Food for Damascus’s desperate faithful

By John Newton
“It is a situation of siege – people are not being allowed to leave – and the situation is getting more and more tense.”

BREAD is being smuggled into Damascus as part of an emergency aid package from a leading Catholic charity.
In response to an urgent request, Aid to the Church in Need is giving more than £15,600 (€20,000) in help for families who have fled their homes and priests ministering to them in Damascus.
Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s Middle East expert, said that the grant will provide basic foods stuffs such as bread, vegetables and baby milk.
According to the priest, who is in contact with Church sources in the country, fighting means that these foods are in short supply.
He said: “Bread is not available now in Damascus – it has to be smuggled into the city from over the border which is half an hour away by taxi.”
Damascus is close to the Lebanon border where fighting has spread.
Fr Halemba said: “Church leaders report that it is a very difficult situation for all those in the city.
“It is a situation of siege – people are not being allowed to leave – and the situation is getting more and more tense.”
ACN’s emergency grant will provide food and housing for 107 displaced families in one parish.
The charity is also giving Mass stipends to 12 priests.
The families being helped have come from areas of Damascus which are no longer safe because of the fighting and from outlying villages caught up in the conflict.
Fr Halemba said: “They are in a desperate situation, they have had to leave their homes and run away from the danger zone.
“But they are being welcomed by Catholics, who have previously opened their doors to Christian refugees from other countries, but are now helping their own.”
Christians in the unaffected parts of Damascus have provided lodging for the displaced families – but they themselves have very little.
The latest ACN grant will provide both hosts and guests with the means to survive.
Fr Halemba also stressed that basic items for children are not available – which is why milk is being provided for them as part of the emergency package.
He also described how the money from Mass stipends for priests would benefit the wider community.
He said: “Christians come to priests for protection, prayers and bread – the priests will be using these stipends to provide what they can for those who have come to them seeking help.”
So far this year, the charity has provided more than £230,000 (or nearly €300,000) in aid for Syria of which more than £100,000 (or €130,000) is emergency help.
This is includes just under £40,000 (€50,000) for those trapped in the old city of Homs.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.