International Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need begins Advent campaign “Back to the Roots”
Advent is a “time of expectation”. For thousands of Iraqi Christians, the wait after they were driven out by the terrorist organization IS has stretched out to an indefinite period. Since 2014, many of them have had to leave their homes. Now that it the territory has been liberated, they now want to go back to the places where their ancestors have lived since the beginnings of Christianity. However, since they were driven away, their houses have been destroyed, damaged and looted. The international pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is bringing Christian refugees back home.
For this reason, the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need is calling for more donations just before Christmas so that these displaced persons can go “back to their roots”. Father Andrzej Halemba, Head of Projects in the Middle East for ACN, associates the motto of the campaign with the Advent season. “Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. We want to make sure that the Christians on the Nineveh Plains can once more have a ‘Bethlehem’, a dwelling that actually exists,” he explains.
A mammoth task
First off, Aid to the Church in Need wants to enable around 8,000 families to return to their homes in Iraq. In order to do so, 5,000 houses have to be built on the northeastern Nineveh Plains. Two families often share a house. Only 3,000 dollars is needed on average per house to replace roofs, doors, windows and sanitary facilities. In addition, 15,000 children and adolescents will be given a Christmas parcel containing coats and sweets – the gifts will be put together by religious Sisters and catechists in the diocese of Erbil.
According to the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, only 27 per cent of the families have returned to their neighbourhoods in northeastern Iraq. The situation there remains tense. More than 10,000 houses have to be renovated or rebuilt for those returning home. The reconstruction zone encompasses nine towns, among them Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), Bartella and Teleskuf. The total costs for the reconstruction, including infrastructure and the region’s more than 360 church buildings, are estimated to be 230 million euros (335 millions canadian). The Aid to the Church in Need campaign “Back to the Roots” is calling for people all over the world to contribute to this mammoth task.
Displaced Christians have not been forgotten after the exodus
Thanks to benefactors from all over the world, the charity Aid to the Church in Need has been able to help thousands of Iraqi Christians return to their towns. “We first funded emergency aid projects and set up containers so that the displaced persons had a roof over their heads and their children could go to school,” Johannes Heereman explained. “Fortunately, in the meantime many have been able to move into shared houses,” the executive president of Aid to the Church in Need added. The international Catholic pastoral charity also contributed rent subsidies, food parcels and subsistence aid to displaced priests and sisters and helped rebuild chapels.
Over a period of almost three years, Aid to the Church in Need has collected more than 35 million euros to help Iraqi Christians return home. “However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Mr. Heereman emphasized. Donations and prayers are equally important for these Christians who have suffered so deeply. Aid to the Church in Need wants to use this campaign to make the hope of a personal “Bethlehem” more obtainable for Iraqi refugees. “Their homeland is still deeply scarred from the war. However, in spite of everything, they want to return to their roots. That is brave,” the president of Aid to the Church in Need emphasised and urged, “We cannot desert the Christian minority after the exodus.”
By Karla Sponar, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada