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ACN Interview: ISIS invasion of Iraq, five years on

06.08.2019 in ACN, Iraq, Middle East, Peace, Persecution of Christians

The final struggle:

What remains of Christianity in Iraq five years after the ISIS invasion?

On August 6, 2014, IS (Islamic State) units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul. Some 120,000 Christians had to flee overnight. Many of them found refuge around the Kurdish city of Erbil. For the following three years, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Msgr. Bashar Matti Warda, was one of the pillars in the maintenance and support of the community. In October 2016, Iraqi forces and their allies were able to recover the territories and tens of thousands of displaced Christians returned to the ruins of their home cities. Others decided to stay in Erbil or emigrate out of the country. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) together with the local churches provides significant support to the reconstruction effort.

 

Five years after the invasion of the Nineveh Plains, ACN interviews Msgr. Bashar Matti Warda – an eye-witness of all these events – about the consequences for Christians in Iraq, as well as for the entire Middle East and Western countries.

The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, August 6, 2019

 


It has been five years of Calvary. Looking back what lesson have you learned?
When a people have nothing left to lose, in some sense it is very liberating, and from this position of clarity and new-found courage I can speak on behalf of my people and tell you the truth. But I would like to remark that we are a people who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years confronting an existential struggle, our final struggle in Iraq. The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and rendered us, in a single night, without shelter and refuge, without work or properties, without churches and monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the normal things of life that give dignity; family visits, celebration of weddings and births, sharing of sorrows. Our tormentors confiscated our present while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future. This was an exceptional situation, but not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over 1,400 years.

So in fact, the ISIS invasion was just the “tip of the iceberg”?

With each successive cycle the number of Christians falls away and today we are at the point of extinction. Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say? That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and we were taken by surprise?  –That is what the media will say. Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for regular and recurring cycles of violence against us – like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922.

But during these 1,400 years of Christian oppression, were there periods of Muslim tolerance as an alternative to violence and persecution?

One cannot deny the existence of times of relative tolerance. Under al Rashid, the House of Wisdom, the great library, was founded in Baghdad. There was a time of relative prosperity while Christian and Jewish scholarship was valued, and a flowering of science, mathematics and medicine was made possible by Nestorian Christian scholars who translated Greek texts, already ancient in the ninth century. Our Christian ancestors shared with Muslim Arabs a deep tradition of thought and philosophy and engaged with them in respectful dialogue from the 8th century onwards. The Arab Golden Age, as historian Philip Jenkins has noted, was built on Chaldean and Syriac scholarship. Christian scholarship. The imposition of Shari’a law saw the decline of great learning, and the end of the “Golden Age” of Arab culture. A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and which could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.

 

final-struggle-camp

So, would you say that peaceful coexistence is possible and tolerance is the key to the development of peoples?

Exactly. But these moments of toleration have been a one-way experience: Islamic rulers decide, according to their own judgment and whim, whether Christians and other non-Muslims are to be tolerated and to what degree. It is not, and has never, ever, been a question of equality.  Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal. We are not to be treated as equal; we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing Jihadi spirit.  Yes; the root of all of this is the teachings of Jihad, the justification for acts of violence.

Iraqi Christians are going back to their villages again. Is the situation improving? How is life for Christians and other minorities?

There are still extremist groups, growing in number, asserting that killing Christians and Yazidis helps spread Islam. By strictly adhering to Koranic teaching they prescribe Dhimmi status (second class citizenship) to minorities, allowing confiscation of property and enforcement of jizya Islamic tax. But it is not just this. If you were a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, you would never accept for one moment the shadow under which we Iraqis live – and under which we have lived for centuries. By my country’s constitution we are lesser citizens, we live at the discretion of our self-appointed superiors. Our humanity gives us no rights.

In Western countries you stand equal under the law. This basic principle of European and American life is a foundation of Christian civic order, in which we are all children under a loving God, created in His image and likeness, which gives us all dignity, and urges on us mutual respect. Civic security grows out of a worldview that values every individual human not for their position or role, but simply because they are human. This view has been the great gift of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Rebuilding civil society means rebuilding it for everybody. Everyone has a place, and everyone has a chance to thrive.

The truth is, there is a foundational crisis within Islam itself, and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for civil society in the Middle East, or indeed anywhere where Islam brings itself to bare upon a host nation.

 

Some voices said that the brutality and the violence of ISIS have changed the Islamic world, too. What do you think?

Clearly, ISIS shocked the conscience of the world, and has shocked the conscience of the Islamic-majority world as well. The question now is whether or not Islam will continue on a political trajectory, in which Shari’a is the basis for civil law and nearly every aspect of life is circumscribed by religion, or whether a more civil, tolerant movement will develop.

The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate. This has re-awoken and is now firmly implanted in minds throughout the Muslim world.  And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims. I speak here not only of Iraq. We see leaders in other countries in the Middle East who are clearly acting in a way consistent with the re-establishment of the Caliphate.

How do you think that the West will react to this?

This is a crucial question and the religious minorities of the Middle East want to know the answer. Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organized persecution against us? When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, “we are all Christians”? And yes I do say, the “next wave of violence”, for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality, and justifies persecution. The equation is not complicated.  One group is taught that they are superior and legally entitled to treat others as inferior human beings on the sole basis of their faith and religious practices. This teaching inevitably leads to violence against any “inferiors” who refuse to change their faith. And there you have it – the history of Christians in the Middle East for the last 1,400 years.

But what would the solution be? How are we to build a better future?

This change must come about as the conscious work of the Muslim world itself. We see the small beginnings, perhaps, of this recognition in Egypt, in Jordan, in Asia, even in Saudi Arabia. Certainly much remains to be seen as to whether there is actual sincerity in this.

 

Does Christianity in Middle East have a prophetic mission?

Mine is a missionary role: to give daily witness to the teachings of Christ, to show the truth of Christ and to provide a living example to our Muslim neighbours of a path to a world of forgiveness, of humility, of love, of peace. Lest there be any confusion here I am not speaking of conversion. Rather, I am speaking of the fundamental truth of forgiveness which we Christians of Iraq can share, and share from a position of historically unique moral clarity. We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them. In the name of Christ, we forgive them. And so we say to our Muslim neighbours, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours. We know this. We pray for your healing.  Let us heal our wounded and tortured country together.

And what about our Western secular society, according to your opinion, what would our task be?

We ask that you consider our situation truthfully, as it actually exists, and not in stretched attempts at historical relativism, which diminishes, or more honestly, insults, the reality of our suffering, and thereby robs us even of the dignity of our continued faith. The heart of the struggle is to understand the nature of the battle. You will have to ask yourselves, how long can a moderate and decent society survive without the influence of Christian institutions? How long can the tradition exist after the faith has died?  What will flow into the vacuum?  The role Christian communities play, or have played, in Islamic societies has been overlooked. It is an important part of the formation of civil society in most of the world. It needs highlighting because the situation in Iraq has been woefully misread by Western decision makers. There is no reason to believe they will not misread the same signs and portents in their own countries. You think you are a long way from the chaos of Iraq? Let me assure you; it is only six hours away.

Speaking about decision makers, what would be the role of politicians?

We ask them to support efforts to ensure equal treatment for all minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. We pray that policy makers can find in themselves the humility to recognize that their theories, which over the past decades have become our horrific reality, have been almost universally wrong, based on fundamentally flawed assessments of the Iraqi people and situation. And in these mistaken policies, designed in comfort and safety from afar, argued over in the media as partisan intellectual talking points, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died.  An entire country has been ripped apart and left to the jackals. This horror all began with policy, and we beg those of you who continue to have access in shaping policy for your country, to daily remember that your policy assessments and those of your allies have life or death consequences. Please, walk humbly and make sure that you truly understand the people on whom you are passing sentence. Understanding what has happened in Iraq means being truthful about the nature and purpose of Christian civil order. It means being truthful about the nature and purpose of the laws of Islam. It means being truthful about what happens when these two come together in one place. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable subject to discuss in the comfort of a peaceful country. But for Iraqi Christians this is no abstract matter.

 

final-struggle-bishop

 

The most painful question: Are we facing the end of Christianity in Iraq?

It could be. We acknowledge this. Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, is perilously close to extinction. In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as one-and-a-half million: six percent of Iraq’s population. Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left.  Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.

In the end, the entire world faces a moment of truth. Will a peaceful and innocent people be allowed to be persecuted and eliminated because of their faith? And, for the sake of not wanting to speak the truth to the persecutors, will the world be complicit in our elimination? The world should understand, in our path to extinction we will not go quietly any further. From this point we will speak the truth, and live out the truth, in full embrace of our Christian witness and mission, so that if someday we are gone no one will be able to say:  how did this happen? We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth. Our hope to remain in our ancient homeland now rests on the ability of ourselves, our oppressors, and the world to acknowledge these truths. Violence and discrimination against the innocents must end. Those who teach it must stop.  We Christians of Iraq, who have faced 1,400 years of persecution, violence and genocide, are prepared to speak out and bear witness to our oppressors and to the world, whatever the consequence.

ACN Press – The launch of ACN Canada’s A Drop of Milk Campaign

19.07.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Children, Middle East, Syria

A Drop of Milk

ACN CANADA ADOPTS PROJECT IN HOMS, SYRIA

Objective: 378,000 dollars from now to September 30th for children 0 to 10 in the city of Homs.

 

Montreal, July 18, 2019 — “Regardless of the almost complete halt to violence in Syria, everything is still left to do,” exclaims Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN). Along with her team, she is launching a campaign in support of a project called A Drop of Milk which aims to provide milk for six months to children ages 0 to 10 in a neighbourhood of Homs, Syria. To do so, ACN needs to collect 378,000 dollars.

 

Homs: A Campaign to Restore Hope

“We are very pleased to sponsor this project created first in Aleppo, in 2015, by Quebec physician of Syrian origin, Dr. Nabil Antaki,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. “Very quickly, Dr. Antaki observed how significant the needs were and why in 2017, he turned to ACN for help to ensure the continuation of what had become an indispensable program.”

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

Just like the former economic bastion of Syria that was once Aleppo, the city of Homs was also devastated by the bloodied conflict that began in March 2011 leaving behind 300 to 550 thousand dead, according to organizations. At the peak of the conflict, ten million people were displaced and made refugees within, or outside, the country.

 

Music and Poetry for a Drop of Goodness

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said the celebrated philosopher, Plato. In Chantal Roussety’s case, however, we can say that necessity was the mother of her generosity! In fact, the musician who plays the piano and the organ among othershas in her little apartment in the East End of Montreal, for the last three years, held concerts where just over a dozen or so people participate and give a donation specifically for the Drop of Milk project. “The continual appearance of images of war for so many years and in particular, children, led me to feeling physically ill because I felt powerless to help them,” explains Mrs. Roussety earnestly.

 

“Einstein’s words: The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything, went straight to my heart. When an acquaintance told me about the Drop of Milk project supported by Aid to the Church in Need, I decided to add my own drop, if I may say, to help assuage an ocean of misery.”

 

Marie-Claude Lalonde is very happy about this initiative. “This year, the concerts have raised over $3,000—bringing the total to over $7,000 over three years. A wonderful success which is owed to the incredible generosity shown by Chantal, who has become a dear friend and benefactor for the children and for ACN,” she explains. “These concerts are now very important to us, and of course, to the children of Syria.”

In fact, for the fourth edition, Mrs. Roussety hopes to widen the circle of those who choose to finance the Drop of Milk project, while taking in an enjoyable artistic evening filled with emotion. “We are already looking for a hall, because my place is becoming a little bit too small! And I feel like sharing my love and music and the arts while also supporting a project that provides concrete help to the children of war.”

 

In the meantime, the public can give to the Drop of Milk project for the children of Homs.

Donations are welcome through the secure webpage

By phone : 1-800-585-6333, Donor Services at extension 222 or 225

By mail to :
Aid to the Church in Need Canada
A DROP OF MILK
PO Box 670, Station H
Montréal QC    H3G 2M6

 

On behalf of the children in Homs: Thank You!


To request an interview please contact Amanda Griffin, Information Department, ACN-Canada – 514-932-0552, ext. 221 – or toll free at 1-800-585-6333, Cell: 514-967-8340
com@acn-canada.org                      Website: www.acn-canada.org

ACN Feature story— Mosul, Iraq

10.07.2019 in Iraq, Middle East, Persecution of Christians

 

ACN Feature Story—Iraq

Mosul was liberated two years ago, but many Christians are still afraid to return

On July 10, 2017, exactly 2 years ago, Iraqi government declared Daesh (ISIS), defeated. The liberation of Mosul took place three years after the city had been subjected to strict sharia law, including forced conversions, mass executions and a resurgence of slavery.

 
by Xavier Bisits & Maria Lozano , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 10, 2019

 

Once the city was liberated “no one believed that the Christians would return to Mosul,” explained Syriac Catholic priest, Father Amanuel Adel Kloo in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). But Father Kloo certainly decided to return. In fact, he is currently the only priest in Mosul. He feels that it is his mission to “serve beneath the Cross” while at the same time “maintain and salvage the historical legacy of the Christian people here.” A legacy that includes Christian churches dating back over 1,200 years. As part of this same mission, he is rebuilding the Church of the Annunciation, which will be the first Christian church to be restored in Mosul.

 

Thus far, the number of Christians who have returned to Mosul is only 30 or 40 people. But there is a much larger community of “itinerant” or rather “commuting” Christians. For example, there are approximately 1,000 Christian students who travel daily to the University of Mosul from the surrounding smaller towns and villages. Added to these, a few hundred Christian labourers, most of whom are working for the government repairing still very damaged water and electricity supply networks. Father Kloo hopes that some of these Christians will eventually return to Mosul.

 

‘N’ for Nazarene marks the doorway of this home

In 2003 the Christian community in Mosul numbered around 35,000 faithful. In the 11 years that followed the beginning of the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, their numbers fell tragically, and the abduction and murder of Christians became an almost daily occurrence. Several churches were closed down even before the invasion by ISIS as many Christians had already left Mosul after the murders in 2008 of the Chaldean Catholic Bishop Raho and Father Ragheed. By 2014, only around 15,000 Christians belonging to various communities remained, including Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics and some Armenian Christian families. The bells that had sounded in Mosul for almost 2,000 years fell silent with the arrival of the jihadists. Immediately, thousands of Christians fled the city. Those who did not, were either forcibly converted or executed.

 

Renaissance of Christianity in its cradle—Iraq

Although almost devoid of Christians for the time being, the city of Mosul continues to be the “nominal” seat of two important bishoprics in Iraq. Both these dioceses have been reinforced in recent months with the appointment of new bishops—in January with Najeeb Michaeel Moussa as Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul, and in June with coadjutor bishop Nizar Semaan, to support Archbishop Petros Mouche of the Syriac Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul.

…”when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure… And many people will return.”

 

In time, Father Kloo hopes to be able to build a complex with accommodation for university students and for people in need. But the most urgent thing is to build a school as now nearly the entire million or so inhabitants of Mosul are Muslim and there are no Christian schools in the city. Clearly, this is a decisive factor for families who may consider returning.

Father Kloo is hoping that the Church of the Annunciation will be finished in three months’ time. And it represents still greater hope for him that it will signify a rebirth of Christianity in the historic city. “People are still afraid,” he says. “However, when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure… And many people will return.”

 

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need provided food, shelter, medicine and education for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) and elsewhere. When communities began returning home following the expulsion of Daesh (ISIS), the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.

 

ACN benefactors have given close to 64 million dollars in aid to Iraq between 2014 and May 2019.

 

ACN News: The call of Chaldean Bishop Sako for the guarantee of minority rights in Iraq

27.05.2019 in Chaldean Catholic, Iraq, Middle East, Press Release, Religious freedom

Iraq

 ‘Constant discrimination, uncertainty’ are pushing Christians out of Iraq

 

The leader of the Chaldean Church has called on the Iraqi government to put in place and enforce laws “that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly.

 

Montreal, Friday – May 24, 2019: “The absence of serious steps” to protect the rights of minority faiths in the country, says Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako in a statement to Aid to the Church in Need, “will push the remaining Christians and minorities to choose emigration.”

 

Christians and minorities “have played a significant role in enriching Iraq’s cultural, social and economic diversity, making valuable contributions to education, health, public administration and social services,” said the Cardinal; without them, Iraq would become “a country with one homogeneous fabric [that] could be isolated from the world and [which] may generate a kind of radicalism, [and] ethnic and sectarian fanaticism.”

 

In his declaration, Patriarch Sako lists a number of factors that are pushing Christians and other minorities into leaving the country. These include the ongoing “fragility of the security situation” and Iraq’s “institutional weakness at the level of justice,” the state’s failure to protect non-Muslims from discrimination in the realms of “education, employment and social life,” as well as at the political level. Christians with outstanding professional qualifications, the cardinal charged, are denied positions only because of their faith. “Qualification and competence,” the cardinal insisted—and not an individual’s faith—should be the “measure for employment.”

 

Christians denied seats in Iraqi Parliament

Furthermore, the patriarch notes that Christians are denied their rightful quota of five seats in the Iraqi Parliament. He also calls for the application of “a civil law for all Iraqis,” rather than Christians and other religious minorities being “subjugated to [an] Islamic court, [with regard to] spiritual, religious matters, marriages, inheritance, etc.”

 

Patriarch Sako proposes a number of additional “practical measures” to fight the “injustice and discrimination” suffered by religious minorities. He calls on the Iraqi leadership and “political ‘powers’” to combat “religious extremism that uses violence” and to take measures toward “disarming militias; providing security and stability; combating extremism, discrimination, terrorism and corruption.”

 

The cardinal insists that the Iraqi political leadership should promote “citizenship values” that support the common good by drawing on “principles of freedom, dignity, democracy, social justice and true relationship among all Iraqi citizens regardless of their religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations.” Such policies will bring about harmonious “coexistence with Muslims” for Iraqi’s religious minorities.

 

Finally, the Patriarch calls for laws that help create “good conditions that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly; preserve their heritage, archaeological and historical monuments as an integral part of Iraqi civilization, in order to enable them to continue their lives with dignity.”

 

By Joop Koopman for ACN International
 And Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web Monday May 27, 2019

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!

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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.