By Oliver Maksan
The apparent willingness of major European countries—including Germany—to take in refugees from the Middle East is spurring growing numbers of Syrian Christians to find ways to emigrate, reported an official for international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Currently on a fact-finding mission in Syria, Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the Middle East desk for ACN, said that “the discussions in Europe have also been noticed here.”
“Many wish to leave, and especially the Christians. I have often been asked if I can help people to move to Germany, for example. But the aim of our work is to facilitate a future for the people in their own country."
The priest acknowledged the “ever greater instability in Syria. The military success of the ‘Islamic State’ causes fear and anxiety especially among the Christians.”
“The future of the city of Aleppo, where many Christians still live, is uncertain."
However, there is success on the part of ACN-supported project partners who are helping refugees and internally displaced people. "They are working for the benefit of the people in an ever more efficient and coordinated way,” said Father Halemba.
He cited the example of the Christian town of Marmarita, near the Lebanese border, where aid has made a huge difference: “One boy, when we met, only said one word in Arabic: shukran, ‘thank you.’ Everyone was very moved by that.”
“An old woman pleaded with me, with tears in her eyes, to go on helping the Christians in Syria so that they could stay,” the priest reported.
The young dentist Sana (name altered) heads team of volunteers in Marmarita—which is bursting with refugees. She said: "Marmarita is safe. We do not hear any bombs or explosions here.”
“But the cost of living has become very high, and the people have hardly any jobs. Our work is focused mainly on helping people pay their rent, as well as providing medical care and tuition subsidies.”
Nearly 300 families are currently receiving rent subsidies from ACN, which is also paying for the travel expenses of 140 students attending universities at a considerable distance from the town.
Father Halemba emphasized that his organization not only provides humanitarian aid, but also continues to put a premium on supporting pastoral projects.
"In the city of Qusayr, for example, we have funded the renovation of a church that was destroyed by jihadists. This gives the people hope that life can go on.”
“The Church must give the people bread with one hand and the Bible with the other. People need material as much as spiritual aid,” the priest said.
He is already concerned about the coming winter. "Fuel and gas are in short supply in Syria and very expensive. But the people rely on these for heating.”
“Last year some 50 people died from the cold. We will therefore need to pay particular attention to aid for the winter,” said Father Halemba.
Aid to the Church in Need has given more than $8M in aid to the people in Syria since the outbreak of the war in 2011. The organization currently supports some 140 humanitarian and pastoral projects in Syria.
With picture of Father Halemba with refugees in Marmarita, Syria (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.