Montreal/Erbil, Monday August 18, 2014 –“If we do not want to be silent witnesses to the last chapter of the history of Christendom in Iraq, the international community must respond decisively now,” said Johannes Freiherr Heereman, President of the international aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), after returning from the Iraqi city of Erbil.
By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Heereman had travelled to Iraq on the invitation of Msgr. Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylon, to obtain a picture of the situation and the needs of the more than 100,000 Christians who had been displaced and had now found refuge in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, and in the villages in the north of Duhok and Zakho. “The situation is dramatic. We met bishops, priests, nuns and volunteers who are working day and night to provide elementary aid. Temperatures are around 44 degrees. The people need roofs over their heads and medical care. There is still much to be done,” Heereman reports.
However, as well as the necessary emergency humanitarian aid, one must also ponder how Christians and other minorities in Iraq can be helped to ensure that such a drama does not recur. “Many of them have already travelled a long road of oppression and suffering. They are disheartened and only want to get away. They beg for help to obtain visas to enter other countries. But there are also still many who wish to return to their homes, which have often been looted by their neighbours – they wish to go back to the place where they have lived for generations and where their history and roots are; They left everything behind when they fled, and yet they want to go back,” says Heereman.
“There is still hope for the Christians in Iraq, but only if we act now,” is the message from Patriarch Louis Sako to the President of ACN. The aid organization therefore appeals to the Western world to take moral responsibility to come to the aid of Christians and other religious minorities who wish to stay, by ensuring their protection and security. “This cannot remain simply the concern of the Church in Iraq. We must not be silent witnesses to a destruction that is now reaching the scale of a disaster of civilization. One can certainly speak of an impending genocide. The Church can alleviate pain and want, but questions of security and defence as well as the right to life and religious freedom are a political matter,” Heereman emphasizes.
ACN dispatched a second emergency aid package of $146,000 for Iraqi Christians just 10 days ago, especially for those who are now refugees as a result of Islamist terror group IS (Islamic State) actions. The first emergency aid package of $146,000 was granted in June of this year.