Mission of mercy ACN offers help for Iraq Christians as winter approaches

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1015Iraq_Archbishop Amil Nona of MosulBy John Pontifex
THOUSANDS of displaced Iraqi Christians are to receive food, shelter, schooling and gifts for children in a concerted emergency relief programme rushed through by a Catholic charity before the onset of winter.
The €4 million 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.
The projects, a number of them agreed yesterday (Tuesday, 14th October), come amid fresh reports from Iraq that the crisis facing up to 120,000 displaced Christians is on the verge of worsening drastically.
There is huge pressure to move thousands of families out of tents before winter comes and the weather is expected to deteriorate sharply in the next few weeks.
Other families have just days to leave public buildings such as schools which have been converted into displacement centres where they have been sleeping up to 20 to a room.
The Christian communities are entirely dependent on outside help and have been supported by the Church since they arrived in Kurdish northern Iraq.
Many of them have found refuge in Ankawa, close to the regional capital, Erbil, and further north in the region of Dohuk, close to the Turkish border.
It is now nearly four months since they left their homes with little more than the clothes they were wearing when Islamic State fighters advanced on Mosul city and towns and villages in the neighbouring Nineveh plains.
Amid growing concerns for their future as winter approaches, ACN’s emergency projects’ package includes:
• Eight schools – four in Ankawa, Erbil, and the rest in Dohuk – pre-fabricated PVC structures providing for 15,000 children (€2 million)
• Food for displaced people totally reliant on outside help (€630,000)
• Rented accommodation in Ankawa and Dohuk for displaced people (€400,000)
• 150 PVC porta-cabins in Ankawa for use as accommodation (€470,000)
• Christmas gifts for 15,000 children including warm clothes (coats and socks), pencils, colouring books and devotional items and ACN Child’s Bibles (€295,000)
• Mass stipends for more than 100 priests – both Chaldean and Syrian Catholic –from Iraq, most of them displaced by violence and other unrest (€88,200)
• Help for 28 seminarians at St Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa (€39,000)
Additional grants include €19,000 emergency aid for Sacred Heart Sisters displaced from Mosul, €78,000 support for Babel College of Philosophy and Theology in Ankawa and €38,000 help for Christian education (catechism) in 20 parishes across Baghdad.
Taken together, the aid builds significantly on the €200,000 given as emergency aid to Christians fleeing Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic State attacks.
The projects were drawn up during an ACN fact-finding and project assessment trip organised at short notice and completed a week ago.
The charity’s head of Middle East projects Fr Andrzej Halemba said: “This ancient community, which dates back to biblical times, is on the verge of disappearing forever.
“They have suffered so much and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help them and give them what they need to get through the winter.”
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said: “I would like to thank Aid to the Church in Need for acting so quickly to help the people especially as we get close to winter.”
Chaldean Archbishop Amil Nona of Mosul, who was among the 500,000 who fled the city in June when it was seized by Islamic State, is chair of the Emergency Committee of Bishops formed to coordinate relief efforts.
He said: “I am personally so grateful to ACN – you are giving us new hope.”
Archbishop Nona called on ACN and all people of goodwill to pray for Iraq.
He told ACN: “Please pray for the safety of our people, that none are killed by terrorists; we should also pray for those who have persecuted us and we should also pray for an end to evil which is now so great in the world.”

• For more information about ACN’s Iraq campaign or to make a donation, visit www.acnuk.org or contact Aid to the Church in Need, 12-14 Benhill Ave, Sutton, Surrey SM1 4DA. Tel. 020 8642 8668.