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Journey with ACN

 

A “Bethlehem” for Iraqi Christians

08.12.2017 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Iraq, Journey with ACN

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.

Furniture on the car: moving back to the roots !

 

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

 

Discussion By Father Halemba, Father Georges and Sabah Zakaria from the Reconstruction Nineveh Plains Comitee, Iraq

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.”

 

Families with olive trees outside St George’s Church, Bartela

 

By Karla Sponar, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

ACN Project of the Week – Prayer books for kids in Ecuador

06.12.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ecuador, Journey with ACN, Project of the Week

Ecuador

Advent and Christmas prayer booklets for 2,000 children and teens

 

Christmas is not mainly about giving presents of course, but rather, about celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. God came into this world as a little child to lead us to salvation. In order to strengthen and deepen this awareness and faith, the apostolic vicariate of Zamora in southeastern Ecuador is planning to give 2,000 children a little booklet each. 

 

All of these include prayers and Bible readings relating to the Advent and Christmas seasons as a way to more deeply experience the season of Advent, the time of expectation, and prepare spiritually for the feast of Jesus’ birth.

 

It is very important for the Church to support and strengthen Catholic children in their personal faith, in a context of great social changes where the symbols and religious content are disappearing – and in the controversy – from public spaces.

 

These little Christmas booklets intend to do just that!  By supporting the growth of God’s love in their hearts. Then they will be able to come to the Manger at Christmas and adore the newborn Messiah, the Christ Child, together with the shepherds and the Wise Men from the East, and bring Him their love.

 

 

We want to help with a contribution of $5,299 so that these 2,000 children may be given these prayer books, which will then, we hope, accompany them throughout their lives.

 

 

If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar project funded by ACN, please click to donate!

 

 

 


 

 

ACN Project of the Week: The Church remains in CAR

23.11.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), Journey with ACN

Central African Republic

The Church remains and provides support

 

Sadly, the Central African Republic has never truly known peace. In the 57 years since it gained independence, this country – one of the poorest in the world – has suffered one military coup after another. It is hard to keep track of all the different armed groups in the country today. Their names may differ but the crimes they commit are the same everywhere they go:  looting, burning, raping, abducting, murdering.

 

Since 2013, the country has effectively been in a state of civil war. Although the situation in Bangui, the capital, is largely stable, the rest of the country is still in the hands of various rebel groups who have since split still further. The government – which even in “normal” times was unable to provide the people with even a minimum of schooling, health care, security, law and order – is now almost totally absent. The civil authorities and the police were often the first to save their own skins in the face of the advancing rebel forces. Only the Church remains.

 

Many Catholic priests and religious have risked their lives trying to protect the defenseless civilian population. Many of them were themselves threatened with guns, a number, abducted, and some of them even murdered. However, to this day they continue to open the doors of their churches and mission stations, providing shelter, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to civilians whose villages and towns have been attacked, costing them everything but the clothes on their backs. The Catholic Church has always been, and continues to be, a constant voice for peace and reconciliation.

Photo Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa in his diocese

Relying on God – looking to the Church

In May and June 2017, the diocese of Alindao in the south of the country was the scene of heavy fighting between warring armed groups. In the town of Alindao itself around 150 people were killed. These people, who even before the conflict were already desperately poor and living from hand to mouth, have now, lost everything. They cannot return to their homes for the time being, for the threat from the rebels is still too serious and the killings and acts of violence persist.

 

The people can only put their trust in God, and they look to the Church for everything, since they can expect practically no help from any other source. “The Church has to provide for everything, since the State has failed,” says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa sadly. People know that they can count only on God and on the Church. One man commented, “We are hoping the fighting will end soon, so that we can finally return home. Everywhere else, people are being helped, but here no one seems interested in our difficult situation. God is our only protection; that is why we go to Mass every day to ask God to hear us and help us in our situation. Fortunately, the Catholic Church is also there for us. The bishop is on the front line of the efforts to resolve this crisis.”

 

For now though, the bishop needs help to care for these refugees, among whom there are many children. He is counting on the generosity of our benefactors to fill his empty hands, so that he can provide the barest necessities for the 3,000 refugees under his care. We know we are not going to disappoint him, because we are confident of receiving your support and have already given emergency aid of $43,800.

If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar
project funded by ACN, please click to donate!

 

 

 


 

ACN Project of the Week – Support for Contemplative Carmelite Sisters

17.11.2017 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Journey with ACN, Sisters

Czech Republic

Support for contemplative Carmelite Sisters in Prague

The pilgrims in Fatima who arrived early on  September 13 at the Chapel of the Apparitions were greeted with a somewhat unusual sight – a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague being carried in the arms of a religious sister in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

This image of the Christ Child, dressed as King in festive white robes, was later that day to enjoy a great triumph when, at the end of the Solemn Holy Mass on the square of the Fatima shrine, it was solemnly presented by Cardinal Dominik Duka, the Archbishop of Prague, to Bishop  António Augusto dos Santos Marto of Leiria-Fatima, in whose diocese the famous Fatima shrine is of course situated.

 

This pilgrimage to Fatima by Czech Catholics to mark the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions there was in fact the second national pilgrimage to Fatima organised by the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, and on this occasion 1,300 pilgrims, including the entire Czech bishops‘ conference, dozens of priests and religious and hundreds of ordinary Catholic faithful, had made their way to the renowned Marian shrine in Portugal, whose story is so closely linked to the recent history of the former Eastern Bloc. Cardinal Duka recalled the fact that the people of the Czech Republic had previously come on pilgrimage to Fatima in 1989 to give thanks for their regained freedom. This time they were here to give thanks “for a new generation that has never known the prison of National Socialism, the prison of communism or persecution for their faith.”

 

As an “expression of gratitude”, the Cardinal solemnly presented to the bishop the replica statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, solemnly blessed at the shrine in Prague, as a special gift from the Catholics of the Czech Republic to the shrine in Fatima. “The Infant Jesus is the patron of all his friends,” said the Cardinal, recalling that Pope Benedict XVI had also visited the world-famous shrine of the Infant Jesus during his visit to Prague.

 

New Carmelites!

In fact the fate of the Jezulatko, as the little statue of the Infant Jesus is known to the Czech people, has been closely bound up with the message of Fatima during the past century. For it was in 1917 – exactly 100 years ago – that Our Blessed Lady predicted the October Revolution in Russia and the Second World War. The consequence was an unprecedented persecution of the Church. After the Second World War, what was then still Czechoslovakia also fell under the communist yoke and witnessed one of the worst persecutions in Eastern Europe. Thousands of priests and religious were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms and forced labour, churches and religious houses were closed down and desecrated, and the practice of the Faith severely restricted. For years, the image of the Infant Jesus of Prague was left abandoned and alone on its altar in a desolate and ransacked church.

 

“It is thanks to to the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that we are able to live in freedom today,” Cardinal Duka declared in front of thousands of pilgrims in Fatima. Afterwards, the Czech pilgrims were allowed to take home with them a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and immediately on their return this statue was welcomed with a solemn Holy Mass in Prague‘s St Vitus Cathedral and then carried in solemn procession through the streets of Prague and also right past the convent of the Discalced Carmelite Sisters.

These Carmelite sisters, who live in strict enclosure, never leave their convent, yet their prayer spans the whole world. The fact that young Carmelite sisters are once again living in this convent is one of the most beautiful fruits of the Triumph of Mary‘s Immaculate Heart. For in 1950 the Carmelites were forcibly ejected from their convent and forced to work in factories. Only five very elderly Carmelite nuns survived long enough to witness the political changes in 1989; all of them have since died. Yet by the grace of God, and doubtless also through the courageous witness of their lives and of their faith, new vocations followed and a number of young women have joined the Carmelite community. The six nuns who today live in the Saint Joseph‘s convent devote themselves entirely to prayer, bringing before God among other things the cares and needs of those people who sometimes do not even know how to pray for themselves.

 

Among other things, the sisters produce religious and devotional items and artwork, which they sell in a small shop. Other than this, they have little opportunity of providing for their own income – which is why ACN is helping them again this year, with a contribution of $6 132  to support their life and prayer apostolate.

 

 

 

 


 

ACN Project of the Week – Training of seminarians in Zambia

01.11.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Journey with ACN, SEMINARIANS, Zambia

Zambia

Training eight seminarians in the diocese of Mongu

 

Zambia – a landlocked country in southern Africa – is fortunate to enjoy a certain degree of stability, contrary to many other African countries. The country still faces numerous challenges, however, including poverty, poor infrastructure and a 12% alarmingly high rate of HIV/AIDS, resulting in numerous orphaned children.

 

One third of the population are Catholic and a little over half belong to various Protestant denominations or ecclesial communities. Almost 15% follow pagan animist religions. Until recently, Muslims have made up only a considerably small minority; but in recent years there has been increased activity and an increased spread of Islam.

 

One of the major problems now lies in the spread of fundamentalist sects, which tend to spring up with simplistic and populist messages. For example people – who are for the most part very poor – are often enticed with promises such as: “If you join us, you will be rewarded even in this world, and the more you pray the richer you will become.” Often even the Catholic faithful are lured away, and so the Church in Zambia is very much aware of the need to intensify its pastoral work, to keep the Catholic faithful from easily falling prey to false promises. Crucial to this strategy, is the presence of more Catholic priests.

 

In great need of priests

When, in the past, the Church in Zambia consisted mainly of foreign missionaries, they were able to call on material support from their home countries.  But, today the Church has become more of a home-grown local church, led by native African priests. The young men who respond to the call of God and who are now training for the priesthood certainly do not look forward to a comfortable life here; instead, many of them will be serving in remote rural areas where there is no electricity or running water and where they are often long way away from their brother priests.

 

Currently, eight young men from the diocese of Mongu are training for the priesthood in a diocese west of the country covering a vast territory of around almost 90,000 km². It has 13 parishes, each as large in area as a diocese would be in other parts of the world. More priests are urgently needed because wherever the faithful are deprived of the regular support of a priest, the sects tend to have an easy time of it. Needless to say, the local Church is poor, and a solid and thorough priestly formation takes many years, and costs money.

 

ACN is happy to support the formation of these eight young seminarians and has promised a contribution on $11,600 for this academic year. 

If you would like to contribute to supporting seminarians in a similar project funded by ACN, please click to donate!

 

 

A short video on our Youtube Channel from a similar diocese in Zambia – thanks to  CRTN.

 


 

ACN Feature Story – Bulgaria

20.10.2017 in Bulgaria, CONSTRUCTION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Priests

Bulgaria

Supporting Romani Children

“If we don’t do anything, the fate of the Romani children will be sealed,” Salesian Father Martin Jilek from Stara Zagora in Central Bulgaria, 230 kilometers to the east of the capital of Sofia, said. “They are married off by their clan when they are fourteen.

Then they have children early on and live off of the child benefit, which is about 40 leva per month and child.” That is equivalent to about 29 dollars – the only source of income of many Romani families.

Around 28,000 Roma live in Stara Zagora, most of these children and adolescents. They live in shacks, run-down houses or in the shells of unfinished buildings. In Bulgaria, around a million people are said to belong to the Romani people (sometimes better known by the name ‘Gypsies’ in North America). No exact numbers are known for they live in a parallel society. Clan structures are opaque to those on the outside. The Romani people, in this country, are despised, hated and banned from public life.

The resentment is so great that even Bulgarians who have a slightly darker skin tone have a hard time getting jobs. The Roma generally only achieve a rudimentary level of education, if any at all. For this reason, many Roma fall into unemployment and a life of petty crime. This in turn strengthens the clichés and creates even more obstacles. The only source of income that remains is the child benefit.

Bulgaria, Stara Zagora 2012 – Summer activities for youth in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, an initiative taken by Salesians of Don Bosco: break dancing

Father Martin and his confrères are not content to leave things as they are. With the support of the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they have established a building for education right in the middle of the Romani district and want to offer them better opportunities.

Bulgaria, Stara Zagora 2012 Summer activities for youth in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, an initiative taken by Salesians of Don Bosco: Stations of the cross (cross way) – with Father Martin Jilek (center)

“For many it comes as a surprise when we address them by their names”

The Salesians have, for example, set up a kind of after school homework program – which offers so much more. The children come after school, eat together, play and learn. Unfortunately, many don’t get any attention at home from their parents. They roam the streets, are avoided by other pupils. “For many it already comes as a surprise when we address them by their names,” Father Martin said. “We take time for the children.”

Bulgaria, May 2017 – Salesian fathers at the building site in Stara Zagora (on the left: Father Martin Jilek)

In their monastery, Roma come and go at all hours. They come to attend Holy Mass, carry out small everyday tasks, seek advice or just pay a visit. The Salesians want to do a lot more. A food bank is also planned. “This will give us the opportunity to talk to the people.”

This is an example of the impact of one the projects supported by ACN: the construction of the church and the spiritual center of the Salesians in the Roma settlement in Stara Zagora.

 

*Leva or Lev, Bulgarian currency

 

By Florian Ripka, ACN-International
Adapted by: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada

 

 


 

 

Project of the Week: A car for the pastoral ministry in Aleppo

18.10.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Journey with ACN, Project of the Week, Syria

 

Syria

Transportation for  pastoral ministry in Aleppo

The Latin Catholic church of Our Lady of the Annunciation lies in the heart of one of the districts of Aleppo that was most widely devastated during the recent civil war. The church itself was destroyed and repeatedly looted.

Today there are around 180 families who are unable to leave the district because they cannot afford to pay the rent anywhere else, and  are now being supported by the parish. For the most part, these are elderly and disabled people,  some are families which have been deprived of a regular source of income, since there is no work for the men.

Father Alberto visits and helps them, materially and pastorally, also organizing activities for the children and endeavouring to provide the most basic necessities, including above all medical supplies and clean drinking water.

The priest lives close to the cathedral and so often has to cross the entire city to pursue his ministry. He not only ministers to the families in this particular district of the city, but also celebrates Holy Mass for the Carmelite Sisters in their convent.

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, ACN has been able to help and Father Alberto now has a car that is also large enough to transport other people, as well as food and other basic necessities.

You have helped us to provide him with  13,578 dollars for this purpose.

A heartfelt thanks to all of you, from a shattered but surviving Aleppo!

 

Please donate by clicking the button to support similar projects.

 


 

ACN News – Myanmar Cardinal’s statement on healing the country

30.09.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Journey with ACN, Myanmar, Religious freedom

Myanmar

Healing the country, moving forward in peace, justice and reconciliation

 

The Myanmar military is accused of violence against minority populations, including the Rohingyas and Rakhine.  Close to 500,000 people found refuge in Bangladesh.  This is a major crisis where the government has been accused of allowing a genocide.  The archbishop of Rangoun, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, updates us on the situation.

 

A Statement By Cardinal Charles Maung Bo., DD, SDB

 

Dear Fellow Citizens and International Community,

Greetings.

The recent sad tragic events in our country affecting thousands of  Muslims, Rakhines and Hindus and others have brought the concerned attention of the world.  The trigger to violence and the aggressive response are lamentable  We feel with great compassion at  the flight of thousands of Muslims, Hindu, Rakhine, Mro and many others were also scattered  especially children, This is a tragedy that should not have happened.

 

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her concern over all forms  violence in her recent speech, we strongly advocate that aggressive responses without any embedded long term peaceful policies would be counterproductive.

 

Much has been said by the western media on the role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Many feel that the sentiments and principles she expressed so strongly in  her latest  address should have come earlier.    But to lay all blame on her, stigmatizing her response is a very counterproductive measure.   The circumstances under which her government took over, the multiple humanitarian challenges her government had to face during the short time, the continued role of military constitutionally imposed lack of  leverage in security issues and scores of other challenges make her role a daunting one.

 

Her assurance in her speech about rights in Rakhine state, the return of refugees and development of the state is to be welcomed.  Those who  have  lived in this country for a long time, need justice and the Kofi Annan Commission took the right direction in suggesting constructive measures. She has formed a working committee to implement recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission.These are positive initiatives that need the appreciation and collaboration of all stakeholders and the international community.
All of us need to move from a wounded past towards a healing future. Let the lessons of the past enlighten our future.

 

Peace based on justice  is possible, peace is the only way.

Sincerely yours,

 

+Charles Cardinal Maung Bo
Archbishop of  Yangon


 

Project of the Week: Marian devotion in Ethiopia

20.09.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Africa, Ethiopia, Journey with ACN, Religious publications

A touching scene of a child burying himself in Mary’s robe as if asking for protection at the Salesian Youth Centre, Mekanisa, Addis Abeba.

Project of the Week in Ethiopia

Printing a book on the devotion to Mary

Ethiopia is an ancient Christian country. “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

 

This is what the Ethiopian man said to Philip in the Acts of the Apostles (8:36). This spontaneous decision, just a few years after the death of Jesus, marks the beginning of Christianity in Africa, and Ethiopia is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa in which Christianity put down permanent roots.

 

Almost 45 percent of Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Catholic Church only became established in the country in the 19th century, and today Catholics still form only a tiny, albeit a very lively, minority.

 

Our Lady is greatly revered in Ethiopia, both by Orthodox and by Catholic Christians. In fact there are 33 Marian feasts in the Ethiopian Church year! Traditionally, great importance is attached to the “Covenant of Mercy,” also known as the “Covenant of the Lady Mary.”  This relates to a beautiful story about a covenant  believed to have been made between Mary and Jesus whereby Mary asks of her Son that every individual who in his lifetime has performed at least one good deed in her name may be spared from hell – for example someone who for her sake has given a thirsty person a sip of water.

 

This motif of the “Covenant of Mercy” is a common theme of Ethiopian icons, in which Mary and Jesus are portrayed side by side, holding hands. In fact pictures of the Virgin Mary of all kinds are extremely common, above all the image of Our Lady with the Child Jesus, but also depicting other scenes from her life, such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt. Meanwhile,  among Catholic Christians in Ethiopia numerous other Western images and statues of Mary have become popular and also widely revered.  Because the Blessed Mother is so important to the people, their is also great interest in learning more about international Marian shrines such as at Lourdes, Fatima and many others.

A better understanding Marian devotion

Ethiopian Capuchin Father Antonios Alberto has written a number of books on a variety of academic themes. Now he has written a book on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, outlining the great importance of the Mother of God for the Church. In his book he describes the history of Marian devotion, explains the Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church and describes in detail the history of the major Marian shrines around the world. The book is 200 pages long and written in two languages – Amharic, the principal language spoken in Ethiopia, and English. A book of this nature has not been available before now to the Church in Ethiopia.

 

This book is intended to help deepen and strengthen knowledge of, and devotion to, the Mother of God among priests, religious, catechists and the Catholic faithful generally. It also holds the potential to become an important contribution to the work of ecumenism, since this book will also be valuable and interesting to Orthodox Christians, who, like Catholics, have a profound devotion to Our Lady.

 

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the publication and printing of this book with a contribution of $9,490.

Click to donate!


 

ACN News – Iraqis return home to the Nineveh Plains

15.09.2017 in ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, John Pontifex, Journey with ACN, Middle East

Nineveh Plains

“…the land where we belong.”

Celebrations mark return of Iraqi Christians to Nineveh

About 500 Christian families – up to 2,500 people – celebrated their long-awaited homecoming to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains with ceremonies marking a fresh start in their old towns and villagesTrip to Iraq of Fr. Andrzej Halemba and John Pontifex September 2017 Families with olive trees outside St George’s Church, Bartela

In Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), the largest of Nineveh’s Christian towns, priests and people holding olive branches processed through the streets chanting hymns in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Protected by security personnel in armoured vehicles, the procession was headed by priests holding crucifixes aloft.

 

A service took place at the Immaculate Conception Syriac Catholic Church, in the town centre, a building desecrated and burnt by Daesh (ISIS) militants. During the ceremony, Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects’ coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba called on people to forgive those who had forced them out of their homes and attacked their towns and villages.

 

Father Halemba told the returnees: “Of course we cry when we see the violence that has been carried out but we should remove the anger in our hearts. There should be no hatred in our hearts. We should reconcile with our neighbour.”

Afterwards, Father Halemba, who organized the ceremonies in conjunction with local clergy distributed to each family olive trees symbolising the returnees’ return to their roots – the communities where they have lived for centuries.

Another olive tree distribution ceremony took place earlier that day (Sunday, September 10) at the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, Bartella, a largely Syriac Orthodox town, close to Qaraqosh.

At least 2,000 families – 10,000 people – are reported to have returned to Qaraqosh, with at least another 500 families – 2,500 people – expected by the end of the month (September).

ACN is repairing hundreds of homes in a number of Nineveh’s Christian-majority towns and villages, where widespread destruction was carried out during and after the Daesh (ISIS) occupation of the region from August 2014 to October 2016.

 

The charity is also committed to repairing churches in both towns as well as in Teleskuf, where restoration of St George’s Church is well under way.

 

Thanking the charity for organising the ceremonies and helping with the repair of homes, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timotheos Moussa Al Shamany of Bartella said: “This was a wonderful way to mark the start of our return to our homes – the land where we belong.”

 

More celebrations and processions are due to be held today (Thursday), the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, an especially important feast in the region.

 

 

Text by John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada