ROME – Despite the worsening crisis in Libya, Religious women and men continue to offer pastoral care and desperately needed services to the country’s many migrants.

Many of these migrants who have stayed behind have lost their jobs and have nowhere else to go, which leaves them searching for food, medicine, clothing and most of all, rent money, said a nun working just outside Tripoli.

Sr Shirley of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary told Catholic News Service on May 20 that the livelihoods of many immigrants depended on the once-strong presence of diplomats, oil workers and other foreign professionals. After these left, there was little or no work left for the lower-paid immigrant workers.

“Lots of [migrants] come flocking to the Church looking for help,” she said.

The nuns have been able to give out small amounts of cash and they have been distributing food and other supplies they receive from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees via Tunisia, she said.

Many migrants who decided to stay did so because they have been living in Libya for a number of years and are hoping the situation in the country improves, she said. Many of them also have no home or work to return to in their country of origin.

Five religious communities, including the Missionaries of Charity and the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, are working in and around Tripoli.

The Sisters at the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary community near Tripoli worked at a government-run home for the elderly or centres for education. Some have been unable to continue their work because they need to use a car to get around, Sr Shirley said. Rising gas prices and shortages have made this extremely difficult.

All of the Catholics in Libya are foreign workers, said Sr Shirley, who is from India. Most come from India, the Philippines, Ghana, Congo, Nigeria and Sudan, and some are from Europe.

Fr Daniel Farrugia, vicar of the apostolic vicariate in Tripoli, said there had been some 100,000 Christians living in Libya before the conflict. Those who have stayed are usually the women working in the hospitals.

Pope Benedict XVI has renewed his appeal for a negotiated settlement in Libya and called for an end to bloodshed in Syria.

Speaking at the Vatican May 15, the pope said the situation in Syria required urgent efforts.

“I ask the authorities and all the citizens to spare no effort in seeking the common good and in accepting the legitimate aspirations for a future of peace and stability,” he said. - CNS

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