THIS YEAR, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting more than 40 different summer programs for the benefit of Christian communities in countries where they are a minority, experience discrimination or where they are suffering as a result of conflict.
Almost half of these projects are for Christian communities in the Middle East, above all in Syria, where ACN helped support 28 summer courses catering to young people and families.
Father Antoine Mukhallala, a Melkite priest from the Archdiocese of Aleppo, has just returned from one of the eight summer courses organized by the Faith and Life Community for physically or mentally handicapped people and their families. There is one story in particular he wants to tell ACN. It concerns a widow, the mother of two little girls, one of whom is autistic.
The priest recounts: “This mother was suffering terribly, because she had lost her husband when he attempted to emigrate in one of the ‘ships of death’ bound for Europe. She suffered so much not because he drowned, however, but because he was murdered, and she had to witness his body being returned to her with his throat cut.
“This woman was suffering greatly, yet living imprisoned in her solitude. Although physically present among the rest of the group, she barely spoke, either about her dead husband or her daughter. She rejected every kind of happiness, even though the others tried to reach her in her pain.
“Little by little, however, during the week of summer camp week, a sense of love began to return to this woman’s heart; the darkness began to lift from it and it began to beat again with love. She began to realize once more that life is beautiful—partly thanks to the dramatic change in the behavior of her autistic daughter, who even invited me to dance with her!
“At the end of the week, this mother said to us, ‘If only the camp had lasted another week, I’m quite sure that my Jenny would even have begun to speak! I give thanks to God for what this woman experienced and for having been given the opportunity to witness many such spiritual experiences.”
This summer many other groups of children, young people and families will be taking part in summer camps, not only in various parts of Syria but also in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the Crimea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is an opportunity for wearied people of all ages to relax, recuperate and find new strength—not only physically and psychologically, but also spiritually.