Iraq – A Mission of Mercy
By John Pontifex, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Thousands of displaced Iraqi Christians are to receive food, shelter, schooling and gifts for children in a concerted emergency relief program pushed through by a Catholic charity before the onset of winter. The $5.77 million plan announced by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – one of the largest in the charity’s 67-year history – also includes pastoral support for priests and Sisters displaced by the crisis that has swept the country.
The projects, a number of them agreed, come amid fresh reports from Iraq that the crisis facing up to 120,000 displaced Christians is on the verge of worsening drastically. Huge pressure to move thousands of families out of tents before winter’s arrival looms as the weather is expected to deteriorate sharply over the coming weeks. Other families have just days to leave public buildings such as schools, which have been converted into displacement centres where people have been sleeping up to 20 in a single room.
Christian communities are entirely dependent on outside help, and have been supported by the Church since they arrived in Kurdish northern Iraq. Many of them have found refuge in Ankawa, close to the regional capital of Erbil, and further north in the region of Dohuk, close to the Turkish border.
It is now nearly four months since they left their homes with little more than the clothes they were wearing when Islamic State fighters advanced on Mosul city and the towns and villages in neighbouring Nineveh plains.
Aid: The breakdown
Along with growing concerns for the future of these refugees as winter approaches, ACN’s emergency projects’ package includes:
- Eight schools – four in Ankawa, Erbil, and the rest in Dohuk – pre-fabricated PVC structures providing for 15,000 children ($2.9 million)
- Food for displaced people totally reliant on outside help $908,808)
- Rented accommodation in Ankawa and Dohuk for displaced people $577,000)
- 150 PVC porta-cabins in Ankawa for use as accommodation $678,000)
- Christmas gifts for 15,000 children including warm clothes (coats and socks), pencils, colouring books and devotional items and ACN Child’s Bibles ($425,570)
- Mass Offerings for over 100 priests – both Chaldean and Syrian Catholic –from Iraq, most of them displaced by violence and other unrest $127,200)
- Help for 28 seminarians at St Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa $56,260)
Additional grants include: $27,410 emergency aid for Sacred Heart Sisters displaced from Mosul; $112,520 support for Babel College of Philosophy and Theology in Ankawa and; $54,820 help for Christian education (catechism) in 20 parishes across Baghdad.
All together, this aid builds significantly on the $290,000 ACN contributed in emergency aid to Christians fleeing Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the immediate aftermath of the IS attacks.
Information: The assessment
The projects were drawn up during an ACN fact-finding and project assessment trip organized at short notice and completed one week ago. The charity’s head of Middle East projects Father Andrzej Halemba said: “This ancient community, which dates back to Biblical times, is on the verge of disappearing forever. They have suffered so much and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help them and give them what they need to get through the winter.”
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said: “I would like to thank Aid to the Church in Need for acting so quickly to help the people especially as we get close to winter.” Chaldean Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul, who was among the 500,000 who fled the city in June when it was seized by Islamic State (IS), is chair of the Emergency Committee of Bishops formed to coordinate relief efforts. He said: “I am personally so grateful to ACN – you are giving us new hope.”
Prayers: For the persecuted and the persecutors
The archbishop called on ACN and all people of goodwill to pray for Iraq. “Please pray for the safety of our people, that none are killed by terrorists; we should also pray for those who have persecuted us and we should also pray for an end to evil which is now so great in the world.” Aid to the Church in Need – which has offices around the world – is launching an international campaign to raise awareness and raise money for suffering Christians in Iraq.