Neville Kyrke-Smith (right) said Christians are being tested for their faith.


By Robert Hiini

31 March, 2015

Mia wore a t-shirt with English writing on it, a prize for being the best student in English in the camp; safe for now in an impermanent home to 2000 families, somewhere in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
Her family are not among them.

The 13-year-old’s father died back in Syria, a couple of years ago; her mother, last week.

She has no siblings.

The Catholic Sisters serving in the camp will be her new family, Neville Kyrke-Smith from the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said, speaking of one of the projects the charity supports to a small gathering in Sydney last month.

“These Sisters, in the middle of this conflict, are really witnessing to the love of Christ and with due respect to priests and bishops [working in other forums], they are there, quietly getting on with the work.”

A mere 20km away, the makeshift community sees the bombs detonating on the other side of Baalbek where IS militants executed one of several captured Lebanese soldiers in December; a region reeling in terror, with kidnappings and counter-kidnappings an everyday occurrence.

Whether in Lebanon, or Iraq, or Syria or any number of other hotspots in the Middle East, Christians were being tested for their faith – intimidated, brutalised and murdered – Kyrke-Smith said.

Christians in the relatively secure West were also being tested; tested for their solidarity and their love.

The one-time Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in 1990 is credited with having encouraged Prince Charles to speak out for persecuted Christians at ACN’s freedom report launch last year (the prince, of his own volition, has a long history of speaking out on such matters).

He is better informed than any journalist, receiving on-the-ground reports from ACN’s 20 offices throughout the world, often in places where secular media outlets wouldn’t dare to station crews.

Working through the universal Church, the charity supports Christians and other persecuted groups both materially and spirituality with education, emergency food relief, seminary training, sanitation and housing projects, among others.

Kyrke-Smith said he agreed with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres’ assessment that the War in Syria had turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War.

In a country with a pre-war population of 22 million, 7.6 million were now internally displaced with 12.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Lebanon, a country of 4.2 million people had absorbed more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria alone, taking the total number of refugees in that country to more than 2 million.

“Perhaps we sometimes think that refugees are not like us, we think they were born refugees that they’ll always be refugees,” Kyrke-Smith said.

“Now most of you have a mobile phone on you today.

“Rahed [a refugee in Lebanon who fled the northern Christian town of Mosul when IS invaded in June 2014] told of how his mobile phones from the family were taken, the watches were taken, the camera, the cash, the credit cards.

“The gunmen at the checkpoint even demanded that he hand over the battery of his six-year-old son’s hearing aid. He pointed a gun at Rahed’s son and said ‘no, we want the battery’. That level of inhumanity.”

“Rahed and his family were living a comfortable existence with hopes for the children, a nice house.

“These people are people like us,” Kyrke-Smith said. “These are our brothers and sisters.”