middle East during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an international Catholic network with 120 member organizations around the world, we are hearing directly from our partners that daily life for people was already tenuous for many in places such as Iran, Syria, and Gaza and these realities have only become more difficult as a result of COVID-19. We urge you to ease and suspend sanctions (1) that negatively impact civilian populations and other restrictions that impair governments’ abilities to respond to the health crisis. This includes financial sanctions that impact the ability of countries to import much-needed medical supplies and equipment.
- Iran: COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on Iran. Long preceding the current crisis, sanctions have caused a shortage of medicines, medical supplies and equipment in Iran. We recognize that some steps have already been taken, including allowing humanitarian trade with the Central Bank of Iran (2). But U.S. sanctions are so sweeping that they impact Iran’s entire economy, have made banks unwilling to carry out humanitarian transactions, and make it difficult for other countries to carry out transactions without triggering secondary sanctions. The U.S. should lift sanctions on Iran that are impairing a response to this crisis.
- Syria: The potential consequence of the virus in Syria is staggering. An estimated 11 million Syrians are already in need of humanitarian assistance, with 6.2 million displaced from their homes (3). Many lack adequate shelter and sanitation. Syria’s health care sector has been seriously weakened as a result of military attacks in the ongoing war and the imposition of sweeping sanctions make it difficult to purchase medicines and medical supplies. Rather than moving forward with implementing additional sanctions, the U.S. should ease sanctions that prohibit the import and purchase of badly-needed medicines and medical supplies and assure banks that such transactions will not trigger a reprisal.
- Gaza: The strict Israeli blockade of Gaza has already made conditions “unlivable” for the residents of Gaza, apart from COVID-19. The UN and other international agencies have repeatedly called attention to shortages of key medicines and medical supplies, with up to 50% of basic medical supplies unavailable at any time (4). Population density, broken water and sanitation systems, and a under resourced medical system leave Gaza vulnerable to an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak that could also negatively impact Israel. Israel regularly denies permits to patients seeking medical care that is available only outside Gaza and when permission is granted, Israel often denies permits for accompanying family members, especially for parents of children. The U.S. should immediately press Israel to ensure that medical supplies and technology are provided to Gaza, that patients needing treatment outside of Gaza are given the permits necessary for extended periods of treatment, and that family members, especially parents accompanying children, are also granted permits to travel.
As people of faith, our concern is for the most vulnerable people around the world. At this precarious moment, we call on the U.S. government to extend help to those living in increasingly desperate situations in the Middle East by suspending sanctions that negatively impact civilian populations and other restrictions that impair governments’ abilities to respond to the current pandemic.
We pray for wisdom and compassion for you in these difficult times.
Bishop Marc Stenger, Co-President (GFrance)
Sr Teresia Wamuyu Wachira (IBVM), Co-President (Kenya)
Ms Greet Vanaerschot, Secretary General (Belgium)
International Board of Pax Christi International
Archbishop Anthony Ledesma (Philippines)
Nora Carmi (Palestine)
Fr. Paul Lansu (Belgium)
Fr. Godefroid Mombula Alekiabo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Fr. Jan Peters, sj (The Netherlands)
Sr. Sister Patricia L. Ryan M. M. (Peru)
Norbert Richter (Germany)
Elena Vilenskaia (Russian Federation)
Mary Yelenick (USA)
Pax Christi Sections
Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand
Pax Christi Australia
Pax Christi Flanders
Pax Christi France
Pax Christi Germany
Pax Christi Italy
Pax Christi Korea
Pax Christi Peru
Pax Christi Philippines
Pax Christi Scotland
Pax Christi UK
Pax Christi USA
(3) Syria Emergency Fact Sheet
There is that old gag – “If priests went on strike…would anyone notice?” Now you don’t have to answer that…but it is now closer to being fact than being a funny.
The announcement this week by the Episcopal Conferences of both Scotland and England/Wales to suspend all public worship brought home, to those of the Catholic faith, the seriousness of this pandemic. The Eucharist, “source and summit” of all we are is now being denied to the faithful. We can’t go to Communion nor be in communion with each other. This is true also in the other Christian traditions when similar announcements were made and to other faiths when Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, Gurdwaras…also closed their doors to the faithful. It starkly brought home to us what we take for granted.
It is true that we don’t fully appreciate things until we are denied them. We only think of water when we are thirsty, we long for light when we are plunged into the dark, we crave food when we realise that we are hungry. As human beings we too easily take things for granted and it is sadly when we don’t have them that we learn to appreciate them. Or when we see someone worse off than ourselves… “I complained because I had no moccasins until I saw a man with no feet.” (Native American Proverb)
And so to social distancing or self-isolation. I am sure this has been met with… “How will I cope?” or “I can’t do that.” or “I need to see them” – if you are an extravert! For those of the introversion preference it may come as a welcome relief to the rigours of socialising or a chance to get ‘time to myself’ or the opportunity to work away quietly at completing all those things needing to be done. We suddenly realise we have taken our need for others for granted.
The last time I self-isolated was when I did an 8 Day Silent Retreat before my final vows. By day two I was talking to myself in the mirror whilst shaving! We all find our ways to cope.
And it is in our coping that we display who we are. Some have gone into selfish mode, stockpiling things they will never need nor use! Others in denial that this is nothing more than something from a Dan Brown novel and it’s all been exaggerated. Some others are convinced they are invincible and that ‘it will never affect me!’ I hope these are just from a faction of humanity. For most of us there is a breadth of emotions ranging from caution to fear, from anxiety to concern, from common sense to contrived non-sense.
I think the underlying fear is of the unknown. Like the original sin of Genesis, we don’t like not knowing everything, we crave full knowledge. But, this is something we have never faced, it is new, it is unseen, it knows no boundaries. It also reminds us of the downside of globalisation, the adverse aspect of living in a global village. I believe our fear is compounded by our inability – our inability to give answers, to explain, to see the whole picture, to know what to do and, ultimately, our inability to be in control.
In the face of this, the last thing we can do is despair. Despair is the antithesis of being a Christian, the antagonist of or faith. There is never an opportune time for a pandemic but the trials of Lent leading to the triumph of Easter could indeed be deemed a fairly appropriate time. We are approaching the great feast of victory over evil, of the Divine authority over human frailty, of limitless over limited, of life over death. This is the feast where we acknowledge and celebrate that nothing can stand in the way of God’s all-powerful love, not even the tomb. However, before we get the balloons and the bubbly ready, we need to pass through the passion. The suffering of Jesus reminds us that our sins have consequences be it personal sin, social sin or ecological sin. Our present day sufferings may well be the result of our sins too, (and that demands due reflection and action) but we celebrate the fact that God’s love is omnipotent and it’s that belief that gets us through the “vale of tears.”
So, as we endure our present passion, let us not forget where it can lead us, if we but open our hearts to that transforming love of the Father. We can stand beating our breasts, tear-filled and petrified at the foot of the cross or run, hearts bursting, joy filled and glorified at the empty tomb.
The choice is ours.
I pray that as we live these uncertain times, we take certainty from the Easter message, and place our hope in God’s unfathomable love. The angel Gabriel told Mary at the annunciation “Do not be afraid…Nothing is impossible to God.” This is our faith and as we move through these times may we be comforted from that phrase uttered many times by Jesus “Do not be afraid…your faith has saved you.”
May the Passion give strength to us and Easter pour blessings on us.
– Jim Clarke, s.x.
It is with great regret that in the light of the Covid-19 virus pandemic we have decided to close both our Xaverian Centres until further notice. Coatbridge has closed already, and Preston Centre will close on Friday the 20th of March. The Covid-19 virus brings an unprecedented challenge and given the rapidly changing public health situation and the latest government advice, this is the only course open to us.
We will hold you in our prayers at this time. Please pray for us as we seek to respond positively to the current crisis.
Thank you for your cooperation and understanding currently.
Fr James Clarke Provincial Xaverian Missionaries UK Province
On Saturday 21st September 2019
- Lorna Gold – Divestment from fossil fuels
- Stephen Curran – Eco-Congregation Scotland
- Dr Pete Walton – Climate Science
- Will Dickson – Ethical Finance
Come along to our one day conference reflecting on the richness of Pope Francis’ ground breaking encyclical on the environment – Laudato Si’. Four expert speakers will explore important topics on the environment ranging from divestment from fossil fuels to ethical finance. There will be time for discussion and questions to each speaker and there will also be a plenary session involving all 4 speakers, giving an opportunity to ask questions directly to the panel of experts.
The day will start at 10am with registration and coffee. At 10.30am Bishop Nolan, President of Justice and Peace Scotland will welcome everyone and open the conference. Lunch, including vegetarian and vegan options, will be provided also. Book your ticket today.
The Xaverian Missionaries of the United Kingdom initiated an important gathering of Xaverian Missionaries working or interested in interreligious dialogue from Europe and the United States. The organization of the event brought an intense five days, together with sharing among confreres in an important area of our congregational mission today, along with friends and other colleagues.