Keeping Christianity Alive in the Middle East
The work of ACNUSA on behalf of Christians in the Middle East is essential in ensuring that Christianity will survive in two countries, Iraq and Syria, where the faithful have been victims of harsh persecution by ISIS and other jihadist groups. Many thousands of Christians have lost their homes and are living as IDPs or as refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Their plight continues to prompt many to emigrate to the West.
An enduring—and eventually flourishing—Christian presence in the Middle East is essential to preserve an ancient heritage in the lands where the faith was born; what’s more, the Christian community has always played the role of peace-maker between the warring factions of Shiite and Sunni Muslims; Christian schools and social services make invaluable contributions to society by serving the entire community, regardless of faith; the Christian faith promotes tolerance, democracy, respect for human rights, in particular freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
Iraq continues to feel the aftershock of Daesh terror. The areas recently freed from its rule are nearly destroyed and in severe economic distress. Approximately 6.7 million people depend on humanitarian aid.
During the war, thousands of Christians were either killed or forced to flee; an estimated 250,000 remain. The reconstruction of their settlements on the Nineveh Plains is our largest project in decades. In this region, 14,035 homes and 363 church buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Thanks to the contributions of our donors and the support of Iraqi church leaders, it has been able to serve so many in desperate need.
Though 19,452 families had left this area, because of our donors’ kindness, 9,119 of them have been able to return. We expect that number to grow in the coming years, and for the program’s scope to expand: we have also planned for the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, churches, community centers, and outpatient clinics.
We serve those who have yet to return as well: in recent years, we have given almost 100,000 displaced people regular access to food and shelter.
Prior to the war, more than 1.5 million Christians lived in Syria. About 500,000 remain, and their survival largely depends on the support of foreign governments and organizations like ACN. As Samir Nassir, Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, explains, “The people of Syria no longer seek freedom. They now seek daily bread, water, gas to cook, and a few liters of fuel.”
In 2018, ACN funded 185 projects in Syria, with a focus on education, reconstruction, and humanitarian aid for Christians and Muslims alike. We closely consult with community leaders to ensure that families’ most urgent needs are met, be they medicine, food provisions, or rent subsidies.
Major initiatives from last year include: food packages delivered to 3,000 families; a treatment program for victims of trauma; scholarships for 12,000 students; milk for 800 families with young children; and the reconstruction of 200 houses and apartments.
ACN is currently supporting 40 pastoral projects involving the training of priests and religious, the formation of laity, the distribution of Bibles and catechism books, and Mass stipends to poor priests. We are also funding 29 projects related to the construction and reconstruction of homes, churches and parish facilities and 65 projects tending to the spiritual, material and educational needs of Christian families in crisis.
In Lebanon, ACNUSA works closely with the local Churches to meet the needs of the many thousands of Syrian Christian refugees who fled their country’s civil war—providing them with pastoral care as well as with humanitarian assistance. In its humanitarian work, ACNUSA makes no distinction between Christians or Muslims.
Aid to the Church in Need is supporting several projects in Lebanon, one being the Saint John the Merciful Table. This food program provides approximately one thousand people with a hot meal each day in the town of Zaleh. Since it is not far from the Syrian border, many refugees are helped, in addition to the local Lebanese population, of which there are many in need, especially the elderly and children.
Other projects include food packages and hygiene kits for Syrian refugees, as well as a tuition program so that Syrian children can continue their education despite all the chaos they have lived through.