By John Pontifex


Syria – ACN’s support of reconstruction gives hopes for Christians

25.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By John Pontifex, CONSTRUCTION, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria


An action plan to enable thousands of Christians to return to their homes in the Syrian city of Homs was agreed in a house-repair program involving Church leaders and a leading Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

by John Pontifex, ACN-International

At the meeting in Homs, the leaders of five Church communities signed the Homs Reconstruction Committee agreement, in which Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need will repair 300 homes as part of the first stage of the plan.

In the second phase, a further 980 homes are due to be rebuilt – 80 from the Melkite Greek Catholic community, 600 Greek Orthodox and 300 belonging to Syriac Orthodox families. ACN will support part of the project.

Highlighting the significance of the agreement, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said: “The agreement is one of the most critical steps forward in the recovery of the Christian community in Homs. The commitment to rebuild so many homes offers the light of hope for people desperate to return to the city that is one of the most important for Christians in the whole of Syria.”

Fr Andrzej Halemba and Archbishop Nicolas Sawaf, archbishop of Lattaquié, with ‘Jesus is my Rock’ stone tablets

They cannot come back without the program

Happy to be able to come back home.


Greek Orthodox Bishop Georges Abou Zakhem of Homs said: “The people need to come back to their houses but they can’t do so without the help of ACN.”

Melkite priest Father Bolos Manhal said: “I am very happy that people have this wonderful opportunity to return to their homes. They have suffered so much and for many coming home will be a dream come true.

“They have had to spend so much money renting a place to live so to have their homes rebuilt will take a huge pressure on family budgets. There are more job opportunities in the city than in the countryside so they will now be able to take advantage of them.”

ACN will be contributing to a maximum of US$3,500 towards each house being repaired.

With more than 12,500 homes destroyed in Homs and 37,500 badly damaged, many Christians have been living in displacement in the nearby Valley of the Christians for up to seven years.

At the height of the conflict in 2014, less than 100 Christians were remaining in Homs Old City and targeted attacks by Islamist extremists forced nearly 250,000 to leave.

Last year ACN piloted a program to repair 100 homes belonging to Melkite and Syriac Orthodox families, of which 85 are already reoccupied and the rest due to return at the start of the new academic year in the autumn.

The 2018 Homs renovation plan was part of a program which has already led to the repairs of nearly 500 homes across Syria, of which many are in Aleppo.


Since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, ACN has completed 750 projects involving 150 partners. (2019-02-25)

ACN-News – Pakistan – Archbishop appeals for prayers after attacks on Christians

26.04.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Asia, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, Prayer

Picture: In 2017, interreligious prayer in Lahore with the Mufti of Lahore and Archbishop Shaw. 


Archbishop appeals for prayers after attacks on Christians

A leading Pakistani bishop has appealed for prayer after Christians in Quetta suffered their third attack in five months.

Two Christian men – identified as Rashid Khalid and Azhar Iqbal – and three others were injured after four attackers on motorbikes started shooting at people near a church in Quetta’s Essa Nagri Christian neighbourhood.

The attack, Sunday April 15th, came nearly two weeks after a family of four Catholics from Lahore was gunned down outside a relative’s house during an Easter visit to the city.

The dead – identified as Parvaiz, Kamran, Tariq and Fordous – had reportedly just stepped outside to buy ice cream when they were targeted.

According to a missionary group in Pakistan, the attackers left a pamphlet at the scene of the crime describing the killing as “the first episode of genocide against Christians”.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw: “When we are tempted to lose hope, we are reminded that, through your compassion and prayers, you are with us, by our side.”


Daesh (ISIS) claimed responsibility for both attacks.


In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said, “The faithful in Quetta are deeply concerned and worried.

“All these sufferings and pain can be overcome by faith, so through ACN I call on everyone to pray for peace and harmony so that people of all religions may live in Pakistan in peace and harmony.”

The Archbishop, who gave the interview during a visit to ACN’s international headquarters in Königstein, Germany, said: “When we see these atrocities happening one after another, we very much depend on the spiritual communion that we have with friends and benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need.”

He added: “When we are tempted to lose hope, we are reminded that, through your compassion and prayers, you are with us, by our side.”

The Archbishop called for increased police protection. He said: “The government should provide better security so that all the people can live side by side, safe and secure.”

Quetta’s Christians were targeted again in December when two suicide bombers stormed a packed nativity service held in the city’s Bethel Methodist Church, leaving 11 dead and injuring more than 50 others.

Last October, militants hurled a grenade at a Protestant church in Quetta’s Arbab Karam Khan Road area, but nobody was hurt as worshippers had already left the building.

That same month, Pakistan was identified as a country with worsening persecution in ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith, a report produced every two years by the charity, examining parts of the world of particular concern for the faithful under threat from religious freedom violations.


Pakistan is a priority country for ACN,
which works in more than 140 countries around the world.
You can give for projects in Pakistan via our website:



Egypt: “Help our faithful to stay”, asks Coptic Pope

29.03.2018 in ACN Interview, By John Pontifex, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Persecution of Christians

Coptic Pope: ‘Help our faithful to stay’

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church has called on a Catholic charity to redouble its efforts to help Christians stay in the Middle East. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II made the plea at a meeting with Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), during a visit to Egypt. Pope Tawadros said: “I would ask you please to support the presence of Christians in this land and in the Middle East.

“Christians are a vital presence – and a buffer in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shi‘as. “Please do not help the Christians to leave, but help them to stay.

Egypt, 22. March 2018
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (© Aid to the Church in Need), during a visit to Egypt.

“Everyone needs the stability which comes with the presence of Christians.” Aid to the Church in Need is supporting projects in Egypt, including repair of churches and convents – particularly those destroyed by extremist violence in 2013 after the fall of President Morsi –, assistance for youth work, and Mass stipends for priests. ACN is also helping Christians to stay in Iraq by rebuilding towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains destroyed by the extremist group Daesh (ISIS).

At the meeting with Mr. Kyrke-Smith on Tuesday evening (20th March), Pope Tawadros said the attacks by Daesh and other extremist groups on Egypt’s Christians were intended to destroy the good relations between different groups within Egyptian society. He said: “The situation in Egypt has improved and is more stable…

“The attacks in recent years were not so much attacks against Christians, Muslims or security forces, but attacks against national unity. “The attackers wanted to destroy unity – but we stand and we pray … trying to give an example like Jesus Christ with an open heart and open arms for all.” Pope Tawadros also stressed the importance of building bridges not only with other Christians, but with other faiths, stating that the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, was of “great significance”. He said the April 2017 meeting with Pope Francis was important for both Churches.

He went on: “It was very good to pray together with the heads of the Churches in Egypt in the chapel of St. Peter at St. Mark’s Cathedral.” Pope Tawadros added how welcome he had felt when he visited Rome in 2013 and first met Pope Francis. Mr. Kyrke-Smith also met with the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak, who also said that there were signs of change for the better. Patriarch Sidrak said: “Recent developments including the visit of Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Pope’s meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the visit of Pope Francis are important steps of hope for all Egyptians.

“Pope Francis gave us a lot of encouragement – the prayer service involving Pope Tawadros in the chapel of St. Peter at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria was very significant, as was the Mass held at the sports stadium in New Cairo.”



ACN Press – Syria: A Bishop’s plea

26.05.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By John Pontifex, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org, Religious freedom, Syria

Cover picture – Bishop Antioine Chbeir, Maronite Bishop in Syria with Head of Middle East Projects for ACN – Father Halemba


A Bishop’s plea as blasts cause carnage 

A diocese rallies in support of wounded and the grieving

Bishop warns of exodus following bomb blasts


In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, a Maronite Bishop in Syria has described the desperate efforts made to tend to the injured and the dying following multiple Daesh (ISIS) attacks in Tartous and Jableh, which left more than 200 dead and nearly 650 injured.


Bishop Antoine Chbeir stressed that Monday’s (May 23) attacks in his diocese were the first of their kind in an area where displaced Syrians had gathered in their hundreds of thousands, believing it to be one of the last remaining safe areas of the country.


Tartous_Maronite Cathedral_Maronite Bishop Geroges Chbier

Tartous_Maronite Cathedral_Maronite Bishop  Chbier


The Maronite Bishop of Latakia described the desperate efforts of clergy and others from the diocese helping the wounded and the dying, saying that Tuesday, (May 24) his priests had begun burying the dead.


Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need by telephone, Bishop Chbeir said: “We are trying to help the people and are taking care of the wounded. It is a very dramatic situation and when the disaster struck we wondered if we could cope.

“Right now, our priests and people are on the scene. They are visiting the people – many of them have broken legs and deep wounds, not to mention the psychological effects.”


Near to a another exodus?


In a government-controlled area which has escaped almost completely unscathed in spite of five years of war, the bishop warned that the attacks on the two coastal cities, said to be perpetrated by Daesh (ISIS), may prompt a surge in people fleeing Syria.  According to the bishop, there were five explosions in Jableh killing 110 people and wounding 340 while on the same day at around 9.30am in Tartous, four blasts went off leaving more than 100 dead and 300 injured.


1 Syria ChbeirThe bishop, who recalled hearing the attacks in Tartous which took place less than two miles from his home, said: “These attacks are the first we have had here during this time of war and they will have dramatic consequences. If you do not have safe areas in Syria, they will leave the country – probably for good… Many of them will go by sea.”The bishop spoke of the desperate need to rebuild hope. “Today, we are more determined than ever to stay in Syria. Every time we have a bombing, we will do whatever it takes to stay in the country where we are living.”


The bishop, who is a leading project partner for Aid to the Church in Need in the region, said that his response to the crisis builds on the foundations of existing ACN help for thousands of displaced people in the region, providing them with food, shelter and medicine. “First of all, we need physical and material help, just to help those affected to have something to eat and to help them take care of those who are suffering the most,” he emphasized.


Aid to the Church in Need Canada is continuing to accept donations for the displaced refugees in Syria. To make a donation: Please call: 514.932-0552, extension 221 or visit the website at secure.acn-aed-ca.org.


“We care for people not because of their particular religion but because they are human beings” adding that the people’s needs had increased because the Syrian economy was failing with food and other basic items in short supply.


“Tartous is in [a desperate state]. In the last two weeks, the Syrian currency has lost 40 percent of its value. The Syrian state has no income. It is always spending. The economic sanctions against Syria are really affecting the people,”the Bishop continued. “In this month of May, we are praying to Our Lady to help us. Thank you to Aid to the Church in Need for standing by us.”


Turning criminals into human beings


The bishop denounced the attack, confirming reports that it was perpetrated by Daesh (ISIS): “ISIS are barbaric people. The worst thing about it is that they are doing these awful things in the name of God. In the name of God, they are killing people everywhere.” But the bishop said retaliation was not the answer. “We must call for peace’” he said. “We must not kill these criminals. We must turn the criminal into a human being who cares for human life.”


Reports from the region state that Daesh’s apparent aim was to strike the Assad regime in its core stronghold, which is backed by the nearby Russian fleet.




By John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office



ACN PRESS – Nigeria and Boko Haram

24.09.2015 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Boko Haram, By John Pontifex, Nigeria, Uncategorized


Boko Haram fighters: “80% want out”


Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, said up to 80 percent of Boko Haram fighters did not share the terror group’s Islamist ideology and were therefore likely to respond to the chance to lay down their weapons and walk away.

Montreal/Königstein: Thursday September 24, 2015:  Offering amnesty to Boko Haram fighters could result in most of the terror group’s forces laying down their weapons, according to one of Nigeria’s most senior Church figures who has renewed calls for a peaceful resolution to the insurgency.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports persecuted and other suffering Christians, the Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja said: “More people are in Boko Haram because they were drafted and had no choice. Those who would espouse the theology of Boko Haram are not that many. It means that of those up to 70 or 80 percent will want to come out.”

The Cardinal said negotiations towards an amnesty of soldiers from the terror group would need to ensure that those who do give up arms make a commitment to renounce their allegiance to the terror group and violence forever.

“There should be a commitment,” he continued, “If they come out, you will treat them well. That will encourage more to come out. But if you treat them badly and slaughter them, that will stop others from coming out. Our country is big enough and strong enough to take the risk of amnesty.”

The Cardinal went on to says that a policy of offering asylum to Boko Haram soldiers was not popular with many Christians. “Boko Haram succeeded in destroying all goodwill between Muslims and Christians in those areas where [the terror group] was active. In some cases we have seen a lot of anger between Muslims and Christians. A lot will need to be done to recover, to enable them to work together.”

“Evidence of major inroads”

The cardinal’s renewed call for consideration of asylum for Boko Haram fighters comes amid reports of breakthroughs in the struggle against the terror group. On Saturday, September 19, Nigeria’s military reported further gains in its counter-offensive against Boko Haram in its traditional heartland in the north-east, but the terror group’s leader Abubakar Shekaku dismissed the claims as “lies.”

“In the past month we have seen evidence of major inroads into the areas of Boko Haram,” explained Cardinal Onaiyekan. “It can be said that today they no longer control large sections of our national boundary. They no longer hold areas that are out of bounds to everybody but them. But they are still around and can create havoc.”

While praising the policies of new Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari in tackling Boko Haram since he took office on May 29, the cardinal said success against the terror group was also evident in the final days of the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. He then highlighted a military shake-up in which commanders shifted their base to the north-east, close to Boko Haram’s stronghold.

The cardinal praised President Buhari’s initiatives to form a coalition against Boko Haram, collaborating with neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger and also stressed the significance of further negotiations the new President had brokered with leading powers such as France and the US including the sharing of intelligence.

According to the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, in Boko Haram’s prime target area of north-east Nigeria, at least 5,000 faithful have been killed, 350 churches and presbyteries have been destroyed. Up to 100,000 faithful were displaced with a number receiving emergency help from charities including Aid to the Church in Need. Some of the displaced are now returning home.