John Pontifex
reports back from a country in crisis


The people of Syria have been living through unimaginable pain and suffering for the past seven years, as the conflict has caused terrible devastation.

“They have nobody in the world but each other and you.” Sister Annie clasps the hands of Lucine and smiles at the 85-year-old’s volunteer helper, Fadi. Thanks to you, the friends of ACN, Lucine is receiving medicine, clothes, fuel and electricity. Pope Francis has described the situation in Syria as “the biggest humanitarian catastrophe after World War II”.

This phrase echoed in my mind as I travelled in Syria, meeting recipients of ACN aid. This report celebrates how – with your help – 143 ACN projects were completed in Syria over the past 12 months.

So much more needs to be done. With your continued prayer and compassion, we can ensure that those in greatest need of emergency aid and pastoral help are never forgotten. As one mother told me: “Words don’t come close to expressing our gratitude for what you have done for us.”

ACN’s Aleppo project partner Sister Annie Demerjian visits housebound 85-year-old Lucine, who is helped by volunteer Fadi


More than 2,350 of the poorest Christian families in Aleppo are receiving free food items thanks to an ACN voucher scheme. The vouchers provide each family with a month’s-worth of essentials, which they can select at one of two supermarkets in districts with the densest population of Christians in the city.

Food items are heavily discounted – both supermarkets are subsidised as part of ACN project partner Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo’s ‘Build to Stay’ scheme which encourages Christians to remain in the city.

Benjamin holds ACN vouchers entitling poor Christian families to free food at the Amal Supermarket in Aleppo

Welcoming me into ‘Amel’ (Arabic for ‘Hope’) supermarket in Sulaymaniyah district, Benjamin, aged 21, told me he was one of a team of 15 who stock shelves, work the tills and carry shopping bags for the infirm and elderly.

Benjamin, who is Greek Orthodox, said: “Christians like me want to stay in Syria, the land of our forefathers and the Cradle of Christianity.” Supermarket manager Elian Tande added: “This is a haven for poor people to get basic necessities at the lowest possible prices.” The scheme is one of many ACN projects providing food items in Syria. Others include the ‘Drop of Milk’ programme for toddlers and children in Aleppo and Jesuit-run schemes providing food baskets in Homs.


Help ACN to provide emergency aid including food, medicine and shelter – as well as pastoral support to keep the Faith alive.


The story of Christian father of three Antoine from Aleppo and how he escaped Daesh after 62 days of incarceration.

One morning, Antoine arrived at work only to be kidnapped by the jihadi militants who had seized the factory as part of their takeover of east Aleppo. They put a knife to Antoine’s throat and a gun to his head and told him to abandon his faith.

Determined to stay alive for the sake of his wife, Georgette, and three young daughters, Antoine’s pact with God was to outwardly behave as a Muslim while secretly keeping his Christian faith. After many days of torment, Antoine received a visit from a Daesh ‘Prince’ who told him to prepare for a special mission – to be a suicide bomber. With Antoine in the factory, where he was confined, was a British convert to militant Islam whose job was to persuade him to do the deed.

Antoine, his wife Georgette and eldest daughter, Gezel, aged four

Praying for deliverance, Antoine said that early one morning, while semi-conscious, he felt a tap on his shoulder from Our Lady; she was telling him to escape. Everyone in the building was at prayer and – seizing his moment – Antoine tiptoed to the main door.

To his amazement, the chains and lock slipped open, the door swung wide, and he stepped out. He hauled himself over a high wall, ran through the high-security barrier between east and west Aleppo, and made his way to a relative’s house. There, he was re-united with his wife, Georgette, and daughters – Gezel, aged four, Eleanor, three, and two-year old Roula.

The family were destitute – until ACN project partner Sister Annie Demerjian found them a home, food, and medicine. Antoine explained that the family could not pay their rent and in response Sister Annie handed them the necessary funds – provided by ACN. Georgette gently squeezed her husband’s hand and said: “Didn’t I tell you that God never abandons his people.”

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