ACN Press Release: Syria Extremists IS – seize Christian towns

Iraq, June 2010 Father Emanuel Youkhana in his office Photo: CAPNI

By John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Montreal – Tuesday, February 14, 2015 – According to recent reports, one hundred Assyrian Christians in the north-eastern region of Khabour in Syria’s Hassake governate, have been captured and are being held by the extremist Islamist organization IS following attacks on several Assyrian villages yesterday morning, the 23rd of February, and provoking a mass exodus of hundreds toward Hassake city and leaving many trapped and surrounded as the soldiers advanced.

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, leader of the Assyrian Christians and head of CAPNI (Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq) told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he had spoken to a CAPNI contact, who prefers to remain anonymous, in Hassake city, where hundreds of families have fled, “Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel… told me the church and community hall are overloaded with the people and they are now [sending] them to the families in Hassake city.”

“The fight started Monday early morning 4am Syrian time when IS opened a 40km long battle front from Tel Shamiram to Tel Hormizd. IS took advantage of [the fact that the] PYD (Democratic Union Kurdish Party) [had] been fighting in other places – mainly the Syrian-Iraqi borders. So, there were less resistance to face IS fighters. In general, IS was supported by Arab Sunni neighboring villages.”

The destiny of these families of major concern

The situation for Christians is extremely difficult, “There are no clear numbers of the families, but more than 600 families managed to flee. Most of them are in Hassake,” where we are told the people have found refuge in churches – and around 200 others in Qamishly.

“Unfortunately,” explains Archimandrite Youkhana to ACN as told to him by the anonymous source, “most of the families failed to escape and were captured by IS. – 50 families in Tel Shamiran, 26 families in Tel Gouran, 28 families in Tel Jezira, and 14 young people (12 males and 2 females) who were defending Tel Hormiz had been seized by IS and separated men from women and children.” Knowing the brutal barbaric record of IS with the captured, the destiny of those families is a major concern to us,” he added.  One of these sad examples was the martyring of you Milad, only 17 years of age.

According to Archmandrite Youkhana, at least two villages – Tal Shamiran and Tal Hermiz – were still surrounded by IS yesterday evening. The churches in both villages have been torched. “According to the source, IS been defeated in Kobane some places, [but] it tried to gain in other places.” The water level of the Khabur River was able to serve as a natural defense for some villages on the other side of the river.  Some villagers witnessed fires burning in other villages further on which had been seized by IS.

Father Emanuel Youkahna (Iraq) with displaced peoplePhoto: CAP

Father Emanuel Youkahna (Iraq) with displaced people  Photo: CAPNI

But Archmandrite Youkhana also drew attention to acts of solidarity between Sunni Muslims and the attacked Christians. “Arab Sunni villagers nearby Assyrian village of Qaber Shamiat rescued 15 Assyrians (13 males and two females) who are protected by them and are expected to be guided and transported to Hassake, to the church,” he said.

There are 35 Assyrian villages in the Khabour region which were founded in the 1930s following the August massacre in 1933 which took place in Iraq forcing Christians to flee to Syria with the hope of one day returning to their homeland of Iraq. The term ‘village’ is never attributed to their dwelling but always referred to as a ‘camps’ to describe their colonies which were to be temporary installments until they could return home, as was explained to us by the Archmandrite who also said:  “May God bring an end to the continuous suffer of the people in our countries and worldwide.”




Journey with ACN – Iraq

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


Teaching the Faith, even in time of war

No matter how difficult life has been for Christians in Baghdad since 2003, the Church still strives by every possible means to keep on with the teaching of the Faith, and also to continue with her other work involving children and young people.

Now, above all, the local Church needs to feel part of the universal Church. This can be done best by passing on the eternal truths of the faith to the next generation – a generation that hopefully, will be able to make its own contribution in the future to a peaceful coexistence among all religions in Iraq.

Every Friday – the Muslim day of prayer – the various Christian communities provide religious instruction for the faithful. There are at least 20 large and small Chaldean communities involved in organizing such instruction. Many of their communities are situated in the most dangerous areas of the city – although at the same time, in the current instability, people are in danger everywhere and at all times in Baghdad.


To reduce the potential danger to children, both they and the catechists have to be collected safely from their homes by bus and brought to one of the eight larger and nine smaller centres, and driven home again afterward – keeping one such bus going costs anywhere between 150 and 300 dollars a month, depending on the size of the bus. This results in a total cost each year of 45,000 dollars for the parishes of Bagdad to deal with transport alone.

But money is also needed for the teaching materials and books. Here again the total cost to the parishes is around 5,000 dollars annually. The Christians of Iraq need all the help we can give them – especially now – if they are to remain in their own homeland and live their faith daily.

We were happy to promise a contribution of $53,600 for this project.  Now we are counting on your support to help us make good on our promise to these Iraqi parishes.

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.

China – Chinese government intensifies persecution


By Marta Petrosillo, ACN Italy

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
 © Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

Rome/Montreal, November 24, 2014 – “We shouldn’t get our hopes up. I don’t see any sign of an immediate improvement in China-Holy See relations,” cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former Bishop of Hong Kong, told Aid to the Church in Need after speaking at the AsiaNews Symposium held on November 18 at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.

The eighty-two-year old bishop believes that, “as every relationship, it depends on both ends” and it is not possible to expect any improvement until the Chinese government makes a real change of its policy. “The Holy Father is conscious of the situation,” stressed the cardinal, “he is patient and ready to work hard to improve the relationship and the situation of the Chinese Church, but he is also aware that the path can be long.”

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

“Not the time for the Pope to visit China”

Speaking about the situation of the Catholics in China, Cardinal Zen criticized the government. “The Chinese government has intensified the persecution recently. We have seen demolished churches, crosses taken away from the buildings, therefore there’s not much we can hope for immediately. The Church is still enslaved to the government.”

Cardinal Zen also believes that this is not the time for the Pope to visit China. “If asked about it, I’ll strongly recommend him not to go, because the current circumstances are not the right ones.” According to the cardinal, the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be making any efforts to improve the situation of the Church, nor its relationship with the Vatican, and a Papal trip will probably be manipulated by Beijing. “They won’t let the Pope meet the people he would like to meet and they will try to force Francis to meet the people they want him to meet. The only outcome of such a visit will be good people suffering and the Pope’s good will being misused.”

 © Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

“The one who fights with a ‘sling’”

The cardinal also talked to ACN about the current situation in Hong Kong, where protests against China’s new plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 are ongoing. Protests started as authorities tried to mar next elections by restricting the list of “acceptable” candidates. Cardinal Zen strongly supported the so called Occupy Central protests, and he even marched himself on the streets among the students who started the peaceful occupation of the city’s financial district. “We cannot expect to win immediately,” he told ACN, “but as long as we have freedom of speech, we should keep fighting, even though victory is not close». Cardinal Zen also criticized the students’ leaders who “went too fast” and who believed they can easily win. “We should stay united as we were at the start of the protest, but the students’ leaders began to run on their own without listening to us.”

Speaking at the AsiaNews Symposium, the cardinal said that when Pope Francis greeted him after Paul VI’s Beatification Mass, he told him: “This is the one who fights with a ‘sling’,” referring to his participation in the protests. “He didn’t mean to make fun of me, but to encourage me. When he was in Buenos Aires, he always fought for freedom and for the poor. So he understands our position.” Then Cardinal Zen highlighted the strong support of Hong Kong’s Church to the people. “The Church, thanks to a competent Commission for Justice and Peace, is backing the population in their fight for democracy, following to the letter the Church’s social teaching.”

Then he ended his speech by saying in an ironical way: “When I’m back in Hong Kong, I might hand myself over to the police for having committed an act of civil disobedience. Hopefully they’ll jail me for a few days, so I’ll have time to pray for all of you.”

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need


A Seminarian’s Story – Meet Martin Baani

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


Martin Baani – a seminarian’s story

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

As IS approached, he took the Blessed Sacrament from the church and fled

Bombs fall and the sound of the explosion sends shock and fear into the hearts of the people.

Amid the sound of crying and frenzied activity, people pack up what belongings they can carry and make off into the night.

In the midst of it all stands Martin Baani, a 24-year-old seminarian.

The realisation is dawning on him that this is Karamlesh’s last stand.

For 1,800 years, Christianity has had a home in the hearts and minds of the people of this village, full of antiquity. Now that era is about to be brought to a calamitous end; Islamic State are advancing.

ACN-20141015-14668Martin’s mobile phone rings: a friend stammers out the news that the nearby town of Telkaif has fallen to “Da’ash” – the Arabic name for Islamic State.  Karamlesh would surely be next.

Martin dashes out of his aunt’s house, where he is staying, and heads for the nearby St Addai’s Church. He takes the Blessed Sacrament, a bundle of official of papers and walks out of the church. Outside a car awaits – his parish priest, Fr Thabet, and three other priests are inside.

Martin gets in and the car speeds off. They leave Karamlesh and the last remnants of the village’s Christian presence go with them.

Speaking to Martin in the calm of St Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa, it is difficult to imagine he is describing anything except a bad dream.

But there is nothing dreamy in Martin’s expression. “Until the very last minute, the Pashmerga [the Kurdish armed forces protecting the villages] were telling us it was safe.

“But then we heard that they were setting up big guns on St Barbara’s Hill [on the edge of the village] and we knew then the situation was very dangerous.”

Taking stock of that terrible night of 6th/7th August, Martin’s confidence is bolstered by the presence of 27 other seminarians at St Peter’s, many with their own stories of escape from the clutches of the Islamic militants.

Martin and his fellow students for the priesthood know that the future is bleak as regards Christianity in Iraq.

A community of 1.5 million Christians before 2003 has dwindled to less than 300,000. And of those who remain, more than a third are displaced. Many, if not most, want a new life in a new country.

Martin, however, is not one of them. “I could easily go,” he explains calmly. “My family now life in California. I already have been given a visa to go to America and visit them.”

“But I want to stay. I don’t want to run away from the problem.”

Martin has already made the choice that marks out the priests who have decided to stay in Iraq; his vocation is to serve the people, come what may.


“We must stand up for our rights; we must not be afraid.” He explains. Describing in detail the emergency relief work that has occupied so much of his time, it is plain to see that he feels his place is to be with the people.

Martin is already a sub-deacon. Now in his final year of theology, ordination to the priesthood is – God willing – but a few months away.

“Thank you for your prayers,” says Martin, as I take my leave of him. “We count on your support.”

Aid to the Church in Need is committed to supporting Martin and all the seminarians at St Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa as they make their journey to the Altar of God and prepare to serve God and their suffering people as priests.


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 a Catholic 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.

Press Release: Iraq – “Hope for Christians in Iraq – but only if we act now”

Montreal/Erbil, Monday August 18, 2014 –“If we do not want to be silent witnesses to the last chapter of the history of Christendom in Iraq, the international community must respond decisively now,” said Johannes Freiherr Heereman, President of the international aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), after returning from the Iraqi city of Erbil.

By Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


Heereman had travelled to Iraq on the invitation of Msgr. Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylon, to obtain a picture of the situation and the needs of the more than 100,000 Christians who had been displaced and had now found refuge in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, and in the villages in the north of Duhok and Zakho. “The situation is dramatic. We met bishops, priests, nuns and volunteers who are working day and night to provide elementary aid. Temperatures are around 44 degrees. The people need roofs over their heads and medical care. There is still much to be done,” Heereman reports.


However, as well as the necessary emergency humanitarian aid, one must also ponder how Christians and other minorities in Iraq can be helped to ensure that such a drama does not recur. “Many of them have already travelled a long road of oppression and suffering. They are disheartened and only want to get away. They beg for help to obtain visas to enter other countries. But there are also still many who wish to return to their homes, which have often been looted by their neighbours – they wish to go back to the place where they have lived for generations and where their history and roots are; They left everything behind when they fled, and yet they want to go back,” says Heereman.

“There is still hope for the Christians in Iraq, but only if we act now,” is the message from Patriarch Louis Sako to the President of ACN. The aid organization therefore appeals to the Western world to take moral responsibility to come to the aid of Christians and other religious minorities who wish to stay, by ensuring their protection and security. “This cannot remain simply the concern of the Church in Iraq. We must not be silent witnesses to a destruction that is now reaching the scale of a disaster of civilization. One can certainly speak of an impending genocide. The Church can alleviate pain and want, but questions of security and defence as well as the right to life and religious freedom are a political matter,” Heereman emphasizes.

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.

ACN dispatched a second emergency aid package of $146,000 for Iraqi Christians just 10 days ago, especially for those who are now refugees as a result of Islamist terror group IS (Islamic State) actions. The first emergency aid package of $146,000 was granted in June of this year.