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Syria

Concern for the coming winter

Project trip of Fr. Dr. Andrzej HalembaThe growing wave of refugees from the Middle East being accepted into the European Union has aroused a growing wish on the part of Syrian Christians to leave the country, says Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East Section of the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), who is currently visiting a project in Syria. “The discussions in Europe have also been noticed here. Many wish to leave for this reason, especially the Christians. I have often been asked if I can help people to move to Germany, for example. But the aim of our work is to facilitate a future for the people in their own country.”

Father Halemba has already visited the war-torn country several times this year. “My impression, after several visits since the beginning of this year, is one of increasing concern about the ever greater instability in Syria. The military success of ‘Islamic State’ causes fear and anxiety especially among Christians. The future of the city of Aleppo, where many Christians still live, is uncertain.”

Father Halemba pointed positively to the work being done locally by the ACN-supported project partners. “They are working for the benefit of the people in an ever more efficient and coordinated way. This is also recognized by those affected. For example, when I was in the Christian town of Marmarita near the Lebanese border, the gratitude for the aid that our benefactors have made possible was overwhelming. The people said that our benefactors had made it possible for them to survive. One boy, when we met, only said one word in Arabic: ‘Shukran’; thank you. Everyone was very moved by that. An old woman pleaded with me, with tears in her eyes, to go on helping the Christians in Syria so that they could stay.”

Fr. Walid Iskandafy M.S.P. running our project for the IDPs in Maarmarita together with a lay volunteer Marmarita is a village in northwestern Syria. Marmarita is one of the largest villages in Wadi al-Nasarah, which means "Valley of Christians", a region north of Talkalakh. The population is Greek Orthodox. Marmarita used to be  a popular summer destination and tourist attraction in Syria. Now, many Internally Displaced Peoples found a refuge here Syria 2015 May, Marmarita SYRIA / NATIONAL 15/00147 Emergency support in the Valley of Christians, Marmarita, Governorate of Homs, January to June 2015

Marmarita currently houses many internally-displaced refugees, both Christian and Muslim. “The town is full to bursting. There is hardly any room left for the refugees to live,” says Father Halemba. The young dentist Sana (name altered for reasons of safety) heads a team of volunteers in Marmarita that is supported by ACN. “Marmarita is safe. We do not hear any bombs or explosions here. But the cost of living has become very expensive, and the people hardly have any jobs. Therefore our work is focused mainly on helping people to pay their rent, as well as medical provisions and school scholarships. Nearly 300 families are currently receiving rent subsidies. Some 140 students are receiving money for their travel to attend their universities, which in some cases are a long distance away.”

Syria 2015 May Badly damaged church St. Elijah in  Al-Qusayr (Qussair, Qusair, Alqseir). Pastoral visit of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III Laham and the Ordinary of the Greek-Melkite Archdiocese of Homs, Hama and Yabroud Mgr Jean Abdou Arbach B.C. to the Parish of St. Elijah in  Al-Qusayr (Qussair, Qusair, Alqseir)

Sana, a Syrian-Catholic Christian, further explained that the individual fates of the refugees are a matter very close to her heart. “We are aiding a family that lost a child in an explosion in Damascus. Their second child is now sick with cancer and needs urgent medical support.” Sana said she was moved by the fate of a young mother who also lost her husband in an explosion in Damascus. “She is now struggling to survive with two small children. But she nevertheless finds the strength to help other refugees as part of our team of volunteers. This is a true example of Christian love of neighbour.”

Bread with one hand and the Bible with the other

Father Halemba emphasized the importance of humanitarian aid alongside the support of pastoral projects. “In the city of Qusayr, for example, we [ACN] have supported the renovation of a Church that was destroyed by Jihadists. It can now be used again for religious services. This gives the people hope that life can go on. The Church must give people bread with one hand and the Bible with the other. People need material as much as spiritual aid.” Father Halemba is particularly concerned about the coming winter. “Fuel and gas are in short supply in Syria and very expensive. But the people use these for heating. Last year 50 people died from the cold. We will therefore need to pay particular attention to aid for the winter.”

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has given over 11.6 million dollars in aid to the people in Syria since the outbreak of the war four years ago and is currently supporting 140 humanitarian aid and pastoral projects.

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