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Middle East

 

Feature Story: A Marshall Plan for Iraq

07.02.2017 in Iraq, Middle East, Persecution of Christians

A Marshall Plan for Iraq:

The reconstruction of Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains

ACN Communications Trip Middle East, 17 – 25 May 2016
Destroyed village of Telskuf in Iraq recaptured from ISIS by Peshmerga soldiers and the destroyed Church and Fr Halemba with damaged statue of Our Lady.

 “Hope is coming back to the Nineveh Plains,” reports Father Andrzej Halemba the Middle East expert of a Catholic pastoral charity after returning from a fact-finding mission from the Iraqi Christian villages liberated last November from ISIS. The head of the Middle East section for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) stated, “Despite the many urgent questions that need clarification, people are willing to return to their villages.”

When asked about the nature of these “urgent questions,” Fr. Halemba refers to the concerns of illegal property appropriations of the abandoned homes. An investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the destruction of Christian houses and, for those Christian families who are contemplating going home, the ongoing security fears of violence from isolated militant and fundamentalists who do not wish to see the Christians return.

To get a firsthand understanding of the destruction Father Halemba visited all the Christian villages recaptured from ISIS. He reported, “Most of the houses have been visited at least once by the owners because they want to see what is happening with their proprieties.” He has recognized a major change in the attitude of the IDPs since November of 2016: “We did a first survey in November to know if they wanted to go back to their villages. We saw that they were too afraid in view of the continued fighting in Mosul, also about the possibility of having terrorists still hidden in the area and finally concerns regarding the education of the children. The conclusions of this first ACN survey showed us that not more than 1% of people wanted to go back. Now during my visit to Alqosh I am told that there are more as 50% of IDPs are willing to return. And this number keeps increasing.”

Trip to Iraq December 19, 2016 – A statue of Our Lady decapitated and shot at by ISIS the statue located in the side chapel of the Mar Quryaqus (Qeryaqos) church in Batnaya .

A new “Marshall Plan” in Iraq!

Speaking to ACN’s aid program for the next six months, Fr. Halemba detailed the current challenges facing the charity in supporting the displaced Christian families in Erbil until repatriation: “We have to help these refugees – especially now in a cold winter – get through each day. This means continuing our support for food baskets for over 12,000 families as well as for housing. We have been asked to increase our help to pay the rent. Previously we supported the rent of 641 houses, the equivalent of 1,800 families. Today that request has grown to help over 5,000 families who live in over 3,000 houses. This is a great challenge.”

 

For this hope in the future, Fr. Halemba looks to the past calling the international community “to a new Marshall Plan.” Referring to the European Recovery Program initiated in 1948 by the United States after World War II to help Western Europe regain economic stability, Fr. Halemba states: “To have a proper understanding, one of the most important first steps is an initial assessment of the destruction. ACN is supporting Christian groups on the ground to produce a professional evaluation. Thousands of photographs with thousands of descriptions of the destruction are being gathered and put together with an estimation of the costs to rebuild. With the help of satellite pictures, the team identifies each house in each village in the Nineveh Plain recovered from ISIS. These houses we are speaking about belong to Syrian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Chaldeans and some mixed villages as well. We are talking about some 10 villages.”

The next step planned is a follow-up to the November 2016 survey about the intention to return of at least 1,200 Christians IDP families sheltered in Ankawa. Based on these two documents – the assessment of destruction and the survey of the intent to return – the pontifical foundation is encouraging the creation of a special committee to supervise a comprehensive Marshall Plan to facilitate the return.

Iraq, Erbil Food distribution, May 21, 2016 – Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda to the right and Fr. Dr. Adnrzej Halemba

An Immense Mission

What would this Marshall Plan for the Nineveh include? Fr. Halemba points to a variety of topics: “It must include a consolidating report about the destruction, the creation of a local committee and a fundraising program for the reconstruction of the villages. ACN will be support of course the reconstruction; however, we have to work together with other charities, alone it is impossible to manage this. Then the legal issues need to be considered,” explains Father Halemba.

“This includes, for example, the right to full citizenship of the Christians in Iraq and the involvement of the Iraqi government in the reconstruction. The government should be responsible for creating structures and job projects, but also provide Christians with security in their villages. This is vital in light of their horrific experiences in the recent past. Awareness of and aid programs for this Marshall Plan for the Nineveh should also be raised at the international level. Finally it is very important to properly collate the documentation of the destruction and the violent acts persecution so that, in some way, a sense of justice and peace can return and to assure this never happens again.”

Trip to Iraq December 18, 2016 – at the tomb of St. Barbara in the St. Barbara church

For Fr. Halemba, time is becoming short, estimating that the first weeks of February are crucial for the charity’s project planning: “We were expecting the families to start going back in June and ACN has to be ready to help them to go back. However, the latest information indicates that some families have decided to go back to the villages already during winter, despite the harsh weather conditions and very poor or destroyed infrastructure. We have to see if we can refocus part of our help from Erbil to a ‘start-up support’ for the Nineveh Plain. These people also rely on the Church – they look to the Church as a sign of security and stability and so ACN has to help religious sisters and priests to go back with their flocks. ACN has to support these people in this decisive and historical moment for Christians in Iraq.”

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting the Christians in Iraq since 2014 with 37.7 million dollars in aid for emergency relief projects, education, food and the livelihoods of displaced persons.

 

Interviewed by: Maria Lozano, ACN-International
Adapted by: Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

ACN Interview – Father Halemba on Syria

30.09.2016 in ACN International, ACN Interview, By Aleksandra Szymczak, Construction, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria

Syria

“We are never safe”

Father Andrzej Halemba, Head of the Middle East Projects Department of the international Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need recently returned from a trip to war-torn Syria. In this interview with journalists from within the organization, he speaks about the current situation.

 

What does the situation look like in Syria right now?

“Right now everybody is holding his breath because the situation looks promising, but on the other hand we are facing a humanitarian crisis on an enormous scale. That is why people say “ok, we have hope, once again we have experienced a little bit of peace,” but this is of course not a complete peace. Damascus, for example, during the time I was there was quiet for two days, but on Sunday there were eight explosions in the outskirts of the city. DAESH, Al Nusra and other Al-Qaida groups want to destabilize the situation and show that there will be no peace in Syria without their engagement.

Syria has changed completely in just 5 years. From a rich country which was enjoying peace and where business was going very well, to suddenly being completely destroyed.

Syria September 2016 The celebrations of the Feast of the Cross in Yabroud, September 2016. School children carried on their shoulders the Cross, the image of Christ, etc. After the Mass the Cross is being burnt as the symbol of the light and the warmth which comes from the Cross to the whole World.

Syria September 2016
The celebrations of the Feast of the Cross in Yabroud. School children carried on their shoulders the Cross, the image of Christ, etc. After the Mass the Cross is being burnt as the symbol of the light and the warmth which comes from the Cross to the whole World. An essentiel in the middle of the darkness of the war. 

 

How did the war change the life of Syrians?

The population of Syria has dropped from 24.5 million to little over 17 million. Nearly 6 million people are outside the country. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries and 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian help inside Syria. Many areas are extremely difficult to reach. Food is very expensive. For example, in the area controlled by the government the price of rice rose from 2010 nearly 250%, but in the rebel areas its price rose 28 times! So if basic food is so expensive, what kind of a miserable life is it? Over 57% of people are not able to find jobs. They make their living by begging and from humanitarian help. And, 4.6 million people are in hard-to-reach areas.

Everybody is afraid of the possible division of the country and of the prolongation of the conflict due to new factors like actions of Turkish army on the territory of Syria against so-called rebels and against Kurdish people. The situation is extremely complex, but certainly for the first time in several months there is a small flame of hope.

Syria September 2016 Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing with Father Andrzej Halemba (ACN) and Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing with Father Andrzej Halemba (ACN) and Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral.

 

Which experiences during your trip to Syria saddened you the most?

First of al the ruins that you can see around Damascus – It is a lovely city and still the people refuse to be in [a state of] despair there. Despite the difficult situation they try to live a “normal life.” But the landscape of the surroundings of the city is terrible. When we went to Homs, we had to use side roads because the motorway was blocked by snipers. The streets are dirty, people are poorly dressed, the prices are very high and there is a lot of suspicion. A growing number of checkpoints have definitely an impact on people’s mentality: “We are always in danger because there are so many soldiers checking on every car and every person.” Due to constant pressure on them caused by bomb attacks everybody is extremely tired, especially the police.

In Homs we’ve been passing through a place where few days before there had been an attack by Al Nusra. They drove the car into the city centre and at the checkpoint they triggered off the bomb, killing themselves and six soldiers. With this terror people are very deeply traumatized. “We are never safe” they say. And that makes them really tired.

The families are in a dramatic situation as they can’t sustain themselves. They have no work or are being very much underpaid. And the displaced people who had to leave their homes – 6.5 million of them to be more precise – need to rent rooms, but the rental prices are extremely high. Without having the income this becomes a big challenge for them.

Last but not least the question of the young people who are very afraid to be taken by the army or by the rebels to fight. They are the most vulnerable, that is why they run away. That is also why amongst the refugees in Europe there are so many young people.

 

Were there any situations at all that you could describe as beautiful ones?

The moment they come and say to us: “We cannot thank you more” or very often without words they burst into tears because nobody is helping them in such a way as they need. It is very emotional for us. They are so grateful. But this help has not only a material aspect. It gives them so much more: strength through the gesture of solidarity which they experience. People in Marmarita told me: “Father, it is so important for us that we don’t feel forgotten.”

We should remember that Aid to the Church in Need is one of the biggest donors who contributed emergency aid in Syria, especially for Christians. According to the analyses, we have learned that at least 195,000 Christians and other people were helped by Aid to the Church in Need. The help was in the form of food baskets, electricity, gas, medicines, scholarships… we were able to identify nearly 17 different ways of helping Syrian people in 2015.

I also always ask people in Syria to pray for benefactors and for their families. And they say, “We pray daily for them.” And in fact, they are doing just that. Very often they carry the rosaries, pray together in the churches, and also individually. This is, in fact, an exchange of love through a bridge of prayer.

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs shows the inside of the destroyed Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. ACN helps to rebuild the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs shows the inside of the destroyed Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. ACN helps to rebuild the Cathedral.

Is there a story from one of the project partners that you would like to share?

There is a teacher from Damascus. She went abroad twice: once to the USA and once to Europe and she says: “I cannot live over there. I have to come back to Syria. I have to help children in the schools. I want to grow old here and I want to die here.” This is a person who really loves her country despite the difficulties and despite the temptation of having an easy life.

I also remember two young people from the Valley of Christians. They were extremely well educated; both spoke very good English. With their qualifications they could easily find work in Western countries. Furthermore, their parents lived in the USA and call every day for them to come. But they refuse to go. They say: “We have to help others. There are so many who depend on us.” Indeed, they are helping a few hundred families. They work as volunteers. This is amazing.

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross with Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross with Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing. 

 

Since the eruption of the war in Syria in 2011, Aid to the Church in Need hassupported emergency humanitarian projects and pastoral aid projects
with an amount of close to 19 million dollars CAN. 

 

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By Aleksandra Szymczak, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada


 

 

PRESS RELEASE – Syria – In emergency mode, more than ever

30.08.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Emergency Aid, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Syria

Syria

In emergency mode, more than ever

 

Montréal/Königstein, August 30, 2016 – Aid to the Church in Need announces that it wishes to continue providing emergency aid in Syria and counts on raising over 2 million dollars in order to do so. This amount must serve to continue the already existing support programs, as well as adding others, so that the Local Church can continue to help the most underprivileged displaced and refugee families of many of Syria’s villages and towns, including Tartus and Damascus. Special attention will be given to the city of Aleppo.    

 

Presently, the citizens of what used to be Syria’s economic and industrial heartland are suffocating, victims of the battles opposing the government army – which controls the western part of the town – and rebel groups which run the eastern part of the city, and thus control the water and power supplies.

 

Paradoxically, while the number of Christians in the conflict zone has decreased once again over the last few months, the number of families needing subsistence aid has increased rapidly. The support provided over the next few months includes a milk and diaper supply for about 650 babies and toddlers aged 2 and under in Tartus and in other parts of the Latakia diocese.

 

Thanks to the generosity of many benefactors, the international charity organization was able to help about two hundred babies at the beginning of the year. Our partners wrote, “You have been the visible image of the invisible God.” “Your aid always raises the morale of the desperate families, who otherwise might have the impression that a baby is a burden instead of feeling happiness and joy.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need would also like to extend its support to the uprooted families of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib, who are homeless due to violent clashes. Most have been settled in Tartus and Latakia; they now need help to pay for housing. Only a few months ago, about a hundred families benefited from support. To date, 2,817 have received emergency aid, thanks to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need.

Supporting families of refugees and displaced is a priority for the Church in Syria.

Supporting families of refugees and displaced is a priority for the Church in Syria.

 

 

Providing dignity

According to recent numbers of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), more than three out of four Syrians live in extreme poverty and cannot afford basic products and food supplies that are indispensable to their subsistence: the price of fuel more than doubled over the last 18 months; that of wheat flour increased by about 300% and rice by about 650%, compared to the price before the war began.

 

Our emergency aid coordinators wrote: “Thanks to your help, we can stay next to our people and help them, which lightens their burden. We continue to work as a team and, with your support, are trying to stay in contact with an ever-increasing number of families and, as much as possible, provide them with what they need to live in dignity. We must support them in their daily lives, particularly those who have children, and also seniors, as they are the most vulnerable. Life has become very expensive and very hard. Our families struggle against fear and worry about the future. The question that people are constantly asking themselves is whether to stay or not, and what will ultimately become of us.”

 

Our coordinators of emergency aid wrote:

“Thanks to your help, we can stay next to our people and help them, which lightens their burden. 

We continue to work as a team and, with your support, are trying to stay in contact with an ever-increasing number of families and,
as much as possible, provide them with what they need to live in dignity.

We must support them in their daily lives, particularly those who have children, and also seniors,
as they are the most vulnerable. Life has become very expensive and very hard.

This mother and her child were helped last winter thanks the Aid to the Church in Need's benefactors.

This mother and her child were helped last winter thanks to Aid to the Church in Need’s benefactors.

 

Our families struggle against fear and worry about the future.
The question that people are constantly asking themselves is whether to stay or not, and what will ultimately become of us.”

To continue supporting the emergency support programs in Syria,
Aid to the Church in Need, along with its partners,
is calling upon the generosity of its benefactors and that of all those touched by the Syrian conflict.
Since March 2011, the pontifical charity organization has given close to 19 million dollars to refugees and the displaced in Syria.
Thank you for your generosity!
 

 

To give in Canada

Aid to the Church in Need
P.O. Box 670, Stn H
Montreal, QC H3G 2M6

Ontario ACN Sub-Office
P.O. Box 40009, RPO Marlee,
Toronto ON M6B 4K4

Or here :

donate

 

 

 

 

By Mario Bard, Aid to the Church in Need Canada

Translation, Julie Bourbeau

Adaptation, Amanda Bridget Griffin


 

ACN Interview – Aleppo: the dark city

12.08.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN Interview, ACN UK, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Middle East, Moyen-Orient, Syria, Syrie

ACN Interview

Aleppo: the dark city

Father Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit priest who has been helping the victims of the war in Syria for a very long time now, once in Homs and now in Aleppo, recently spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

 

What was the situation like in Aleppo?

Father Ziad Hilal: '' It is the same situation, our country is divided now. I think the only way is dialogue between Syrian and Syrian, because of the issues of the day, because with weapons – we could not find a resolution. We have to stop the weapons and work for peace. This is the most important thing for us as Syrians.”

Father Ziad Hilal: ” It is the same situation, our country is divided now. I think the only way is dialogue between Syrian and Syrian, because of the issues of the day, because with weapons – we could not find a resolution. We have to stop the weapons and work for peace. This is the most important thing for us as Syrians.”

“It is a sad situation for everybody because of the fighting. I couldn’t sleep well there because all the night we heard the bombardment and the fighting between the groups.”

“When I was there, there was electricity for maybe one hour, two hours, a day – but not every day either. Then it is a dark city, if you want, without electricity but the people use the generators, but not all the time they give them electricity for a few hours. But from midnight until morning it is black – a dark city – nothing happens.”

“Without electricity we couldn’t have warmth and a lot of people couldn’t go to their job also – and the city, it’s divided between two sides. Between the opposition and the government, then people couldn’t move from one side to the other side. And you can imagine every family can be divided between the two sides of the cities. And a lot of people couldn’t go from here to there, from there to here, to get to their jobs – and so they lost their jobs, they lost their houses.”

 

Are there any signs of hope?

“On one side things are dark, things are sad. On the other hand, we see the activities of the Church there and people, especially the Christian associations. These provide a sign of hope.”

“We have many services there with Aid to the Church in Need, with JRS, and the bishops to help the Christians to stay in their land – and also to help the Muslim people.”

 

What is exactly the action of the Church? 

 

“We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN and other associations, and a lot of people who come – we give about 7,500 meals every day. It is a lot – the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims.”

 

He added that at the Missionaries of Mary, where the kitchen is based, are helping women – including Muslim women to sew handbags and other items to sell to make a living.

“The problem is Syria is not between Christians and Muslims – but I am giving you an example how our church works for reconciliation.”

 

Can you give us an example of how families are suffering?

“There are many poor families without work. I met a Catholic family where three children are working in a restaurant, one is 7 or 8 years old, the other one is 10 years old and the third one, he is 14 years old. Their father has died, we don’t know how, and their mother is also working. And the boss of the restaurant told me – you see these three children are working and I couldn’t tell them no it is summer now because they are helping their mother. I was choked.”

 

Aleppo, July 2016

Aleppo, July 2016

What is the situation like in Aleppo now that the rebels have driven further in to the city?

“I don’t know. What I can say? It is chaos now – and not only in Aleppo but throughout Syria.  Fighting is everywhere.  We speak a lot about Aleppo, but we also forget the other cities. It is the same situation, our country is divided now. I think the only way is dialogue between Syrian and Syrian, because of the issues of the day, because with weapons – we could not find a resolution. We have to stop the weapons and work for peace. This is the most important thing for us as Syrians.”

 

Do you think there will be peace?

“It is important now to say what Pope Francis said a few days ago – ‘I encourage everyone – young and old people – to live with enthusiasm in this year of mercy, to overcome indifference, and firstly proclaim peace in Syria is possible. Peace in Syria is possible.’ This is our cry today, that peace in Syria is possible, this is the only hope for us.”

 

 

 

What is your prayer for Syria?

“My prayer today is to ask God to give us peace and consolation. What the people in Syria and especially in Aleppo need is security and mercy to continue  with their lives, because it is a hard situation. God makes us understand that the only way is reconciliation between each other, as Syrian to Syrian, to stop the war and start a new life in peace”

Aid to the Church in Need continues to help in Syria the catholic communities that provides support
to the displaced and refugees.

Thanks to you.

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Emergency help in Syria, January 2016.

Emergency help in Syria, January 2016.

 

 

By John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada


 

Syria : “God, give us peace!”

09.06.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Children, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria

Syria

 “God, give us peace!”

 

Thousands of children in Syria celebrated “International Children’s Day” as a prayer day for peace

 

On June 1, thousands of children of all denominations gathered in several Syrian cities to celebrate “International Children’s Day” as a prayer day for peace. In Homs, this was the first public event held with children since the liberation of the city. From there, the Christian television station “Tele Lumière” broadcast the initiative all over the Middle East. More than 700 children dressed in white gathered together with the Catholic and Orthodox bishops in what was once a city under siege, a city in which Jesuit father Frans van der Lugt was murdered in April of 2014. They made their way through the city in a procession, stopping to pray together at the churches of the various Christian denominations.

 

Christian children from different confessions, gathered in all the country to pray for peace, June 1st 2016

Children from different confessions, gathered throughout  the country to pray for peace, on June 1st 2016

 

Bishop Abdo Arbach, the Melkite Greek Catholic bishop of Homs, held an address that has been relayed to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). He said: “We have had enough of war, of destruction, of child trafficking. We want to live, we want to enrich our children with a good upbringing. (…) We will never accept that they have to live without hope and far away from their homes!” He appealed to the international community “that this war may end and that they act as per human rights charter and children’s rights. God, give us peace!”

 

The destroyed Melkite Greek Catholic cathedral, which is consecrated to “Our Lady, Queen of Peace”, was adorned with a monumental poster of the Infant Jesus of Prague. In the Melkite cathedral, the bishops joined the children in a prayer to the Infant Jesus. Bishop Arbach said that the Infant Jesus is “the source of peace for our children and our country because His greeting is ‘Peace be with you’.” They also lit candles before a statue of the Infant Jesus.

 

Similar events, which continued throughout the day, were also simultaneously held in Damascus, Tartus, Marmarita and Aleppo. “We hope that these children’s initiative spreads and many other children all over the world pray for peace,” the Maronite bishop of Latakia and Tartus, Msgr. Antoine Chbeir, said to the pastoral charity. In Tartus, children also showed posters they had drawn, in which they asked for prayers for peace as well as the end of terrorism and the war in Syria.

 

The message from the Syrian children is clear (June 1st 2016).

The message to the world from Syrian children is clear (June 1st 2016).

 

Peace procession and Prayer day in Syria on the Day of the Child, 01.06.2016

Procession for peace in Tartous, Syria

During the Angelus prayer on May 29, Pope Francis had invited children all over the world to join the children in Syria in their prayer for peace. The Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of the country issued a joint message calling upon children to observe this prayer day, which began as an initiative of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need.  

 

The organization  sent close to 8 million dollars in help for Syrians in 2015

 

 

 

 

Catholic and Orthodox representatives gathering together with the children in Homs for peace procession, prayer and activities on the “International Day of the Child” on 1th of June 2016. Here, in the greatly destroied church of Our Lady, Queen of peace.

Catholic and Orthodox representatives gathered together with children in Homs , for peace procession, prayer and activities on the “International Day of the Child” on 1st of June 201 in the church ruins of Our Lady, Queen of Peace.           


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Pope Francis gives to Christians of Iraq

01.04.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Iraq, Middle East, Pope Francis

” We must never forget
the drama of persecution ”

 

In a letter sent to Mgrs. Francesco Cavina,Bishop of Carpi in Italy, Pope Francis reminds his support to the Christians of Erbil in Iraq, whom will be visited by An Aid to the Church in Need delegation, from today to April the 4th. He gave to the Bishop his contribution : money and liturgicals objects. Here is the Pope’s letter 

 

” Dear Excellency,

I learnt with joy that you, together with his Excellency Bishop Antonio Suetta and at the invitation of the Italian section of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, will be travelling to Erbil to meet the Iraqi Christians who have been forced to abandon their own towns, houses, properties, historical and cultural roots, rather than renounce their fidelity to Christ.

 

I am truly delighted by this initiative, which expresses friendship, ecclesial communion and closeness to so many brothers and sisters whose situation of affliction and tribulation saddens me deeply and invites us to defend the inalienable right of every person to freely profess his own faith. We must never forget the drama of persecution and of those persons who find themselves living in insecurity, danger, poverty and the impossibility of providing an adequate education to their own children, or of having access to the most elementary and necessary forms of healthcare.

 

Mercy calls us to turn to the aid of these our brethren in order to dry their tears, to tend their physical and moral wounds, to console their dismayed and perhaps bewildered hearts. This is not merely a matter of an act of charitable duty, but of coming to the aid of our very own body, since all Christians, in virtue of the same baptism, are “one” in Christ.

In reality, the patient and courageous witness of faith of so many disciples of Christ represents for the whole Church a call to rediscover the fertile source of the Paschal Mystery, in order to draw from it energy, strength and light for a new humanism.

As a sign of my closeness to these Iraqi sons and brothers, I am delighted to entrust to you a financial contribution, together with certain liturgical items for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, in which the Lord Jesus makes himself present as the source of courage, hope, fidelity and unity.

Your Excellency, in expressing my every good wish for the successful outcome of this journey, I impart my heartfelt apostolic blessing, which I also extend to the entire Iraqi Church

 

And please, pray for me.
Francesco”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Pope Francis at the opening of the Year of Mercy, September 8, 2015.
© Grzegorz Galazka

 


 

Feature story : “We identify more with Good Friday than with Easter”

24.03.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, Feature Story, Holy Land, Israel, Jerusalem, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Middle East, Moyen-Orient, Uncategorized, Voyager avec l’AED

Jerusalem, the Holy Land

“We identify more with Good Friday than with Easter”

Holy Week has begun in Jerusalem with the big Palm Sunday procession – but the political situation has left its mark   

 

Jerusalem belongs to the Christians on Palm Sunday. Bearing palm fronds and olive branches, thousands of locals and visitors from all over the world make their way singing and praying down the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem to receive the blessing of the Latin Patriarch.

 

Much to the annoyance of motorists, Israeli police close off the streets to traffic so that the kilometres long procession can pass through unhindered. Long after the Palm Sunday procession has ended, the celebrations continue in and close to the Christian quarter of the Old City. Even the tram has to temporarily discontinue operations when the Christian scout groups parade with their bagpipes. With these celebrations Palestinian Christians – only a small minority in both Israel and Palestine – not only want to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but also show Jews and Muslims: We are still here – even though we only make up two percent of the population in Israel, and even less in Palestine.

 

This year however, the joy was subdued. The wave of violence that has shaken the Holy Land since last autumn has left its mark. Since fewer foreign pilgrims are traveling to the Holy Land because of the current situation, the procession was much smaller than usual. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a representative of the Israeli police estimated that the procession, which had 30,000 participants last year, was probably only half as large this year. Most importantly, however: Christians from the West Bank were missing.

 

Bishop Fouad Twal leads the procession on Palms Sunday 2016.

Bishop Fouad Twal leads the procession on Palms Sunday 2016.

“The people are afraid to come to Jerusalem”

 

“Last year we arrived from Bethlehem in seven buses. This year there were only three,” explained Johnny, a Catholic from the birthplace of Christ. He said that in contrast to previous years, no Christians came from West Bank cities such as Nablus or Jenin. The reason, he explained, was that Israeli authorities only started issuing entry permits to Jerusalem very late this year. “We only found out on Friday whether we would be able to go on Sunday. For many this was just too short notice,” he told the pastoral charity.

 

However, Johnny then said, what the real reason was: “The people are afraid to come to Jerusalem. They fear that something could happen to them. We constantly hear about Palestinians being shot here.”

 

In fact, since autumn more than 180 Palestinians have died in clashes with Israeli security forces in the Holy Land. However, many of them were killed because they attacked Israelis, including civilians. The attacks were carried out with knives, scissors or guns. More than 30 Jews were killed in this way. Israelis speak of victims of terrorism when referring to their dead and insist on their right to self-defence. Most Palestinians consider their dead to be resistance fighters who were executed by Israelis without sentencing. These viewpoints are irreconcilable. And thus hatred and distrust continue to grow on both sides.

 

“The church is opposed to any form of violence, be it from Palestinians or from Israeli soldiers. After all, the fact that they are wearing a uniform does not justify everything they do. However, at the same time we are for justice. It is simply not enough to say: No more violence. As long as there is injustice, there will be no peace,” Jamal Khader, said the rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jalla, a neighbouring town of Bethlehem.

 

Jerusalem has to be an open city. It belongs to everyone…

 

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he was not surprised to hear about the drop in the number of visitors to the Palm Sunday procession this year. “I can understand that Palestinian Christians do not feel like coming to Jerusalem – and that despite the fact that it is Easter and we traditionally celebrate it in Jerusalem.” The priest said that it all started in the late nineties with the checkpoints. “The people often had to wait for hours. Then came the

The city of Jerusalem.

The city of Jerusalem.

wall and the permits. I used to come to Jerusalem for an ice cream. Today, I avoid coming here whenever I can. I do not want to have to pass through the checkpoints. And many feel the same.”

 

Father Jamal believes that Israel wants to discourage Palestinians from visiting Jerusalem. “Not everyone is issued an entry permit for the high feast days. Sometimes only the parents receive a permit and not the children. Then everyone stays home of course. Sometimes they are all issued a permit, but are then turned back again for some reason. This can’t be. Jerusalem has to be an open city. It belongs to everyone, Jews, Christians, Muslims. It can never be an exclusive city. Because then there will never be peace.”

 

Father Khader said that the political situation also influences how Palestinian Christians celebrate Easter. “We Christians of Palestine identify more with Good Friday than with Easter. We as Palestinians can closely relate to the sufferings of Christ. When we see Christ suffering, we see our suffering. The Gospels of the Passion not only tell the story of Jesus, but also our own. That does not mean that we do not believe in resurrection and the hope that goes along with this. But we are not that far yet.”

 

Interview by Oliver Maksan
Adaptation: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada.


 

 

Feature Story – Syria Ceasefire

10.03.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Middle East, Syria

Syria

Archbishop Selwanos

Archbishop Selwanos

“Hoping the ceasefire will be the beginning of the end”

A representative of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Syria has expressed his hopes that the current ceasefire will be the beginning of the end of the war in Syria.

When asked about the temporary end of hostilities that took effect on 27 February in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Sunday, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama said, “We pray to the Lord God to put his hand in every good work, and the ceasefire process is good work, especially after such a long period of war. And ask the Lord to bless this step, and will be the beginning of the end of the war in our beloved Syria.”

And ask the Lord to bless this step, so that it will be the beginning of the end of the war in our beloved Syria. While talking with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Selwanos expressed his joy over the recent release of Christian hostages from captivity by the Islamist terror militia Islamic State. On  February 22, ISIS released the last 43 hostages from an initial group of 253 Christians who were captured one year ago when IS advanced through the Khabur region of northeastern Syria. At the time, around 3,000 Christians were forced to flee their villages in the face of the jihadists’ onslaught.

“There is no doubt,” Archbishop Selwanos said, “that the thing that happened with the hostages may enter the joy of all Christians, and has increased the belief that God still works miracles in difficult times, and that the Lord responds to the prayers of the good people.”

 

ACN-20150206-19909 new“There is no doubt,” Archbishop Selwanos said, “that the thing that happened with the hostages brings joy to all Christians and has increased the belief that God still works miracles in difficult times, and that the Lord responds to the prayers of the good people.”

Meanwhile, ISIS still has more than 170 Christian captives from the Syrian town of Al-Qaryatayn, which was conquered by the terror militia in August of 2015. The jihadists followed this with the destruction of Mar Elian, a 1,500-year-old monastery.

“…Christian loves peace and seeks peace by all means.”

According to Archbishop Selwanos, Syria’s Christians continue to live in fear of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups even after the release of the hostages from the Khabur region. “Christians lived fear of Daash (Arabic term for ISIS) and jihadists in the previous period, and are still so far. But this fear is hope that ends soon, especially as the Christian loves peace and seeks peace by all means.”

“Christians used to live in fear of Daesh (Arabic term for ISIS) and other jihadists, and still do so. But we hope that this fear will soon end, especially as the Christian loves peace and seeks peace by all means.”

Aid to the Church in Need supports the humanitarian work of Archbishop Selwanos. Since the outbreak of war in Syria, the aid organisation has donated a total of more than 11 million euros to its local church project partners for pastoral and humanitarian aid. The aid work is primarily focused on supporting the many internally displaced persons.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

ACN INTERVIEW – Middle Eastern Christians must remain in the region

05.02.2016 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Middle East, Syria

Israel, June 2014
The procession on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua. The procession goes through the streets of Jaffa in the direction of the church of St. Anthony in Jaffa – the parish for migrants.

 

 

“If we hate ISIS, then they have won”

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Franciscans in the Middle East, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need: 

(Holy Land) Palestine, Bethlehem 01.12.2012 A Franciscan friar praying in front of an icon in the milk grotto in Bethlehem. The place - close to nativity church - is dear to Christians and Muslims because the virgin Mary is said to have lost her

(Holy Land) Palestine, Bethlehem 
Praying in front of an icon in the milk grotto in Bethlehem. The place – close to the Church of the Nativity  – is dear to both Christians and Muslims 

Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa is head of the Franciscans in the Middle East. The brothers of the Custody of the Holy Land are active in Israel and Palestine, also in Egypt and Syria. A Franciscan brother was recently abducted in Syria. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) met the with him in Jerusalem to discuss the prospects of Christians in Syria and the Middle East five years after the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” He believes that the war in Syria will continue to have repercussions for Christians in the country, even, long after its end. It is imperative to rebuild the trust between Muslims and Christians. In his opinion, Christians need to pray for forgiveness. And Muslims need to rethink their religious teachings.

ACN: Father Custos, the Arab Spring is now five years old. It has primarily resulted in chaos and the disintegration of nations, especially in Syria. Is there any reason for the hard-pressed Christians in the region to be optimistic in 2016?

It is difficult to say whether there are reasons for hope. However, from a political and military standpoint, this year will doubtlessly be a decisive year. 2016 could be a turning point. In Syria, I detect a certain war-weariness among the parties concerned. Therefore, they will not be able to continue at this intensity for much longer.

ACN: Do you believe that this will make it possible to find a political solution at the Geneva peace talks for Syria? (Just two days after its beginning, these talks were halted by the UN negotiator.  Talks should resume at the end of the month.)

Probably not immediately. The trenches are too deep for that. But it may be a beginning.

ACN: But do the Christians still have enough time left to wait and see if a political agreement can be reached at some point? After all, many Christians have already left Syria.

This is because the Christians are not only suffering from the war and its consequences, such as the destruction and shortfalls in supply. Even if the weapons were to fall silent, it would remain difficult for them. You have to realise that this war also has massive social repercussions. After all, this war is not just a civil war, both in Iraq and in Syria. It has had a very distinct denominational, religious character from the very beginning. It will not be a simple task to rebuild the trust that has been lost between Christians and Muslims in these countries. Added to this are the economic consequences. It will be very difficult to rebuild these countries, even if they retain their current borders. The Christians are also worried about the uncertain political future. Which kind of government will Syria have? In answer to your question: Of course not all will leave. Those that could afford to or wanted to, are already gone. Those who remain are those who did not want to leave or could not leave. These are the ones we have to take care of.

ACN: You said that the trust between Christians and Muslims is strained or has been destroyed. Why?

Well, for this you only have to think of jihadists such as Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan

ACN: But do these groups really reflect the beliefs of the Sunnis in Syria or Iraq?

Not all Syrians agree with their ideology or support them, of course. After all, they also suppress Muslims in the areas under their control, and thus numerically speaking one could even say they primarily suppress Muslims. But they still enjoy great popularity. It would be impossible for these groups to control such large parts of Syria and Iraq for such a long time without support from the general population.

ACN: And Christians are being targeted because the Islamists believe that they are on the side of the government?

Yes. However, one also has to say that in many places in Syria Christians and Muslims work and live together wonderfully. I am speaking more in terms of general developments.

ACN: But how can you rebuild trust in this case? Is it perhaps necessary to separate the groups along religious and ethnic borders? This is a trend that has developed in Syria.

This should not be done under any circumstances. In order to make a future possible for Christians in their countries, you have to push through the concept of citizenship and civil equality. This is the decisive point. And this is where the religious leaders have a part to play. Because Islamic fundamentalism didn’t just come out of nowhere.

ACN: However, most of the Islamic clerics say that ISIS, for example, has nothing to do with Islam.

It is surely a deviation, but there are links to the established theology. After World War II, we Catholics also had to ask ourselves from where modern anti-Judaism that brought to the Shoah was born and if we had a role in this. Muslim theologians now have to ask themselves similar questions. A theological examination of conscience is necessary. They have to ask themselves: What in our doctrine led to modern fundamentalism? After all, you have to ask yourself where the hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists suddenly came from. They kill Christians and persons of different religions. Why are they doing this? This needs to be answered by non-radical theologians. But we Christians also have a role to play in this.

ACN: Which role is that?

We Christians have to set an example of forgiveness. The Year of Mercy in particular can help make this clear to us.

Israel, June 2014 Holy Mass in the church in Jaffa on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua - the parish for migrants. Concelebrated holy Mass, the main celebrant - Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan custody of the Holy Land

Israel, June 2014
Holy Mass in the church in Jaffa on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua – the parish for migrants. Concelebrated holy Mass, the main celebrant – Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa,

ACN: But how can a Christian forgive ISIS, for example?

If we hate them, then they have won. And that is exactly what they want. Being human, it is of course extremely difficult to grant forgiveness and this cannot be done automatically, but in a frame of a process that requires time. But we have to put this in our perspective. And as an Italian who is living in safety, I am the last person who can tell a Christian in Aleppo how this is to be accomplished. I don’t have any answers for this either. But the Christians in Syria and Iraq have to ask themselves this question. The Gospels require this of us. If we fail to do so, our faith will remain theoretical. After all, our faith was born on Mount Calvary. This means that forgiveness has been at the heart of Christianity from the very beginning.

“Under no circumstances would I encourage the Christians to emigrate…”

ACN: Europe has long ceased being simply an observer of the upheaval in the Middle East. It is directly affected by the flow of refugees from the region. Many Christians are also going to Europe. Does this trouble you?

Under no circumstances would I encourage the Christians to emigrate. We are doing everything in our power to make it possible for the Christians to stay. I would tell them: Go to a safe part of the country, but stay in Syria. Fleeing is not a solution. Because the Christians belong here. They have a calling here. And Europe is not a paradise.

ACN: Don’t welcoming signs from Germany, for example, make your work a lot harder?

Yes. Of course this makes our efforts to help the people stay and not leave more difficult. Everyone is now talking about wanting to go to Germany. Angela Merkel has invited them, the people say. However, I would tell the politicians in Europe: It would be better to help the refugees, including the Christians, here than in Europe. It would be better to invest the money required to admit millions of refugees here. It is better for both the refugees and the region.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

Press release: Christians of the Middle East: Genocide underway

03.02.2016 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, European Union, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Refugees, Religious freedom, Syria

Montreal, Canada

Christians of the Middle East: Genocide underway

Montreal, Wednesday February 3, 2016 – “Christians of Iraq were numbered 1.5 million in 2004 and are now only 250.000, those who remain are risking their lives each day,” writes Marie-Claude Lalonde National Director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in a letter sent today to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, as well as to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion and the Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett. In her letter, she did not hesitate to speak of ‘genocide’.

 

As the national director of the international Catholic charity’s Canadian office for 15 years, she also points out the terrible fate of Christians in Syria who saw their numbers drop from 1.1 million in early 2011, to no more than 250,000 today.

 

“ It is clear the Christians left because of the war, but especially because they knew that if the Islamic State crossed their path it would mean conversion to Islam by force, death, torture, or slavery (in the case of women and children).” The situation “has taken on an apocalyptic scope, “she considers using the same words used by Msgr Louis Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Christians in Iraq.

Syria, 2013: funerals following atrocities by Islamic State.

Syria, 2013: funerals following atrocities by Islamic State.

 

Marie-Claude Lalonde is inviting Canada to follow suit with the European Parliament (detailed below) and to “take position, publicly, to defend the rights of the minority Christians – and other religious minorities – of Iraq and of Syria. “ The Lithuanian Parliament already adopted a similar resolution last December speaking of genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle-East.

The recognition of genocide

 

Thursday, the European parliament will recognize that atrocities committed by ISIS (Daesh) against religious minorities in Syrian and Iraq are related not only to crimes of war or to crimes against humanity, but also to genocide. Resolution 2091 (2016) recognizes that “the individuals acting in the name of the terrorist organization which calls itself Daesh […] have perpetrated acts of genocide and other grave crimes punishable under international law.”

 

Under international law, the “crime of genocide” has a precise definition. It refers to crimes “committed with the intention of destroying, totally or partially a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Thus it is evident that the Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide. International law imposes on states and on the international community the obligation to prevent genocide, to defend those groups that are the object of genocide and to convict and punish those responsible.

Commiting, intending to commit, or complicity in the act of genocide; who incites genocide, must be punished by the law. Consequently, all persons or organizations, – which commits, intends to commit or is complicit in the act of genocide, or who incites to genocide, must be punished by the law.

 

Syria: an Icon destroyed by the Islamic State

Syria: an Icon destroyed by the Islamic State

According to ACN, recognition of the genocide is the first fundamental step for ensuring that the international community takes action. The use of the term genocide not only holds a powerful symbolic meaning, but in practice the international community must be ready to act when it faces an action that has formally been declared as genocide.

 

In 2015, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support of local churches in Iraq was greater than 15 million dollars, and rose to over 8 million dollars in Syria. This, notwithstanding the aid already given in countries where Christisna are in refugee situations such as in Lebanon, Jordan and also in Turkey.

 

Read the letter of Marie-Claude Lalonde, adressed to Prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, ministre of Foreign affair, Stéphane Dion, and freedom of religion Ambassador, Andrew Bennett.

Read Here