Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
How the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the humanitarian and pastoral work of the Church in Syria
Montreal/Königstein, September 2, 2014. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is providing another $516,000 in emergency aid for the people of Syria. The money will once more be used to support pastoral and humanitarian projects in the country, which has been suffering for over three years now from the bloody civil war there. The main priority will be to get the help to the needy population in various parts of the country.
Among the projects supported is an aid center in Aleppo, formerly a city of over two million and torn apart by warfare since July 2012. “Aleppo is facing the risk of dying a slow death,” Sister Annie Demerjian, of the community of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, tells ACN. The charity has already helped her twice in the past.
The present tranche of aid is intended to help supply the basic necessities of life which she and her team are providing for the people of Aleppo under their care. Once the most populous city in Syria, this northern metropolis is thought to have shrunk to around just half a million people and is suffering badly from the ongoing fighting and the collapse of its infrastructure. The water and electricity supply is inadequate, and most people have forgotten what it is like to eat meat or fresh fruit, as Sister Annie tells us in her moving appeal. Most of the houses in her area have been destroyed, and those people who survived have been forced to flee. “Where are they going to find refuge? How are they going to repair their houses?” she asks. Rats, snakes and other vermin are making matters still worse. “If we want the Christians to remain in the Middle East, then we must help them with what they need in order to survive,” she concludes.
Supporting charitable work
Similarly, in the once fiercely contested city of Homs in Western Syria and in a number of smaller towns and villages around it, ACN is supporting the charitable and humanitarian work of the Church. Around half the population of this city of 1.6 million souls have been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in other parts of the city. Around a quarter have left Homs altogether.
Added to these are the refugees from the surrounding areas. Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal wants to provide some 3,000 families with basic necessities such as foodstuffs and articles of hygiene. Some 15,000 to 18,000 people in need will be provided with washing powder, soap and towels, and also with necessities for the coming winter, such as blankets and warm clothing. Those in need include both refugees from outside and inhabitants of the city. “In Homs the number of people who are dependent on support for such things as foodstuffs and articles of hygiene is growing, since many people are unemployed now and have no source of income,” Father Ziad tells ACN. On top of this, inflation is rampant.
In order to prevent tensions arising between the refugees from outside and the original population of the city, the aid goods are being distributed to both groups. Basically, as Father Ziad explains, the Church is providing support to all those in need, regardless of religion, gender or political affiliation. A large proportion of the Christian population of Homs have sought refuge in the so-called “Valley of the Christians,” in the region around Marmarita. Thanks to the funds provided by ACN, Father Ziad is also able to provide somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 people there with articles of hygiene and winter clothing.
Supporting pastoral work
In addition to such urgent humanitarian projects, ACN is also supporting the pastoral work of the Catholic Church in Syria. It is thanks to support from ACN that the Byzantine Catholic parish of Saint Cyril in Damascus can continue providing catechetical instruction to children and young people there. In addition to the provision of catechisms and the payment of staff and running costs, some of the money is also spent on providing Christmas presents for the children. “The catechetical centre in our parish is more than simply a religious centre. It is also almost the only consolation for some 500 children,” says the parish priest, Father Joseph Lajin.
Every Friday the children gather at the centre, partly for instruction in the Catholic faith, but also in order to find a little bit of rest and recreation, he explains. At the heart of it is the education for peace, in the spirit of the Gospel, he says. “It is not easy, when a generation has heard about and seen nothing else but the atrocities of ISIS, to educate them in a spirit of peace and forgiveness, of acceptance of the other and love of one’s enemy.”
According to UN statistics, over 150,000 people have been killed so far during the conflict in Syria. More than 10 million people within the country are dependent on humanitarian aid. Over 6 million are regarded as internal refugees, while more than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Since the war began, in March 2011, ACN has provided a total of approximately 5 million dollars in aid for the people of Syria and for the Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries. In 2014 alone the charity supplied a total of 1,8 ,million dollars in emergency aid for the war victims and refugees of Syria.