Christian children in the IDP camp in the Diocese of Erbil set up for Iraqi Christians expelled from their homes by IS © Aid to the Church in Need

By Karla Sponar

Advent is a “time of expectation”. For thousands of Iraqi Christians, the wait after they were driven out by the terrorist organisation IS has stretched out to an indefinite period. Since 2014, many of them have had to leave their homes. They now want to go back to the places where their ancestors have lived since the beginnings of Christianity. However, since they were driven away, their houses have been destroyed, damaged and looted. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is assisting the displaced Iraqi Christians to return home. 

ACN wants to enable around 8,000 families to return to their homes in Iraq. In order to do so, 5,000 houses have to be built on the north eastern Nineveh Plains. Two families often share a house. Only 2,000 euros (2,300 USD) are needed per house to replace roofs, doors, windows and sanitary facilities. In addition, 15,000 children and adolescents will be given a Christmas parcel containing coats and sweets – the gifts will be put together by religious sisters and catechists in the diocese of Erbil where most of the Iraqi Christians sought refuge in 2014. 

For this reason, ACN is calling for more donations before Christmas so that the displaced persons can go “back to their roots”. This is the motto of the campaign. Father Andrzej Halemba associates it with the Advent season. “Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. We want to make sure that the Christians on the Nineveh Plains can once more have a ‘Bethlehem’, a dwelling that actually exists,” the head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need explained. 

2,000 euros on average for a renovated house 

According to the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, only 27 per cent of the families have returned to their neighbourhoods in north eastern Iraq. The situation there remains tense. More than 10,000 houses have to be renovated or rebuilt for those returning home. The reconstruction zone encompasses nine towns, among them Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), Bartella and Teleskuf. The total costs for the reconstruction, including infrastructure and the region’s more than 360 church buildings, are estimated to be 230 million euros (250 million US dollars). The ACN campaign “Back to the Roots” is calling for people all over the world to contribute to this mammoth task. 

Displaced Christians have not been forgotten after the exodus 

Thanks to benefactors from all over the world, ACN has been able to help thousands of Iraqi Christians return to their towns. “We first funded emergency aid projects and set up containers so that the displaced persons had a roof over their heads and their children could go to school,” Baron Johannes Heereman explained. “Fortunately, in the meantime many have been able to move into shared houses,” the executive president of ACN added. The Catholic charity also contributed rent subsidies, food parcels and subsistence aid to displaced priests and sisters and helped rebuild chapels. 

Over a period of almost three years, ACN has collected more than 35 million euros to help Iraqi Christians return home. “However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Baron Heereman emphasised. Donations and prayers are equally important for these Christians who have suffered so deeply. Aid to the Church in Need wants to use this campaign to make the hope of a personal “Bethlehem” more obtainable for Iraqi refugees. “Their homeland is still deeply scarred from the war. However, in spite of everything, they want to return to their roots. That is brave,” the president of ACN emphasised and urged, “We cannot desert the Christian minority after the exodus.” 


Editor’s Notes 

Directly under the Holy See, 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. 
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, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world. 
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material. 

For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: info@aidtochurch.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills BC NSW 2153. 

On Line donations can be made at www.aidtochurch.org

 

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