Syria – “The Christians want to stay”

This is the last day we will be offering you a story which, along with describing to you the situation as it is lived by Christians in Syria, will also offer you poignant testimonials from the religious personnel on site and from the people living through this unspeakable tragedy.

You will see, though Syrians have a capacity for resilience which is quite remarkable, their suffering remains a weight that they cannot bear alone.  Prayer, information and action can help them continue to move ahead on their journey, despite the formidable challenges they face. How can you support them?

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

#DONATEFORSYRIA


 

The Christian district of Nebek was hit hard in the battles before Christmas. Aid to the Church in Need helps rebuild

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

Sister Houda Fadoul sounds relieved. “Fortunately, the battles are over. There was fierce fighting in Nebek all through Advent. No one was able to flee and the people were trapped. Peace was then finally restored in the week before Christmas. But you never know.” The Syrian-Catholic Sister presides over a congregation of nuns near Nebek, a city of around 50,000 inhabitants situated at the edge of the desert. Only 120 Catholic families live here, about 500 souls. There are two parishes, one Syrian-Catholic and one Greek-Catholic. To the South, Nebek lies about 80 kilometres from Damascus, the capital of Syria. To the North, it is just about the same distance from Homs. Even though it has been under government control since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, fierce fighting has now broken out. “The jihadists are not far away. We Christians are scared of them. But so are the Muslims of Nebek. After all, the jihadists also kill Muslims. No one wants them here. In Nebek, the Christians and Muslims are like family.”

About 90 Christian houses were destroyed or damaged during the battles before Christmas. “The jihadists thought that the government would spare them if they attacked in the Christian district. But that was not the case. There was fierce fighting here. However, the Christian district lies unprotected on a hill. And so the Christian houses were hit especially hard. Through it all, the people hid for weeks in cellars. They were extremely frightened.”

May 16 , 2012-Damascus , Syria : Funeral and prayer in the Churc

Faith in the future

Sister Houda is now trying to do something about the housing shortage that has befallen the people. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is lending a hand.  “Many families either don’t have a flat at all anymore, or the ones they have are uninhabitable. We must help these people. The Christians of Nebek don’t want to leave. They want to stay at home. However, to make this possible, their houses need to be rebuilt.” Some only have broken panes of glass or damaged power lines. Other houses, on the other hand, have been gutted. “These people are now living in emergency housing. They have lost everything. They urgently need mattresses, gas cookers, blankets and things like that.”

However, even before the most recent bout of destruction, life in Nebek was not easy. “We often don’t have any electricity. The people sit in the dark. There is also a shortage of heating fuels. Neither diesel nor wood is available. And the winter is cold. The people suffer.” Sister Houda also deplored the fact that although food is available, it is very expensive. And you cannot get everything. Medical care is also poor. Furthermore, many medicines are no longer available. “However, the biggest problem here is that there is no work. Many factories have closed or have been destroyed. The young men are unemployed. We have to take care of them.” For this reason, Sister Houda wants to come to the aid of small businesses that do not have enough raw materials. “I am thinking of carpenters. We could supply them with wood. And we could also help small stores that sell batteries or torches by providing them with goods.

SYRIA / NATIONAL 15/00144Emergency assistance to struggling fam

However, Sister Houda believes that the people’s faith in God has not suffered. “The Christians here are very brave. They celebrated a large Mass of Thanksgiving after the most recent battles. The destroyed houses are one thing. They don’t consider that so important. Instead, they thanked God for the fact that they are still alive. We have to help the people regain their hope and faith in a future in Syria. If not, we will lose them. We therefore thank everyone who has donated to Aid to the Church in Need for their support. In the past they have helped us build flats for young Christian families. Now we are again dependent on their generosity and especially on their prayers:

May God bless them.”

 

 

Advertisements

Syria – The Lord acts subtly, but He acts

Beginning last Tuesday, and through until tomorrow, we have been offering you a variety of stories which, along with describing to you the situation as it is lived by Christians in Syria, will also offer you poignant testimonials from the religious personnel on site and from the people living through this unspeakable tragedy.

You will see, though Syrians have a capacity for resilience which is quite remarkable, their suffering remains a weight that they cannot bear alone.  Prayer, information and action can help them continue to move ahead on their journey, despite the formidable challenges they face. How can you support them?

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

#DONATEFORSYRIA


 

Hunger, destruction, death: for years, Sister Ani has been helping the people of Aleppo – Aid to the Church in Need lends a hand 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

Hunger, destruction and death: for years, Sister Anie has been helping the people of Aleppo – Aid to the Church in Need supports her mission.

“You can’t imagine in what kind of circumstances the family was living. It was damp and cold in that cellar. It is like a catacomb. You can hardly breathe. The girl lost her teeth, one by one, because of the perpetual darkness down there. It was horrible when I saw it. They lived like that for three years.”

Even after so many years of war, Sister Ani Demerjian is still affected by the misfortunes of the people. The young Armenian-Catholic Sister belongs to a community that was established in France, the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary (RJM). For years, the Damascus-born Syrian has endured in Aleppo, a contested metropolis in the northern part of Syria. The government and the insurgents have fought bitter battles there, which is why hundreds of thousands have left the once so affluent, now largely destroyed city.

Those who remain are those who cannot afford to leave and start a new life elsewhere. “On Christmas we had neither electricity nor water. Instead, massive bombs were dropping. And that is the rule, not the exception. We often go for days without electricity. And when it works, then only for one or two hours a day.

Daily encounters with death

The water supply system has also broken down. Old people have to haul water in buckets from wells or tank wagons to their flats on the sixth storey or so. It is also very cold at the moment. Diesel and gas are in short supply. There are people who are burning their furniture. I have heard of a family who was burning plastic bags to keep warm. Afterwards, a child had to be treated in hospital for poisoning. This is our life at the moment. The people have by now used up everything they had, cash, jewelry, or other valuables. They are at the end of their ropes. How often are we in houses in which there is no food. It is not easy to see your own people in such a state.” Then there is the danger that accompanies the universal state of distress. “You may die on any given day. An acquaintance of mine took a taxi. A grenade hit her. There was nothing left of her. This is the life we lead. What will become of us? We are entirely in God’s hands. Our lives belong to Him alone. When it is over, it is over.”

Despite the daily encounters with death, Sister Ani is fighting for life. Together with volunteers – among them many adolescents – she organizes aid for those who are suffering. “At the moment we are helping about 600 families with clothing, food, gas or anything else they need to survive. We are only able to do this thanks to the support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  I can’t express how thankful we are to those who have made donations.

SYRIA / NATIONAL 14/00124 Emergency help for the needed families

Pious words are not enough in a situation like this. The people need spiritual food, but also the kind you can bite into.” And the need is great. Many fathers have lost their jobs because the factories they worked in were destroyed or had to close for some reason. This has plunged entire families into poverty who had been quite prosperous before.

New hope to live

Such as the Christian family from the cellar. “The father owned a flower shop,” Sister Ani reported. “However, he had to close it. Bit by bit they had to sell everything they owned. Furniture, electrical devices, clothing: they gave everything away for a little food. At some point they moved into the cellar. The rent for their former flat was too expensive. There was no electricity in the cellar. Both children, a son and a daughter, had to give up their studies because they didn’t have any more money.”

Fortunately, the father went to see Sister Ani last year. “We immediately decided to help the family,” she said. “They now have electricity, perhaps not all the time, but still. We want to help the children continue their studies. And we want to help the girl get new teeth. You can’t imagine the joy in their hearts. The girl has told us that we have given them new hope to live.”

Sister Ani was also touched by the story of another family in Aleppo. “It is a family of four, also Christian. Their house was bombed and with it everything they had. They were forced to move into the small shop the father uses to make tea and coffee to sell on the streets. Poor people, you see. The mother couldn’t take the hardships any longer or went out of her mind and ran off with a Muslim. She now lives in Raqqa, where ISIS rules. The father stayed behind with his two daughters. The oldest is 15. Both girls were hit hard by the hardships and their mother’s departure. They did poorly in school and also began to look completely neglected and dirty. The younger girl even became sick. We are now supporting the family by helping them meet their everyday needs. We are also looking for a new flat for them. In the district they now live, they are gossiped about because of the mother. And so they can’t stay there. Most importantly, the girls should return to school. We are trying to make a new life possible for the family.”

SYRIA / ALEP-CLD 15/00050 Emergency help (medical)  for the disp

 

All of this suffering has left its mark on Sister Ani. “Somehow, all of this is bigger than I am. It doesn’t matter which house you go into, each has a sad story to tell. We are really surrounded by evil. However, as time goes on it becomes ever more apparent to me that the Lord is with us.” Holy Mass in the morning, Adoration and prayer strengthen Sister Ani and her fellow sister so that they can carry out their everyday work. They volunteered for this work. “Our superiors told us that we could leave. As the crisis began, my sister and I decided that we would stay. You can’t just share in the good times with people.” However, at this point the good times are just a vague memory, Ani said. “I don’t ask God about the why. I only ask Him to give me the strength I need for the day. This removes the burden from my shoulders. And I have realized one thing: the Lord acts subtly, but He acts. We see this every day. This is the only reason we can go on.”


 

Tomorrow :  The Christians want to stay”

“There was fierce fighting in Nebek all through Advent.”

 

 

Syria – “All that counts is the degree of need”

Starting yesterday, and through to Friday, we will offer you a variety of stories which, along with describing to you the situation as it is lived by Christians in Syria, will also offer you poignant testimonials from the religious personnel on site and from the people living through this unspeakable tragedy.

You will see, though Syrians have a capacity for resilience which is quite remarkable, their suffering remains a weight that they cannot bear alone.  Prayer, information and action can help them continue to move ahead on their journey, despite the formidable challenges they face. How can you support them?

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

#DONATEFORSYRIA


 

Across denominational boundaries: Catholics help Orthodox Christians in Syria 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

Al-Hasakah is located in the north-east of Syria. The area is mainly populated by Kurds, but there is also a Christian community there. Like all those who live in Al-Hasakah, they are also suffering because their area is virtually cut off from the rest of the country. The reason for this is that the islamist terrorist militia ISIS controls the surrounding regions. “The families in Al-Hasakah are in great need. They have to go without power and water for days on end. Many of them don’t even have enough to eat,” says Sister Annie Demerjian. “Al-Hasakah is a forgotten city. In Aleppo, where I live, the situation is also disastrous. But nobody talks about Al-Hasakah.”

This Armenian-Catholic Sister belongs to the community of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary. In Aleppo she organizes help for people in the war-ravaged town, which is quite enough to keep her busy. But when she heard about the precarious situation of the people in Al-Hasakah she decided to help them. “We share what we have. I can’t get to Al-Hasakah myself. The overland route passes through ISIS territory. That’s too dangerous for Christians. We therefore work together with a Syriac-Orthodox priest in Al-Hasakah. He organizes help for the people there. Through him we support about 100 Christian families. We hope that there will be more in future.”

Almoukales center - package SYRIA / NATIONAL 15/00146 Emergency

It is not easy sending relief into this area. “In the past year we had to resort to a ruse. We wanted to send more than 600 anoraks for children and young people by bus to Al-Hasakah. But we were warned that ISIS could confiscate the goods if it was evident that they were coming from Christians for Christians. We were therefore helped by friendly Muslims who entered the name of a Muslim as the sender and a Muslim as the recipient on the delivery note. It worked,” she explained and still expresses pleasure at the trick’s success.

Aid to the Church in Need supports the work of Sister Annie and her Orthodox partner in Al-Hasakah. “Last October and December we distributed 100 litres of heating oil to the families with the help of Aid to the Church in Need. And we managed to supply the families with oil again in January. This is very important in view of the winter.” Besides heating oil – sanitary articles, food and medicines are also being distributed to the needy families in Al-Hasakah.

Sister Annie regards this inter-denominational aid as a matter of course. “We are all Christians and we’re in the same boat. When it comes to aid it doesn’t matter whether someone is Chaldean or Syriac-Orthodox, or whatever. All that counts is the degree of need.” Every day, Sister Annie reports, Christian families are leaving the Al-Hasakah region on account of the hardship, mostly over the Turkish border. “Our aid is crucial to enable them to stay. Otherwise we will lose even more Christians.”


 

Tomorrow :  The Lord acts subtly, but He acts”

“You can’t imagine in what kind of circumstances the family was living. It was damp and cold in that cellar. It is like a catacomb.” 

 

 

Syria – Before the jihadists arrived

In the coming days, we will offer you a variety of stories which, along with describing to you the situation as it is lived by Christians in Syria, will also offer you poignant testimonials from the religious personnel on site and from the people living through this unspeakable tragedy.

You will see, though Syrians have a capacity for resilience which is quite remarkable, their suffering remains a weight that they cannot bear alone.  Prayer, information and action can help them continue to move ahead on their journey, despite the formidable challenges they face. How can you support them?

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

#DONATEFORSYRIA


 

Before the jihadists arrived

Despite vast destruction: the Church is trying to improve the lives of people in Syria and strengthen their faith – Aid to the Church in Need provides support

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

The Syrian city of Yabrud looks back on a long Christian tradition. It is home to one of the oldest Christian churches in Syria. The house of prayer, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in the fourth century. “In February of 2014, the jihadists completely ravaged our church. They destroyed the icons, shredded the evangeliary and burnt down the altar. They also stole anything they could get their hands on.” Father George Hadad, for many years the Greek-Catholic priest in Yabrud, is still despondent over the desecration of the church. He held out in the rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border for almost three years. The strategically important city fell under the control of the Syrian opposition very early on.

St. Mayrs Church - Syrian Orthodox in Homs We will come back" i

From that point on, fighting repeatedly broke out between the government and the rebels. Then, in March of 2014, the government army regained control over the city. This was preceded by fierce fighting. “Fortunately, the damage was not as extensive as we had feared. The Blessed Virgin had protected Yabrud. The Muslims of Yabrud are also saying this. They revere the Blessed Virgin just as we do. In fact, we have always got on well with the Muslims of Yabrud. During the occupation there were a few who collaborated with the jihadists. But this was a small minority of uneducated people. The Muslims even helped the Christians to safeguard me whenever I left the house.”

Meanwhile, the jihadists from outside of the city – at times they even included fighters of the infamous al-Nusra brigades, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda – made the lives of Christians difficult. “They said that we worship the cross and that we should therefore remove it from our church. I replied that we do not worship the cross, but the Word of God.” However, the holy warriors of Islam were not convinced. They used explosives to remove the cross from the cathedral in October of 2013. The damage to the church was extensive. “However, we were always able to celebrate mass and the liturgy of the hours. Always,” he said. “Last year, when we returned to the city right before Easter, we used the speakers of the mosque to broadcast the call to prayer on Good Friday. Even Muslims came.”

SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 15/00038Help for Quseir (church, catechism cen

Before the war, Father George reported, about 3,500 Christians lived in Yabrud. “When I was there last year after it had been recaptured by the army, there were only nine left. They fled because of the fighting. However, almost 80 per cent of the Christians have now returned.”

Nevertheless, together with the rest of Yabrud’s residents, the members of his parish are suffering because of the poor supply situation. “We only have electricity and water sporadically. There is also a shortage of heating fuels. There is almost no work to be had. Before the war, Yabrud was a highly industrialized city. There is almost nothing left of this now.” But Father George is convinced that there is a future for the Christians in Syria. “After all, where else could it be? In Europe? The people there have lost their faith through capitalism. And you won’t find the land of milk and honey there, either. If we could only be left alone here, the future could be bright for us in Syria.” Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting Father George and the Christians in Yabrud with such projects as the reconstruction of destroyed residential buildings.

Father George’s archbishop is also convinced that there is a future for Syria’s Christians. Archbishop Jean Abdo Arbach is head of the Greek-Catholic diocese of Homs, Hama and Yabrud. During the past few years, his diocese has suffered greatly due to the conflict. Thousands of his parishioners have had to flee, a large number of churches and church buildings were also destroyed. “The rebels used my residence in Homs as their headquarters until the government took control of the city last year. The cathedral was so severely damaged during the fighting that we had to think about whether it was even worth restoring, or if it wouldn’t be better to simply tear it down and build a new one.” However, the faith of his Christians is more important to Archbishop Arbach than the buildings.

“The faith of the people has deepened. More people are coming to church than before, including children. No one is reproaching God. Everyone knows that the suffering that surrounds us is the handiwork of humanity.” For this reason, Archbishop Arbach’s chief concern is reviving the pastoral life in his diocese. For example, a catechesis centre for 450 children and adolescents in Yabrud is now up and running – also thanks to support from Aid to the Church in Need.

“Thankfully we are able to continue with our pastoral life, despite the difficulties. We thank Aid to the Church in Need for this. Our clergy is doing what they can. I am very proud that the priests stayed with their congregations, even in difficult situations. I trust that God will give us peace through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. At any rate, it is our job as Christians to be the instruments of peace. We have to raise our children to this end.”

 


 

Tomorrow : “It’s the degree of the need that counts”

“Al-Hasakah is a forgotten city. In Aleppo, where I live, the situation is also disastrous. But nobody talks about Al-Hasakah.”

 

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Day 8

Day 8: Witness

Prayer : God, spring of living water, make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives. Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well, and give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another. Transform our hearts and our lives, so that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News. And lead us always to the encounter with the other, as an encounter with you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

 

Commentary (John 4:39): With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission, announces to her people that she has found the Messiah. The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Mission is not proselytism. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference. Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. The witness of the Samaritan woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation. If our word and witness are authentic, the world will hear and believe.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Day 7

Day 7: Testimony

Prayer : (Adapted from a prayer from an ecumenical conference in Brazil, calling for an end to poverty as the first step on the path to peace through justice) – God of life, who cares for all creation, and calls us to justice and peace, may our security not come from arms, but from respect. May our force not be of violence, but of love. May our wealth not be in money, but in sharing. May our path not be of ambition, but of justice. May our victory not be from vengeance, but in forgiveness. May our unity not be in the quest of power, but in vulnerable witness to do your will. Open and confident, may we defend the dignity of all creation, sharing, today and forever, the bread of solidarity, justice and peace. This we ask in the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our brother, who, as victim of our violence, even from the heights of the cross, gave forgiveness to us all. Amen.

© Aid to the Church in Need World Youth Day Madrid 2011.

© Aid to the Church in Need
World Youth Day Madrid 2011.

 

 

Commentary (John 4:7): Encountering and exchanging experiences with the other, even other religious traditions, can help us to reach into the depths of the well. Approaching those who are strangers to us with the desire to drink from their well, opens to us the “wonders of God” that we proclaim. God often meets our needs through others. As we call upon the Lord in our need, perhaps the Lord has already answered our prayers by putting into the hands of our neighbours that for which we ask. And so we need to turn also to them, and ask, “Give me to drink.”

 

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Day 6

Day 6: Testimony

Prayer : Triune God, following the example of Jesus, make us witnesses to your love. Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity. May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity.  May walls be transformed into bridges. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

 

Commentary (John 4:14): The dialogue that begins with Jesus asking for water becomes a dialogue in which Jesus promises water. When we are baptised we receive this water, this life from Jesus and it wells up within us to be given and shared with others. The water of baptism springing into life becomes an ecumenical witness of Christian love in action, a foretaste of the eternal life which Jesus promises. The concrete gestures of love and generosity practiced by ordinary people are what we need in order to grow in fellowship. They give witness to the Gospel and relevance to ecumenical relations.