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.”

 

 

Journey with ACN – Tanzania

© 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:   Tanzania

Seminarians train for the priesthood 

In the Archdiocese of Tabora, in central western Tanzania, there are 35 seminarians waiting for your support, for without it they cannot continue their studies, or one day be ordained to the priesthood.

Tabora is one of five archdioceses in Tanzania established in 1953 by the White Fathers, who had been working in this area since 1878. It has 23 parishes and 51 priests – a number too low for Father Kibobera Makona, the priest responsible for the vocations apostolate in the diocese. “Of the more than 2 million people living in the archdiocese, some 450,000 are Catholics. Muslims are a majority in this region.

The reason there are so few parishes, is because there is a shortage of priests. In fact, many parishes have actually had to be closed down already for this reason. We have so much to do and we need priests,” he emphasizes. Not surprisingly, he rejoices all the more at every candidate who feels called to the priesthood and is admitted to train for it. The 35 major seminarians currently training here need our help, since the cost of living have risen in Tanzania and the archdiocese cannot afford the full cost of their training – which in Tanzania lasts a total of nine years.

ACN-20141014-14623

The candidates work in the archdiocese in their first year, followed by three years of philosophy, four years of theology and then a pastoral year, working in the parishes. Currently there are 13 seminarians in the philosophy years and 20 in the theology years, while two seminarians have completed their pastoral year and have now been ordained as deacons.

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 a contribution of $17,160 dollars to cover the expenses and studies of these seminarians for an entire year! During this time it is expected that 14 young men will be ordained to the priesthood. “While the diocese is seeking ways to fund the training of these future priests, we appeal to your generosity to help us for the support and formation of these seminarians,” writes Archbishop Paul Rusoka. We are convinced that with your help, they will indeed succeed!

 

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 – 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 – 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.”

 

ACN pledges its solidarity with the Syrian people

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.

This is but a beginning for a situation where the needs are immense. 

In response to the catastrophic situation hat has befallen millions of people in Syria following 4 years of war, the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has pledged millions in emergency aid 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 NeedThis is but a beginning for a situation where the needs are immense. 

ACN-20150206-19841

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.

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

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. These stories show how imperative it is to show our solidarity, here and now, with our suffering brothers and sisters in the Church.