EU Politicians Skype with Children in Aleppo on the feast day of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus)
European Parliament Vice-President Mr. Antonio Tajani along with EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom and Belief Mr. Jan Figel, together with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), organised a 1 hour Skype conference call on 6 Dec between politicians at the European Parliament and school children in a Catholic church in Aleppo, Syria. The call was deliberately scheduled for 6 Dec, the feast day of St Nicholas – the original Santa Claus!
The children, both Christian and Muslim students, will tell their stories and answer questions about their lives during a war that has lasted 5 years, claimed the lives of over 400,000 people, destroyed 2,960 schools and where, of the approximately 2.9 million school aged children, almost 2 million cannot attend class. The appeal for peace seeks to draw attention to the fact that, unlike in Iraq, despite the divisions of war in Syria, Christians and Muslims are still united.
ACN’s Middle East expert Fr. Andrew Halemba, who conceived of the idea after several visits to the region, stated: “The video link between Syrian children and the European politicians builds on an initial concept of ‘Drawings for Peace for Syria’ where ACN together with the local churches in Syria, representing about 95% of all Syrian Christians, gathered over one million drawings and letters from children of all religions between the ages of 3 and 16 from over 2,000 schools in Aleppo, Homs, Tartus, Yabroud and Damascus. These messages and drawings are a vibrant, innocent call for peace by the Syrian children to the West”.
These letters and drawings were presented from October 10 to 13 to political decision makers at the EU and UN institutions in Brussels and Geneva by the “Ambassadors of the Children”, Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan George AbouZakhem of Homs, and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Selwanos Boutros Al Nemeh of Homs.
Among others, the Church representatives met with the Jean-Claude Juncker President of the European Commission, Martin Schulz President of the European Parliament and Federica Mogherini High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In Geneva, the children’s messages were presented to Dr. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein the UNHigh Commissioner for Human Rights.
The 6 December Skype conversation between the political leaders in Brussels and the children in Aleppo will be followed by an exhibition of the original children’s drawings in a main hall at the European Parliament. Simultaneously European Commission President Juncker has offered the drawings he received during the Patriarch’s visit to be integrated in an overall exhibition organized together with UNICEF titled, “Standing Strong: The Human Faces of the Syrian Crisis” to be held from December 5 to 15 at the Berlaymont Building of the European Commission. Here 18 drawings, alongside ACN photos of the Syrian children, will be exhibited after which these will then travel to other EU venues during the first three months of 2017.