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Syria: ‘I was hungry and you fed me’

Clare Creegan and John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need describe the findings of the Catholic charity’s recent project-assessment trip to war-torn Syria, focusing on the needs of the suffering trapped Christians

IN desolate cities racked by shellfire, bomb blast and worsening poverty, more and more people in Syria are struggling to survive. During a fact-finding mission to Syria in February, Aid to the Church in Need staff witnessed the suffering of persecuted Christians in the war-torn country first-hand. The ACN team met family after family desperate for food, warmth, clean clothes, shelter and medicine.

Christian communities across Syria have fled following targeted violence since the civil war began in 2011. The motives behind continued attacks are complex but in many cases they were targeted chiefly for their religious beliefs.

The need is especially great for these Christians, at the mercy of extremists bent on destroying the Church whose roots date back to St Paul and the first flowering of our Faith.

Individuals and families urgently need our compassion and mercy as they continue on their own Way of the Cross.

One family told us: “If it wasn’t for you, we would not have survived. You were the first to help.”

 

George’s story

Just off a back street in a very dilapidated village outside Marmarita, we found the house we were looking for.

Nadia Sarah smiled as we handed her the nappies we had brought for her grandson George, aged 6. George has terminal cancer and may not reach his seventh birthday. In the last few months, his condition had declined sharply. He and his sister Janie, five, are cared for by their grandmother who is frail and cannot work. Nadia had been living in Homs for 30 years but was forced to flee when fighting swept the city.

They could find nobody to help them until they met a team of volunteers using ACN funds to distribute food, medicine, clothes and basic household items.

Elie Bassam, 28, the team’s coordinator, took the ACN team to visit George and his family who had been living in the cold, small house for more than five years.

Nadia explained to the team that it can be as low as -2C at night and the windows don’t keep out the cold.

“I need a washing machine to wash the children’s clothes,” she said, adding that it’s too cold to wash them and they won’t dry.

At 71, Nadia has severe water retention in her legs and cannot walk unaided. She has spent almost all the family’s reserves trying to find a cure for George, hiring doctors at huge expense and with no result.

When she learns that ACN is the one that provides the medicine and much-needed nappies for George, she bursts into tears. She told us: “I don’t need anything for myself only for George.”

 

Sr Annie Demerjian

Aid to the Church in Need is only able to make a difference through the vital work carried out by projects partners like Sr Annie Demerjian.

Sr Annie leads a team of volunteers bringing fuel, electricity, food, medicine and shelter for people living in Aleppo, the heart of the Syrian conflict.

In the face of ongoing attacks and sniper-fire, the volunteers have assessed more than 550 households, seeking out those most in need in a city surrounded by extremists groups.

Water supplies have been cut off by Daesh (ISIS) and electricity provision is in the grip of Al-Nusra Front.

Most people cannot afford basic supplies with inflation sky-rocketing. But, thanks to ACN’s generous benefactors, Sr Annie and her team have been able to fund electricity for 800 households, provide 5000 pairs of pyjamas and distribute 7,200 warm clothes including coats and jumpers.

With violence worsening in Aleppo, Sr Annie has asked ACN to help support families by providing vouchers for clean water and packages of urgent items including food, toiletries and rent.

The number of Christians left in Aleppo has fallen from 200,000 before the war to barely 35,000 today yet some who remain feel, in Sr Annie’s phrase, that “they have a mission to stay” while others are too frail and frightened to try to escape via the only road leading out of the city.

While the team were with her, Sr Annie said: “If you saw Aleppo, you would cry.

“So much of the city is destroyed and if you at ACN didn’t help them, who knows what would happen?

“Really, you at ACN are helping us to perform miracles—it’s not easy to keep 300 families going with food.”

 

ACN Scotland events

Your support is a sign of your solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Syria as they carry their cross.

Donations enable us to offer the hope of Christ’s resurrection to them as well as basic needs such as warm clothing, food and shelter. ACN Scotland is hosting a number of events in the next few months in aid of suffering families in Syria.

After last year’s success, the ACN Youth Rally will return to Carfin Grotto, 100 Newarthill Road in Motherwell on 16th June.

Last year 1200 youngsters from 30 high schools declared their support for oppressed Christians during a day of prayer, information and action.

Those interested in learning more about ACN’s activity in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are invited to join the charity in the celebration of Mass at St Paul’s in Belmont, Ayr at 7pm on June 2. Talks in the hall following the Mass will focus on praying for peace in the Middle East and will include the latest updates from Syria and the Middle East.

“Christians in the Middle East feel alone in their plight,” Lorraine McMahon, ACN head of operations in Scotland said, describing the charity’s campaign for Syria.

“Help us prove to them they are not—stand in Solidarity with Persecuted Christians and join Aid to the Church in Need by ‘Standing Up for Faith and Freedom.’”

ACN Need Scotland will announce more events as the year progresses—please look out for them and feel welcome to attend.

If you would like to register your interest for any of the events, please contact Lorraine McMahon on 01698 337470 or lorraine.mcmahon@acnuk.org.

 

—For more information about Aid to the Church in Need and the persecuted Church, you can visit the website at www.acnuk.org, follow the charity on Twitter: @ACN_Scotland or give us a call: 01698 337 472.

 

 

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