Growing fears for the safety of Syrians

By John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

Iraq, June 2010Father Emanuel Youkhana in his officePhoto: CAACN, Montreal – Wednesday, February 25, 2015 – Fears are growing for the safety of more than 100 people taken captive yesterday (Tuesday, February 24) as the extremist group Islamic State (IS) seized Christian villages in Hassake governorate, north-east Syria.

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who works in support of persecuted Christians in the region, received a telephone update on the situation from a contact in Hassake city around midnight last night and relayed the latest information in a message sent to Catholic agencies, including Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), early this morning.

He wrote: “The 24 families from Tel Gouran, 34 families from Tel Jazira, and 14 fighters (12 male and 2 females) from Tel Hormizd are captured and taken to the Arab Sunni village of Um Al-Masamier.” Up to now, the number of people making up the abducted families, has not been confirmed.

“They are alive so far, but the men are separated from women and children.”

An urgent need of action

Commenting on how some local Sunni Arabs had assisted IS, he said: “Um Al-Masamier is another Syrian example of what we witnessed in Iraq on how the Arab Sunni joining and supporting IS to attack their long years Christian and Yezedian neighbours.”

Archimandrite Youkhana went on to describe the latest situation in the various villages: “The 50+ families in Tel Shamiran are still surrounded. It is unclear if IS will attack the village? Can PYD [Democratic Union Kurdish Party] fighters change the situation before the village been taken by IS?”

He reported that in Tel Tamar a car bomb exploded, but no casualties were reported. Three mortar shells were fired into Tel Nasri from the other side of Khabour River. Again no casualties were reported.

PYD fighters have retaken Toma Yelda hill, which is of strategic importance. Archimandrite Youkhana wrote: “By now, only around 200 families are still in Khabour region, more than 100 [are] in Tel Tamar and others [are] in different villages not controlled by IS. Around 1,000 families from Khabour are displaced in Hassake and Qamishli.“

“His Grace Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel [of the Assyrian Church of the East] who resides in Hassake and hasn’t left it despite all difficulties, is doing his best to host and support the displaced. However, due to the lack of resources and the long years of the disaster, there is an urgent need of action to support the displaced families through the Church.“

Archimandrite Youkhana added: “Our thoughts are with the suffering people. We pray for an end to this long history of persecution in our countries.”

SYRIA / NATIONAL 15/00138 Emergency help for 1200 families from






ACN Interview – Jerusalem

© Ilona Budzbon / Aid to the Church in Need

Jerusalem, Holy Land

“Nineteen Christian families have left Bethlehem”

Franciscan Custos Pierbattista Pizzaballa talks with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the violence in the Holy Land and its consequences


©Aid to the Church in Need

by Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

Aid to the Church in Need: Father Custos, with unrest on the Muslim Temple Mount and the terror attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly taking on a religious dimension. Do you fear that a national conflict will be turned into a religious one?

There is that risk. On the other hand, one should not forget that this religious dimension has always existed. Religion has always been part of the problem. Now, there is the risk that the religious dimension will become pre-eminent. But we are not the only ones who are concerned about this.

I am under the impression that the respective politicians are working to calm things down. I don’t know whether it may not already be too late for this. Like I said: the religious aspect will always be there. What is crucial is keeping it as small as possible.

Aid to the Church in Need: However, would you agree that the crux of the conflict is still the fight of two peoples for the same piece of land?

Yes. But like I said, it is not that easy to separate the religious aspect from the national one. To be a good patriot, you either have to be a good Muslim or a good Jew. You also have to realize that the lay movements on both sides, both in Israel and in Palestine, have become very weak during the past twenty years.

However, I don’t believe that politicians such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas want to transform the conflict into a religious one. But it is true that religious parties on both sides are working in this direction.

Aid to the Church in Need: Also in Israel?

© Aid to the Church in Need

©Ilona Budzbon / Aid to the Church in Need

Yes. Take the national religious parties. I am not saying that everyone in Israeli society wants this. But the risk of an increasingly religious dimension is there and we have to do everything in our power to avoid it.

Aid to the Church in Need: Most recently there was unrest on the Islamically administered Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jews are trying to enforce their right to pray there. Up until now, they have been prohibited from doing so, also under Israeli law. Do you believe that this should change?

© Aid to the Church in Need

©Ilona Budzbon / Aid to the Church in Need

According to traditional Jewish views, Jews are forbidden from entering the Mount where the Jewish temple once stood. Thus the religion in and of itself is not the problem, but the mixing of religion and politics. However, this is what is happening at the moment. Up until now, the status quo on the Temple Mount has always been respected in Israel. If this is changed, it will transform the conflict in a religious direction that will be irreversible.

Aid to the Church in Need: The year 2014 was not a good one in terms of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. In April, peace talks were broken off, in the summer war broke out in Gaza, now in autumn Jerusalem has been plagued by terror. Are we further away from peace than ever before?

I don’t know whether we are further away from it than ever before. But we are doubtlessly far away from peace. I can’t see that there is any possibility of changing the situation in the near future. There is deep-seated frustration and a profound lack of mutual trust between these two peoples.

Aid to the Church in Need: What would have to happen to build up trust?

It will take a long time. And there are no easy solutions. What we are seeing at the moment is the result of years of hate and frustration. You have to start in the schools and in society. You have to give the Palestinians something concrete and not just promises. And the Israelis also have to feel as if they have a contact person on the other side.

Aid to the Church in Need: Could the Christians in the Holy Land play a role in this?

Here in the Holy Land, we Christians are irrelevant. There are too few of us. In addition, we are confessionally divided. We can’t even agree on who cleans what in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. How then are we supposed to be a model for unity and reconciliation? This is why we cannot be the ones to build the bridge. However, we can of course provide opportunities for encounters. After all, every church has interreligious fora. However, I don’t believe that there is very much else we can do.

Aid to the Church in Need: How are Christians in the Holy Land affected by the violence and tension?

Naturally we feel the massive decline in religious tourism. As compared to last year, we have had a sixty per cent drop in visitors to the holy sites since the Gaza War. That is a dramatic decline. It is only climbing back up slowly. But those Christians who live from tourism are used to this. These kinds of conflicts occur every few years. However, in addition to the economic dimension, frustration is also on the rise among Christians. Nineteen Christian families have left Bethlehem for Europe and America in the past two, three months.

Aid to the Church in Need: What is the reason for this?

All Christians are appalled by what is happening in Iraq at the hands of ISIS. It was also a horrendous shock for the Christians in the Holy Land. It strengthens the feeling that there is no future for Christians in the Middle East, that they are not wanted here. Added to this is the frustration that peace has failed to appear.

Aid to the Church in Need: Two reasons are given to explain the emigration of Christians from Palestine: the consequences of Israeli occupation and the Islamization of Palestinian society. What do you consider the main reason?

There is no “either or,” only a “not only but also.” The one does not exclude the other. From an economic standpoint, life in the Palestinian areas is very difficult. On the other hand, relations with the Islamic community are not the same as they once were. All of that plus everything else that is going on around us and you get a feeling of hopelessness.

Aid to the Church in Need: Israel is currently discussing a nation state bill that would establish the Jewish character of the state. Will this happen at the expense of Israeli democracy with its large Arabian minority, including its many Christians?

Now, it is nothing new that Israel considers itself a Jewish and democratic state. This has been the case ever since the state was founded. I believe that the bill currently under discussion will not fundamentally change the situation of the minorities, including the Christians. However, it will intensify the feelings of reserve that minorities in Israel harbour towards the state. It will make them even more convinced that they are not really wanted here.


©Ilona Budzbon / Aid to the Church in Need

Aid to the Church in Need: Looking beyond the Holy Land: with the advance of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, has the year 2014 been a turning point for Christianity in the Middle East in general?

Yes, 2014 has been a turning point. What World War I was for Europe, this year was for the Middle East. The old orders no longer exist. However, we don’t know yet what the new will look like. In Syria, for example, hundreds of thousands of Christians are fleeing. The middle class is leaving the country. What is left are the poor. The ecclesiastical infrastructure that we built up in Aleppo and other such regions of the country has been destroyed or abandoned. We are faced with enormous tasks. We not only have to rebuild the Christian community, but also the relationship with the Muslim majority.

© Aid to the Church in Need

©Ilona Budzbon / Aid to the Church in Need

All projects underway adding up to a total amount of 5.77 million CAN – one of the largest efforts in ACN’s history – shows the scale of the drama experienced by our Iraqi brothers and sisters.  If our partners recognize us for our support, we still know that they are far from the end of this unspeakable catastrophe. The threat remains and the fragility of their hearts no less persistent.
This is why we still your help to continue supporting our brothers and sisters of the Middle-East trapped and forced to seek refuge elsewhere in their country… if not in another.

Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director



© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need


ACN helps kids go back to school 

John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom
Adapted by Amanda Bridget-Griffin

RANIA and Ranin are inseparable. The twins, who have just turned 10, both enjoy school or at least they did until they were forced to flee their homes as Islamic State forces advanced. We met Rania and Ranin and their mother Thirka, in Ankawa, outside the Kurdish capital, Erbil, where they are sharing a tent with other families in the compound of St Joseph’s Chaldean Church. It was early October when we saw them and Thirka was anxious about the start of the school year, which the twins and their brother, Habib, a year older, had already missed.

It is for children such as Ranin, Rania and Habib that Aid to the Church in Need has committed 2.9 million for schooling projects. Under the scheme, eight schools will be built: four in Ankawa and another four in the Dohuk province in the far north of Kurdish northern Iraq.

On our very first day in northern Iraq, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil proudly took us to see the new porta-cabin Mar Yamana School (St. Mary’s School) being developed in Ankawa. The school will provide for 900 children, classes divided into morning and afternoon rotations of 450 each, and next door a clinic is being created, run by the Ankawa-based Holy Cross Sisters so any medical needs they have can quickly be dealt with. With 120,000 Christians now descended on Kurdistan, there are teachers and others in the education profession among their number willing and able to join the staff, their salaries met by the government.

Greeted with news of the schools, Rania and Ranin’s mother is immediately enthusiastic. “Thank you for offering your kind support,” she says. Thirka, who dresses in black, continues to grieve her husband, a policeman in Qaraqosh, killed five years ago attending the scene of a bomb blast. “I was just beginning to cope with life without my husband,” says Thirka, “but being forced to leave our homes has made life impossible. “To have no school for the children to go to is a disaster. If they are to have any hope for the future, school is an absolute necessity.”


Aid to the Church in Need announces 12 urgent aid packages for Iraq to help the thousands of displaced Iraqi Christians. They are to receive food, shelter, schooling and gifts for children in a concerted emergency relief program rushed through by aCatholic charity before the onset of winter. The 4 million Euros scheme announced by Aid to the Church in Need – 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.

ACN helps kids go back to school

Press Release – Aid to the Church in Need announces 12 urgent aid packages for Iraq

©Aid to the Church in Need

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 to the Church in Need

©Aid to the Church in Need

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.

©Aid to the Church in Need

©Aid to the Church in Need

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.”

©Aid to the Church in Need

©Aid to the Church in Need

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.

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.

Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Christians of the Middle East

We truly believe that prayer can help our brothers and sisters in Iraq avoid a worsened massacre even though they may be suffering now because they fled their homes. Let us not lose sight that the situation is a horrible and that winter is quickly approaching.




“We have the Rosary as a weapon which has proven its power over centuries. We have the supplication of Mary Mother of God who always asks us to pray the Rosary, to repent and to convert,” said Father Werenfried van Straaten

We invite you all, while reading the following meditations, to join with us in prayer for them.


????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The First Sorrowful Mystery


 (Sister Muntaha)


“Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane…and he said to them, I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me”. Jesus came back and found them sleeping… They simply could not keep their eyes open… So great is his anguish that His sweat becomes as drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Mt:26).

We, also, O Jesus, already forced in the night of August 8, 2014, to abandon our Christian cities in the Nineveh Plain. We, also, having escaped from the face of evil and lost the way of safety, with the screams of the children and the confusion of the youths, and the crying of the old people, and with the bitterness of leaving our houses, our schools, and our churches to live in the camps of the refugees, in poverty and indifference. In this our suffering, we our feel our closeness to you and your nearness to us. With you, we trust our existence and our destiny in the lovely hands of the Father, and we say: “But do what you want and not what I want” (Mt. 26:42). Give us the courage to drink the chalice, hoping in the salvation and the resurrection with you and with all who suffer in the world.       





?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The Second Sorrowful Mystery


 (Deacon Ibrahim)


In the mystery, we share with you O Virgin Mary, the sorrow and the pain which you endured when your Son had been scourged with injustice and false testimony, and they could not accuse him of any crime.

Our mother Mary, this is the condition of your Christian people, despite our loyalty and belief and our honesty we were flagellated and persecuted for our faith in Jesus Christ your Son. So, is it fair that ISIS destroyed our lands and possessed everything that we owned, and took our daughters and our youths?

We ask you today, O blessed Mother, we Christians of Iraq, to help us in our sorrows and our sufferings, caused by the violence and the religious oppression that expelled us from our villages and our houses.



ACN-20131111-02457The Third Sorrowful Mystery


(Father Aghnatios)


After you endured the severe pains, O Redeemer, they crowned you with thorns, and they mocked you, because you said that you are a King. Their hearts detested you, and their eyes were blinded by their rancor and hatred. You crowned the earth by the glory of the Heaven, but they crowned you by thorns, You who came to bring Love and Mercy among peoples.  

We also, the Christians of the Middle East in general, and Iraq especially, we are enduring today the pains of oppression and ethnic cleansing and displacement and hostility. We are drinking the chalice of pain and facing insults, and we are still silent! We have been crowned with thorns like our Master; we participate in his pains; so let us participate in the glory of his Resurrection!    

O Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, we ask you for the grace to imitate your son Jesus in each time of mockery and oppression and displacement. Teach us to contemplate the image of your Son crowned with thorns, as you did. Help us to discover His love for us and for all those who cause pain to humanity.         



ANKAWA-6The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery


(Chaldean Seminarian Martin)


As you carried your cross O Lord, we carried it too. We lost everything except the cross hanging around our necks and in our cars. We looked at this cross when we were force to leave our houses. It is the cross of the pain and the hope, the cross of the sadness and the hope, the cross of the resistance and the steadiness of those who endure injustice but responds to it in love, even when we feel that the injustice is increasing.

We carried this Cross from our lands in Nineveh to other lands, and we still hang on to it. In spite of all this, you can see the smiles on our faces; you feel the goodness of our neighbors.  We are full of hope and trust in you O Lord.

We are still carrying the Cross for you said: “who wants to follow me he must deny himself and carry his cross and follow me,” so we left everything for your name, our villages, churches, houses, families. But we are waiting to go back and raise the Cross again above our churches, our hills, our houses, so everyone on this earth is glorified in your cross.






The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery


(Sister Luma)


O my God, I place in your hands my land, people, my crucified and suffering church. I place my people who have lost the meaning of the joy of the Resurrection, and my land, which does not promise any green growth because of the dryness and heat!

Yes, O my God, we need you, and we need your help, for you said to us: “do not be afraid I am with you all the days.” 
We still hope and dream to return to our land, and walk by its streets. It is so long that we have hoped this, and we still dream of the beautiful days that we had together with our people.

O Lord, help us to go back to our lands and houses.






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.

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako speaks out: PLEASE DON’T FORGET US

Dear benefactors and interested followers – The Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako spoke out at a recent conference on the question of Christians in the Middle East, which was held with financial support from “Aid to the Church in Need” on the fringe of the plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. We feel it is important to share his thoughts and very clear requests made to the international community with you. We urge you to share this message with those around you.

Geneva 16.9.2014

Blessed are those who work for peace,

They shall be called children of God




Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am touched and grateful to you for your presence here. It shows that you are not indifferent to the tragedy of our people.


         ISIS is an extremist organization, guided with blind principles of brutality, well-funded, well-armed with sophisticated weapons, widely present in the social media. The daily practice of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of all those who are seen as nonbelievers is common. They are able to recruit fighters from across the globe. Isis is a potential threat to the entire world.

So in the name of all the persecuted I beg and urge all leaders to find a strategy – a road map to end the present tragedy and prevent also future threats.

Here are some requests –  what should be done right now and later:


  • To continue providing humanitarian aid of shelter, food, water, medicine and clothing to survive till the return of our people to their homes and villages.
  • To liberate not only the plain of Nineveh, but also Mosul by a comprehensive political solution. An international coalition with the mandate of UN is needed to protect and defend the rights of defenseless displaced thousands in this region. Airstrikes only will kill innocent people. There should be troops on the ground and why not from the Arab countries. It is necessary to train the Iraqi central army professionally and to equip it and also the Kurdish Peshmerga.
  • To support the safe return of the displaced people to their homes and villages and to ensure them of international protection. This should be guaranteed by a UN resolution otherwise we would have the same destiny like the Palestinians.
  • To guarantee that the displaced persons are given adequate compensation for their lost properties and destroyed houses by the Iraqi Government. Here other governments, aid organisations and NGOs can contribute a lot.
  • To put the Christian heritage sites which go back to the early centuries under the patronage and protection of UNESCO.
  • All the mentioned measures are necessary. But the protection of human rights of every single citizen is the best and only way to secure a peaceful coexistence. War is always evil and bringing misfortune to the people. Let us examine our conscience what we are doing to prevent war. What about the arm sales? Instead of selling weapons human rights and religious freedom of all should be promoted.

Thank you for your sympathy to the fate of our suffering people. Please take our case to your governments, to your political parties, to your institutions, to your churches and mosques.