Press Release – New ACN Website

MCL National Director

Praying, Informing and Giving

By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal, Friday February 2015 – “ Concerned with better serving our generous benefactors, of providing better communications tools to the public and engaged with encouraging people to PRAY, INFORM and GIVE to help poor and persecuted Christians in the world, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada is proud to present its new website which will be operational as of this coming Monday, March 2nd,” declared with enthusiasm Marie-Claude Lalonde, the National Director of ACN Canada.

“More than ever before,” continued the director,” the situation of Christians in too many countries merits recognition on a large scale.  We hope that the news stories we disseminate through our website will touch our visitors’ hearts, and persuade them to help their so often forgotten brothers and sisters.”

The site which can be visited at www.acn-aed-ca.org is abundantly illustrated with striking pictures, poignant firsthand accounts and content also often exclusive to Aid to the Church in Need.

ACN which is today an international organization numbering over 600,000 friends and benefactors who support each and every year close to 5,000 projects in over 150 countries.  Now operating as a foundation of pontifical right, ACN and its benefactors offer concrete help, through a spirit of love, everywhere where the Church needs them.

 

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.”

 

 

Egypt – The first Catholic church in Sinai

 

“I remember, during one of my visits to Egypt, speaking to a bishop who dreamt of a church precisely in this spot.  It was difficult to imagine then that such a dream could one day come true in this environment where there was nothing around but desert and a few fruit trees.  Add to this all the administrative difficulties to obtain a building permit and all the obstacles to clear to build it once the building permit was obtained.  I understand well how happy the Catholics must have been when this church was inaugurated.”  – Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada.

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

February 15th 2015 the first Catholic church on Sinai peninsulaUp until the very last minute, work was still in progress on the interior decorations, the moulding was being fitted and the marble polished. However, by Sunday morning (February 15) it was finished: the first Catholic church in Sinai. “This is a great day of joy for Catholics in Egypt,” Coptic Catholic Bishop Makarios of Ismailia, to whose diocese Sharm El-Sheikh belongs, said at the consecration ceremony.

Hundreds of hotels line the coast of the famous tourist destination known for its spectacular coral reefs. “We have a number of places of worship in Sinai,” Bishop Makarios added, “but these are chapels or even just rooms in normal houses. The church of Our Lady of Peace is the first proper church building that was built for the sole purpose of worshiping God.”

Three Masses every Sunday

The building application for the church was submitted in 2003. The foundation stone was laid in 2005. After that, things only moved forward haltingly: in Egypt, the construction of a church is a political issue. There are always a large number of hurdles to overcome. “At one point, after everything had ground to a halt, we went to the wife of then President Mubarak. Susanne Mubarak went to school with nuns. She helped us. After that, there was nothing the governor could object to,” Bishop Makarios remembered. “Madame Mubarak also gave the church its name. We actually wanted a different one, Maria Stella Maris, Star of the Sea. But she suggested making ‘Our Lady of Peace’ its patron saint. We were happy to do so.”

Father Bolos Garas has been priest in Sharm since 2010. “When I came here, there was no church, only the foundations of a cellar. So we put up tarps and celebrated Mass. This is why it is so deeply moving to finally see the church completed, and not only for me. A member of our congregation, an elderly Italian, recently came up to me and said that he could now die in peace because he had heard the bells ring in the tower.” In the future, Father Bolos will celebrate three services in the church every Sunday. “I am a Coptic Catholic priest. However, there are only very few Coptic Catholics here, a handful of families. Most of our faithful are tourists or foreign workers. For this reason I not only celebrate Sunday Mass according to my rites, but also according to the Roman rites, in Italian and in English.”

A place with a real heart

On february 15th 2015 the first Catholic church on Sinai peninsu

The English-language service is attended by foreign workers from the Philippines who work in the hotels in Sharm. “The church is our home. Even though we are so far away from our native country, we immediately felt at home in the Catholic church. We are very happy that our beautiful church has now been finished,” Mary, a Filipina who works at a hotel, said. The Italian-language service, on the other hand, is primarily attended by Italian seniors who spend the winter in Sharm because of its mild climate. “We are so happy. Sharm has always been beautiful. But for us, this place has a real heart now,” Giovanni, a retiree from the northern Italian city of Veneto, said. Members of the Italian community of retirees have even formed a church choir. They also sang during the consecration ceremony on Sunday.

Patriarch Ibrahim I. Sidrak, the head of the around 200,000-member strong Egyptian Coptic Catholic Church, presided over the hours-long ceremony that was celebrated according to Coptic rites. The governor of the region also attended the consecration. In his welcoming address, he said how important it was that the Christians have a place of worship. “It is a place to offer prayers for peace,” he called out to the faithful.

The construction of the church was financially supported by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Father Andrzej Halemba, in charge of Middle Eastern projects, explained why. “Up until now, many Catholics did not have a real place to go to in Sharm. This has now changed. And there is no better fitting name for this church than ‘Our Lady of Peace’. Egypt and the region need peace. The Coptic Orthodox bishop also emphasized this in his welcoming address.” Bishop Makarios added, “May God bless the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their generosity. Catholics from all over the world supporting a church which in turn serves Catholics from all over the world proves that we are one in the Mystical Body of Christ.”

 

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.”

 

Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Father Werenfried van Straaten – also known as ‘The Bacon Priest’ – January 17, 1913 – January 31, 2003 © Aid to the Church in Need

“Someone must begin: Let it be us!”

Good news often gets drowned out by the tide of shock-horror stories. And yet the seed of peace and reconciliation is burgeoning in many places around the world. Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), dedicated the whole of his life to the service of reconciliation. He died on 31 January twelve years ago.

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International – Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

It often begins with a gesture of help. Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, followed the principle: “Someone must begin: Let it be us!” When Pope John Paul II asked him in 1991, after his long life as a bridge-builder, to now seek the means of creating a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, he couldn’t wait to get going. After all, this Church had had to start practically from scratch after decades of persecution. The figures speak from themselves: of the approximately 60,000 houses of worship in which the Holy Liturgy had been celebrated prior to the October Revolution in Russia, only 100 were left twenty years later. In the first two years after the October Revolution alone 15,000 Orthodox priests had been killed. More than 300 bishops had been executed or had died in prison. When he was almost 80 years old, he said that to give support to the Orthodox sister Church after the collapse of the communist regime not only with fine words was the “last and greatest joy of my life.”

“Ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit”

The “ecumenism of the martyrs,” the common confession of faith by the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians in the labour camps and prisons of the Soviet Union, was now to become transformed after the political turnaround into an “ecumenism of solidarity.”.Help in training new priests, the “chapel boats” which acted as floating churches visiting villages which had no houses of worship on the shores of the rivers Volga and Don, joint media initiatives intended to break down prejudices and to inform the faithful about the respective other Church and support in pastoral care for prisoners and drug addicts have all borne rich fruit, as has the support given to the first Orthodox hospice for terminally ill children. Numerous friendships and initiatives have emerged from these actions. The help given was not only one-sided since in Russia, where Catholic Christians are only a small minority, open-minded Orthodox clerics can be valuable helpers for the Catholic communities. Successive Popes have expressed the wish that this commitment be continued. Often mutual mistrust is based on ignorance and prejudices, and so it is important to get to know one another better and thus be able to come closer together.

“Ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not have hands or feet and so we Christians must become his hands and feet in the world.” With these words the young Protestant pastor Vladimir Tatarnikov from Belarus encapsulated what more and more Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians feel: that reconciliation is not just a theory, but something concrete. That it consists of words which are consciously spoken, of deeds which create facts, of steps which people take to come closer to one another. And that, in the final analysis, it is a gift of God.

In many countries there now exist successful ecumenical initiatives. For example, in Lutsk in the north-west of Ukraine an ecumenical benefit event is held every year. For this joint celebration, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants prepare a programme of Christmas carols, plays and dances.  The proceeds go to orphans. The programme is broadcast on state television. The fact that the Churches join together to help poor children also sets a good example to people who generally have nothing to do with the Christian faith.

“Not only a choice, but a duty” is how Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, describes the commitment to ecumenism. In many countries the collaboration between the different denominations and religions is, however, also a bitter necessity, since wherever hatred rules it can save lives if the representatives of the religious communities join together to advocate reconciliation and peace. In the spiral of violence into which the Central African Republic was drawn further and further in 2013/2014 it was the combined voices of Catholic, Protestant and Muslim religious leaders which could be heard opposing the law of vengeance and supporting reconciliation and reason. It is thanks to the joint intervention of representatives of the Churches and religions that it was possible to prevent massacres in many places; for example in Bozoum, a town in the north west of the country where the Italian Carmelite father Aurelio Gazzera joined with a Protestant pastor and an imam in January 2014 to conduct intensive peace negotiations and achieve the withdrawal of the Séléka rebels when it was feared there would be a massacre with hundreds of dead.

Always trusted in the power of God

 In view of the spreading persecution of Christians, collaboration is becoming more necessary than ever. Pope Francis said in December 2013 in an interview with the Italian newspaper “La Stampa” that, in view of the persecution of Christians, ecumenism was for him a “matter of priority” since in many countries Christians are being killed because they wear a crucifix or own a Bible. And before they are killed, they are not asked whether they are Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans or Orthodox believers. The blood is mixed.” It was the wish of Jesus that all should be one. Father Werenfried, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, who died twelve years ago on 31 January, always trusted in the power of God which opens the hearts of people to one another. The desire to build bridges and bring about reconciliation was the great mission in his life. Taking the first step in this direction was the major feature of Aid to the Church in Need  from the very beginning.

 

 

Journey with ACN – Iraq

© Aid to the Church in Need

JOURNEY WITH ACN is  our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have helped to bring into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week :   Iraq


“Nobody is angry at God”

The humanitarian situation of the Christian refugees in Iraq has improved – but the lack of future prospects is getting the people down

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International, 
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Suheila, an old Christian woman from Mosul was effusively expressing her gratitude as she met a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “May God make things easy for you in your lives.”

The elderly woman lives in the Sports Club Center in Ankawa, where more than 200 Christian families from Qaraqosh have sought refuge in mobile homes bought for them by Aid to the Church in Need. “This is really a big improvement. I’m grateful for it. But in general, of course, this is no life. We’ve lost everything. The worst thing is that we don’t know when or whether we will be able to return to our homeland.”

The woman has been fleeing since June. She ran for her life twice with thousands of other Christians when the Islamic terrorist militia ISIS overran Mosul in early June. “First we went to Qaraqosh. But when ISIS advanced there in August, we had to flee again. Now we have been here in Ankawa for four months. But none of us is angry at God. Fortunately we are all still alive.”

Major progress, and yet…

Irak-2Unforgettable images from August, when tens of thousands of Christians fleeing ISIS flooded the towns of Kurdistan have stayed with us.  Christians were panic-stricken and seen fleeing into the August heat. Given a lack of suitable accommodations, they often slept on the ground under the open sky, even in Ankawa, the Christian district of Erbil. The people lay on the pavement and under bushes – thankfully, much has happened since then. “I can see major progress since my last visit in August,” said Johannes Heereman, ACN’s president. In mid-December he visited Iraqi Kurdistan, where the majority of the roughly 120,000 Christians have found refuge. “It’s a great leap forward. The people are much better housed now. Many have found work and can therefore help support themselves. This is important because the assistance only secures a subsistence minimum. Even so the situation makes you despair of course because there are no prospects. There’s still no way of knowing when the places occupied by ISIS will be liberated.”

Irak-4In the meantime the local Church has not been twiddling its thumbs. “When the people arrived here they were totally traumatized,” reported Father Daniel, a young priest working in the Chaldean Mar Elia refugee camp in Ankawa where more than 800 Christians are living under 62 tents. “It wasn’t easy for the people to cope with the fact that they suddenly had nothing and had to live in tents. After all, previously they had been used to having their own houses. They also mistrusted one another. The children in particular were suffering in the situation. They saw their mothers crying and their fathers yelling. Then we began to structure their everyday routines to give the children something different to think about.” Games as well as dancing and singing competitions put a little joy back into their lives. “Today,” Father Daniel said, the children are a lot calmer. And the adults, who were completely apathetic at the beginning, are now also trying to get a grip on their lives again. Many have jobs in restaurants or on building sites in Erbil.”

In fact the camp gives a good impression. There’s no garbage lying around. The laundry is hanging tidily on washing lines strung between the tents. Even so, Father Daniel knows full well things can’t go on like this indefinitely. “Sure, we can improve the camp facilities by installing electricity and washrooms. That’s important and necessary. But the crucial thing is that the people be able to think beyond the present day again.”

Father Douglas Bazi, who manages the Mar Elia Camp, agrees. “The people won’t go along with it forever. Many want to leave Iraq. The desired destinations are Australia, America or Europe. They’ve lost all faith in a future here in Iraq. We can’t force the people to stay, and neither do we want to. Others in turn want to stay. Some of them want to return to their houses on the Nineveh Plain after it has been liberated. Others want to set up a new life here in Kurdistan. But it’s really important that we don’t lose the next generation. The crucial thing is, therefore, to enable the children to go to school again.”

It was a big leap forward when, in mid-December in Ankawa, the first school for Christian refugee children was opened. Seven other schools which have been funded by Aid to the Church in Need spread throughout Iraqi Kurdistan will follow.

More than 7,000 children will be able to attend school regularly again as of January 2015. Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, Chaldean spiritual leader of Erbil is grateful. “This is an important contribution towards giving our refugees new perspectives. We want to thank all benefactors for their generosity.”

Irak-3