In the words of Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, the civil war in Syria is a “slaughter of the innocents” in which many children had been “killed by bombs, drowned in the ocean, suffocated by poison gas, mutilated, traumatised, subjected to sexual abuse, forcibly enlisted in the Army or else – as has happened to many young Syrian girls – forced to “marry” total strangers at an extremely tender age”.

“After almost 8 years of conflict in Syria, the consequences are indescribable, above all for the little children. Through our campaign we want to raise awareness of the critical conditions into which the country has been plunged and pray for peace and reconciliation” said Philipp Ozores, the Secretary-General of the International Office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) who yesterday presented Charity’s campaign Candles for Peace in Syria at the Polish embassy to the Holy See in Rome, a campaign formally launched by Pope Francis the day before.

On Sunday 2nd December, Pope Francis had kicked off ACN’s Christmas campaign of prayer, aid and solidarity for the people of Syria, tagged “Candles for Peace in Syria” at the Vatican during the Angelus prayer. In a symbolic gesture, The Holy Father lit one of the candles decorated with the faces of Syrian children with these words: “Adhering to the initiative of Aid to the Church in Need, I will light a candle now together with many children that are doing the same in Syria. Let us pray and help Christians to remain in Syria and in the Middle East as witnesses of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation”.

“May these flames of hope disperse the darkness of war!” he prayed.

The candle lit by the pontiff was created by a craftsman from the Old City of Damascus, and it bears the photos of some 40 children, most of them from Aleppo, and a dove with outstretched wings in the shape of a child’s hand. In the last few days, this campaign has involved over 50,000 children from several of the Syrian cities most severely affected by the war, including Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Hassaké, Tartus and Latakia. The children have prayed and decorated candles with symbols of peace– crosses, doves and messages of hope to convey to the world their longing for peace. ACN (Malta) is calling on people of goodwill in Malta and Gozo to respond to this cry of peace from the children of Syria and help us give them a message of hope especially in this season of Christmas.

Sister Annie Demerjian, a Syrian religious of the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary and project partner of ACN who has been involved in a lot of relief work in Syria, displayed some powerful images of the suffering caused by the war, a suffering that she herself witnessed in Aleppo along with its people. “It is difficult to imagine how much the Syrian children had to endure. Children robbed of their childhood and of the joy which should characterize their youthful years”, she explained.

“During these years the faces of the Syrian children have cried out for help. By lighting these candles we can give them hope”, added Father Andrzej Halemba, the head ACN’s project section for the Middle East. He then opened up a live video linkup with a group of children in a primary school in Aleppo, during which both the children in Syria and the ambassadors and other guests in Rome, following the example of Pope Francis, lit up candles made in Damascus. After this Cardinal Zenari lit the first digital candle in ACN’s online campaign “Light a candle for peace”.

This campaign envisages a package of emergency aid, Christmas parcels containing clothes, shoes, toys and other essentials for over 15,000 of the poorest and most destitute children, the distribution of food parcels and other basic essentials including medicines, milk powder for babies, help with school and education fees for school children and support with rent and heating costs for Christian refugee families.

To donate, please send a cheque made out to ACN (Malta) in an envelope marked “peace for the children” by regular post to the following address: ACN Malta, 39b, Mdina Road, Attard, ATD9038 Malta. You can also make a donation via bank transfer APS Account Number 20001771733.

ACN Malta