An ACN Interview with Archbishop Issam John Darwish Christians and Muslims united in protests

22.01.2020 in Iraq, Refugees


Christians and Muslims united in protests
The political and economic crisis is related to the migratory wave of neighboring countries

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Published on the web January 22, 2020

Lebanon is one of the 40 smallest countries in the world, yet it houses the largest proportion of refugees per capita. Its proximity to Israel and Syria has meant that thousands of Palestinians and Syrians have sought refuge in this country which, despite suffering a cruel war in the 1990s, is one of the most democratic in the Middle East. The presence of more than one million refugees has placed a huge burden on the government and has led to an aggravation of the political and economic crisis the country is suffering. The Archbishop of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa for the Greek Melkite Catholics, Issam John Darwish, speaks in an interview with Maria Lozano of Pontifical Charity for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), about the protests and demonstrations taking place throughout the country since October 17, 2019, as well as of immigration and its consequences.



Greek Melkite Archbishop Issam John Darwish of the Eparchy of Zahle, Furzol and the Bekaa.

ACN: What is the Church’s position about the protests taking place in Lebanon? And what are the primary demands of the people?

The demonstrations here have a pure economic background; religions have nothing to do with it. And Christians are practicing the religious rituals normally without any problem. The main trigger for the demonstrations is that the government was planning to put extra taxes on the citizens. Now the majority of the people participating in the demonstrations have no more confidence in the government. Their main demands are a government of specialists to save the country, to declare bank transparency of politicians’ accounts and to recover looted money.

ACN: Who are the protesters, are they especially young people as in other countries where social protests are taking place? Do you think people have a real chance to be heard?

Actually everybody is protesting. Men and women, young and old, Christians and Muslims, students and parents and the demonstrations are not located in one place. In every region in Lebanon there are demonstrations, even in Zahle.

People are doing their best to be heard. Politicians give speeches and promise them that they are ready to make a change, but the people seem to have lost all confidence in them. They are calling on them to resign.


ACN: Do you think these events will have a positive impact on the unity of the country?

These events are certainly something that had never happened in Lebanon before. Christians and Muslims in all the regions of Lebanon are united behind the same demands. We note that the people are behind living demands like saying no to taxes, asking for medical insurance, asking for electricity, complaining about corruption, and the very bad economic situations they are living in. These demonstrations have no political backgrounds; people are asking all politicians to resign.

Humanitarian Feeding program ” Saint John the Merciful Table” for Syrian refugees and others in Zahle area and Bekaa Valley

ACN: All religious leaders provided support to the people, except the Shiites. Why?

Actually I have no answer for this question. There might be a political reason or they are afraid that if the government resigns we might be facing a dramatic economic collapse. And that is what some politicians and religious leaders are afraid of.


How do demonstrations affect daily life in your area?

Until now people have been getting their necessities. But if the demonstrations last longer without any solutions from the government we might face bigger problems. Most of the roads are being closed each morning by the protesters. That’s why many of the people are not capable of reaching their place of work.


ACN: Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita worldwide. Does the Church in Zahlé also take care of refugees?

Eight years into the Syria crisis the estimated number of Syrian refugees exceeds 1.5 million; in addition to a large number of Palestinian refugees. And there is no end in sight to this situation. Our Archdiocese in Zahle and the Bekaa for Greek Melkite Catholics had the leading role in helping the displaced Syrians. We have supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon until today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible to all European and international communities, because they live off camps. So they are always neglected in terms of support or help. The number of displaced Christian families was more than 2,000 families, among which 800 families are in our region.

Families with Archbishop John Darwish at St John the Merciful Table, Zahle, Lebanon, providing meals to displaced families

ACN: This is an immense number of refugees in relation to the small population of Lebanon. Does it have repercussions in Lebanon? Is the current crisis in the country related to the refugees’ crisis?

Well the presence of the refugees has an influence on the economic situation in Lebanon. Lebanon is a small country with many political and economic problems. Their presence caused additional burdens on the government. The unemployment rate increased; now Lebanese and Syrians find it hard to have jobs. The economic situation is very bad, the government tried solving it by putting extra taxes on the Lebanese citizens and that was the main cause that have launched the demonstrations.


ACN: The situation in Iraq and Syria has improved. Most of the refugees are from there. Are they starting to return home?

A small minority is returning back to their home country. The majority of the refugees are immigrating to Europe and Canada in search for a better future. In Zahle, many of them left without telling us, because they know that we are not in favor of their immigration. The other families are still here in Zahle, under our care.

Celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 29 2019: “Jesus is my Rock” rocks for the migrants and refugees


ACN: What does ACN’s help do?

ACN helps by allowing and giving refugees the opportunity to have a hot meal every day at Saint John the merciful Table and also through humanitarian assistance, including the distribution of food packages, hygiene kits, diapers, mazout for heating, rent assistance, medical assistance and school tuition.

This help is very important to the refugees especially since Lebanon is having an economic crisis and a high rate of unemployment. The Lebanese themselves have been suffering from this severe economic situation for a long period and this is the main cause that launched the uprising and the demonstrations in the streets.



ACN News: Aid to the Church in Need Religious Freedom Report 2018

22.11.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PRESS, Refugees, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

Aggressive nationalism is fueling religious hatred –
and the West is failing to act

Report says West is not doing enough to confront new crisis of oppressive nationalism

A surge in aggressive nationalism in key parts of the world is to blame for a rise in violence and other intimidation against religious minorities – and the West is failing to convert words of concern into action, according to a report just out.

Religious Freedom Report 2018

Religious Freedom Report 2018

Assessing all 196 countries around the globe, the Religious Freedom in the World 2018 Report concludes that “ultra-nationalism” by both government and non-state actors has caused a spike in hatred against faith minorities in countries including leading regional powers such as India, China and Burma (Myanmar). The full report is to be found on the following: www.religion-freedom-report.org. The Executive Summary is in PDF format on www.acn-canada.org.

The report, produced every two years by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, finds that religious illiteracy, including within the media, and the lack of political action in the West, has exacerbated the problem, concluding that many faith minority groups suffer behind a “curtain of indifference.”

“This is a situation that we believe is a real challenge for Canada,” considers Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) “Experience tells us the more people know about a situation, the more they can act on to change what at first may have seemed completely unchangeable. Freedom of religion must become an essential concern for Canadians if we want a real change in the numbers of countries where rampant discrimination and persecution are killing so many.”

Religious Freedom in the World 2018 criticizes governments stating: “Most Western governments have failed to provide urgently needed assistance to minority faith groups, especially displaced communities wanting to return home.”

The report says most governments failed to offer displaced minority faith groups the help they themselves have requested to enable their return to northern Iraq and elsewhere following the ousting of Daesh (ISIS) and other militant groups.

Photo: © Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications

Nigeria: Fulani herdsmen (Muslims), and farmers (Christians). What was mainly an economic conflict is becoming more religious as one group wants to dominate the other. (Photo: © Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications)

The investigation by the Catholic charity finds that media coverage about militant Islam has focused almost exclusively on the fight-back against Daesh and affiliate groups during the period under review – 2016-18 – and has largely ignored the relentless spread of militant Islamist movements in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

According to the report, a main driver behind the growth in extremism is the growing clash between Sunni and Shi’a, the main rival branches of Islam. The report states that in the 25-month review period the situation for minority faith groups deteriorated in almost half of the countries classed as having significant violations of religious freedom – 18 out of a total of 38 countries.

Worsening intolerance towards religious minorities meant that for the first time in the report’s 19-year history two new countries: Russia and Kyrgyzstan – were placed in the “discrimination” category.

The report adds that in a number of cases, such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the situation was already so bad that in the period under review it was virtually impossible for it to get any worse.

“This rapid deterioration of rights in critically classified countries, such as the right to practice one’s faith in freedom and security as stipulated in article 18 of the UN Charter of Human Rights should be of great concern for all people of all faiths,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, the National Director of ACN Canada.


Turning to the West

Turning to the West, the report highlights a surge in extremist attacks by militants against targets in the West. Such terrorism striking at the heart of liberal democracies means that the threat can be called “neighbourhood terrorism.” The report says the danger from such terrorists is “universal, imminent and ever-present.”

Religious Freedom in the World 2018 underlines in this context the growth of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the West as well.  Summarizing the report’s main findings, Editor-in-Chief John Pontifex said: “Aggressive ultra-nationalism – be it by hard-line governments or violent extremist groups – means many minority faith groups feel like aliens in their own country. They are easy targets in a new era of ignorance and intolerance.

“True, there are some like the Rohingya Muslims, whose plight has received due attention in the West, but so many others – such as Christians in Nigeria, Ahmadis in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran – feel abandoned by the West where religious freedom has slipped down the human rights priority rankings.”

Mme Lalonde, in Toronto on Wednesday November 21, for a Red Wednesday interfaith prayer vigil, an event organized by Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world said, “We must challenge this pervasive ignorance by informing, as we are doing with this rare global report on religious freedom, and challenge intolerance through acts of unity like we are doing today by praying together as brothers and sisters of many faiths.”


ACN News: 22.11. 2018 – International/Religious Freedom Report 2018 
by John Pontifex, Adapted by Amanda Griffin ACN Canada

ACN Interview: Bishop Oswaldo Azaje from Venezuela

25.10.2018 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Raquel Martín & Josué Villalón, Poverty, Refugees, Venezuela

Msgr. Oswaldo Azuaje, Bishop of Trujillo in Venezuela, during his visit at Aid to the Church in Need


A cry for help

According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and other international organizations, more than two million people have left Venezuela in the last few years. This forced displacement reflects the severe economic, political and social crisis that has befallen the country. The church in Venezuela is dealing with this situation together with the people by initiating social projects to relieve shortages in food and medicines. But the Church’s own situation can only be described as precarious – the bishops and priests themselves have next to nothing at the moment.

 Interview with Bishop Oswaldo Azaje , conducted by Raquel Martín & Josué Villalón (ACN Spain)

Bishop Oswaldo Azuaje of Trujillo, which is located in the eastern part of Venezuela, responded to the questions of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The charity has been supporting the Venezuelan church in its pastoral and social work. The interview focused on the recent ad limina visit of the Venezuelan episcopate to the pope in Rome as well as the church’s efforts to help those who have left the country and those in need who have remained.


In Venezuela, the diocese of Trujillo is one of the poorest regions in the country. How would you describe the situation at the moment?

Economically, Trujillo is one of the country’s poorest regions. It is located in the Andes, in a mountainous region that is predominantly rural. However, I would not describe the region as poor because it possesses great riches both in terms of culture and of the people living there. Daily life there is very similar to that in the rest of the country. We are suffering from shortages in food and medicines, many people have moved to other countries, the economy is stagnating. It could be that, when compared with the capital and a number of other larger cities in the country, the food shortage is more noticeable in the villages.


What message did Pope Francis give to the bishops and the Venezuelan people during the ad limina visit at the Vatican?

The pope was very open and friendly. We are quite fortunate that he comes from the same continent and we speak the same language. Pope Francis sat down right in our midst. We formed a circle around him and he said to us, “Tell me how you are doing.” We noticed that he knows a great deal about the church in Venezuela, what life is like in the country and the difficulties society is currently facing. He pointed out that we should be very close to the people, that we need to find answers to their needs. He reminded us, “Remain strong and close to the people. I know that you are already doing this, but I invite you to continue to do so.” He also invited us to offer resistance. This was the first time I have heard the term used in this context. Because it had nothing to do with politics, populism or with a military language. We are to offer resistance by remaining constant in our faith, in our hope and in our love.



How does the Church assist those people who are leaving the country?

I was able to visit the Columbian border in Táchira state. The diocese of San Cristóbal on the Venezuelan side and the diocese of Cúcuta on the Columbian side are making large-scale efforts. I mingled with the people who were crossing the border to Columbia. It is impressive: each day, thousands of people leave. Each day, the church feeds between 5,000 and 8,000 people, although these are just estimates of the numbers of people who are being taken care of by the church alone. Some do return, but not many. Those that return are people who, due to the shortages in Venezuela; were merely looking for something available only in Columbia. Once they have acquired it, they return home. Furthermore, the Church is also taking care of Venezuelan refugees in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

Border Venezuela-Colombia in 2018
Since the recent controversial presidential elections in Venezuela (in which President Maduro was re-elected in a manner deemed fraudulent by his opponents), the flood of migrants seeking better prospects in other nations has continued to grow, creating an emergency in which thousands of Venezuelans are in need of help as they attempt to cross the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia.

What are the consequences of this displacement?

In the parishes, there is a noticeable absence of young and middle-aged people. There is a growing incidence of Church attendance by older people accompanying their grandchildren. The parents have left in search of work. Several priests have told me that they no longer have a church choir because the young people have all left. They now have to find new choir members who can sing or play an instrument and train them. The people are being forced into leaving because of the extreme shortages in food and medicines. The people need them. However, they cannot find them in the country or buy them because money has devalued.


How is the Church responding to the needs of those people who have remained in the country?

In response to the food shortages, the parishes are preparing so-called “community stews” each day to ensure that those in need have something to eat. Signs of malnutrition are found among children, and also the elderly. My sister called me a few days ago. She is taking care of my mother and wanted to let me know that she could not find any chicken, eggs or meat. She did not know where else to go because she could not buy them in any store. Finding groceries is a very time-consuming process – if it is even possible at all. The daily search for food has become a Via Dolorosa.


How would you assess the aid that ACN is giving to the priests in your diocese?

I would first like to thank the Venezuelan people; all of those who have shared and continue to share the little that they have with us. Lately, however, we have become dependent upon help from outside. Life would be impossible without it. I would like to thank the church in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy and Spain. It supports us so that we in turn can help our priests: Mass stipends allow them to live in a manner that is worthy of human beings. Moreover, this aid keeps us connected through prayer, and ensures that we do not lose hope. I pray to God for saintly priests, but also that these priests are able to support themselves in a worthy manner, so that they can serve the people of God and can live more in conformity with their calling.

Children waiting for food

A last message to the benefactors of ACN

Thanks to all of you, our parishes will be able to continue to offer consolation and shed light into the darkness that casts such a pall over Venezuela. The shortages in food and medicines, in water and electricity are a major source of stress, one that we need to fight against. Please pray for the bishops so that we do not succumb to temptation and throw in the towel. It is our responsibility to help the people by supporting the priests. Please continue to help us so that we in turn can ensure that our priests have a worthy means of subsistence, and thus be able to continue offering the community stews as well as medicines and other forms of aid.




ACN’s Project of the Week – Lebanon – To help more than the body

11.04.2018 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to refugees, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Emergency Aid, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Lebanon, Middle East, Refugees, Syria

ACN’s Project of the Week – Lebanon

To help more than the body

For many people in Lebanon one hot meal a day is by no means something to be taken for granted. In the town of Zaleh the poverty is particularly acute. The town is not far from the Syrian border, and as a result many refugees have ended up here, having left all their possessions behind in Syria. And even among the local Lebanese population there are many needy people, especially among the elderly and the children whom nobody seems to be caring for.


This was the reason why the Melkite Greek Catholic Church decided to set up the St. John the Merciful Table in 2015 to help these people, among other things by providing a regular hot meal, or “food table”. It is named after the seventh century Saint John the Merciful – and not by chance, since St. John was renowned for his exceptional love for the poor. Wherever he saw need, he worked with all his energies and all his resources to alleviate it. When he finally became Patriarch of Alexandria he was feeding some 7,900 poor people on a daily basis. He died around the year 619 and is revered as a saint both by Catholics and by Orthodox Christians.

Zahle, Lebanon, Syrian refugees: “All of us feel the love of Jesus, our Saviour in this way. It is a sign of his love for us all, one that helps to heal every wound”, says one of the women helpers.

Today the outreach ministry provides around a thousand people with a hot meal each day, an increase of 400 people compared to the previous year. Many Syrian refugees are also involved, helping in the kitchens, so that they can also have the opportunity to earn a living. There is a dietary assistant from a Catholic hospital in the town who helps to ensure that the food is nutritionally well-balanced and healthy.


But of course, it is not merely about food for the body but also about communicating the love of God and human warmth and affection to those in need. Many are quite alone. The St. John the Merciful table has become a place for them to gather, not only to eat, but also to talk with other people, share their warmth and a smile and a sympathetic ear to listen to their concerns. Prayers are said before every meal and a hymn is sung, underlining the fact that this is above all about the care of souls. It is important for everyone to experience this spiritual dimension. “All of us feel the love of Jesus, our Saviour in this way. It is a sign of his love for us all, one that helps to heal every wound”, says one of the women helpers.

For the elderly and sick, who cannot get out of their homes, the food is brought to them by volunteers.

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting this project ever since it began. This year we will be giving 1,178,000 for the coming year.


If you want to give for this project or one similar,
click on the button below

Thank you!


St. John the Merciful Table: more than food, but a place where spiritual life can also be feed.                                                                                                                                                                


Help for 12,000 refugee families in Mosul

30.11.2016 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Iraq, Refugees, SUBSISTENCE



12,000 families still need help 

Since the summer of 2014 when forces of the terrorist militia the so-called “Islamic State” declared an Islamic caliphate in north-west Iraq and eastern Syria, spreading fear and horror with their bestial cruelty, some 3.3 million people were forced to flee their homes in Iraq alone – many of them from Mosul and its surrounding area.

Even before that time and since the US invasion of 2003, Mosul had become something of a hell for Christians in particular. Abductions, bomb attacks and the targeted murder of individuals had become the norm.


But in June 2014 the city was completely overrun by the forces of IS. Christians were given an ultimatum by the terrorists, either to convert to Islam or be killed, and as a result there was an exodus of all the Christian families from the city itself and its surrounding area in the plain of Nineveh. Many Muslims and those of other faiths also fled, most with little more than the clothes on their backs – many sought shelter in Erbil, an autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.


Still in need

In spite of the good news that certain villages and small towns around the area of Mosul had been liberated, as well as some city neighbourhoods, the return home will not happen tomorrow.  It may still take many months.  The Church which has helped them since their flight in 2014, is still helping.


Mgr Bashar Matti Warda, archevêque d’Erbil, a demandé une aide d’urgence afin de fournir des colis alimentaires pendant six mois aux 12 000 familles les plus pauvres. Irak

Msgr Bashar Matti Warda, Archbishop of Erbil, asked for help to support 12,000 of the most needy families who left everything behind in their flight from terror.

In Iraqi Kurdistan where they have found refuge, numerous people need not only a roof over head, but food, clothing and medication, as well as a school for their children.  That is why Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil turned to ACN, urgently seeking help for 12,000 of the most needy families who left everything behind them. He asked us to help the people for 6 months by supplying a monthly food parcel, containing: sugar, rice, oil, noodles, tomato purée, canned fish, milk powder and other canned foods such as chicken and mushrooms, and also dried beans. The families also receive a portion of fresh salad. The food parcels are packed and distributed by well-organized volunteer helpers.



The package containing staple foods for six months comes at a cost of barely 463 dollars per family. Aid to the Church in Need has been able to promise a total of 5,548,000 CAN for the families.



Thanks to your generosity, similar projects are underway and have been completed all over the world. Last year alone, 6,900 projects were supported by you! 


27.09.2016 in ACN International, ACN UK, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Mario Bard, Chaldean Catholic, Communiqué, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Irak, Iraq, John Pontifex, Mgr Louis Sako, Moyen-Orient, Persecution of Christians, Refugees, Voyager avec l’AED



Is hope reborn?

Montreal/Surrey, September 27, 2016  – If the town of Mosul is taken back from the hands of Daesh (ISIS), the event might pave the way for Christians of Iraq to return home to the Nineveh Plains, to their ancestral home.  It is at least the hope of the leading bishops and other lay organizers in the local Church who wish to establish an agreement with the Iraqi government on the subject.

Mgr Louis Sako 1er, Patriarche chaldéen de Bagdad. Selon lui, « fournir une protection légale » est essentielle pour les chrétiens qui reviendraient à Mossoul.

Msgr Louis Sako Chaldean Patriarch of  Baghdad. 

A delegation led by Aid to the Church in Need arrived in early September to the North of Iraqi Kurdistan – where half of the country’s 250,000 Christians live in present day Iraq.  The delegation met with many people displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains who had fled the Islamic State in August 2014.

Along with providing emergency help, the delegation found that the local Church is in the process of developing proposals which will enable Christians to return to their towns and villages which were previously taken from them.

The delegation had the opportunity to speak with Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Msgr Louis Raphael I Sako, the spiritual leader of the largest Christian community in Iraq.  According to him, it is essential that, in the case of the now imminent liberation of Mosul – Christians may return to their village where at one time, they made up a strong minority.

“Freeing Mosul and Nineveh from ISIS might be a glimmer of hope for native residents to return home with the condition of providing legal protection for them, and also granting them the necessary time to rebuild trust with their neighbours.

“Otherwise, the “hemorrhage” outflow of migration [of Christians] will continue, even from safe areas, which is a very serious sign,” said the Patriarch.

The Christian population of Iraq numbered over one million inhabitants prior to the fall of Iraq’s former president, Saddam Hussein.


A real sense of hope returning

“I sensed much more hope among Church leaders and faithful than I did on my visit last year,” declared Neville Kirke-Smith, director of the UK office of Aid to the Church in Need and member of the delegation which brought with them aid for at least 100,000 people. “It is clear that the Church is making a strong case to reclaim its place in a region where – until 2014 – there had been an unbroken Christian presence stretching back almost to the start of Christianity.”
“This is indeed really good news reported to us by our colleagues!” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of the Canadian office of the international organization. « To be frank, I was beginning to lose hope, especially because few government bodies around the world are prepared to recognize the tragedy underway in Iraq where Christians are living.  Massive waves of immigration are progressively emptying the country of an inestimable inheritance, and Christianity is in danger of losing the first Christian community in its history.  Aid to the Church in Need will stand by the Church in Iraq as long as they will need us to help them rebuild. ““This is a commitment that we made long ago. Hopefully, more Canadians will help us achieve this goal that we have to strengthen the Church in Iraq. “

” The delegation also went to Alqosh,” reported Mrs Lalonde.

“Our colleagues had the opportunity to visit this ancient which is completely Christian and situated about 10 minutes from the front with ISIS.  The people have displayed their determination to stay where they are and to save their village and the Church.”

Une dame déplacées âgées de 89 ans.

An 89 year old woman.

For his part, Mr. Kyrke-Smith had the opportunity to meet Msgr. Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Bishop of Erbil.  Msgr Warda has partnered with Aid to the Church in Need to help distribute emergency aid.  “For nearly 2,000 years we Christians have been present on the Nineveh Plains and to return we need international protection,” he said.

According to the bishop, “The Iraqi army needs to be a united force and the Peshmerga [Kurdish military] will help, with outside support. Military action as reconciliation work needs to be done. As Christians we have no involvement in violence – we have suffered – so we can help rebuild.”

Des dames déplacées au camp d'Ankawa, dans la région d'Erbil.

Women displaced to a refugee camp in Ankawa, in the Erbil area.


Since August 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has supported 100,000 Christians displaced by the advances of the Islamic State.  Over 9 million dollars were given in emergency aid and for the construction of infrastructure for schools so that the children will not be a generation lost to war.  The Catholic organization also provided support for the spiritual lives of the population – by helping priests, Sisters, supporting the training of seminarians and the construction of a chapel in the refugee camp.


By Mario Bard and John Pontifex,
Aid to the Church in Need Canada/ ACN international

Translation and adaptation, Amanda Bridget Griffin ACN Canada


ACN Feature – The Pope’s visit to Lesbos

28.04.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Lesbos, Refugees

Pope Francis in Greece

“Pope has changed the way people think about Christians”

A Jordanian priest believes: The Pope’s visit to Lesbos sends a message to Arab states to do more for the refugees


ACN-20160425-39730 (1)


The Pope’s solidarity visit to Lesbos last Saturday sent a strong message to the Arab states to do more for refugees, specifically those from Syria and Iraq. Father Khalil Jaar, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate in Jordan, is convinced of this. Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Khalil, who has cared for Christian refugees from the Middle East for years, said on Thursday: “With his visit to Lesbos Pope Francis has shown that he is concerned with every single individual. He is not indifferent to the people in need because God is not indifferent to them. Without words he thus sent a strong message to those Arab countries that have to date not taken in any, or hardly any, refugees.”  Father Khalil believes that by his example he has shown that a solution of the refugee crisis is possible if everyone pulls together. “Why should Europe alone bear the burden of the refugees? If all join together to help it will make things much easier. And the people in need will then be helped in the best and most efficient way.”




Pope Francis had come to the Greek island last Saturday for a brief visit to meet refugees and declare his solidarity with them. Father Khalil had also taken part in the visit at the invitation of the Greek government and church bodies. “On Lesbos I was able to talk to Syrian refugees after the Pope had met them. They were all Muslims. They told me that the Pope’s caring example had changed the way they think about Christians.


Most of them were amazed in the face of such love and humility. They told me they hadn’t expected that,” Father Khali said.


“I was able to speak briefly to the Holy Father. He told me that I should continue my work for people in need.”


ACN-20160425-39729 (1)




Father Khali rejected the criticism expressed around the Pope’s gesture of taking only Muslim and not Christian refugees in his plane on the return flight in order to grant them refuge in Italy. “The Holy Father also wanted to take Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq. Unfortunately their papers were not ready. They will follow at a later date. And anyway, in the last analysis the crucial factor in a situation of need is not the question of faith. Whether Muslims or Christians: They are all people who are loved by God and need our help.”



ACN-20160425-39725Father Khalil expressed thanks for the encouragement shown by Pope Francis. “I was able to speak briefly to the Holy Father. He told me that I should continue my work for people in need. The Pope’s example inspired and encouraged me. I thank Aid to the Church in Need for helping me assist poor people who are fleeing.”



Aid to the Church in Need supports the work of Father Khalil in Marka, Jordan. There he provides accommodation and food for Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS, as well as Christians from Syria. A total of 600 families are being helpe d in this way. Aid to the Church in Need supports numerous projects of church partners for Christian refugees in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.



By Oliver Maksan, ACN International  

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canadadonate


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

Project of the week: Feeding Iraqi refugees

03.02.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Emergency Aid, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Lebanon, Projets pastorale, Refugees, SUBSISTENCE, Syria, Voyager avec l’AED


Help to feed Iraqi refugees 

Right now, Lebanon is facing huge challenges . This small country of just 4.5 million has had to find space for no fewer than 1.1 million refugees. In fact, this number includes only those refugees officially registered with international agencies. The real figure is almost certainly much higher than this.

Every day more refugees are arriving in Lebanon, from Syria and Iraq. More often than not, their dreams of a better life here are quickly devastated for while they have at least saved their lives, they very soon find themselves confronted with immense difficulties with simply finding ways to live and  to survive.  They face astronomical rents for example, even for the smallest and most miserable living accommodations. There is no work. Medical treatment is expensive and indeed virtually unaffordable for most refugees. If refugees attempt to move elsewhere within Lebanon, they can be arrested and imprisoned as illegal immigrants. Many have had false expectations of what awaited them abroad.

Lebanon: exemple of pastoral projects to the refugees children of Syria and Iraq.

Lebanon: An example of pastoral projects to the refugees children of Syria and Iraq.

In the capital city of Beirut, the Chaldean Catholic eparchy is striving to take care of  Iraqi families, most of who have fled here from Mosul and the Plain of Niniveh from the advancing ISIS fighters. The eparchy provides these people with basic necessities, helps them look for work, and also ministers to them pastorally.

For example,  children can prepare for their First Holy Communion and there are other catechetical classes for children and young people, plus pastoral and social services for women and many other services besides. Last year ACN gave a total of 43,500 CAD towards the cost of this pastoral and human support for the Iraqi refugees. For example, helping with the supply of catechetical materials, including audiovisual equipment .

Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut has thanked ACN for all the help he has already received, and in advance,for the help he still about to receive. “We pray to Christ our Lord, the Good Samaritan, to pour out his graces on you in rich measure and bless you, and to reward you, and all those who have contributed to this wonderful work of charity, a hundredfold for the good you have done.”

At the same time he has asked us to help his community with additional aid for food and other necessities.

We have promised him 14,500 CAD.

Holy communion for the refugee children of Iraq and Syria, at St.Joseph Parish.

Holy communion for the refugee children of Iraq and Syria, at St.Joseph Parish.



18.09.2015 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to refugees, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Refugees, Syria, Syrie




The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has endorsed a joint fundraising campaign aimed at involving all the Church in Canada in order to assist Syrian refugees seeking shelter and protection in the Middle East and parts of Europe. The joint campaign, already being supported by Bishops across the country, involves the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada, and CNEWA Canada.

The three Canadian Catholic aid and development agencies will collaborate in their fundraising for Syrian refugees, so as to respond as effectively as possible to the complex and overwhelming Syrian emergency. Donations can be made to any or all three of the organizations. Each will continue working with its respective partners in the Middle East, using its own unique approaches and networks. The Holy See, as well as Bishops in Canada and the Middle East, have expressed appreciation on how the activities of the three agencies are mutually complementary in responding to different but equally important priorities.

Development and Peace will work to expand its ongoing efforts to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries in the Middle East, and also expand its reach through the Caritas international family to come to the aid of the thousands of migrants who have fled across the Mediterranean Sea and are now seeking shelter. ACN and CNEWA will continue to support all refugees affected by this war and will also give special attention to Christian refugees and displaced persons, hoping to ensure a continued Christian presence in the Middle East.

The three agencies will later send reports to Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada on the total funds received for Syrian refugees as a result of the new campaign. The Government of Canada announced on September 12 it has established the Syria Emergency Relief Fund. Every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities in response to the impact of the conflict in Syria will be matched by the government, for up to $100 million, effective immediately and until December 31, 2015.

At a special meeting held during the 2015 Plenary Assembly, the Conference’s Permanent Council stated it rejoices at the news some Canadian dioceses and eparchies have already launched or will soon launch their own projects in aid of Syrian refugees. The Permanent Council, which is the CCCB administrative board, encourages those dioceses and eparchies to support the joint campaign. All other dioceses and eparchies in Canada are invited to organize their own parish collections for the joint campaign from now until Sunday, November 15, 2015, inclusive. Each diocese is free to decide how it will distribute the funds among the three national agencies.

While the Government of Canada will match funds raised for Syrian refugees by all registered Canadian charities, only a few of these, including Development and Peace, are designated by the government as eligible to apply for its assistance in their work on behalf of Syrian refugees. The total funds raised by Development and Peace, or other designated Canadian agencies, will not be a factor in the amount of government funding that can be requested for Syrian refugee projects.

Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, and CNEWA Canada have been actively fundraising for refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries for some years. This spring, Development and Peace, in its earlier 2013 campaign with the Bishops of Canada, had raised more than $13 million for Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees. This also included matching funds from the Government of Canada. Recently, Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation which fundraises in a number of countries, including Canada, reported its previous efforts had raised $10.3 million in emergency aid for Syrian refugees. CNEWA is a papal agency that fundraises in Canada and the United States and works closely with Eastern Catholic Churches and Orthodox Churches in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. In 2014, CNEWA (Canada and USA) sent US $4,441,665 to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon and displaced persons in Syria.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Syrian conflict has resulted in the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. After five years of conflict, some four million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries in the Middle East as well as in parts of Europe. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced and homeless within their own country. Calling again on the world and the Church to help these “millions of people … in a distressing state of urgent need,” Pope Francis has described the conflicts in Iraq and Syria “one of the most overwhelming human tragedies of recent decades.”