As Syria remains locked in a decade-long civil war and Lebanon grapples with an extreme financial, social and political crisis, many Christians are tempted to abandon their homelands, like hundreds of thousands of Christians. ‘have already done.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will fund projects worth $ 5.6 million in Syria and Lebanon to help local Christian communities cope with increasingly difficult conditions.
Much will go to projects related to construction and restoration, or education and religious training, with a lot of support also for rent and basic food and medical aid. Without such programs, there is a serious risk that Christians will leave the area for good.
As Syria is still locked in a ten-year-old civil war and Lebanon grapples with an extreme financial, social and political crisis, made worse by the explosion of the Port of Beirut in 2020 and the recent resurgence of tensions between many ethnic and religious groups Christians are tempted to abandon their native land, as hundreds of thousands of people have already done.
In a recent interview with ACN, Patriarch Joseph Younan III of the Syriac Catholic Church pointed out that if the situation does not radically improve, the presence of Christians in the region may soon end. “We are very, very afraid that if this crisis continues, it will be the end of Christians in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East in a few years. Normally when Christians leave, as has happened in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, they do not come back.
To avoid this tragic scenario, ACN has just approved a set of new projects that will provide Christians in Syria and Lebanon with immediate help to help them go about their daily lives and regain some hope of staying in their country.
Syria, where many Christians live on less than a dollar a day and where ACN has provided material and financial support for many years, is a major beneficiary of these projects. These will include funding for meal programs for the elderly, fuel for the central heating system of a residence for young students, money for six months of drug supplies and the cost of daily living for families, and many other initiatives, including scholarships for students.
A special project aims to help young newlywed couples, a need highlighted by Regina Lynch, ACN Project Manager. Following her recent visit to the region, she said: “A lot of young people don’t get married because they can’t afford to settle down together. It is a situation that also worries the bishops, recognizing that the faithful do not marry because they simply cannot afford it. We are working on a project in Aleppo, which will consist of giving couples enough money to cover basic needs to move into housing or to pay rent for an apartment for two years.
The devastating situation in Lebanon has led ACN to increase its aid to the country since August 2020. While before that date most of the funding in Lebanon was aimed at supporting Syrian refugees in the country, it is now the Lebanese communities themselves who need help. Projects in Lebanon include food packages for needy families, heating for others to get through the harsh winter, as well as mass allowances to support the clergy. In partnership with the Maronite Archdiocese of Tire, for example, food packages will be provided to needy families for the next eight months.
Christians in Lebanon and Syria belong to various denominations. Besides the different Catholic rites, there are also a variety of Orthodox churches. Ecumenical relations are generally very good, and most projects benefit Christians of all faiths. Part of the funding will go directly to Orthodox Churches such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as the Armenian Apostolic Church, all located in Aleppo, Syria.
“Pope Francis has often spoken of an ecumenism of blood. In the face of so many difficulties and persecutions, the doctrinal and theological differences between these communities seem almost irrelevant to the shared witness of love for Christ and for a lasting Christian presence. We are very happy to help our Greek Orthodox and Apostolic Armenian brothers and sisters in Aleppo by funding some of their projects and thus helping to preserve the rich tapestry of Christian traditions in Syria ”, said Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive Chairman of ‘ACN.
Almost $ 1.7 million of the total sum for the two countries will go to restoration and construction projects, providing communities, schools and religious orders, among others, with the material conditions to be able to continue their missions. In addition, some $ 1.25 million is earmarked for educational projects, in recognition of the importance of both regular schooling and faith education for Christian youth and adults.
“ACN has been heavily involved in this region for several years now. While we cannot use our influence to enforce peace or stability, we can use the money that our donors generously give us to help create the conditions to keep the Christian presence alive in this part of the Middle East. Christians have lived on these lands for 2,000 years, but if we don’t help them now, their legacy could become more than a relic, ”said Thomas Heine-Geldern.
Christians formed the majority of the population in Lebanon and about 10 percent of the population in Syria. Years of instability, however, have led many to leave and seek peace, freedom and better economic conditions in the West or in the Gulf States.
This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need-USA and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the Suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org