PRESS RELEASE – Syria: Aid to the Church in Need pledges 3.27 million in emergency aid 

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To make a donation TO BRING AID TO SYRIA please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
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By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Königstein/Montreal, Monday, February 16, 2015 – The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has pledged millions in emergency aid in response to the catastrophic situation that has befallen millions of people in Syria after four years of war. More than 3.27 million dollars have been spent to fund a number of projects and to support those in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other cities who have been hard hit by the war, explained Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need.

Since the outbreak of violence in Syria in March of 2011, the situation of the country’s Christians in particular has deteriorated dramatically: hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands have been driven away. Families have lost members, and yes, their entire means of existence. Children and adolescents have been barred from attending school for months, sometimes years at a time. In addition to meeting the most immediate needs, the emergency aid seeks to offer Christians in Syria as well as the entire Middle East new prospects for the future. 

 

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

12.2 million affected

Father Andrzej Halemba said, “We are especially worried about the Christians in Aleppo and Damascus, but also the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Fear is ever present. It is intense, almost palpable, especially since the new so-called Islamic State was proclaimed. Bishop Audo of Aleppo told me, “Aleppo’s Christians are afraid that what happened in Mosul will also happen to them. This is a new, and unfortunately justified, fear of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Islamic State openly shows its murderous intentions against anyone who does not bend to its brand of extremism. They are proud of their cruelty against ‘unbelievers’ and blatantly fall back on the sword.”

According to Father Halemba, another reason the situation of the Syrian people has become so desperate is because the interest of the international community has noticeably waned and this despite the fact that the European Union has calculated that 12.2 million people are affected by the war in Syria. This brings the number of internally displaced persons to 7.8 million and the number of Syrians living in barely accessible parts of the country or war zones to 4.8 million.

It is estimated that 5.6 million children are directly affected by the war; the number of those who are no longer able to attend school lies at 3 million.

The aid money donated by Aid to the Church in Need has benefited thousands of families living in war-torn regions. The money is being used to provide basic foodstuffs, medicine, and emergency medical care, along with rent for housing as well as heating and electricity. The funds have also been allocated for the pastoral and charitable endeavours of Christians in Syria who are working in various communities to help their fellow Syrians obtain housing and care. For example, for Sisters in Al-Hasakah (Hassaké) in the north-eastern part of Syria by the Turkish border who are providing emergency medical care and distributing relief goods. Or for priests in Aleppo and Damascus who are helping supply the victims of the war with material and pastoral care.


 

Over the next few days on ACN’s blog – aidchurch.wordpress.com – you will have be able to read stories which, along with describing the situation as it is lived by Christians in Syria, will also give you access to poignant testimonials from religious workers on site, as well as other people living this unspeakable tragedy.

 

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Journey with ACN – Syria

© 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 :  Syria


A well for a Senior’s residence run by the Vincentian Sisters 

“Our survival is at stake” 

Over a century ago, in 1860, the St Vincent de Paul Society was first established in Lebanon. The city of Aleppo has also been home to the Vincentian Sisters who have been an active presence in Syria since the year 1898. But never in all their history have they ever faced so many difficulties or had to endure such catastrophic circumstances as they do now.

Sister Ella Bitar wrote to us from Lebanon on behalf of her fellow sisters in Syria who are still very much cut off from the rest of the world. “The survival and the continued existence of the Saint Mansour Charity Association (as the St Vincent de Paul Society is known here, for legal reasons) is at stake,” and tied to its survival, the fate of 31 residents and a staff of 10 at a senior’s residence in Aleppo.

At one time, they were happy and content in their large house found at Aleppo’s Old City centre. They had everything they needed – three meals a day and the careful loving nursing and medical care the Sisters provided. These seniors had the opportunity to attend Holy Mass at home and would sit outside on the roof, relax, and take in the open air – that is, until the snipers moved in. Fortunately, so far, the only damage has been to the house itself, and no harm has come to the residents, nor to the staff.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

However, another immense problem they are facing, on account of the current embargo, is securing basic provisions. Prior to the war, around 150 – 300 Syrian pounds (around $7.50) a day was enough to feed and care for each resident. But today, the cost has risen to 2,500 – 3,500 (around $23) per day. Only a few streets in this city have provisions such as food for sale since the sale of goods was fully under the control of the terrorists for a very long time. The army only recently liberated these streets making them accessible to the population.

Most of the time, the senior’s home uses its own generator for power since the supply of electricity has become quite unreliable and fuel prices have exploded – fuel and oil are vital for heating in winter in this part of the world and  are also used for running generators.

The most effected and serious part of the homes’ needs is in fact the water situation. For example in May of this year, the water supply was completely cut-off for 12 whole days. The residents survived on the mineral water– at the cost of extra effort, expense and worry.

So that they can be independent of the public water supply, the Vincentian Sisters would like to drill their own well. It will require a borehole of 100 – 150 metres in depth (300 to 450 feet) and it will cost anywhere from $17- $23 per metre. “It is simply impossible to predict this more accurately in these uncertain times,” writes Sister Ella being realistic. No help can be expected from anywhere in the region. “Our sources of income are dwindling. The wealthier people have already left Aleppo, and indeed the country altogether.”

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
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 We would like to help the Sisters and relieve them of this worry, they still need $3,500.

Syria – “Our Church is in danger” 

Aid to the Church in Need supports severely war-afflicted Christians of Homs

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

ACN-20140424-07775

© ACN -Sister Maria de Nazaret

It is a very special mission Sister Maria de Nazaret has committed herself to. The Argentinean nun from the Institute of the Incarnate Word has been living in Aleppo for two months, the former million-strong metropolis in the north of Syria which has been the subject of fierce fighting for years.

Previously, she worked in Gaza City for a long time. Therefore Sister Maria de Nazaret knows the flash points in the Middle-East. “Our task in this country is very special. We are constantly confronted with people’s suffering. The war is having a profoundly deleterious effect on human dignity. People are losing their loved ones, their freedom and their rights due to the violence. On top of this, there is poverty and a lack of the most basic things, such as electricity and water,” the young nun reports.

She lives in the Apostolic Vicariate of the Latin Rite in Aleppo in the company of a few other nuns. The Roman Catholics in Syria fall under the Vicariate. “We work in a hostel for girls studying at the university. The institution belongs to the Vicariate. We also take care of the sacristy and the liturgy in the cathedral. On top of that we look after the faithful who visit the cathedral. The main task of devotees at places like this is to listen to the people who are suffering, speak words of hope to them and to help them the best one can to satisfy their most important needs. Certainly only the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ can bring about the miracle of sowing the seed of hope in these souls.”

“Please pray for us every day”

Sister Maria Nazaret places all her hope in prayer. She expressly thanks the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their prayers. “Please pray for us every day. We need this. But we also include you in our daily prayers.” On the hazardous journey to Aleppo Sister Maria de Nazaret was able to see something of the devastation which the three-year-long war has wreaked in the country. “We saw a lot of towns which had been completely destroyed and were uninhabited. The war is really a terrible and cruel thing.”

ACN-20140901-13249

© ACN

 

Archbishop Jean Abdo Arbach knows this. The Greek-Catholic spiritual leader of Homs reported to ACN how seriously his diocese has been affected. Dozens of churches, some from as far back as the 4th century, have been damaged or destroyed. “During the night of February 20th, 2014, an armed gang broke into the Church of Our Lady of Yabroud, a 4th century church. They destroyed the fittings in the church, smashed the crucifix, threw the icons on the floor and tore the pages out of the evangeliary. Then the gang burned the altar,” the Archbishop said. Other churches were destroyed not by the rebels, but by the Syrian army, however. Archbishop Arbach quoted the example of the Church of St. George in Nabek, which was destroyed by army bombardment in November 2013.

© ACN

© ACN Archbishop Jean Abdo Arbach

An uncertain fate for his archdiocese

But it’s not only the infrastructure of the diocese that is in desperate straits, including the churches, monasteries and the parochial houses. It’s mainly the people of the region, which have been the subject of the fiercest fighting in the country since the start of the civil war. “To date our archdiocese has had 96 martyrs. The fate of 26 people is uncertain,” the Archbishop said. More than 1,800 families from his diocese have left their houses to seek safety within Syria or to flee directly into countries such as Lebanon. “During my visits to the houses of the families and from the reports by my priests I have established that everyone has been impoverished by the tragic events. We have begun to grant about 600 families monthly assistance.” According to Archbishop Arbach, the high inflation rate in particular is causing people difficulty. “The prices are shooting up while wages are stagnating.”

Despite all the hardships, the Archbishop sees no sign however of a collapse in religious life. On the contrary, “During the crisis there has been a major return to the faith and to prayer by the people who have not left their villages. In spite of the fear, the bombs and the explosions, the families are remaining loyal to their religious convictions.” Regardless of the difficulties, the diocese is continuing with its catechistic endeavours in order to ensure that the faith is passed on to the children and young. “About 3300 young people take part in our catecheses. About 350 instructors look after them.” But Archbishop Arbach mentioned the problems to which religious instruction is also subject. “A number of catechistic centres have been bombed and destroyed, for example in Al-Qusayr.” He is therefore asking for help in reconstructing or restoring the centres and in fitting them out with technical equipment.  He is particularly concerned about the poor who receive assistance from the Church, as well as the sick and the refugees. “Our Church needs help of all kinds: spiritual, material, medical and psychological. The Church in this part of Syria will be in real danger if we don’t react quickly.”

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.

 

Aid to the Church in Need has promised Archbishop Arbach help for his humanitarian and religious work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Syria – Aleppo is facing the danger of a slow death

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.

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

How the international Catholic  charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the humanitarian and pastoral work of the Church in Syria

ACN-20131218-03848

©AED/ACN

 Montreal/Königstein, September 2, 2014. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is providing another $516,000  in emergency aid for the people of Syria. The money will once more be used to support pastoral and humanitarian projects in the country, which has been suffering for over three years now from the bloody civil war there. The main priority will be to get the help to the needy population in various parts of the country.

Among the projects supported is an aid center in Aleppo, formerly a city of over two million and torn apart by warfare since July 2012. “Aleppo is facing the risk of dying a slow death,” Sister Annie Demerjian, of the community of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, tells ACN. The charity has already helped her twice in the past.

ACN-20140901-13247

©AED/ACN

The present tranche of aid is intended to help supply the basic necessities of life which she and her team are providing for the people of Aleppo under their care. Once the most populous city in Syria, this northern metropolis is thought to have shrunk to around just half a million people and is suffering badly from the ongoing fighting and the collapse of its infrastructure. The water and electricity supply is inadequate, and most people have forgotten what it is like to eat meat or fresh fruit, as Sister Annie tells us in her moving appeal. Most of the houses in her area have been destroyed, and those people who survived have been forced to flee. “Where are they going to find refuge? How are they going to repair their houses?” she asks. Rats, snakes and other vermin are making matters still worse. “If we want the Christians to remain in the Middle East, then we must help them with what they need in order to survive,” she concludes.

Supporting charitable work

Similarly, in the once fiercely contested city of Homs in Western Syria and in a number of smaller towns and villages around it, ACN is supporting the charitable and humanitarian work of the Church. Around half the population of this city of 1.6 million souls have been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in other parts of the city. Around a quarter have left Homs altogether.

SYRIE-3

Added to these are the refugees from the surrounding areas. Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal wants to provide some 3,000 families with basic necessities such as foodstuffs and articles of hygiene. Some 15,000 to 18,000 people in need will be provided with washing powder, soap and towels, and also with necessities for the coming winter, such as blankets and warm clothing. Those in need include both refugees from outside and inhabitants of the city. “In Homs the number of people who are dependent on support for such things as foodstuffs and articles of hygiene is growing, since many people are unemployed now and have no source of income,” Father Ziad tells ACN. On top of this, inflation is rampant.

In order to prevent tensions arising between the refugees from outside and the original population of the city, the aid goods are being distributed to both groups. Basically, as Father Ziad explains, the Church is providing support to all those in need, regardless of religion, gender or political affiliation. A large proportion of the Christian population of Homs have sought refuge in the so-called “Valley of the Christians,” in the region around Marmarita. Thanks to the funds provided by ACN, Father Ziad is also able to provide somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 people there with articles of hygiene and winter clothing.

Supporting pastoral work

In addition to such urgent humanitarian projects, ACN is also supporting the pastoral work of the Catholic Church in Syria. It is thanks to support from ACN that the Byzantine Catholic parish of Saint Cyril in Damascus can continue providing catechetical instruction to children and young people there. In addition to the provision of catechisms and the payment of staff and running costs, some of the money is also spent on providing Christmas presents for the children. “The catechetical centre in our parish is more than simply a religious centre. It is also almost the only consolation for some 500 children,” says the parish priest, Father Joseph Lajin.

SYRIE-4Every Friday the children gather at the centre, partly for instruction in the Catholic faith, but also in order to find a little bit of rest and recreation, he explains. At the heart of it is the education for peace, in the spirit of the Gospel, he says. “It is not easy, when a generation has heard about and seen nothing else but the atrocities of ISIS, to educate them in a spirit of peace and forgiveness, of acceptance of the other and love of one’s enemy.”

According to UN statistics, over 150,000 people have been killed so far during the conflict in Syria. More than 10 million people within the country are dependent on humanitarian aid. Over 6 million are regarded as internal refugees, while more than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Since the war began, in March 2011, ACN has provided a total of approximately 5 million dollars in aid for the people of Syria and for the Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries. In 2014 alone the charity supplied a total of 1,8 ,million dollars in emergency aid for the war victims and refugees of Syria.

Syria – “I come to you because my people suffer”

Mark Riedemann, ACN International

Adaptded by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada

 

“Many Muslims are now shy to declare themselves Muslim. I have heard several Muslim say to me: ‘I am ashamed – I do not understand that Islam is like that’. So I think it is the time for a true dialogue. I think it is the day of the Lord perhaps. So I have to take my Cross in my hand, even if I’m 70, and begin my mission again – and I feel myself a man of 45.” With these words, the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, voiced his dedication to those whom he calls ‘his people’ during a visit to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

ACN-20140721-11551

 

Struggling to survive

The war in Syria is now three years old. The suffering is indescribable, the devastation terrible. Hundreds of thousands of families in mourning, millions of refugees who no longer know where to turn and so hide at home, hunting day and night to feed their children. Archbishop Jeanbart explains that a barbaric scorched earth policy has left nothing untouched in its passage – thousands of industries damaged and tens of thousands of schools, hospitals and dispensaries destroyed. “All the structures, all the infrastructure, the heritage, all the industry – they have destroyed every single means of income for these people. People have no way to live in the cities – of course in the country they are farmers and they can live – but in the cities … Aleppo has lost 1400 industrial structures, this is a suffering.”

The Christian population too has not been left unscathed. Before the war there were approximately 150,000 Christians, states the Archbishop and Aleppo was home to numerous churches serving a Christian community present in the city since the third century. Today approximately 100,000 Christians, struggling to survive, remain. With inflation at 200 percent, the little income earned buys little and it is for these families that the Catholic Church is providing emergency food baskets. 1400 families receive bread, oil, sugar, rice, butter, pasta, tea and sweets every day.  “Everything that we provide is attached to bread as it is the most nourishing,” says Archbishop Jeanbart.

With the destruction Aleppo’s industries, thousands of fathers found themselves without work, without an income to allow the minimum provisions for their family.  “In this we have also provided emergency support, to give a monthly sum equivalent to half a salary each month. It is not much but 400 Christian families benefit from this financial support and, with the help of God, we hope to continue until the fathers of these families find work again.”

 

ACN-20140722-11596

 

Muslims  take note of  Catholic charity

 

Archbishop Jeanbart explains that the Church structures too have been targeted. More than 18 bombs have struck and damaged the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s house located less than 300 meters from the demarcation line in the old city. The Church of St. Michael has been hit by two rockets, the Church of St. Demetrius situated in a quarter along the demarcation line has been the target of a number of mortar shells and the church in the village of Tabaka is in ruins.

“I am here because my people suffer,” says Archbishop Jean-Clement his tired voice cracking. The electricity is bad. Water is also very bad. We have some wells. We have dug three wells at three different churches. At the Cathedral we have reopened a well that dates back some 100 years and we are distributing water to the population.  We have to do what we can to help.” The Catholic Church is also providing help to Muslim families and Muslims have taken note of the Catholic charity. “There are many Muslims that say: ‘Look, the priests are the ones who are working.’ This is a beautiful witness and even Muslims ask us to intercede for them to get help from the Red Cross or the Red Crescent – they understand that we are a reference for charity and mercy.”

The faith of this 70 year Archbishop has not always been so unshakeable. “I have been a Bishop 18 years now. I did all I could to help our people to stay. And then came the war. Two years ago I was depressed; it was very bad, but then the Lord helped me to see things in another light, which again allowed me to take up my courage, my hope, and to fight against this Christian flight. I realized that what happens does not depend on us. Even if we only have the poor remaining, we will help them to grow and to be the people that we need to be a witness. I thought it is the time to work; it is the time to fight. Over all these years I look to the day of freedom which will allow us Christians to bear witness to Christ.”

 

A cautious optimism

Slowly, and only in some of the larger cities, a certain level of security is being established. According to the Archbishop, the government army advances have created security zones. Increasingly in Aleppo checkpoints are being removed. With a cautious optimism, Archbishop Jeanbart looks to the future and is already planning. “The poor people, the Christian workers will not find work when peace comes. They will be perhaps one or two years without finding any job.  For this reason, I thought to start a training program for construction work.”

Christians, with a greater focus on education, have historically not participated in the construction industry. Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart recognizes this weakness and that the immediate important sector of work will be the rebuilding, the restoration of buildings that have been destroyed. “Everything is completely destroyed or stolen.  When the war stops the reconstruction of houses will start immediately. We have to start preparing now to allow Christians to start getting jobs in this industry. Without work, the young people will leave.”

With hope and projects in hand the Archbishop laid out his plans. “I ask Aid to the Church in Need to continue to be a partner in this struggle. I want you to be beside us in these very hard moments – to help people to stay – because you have the same objective. We have been here for 2000 years. The Church grew up in Syria.  If the Church was born on the Cross, it did not live in Jerusalem. The Christians came to Syria, to Damascus.  St. Paul didn’t find any Christians to arrest in Jerusalem, he had to go to Syria to catch them – it means that the Church was living in Syria two years after the Resurrection.” The Archbishop also awaits this Resurrection.

ACN-20131219-03884