fbpx

Middle East

 

ACN Feature Story – Syria: Miriam, the voice of Aleppo

08.04.2019 in Middle East, Syria

Syria- ACN Feature Story

Miriam, the voice of Aleppo

 

Montreal, Monday April 8, 2019 – In Aleppo the number of Christians declined fivefold during the war. Now the economic crisis and the lack of professional employment opportunities are a source of anguish, especially for the young who are facing a 78% unemployment rate!  Pierre Macqueron from ACN France met with Miriam, a transformative voice.

The performers are a choir of 60 or so children and young people, supported by five musicians. It is Saturday March 17, in the late afternoon. The Orthodox Youth Movement is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its creation. In the packed hall, the audience applauds appreciatively. A simple concept, but something that has become rare in recent years in this city of Aleppo, which was once the economic capital of the country, before the war.

The anguish of the young

Among the young singers is Miriam Toubal, aged 23, a student in biotechnology, conducts the children’s choir. Over the last year, for one hour a week, she has rehearsed with them in singing these songs. The rehearsals are at least less stressful than during the war, though even that didn’t prevent the choristers from attempting to gather and sing.

It’s not long before Miriam confides in us her anxiety as to her future. Finding a good job so as to be able to continue living decently is a major challenge in a city devastated by six years of war, and since then by the economic sanctions. In Syria the level of youth unemployment is an estimated 78%. And so many of these young people are deeply concerned for their own future and that of those they love.

 All activity paralyzed

Since the end of the fighting, the situation has not got better in this once prosperous city. Quite the contrary, in fact. So many of the citizens of this town will tell you about the difficulties of daily life. The economic recovery, so long-awaited, is still not happening, and the average job does not pay well enough to provide the basic daily needs, so rapidly have prices risen. The souk, whose 13 km of stores and boutiques were once the pride of the city and were classed as a world Heritage site by UNESCO, still lies in ruins and has not yet been restored. In front of what was once his own stall, Elias Farah, on returning there for the first time, cannot hide his emotions, noting anxiously that the whole place seems to be in imminent danger of collapse.

The former economic capital of the country is suffering terribly from the economic embargo. “It’s the poor and the ordinary people who are suffering above all from the situation,” says Syrian Catholic Archbishop Antoine Chahda of Aleppo. The war is continuing and the lack of future prospects is only adding to the unhappiness of the families and the despair of so many Christians. In the suburbs of Aleppo, the industrial zone is a desolate sight: the bombed out factories have been looted, and there is no sign of any activity whatsoever.

 Structured aid

In order to meet their daily needs, whether in Aleppo or in Homs, the Christian communities have organized themselves and are counting on the generosity of the universal Church. Once prosperous, they have become beggars, says Greek Orthodox Bishop George Abu Zakham of Homs, noting at the same time that the foreign aid is decreasing.

The support supplied by ACN, in the form of medical and food aid, help with rent and education, remains indispensable for many families. Lay committees have been set up, in order to be able to share out this aid fairly among the various different Christian communities. Their task is to identify the most urgent needs and closely monitor the use of the aid supplied. It is an effective system and one that enables the different Christian Churches to work together. It is a vital form of aid, and one that is rekindling a new spark of life in the stale air and smoldering ashes of a city in ruins. For a brief moment, Miriam was the voice of that city.

From March 2011 up to the end of 2018, ACN provided 44.2 million in aid for Syria, through the support of 738 different projects – 80% of these projects were in the form of emergency aid.

Iraq – Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits! – ACN-News

26.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Marta Petrosillo, By Marta Petrosillo, Communiqué, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Reconstruction

Aid to the Church in Need in Iraq

Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits!

Montreal, February 26thThanks to a donation of 300 000 dollars from the Holy Father, following the auctioning of the Lamborghini that was given to him last year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be able to fund two new projects on behalf of the Iraqi Christian families and other minorities who have returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

Marta Petrosillo for ACN-International and Mario Bard, ACN-Canada

On 15 November 2017 the Holy Father decided to give ACN part of the proceeds from the auctioning of the Lamborghini Hurricane that had been donated to him by the famous Italian carmaker. Now ACN will give concrete form to the Pope’s gesture by funding the reconstruction of two buildings of the Syriac Catholic Church, destroyed by the war. They are the nursery school (kindergarten) of Our Lady and the multipurpose centre of the parish of the same name.

Both buildings are in the village of Bashiqa, just 30 km from Mosul. The village was badly damaged during the war, but the Christian community has returned, and in large numbers. In facts by now, 405 of the 580 homes that were destroyed here have already been rebuilt and around 50% of the Christians, or 1,585 people, have already returned.

The Parish Hall was totally destroyed.

The two projects funded with money from the Lamborghini will also benefit the other minorities in the town, since the multipurpose centre, which has capacity for over 1,000 people, will be used for weddings and the religious feasts of all the different communities. It will be the largest such centre in the area and will be available for use to over 30,000 people of all different faiths and ethnic groups.

The Return of Iraqi Christians: An Unexpected Success!

signature

Just a little over two years since the liberation of the villages of the Nineveh Plains, the number of Christians who have been able to return to their homes has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. By January 11th this year at least 9108 families had returned to their villages, almost 46% of the 19,832 families dwelling there in 2014 prior to the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (IS). This is thanks above all to the immense work of reconstruction – to which ACN have greatly contributed – that has made it possible so far to rebuild or repair some 41% of the 14,035 homes
destroyed or damaged by IS.

This intervention, in which the pontifical foundation ACN has played a major role in collaboration with the local Churches, has also found a generous benefactor in the person of the Holy Father. Already back in 2016 Pope Francis gave 150,000 dollars in support of the “Saint Joseph Charity Clinic” in Erbil, which provides free medical assistance.

This most recent gift by the Holy Father will be a further help to local Christians, enabling them to live their own faith and offer a future in Iraq to their children. At the same time it is a powerful message and an invitation to peaceful coexistence between the different religions in a region where fundamentalism has sadly damaged interreligious relations.

***

Since 2014 and up to the present day ACN has given over 60 million dollars for the support of Iraqi Christians.
Thanks to you, Christians in Iraq can return home.
Thank you!

Iraq: New hope for Christians in Iraq!


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

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)

Visit in the United Arab Emirates – “A historic visit” – a first for a pope

04.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Adaptation Mario Bard, By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Middle East, Pope Francis, United Arab Emirates

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”

 

Pope Francis is visiting Abu Dhabi until tomorrow. The country is more tolerant to Christians than other countries in the area. However, full religious freedom does not exist in the United Arab Emirates.

Bishop Hinder: “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Shortly before the visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, the local church talked about the support it has received from Muslims. In an interview with ACN International, Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of southern Arabia, spoke of a “historic” visit and declared, “It will be the first time that the Eucharist will be celebrated on public property that the government has placed at our disposal for this purpose.”

Bishop Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin monk, is expecting around 130 000 faithful, who will gather together on 5 February to participate in the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Francis will be visiting the Islamic country from 3 to 5 February. This will be the first time that a pope has ever visited the Arab Peninsula. “A number of Muslims have contacted me to ask how they can help prepare for the visit. Many have expressed an interest in attending the Mass. The government is also doing everything in its power to ensure that as many of our faithful as possible will be able to see the Pope,” Bishop Hinder continued.

The United Arab Emirates is considered relatively open and tolerant towards non-Muslims. Thus, according to ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi had the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Mosque renamed Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque in June 2017. According to the crown prince, this decision was taken to strengthen the human ties between the followers of different religions. “I have been living in Abu Dhabi for the last 15 years and have never experienced any animosity,” explained Bishop Hinder. “Of course we know that in all Islamic countries, non-Muslims – not only Christians – have to comply with the social laws of Islam. On the other hand, I see a deep respect for Christians, also among the local population. This is even more apparent now in the run-up to the papal visit.” According to the bishop, while in Saudi Arabia divine services are only tolerated when held in private in relatively small groups, in the United Arab Emirates there are churches where thousands of worshippers gather regularly to celebrate mass. Almost one million Catholics of different rites live in the United Arab Emirates. Practically all of them are foreign workers who stay in the country for a limited period of time. Many come from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They are taken care of by nine parishes. For this reason, Bishop Hinder is hoping that more churches will be built. “More churches would be desirable, as the number of our parishes is still not commensurate with the number of believers.”

The visit of the pope: to answer The Spirit of the Gospel

Last year ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report stated that Islam is the state religion of the emirates. Islamic sharia law is one of the primary sources of legislation. The report stated that “while Muslims may proselytize, penalties are in place for non-Muslims proselytizing among Muslims. If caught, non-citizens may have their residency revoked and face deportation.” According to the report, Christian churches may not be adorned with bell towers or have Crosses in them. Muslims do not have the right to convert to Christianity. Bishop Hinder explained, “I am not aware of any Muslim country that allows full religious freedom. Even in those where converting a Muslim to another religion is not punishable by law, at the very least the person’s social circle, in particular his or her family, will react with ostracism or even physical violence. Freedom of religion is greater or less depending upon the country.”

Bishop Hinder mainly hopes that the papal visit will have an effect on the general mood. “I hope that the visit of the pope will be able to change the overall mood for the better. However, it would be a mistake to expect too many miracles from this kind of visit,” the Apostolic Vicar said. “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Father Andrzej Halemba, who is responsible for this region at ACN, agrees with Bishop Hinder. “The visit of the Holy Father is a great encouragement for the Christians working on the Gulf. They will experience the solidarity of the world Church.” Father Halemba emphasized the great importance of today’s interfaith meeting between the Pope and representatives of Islam. “By reaching out to Muslims, the Pope is fulfilling the mandate of the Gospel. This is a dialogue of God with humanity, which is continued as a dialogue from person to person.”

 


 

ACN Interview – Iran “A Church without martyrs would be like a tree without fruit”

20.12.2018 in Iran

A cross on the wall
Catholic Armenian Church in Tehran
Fr. Andrzej Halemba Trip to Iran 27 Nov. – 3 Dec 2012

Iran

«A Church without martyrs would be like a tree without fruit »

Shortly after the United States had imposed new economic sanctions on Iran, Archbishop Ramzi Garmou of Tehran, who is also president of the Iranian bishops’ conference, spoke with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Born in the territory now known as Iraqi Kurdistan, he has been living in Iran since 1976 and is head of the numerically small but very ancient Iranian Chaldean Church.

Beginning November the United States imposed new economic sanctions on your adopted country, Iran. What is the situation like on the spot?

It is nothing new for Iran to be hit by economic sanctions. I am an Iraqi Christian by origin, even though I have been living in Iran since 1976, and, believe me, those who come from this region know that America will defend her own interests, cost what it may. In 2003 they ravaged my home country on futile pretexts and opened wide the door to the arrival of Daesh (IS). The Iranians already face major difficulties in finding work, and making ends meet, because the cost of living is very expensive. They are not demanding any major political changes; they just want a job and food to eat.

The Church is supporting those in most need with her own resources, notably by helping with the cost of schooling and/or medical expenses, but her power is above all a spiritual one and she is close to the poor.

 

Are Christians in Iran particularly discriminated against?

They are forbidden to occupy certain posts, such as school directors for example, but the historical Christian communities are generally well integrated within Iranian society. Our roots go down a long way! The Chaldean community, which is at present reduced to a tiny flock of some 4000 souls, dates back to apostolic times. It was Saint Thomas the Apostle who brought the Gospel to Persia and established our Church. This history has to some extent been forgotten, but we actually sent missionaries as far afield as China, long before the Western missionaries. Currently we are going through a new period of crisis, which began with the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. All the Catholic schools and hospitals, which were part of our outreach, were closed, thereby considerably diminishing our presence in society.

But just look back at our history! Christians have known persecution ever since the earliest times, under the Persian Sassanid empire, right up to the seventh century. Even at that time Christians were already suspected of being traitors, linked to the West. Then there were the Mongol invasions, for example. But in any case there is no reason to be surprised at this. Jesus himself warned the disciples in the Gospel that they would be persecuted on account of his name. The Gospel corresponds to the deepest aspirations of man, but its proclamation is accompanied by persecutions, and indeed ever since the time of Pentecost and until the end of the Church’s pilgrimage on earth. A Church without martyrs would be like a tree without fruit!

Bishop Ramzi Garmou of Tehran in Iran – Testimony

But do you not fear quite simply the disappearance of the Christians of Iran?

Of course, it goes without saying that the mass exodus of Christians, and in particular of our young people and our most active members, is a cause of concern for us. Nonetheless, we should not look at the situation from a too human perspective. The strength and dynamism of a Christian community does not depend on its numbers. Besides, I believe that our situation is less serious than that of the Christian communities in the West. They are swamped in an environment where the majority of Europeans have no faith or are indifferent, whereas our Muslim neighbours are a constant reminder for us of God.

The only thing that matters is to know if we can bear witness to our faith. And this we can do – without publicity or self-promotion, but simply by living as Christians. And we are seeing the fruits of this, because Muslims come to see us and want to learn the Gospel message. When you ask them what led them to this, they often reply that it was because they have known a Christian neighbour whose example they wish to follow.

 

Can you observe an interest for Christianity in Iran?

This is an extremely delicate question for us. And we should point out at the outset that conversions to Christianity are largely the work of evangelical Protestants. As for us, we are under close surveillance. It sometimes happens that a Muslim wishes to join us, but they face serious harassment, first of all from their own families, and then from the regime. To give you an example, we have two seminarians who have both spent time in prison, precisely because they are both converts.

In particular, we are forbidden to celebrate Holy Mass in Persian. We love our own Aramaic language, the language of Jesus himself, and we speak it in our own homes. But the Iranians do not understand it. So we remain ghettoised within this language, and we cannot communicate our faith. For the same reason we are not supposed to have Bibles or spiritual books in Persian.

 

So how are we to explain the translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the Iranian Shiite ayatollahs?

Yes, this was a very encouraging sign of openness on the part of those ayatollahs who were interested in the message of the Catholic Church. This story illustrates the questions being asked by Iranian religious leaders themselves. The Shiite clergy respect the international moral authority of the Vatican. And moreover, there is an Iranian ambassador at the Vatican and students who travel in both directions. Iran is very isolated; living under permanent pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United States. Our country can well see that it has an interest in maintaining relations with the West.

 

Iran, 27 Nov. – 3 Dec 2012 Care of the elderly and sick people in Tehran.

How do you explain the fact that some young people are turning away from Islam in a country that is still dominated by this religion? 

By imposing Islam by force, they are provoking a reaction of rejection among young people, who refuse to be dictated to about how to live. This reaction partly explains the interest in Christianity, Zoroastrianism and even to Hinduism. And then there are others who reject all forms of religion. And sadly, a great many among them are losing their way in drugs, for lack of an ideal. It is an easy escape, within easy reach, and many young people are sinking irrevocably into it.

 

Would you like to say a few words to the benefactors of ACN?

We would like to thank ACN for your solidarity with our remote Christian community. You are providing us with precious material support. And still more than this, by keeping us informed about the situation of the Church in need elsewhere in the world, you are helping to foster communion among Christians, including even those who are the most remote geographically.

 

ACN Project of the Week – Lebanon 5,000 Bibles for the youth apostolate in the Archdiocese of Zahleh

14.11.2018 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Lebanon, Middle East

ACN Project of the Week – Lebanon

Church of St. Andrew, the Apostle Greek-Catholic archdiocese of Zahle. 

5,000 Bibles for the youth apostolate in the Archdiocese of Zahleh

More and more Christians are leaving the Middle-East. This Exodus is not only affecting Syria and Iraq, but Lebanon as well. In the quite recent past, this was the only country in the Middle East with a Christian majority population. But now, Christians are an ever shrinking minority. Back in the civil, some 700,000 Christians left the country 1975 to 1990 – the exodus continues to this day. Christians now represent just 34% of the total population, and only a quarter of young people under the age of 25.

The mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East is frequently described as a tsunami. In August 2015 Patriarch Gregorios III, who was then still head of the Melkite Catholic Church, wrote an open letter to young people in which he said, “The general wave of emigration among young people, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq, breaks my heart, wounds me deeply and feels like a death blow to me. What future can the Church have in the face of such a tsunami of emigration? What will become of our homeland? What will happen to our parishes and Church facilities?”

In response to this crisis, the Melkite Catholic Church has mobilized in the 40 parishes belonging to the archdiocese of Zaleh, in pursuing an intensive youth apostolate. For it is clear that the more firmly young people are rooted in their faith and in the life of the Church, the less likely they are to abandon their homeland. Weekly meetings and larger monthly events are helping these young people to grow in their faith, and every young person joining the groups is given a copy of the Holy Scriptures by the priests in charge.

We have promised 37,500 dollars to cover the cost of an additional 5,000 Bibles.

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Feature story of the week: United in prayer for the Middle East

06.07.2018 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN Spain, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Raquel Martin & Maria Lozano, Iraq, Jordan, Prayer

Iraq and Jordan

Day of Prayer for the Middle East

Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, Archbishop Alberto Ortega: “It is not possible to imagine the Middle East without the Christians.”

 

On Wednesday, July 4, the papal Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, Archbishop Alberto Ortega, visited the Spanish national office of the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in Madrid.

 

International Conference “Return to the roots: Christians in the Nineveh Plains” hosted by Aid to this Church in Need – At press conference: Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martín (Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan) – Photo by Christian Gennari

During his visit to his own native city, Archbishop Ortega underlined the importance of the Day of Reflection and Prayer that Pope Francis will be celebrating tomorrow, Saturday, July 7, in Bari, Italy, along with all the Patriarchs and Heads of the Eastern Churches in the Middle East. The meeting will also address the complicated situation being lived by the Christians in the region.

 

This gesture is intended to bring the faithful to “look to the East,” he explained. “The place where the Christian faith was born; where we should be living in peace; and yet there are conflicts. It is a place where Christians are called to fulfill a most important task.”

 

As Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, the calling of this meeting is “a very beautiful gesture, for the value of prayer that it contains, which is the most important thing,” according to the Nuncio. “Catholics, Orthodox, Christians of other faiths… All will be praying together, and indirectly calling the attention of the international community to the need to support peace and development in these countries, as well as to support the Christian presence as a positive element for all sides.”

 

Photographer: Jaco Klamer

“It is not possible to imagine the Middle East without the Christians,” Archbishop Ortega added. “It would not be the Middle East; it would be something else, and so it is very important to maintain this gesture, whereby communities of different faiths can live together, mutually respect one another and build up the country together.”

 

In the Middle East, he explained, Christians have always had the mission to be “instruments of peace and reconciliation, of unity and development. It is a mission that requires us to be silent witnesses, since over there we cannot openly preach the presence of the Lord.”

 

And yet, “this very simple and very discreet mission can transform the situation and touch people’s hearts,” he observed. “And it is revealed in the various activities of the Church—her schools, dispensaries, hospitals; all the charitable activity of the Church.”

 

Italy, Rome 28.09.2017 – His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako(Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church from Iraq)

A new cardinal, also welcomed by Muslims

Archbishop Ortega had just returned from Rome after taking part in the Consistory for the Creation of new Cardinals, among whom was the Chaldean Patriarch, Archbishop Louis Sako.

 

In his estimation, this gesture by Pope Francis is a gesture of “support for the Christians of Iraq, of all the Middle East, of the entire region.” The news of which was received with great gratitude and joy.

 

“The news was very well received, not only by the Christians, but also by many Muslims. There have been a huge number of expressions of appreciation and support sent to the Patriarch by the Muslims, starting with the President of Iraq, the Iraqi Prime Minister and the Minister of external affairs, and also including ordinary people who have seen this appointment as a gesture of closeness by the Pope for the country and also for the Christians.”

 

The new Cardinal Louis Sako will now have “a stronger and more sustained voice, with still greater moral authority” for the support and defence of the Christians in this country, the papal Nuncio affirmed.

 

Almost half the Christian refugees have now returned

Speaking of Iraq, the Nuncio confirmed that the situation in the country is now “somewhat better” and that little by little the Christians are returning to their former homes on the Niniveh plains, “thanks to the support of organizations such as ACN and others and of some national governments,” he added.

 

“Almost half the Christians have now returned to their homes, and this is good news,” he said. “In Qaraqosh, the town with the largest Christian population, over 5,000 families have returned, and little by little, in some of the Christian villages, life is beginning to resume its normal pattern.”

 

Nonetheless, he added that “much remains to be done” and expressed his hope “that the aid may continue to come in, because people can return only if they have homes and can find work—and consequently it is essential to continue the international aid, and the support of the Church, for these people have lost everything for the sake of their faith.”

 

Iraq, June 2018
Mother and daughter of the Syriac Catholic Bassim Family in front of their house in Qaraqosh. It has been reconstructed with the help of ACN – Photo by Oliver Maksan

The simple truth, he said was that the Christians of Iraq simply wish “to be fully recognized as citizens, with the same rights and duties as the rest of the population, and to be appreciated for the work that they do on behalf of all. Very often it is the Muslims themselves, their own neighbours, who tell them they want them to stay and not to go away, because things are better with them there.”

 

A spectacular lesson in forgiveness

In the view of the papal Nuncio, the Christians of Iraq have given two important lessons to the entire universal Church: “the value of the faith, and their union with the Lord, for the sake of whom they have lost everything without a second thought and given up their homes and their work…”

 

And then there is a “spectacular lesson in forgiveness. To hear these Christians forgiving and praying for those who persecuted them is a testimony to the action of the Lord. Humanly speaking, it is extremely difficult to forgive someone who has driven you out of your home, who has caused you to lose everything or murdered one of your loved ones.”

 

From 2011 to June 2018, ACN gave almost 60.6 Million for pastoral projects and emergency aid in Iraq. In 2017 alone, ACN gave 14 Million dollars. The pontifical charity is the most actively involved aid organization on the Nineveh Plains.


ACN Feature Story: Good Samaritans of the Valley of the Christians in Syria

08.06.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN NEWS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Josué Villalón, Emergency Aid, Middle East, Syria, Valley of the Christians

Syria

Good Samaritans of the Valley of the Christians in Syria

Mzeina Hospital is situated in the small town of the same name, one of several that make up the Valley of the Christians (Wadi Al-Nasara in Arabic), a rural region of Syria, close to the frontier with Lebanon and roughly halfway between the city of Homs and the Mediterranean coast. “The hospital has been open for four years now and for the past two years the number of admitions, operations and basic treatments has been growing steadily” the hospital director, Dr Sam Abboud, assures us.

Sacred Heart next to a poster of Mzeina Hospital, in the Valley of Christians, Syria

The war which continues to tear this country apart seems a long way from this region, yet the doctors and their co-workers at the hospital assure us that the situation is still as bad as or worse than before. “People come to us asking for help and tell us that in other hospitals they couldn’t get treatment because they did not have enough money. We don’t simply tell them to go away; we try to help them in every way we can,” says Toni Tannous, the head of the physiotherapy team.

 

Part of the staff of Mzeina Hospital. Tannous, in the middle, is the Head of Staff.

The doctors themselves and the other employees at the hospital have themselves had personal experience of the consequences of the war. “I myself had to flee from Homs because of the war,” Toni continues, “and now I am working here. All of us feel a sense of responsibility in one way or another to help in whatever way we can.” This hospital, which treats thousands of people every month and has almost 500 inpatients, works in collaboration with the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre run by the Melkite Catholic Church in the nearby town of Marmarita.

 

“From the health centre run by the Melkite Church in Marmarita we attend to over a hundred urgent medical cases a month, in addition to other cases where we pay for medicines. We take the families to the hospital and have a working agreement with the Mzeina Hospital to treat them there,” explains Elías Jahloum, a volunteer and coordinator of the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre. “In the Valley of the Christians there are no public hospitals; the closest ones are in Homs or Tartus, an hour or more away by car on account of the Army security controls. That is why the healthcare service offered by the Church in this region is greatly appreciated by those displaced by the war, who have few financial means.”

 

Valley of the Christans from Marmarita

At the very core of suffering, praying for benefactors all over the world

Elías accompanied a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), who visited some of the inpatients in the Mzeina Hospital. Their care is paid for by the Saint Peter’s aid centre with the financial support of ACN. “Thank you for coming to see us, Elias, and thanks also to your benefactors,” said Najwa Arabi, a middle-aged mother of a family who had just undergone surgery on her stomach. “We know that there are people in many countries around the world who are helping us. Every day we pray for them and give thanks to God,” she added.

 

Najwa Arabi in Mzeina Hospital with her family

On the next ward is Maryam Hourani, the mother of Janadios, a little boy barely more than a year old who is recovering from bronchiolitis. “He was very ill and could hardly breathe when we brought him to the hospital,” she explains.

“We contacted Elias and he assured us that the Saint Peter’s Centre would pay his costs. I can only say thank you.” Equally grateful is a young woman by the name of Shasha Khoury, who is recovering from surgery for a breast tumour. “I’m five months pregnant,” she says. “It is a boy and he’s going to be called Fayez, which means ‘winner,” she smiles.

 

Dr Abboud, who is an ear nose and throat specialist, explains that some of the operations they perform are free and that they have a special program for children and young people with hearing problems. “Many of these cases are caused by bombs and other explosions during the war,” he explains, adding that the biggest difficulties they face are the lack of infrastructure, obtaining new medical equipment with which they can operate better, and the constant power cuts. “Although in this last year we have managed to obtain medicines which until recently it was impossible to find in Syria,” he concedes.

 

Entrance of the Mzeina Hospital. From right to left: Dr. Sam Abboud, hospital’s director; Majd Jhaloum, from Saint Peter Center; Toni Tannous, Head of staff; Josef Moussarad, accountant of the Hospital and Elias Jahloum, head of the San Peter Center

As we leave the hospital, Elías and Toni say goodbye with a big hug. Both men are very heavy built and look almost like brothers. “Whenever a difficult case crops up in the hospital, with a patient who has very little money, we always try to help by giving a discount and extending the payment period. When such cases occur, we call the Saint Peter’s centre, knowing that Elias there or Father Walid, the parish priest of Saint Peter’s Church, will always respond to our requests,” Toni tells us. The presence of the Church and its work on behalf of the displaced by the war and the local poor is quite literally saving many lives.

 

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need sends around $75,000 each month to the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, a large part of which is to cover the cost of essential medicines and the medical care of over 4,000 individuals. “We continue to need your aid. You are the hope of all these people, and a wonderful example for our society,” says Dr Abboud, as he bids us farewell.

 


 

Egypt – “My mother was killed by a terrorist while she was helping him”

03.05.2018 in ACN Feature, egypt, Engy Magdy, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Julie Bourdeau, Middle East

Picture: Bullet hole in portrait of late Pope Kyrillos VI, in corridor of St. Mina Church in Cairo

Egypt

“My mother was killed by a terrorist while she was helping him”

Testimony of the daughter of one of the victims of the attacks in Cairo last December.

 

Gunmen attacked worshippers leaving a Coptic Orthodox church on the southern outskirts of Cairo on Dec. 29, 2017. ISIS subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place some 10 minutes after the conclusion of Mass at St. Mina Church and killed nine people. One of the victims was a young mother, Nermeen Sadiq. Her 13-year-old daughter Nesma Wael was at her side when she was shot. Nesma gave the following account of the ordeal to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“After Mass ended, I left the church with my cousin and my mother. My mom wore a cross around her neck, and all three of us were not wearing veils. In poorer neighbourhoods, Muslim women often wear veils so they are distinguished from Christian women.

“As we turned into a side street, we saw someone on a motorcycle heading toward the church. The next thing we knew, the man crashed his bike after hitting a pothole. My mother ran up to him to help, reassuring him, as she said: “In the name of Jesus Christ, are you okay?” He got up quickly and in the blink of an eye he opened fire on us with an automatic weapon he pulled out from under his vest.

Egypt, Cairo 2018: Nesma (13) and her sister Karen (8). They lost her mother during an attack in December 2017. “This is my message to all the persecuted people around the world: ‘Do not be afraid! Our lives are in God’s hands and we have to adhere to our faith.’”

 

“As soon as my cousin and I saw the weapon, we hid behind Mom, who shouted at us to run away; the terrorist first shot her in the arm, while she was trying to protect us; as we ran away, she fell down and could not escape with us. The distance between us and the terrorist when he first took out his machine gun was no more
than a few feet. My cousin and I ran into a small supermarket, where the sales girl hid us behind the refrigerator; from our hiding spot, we watched the attacker looking for us. When he couldn’t find us, he turned to Mom again and fired more shots at her.

“All this happened in a few minutes. After the gunman left, we ran to my mother. Many people had gathered, but they all refused to touch my mom, to turn her over, even though she was still alive. I kept screaming for someone to help me, but no one did. I reached my uncle, who came right away.

“An ambulance pulled up, but the emergency workers refused to move Mama into the ambulance until they got permission from the security officials who were out in the streets, hunting for the terrorist, as well as another shooter who had attacked people in front of the church.

“A gun battle erupted, and people fled. My cousin, my uncle and I stayed with my mother. She looked at me, saying: “Do not be afraid, I’m with you. Obey your father and take care of your sister.”

“My mother remained lying in the street for about an hour. After the shooting stopped, I went back to the church to fetch my younger sister Karen, who is eight, and had remained in church because the service for children had not finished yet—I saw three people I knew lying in pools of blood in front of the church; I knew they had been killed.

Candles in a coptic orthodox Church in Cairo

“By the time mom was taken into the ambulance she had died.

“Today, I do not walk the streets alone anymore. My father always goes with me anywhere. Despite the pain inside my heart—I miss my mother desperately—I am happy because she is a martyr and I don’t feel afraid of the terrorists anymore. I was with her at the time of the attack and did not even get injured: it was God’s will to specifically choose her to go to heaven.

“I do not want to leave my country, but I certainly want to find a better chance to live and study, especially since our financial situation isn’t good. My dad, who is 35, works as a driver, but he has no regular work; my mother provided the main source of income for our family; she was a nurse at the Cairo Kidney Center. I hope to become a doctor of nephrology; that was my mom’s dream for me.

 

“This is my message to all the persecuted people around the world: ‘Do not be afraid! Our lives are in God’s hands and we have to adhere to our faith.’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Syria – young volunteers coordinate aid for 2000 displaced families

02.05.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Josué Villalón, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Julie Bourdeau, Middle East, Syria, Urgent need

Syria

Young volunteers coordinate aid for 2000 diplaced families

Several of the volunteers are themselves displaced persons, but do not hesitate to help others: “What motivates us is Jesus”

ACN (Josué Villalón, Marmarita). Eleven young people make up the team of volunteers of the parish centre of St. Peter, the Greek Catholic Church in Marmarita, which is located in the heart of the Valley of Christians, a region in Syria close to the Lebanese border. Many of the people in this region were displaced by the war and came here from all over Syria: Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, etc. This team of volunteer workers coordinates the distribution of the aid that is donated to about 2,000 families each month by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). They are the messengers, but also the message.

“What motivates us is Jesus. It moves us deeply to be able to help people in need. For me personally, it is also the reason to remain in Syria,” comments Elías Jahloum, coordinator of the parish centre, whom everyone calls “Ili.” His mobile never stops ringing the entire time he is speaking with a delegation from ACN. “The families trust me implicitly; many of them see me as part of the family. I take them to the hospital when they are sick and later visit them at home.”

The financial aid that the pastoral charity, ACN, provides through the local Church is primarily intended for two purposes: the first involves rent payments. “The displaced families have long since used up all of their savings to pay for a place to stay. The few who were able to find work can hardly survive on what they earn,” comments Majd Jallhoum, Ili’s sister and secretary of the parish centre. “The second big project focuses on paying for health care and medicine. There isn’t even one public hospital in the entire Valley of Christians. Treatment is very expensive, as are medicines.”

ACN donates 422,800 dollars for these two projects every six months. “We are supporting 340 families with rent subsidies. Each family unit receives a monthly subsidy of about 25,000 Syrian pounds (75,50 dollars). You have to realize that the median income in Syria is currently just under 96,60 dollars.” The average rent in the Valley of Christians is 226,50 dollars a month. The rents increase in the summer months because the region is considered a “tourist” area due to its cooler climate.

Syria March 2018: From right to left, Raja Mallouhi and Issam Ahwesh, volunteers in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians.

None of the young volunteers is paid for the work they do. However, several of them are themselves displaced persons and receive aid to meet their own needs. “I, for example, receive financial aid to travel to the university and back. The university is in Homs, which is about an hour away by car. Thanks to the help I receive from ACN, I did not have to give up my studies because of the war,” explains Issam Ahwesh, who is 22 years old and is studying computer engineering. He will finish his degree this year. “My mother would be very happy if she could see how I am helping here and that I will finally be able to complete my degree. Unfortunately, she died several years before the war started.”

 

An ecumenical team

The eleven young volunteers at the parish centre of Marmarita are members of various Churches that celebrate different rites. “Some of us are Greek Catholic, others Syriac Catholic and still others, Orthodox. We do not discriminate; all of us help wherever we can and assist Father Walid.” Walid Iskandafy is a Greek Catholic priest and currently the parish priest of the church of Saint Peter.

After finishing their work, the volunteers stay to play football. Raja Mallouhi, who is studying economics in Homs, talks about how he used to play on a football team in his city. “My favourite club here is Al-Karama, the best football club in the country before the war. Outside of Syria, I am a fan of Atlético Madrid.”

They laugh when Father Iskandafy compares the eleven of them with the team of Real Madrid. “They are the players and I am their coach, Zinedine Zidane.” They are a very good team. The priest is proud of how they always discuss any new request for help or problems with one of the families with each other and try to find a solution together.

 

Inspired by the Pope

Lama Jomia has just completed his degree in tourism and currently spends his time visiting displaced families. “Several years ago, Pope Francis told us young people to have the courage to swim against the tide and be faithful to Jesus. These words encouraged us to continue our work, even though war and hate prevail in our country.”

For the volunteers, faith is the most important reason to stay in Marmarita and help those who are most in need. Another young volunteer of the group, Rafic Assi, says at the end, “I would like to tell young people in Europe and all over the world that material things are not what is most important, that they should do something with their lives and be grateful that they are able to live in peace. We also did not imagine that our lives would turn out like this, but we have not completely given up hope!”

Syria March 2018: Majd, left, with a family in need in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians.