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ACN Feature Story – Celebrating the restoration of a church in Syria

11.10.2019 in Peace, Persecution of Christians, Reconstruction, Syria

Syria

Celebrating the inauguration of the newly restored church of Haret Saraya, destroyed by jihadists in 2012

by Marta Garcia, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

Marmarita/Königstein. —Evening is falling in the Valley of the Christians. From its high vantage point the Crusader fortress, the Crac des Chevaliers, built in the 11th-12th century, looks down impassively on the arriving visitors. Today is a day of festival in the church of Haret Saraya in the village of Al-Husn. The band of trumpeters and drummers plays on unceasingly.

The church, which is dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, looks resplendent with its freshly painted white walls and brightly coloured iconostasis. “They’ve rebuilt it just as it was before,” says local Archbishop Nikolas Sawaf, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Latakia.

In 2012 this church was ransacked and burned by the jihadists, who dominated the valley from their position overlooking the village in the historic Crusader fortress the Crac des Chevaliers, built by the Knights Hospitaller. They tore down the cross, profaned the holy icons and smashed and disfigured the statues. Nor did they spare the parish premises or the presbytery, even ripping the electric wiring from the walls of the house.

But seven years later—exactly on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross—the day becomes a feast for the faithful and the little church is packed with people during the re-dedication ceremony. Both Catholic and Orthodox priests from the region are present for the occasion. It is a scene of great joy. Outside in the courtyard, in front of a rejoicing crowd, the Orthodox choir of Our Lady of Al Wadi sings hymns of hope, peace and forgiveness, at the same time remembering those who disappeared, were killed or exiled by the war and calling on the Christians to stand fast and remain on their lands.

“Now that the church has been renewed, it is time for us to renew the living stones, our own hearts,” urges Father Andrzej Halemba to the faithful during the celebration. The head of the project section for the countries of the Middle East of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) says: “Our hearts have been broken by the violence, divided and unsettled by the events in our lives. Now is the time to renew them with the love of Christ. Let us pray for peace in Syria.”

ACN helped not only for the renovation of the church of Haret Saraya, but also for the repairs to the parish buildings and the presbytery. And at the same time it was possible to add on additional guest rooms and small business outlets in the village, so close to the historic tourist attraction of the Crac des Chevaliers, which will soon be welcoming visiting tourists once again. In this way it has been possible to some extent to help guarantee a longer term future for the Christian legacy here, where it has such ancient roots.

“ACN is like Simon of Cyrene for us, supporting us and helping us to carry our cross,” said Archbishop Sawaf, at the end of this day of celebration.

 

The projects for the rebuilding of the Christian structures in the village of Al-Husn were supported by ACN with grants totalling over $255,000. They are part of a broader program by the charity, for the reconstruction of the Christian infrastructure affected by the war in the various dioceses of Syria.

ACN Press: A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria

16.09.2019 in ACN, Pope Francis, Prayer, Press Release, Syria

A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria
Marie-Claude Lalonde among ACN delegates to Vatican

By Mario Bard, ACN Canada
Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Monday, September 16, 2019 — The national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN), Marie-Claude Lalonde, attended this past Sunday, September 15, the blessing of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People by Pope Francis. 

The ceremony took place at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican. The icon will be carried through 34 dioceses in Syria—as a sort of pilgrimage—offered for the veneration of the faithful along its path intended to finish in Damascus, in May 2020.

“It is a great joy for me to have participated in this event which took place just before the Sunday Angelus,” said a joyful Marie-Claude Lalonde on the other end of the line. “This blessing is a pure joy as we are at the very heart of ACN’s mission: providing pastoral support to Christians who are in need.” And she adds: “This initiative touches on every one of the calls for peace that Pope Francis has launched to put a stop to the abominable conflict that has caused so much suffering for Syrian civilians. With this gesture he has reaffirmed with strength his support of the Syria population broken by war.”

 

Pilgrimage of the icon: For the healing of hearts

This icon of Our Lady of Sorrows was written last August by Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs and will be presented for the veneration of the faithful in 34 dioceses of Syria, likely until May 31, 2020.

I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde

“The blessing of an icon can seem inconsequential to secularized societies like our own,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. “But in Syria, religious traditions are still present in public and social society and these gestures—such as to write an icon, bless it and offer it for veneration by the faithful for a period of nine months is a veritable balm, immense and almost essential for all Christians who are wounded by this filthy war, they who have survived through over eight years of fratricidal conflict.”

“Finally, I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde in closing.

The Pope’s message to the families who will accompany the icon is: “You are not alone; we are with you.”

Meanwhile in Syria, the 6,000 rosaries blessed by Pope Francis one month ago were distributed throughout Syrian parishes as part of a larger prayer campaign for and with the Syrian people called Console my People, an initiative promoted by Aid to the Church in Need and the Syrian Churches.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 : Pope Francis,  blessing the Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People. Next to the Icon, Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs, the writer of the icon. (© ACN/AED)

A Drop of Milk in Homs, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need Canada continues to promote its fundraising campaign to raise over $378,000, for the provision of daily milk, for over 6,000 children aged 0 to 10 in the city of Homs for a period of six months.

There are three easy and secure ways to give for these children:

  • Give through our secure site: http://bit.ly/DropofMilk2019
  • By telephone: 1(800) 585-6333, Ext 222
  • By mail Aid to the Church in Need Canada
    PO. Box 670, Station H
    Montréal (Québec) H3G 2M6

 

ACN NEWS: Pope Francis Calls on Catholics to Pray for Syrian Families

16.08.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Syria

POPE FRANCIS AND ACN – AN ACN EVENT SUPPORTING SYRIANS

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to pray for Syrian families

By Amanda Griffin and Maria Lozano, ACN International
Published on the web, Friday August 16, 2019

Rome/Montreal, Thursday August 15, 2019 – This Thursday, August 15th, Pope Francis welcomed a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and blessed 6,000 Rosaries which will be offered to the families of the war victims in Syria.

Committed to helping the suffering Christians in Syria ACN has, since 2011, supported approximately 850 projects with a budget of 52.5 million dollars. But it is clear that money is simply not enough. Spiritual support is necessary to heal the wounds and scars left by a long war.

“The Rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, shall be a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria, especially those who have lost a loved one. We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and in the whole world.” The words of Pope Francis came during the Angelus prayers at the Vatican audience with the pontiff attended by ACN President, Thomas Heine-Geldern, as Pope Francis’ personal commitment to praying for peace in solidarity with the Syrian people.

 

Consoling my people – September 15th

Considering the profound need for Christians, and indeed for the whole of Syrian society, for solidarity, consolation as well for forgiveness, reconciliation and purification of memory at both the personal and communal levels –the benediction of the Rosaries will be followed-up with a special celebration of prayers for peace in Syria, on Sunday, September 15, led by the Holy Father (In Rome).  The local Christian leaders with the support of the international pontifical charity are organizing a celebration in Syria on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Prayers for the families of victims of war (killed and kidnapped alike). Pope Francis will bless the icon of “Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians” written by a Greek-Orthodox priest in Homs.

On the same date many celebrations will unfold in all Syrian parishes where pastoral gifts will be given to families in mourning, with a special Vespers and a Procession titled: Console my people (cf. Is 40:1). With the Console my people celebration, ACN hopes to provide a much needed spiritual consolation and moral support to Syrian families and communities recovering from profound losses of members who were killed or kidnapped, to console families who mourn the loss of their dearest ones and commemorate the victims of war.

 

ACN Drop of Milk campaign for the children of Homs

Aid to the Church in Need Canada has launched a campaign to help the children in the city of Homs, Syria. The goal is to give milk daily to children of 0 to 10 years old, for a period of six months.  The objective is to raise 378,000 dollars.

Information: DropofMilk2019 or 1-800-585-6333.

 

 

ACN News: Eighth Anniversary of Civil War outbreak in Syria

25.03.2019 in ACN International, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Syria

Eighth Anniversary of Civil War outbreak in Syria


Aid to the Church in Need has supported 308 urgent projects since 2011

 

Friday, March 15 marked the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Syria. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) has continued to support the ongoing emergency situation in the country, especially the plight of the 127,185 Christian families registered in Syria.

The war in Syria has unleashed the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War, with some 12 million refugees and internally displaced as a result of the 8-year conflict.

Moreover, Christians in Syria now represent only 3% of the population, whereas before the war they were 10%. In addition to all the consequences of the hostilities and the economic embargo, they have also suffered religious persecution at the hands of the jihadist groups involved in the conflict. In fact, during these eight years of war, 1,707 Christians were murdered and 677 abducted; 1,309 Christian churches and other Church properties were destroyed and 7,802 Christian houses and homes damaged or destroyed.

 

44.2 Million Dollars in Aid

Since the March 2011 onset of the conflict, and up to the end in 2018, ACN allocated 44.2 million dollars to 738 projects to fulfil its mission of supporting the Church in need throughout the country. The projects were implemented by 9 different Christian Churches, thanks to the cooperation of 130 project partners on the ground.

Of the 738 projects funded, some 80% (35.2 million dollars) were given in the form of emergency aid, among them some 308 for the basic necessities of Christian families who have not left the country. To now, 10% of the aid has been for the reconstruction of people’s homes and Church properties. An additional 6% went to supporting priests in the country, in the form of Mass Offerings and pastoral aid.

 

Emergency Aid, Reconstruction and Pastoral Aid

In Canada, a project aimed to supporting the A Drop of Milk program for children has been active for two years. An initiative showcasing small classical music concerts given by local pianist and ACN supporter, Chantal Roussety, has brought $3,364 to the cause.  “The amount may seem very modest if we compare it to the grand total,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN. “But, for two years now, this personal project developed by Mrs. Roussety, is a reflection of the great sense of solidarity that the Syrians, particularly the children, are in need of. We are so very grateful for it.” In all, donations from Canadians rose to at $17,179.

Destined for children under the age of 10, A Drop of Milk represented 15% of the overall budget of all emergency aid given.  Finally, over three million dollars were attributed to paying the rents of displaced Christian families, and over 1.4 million dollars have served for the reconstruction of family homes.

The 13 main emergency aid projects funded during these eight years of war include the following: direct emergency aid for the most basic necessities; food parcels, financial support for students, medical aid, support with rent, heating, electricity, gas and water; milk and nappies for babies and small children, essential medicines, Christmas gifts for the children, warm clothing, educational materials and vocational counselling.

An Appeal from Pope Francis

Throughout these eight years of war, Pope Francis has continually denounced the injustice of the war in Syria and has continued to draw attention to the suffering of the Christians. “Let us pray and let us help the Christians to remain in Syria and the Middle East as witnesses to mercy, pardon and reconciliation,” he has stated. “May, the prayers of the Church, help them to experience the closeness of the faithful God and touch every human conscience to seek a sincere compromise for the sake of peace. And may God our Lord pardon those who are waging war, those who manufacture arms to destroy one another, and may he convert their hearts. Let us pray for peace in our beloved Syria,” he concluded.

ACN News: Rome – Pope Francis Lights a Candle for Syria

03.12.2018 in ACN International, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pope, Pope Francis, Prayer, Syria

An ACN Initiative

50,000 Candles for Peace in Syria

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is launching this Christmas a campaign of prayer, aid and solidarity for the people of Syria entitled Candles for Peace in Syria. The campaign formally begins on the first Sunday of Advent, 2nd December, with the symbolic lighting of a candle by the Holy Father following the recitation of the Angelus prayer.

In the last few days the initiative has involved over 50,000 children, of different religions, from several of the Syrian cities most severely affected by the war, including Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Hassaké, Tartus and Latakia. The children have prayed and decorated candles with symbols of peace– crosses, doves and messages of hope – to convey to the world their longing for peace. For all too often the primary victims of this still ongoing conflict, have been these little Syrian children.

ACN International is calling on people of goodwill all over the world to respond to this cry of peace from the children of Syria, among other things by lighting a candle, as the Holy Father did on Sunday, in order to amplify the resonance of this clarion call for peace from the children of Syria and send out a strong message of hope during the season of Advent.

 

The candle which the Holy Father lit was decorated by a local craftsman from the Bab Touma quarter of the Old City of Damascus and also bears the photos of some 40 children, most of them from Aleppo, together with the logo of the campaign – a dove with outstretched wings in the shape of a child’s hand and the message “Peace for the Children of Syria 2018” – plus the regular logo of ACN International.

This is not the first time that ACN has spoken out for the children of Syria. Back in 2016 the charity made an appeal to the European Parliament, conveying to it pictures drawn by the children, expressing their longing for peace.

Canada: A Prayerful Response and Little Acts of Solidarity

“In Canada, the benefactors who receive the Mirror will be able to direct their donation as a Christmas Gift for Syria,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN.  “ We invite them to pray especially that the families of Syria may fully taste the joy of a peaceful Christmas.  We hope that the Christmases to come will be experienced in peace.”  Aid to the Church in Need has already sent 22.5 million dollars for the reconstruction in Syria which adds to the already 44 million already given since the conflict began in 2011.

ACN Feature Story: Syria, “Helping to heal the spiritual wounds of the war”

19.11.2018 in International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Jesuits, Sacred Heart Sisters, Sisters, Syria, Texte: Josue Villalón

Syria 2016 September – Sr. Samia Jerij of the Sacred Heart Sisters in the courtyard of the Jesuits in the Old Hom

Syria

 “Helping to heal the spiritual wounds of the war”

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the pastoral work of the Sacred Heart Sisters in the Syrian city of Homs.

The church of Altip, in the Bab Al-Sebaa district, just south of the Old Quarter of Homs, is a social and pastoral training centre. “Years ago it was a Catholic school, but then the government banned all non-state schools. Since then we have used it as a catechetical centre, giving religious instruction to young people and adults, and we also hold social events and sports days here,” explains Sister Samia Syiej, the religious Sister in charge of coordinating catechetical instruction for a group of children preparing for confirmation.

 

Sister Samia points out the exact spot where the bombs fell, close to the centre of Altip. “Local families have helped us to repair two sections of the roof which were destroyed by the bombing. But in addition to everything else, what we now have to do is to help repair not only the external damage, but the damage within people’s hearts. I am a religious, and my first responsibility is to bear witness spiritually and help people. This is what moves me. We lived through the war and witnessed it close up. Catechesis is important in helping to heal the wounds.”

 

Working alongside Sister Samia are a number of young university students who divide themselves between the various different catechetical groups and actively help in this pastoral apostolate. A delegation from our international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) happened to visit while they were endeavouring to explain to the young boys and girls about the life of Jesus during his Passion and Crucifixion, a central point of the Christian faith. One of these catechists is Haya Elias. “Sister Samia taught us how to become closer to God, and now we are passing this on those who come after us.” She is studying philology at university and has always been a member of the group helping the sisters.Sister Samia is a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a congregation founded in Syria and inspired by Ignatian spirituality. “We have 12 houses throughout Syria. I am also involved in pastoral work with disabled children. Our congregation is very active and we pursue a range of initiatives, both pastoral and social,” she continues.

 

Sr. Samia Jerij of Sacred Heart Sisters with children – Children receiving Christmas gifts in Aleppo 2017

 

“I am very conscious that I owe my life to God and to the prayers of people like Sister Samia,” says a young man who is currently unemployed. He was in the army, compulsorily recruited to fight in the war. During an ambush he was captured by a rebel group and held prisoner for months. Everybody assumed he was dead, but miraculously he succeeded in escaping. “I thank God, and I thank the Sisters for never having given up praying for me. I am so grateful to them today and so now I am helping them as a catechist.”

The Church in Syria is very much alive, despite more than seven years of war. The priests, and the religious brothers and sisters in the country have become a fresh source of hope for the people. “We have never stopped offering our help, our prayers and our accompaniment… Everything is being done through the collaboration of the priests, religious and laity. We all work together to organize these activities and, thanks be to God, we have some very active

Sr. Samia distributing more gifts.

young people,” Sister Samia continues.

 

In addition to coordinating the religious instruction, Sister Samia also works in a home for mentally handicapped children. “We have always carried out projects with the help of ACN, even during the bloodiest moments of the war. Children and adults alike often need a word of hope, and want to grow stronger in their faith. The children come to the church, and they can also be very demanding. During the summer, for example, we held a number of youth camps, which gave fresh hope to many people. This is what motivates us.”

 

Over the course of 2018, and thanks to the generous help of our many benefactors throughout the world, ACN has been able to support more than 35 pastoral courses and programs for young people and children in various different parts of Syria, for a total cost of $255,000.

ACN Feature Story – The courage of young people in Syria inspires

02.11.2018 in ACN International, By Josué Villalón, Syria

Syria

The courage of young Syrians inspires

On the streets of Homs

“When we hear Pope Francis we realize that there is still hope of peace in Syria.”

The universality of the Church is evident in Rome: the Synod of Bishops will continue October 28 where participants from five continents grapple with various topics related to young people, their needs and their problems. Against this backdrop, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has spoken to a number of young Christians in Syria. They explain what it means to them to be Christian and what they expect from the Church in their country, where they are a threatened minority that has been suffering from war for over seven years.

 

Syria, Marmarita January 2016 – Medication prescriptions and renting houses.

 Majd Jallhoum recently completed her dental studies. She works helping to distribute emergency aid at the Greek Catholic church in Marmarita, in an area known as the “Valley of Christians”. She asks the Church to be close to young people. “It does not have to be a perfect Church because none of us is perfect. But it should be close to us and know our wishes and what we long for.” Majd knew nothing of the meeting between the bishops and the Pope in Rome. But she believes this is a good opportunity to focus on the difficult situations in which many young people live in various countries. “Here in Syria we young Christians desire to be very close to God. We are going through difficult times. We have experienced the death of friends and relatives. Many others have left the country. But we have also experienced times of joy. There is no doubt that the hand of God is behind these.”

Majd Jallhoum, secretary of the Saint Peter Relief Centre, photographed with a displaced family in the Valley of the Christians.

Majd knows from personal experience the situation of many families living as displaced persons in the “Valley of Christians”. She often visits them to learn what they need, to accompany people to hospital or to distribute medications provided by ACN together with the local Church. “I stay here on account of my faith, even though I often lose hope. However, I have understood that my task is to remain here and help these people. My parents and some brothers and sisters have emigrated to the United States. But I have decided to stay here. My inspiration was and still is Jesus.”

Majd Jallhoum (first from the right), secretary of the Saint Peter Relief Center, with the group of volunteers of the Saint Peter Relief Center.

Hanna Mallouhi is also one of the displaced young persons in Marmarita who devote their time and energy to supporting the major relief work of the parish of St. Peter in the Valley of Christians. He fled from Homs five years ago to escape the bombing raids. Hanna is studying medicine. “Despite the war I didn’t want to abandon my studies. I chose to do my internship in a hospital in Damascus. When the war is over I’d like to stay here and help people so that they can have a better life in Syria.”

With regard to the Synod of Bishops he said: “For me it’s important that we young people are accompanied by priests and responsible individuals who lead a simple life and that they show us through their actions that we are important to them. I need the company of people who are close to God so that I also feel close to Him.”

There are also Christians still living in Homs, the third largest city of Syria after Damascus and Aleppo. They are found mainly in the old city of Homs, in the oldest quarter located at the foot of the ancient citadel. About 300 students gathered there in the recently reconstructed Melkite cathedral “Our Lady of Peace” to celebrate the Eucharist.

“I expect it [the Church ] to understand us, to encourage us”

Pascal Napki was among them. He is studying economics and regularly follows the Holy Father’s messages from Rome: “I don’t know Pope Francis personally. But from his words and deeds I see that he is a humble person. Every time we hear him we think that there is hope of peace in Syria. I am particularly moved when he calls for prayers for our country.” Next to Pascal is Halil, a pharmacy student who quietly reflects for a few seconds about the question: “What do I expect of the Church?” and then answers emphatically: “I expect it to understand us, to encourage us and to give us the opportunity to have faith in ourselves as well. I know that this isn’t easy. But it means taking the same road together, trusting one another and giving one another support.”

From right to left, Hanna Mallouhi and his brother Raja Mallouhi, inside St. Peter Releaf Centre in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians, Syria. University students supported by ACN in Marmarita, Syria, in order to transport to Homs for continuing their studies.

 

After the meeting, a group of young Christians goes for a walk in the quarter’s narrow streets. Tannous explains that because of the suffering in Syria some people have turned away from God. “But the bombs, the ever present distress and the violence have destroyed neither the zest for life nor the future plans of the young people. That’s why we as the Church must first encourage the young people to get close to God.” During the walk they enter a nearby church to pray together there. It is a church of St. Mary belonging to the Syriac Orthodox community. “Here we all live together as Catholics and Orthodox as a matter of course. This is part of our culture.”

Marmarita Volunteer distributors of ACN aid

As he enters the church Wisam says: “We pray for the Pope and for the Church in the whole world. Here faith is something fundamental. It makes up a large part of our identity. Over the past few years we have also overcome many difficulties in our families, in our studies and at work precisely because we have not lost our faith and our hope.”

 

The testimony of these young people from the Christian community in Syria, a minority which has suffered a lot in the course of the armed conflict, can be an inspiration for others. According to the Syrian Church 1.5 million Christians were living in the country before the war. At present, there are only about 500,000 Christians. The uncertainty, the violence and the threats from jihadi groups such as the so-called “Islamic State” have led to an unprecedented wave of emigration. ACN supports numerous projects for children and young people in various cities in Syria.

 

 

 

 

ACN News: Over 4.5 million dollars approved for 40 projects is Syria

23.07.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need

Over 4.5 million dollars approved for 40 projects is Syria

 

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has approved a new package of aid measures involving over 40 pastoral and emergency aid projects for Syrian Christians of the various different rites and denominations. The charity hopes thereby in some way to ease the grave situation in which the people of the country continue to suffer, above all now due to the various economic sanctions such as the petroleum embargo. As Maronite Bishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo pointed out on June 27 this year in an address to the European Parliament in Brussels, these sanctions “are killing the Syrian people in the same way that the weapons are.”

 

Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo, Msgr Joseph Tobji, in his bombed-out cathedral, situated at the very heart of the old city.

“Why do the children and sick people have to die for lack of medicines? Why do the unemployed, who have lost their jobs, have to die of hunger because of the embargo?” the bishop asked the assembled European deputies.

 “The aid has to help people rebuild and get back to living a decent life.”

 

Responding to this and other similar desperate appeals for support from the local Catholic and Orthodox communities in Syria, ACN will be allocating over 3 million dollars for the basic support and medical welfare of needy and displaced families in various different parts of the country, and especially in Aleppo and Homs.

 

Another of the grave problems affecting the country is immigration, which, according to Bishop Tobji, is “a dangerous wound, which continues to bleed.” Moreover, an obvious part of this wave of involuntary emigration was the Christian Syrians, of course, already a minority before but now were going to be “wiped out if the situation created by the war does not end soon,” he added. Already “only a third” were left of those who were there before. In the face of this great diaspora, the Maronite Bishop wondered who would be left to rebuild the country, given that Syria was now a country “with no productivity, no labour force, a society without life.” The Christians, he said had always been a “cultural bridge” between East and West and had played a primordial role as an element of peace within Syrian society. “If the Christians disappear, there will be many problems, both for their own country and for Europe, which is not so many miles away,” he predicted.

Helping the children rediscover their capacity for play!

For this reason, among others, another of the main objectives of ACN is the help for children and young people – the future of the country and the reason why so many Christian families are emigrating. That is why a quarter of all the new projects approved by ACN aim to help the young. On one hand, ACN has launched a number of different educational aid programs and scholarships, given that many families have lost their work in their homes and have no means of funding their children’s basic education or university studies. It is this lack of financial means that has forced many to seek a future outside the country.

One of the projects supported by ACN – ‘Let me live my childhood! Children born into a world of bombs are able to get a little break thanks to donations to ACN and the word done by the local Church.

 

Now, in the coming months some 1,215 school pupils and 437 university students in Homs and 105 university students in Damascus will benefit from this program. In addition, ACN has undertaken to support the schooling of the children of some 300 especially needy families in Damascus and also of many sick and orphaned children.

 

“A number of projects are aimed at helping children and young people traumatized by seven years of conflict and war.”

At the same time, a number of projects are aimed at helping children and young people traumatized by seven years of conflict and war. Prominent among these is the initiative “Let me Live My Childhood” in the city of Aleppo. Father Antoine Tahan, parish priest of the Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Cross, who is in charge of this initiative, explains: “Thank to the support of ACN the child will come out, having been stripped of ‘adult clothes’ and take back some of the gifts of childhood, which are irreplaceable.” In addition to this ACN will be supporting a number of summer courses for young people, organised both by the Maronite Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, the city that has probably suffered most during the war.

 

Faithful to its pastoral character ACN approved almost a million dollars for the repair or restoration of a number of churches and monasteries, including the Maronite cathedral and the Syro-Catholic cathedral, both of which are in Aleppo, as well the training of seminarians and the support of priests. For as Bishop Tobji emphasizes, “the Church is the first port of call for the people” and yet the Church would be unable to provide is help without the support of “benefactors, organizations and ecclesiastical foundations like ACN.” Our aid “has to be able to help people rebuild, find work and resume a life in dignity”. Hence, his desperate appeal to the West: “Do the right thing; help us to find peace.”

 

An aid mission supported by Aid to the Church in Need – thank you for continuing to support this little girl’s future!

Syria – “We want and we need peace. Please pray for us!”

20.04.2018 in ACN Canada, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Syria, Syria

Syria 

“We want and we need peace. Please pray for us!”

an appeal from Syria by Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach.

 

The Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Homs, Mons. Jean-Arbach, has issued a message tinged with weariness and sadness at the current situation in Syria, after seven years of war and the most recent events. “People cannot take any more,” he says. “They simply want to live an ordinary life, to sleep peacefully in their beds and wake and go to work, and not to the sound of falling bombs. It is enough, it is too much.”

 

Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he asked the charity to pray
for them. “We need prayers, prayers and more prayers. It is the only thing that can bring us unity in this country,” he repeated, recalling that Pope Francis has also called for us to pray for the situation in Syria which – as he himself explained – is not simply about this country, but has now crossed international frontiers, so that the whole world needs peace. “What was the point of this war?” he asked. Everything has been destroyed, there are millions of refugees… If only the politicians of the world would work for peace and not for war,” he repeated despairingly.

This picture was taken in Syria, January 2016, in Yabroud Our Lady of Peace church with destroyed abnd damaged icons and frescoes. Since then, they were replaced. 

 

Yet despite this terrible situation, the Syrian people have not lost courage or the belief that their country can rise again from the ashes. ACN is helping with a number of different projects in the region of Homs, including study grants for 4,000 students, basic foodstuffs, medicines and the rebuilding of people’s homes and of Church properties. 80% of churches and catechetical centres have already been repaired, Mons. Jean-Arbach pointed out.

 

Patriarchs denounce “a brutal aggression”

 

For their part, the patriarchs of the three main churches in Syria – Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X, of Antioch and all the East, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and all the East, and Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch Joseph Absi of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem have issued a statement, sent to ACN, in which they “condemn and denounce the brutal aggression … by the USA, France and the UK“ in response to a supposed chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on the city of Duma. They denounce this terrible situation which they describe as “a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter,” and describe it as “unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.”

 

They insist that this is “a brutal aggression that destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications,” and say that it “encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue in their terrorism.” In their statement, the patriarchs call on “all Churches in the countries that participated in the aggression to fulfill their Christian duties according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and to call on their governments to commit to the protection of international peace.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need continues its support in Syria. 
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Destroyed city in Syria. In March, it was 7 years.                                                                                        


 

ACN Feature Syria: The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

19.04.2018 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Construction, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Syria

Syria

The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

Father George Maamary, parish priest of the Church of the Assumption, which is close to the fortress, is asking our help to rebuild their church so that the families can return there soon

ACN (Josué Villalón, Qalat’al Hosn).- Qalat’al Hosn is a village in western Syria in a region known as the Valley of the Christians, best known for the imposing fortress, Krak des Chevaliers, which dominates the area. The castle is a World Heritage Site, one of the historic jewels of Syria and a place which, before the war, attracted tourists from all over the world.

 

“A group of Salafists and Muslim extremists arrived here, many of them from Lebanon, crossing over the border which is only about 30 km (20 miles) away. They seized control of the fortress and the village,” explains Father George Maamary, parish priest of the local Catholic community. “As soon as they arrived, they came to the church where I was living, forced their way in and abducted me. They beat me, so that afterwards I had to have an operation on my shoulder. Thanks be to God, my imprisonment did not last long; they exchanged me for a jihadist fighter who had been captured by the government.”

Syria: Father George Maamary, Parish priest of Al Hosn, town next to the fort. The Church was destroyed by jihadists who took the town and the fort. It was released in 2014. 

At that time the village had around 25,000 inhabitants of various religions, most of them Sunni and Shia Muslims. There were also around 300 Christians, living around the only Christian church, Our Lady of the Assumption, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Church.

As soon as news of the abduction of Father Maamary came to the ears of his Christian neighbours, they all abandoned their homes for fear of suffering the same fate. “It was a warning. Since then, not one Christian family has returned to live here.” That was six years ago.

The rebel groups had wanted to turn the fortress into a second Palmyra – a world-renowned historic site, and also one of great strategic and sentimental importance for the Syrian people. The fortress was damaged by the rebel groups and by the fighting to recover it, along with a considerable part of the village itself. In 2014, the castle and the village were reconquered by the Syrian army. This was the only place in the Valley of the Christians where there was fighting. As for the rest, this region has become a place where many refugees now live, since it is one of the more peaceful parts of the country.

But before this there was looting, and among the places that were looted were the church and the homes of the Christians. “The life of the community used to revolve around the church,” Father George explains to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We had a basketball pitch and rooms for catechesis and other gatherings. You can see how everything is now,” he adds. The church is also linked to various other buildings, and there was formerly a hotel named after John Paul II, which welcomed tourists who had come to visit the fortress. They also had other centres, with up to 17 shops, a restaurant, a café, and various souvenir and gift shops.

The war has left a terrible wound

After the fighting, the conflict continued. The vengeance against the Sunnis was terrible on the part of the government troops, linked to the Assad government and pro-Shiite. Father George had to hasten back and mark the houses of the Christians with black crosses, so that the soldiers did not burn them down also.

“Before the fighting, life between Christians and Muslims was good,” said Father George. Now the war has left a terrible wound that will take years to heal. “It is safe again now in this region, but there is still no electricity or water,” he adds. As a result, the Christians have been unable to return despite the fact that the village was liberated all of four years ago. “The sense of helplessness of these families is very great; they are still uprooted and living in other villages of the Valley of the Christians, such as Marmarita and Kafra, only 10 km away from here, and yet they still cannot return.”

Syria, March 2018: Fr. George Maamary, Samir Bashur (christian neighbor), and Fr. Bassam Maamary, cousin of Father George who is reapering his family house.

Around the Church of the Assumption, there are a few houses that people have begun to rebuild. One of them belongs to the family of Bassam Maamary, a cousin of Father George and himself a priest. “I have begun to rebuild the house with my own money, in order to show my neighbours that it is possible to return, that there is still hope,” he says.

He is being helped with the electric wiring by a young man named Wagdi Yazzi. He too is from the village of Al Hosn. “It won’t take much for us to return; but first we need the government to reconnect the water and electricity,” he says, adding, “Life here was very pleasant and peaceful. We had contact with people from all over the world and we were a very open village.”

Another neighbour appears, walking up an alleyway. He is Samir Bashur and he explains that he is also working on his house and that he comes here from time to time, little by little repairing the damage. He thinks that if people are to return here permanently, they will first have to rebuild the church. “It is a place that is very important to us, where we celebrate the most important feasts together, where we meet and pray together, along with our parish priest.”

Father George assures that he has not lost contact with the other families. “We are doing the impossible to help them on a daily basis, and so that they will be able to return to their homes.” He thanks ACN for the aid provided for the care of these refugees, and he is also hoping to be able to begin soon on the rebuilding of their church.

Father George Maamary, Parish priest of Al Hosn, town next to the fort shows the destruction made by djihadits.

“We are praying for peace in our country. And also for all the people who are helping us from other countries. You are all very welcome to come here. We need the people and the tourists to return.”

 

And finally, Father Maamary expresses his gratitude for the support of Pope Francis, who has sent aid directly each year for the families and the priests. “He is a humble man, he is doing great things for Syria, including through his prayer and his messages of peace.”