Take Two Minutes

How many times have you said, "That will just take me a couple of minutes." Or "It will be quick -- I'll be back in two minutes!" Stop right now, if you can, sit still, and time two minutes on your clock or watch. That's how long survivors of the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria said it took for the ground to stop its convulsions.

Those two minutes must have seemed like a chaotic eternity.

As I write, the death toll has topped 6,000 souls. Surely it will climb in the coming days. Yes, there will be some miraculous stories about people being pulled from the rubble long past what we think is a survivable amount of time, but the majority of those trapped will be lost. One needs only to look at pictures to understand the complete and utter devastation. Survivors will need material, emotional, and spiritual help.

The Pontifical Mission Societies (TPMS) has mobilized its network of missionaries -- priests, religious, and lay people -- to help with the growing need for food, shelter, and other basic services.

"There is rubble everywhere," said Father Bahjat Elia Karacah, ofm, priest of the Roman Catholic parish of Aleppo, the city most impacted in Syria. "Those who were able, took to the streets in panic, but too many were trapped as buildings turned to dust. It is raining and cold here, and people are barefoot and in their pajamas. There is no electricity, and the situation is truly dramatic. We are waiting for rescue teams, because our priority is to pull as many people out of the rubble as possible. We have opened the undamaged rooms of the parish and offered warm drinks and something to eat."

Now-retired Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, who led the Greek Melkite Catholic community during the worst of his country's civil war in Aleppo, once visited us here at the Pastoral Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Boston. In a moving speech, he pleaded with us to remember his people in prayerful solidarity and to bear witness to their suffering. Jeanbart was rescued from underneath the rubble that was once his bedroom. A priest and a layperson who work with him are still missing.

Now, Father Karach's message to us is just as direct. "Please, I beg you, do not forget about us," he said. "We trust in international aid; here we are all in shock. The war wasn't enough. Poverty wasn't enough. Now, the earthquake. Please, please, do not abandon our people."

To help missionaries who are already at work on the ground, go to www.propfaithboston.org and give to our TPMS Earthquake Relief Fund. It may only take two minutes.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.