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Iraq – Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) calls on the international community for help

The international charity is requesting support for Iraq to help the country achieve stability and economic development.

The visit of Pope Francis, in March 2021, is a sign of hope for a whole generation.

After years of helping to rebuild homes and infrastructure, Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is issuing an urgent call to the international community to help guarantee peace and stability in Iraq, as the necessary conditions for economic development and job creation will help communities, including Christians, to stay in—and return to—their homeland.

The appeal was made by ACN’s Executive President Thomas Heine-Geldern, upon his return from visiting the country.

Signs of hope after many difficult years

The past few decades have been very hard on Christians in Iraq. Economic and political uncertainty, coupled with large-scale persecution that culminated in the rise of the Islamic State, led to a massive exodus which reduced the Christian population from over one million to between 150,000 and 250,000 today.

May 1, 2022: Inauguration of Al-Tahira Secondary School. Thomas Heine-Geldern cuts the ribbon on this school, which was built mainly thanks to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

But according to Mr. Heine-Geldern, the current outlook is finally one of hope in a brighter future: “When I visited in 2014, everybody was scared with the advance of ISIS, but the mood, and the cooperation and solidarity, were excellent. Then, in 2018, I found the community very depressed. Now, however, there are signs of hope and many requests to support the development of the country, including in Kurdistan and the different villages and towns inhabited by Christians.”

The role of the international community is crucial in helping Iraqi institutions ensure peace, and economic and political stability, and ACN will continue to make sure that Iraqi Christians are not forgotten, said Mr. Heine-Geldern during an online press conference hosted by ACN this past Monday, May 9.

“We will continue to focus on using our experience in advocacy, and our good information network with responsible politicians and leaders around the world, to make sure the situation of Christians in Iraq is not forgotten. We have to ask the international community to support efforts towards security, safety and sustainability. If we cannot guarantee a minimum standard of security, all other efforts to support peace and well-being in Iraq will become very complicated. This has to be a joint effort of the international community. Only when the security situation is relatively stable will people come back and invest in Iraq,” he said.

Students from the Catholic University of Erbil, also supported by ACN. These projects, exceptional in our mandate, aim to support the Christian presence in Iraq and the desire of these young adults to remain in their ancestral land and contribute to the future of the country.

After years of helping rebuild houses in the Nineveh Plains, and a strong investment in brick and mortar, the charity now plans to focus more on “enabling the local Church to assume its mission by establishing parishes, promoting Church teachings, supporting religious clergy and orders in their work, which they are doing so well and with such enthusiasm,” but also on supporting education.

“As we have learned, education is key to considering a sustainable future in this part of the world. Families are more inclined to remain in their villages when they have education,” Mr. Heine-Geldern explains.

The recently inaugurated Al-Tahira Secondary School in Qaraqosh on May 1, and the Catholic University in Erbil Scholarship Program, two projects to which ACN is heavily committed, are tangible examples of this new approach.

The inexorable decline of Iraqi Christians? Not if the international community truly supports Iraq’s efforts to regain economic and social health.

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