Syria

 

Feature Story – Christians return to Aleppo

15.06.2017 in Adaptation Mario Bard, By Josué Villalón (ACN Spain), Syria, Texte: Josue Villalón

Syria

Christians are returning to Aleppo

Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh of the Custody of the Holy Land reports that 15 families of the Latin rite Catholic community, who had emigrated, have already returned to the Syrian city and many others are hoping to return.

 

Entering Aleppo centre, Syria

During a recent visit to the war-torn and widely devastated city of Aleppo in Syria by a delegation of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest of the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi – the centre of the Latin Catholic community in the city – assured them, “We are very happy to confirm that in the last two months or so 15 families of the Christian community of the Latin rite have returned to Aleppo. One family returned from France, another from Germany, three from Venezuela and several others from Armenia.”

 

Opposite entrance to St Wartan Jesuit Centre, Midan district, Aleppo, Syria

The total number of Christian families of other denominations and rites who have returned to Aleppo is as of yet unconfirmed, but it is hoped that hundreds will return over the next few months. “A number of families who have returned from Armenia or Venezuela are telling us that all the families there also wish to return. For example, over 400 families who found refuge in Armenia are now hoping to be able to return. It is notable that when the Church helps these families, they feel more secure and are willing to return home,” Father Ibrahim explained.

 

Other Christian families from Aleppo who have returned to their homes have come from within the country, from other cities such as Latakia, Tartus and Marmarita. “The prices in these regions are also increasing rapidly; consequently, as the situation stabilizes in Aleppo, these internally displaced families are preferring to return to their own homes,” said the priest.

 

 

Maronite Cathedral Old City, Aleppo, Syria

Security restored, but so much left to do

The situation in Syria’s second city has improved in recent months, since full control was taken by government forces of Bashar al-Assad at the end of December 2016. “Although there are still some suburbs on the outskirts of the city that are in dispute, the bombings have ceased and security has returned to the streets. Nevertheless, the consequences of the war are still very much present, the people have been left profoundly impoverished, there is a shortage of work and wages are minimal, owing to the devaluation of the currency. There are only two hours of electricity a day and food prices have gone through the roof. Before the war one dollar was equivalent to 50 Syrian pounds, but today it is equivalent to 550 Syrian pounds,” explained the Franciscan.

“The situation in Aleppo is certainly better today. There is security in the streets and in the churches. But at the same time we are beginning to suffer the consequences of the war – the poverty, the shortages of food and other essential family needs, and numerous signs of trauma as a result of the war,” he continues. “The principal needs of the people are on the one hand help with the cost of food, electricity and healthcare. But at the same time we are helping with the rebuilding of the city, which means not only helping to rebuild people’s homes but also supporting education and the formation of the young, so that they can have a future.”

“Christ urges us to help everyone, regardless of their creed”

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, Franciscan of the Custody of Holy Land and responsible for the Latin Community in Aleppo.

Father Ibrahim Alsabagh expressed his thanks for the aid offered by Aid to the Church in Need for the rebuilding of 270 homes, for 170 scholarships for primary, secondary and university education and for the training of 2,000 young people and adults so that they can find work. “The families who have already returned tell us that they are happy that the Church is helping so many people,” he told ACN.

The help provided by the Custody of the Holy Land extends to include not only the community of the Latin rite but also Catholic families of other rites, Orthodox Christians and even Muslims. “Christ urges us to help everyone, regardless of their creed”, Father Ibrahim insisted. He was speaking in the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, the seat of the apostolic vicariate of Aleppo.

He concluded with renewed words of thanks for everyone from outside who is helping to provide this aid. “I am most grateful. On behalf of all the Christians of Aleppo and all the families of the Latin rite, I want to express to you my most sincere thanks. We are praying for all of you that you may always have peace in your hearts and in your countries and that you may never have to go through the terrible experience that we have witnessed here in Syria.”

 


 

ACN Project of the Week in Syria: Food aid for 1,500 refugee families

05.04.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Persecution of Christians, Syria
Photo: Syria February 2016
Melkite Cathedral Sunday Divine Liturgy in Damascus

Our Project of the Week: in Syria

Food aid for 1,500 refugee families  

March 13, 2017 – was a tragic anniversary. Exactly 6 years ago, the terrible war began that has since devastated Syria. By this anniversary, 6.3 million people have been displaced within their own country that means 13.5 million people are now dependent on humanitarian aid. This represents roughly 2/3 of the population of the country. About 5 million people have officially registered as refugees in neighbouring countries. Many of the younger children have known nothing but war, nothing but exile from their homes.

We understand your aid as a sign of solidarity and love for the poorest of the poor, and it is also a gesture that will give hope to these suffering brothers and sisters of ours and show them that they are not forgotten.”

The Melkite Catholic patriarchate in Damascus has asked us to help to provide food for around 1,500 refugee families living in rural areas on the outskirts of the capital of Damascus. The idea is to provide the basic necessities such as milk for children, lentils, sugar, tea, oil canned goods and other basic necessities for the next three months. Fifteen volunteer helpers will distribute the food from three centres. The most needy families will be contacted individually to ensure they know exactly where and when they can collect the food.

Father Maher Masour who is in charge of the project, writes to us: “It is so sad to see these families living in such pitiful conditions and robbed of their dignity, full of fear for today and for tomorrow – the adults, and above all the children. We understand your aid as a sign of solidarity and love for the poorest of the poor, and it is also a gesture that will give hope to these suffering brothers and sisters of ours and show them that they are not forgotten.”

Thanks to you, we are supporting this project with 246 500 dollars – that is close to $54 per family, per month.

Thank you for helping us help these families!


 

Feature Story : Six years of war in Syria

17.03.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Syria, Urgent need

Six years of war in Syria

Suffering and tears: Syrians only want peace!

A woman weeps. Wrapped in a sheet on which is written in Arabic the word “Syria”, the woman, who is pregnant, sheds tears which run down over her abdomen, within which are two babies fighting with each other. The mother is holding a dagger in her hands, threatening to stab herself in her own womb. 

A drawing from Syrian children, June 2016

 

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada

 

It is just one of the hundreds of drawings sent from Aleppo and other Syrian cities to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The pictures drawn by Syrian children tell of bombings, death, tears, houses destroyed, weapons, fire and war revealing their profound suffering over the past six years.

 

In another of the drawings a man is weeping, carrying a suitcase. His wife, also with tears in her eyes, is saying goodbye to him. She is wearing a pink dress with hearts on it.

 

“Before the war, Syria was widely respected in the Middle East. Education and healthcare were free. Homs was developing very well; people were earning a reasonable salary, food was not expensive and many people could afford to buy a house or a car. I was studying to become a dentist, and I wanted to open a dental surgery in my suburb.” The speaker is Majd J and she is a volunteer worker on a project funded by Aid to the Church in Need to help families in need in Homs. This young Syrian woman’s eyes shine brightly as she sits in her overcoat to protect herself from the cold – as there is no heating in people’s homes. The window glass of the houses is smashed, and many of them still have holes where the missiles struck. She relates how one family lost their son, who died of his illness for lack of medication, and how they now have another who has been diagnosed with cancer. Another family has just lost its father, who died of a heart attack as a result of the stress and suffering of the last few years. With tears in her eyes, she looks straight at me and says very slowly, “I understand nothing of this conflict. Nothing.”

 

And many miles away from Homs, in the region of Zaleh in Lebanon, where many Syrians have taken refuge, the father of a family remarks, “The cure has been worse than the sickness. There were problems with Assad, but what has befallen us since then with the Islamic State has been simply inhuman. In the town of Rakkah we weren’t allowed to smoke in the street, and girls of six had to cover up completely before going outside. We were living in fear every day.”

With tears in her eyes, she looks straight at me and says very slowly, “I understand nothing of this conflict. Nothing.”

 

Majd works as a volunteer for a project supported by Aid to the Church in Need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to escape this torment?

The same suffering is palpable in the Lenten pastoral message of Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, who sums up the recent years of conflict in his country with these words: “In six years of war the face of Syria has been completely transformed. A large wasteland of ruins, pulverized buildings, burned out homes, neighbourhoods turned into ghost towns, villages razed to the ground, and more than 12 million Syrians (half the population) don’t have roofs over their heads. They form the largest mass of refugees since World War II. Several million have left the country in search of a kinder environment. Many are depending on hand-outs in miserable camps, many have drowned, and many stand in long lines at embassies. They have become a nomadic people in search of a land that will welcome them. How can Syria escape from this torture?”

 

Syria continues to suffer the consequences of the conflict, and even though the media seem to have fallen silent since the conclusion of the battle for Aleppo, the situation in that city continues to be precarious. “In Aleppo there is a grave shortage of electricity, and sometimes there is only light and power for an hour or two a day – and sometimes not even that – so that we have to rely on candles. There is a problem with fuel because the government is unable to distribute it,” says Sister Annie, a Syrian nun who, with help from the international foundation ACN, is supporting hundreds of families in the city. “In Aleppo we are also suffering a shortage of water; we are living in a town without running water – and sometimes we go for as long as a month and a half without any.”

Drawing from Syrian children, June 2016

 

A yellow bus drives along a tree-lined road. You can see the passengers in the bus, and the driver. Above it, in the top right-hand corner, where children usually paint the sun, a black bomb-like projectile appears almost unnoticed in the sky, in the shape of a rocket with a fiery tail. Yet in the midst of all the many drawings depicting scenes of warfare, fighting, fire and death there are also the others – those which depict flowers emerging from a revolver, or doves of peace over the map of Syria, children joining hands around the world, a girl celebrating her exam results… These are the ones who have drawn, not what they are living through, but what they long for and desire – a Syria in peace and unity and a return to their homes.

 

Aid to the Church in Need is channeling vital help to many needy families via the structures of the local Church, and has been doing so ever since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. This month the Pontifical charity has announced that it will be allocating 326,256 dollars for a milk distribution program for the children of Aleppo in 2017, a program named A Drop of Milk.
Thank you to support this project! 

Drawing from Syrian children, June 2016. The refugee crisis displaced 6 million Syrian citizens, the largest number since the Second World War. 


 

 

Press Release : ACN’s urgent request for children in Aleppo

13.03.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, Communiqué, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Press Release, Syria

A Drop of Milk program

An urgent request to support the children of Aleppo

 

Aid to the Church in Need continues the work done since the start of the war in Syria: to support the Christian families of Aleppo, along with local partners, such as Canadian-Syrian gastroenterologist Nabil Antaki. Our immediate concern is to continue the distribution of milk to the children.

Drop of milk: special milk for the infants

 

The aim of the project—named A Drop of Milk—is to provide to Christian children of Aleppo under the age of ten a certain amount of milk every month. In these times of scarcity, this “white gold” is essential for the proper growth and well-being of children. The Drop of Milk program has been ongoing since May 2015.

The project is most appreciated by all the Christian Churches in Aleppo since it is the ONLY program, which helps all Christians regardless of their particular denomination.  It is an ecumenical program. However, the financing of this life-giving project is waning.  Dr. Nabil Antaki, the Syrian doctor who is coordinating the project has approached ACN for support to be able to keep running the milk program, which is essential for the Christian children in Aleppo.

“We distribute milk every month to about 2,850 children: 2,600 receive powdered milk and 250 receive special milk for infants. Babies, not breastfed by their mother, also receive a special infant’s milk. The total number of beneficiaries varies every month depending on the number of births and emigration of the families,” explains Dr. Nabil Antaki.

 The situation is dire…

The relative calm since the retaking of Eastern Aleppo has seen families returning to their homes.   But with the vast amount of destruction and lack of usable structures, their needs are huge.   Basics like food baskets, fuel for heating their houses and electricity are the essentials needed to begin again. Since the start of the conflict, the pontifical charity ACN (Aid to the Church in Need) has been channeling urgent help to those Christian families in Syria.

ACN will help for a year with the program Drop of milk, a total more 326 000 dollars.

Despite the end of the conflict in that region, these staggering numbers tell a story of ongoing despair:  80% of the population of Aleppo is displaced; 70% live below the poverty line.  Food parcels are desperately needed to fend-off the starvation that comes with such devastation.

Georgina, a mother of three children, explains to ACN how important the Drop of Milk project is for her and her family: “Myriam is ten years old; Pamela is six. We are one of the beneficiaries of ‘A Drop of Milk’ project. Both Myriam and Pamela get one kilogram of milk powder every month. Pamela’s health is critical after being hit by bomb which left shrapnel in her back.   Now that she is recovering, she needs milk to become healthier and stronger. This project is very important for me and my family and I’d really like it to continue.”

The children of Aleppo, already deprived of a normal and peaceful childhood, should not be deprived of milk needed for their growth and health. ACN has therefore assured Dr. Antaki of our help for the children of Aleppo.

Aid to the Church in Need will give $27,188 each month during this year whole year – 2017 – for a total of $326,256.

 

Will you partner with us and show the children of Aleppo that there is hope? There are many ways to give to the children of Aleppo:

 

By phone: 514-932-0552 or toll free at 1-800-585-6333, ext. 227
Via our web site: http://secure.acn-aed-ca.org or https://www.facebook.com/AidChurch/

 

By mail:

Aid to the Church in Need
A Drop of Milk program
P.O. Box 670, Station H
Montreal, QC    H3G 2M6

 

In the name of Aleppo’s children: We thank you!

 

 

Text: Maria Lozano, ACN international Adapted by  Aid to the Church in Need Canada

 

 


 

ACN Interview – calls for reconciliation

16.12.2016 in By Andrea Krogmann, Syria, Urgent need, World

Aleppo

Father Ziad launches call for reconciliation

 

Father Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit living in Aleppo the Syrian project representative for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has launched a call so that the parties in conflict who are devastating the former economic lung of Syria and calling also to the West, to renounce to all provocations and commit themselves to reconciliation.

Following a first cease-fire agreement which came into effect on Wednesday for the hard-fought Syrian city of Aleppo, but which wasn’t respected – along with acts of violence by pro-Syrian fighters toward the civilian population which were reported – a second attempt seemed to work on Thursday. Many media reports indicate that civilians can now leave the Eastern part of Aleppo in relative security.

 

Father Ziad Hilal, who was a guest at Aid to the Church in Need Canada last June in Aleppo, talked with Aid to the Church in Need  spoke with journalist Andrea Krogmann on Wednesday.

 

 


Jesuit convent and its damages.

Andrea Krogmass (AK): Father Ziad Hilal, what is the current situation in Aleppo? Is the cease-fire being observed? (Interview on Wednesday, December 14, 2016)

Father Ziad (FZ) No, after a pause the fighting has obviously broken out again. We hear bombs and missile fire relatively close by. Not far from us there are two areas where the rebels are holed up and refuse to surrender. Up to now we’ve only heard fighting.

(AK) And in your area?

(FZ) In our area it’s quiet. Many people have come from the east of the city to the west. Numerous organisations are there to help them. It has been a very cold day.

But only a few days ago our convent was the target of an attack. In our building a missile struck at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening and caused material damage. We are normally celebrating Holy Mass at this time in our church, but on this particular Saturday we were on a retreat with a community of Sisters. That’s what saved us!

 

Maronite Church in Aleppo

(AK) How do you estimate the present situation in the east of Aleppo?

(FZ) For the first time in five years I was able to visit the eastern part of the city and get an idea of the situation, specifically in the Christian quarter of Al-Midan. All you see is total destruction. Our Saint Vartan Centre has also been severely damaged. And then there are the two parts of the city where the rebels are resisting. I don’t understand why they’re doing that. After all, they have no option.

 

(AK)   Were you able to drive to the eastern part without any difficulty?

(FZ) Yes, I was received well. There are army checkpoints but they let me through without further ado.

 

(AK)   There have been media reports of massacres committed against the civilian population by the Syrian army and its allies…

(FZ) I have my doubts as to these reports. There may have been isolated cases but we haven’t heard anything here. You have to know that these days a lot of false information and fake pictures are being circulated. Organizations on the spot, such as the Red Cross, have not propagated such news to date. The problem is that people tend to exaggerate. It’s important not to provoke at this point, but to remain calm. The thing is to encourage people to accept one another and to dare to try reconciliation.

(AK)   Can you see any signs of such reconciliation?

(FZ) Not yet. We’ve destroyed the city because we haven’t yet managed to come together in a dialogue. We’ve lost our civilization and destroyed our history. What for? It’s a tragedy.

 

(AK)   Many Syrians give foreign forces the principal blame for the war…

(FZ) We mustn’t point the finger at others: first and foremost, we are the guilty ones. But I must say that the media are playing a miserable role in this war. They are provoking the two sides and setting one against the other. These provocations have got to stop.

 

Saint-Vartan of Aleppo

(AK)   Now that the eastern part of the city has been liberated, so to speak, do you see any hope of a rapprochement?

(FZ) The fight for Aleppo has been a bitter one. The city has been completely destroyed and an inordinate amount of patience was needed even to achieve the present cease-fire. But we must keep our hopes up, otherwise why are we still here? In the course of its history Aleppo has experienced many conquerors. Thousands and thousands have died here and the city has been destroyed time and again. And yet it has always bounced back. So let us hope!

 

(AK)   Is there anything the west can do?

(FZ) First and foremost: stop the provocations! Call on the politicians to exercise reason and to seek moderate talks and reconciliation. The Middle East must become a peaceful region where all live in peace together. Otherwise it will become hell for us.

 

Since the beginning of the war in Syria in March 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has funded emergency aid projects to the tune of about 22 million dollars CAN. The pastoral charity calls for donations, and in particular for the continued donation of food and clothing and for heating and accommodation in the winter months.

 

 

By Andrea Krogmann, for Aid to the Church in Need International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office

 

Feature Story – EU reps Skype with Syrian Children

06.12.2016 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN Intl, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, European Union, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need

Initiative at the European Parliament with Syrian Children

European parliamentarians will be speaking directly to school-children from Aleppo, Syria via Skype this Tuesday December 6, also, Saint Nicolas day. In cooperation with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), European Parliament Vice-President Mr. Antonio Tajani along with EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom and Belief Mr. Jan Figel.  The event is intended to allow these children – both Muslim and Christian –  to tell their stories.

 

Syria, Aleppo, 05. October 2016 In addition, Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!” These days, children at more than 2000 schools all over Syria are drawing and writing messages to the political decision makers of the European Union and United Nations under the motto “Peace for Children”. More than one million children are also signing a petition. This appeal for peace is a joint campaign being carried out by Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Syria, and members of all religious communities have been invited to take part.

Syria, Aleppo, 05. October 2016  – In addition, Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!”

They will also answer questions about their lives in a war that has lasted 5 years, claimed the lives of over 400,000 people, destroyed 2,960 schools and where, of the approximately 2.9 million school aged children, almost 2 million cannot attend class. The appeal for peace seeks to draw attention to the fact that, unlike in Iraq, despite the divisions of war in Syria, Christians and Muslims are still united.

 

Syrian children speak to Westerners

ACN’s Middle East expert, Fr. Andrew Halemba, who conceived of the idea after several visits to the region stated: “The video link between Syrian children and the European politicians builds on an initial concept of ‘Drawings for Peace for Syria’ where ACN together with the local churches in Syria, representing about 95% of all Syrian Christians, gathered over one million drawings and letters from children of all religions between the ages of 3 and 16 from over 2,000 schools in Aleppo, Homs, Tartus, Yabroud and Damascus. These messages and drawings are a vibrant, innocent call for peace by the Syrian children to the West.”

Among the letters collected is that from Razan in Grade 5: “I haven´t seen anything of my childhood. My home was destroyed. My life changed. I am afraid whenever I hear the sound of the explosions. A lot of sounds; I feel very sad when I see the kids dying. I hope that God will bring everything back to its condition before and that God saves our country Syria.” Another short message comes from Shifa in Grade 6: “Father, I miss you but you will still be in my heart.” A poem from 12-year-old Shan in Aleppo describes the suffering in war:

 

Mark von Riedemann took some pictures of the thousands of drawings that the Syrian children have made asking for peace. Note that this is only a selection.

 

Baptized with blood

“I am praying, God my country is suffering
Cold, sadness and darkness, no electricity nor candles.
A mother is calling with her unheard voice
to the father who left that morning and unsure if he will come back.
Please, God, do not abandon us to sorrow and hunger
God, keep your hands with us, our country is suffering.
Children, like the sunrise, study in the darkness;
we are waiting for good news covered by mercy,
hoping to meet in the neighborhood beautiful smiles,
but they find black hearts even darker than the carbon.
They are baptized with blood and we do not even have tears.
God, don´t abandon our suffering country!”

 

Festivities in Damascus (provinceTouma), 05 October 2016 Peace for the children in Syria 2016 at the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate. In addition, Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!” These days, children at more than 2000 schools all over Syria are drawing and writing messages to the political decision makers of the European Union and United Nations under the motto “Peace for Children”. More than one million children are also signing a petition. This appeal for peace is a joint campaign being carried out by Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Syria, and members of all religious communities have been invited to take part.

Festivities in Damascus (province Touma), 05 October 2016 Peace for the children in Syria 2016 at the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate.

 

These letters and drawings were presented from October 10 to 13 to political decision makers at the EU and UN institutions in Brussels and Geneva by the “Ambassadors of the Children,” Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan George Abou Zakhem of Homs, and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Selwanos Boutros Al Nemeh of Homs.

Among others, the Church representatives met with the Jean-Claude Juncker President of the European Commission, Martin Schulz President of the European Parliament and Federica Mogherini High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In Geneva, the children’s messages were presented to Dr. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The December 6th video-conversation between the political leaders in Brussels and the children in Aleppo will be followed by an exhibition of the original children’s drawings in a main hall at the European Parliament. Simultaneously European Commission President Juncker has offered the drawings he received during the Patriarch’s visit to be integrated in an overall exhibition organized together with UNICEF titled, “Standing Strong: The Human Faces of the Syrian Crisis” to be held from December 5 to 15 at the Berlaymont Building of the European Commission. Here 18 drawings, alongside ACN photos of the Syrian children, will be exhibited after which these will then travel to other EU venues during the first three months of 2017.

 

 

 

ACN Interview – Father Jacques Mourad visits Canada

31.10.2016 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Mario Bard, Syria

Syria

Stop the sale of arms!

While travelling through Canada recently, Father Jacques Mourad, a monk from the Mar Mousa Community in Syria, spoke with Aid to the Church in Need.  During a brief telephone interview given before leaving for Europe, the priest – once kidnapped by the ISIS (Islamic State) and held from May to October 2015 – asks Canadians to reflect on the impact of the sale of arms, especially those in the Gulf region, which according to him, find their way into the hands of fighters in Syria.

 

Picture of Father Mourad, kidnapped on 21st May 2015, carrying a cross. Only this low quality file available (picture sent to Fr Halemba during his trip to Syria)

Picture of Father Mourad, carrying a cross.  He was kidnapped May 21, 2015.

ACN: What would you say to the people of Canada about the war in Syria?

Father Jacques Mourad:  “For my first point:  I wish to thank and convey my thanks from the people of Syria – especially the Christians of Syria – to the Canadian people who opened their hearts and their country.

But, I also say however that importing the Syrian people is not a good solution.

Secondly, what we hope for from the democratic countries such as Canada – who [though] are unable to stop this war – will continue to welcome the refugees, and in so-doing save their lives.  Especially [those who are found] in areas where they are in danger (such as in Aleppo among other places). But, I also say however that importing the Syrian people is not a good solution.

Is it possible to bring the entire country over, for everyone in Syria is in danger! Therefore, the effort [needed] from a country with a good heart and who possesses its freedom [like your own] is to do all that is required to raise awareness [about the consequences of war] and convince the government to do everything in its power to stop the sale of arms.

For it is with these arms – like those Canada is producing and which are sold in the Gulf countries – it is with these arms, which land in the hands of all those who are fighting – that the Syrian people are killed. We have no idea of the death toll, the misery, etc. The fact that this country continues to produce and sell arms – makes it in part responsible for the war in Syria.

Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

Canadians are invited and called [its government] to reflect and to take into consideration that we are aware of what is happening, that we are wounded and that we are suffering.”

Father Mourad calls on all Canadians to pray for the Syria people and for peace to come.

Father Mourad calls on all Canadians to pray for the Syria people and for peace to come. Since the beginnings of the war in March 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has supported the Syrian people by means of emergency projects developed by the local Churches in Syria.  Whether the need required providing support for lodging for the elderly and sick who cannot leave the country – or for the distribution of diapers, food, and warm clothing for those in need – the pontifical charity has provided support in the amount of approximately 19 million dollars.

The projects continue to develop.  Along with the renewal of the project for milk and diapers to help families, the organization is supporting elderly priests and religious Sisters who are living on the edge of exhaustion with Mass Offerings.  Finally, 600 families will receive help to pay for heating this winter, as the cost of mazut remains prohibitive.

 

 

 

Interview and text by Mario Bard, Aid to the Church in Need Canada

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

 


 

 

 

ACN Press – from Aleppo

13.10.2016 in Journey with ACN, Syria

 Carmelites of Aleppo

Contemplative Sisters at the heart of violence

Montreal, Thursday, October 13 –  Aid to the Church in Need received alarming information from the Carmelites in Aleppo, project partners of the international charity. 

 

In a letter dated October 11, the Contemplative Sisters describe an extreme situation, as much in Eastern Aleppo as in Western Aleppo – the neighbourhood in which they live.  These people are experiencing a serious scarcity of electricity and water.

 

In this letter they askfor an end to the fighting soon, everywhere in the city,” deplore that the ‘media’ is ‘not speaking’ of the situation ‘not much brighter’ in their neighbourhood.  Thank you for praying so that all that we are living in the obscurity of our hidden life or in our poor account as Contemplatives at the very heart of this violence and war are met with humility, peace and truth,” they conclude.

 

Here is the letter [translated] in its entirety:

 

October 11, 2016

 “As you know through the information given in the West, the bombardments on Aleppo are numerous.  But, the situation in Western Aleppo is not much brighter even though the media does not speak about it.  This bias with regard to the information saddens us very deeply, for every day we are witness to, directly or indirectly, through the news we receive from priests or those close to us and known to us, of all types of distress experienced in many of the cities’ western neighbourhoods: shells, missiles, weapons becoming more and more sophisticated, this does not even speak of the total and complete lack of water and electricity (cut off by armed rebel groups) creating more and more victims; as a result the dead and wounded can also be counted by the dozen every day.”

 

“For the last week, this priest has not stopped burying civilian victims.”

 

The other day, a priest who says Mass once a week arrived in tears: he lives in Midan, a popular neighbourhood which has, for the last three years, been a constant target and victim of attacks. For the last week, this priest has not stopped burying civilian victims.  In a very popular nearly totally Muslim neighbourhood close to the St-Louis Hospital run by Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition – shells left about 10 dead and 70 wounded only a few days ago.

WE CAN’T TAKE IT ANY LONGER and we ask FOR AN END TO THE FIGHTING SOON, EVERYWHERE in the city, as well as for a little OBJECTIVITY in the news, for the simple act of respecting the poor who are suffering (because it consists of mainly very modest families, if not poor and even in misery…)

 

 

 

Juillet 2016: les attaques et la destruction se sont intensifiées depuis...

July 2016: attacks and destruction have intensified since…

 

Contemplatives in the heart of violence

This said, we wish to hold faith and believe that on day truth will triumph; and that within evil, lies and corruption, on whatever side it is found to be, will be overcome by truth, reconciliation and true peace projects, in short – by our conversion to the Lord.  We are the first to recognize this need for conversion within our own hearts!

 (…)  Thank you for praying so that all that we are living in the obscurity of our hidden life or in our poor account as Contemplatives at the very heart of this violence and war are met with humility, peace and truth.

In this month of the Rosary, I entrust all to the maternal protection of tenderness and of mercy of the Holy Mother of God, our Mother, “May she lead us by example and bring us to love through her own heart.”

 

The Syrian Children’s Petition for Peace

Representatives of Catholic and Orthodox Churches, European bishops and Aid to the Church in Need representatives getting ready to be “Peace Ambassadors” to representatives of the European political body.

Photo : © comece

 

A Million Children

Let us recall that last week, a million Syrian children – from at least 2,000 schools – participated in activities drawing attention to and asking for peace.  Drawings from the activities were delivered to the European Parliament and the United Nations in Geneva this past week by representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Syria.

This ecumenical Peace action initiated by Aid to the Church in Need with its local partners is part of the objectives to close the gap between the Churches – as was initiated through the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Russia in Cuba this past February.

The Syrian Children’s Petition for Peace

 

Press Release – Syrian Children appeal for Peace

06.10.2016 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Children, European Union, PAIX, Peace, Syria, United Nations

 

 

Syria

More than one million children sign an appeal for peace

 

Damascus/Montreal Thursday, October 6,  2016 –These days, children at more than 2,000 schools all over Syria are drawing and writing messages to the political decision makers of the European Union and United Nations under the motto “Peace for Children.”

 

Initiative oecuménique et interreligieuse, la signature par les enfants syriens d'une pétition destinée à l'Union européenne et aux Nations-Unies est un appel au monde pour qu'advienne la paix en Syrie.

This appeal for peace is a joint campaign being carried out by Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Syria and members of all religious communities have been invited to take part.

 

Children of all Christian denominations in Damascus, Homs, Yabroud, Aleppo, Marmarita and Tartus are making October 6 a joint Action Day for Peace. They are expressing their desire for peace through songs, dance, theatrical performances, prayers and other activities. Several children in Aleppo will also share their personal experiences. Sister Annie Demerjian, one of the local organizers of the event, said, “When a child talks about losing his father, for example, we will follow it up by praying for all children in Syria who have lost parents or siblings.” The main ceremony will be held in Damascus on Friday October 7 and it will be attended by groups of 50-75 children from each of the country’s major centres.

 

“Give us our childhood!”

 

The Syrian Children’s Petition for Peace“I am extremely touched by the event to which numerous parishes of the local Church are participants, and happy that our organization can collaborate with them,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. “The children are the future of the country, and this action recalls that they do not wish to go overseas: they want to stay – as do their parents – to rebuild what these five years of incomprehensible war have created.  It is time that the international community listen to the cries from the hearts of the littlest!” insists Mrs Lalonde.  “I invite all Canadians to sign on the micro-website: https://acnmercy.org/syrian-children/,  the petition will be remitted to European and international bodies.”

 

Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!”

 

Thousands of children in Syria have been killed during the war. According to data provided by the Oxford Research Group, more than 11,500 children died in the first two years of the conflict alone. Half of the 11.4 million Syrians who have fled inside or outside of the country are underage minors. More than 2.1 million Syrian children are unable to attend school because of the war. Many children are severely traumatized. Children are frequent victims, not only of direct acts of war, but of abductions, torture and sexual exploitation.

 

The children’s campaign for Peace arose from an initiative of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Since the conflict began in March of 2011, the international pastoral charity has been active in supporting the victims of the war and providing financial support, in particular for families who have lost their homes, have been forced to flee within the country or have been displaced. Aid is primarily granted to projects that secure the immediate survival of the people, and especially of children and babies. A sizable amount of the financial aid is used to procure accommodations for what are in general large families with many children, to supply essential foods and medicines as well as baby formula and diapers, warm winter clothing and heating oil and electricity. It is also being used to ensure that children can attend school. The aid is provided directly to the families in need, irrespective of their religious affiliation, through Catholic bishops and local church structures. Over the past five years, emergency aid amounting to approximately 19 million CAD has been granted.

*Sign-up to pray with them at https://acnmercy.org/syrian-children/

 

This can be done by simply entering your name and email address and clicking the ‘Pray‘ button below.  Thank you for supporting the voices of children in Syria for Peace.

 

 


 

ACN Interview – Father Halemba on Syria

30.09.2016 in ACN International, ACN Interview, By Aleksandra Szymczak, Construction, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria

Syria

“We are never safe”

Father Andrzej Halemba, Head of the Middle East Projects Department of the international Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need recently returned from a trip to war-torn Syria. In this interview with journalists from within the organization, he speaks about the current situation.

 

What does the situation look like in Syria right now?

“Right now everybody is holding his breath because the situation looks promising, but on the other hand we are facing a humanitarian crisis on an enormous scale. That is why people say “ok, we have hope, once again we have experienced a little bit of peace,” but this is of course not a complete peace. Damascus, for example, during the time I was there was quiet for two days, but on Sunday there were eight explosions in the outskirts of the city. DAESH, Al Nusra and other Al-Qaida groups want to destabilize the situation and show that there will be no peace in Syria without their engagement.

Syria has changed completely in just 5 years. From a rich country which was enjoying peace and where business was going very well, to suddenly being completely destroyed.

Syria September 2016 The celebrations of the Feast of the Cross in Yabroud, September 2016. School children carried on their shoulders the Cross, the image of Christ, etc. After the Mass the Cross is being burnt as the symbol of the light and the warmth which comes from the Cross to the whole World.

Syria September 2016
The celebrations of the Feast of the Cross in Yabroud. School children carried on their shoulders the Cross, the image of Christ, etc. After the Mass the Cross is being burnt as the symbol of the light and the warmth which comes from the Cross to the whole World. An essentiel in the middle of the darkness of the war. 

 

How did the war change the life of Syrians?

The population of Syria has dropped from 24.5 million to little over 17 million. Nearly 6 million people are outside the country. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries and 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian help inside Syria. Many areas are extremely difficult to reach. Food is very expensive. For example, in the area controlled by the government the price of rice rose from 2010 nearly 250%, but in the rebel areas its price rose 28 times! So if basic food is so expensive, what kind of a miserable life is it? Over 57% of people are not able to find jobs. They make their living by begging and from humanitarian help. And, 4.6 million people are in hard-to-reach areas.

Everybody is afraid of the possible division of the country and of the prolongation of the conflict due to new factors like actions of Turkish army on the territory of Syria against so-called rebels and against Kurdish people. The situation is extremely complex, but certainly for the first time in several months there is a small flame of hope.

Syria September 2016 Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing with Father Andrzej Halemba (ACN) and Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing with Father Andrzej Halemba (ACN) and Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral.

 

Which experiences during your trip to Syria saddened you the most?

First of al the ruins that you can see around Damascus – It is a lovely city and still the people refuse to be in [a state of] despair there. Despite the difficult situation they try to live a “normal life.” But the landscape of the surroundings of the city is terrible. When we went to Homs, we had to use side roads because the motorway was blocked by snipers. The streets are dirty, people are poorly dressed, the prices are very high and there is a lot of suspicion. A growing number of checkpoints have definitely an impact on people’s mentality: “We are always in danger because there are so many soldiers checking on every car and every person.” Due to constant pressure on them caused by bomb attacks everybody is extremely tired, especially the police.

In Homs we’ve been passing through a place where few days before there had been an attack by Al Nusra. They drove the car into the city centre and at the checkpoint they triggered off the bomb, killing themselves and six soldiers. With this terror people are very deeply traumatized. “We are never safe” they say. And that makes them really tired.

The families are in a dramatic situation as they can’t sustain themselves. They have no work or are being very much underpaid. And the displaced people who had to leave their homes – 6.5 million of them to be more precise – need to rent rooms, but the rental prices are extremely high. Without having the income this becomes a big challenge for them.

Last but not least the question of the young people who are very afraid to be taken by the army or by the rebels to fight. They are the most vulnerable, that is why they run away. That is also why amongst the refugees in Europe there are so many young people.

 

Were there any situations at all that you could describe as beautiful ones?

The moment they come and say to us: “We cannot thank you more” or very often without words they burst into tears because nobody is helping them in such a way as they need. It is very emotional for us. They are so grateful. But this help has not only a material aspect. It gives them so much more: strength through the gesture of solidarity which they experience. People in Marmarita told me: “Father, it is so important for us that we don’t feel forgotten.”

We should remember that Aid to the Church in Need is one of the biggest donors who contributed emergency aid in Syria, especially for Christians. According to the analyses, we have learned that at least 195,000 Christians and other people were helped by Aid to the Church in Need. The help was in the form of food baskets, electricity, gas, medicines, scholarships… we were able to identify nearly 17 different ways of helping Syrian people in 2015.

I also always ask people in Syria to pray for benefactors and for their families. And they say, “We pray daily for them.” And in fact, they are doing just that. Very often they carry the rosaries, pray together in the churches, and also individually. This is, in fact, an exchange of love through a bridge of prayer.

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs shows the inside of the destroyed Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. ACN helps to rebuild the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs shows the inside of the destroyed Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. ACN helps to rebuild the Cathedral.

Is there a story from one of the project partners that you would like to share?

There is a teacher from Damascus. She went abroad twice: once to the USA and once to Europe and she says: “I cannot live over there. I have to come back to Syria. I have to help children in the schools. I want to grow old here and I want to die here.” This is a person who really loves her country despite the difficulties and despite the temptation of having an easy life.

I also remember two young people from the Valley of Christians. They were extremely well educated; both spoke very good English. With their qualifications they could easily find work in Western countries. Furthermore, their parents lived in the USA and call every day for them to come. But they refuse to go. They say: “We have to help others. There are so many who depend on us.” Indeed, they are helping a few hundred families. They work as volunteers. This is amazing.

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross with Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross with Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing. 

 

Since the eruption of the war in Syria in 2011, Aid to the Church in Need hassupported emergency humanitarian projects and pastoral aid projects
with an amount of close to 19 million dollars CAN. 

 

donate

By Aleksandra Szymczak, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada