“For a moment, I thought it was my last moment to live.” Writing from Syria to her friends at Aid to the Church in Need, Sister Annie described how she came within a whisker of death as she went about her work in the bombblasted city of Aleppo.
The incident happened as she was distributing aid – your aid – to families desperate for food, shelter and medicine. Sister Annie is just one of many project partners who are entrusted with the task of distributing relief to the poorest of the poor in places often cut off from water and electricity supplies for weeks on end.
In spite of the conflict that has racked the Middle East – your help can continue to make a real diff erence, enabling ACN’s project partners to provide food, medicine and shelter urgently needed this winter. In doing this vital work, your Ministers of Mercy are restoring people’s Godgiven dignity, helping them in their struggle against oppression.
Aid to the Church in Need is standing up for religious freedom – people’s right to live out their lives of faith without threat to their life and liberty. By off ering Mass stipends for pers cuted priests, training seminarians and Sisters, repairing churches where it is safe to do so, your charity is providing a practical response to those denied the right to practise the Faith we all hold dear.
In our shared commitment to faith and freedom, ACN echoes this appeal given by Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo: “Faced with what is happening today; humanly speaking we would have no option but to despair. “But, strengthened by our hope in Jesus Christ, who has promised to stay with us, we are confi dent in his Divine Mercy – the brothers and sisters of goodwill who come to our aid.”
Sister Annie certainly keeps her Guardian Angel busy. Travelling about the bomb-blasted Syria city of Alepp, the 49-year-old Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM) Sister provides urgent ACN aid - food, electricity, clothes, shoes and winter fuel - for thousands of people in Aleppo and Hassake. She coordinates a group of volunteers - young men and women who go from house to house, assessing people's needs and distributing relief.
Sister Annie says: "We are surrounded by the rebels. You don't know when a bomb might land on you." On one home visit, Sister Annie met Adib Elias Matouk and his wife, Marsel Batikha, both in their 70s. Sister found the couple sleeping on the floor in their flat because they had sold their bed to pay for winter fuel. "The first thing we did was to buy them a new bed and to give them a subsidy for an electricity generator. "One of my group was doing a visit when a bomb landed - he hid in one building and then continued visiting families.
The volunteer has got family but he tole me: 'Don't worry, Sister. I will be ok.' "When we carry out visits and give aid, we pray - we need to speak about the presence of Christ in out lives and say that in spite of the difficulties and sufferings there is God. In spite of everything we need to thank God." Sister Annie added: "In the name of hundreds of families and children, we say thank you because you entered into the houses and the hearts of many; because you feed hundreds of hungry families; because you warm many homes and hearts of those who feel cold; because hundreds of pairs of shoes protect hundreds of children from the harsh winter; because through you, we could help to heal many wounded people." Sister and her team have turned to ACN to increase their aid programme.
About 7,500 meals are being served in Aleppo in Syria - thanks to your support for the work done by a heroic priest, Father Ziad Hilal. The Jesuit explained: "We have a big kitchen. This kitchen was sponsored by ACN and other associations, and a lot of people come." Fr Ziad revealed how not only is the Church feeding many Muslims in a starving city - but the kitchen itself is run by a team of both Muslims and Christians.
Highlighting the good inter-faith relations that exist in spite of persecution and violence, Fr Ziad said: "The oonly way is dialogue between Syrians [of different faiths] because...with weapons we couldn't find a resolution. We have to stop the weapons and work for peace."
Earlier this year, Pope Francis entrusted a donation to Aid to the Church in Need to help displaced families in northern Iraq forced from their homes by Daesh (ISIS). Calling on the faithful “not to forget the drama of persecution”, the Holy Father said “Mercy calls on us to [help] these brothers and sisters of ours, to dry their tears, heal their physical and moral wounds, and console their grief-stricken and damaged hearts.
“It is not a matter of a mere dutiful act of charity but of helping our very own hearts, since all Christians, in virtue of the same baptism, are ‘one’ in Christ.” Aid to the Church in Need has not forgotten the displaced families in Erbil who fled from Daesh two years ago – and, as other charities have been forced to cut funding, ACN has increased its support.
The ACN is providing ongoing aid to enable the faithful in Iraq to survive persecution and displacement. Our help includes food for 13,500 Christian families, covering rent costs, psychological counselling, Christian education and catechesis.
Another ACN project is medical aid – supported with a donation from Pope Francis. Your generosity is making a real difference. Erbil’s Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda told Aid to the Church in Need: “Your solidarity made it possible for so many families to stay in Erbil and not leave the country. Thank you.”