By Murcadha O Flaherty and Marcela Szymanski
CATHOLIC charity Aid to the Church in Need and other Church organisations have helped save Christianity in Syria from wipe-out, according to the Syriac Catholic Patriarch.
Speaking at a meeting in Brussels about Syria in the aftermath of Daesh (ISIS), His Beatitude Ignatius Younan III said that since the war began in spring 2011 the Christian community had been under huge pressure at a time of mass migration and displacement.
The Patriarch said: “We are the indigenous population but because we do not have our own militias or territorial ambitions, everyone thinks we agree with everything or are easy to overrun.
“For us it is a matter of survival.
“If it was not for the Church organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need we would be about to disappear.”
The Patriarch made his comments to 30 representatives of European NGOs at the meeting co-hosted by ACN and the Commission of European Bishops’ Conferences (COMECE).
It comes after reports that up to two-thirds of Syria’s pre-2011 Christian population had fled within five years – down to 500,000 – with governments and parliaments accusing Daesh of genocide against Church communities and Yazidis.
But, with Daesh in retreat all over the Middle East, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Antoine Chahda of Aleppo told the ACN-COMECE meeting that an end to violence in many parts of Syria meant reconstruction should now begin in earnest.
Saying that an absence of conflict did not necessarily mean an end to the war, Archbishop Chahda said: “The signs of the destruction of the entire life of Aleppo are visible and painful, such as the empty factories where the rebels and their supporters stole all the machinery.
“We need the industrial leaders to come back and produce, to give a solid base to the reconstruction.”
The Archbishop and the Patriarch called for an end to sanctions against Syria, saying that the people who suffer the consequences are not high-level politicians but thousands of widows and orphans.
Syria is a priority country for ACN aid, with pastoral help and emergency support being rolled out in cities and towns all over the country.
In Aleppo, thousands of people are receiving emergency food, shelter (rental costs), hot water (electricity subsidy) and up to 2,200 Christian families in the city are receiving medical aid.
This Christmas, the charity is providing gifts for 1,500 Christian children in Aleppo, including a hat, socks, trousers, a shirt and a pair of winter shoes.
In Azizieh, a mainly Christian district of Aleppo, ACN is helping with running costs for Our Lady’s Secondary School, which was bombed several times, and the Lord’s Care Orphanage as well as repairs to the Al-Yarmouk Youth Sports Centre, damaged by shells.
ACN is also providing shelter for 340 families in towns and villages in southern Syria.
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.
Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.
Please always acknowledge Aid to the Church in Need as the source when using our material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press & Information, 020 8661 5161 or Digital Media Officer Murcadha O Flaherty on 020 8661 5175.