(Vatican Radio) Fr. Cedric Prakash, an Indian Jesuit priest and committed human rights activist, is the Regional Advocacy & Communications Officer of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Region, based in Beirut, Lebanon. Belonging to the Gujarat Jesuit Province of India, Fr. Cedric founded "Prashant” in 2001, a Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Ahmedabad. He has been at the forefront on issues related to human rights, justice and peace and other advocacy matters for which he has been honoured in India and abroad.
In 2015 he was invited by JRS to lend his skills and services to the cause of the thousands of refugees, displaced and those affected by war and violence in the Middle East - an invitation he accepted after much discernment and moved to Beirut in Jan 2016. Often on the move, he visits refugee camps and centres, in the effort of the JRS to bring solace, hope and dignity to people on the move, and advocating for them publicly and internationally on their behalf, largely on the social media.
Speaking on behalf of the refugees, displaced and those affected by war and violence, Fr. Cedric voiced their sentiments, hopes and pleas in an Easter message he addressed to Vatican Radio and all of its listeners.
The Lord is risen indeed! Let us be glad and rejoice!
It is Easter once again and I want to send these warm and loving greetings to all those who are listening to Radio Vatican in Asia and in other parts of the world . I send you these greetings, on behalf of the millions of people here in the Middle East who have become refugees, who are displaced and who are affected in any way by war and violence, which has gripped Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other parts in the region, for several years now .It is not easy for the people here - but we continue to pray and hope that Our Risen Lord will touch the hearts and lives of all!
During the past weeks, people in this region have experienced continued and increased violence On Holy Saturday, more than 125 people were killed in a bomb blast on a bus convoy just outside Aleppo. The convoy was carrying several people who were being transported to safer areas. Many of those killed were innocent children. Pope Francis in his Easter message prayed for the victims and called the attack a most 'despicable act'. Earlier this month, dozens were killed in a chemical bomb attack in Syria. Around the same time, several were killed in a fresh round of violence in Tikrit the northern Iraqi city. The world was shocked when the Palm Sunday services in a couple of Churches, in Egypt were brutally attacked.
Sadly, violence continues to engulf so much of this region. Most of those killed and who are badly affected are ordinary people. Many of them who would like the violence to stop immediately. It is also their fervent prayer during this Easter Season. The affected often feel helpless in the face of such violence.Powerful and vested interests ( including the industrial military complex) are not keen to put an end to this senseless war and the never-ending cycle of violence. The prayer of many is that our Risen Lord touches particularly the hardened hearts of those responsible to bring about peace in the area
Just last week I visited a makeshift camp of Syrian Refugees on the outskirts of Baalbek (not far from the Syrian border); there are about 100 people living here in very pathetic conditions. They had walked miles from their native place in Syria to flee war. Their journey on foot took several months (they lost track of time). After arriving in Lebanon, they fell prey to an unscrupulous landlord who allows them to stay on his land but treats them as bonded labour They are at his mercy. They have to work daily without any wages on his lands for long hours They have no access to anything leave alone education for the children and medical care They are able to survive because of the generosity of some kind villagers and Charitable NGOs. Very often they have to walk into town to beg for something. An elderly man suffers from cancer but cannot afford the necessary medicare. Insipte of their suffering they are hopeful for better days. We pray that their Easter arrives soon.
Yes, in the midst of much pain and suffering, of war and violence, there are several stories of hope and resilience. The people here want you also to hear these stories. About a month ago, on March 15th, we at the Jesuit Refugee Service launched a campaign for the Syrian Refugees and Displaced. Our focus is on the hope and resilience of several people. This what we believe the Easter message is all about
There is Randa who has written a little book for children entitled ' Dry Bread ', who wants children to know about the futility of war and why peace and justice are needed for all. There is Majeda, who lives in rural Damascus, who still wants to pursue her desire to become a lawyer despite several setbacks. There is Mahmoud now living in Jordan, who wants to give his children a more secure and safe world. There is Avin in Iraq, who provides 'beauty care' to other displaced women, besides earning a livelihood. These and many more; these are the Easter stories of hope!
On April 7th, we remembered Jesuit Fr Frans van der Lugt. It was the third anniversary of his martyrdom! On April 7th 2014, he was gunned down at the Jesuit Residence in Homs, Syria. He loved his people; he lived in the midst of them like a true Shepherd and died for them. His life and death has striking parallels to that of Jesus. People, both Christians and Muslims, revere him as a saint today!
On behalf of all the refugees and displaced who through their grit and determination, their hope and resilience are striving in some ways to live the Easter message, I want to wish each one of you the Easter blessings of LOVE, JOY , HOPE, INCLUSIVENESS and PEACE! May these gifts of our Risen Lord, be yours today and every day! HAPPY EASTER!
Easter Sunday April 16th 2017