NEW YORK — Catholic humanitarian agencies are launching emergency relief campaigns following Feb. 6’s devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, which have so far killed more than 11,200 and injured upward of 40,900.
The number of dead and injured was expected to climb further as rescue teams continued to search through the rubble of toppled buildings.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See, is looking to aid over 2,000 families in Syria’s Aleppo and Hama regions — already long ravaged by conflict — by providing bedding, food, medicines, infant formula, diapers and clothing. Donations can be made online at https://cnewa.org/work/emergency-syria; by phone at 800-442-6392; or by mail to CNEWA headquarters, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the U.S. Catholic Church’s overseas relief and development agency, also is accepting donations through its website, crs.org. CRS is partnering with Caritas Turkey, Caritas Syria and Caritas Anatolia — members of Caritas Internationalis, a global confederation of Catholic relief organizations — to shelter displaced victims while ensuring access to food, clean water and hygiene supplies.
CNEWA president Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari said in a Feb. 7 news release his agency’s effort was “a preliminary response” to the disaster, which saw two powerful quakes strike southern Turkey and northern Syria mere hours apart.
The first quake, a 7.8 magnitude tremor, occurred just after 4 a.m. during a winter storm, followed by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock. The second quake, registering 7.5, hit nine hours later some 60 miles away. Numerous aftershocks have followed the quakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Thousands of buildings have collapsed, with rescue efforts hampered by inclement weather and damaged roads. Rescuers, joined by international teams, are racing against time to extricate survivors from the rubble.
“Survivors are still processing the shock of the earthquake, searching through the rubble and assisting in rescue efforts,” said CNEWA Beirut regional director Michel Constantin, whose team manages emergency programs throughout the region. “There is a general state of panic, exacerbated by the harsh weather, complicating rescue efforts and the capacity to collect and assess data and plan accordingly.”
Even prior to the quake, 4.1 million in Syria depended on humanitarian aid due to a long-running civil war that since 2011 has ravaged the nation.
“The situation is tragic. … We have opened our convent doors to hundreds of families who have lost their houses, and their number is increasing by the hour,” said Blue Marist Brother Georges Sabe, whose order — which CNEWA’s campaign will aid — is sheltering up to 1,000 families in Aleppo, coordinating with the Franciscan Friars and the Salesian Fathers.
Brother Sabe said, “The elderly, children and women … are now in urgent need of food, clothes, medications and most of all, comfort and warmth in this harsh winter.”
CNEWA’s campaign also will bolster outreach by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which currently aids more than 850 families in the Aleppo region through local churches’ extensive network of parishes and schools. Through CNEWA, the society will receive mattresses, pillows, blankets, food, water and medicines, as well as milk, infant formula and diapers.
In the Syrian city of Hama, about 153 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, CNEWA will assist three emergency shelters for more than 150 families who have lost their homes due to the quakes.
“We lived and survived the long years of war but never experienced this kind of fear,” said Bishop Abdo Abrash of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Homs, Hama and Yabroud, which is running the shelters. “It is true misery … there is a lack of first aid equipment to tend to the survivors.”
Constantin said amid the “chaotic” situation on the ground, “this is a critical moment to help heal those who have survived, those who ‘saw death,’ as one of our partners told me.”
Along with financial support, prayer remains an essential response to the tragedy, said Msgr. Vaccari.
“Even though we at CNEWA are accustomed to tragedies and emergencies, we are not immune to their toll,” he said. “We ask for your prayers of support and consolation for the victims of this horror, your prayers for those who have lost their lives and those who mourn them.”