After years helping rebuild homes and infrastructure, Aid to the Church in Need is issuing an urgent call to the international community to help guarantee peace and stability in Iraq, as necessary conditions for economic development and job creation that will help communities, including Christians, to stay in their homeland.
The appeal was made by Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), fresh back from a visit to the country.
The past few decades have been very hard on Christians in Iraq. Economic and political uncertainty, coupled with large-scale persecution that culminated in the rise of the Islamic State, led to a massive exodus which reduced the Christian population from over one million to between 150 thousand or 250 thousand today.
But according to Heine-Geldern the current mood is finally one of hope in a brighter future: “When I visited in 2014, everybody was scared with the advance of ISIS, but the mood, and the cooperation and solidarity, were excellent. Then, in 2018, I found the community very depressed. Now, however, there are signs of hope, and many requests to support the development of the country, including Kurdistan and the different villages and towns inhabited by Christians”.
The role of the international community is crucial in helping Iraqi institutions ensure peace, and economic and political stability, and ACN will continue to make sure that Iraqi Christians are not forgotten, said Heine-Geldern during an online press conference hosted by ACN on Monday,9 May, under the title “Iraq: A time of Christian revival?”
“We will continue to focus on using our experience in advocacy, and our good information network with responsible politicians and leaders around the world, to make sure the situation of Christians in Iraq is not forgotten. We have to ask the international community to support efforts towards security, safety and sustainability. If we cannot guarantee a minimum standard of security, all other efforts to support peace and well-being in Iraq will become very complicated. This has to be a joint effort of the international community. Only when the security situation is relatively stable will people come back and invest in Iraq.”
After years of helping rebuild houses in the Nineveh Plain, and a strong investment in brick and mortar, the charity now plans to focus more on “enabling the local Church to assume its mission by establishing parishes, promoting Church teachings, supporting sisters, different priests and orders in what they are doing, and doing so well and with such enthusiasm”, but also on supporting education: “As we have learned, education is key to considering a sustainable future in this part of the world. Families are more inclined to remain in their villages when they have education”.
The recently inaugurated Al-Tahira secondary school in Qaraqosh, and the students’ scholarships for the Catholic University in Erbil, two projects to which ACN is heavily committed, are examples of this new approach.