A Proposal to Share a ‘New Exodus’: the Camillians and Service to Refugees in Vienna

12004715_10208060159810774_3444673572207005406_nThe Camillian community of Vienna hosted the first meeting of the committee of the Camillian Task Force for the welcoming of refugees in Europe on 4-6 January. The decision to hold the meeting in Austria was made last October during the conference of the leaders of the Camillian Task Force in Bangkok. Father Leonard, with the help of Father Alberto and the whole of the Camillian community in Austria, decided to place themselves at the service of over a thousand refugees housed in a geriatric hospital which had not been used for two years and which had witnessed since its creation the presence of Camillians as chaplains. The committee was made up of Father Leonard and Father Alberto, representing the Province of Austria; Father Antonio Puca, representing the secretariat for ministry; Father Miroslaw, representing the Province of Poland; Anita Ennis, representing the presidency of the Lay Camillian Family; as well as Father Aris, Father Sam and Father Marco of the Camillian Task Force.

A careful reading of the scenarios of crisis at an international level certainly could not but pay attention to what we could define as an ‘exodus’ from the countries of the South of the world and in particular from Syria. 7.6 million people over recent months have left Syria to flee from poverty, hunger, war and immense destruction. The numbers on their own are not enough tell the story of a reality made up of faces, of dramatic stories but also of so much hope and tenacity.

IMG_0318     The first part of the meeting was devoted to listening carefully to Stefan Meier, a leading figure of Caritas Austria as regards projects for the Middle East. The aim was to understand the roots of the phenomenon. With data and pictures, Stefan literally immersed us, going over the stages of the exoduses of the crisis in Syria from 2011 to today, emphasising that today the priority is to help the Syrians above all in neighbouring countries which are literally exploding because they are unable to help the very large number of fleeing people (the Lebanon alone has about a million people).

The second part of the meeting was dedicated to a visit to the buildings that house the refugees. After dividing into two groups (one Arabic-speaking and the other Persian-speaking), the committee listened to the histories, the needs and the very great hardships of the people who had been taken in. Hearing accounts of the thousands of miles travelled on foot and by any means that came to hand, but also stories of bombs and violence, was not in the least simple. The subsequent meeting with the diocese of Vienna only served to confirm the long list of needs to which it was necessary to respond. Father Alberto and his volunteers accompanied us on this pathway made up of listening and the search for answers.

IMG_0324    The deliberations of the committee ended with the choice of at least three areas of the work that the Camillian Task Force would like to address as regards the subject of refugees: the first, to support the Province of Austria and its agent Father Alberto, will be focused on activity involving support and assistance for the refugees living in the buildings of the hospital; the second will be dedicated to a possible moment of formation to understand the subject for men and women religious and lay people who want to know more about the subject and to plan projects similar to the one in Vienna; and lastly it was agreed to begin to think about a presence (with a first visit to engage in an assessment) of the Camillian Task Force in the Lebanon to support the Syrian refugees who have been accepted there. This was the beginning of a journey which has in its heart the experience and the story of Camillus and in its eyes the faces of those who are some of the ‘poorest and sickest’ of our time.