Aid to the Church in Need (UK) is providing £180,000 for a new convent for the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Erbil, the Kurdish capital. The Sisters distribute material help, provide counselling and give Christian education as part of their ministry to more than 100,000 faithful who fled to Kurdistan a year ago. Prompting their exodus was the summer 2014 invasion of Mosul and Nineveh by Islamist terror group Daesh/IS.
The 22 Sisters and two novices needed a new, larger base in Erbil after their convent in Mosul was blown up by Daesh last November. The Sacred Heart Sisters have also had to leave behind two other convents in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The archdiocese suffered a huge blow in June 2014 when Daesh overrun Mosul – legal documents, churches, convents, liturgical objects, some dating back to Christianity’s earliest centuries.
Help for suffering Christians in Iraq forms the lion’s share of aid announced this month by ACN. The charity’s August 2015 aid payments also included £69,000 (EUR€95,000) to support 26 priests from the Syrian Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul. Over the past 18 months, ACN international has provided more than £5 million (EUR€7.5 million) for Iraq – much of it emergency aid for Christians including food, shelter and schools.
Other grants in this month’s ACN UK aid payments include £40,900 (EUR€56,000) for an extra floor of accommodation in Baalbek, in Lebanon, near the border with Syria, where the Good Shepherd Sisters provide emergency help for refugees.
A package of £30,000 (EUR€41,100) will help three schools in Sudan – providing classrooms, desks and benches for St Kizito Parish school, St Josephine Parish school, and St Stephen Parish school. A further £22,000 (EUR€30,000) will provide a primary school, nursery school in Torit, South Sudan, and a chapel.
The charity also provided funds for a teacher training course for catechists in Ukraine, for a church in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jimma-Bonga, Ethopia, and for a catechism course for 75 people in the Philippines. There were further grants for Church projects in India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Belarus, Romania, Serbia and Argentina.
Highlighting ACN’s help for the Sisters in Erbil, Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “I have met these Sisters whom we are helping – many of whom themselves are internal refugees. The love, prayers and witness of the Sisters and priests who had to flee and now live and serve their people, living amongst them, is a real inspiration.”
In a message aimed at the charity’s supporters, Mr Kyrke-Smith added: “Please join us in daily prayers for those who have suffered. So many of them still face danger as they care for Christians, Yazidis and Muslims who are in need.”
Thank God we are alive – fleeing Iraqi Christians walk up to 10 hours at night to escape from Islamic State
Over 100,000 Christians and other minorities have sought refuge in Erbil over the past year, often fleeing from the Islamic State terror group at night and walking up to ten hours in the dark.
Despite the hardships they endured, Iraqi Christian are determined to hold on to their faith in face of IS persecution. Many say they have no intention of leaving the country even after the abduction of over 100 Assyrian Christians by the Islamic State.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erdil admitted that his own faith is strengthened by the undaunted faith of the persecuted Christians who come to him. “People come and tell their stories of persecution and how they were really terrified, having to walk eight to 10 hours during the night,” the Iraqi archbishop said, adding “In the end, they would tell you, ‘Thank God we are alive. We thank God for everything.’ “
Archbishop Wards praised several Catholic organizations, such as Aid to the Church in Need, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, who have helped the Kurdistan region provide shelter, food, medical care and educational services to the people who fled there. “God did it in a way that a state could not really offer to its citizens in such a situation,” he said. “He did it through the church and through the generosity of so many people.”
Pope Francis has thanked the generous people in Iraq who took on the care of these brothers and sisters in dire need. He also said that the Christian minorities who are helping refugees “proclaim the resurrection of Christ by sharing their suffering and giving them aid.”