The five church group (see names at end of story)
An action plan to enable thousands of Christians to return to their homes in the Syrian city of Homs was agreed in a house-repair scheme involving Church leaders and a leading Catholic charity.
At the meeting in Homs, the leaders of five Church communities signed the Homs Reconstruction Committee agreement, in which Aid to the Church in Need will repair 300 homes as part of the first stage of the plan.
In the second phase, a further 980 homes are due to be rebuilt – 80 from the Melkite Greek Catholic community, 600 Greek Orthodox and 300 belonging to Syriac Orthodox families. ACN will support part of the project.
Highlighting the significance of the agreement, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said: “The agreement is one of the most critical steps forward in the recovery of the Christian community in Homs.
“The commitment to rebuild so many homes offers the light of hope for people desperate to return to the city that is one of the most important for Christians in the whole of Syria.”
Greek Orthodox Bishop Georges Abou Zakhem of Homs said: “The people need to come back to their houses but they can’t do so without the help of ACN.”
Melkite priest Father Bolos Manhal said: “I am very happy that people have this wonderful opportunity to return to their homes. They have suffered so much and for many coming home will be a dream come true.
“They have had to spend so much money renting a place to live so to have their homes rebuilt will take a huge pressure off family budgets. There are more job opportunities in the city than in the countryside so they will now be able to take advantage of them.”
ACN will be contributing a maximum of US$3,500 (£2,700) towards each house being repaired.
With more than 12,500 homes destroyed in Homs and 37,500 badly damaged, many Christians have been living in displacement in the nearby Valley of the Christians for up to seven years.
At the height of the conflict in 2014, there were less than 100 Christians remaining in Homs Old City and targeted attacks by Islamist extremists forced nearly 250,000 to leave.
Last year, ACN piloted a scheme to repair 100 homes belonging to Melkite and Syriac Orthodox families, of which 85 are already reoccupied and the rest due to return at the start of the new academic year in the autumn.
The 2018 Homs renovation plan was part of a scheme which has already led to the repairs of nearly 500 homes across Syria, of which many are in Aleppo.
Since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, ACN has completed 750 projects involving 150 partners.
Read more about Aid to the Church in Need: www.acnuk.org
Pictured l-r: Deacon Hameed Massouh, Syriac Catholic; Mgr Manhal Boulos, Maronite Catholic ; Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach BC, Melkite Greek Catholic; Fr Andrzej Halmba, Aid to the Church in Need; Archbishop George Abou Zakhem, Greek Orthodox; Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Al-Nemeh, Syriac Orthodox; Archbishop Théophile Philippe Barakat, Syriac Catholic; Amer Jabour, ACN projects coordinator in Homs; Fr Spiridon Kabbash, Greek Orthodox; Riyad Jerjo, ACN projects coordinator in Aleppo (© Aid to the Church in Need)