A significant portion of an allocated $7.5 million will go to projects related to construction and restoration, or education and religious formation, with much support for lodging, along with basic food and medical assistance. Without programs such as these, there is a serious risk of Christians leaving the region for good.
The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be funding seven point five million dollars’ worth of projects in Syria and Lebanon to help local Christian communities face increasingly difficult conditions in their countries.
With Syria still locked in a more than decade-old civil war, and Lebanon struggling with an extreme financial, social, and political crisis, aggravated by the explosion of the Port of Beirut in 2020, and the recent resurgence of tensions between different ethnic and religious groups, many Christians are tempted to abandon their native lands, just as hundreds of thousands already have.
In a recent interview with ACN, Patriarch Jospeh Younan III, of the Syriac Catholic Church, stated clearly that if the situation does not improve radically the presence of Christians in the region could end soon. “We are very, very scared that if this crisis continues it will be the end of Christians in Lebanon and the whole of the Middle East in a few years. Normally when Christians leave, as happened in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, they don’t return.”
To help stave off this tragic scenario, ACN has just approved a set of new projects which will help give Christians in both Syria and Lebanon the immediate aid to live their daily lives and regain some hope of remaining in their respective countries.
Syria—a major beneficiary of ACN’s aid is this country where many Christians are living on less than one dollar a day. ACN has been providing material and financial support to project partners for many years. The current funding package will include providing meal programs for the elderly, fuel for the central heating system of a residence for young female students, money for a six-month supply of medicine and daily cost of living for families; many other project initiatives have been approved, including scholarships for students.
A Project Supporting Newlyweds
One special project is aimed at giving aid to young newlywed couples, a need commented on by ACN project manager Regina Lynch following a recent visit to Syria. “Many young people don’t get married because they can’t afford to set up home together. It is a situation that also worries the bishops, recognizing that the faithful do not marry because they simply cannot afford it. We are working on a project in Aleppo, which will consist of giving couples enough money to cover basic needs for setting up home or to pay the rent of a flat for two years.”
The devastating situation in Lebanon that worsened in August 2020, has led ACN to increase its aid to the country. Whereas prior to that date, most funding to Lebanon was aimed at supporting Syrian refugees, now it is the Lebanese communities themselves who desperately require assistance. Projects in Lebanon include food packages for needy families, heating for others to get through the harsh winter, and Mass Offerings to support the clergy. For example, food packages will be supplied to needy families for the next eight months in partnership with the Maronite Archdiocese of Tyr.
Practicing the Ecumenism of Blood
Christians in Lebanon and in Syria belong to different communities and denominations. Besides different Catholic rites, there are also a variety of Orthodox Churches. Generally speaking, ecumenical relations are very good and most projects benefit Christians of all denominations. With these aid packages some of the funding approved by ACN will go directly to Orthodox Churches in Aleppo such as the Greek Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic Church will benefit as well.
“Pope Francis has spoken often of an ecumenism of blood. Faced with so many difficulties and persecutions, the doctrinal and theological differences between these communities seem almost irrelevant when compared to the shared witness of love for Christ and for an enduring Christian presence. We are very happy to help our Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic brothers and sisters in Aleppo by funding some of their projects and so helping to preserve the rich tapestry of Christian traditions in Syria,” says Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN.
Almost $2.25 million of the total sum for both countries will go to restoration and building projects, providing communities, schools, and religious orders, amongst others, with material conditions to carry on their missions. Additionally, approximately $1.65 million is earmarked for educational projects, in recognition of the importance both of regular schooling and education in the faith for young and adult Christians alike.
“ACN has gotten involved heavily in this region for several years now. Though we cannot use our influence to impose peace or stability, we can use the money our benefactors give generously to help create the conditions to keep alive the Christian presence in this part of the Middle East. Christians have lived in these lands for 2000 years, but if we do not help now, their heritage could become no more than a relic,” says Thomas Heine-Geldern.
Christians once formed a majority of the population in Lebanon and around 10% in Syria. However, years of instability have led many to leave and seek peace, freedom, and better economic conditions in the West, or in the Gulf States.