“The aid has to help people rebuild and get back to living a decent life.”
The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has approved a new package of aid measures involving over 40 pastoral and emergency aid projects for Syrian Christians of the various different rites and denominations. The charity hopes thereby in some way to ease the grave situation in which the people of the country continue to suffer, above all now due to the various economic sanctions such as the petroleum embargo. As Maronite Bishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo pointed out on 27 June this year in an address to the European Parliament in Brussels, these sanctions “are killing the Syrian people in the same way that the weapons are”.
“Why do the children and sick people have to die for lack of medicines? Why do the unemployed, who have lost their jobs, have to die of hunger because of the embargo?”, the bishop asked the assembled European deputies.
Responding to this and other similar desperate appeals for support from the local Catholic and Orthodox communities in Syria, ACN will be allocating over 2 million Euros for the basic support and medical welfare of needy and displaced families in various different parts of the country, and especially in Aleppo and Homs.
Another of the grave problems affecting the country is immigration which, according to Bishop Tobji, is “a dangerous wound, which continues to bleed”. And an obvious part of this wave of involuntary emigration was the Christian Syrians, of course, who were already a minority before but now were going to be “wiped out if the situation created by the war does not end soon”, he added. Already “only a third” were left of those who were there before. In the face of this great diaspora, the Maronite Bishop wondered who would be left to rebuild the country, given that Syria was now a country “with no productivity, no labour force, a society without life”. The Christians, he said had always been a “cultural bridge” between East and West and had played a primordial role as an element of peace within Syrian society. “If the Christians disappear, there will be many problems, both for their own country and for Europe, which is not so many miles away”, he predicted.
Special help for children and young people
For this reason, among others, another of the main objectives of ACN is the help for children and young people – the future of the country and the reason why so many Christian families are emigrating. That is why a quarter of all the new projects approved by ACN are aimed at the young. On the one hand ACN has launched a number of different educational aid programs and scholarships, given that many families have lost their work in their homes and have no means of funding their children’s basic education or university studies. It is this lack of financial means that has forced many to seek a future outside the country. Now, in the coming months some 1,215 school pupils and 437 university students in Homs and 105 university students in Damascus will benefit from this programme. In addition ACN has undertaken to support the schooling of the children of some 300 especially needy families in Damascus and also of many sick and orphaned children.
At the same time, a number of projects are aimed at helping children and young people traumatised by seven years of conflict and war. Prominent among these is the initiative “Let me Live My Childhood” in the city of Aleppo. Father Antoine Tahan, parish priest of the Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Cross, who is in charge of this initiative, explains: “Thank to the support of ACN the child will come out, having been stripped of ‘adult clothes’ and take back some of the gifts of childhood, which are irreplaceable.” In addition to this ACN will be supporting a number of summer courses for young people, organised both by the Maronite Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, the city that has probably suffered most during the war.
Faithful to its pastoral character ACN approved almost half million Euros for the repair or restoration of a number of churches and monasteries, including the Maronite cathedral and the Syro-Catholic cathedral, both of which are in Aleppo, as well the training of seminarians and the support of priests. For as Bishop Tobji emphasises, “the Church is the first port of call for the people” and yet the Church would be unable to provide is help without the support of “benefactors, organisations and ecclesiastical foundations like ACN”. Our aid “has to be able to help people rebuild, find work and resume a life in dignity”. Hence his desperate appeal to the West: “Do the right thing; help us to find peace.”