Ten years have passed since the outbreak of war in Syria, which has left thousands dead, millions displaced, cities destroyed and a deep economic and social crisis. In this terrible decade, the Catholic pastoral aid organisation “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) has launched 979 projects to alleviate the suffering of the population, especially that of the Christian minority, which is threatened with extinction.
In its latest report, presented on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, ACN reported that it had allocated 41.8 million Euros to Syria between 2011 and 2021. Most of this budget, more than 33 million Euros, was allocated to humanitarian aid projects in the areas of livelihood, medical aid, food, clothing, health kits, accommodation and education. A total of 418 initiatives in coordination with local churches of different traditions reached the inhabitants of the cities most affected by the war, such as Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, Marmarita and Tartus. These are the places where the majority of Christians in Syria is concentrated.
One of the most important projects supported by the organisation since 2017 is the “A Drop of Milk” campaign in Aleppo. It distributes powdered milk to more than 3,000 children from Christian families who are in need or have been displaced by the war. The programme accompanies them from birth to the age of ten. Similar projects have benefited children in Tartus since 2015 and in Homs since 2018.
Another initiative supported by ACN consists of scholarships for Christian school and university students in Aleppo and Damascus. A third of schools are closed due to the war, but many families can anyway not afford to send their children to the schools that are functioning. In the 2019-2020 academic year, 7,340 students in Aleppo benefited from the scholarships. In Damascus, with the support of the Sisters of Divine Charity of Besançon, scholarships were approved for 550 university students from the local Greek Melkite Church for 2020-2021.
Syria has not been spared the health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020 with the help of local churches ACN allocated more than €576,000 to help 23,050 Christian families who are in great need due to the precarious economic situation created by the quarantine. At Christmas 2020, ACN benefactors donated €200,000 to provide winter anoraks to 25,000 children in various cities across the country with the help of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary.
In addition, ACN invested almost four million Euros in 156 projects for the reconstruction of churches, monasteries, schools, and pastoral centres, as well 1,5 million Euros for the reconstruction of 1,077 private houses destroyed by the fighting and bombing. These projects helped families in Homs, Aleppo, Maaloula and the Valley of Christians, for example, to return to their homes. Churches that have been rebuilt thanks to ACN benefactors include the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs and the Cathedral of Saint Elijah in Aleppo.
In terms of pastoral aid, ACN has provided more than two million Euros for 182 projects. The most outstanding are the summer camps, which are intended as a time of healing, nurturing of their faith and education for young people or families who have suffered the trauma of war. This area of spiritual support includes the “Comfort My People” prayer campaign, which accompanies Christian families who have lost loved ones in the war. The icon of Mater Dolorosa, Consoler of Syrians, blessed by Pope Francis, visited parishes in a total of 34 dioceses.
Other ACN projects to support the work of the Church in Syria during the war included Mass stipends for priests (€874,000), grants for religious books (€48,000), training costs (€356,000), motorisation assistance (€181,000) and media support (€13,000).