February 2019

Rhodes: bringing help to those “nobody wants to know”

The sea that shapes the island of Rhodes, one of the most fascinating of the Dodecanese, knows it. It knows how many millions of men and women have landed on his coasts over the centuries, who to stop on the island, who for a short stop before leaving and those who drowned in search of a shelter. Among these myriad of people there is also St. Paul, Apostle of the Gentiles, a tireless traveler and a tireless evangelizer. The first Christian community was born with him, one of the most important of the time; then the island becomes obligatory passage for those who from Europe goes on pilgrimage to the places of Jesus. For this reason the island is still considered the Holy Land and the Latin church is represented by the presence of the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, in particular from father John Luke Gregory, whose mission, in addition to that of the parish priest of the Latin Catholics, is to be at the service of those who pass from the island or who live there. They are tourists in the summer, or some members of the personnel of the ships, who for long months of travel can not attend Mass and ask the father to celebrate when the ship stops at the port. But they are also “those that nobody wants to know”: the refugees and the poor of the island.

From 2015 to today the population of Rhodes has grown by about 15,000 people, for a total of 45,000. Of these, one third are refugees. They come from neighboring Turkey and flee the war; most are Syrians, but there are also many Iraqis, Iranians, Kurds and some Palestinians from Gaza. Since the emergency began, Brother Luke helps them by providing them with food, basic necessities and toys or coloring books for children.

“Initially – he tells us – to bring help to refugees, I addressed tourists passing by and asked for a donation in food, but today, thanks to the contribution of ATS pro Terra Sancta, distribution is more structured and we have an agreement with a supermarket of the area that regularly delivers to the center where some of them live, basic necessities and food “. The ‘center‘ of which Luke speaks to us is an old slaughterhouse in which about a hundred people live in terrible conditions.

“Many of those who arrive on the island – Luke continues – are transferred to more structured centers in Athens, waiting for documents. Above all children, many children without parents, do not know if they are dead, stuck in Turkey or in their country “. Others, however, remain in Rhodes, but are moved to popular homes on the island. Fr Luke also helps them: “Every Tuesday we make another distribution of food and goods in our monastery – he tells us – for the poor, drug addicts and prostitutes … 300 people in all! Lately many of those refugees living in public housing have started coming for the food package! “.

Association pro Terra Sancta also supports this charitable work of the Franciscan who is really very grateful. “I am a pastor – he continues – and I help everyone without distinction. To them I ask only ‘what do you need?’ And not the provenance, religion, type of activities that lead because I see Jesus in them. This is my task as the Pope always reminds us. But without your support I could do a lot of what I do for these people forgotten by everyone. Thank you!”

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