Aid to the Church in Need books record year--focus remains on Middle East

"We are a lifeline for the Church in the Middle East."

By Joop Koopman

NEW YORK—Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)—a pontifical charity that supports the suffering and persecuted Church around the world—has reported a record amount in donations for 2015. The organization raised $138 in contributions, an increase of 15 percent compared to 2014.

In 2015, the agency funded more than 6200 projects in more than 140 countries around the world—but, as in the previous year, the bulk of the aid was earmarked for Christians persecuted and displaced in Syria and Iraq, as well as those Christians—exiled from those two countries—who are stranded in Lebanon as refugees.

“We are a lifeline for the Church in the Middle East,” said ACNUSA Chairman George Marlin, reporting that the organization last year spent more than $20M in providing Christians in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with shelter, food, medical care, and education for children and youth.

However, “the needs of Christians in the Middle East continue to escalate,” said Marlin, stressing that “Catholic and Christian aid agencies alone cannot get the job done.” He added: “the situation is getting to a breaking point, particularly in Lebanon—whose population doubled because of the influx of mostly Syrian refugees—and in Syria where continued fighting among various factions is spurring the emigration of large numbers of the remaining Christians.”

What’s more, said the author of “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: a 21st Century Tragedy” (St. Augustine’s Press), the large concentration of refugees in Lebanon—destitute, unable to find employment, and increasingly desperate—makes for a “breeding ground for terrorism;” and ISIS will take advantage of the situation, as was evidenced in the recent suicide-bombers’ attack on the Lebanese Christian village of al-Qaa.

Destruction in Aleppo, Syria.jpg
The US and its Western allies and allies in the region, said Marlin, must do much more than bring a halt to the fighting across the region; besides ensuring that adequate humanitarian aid is delivered to those who need it most, he said, “plans must be put in motion now so that refugees—Christians and Muslims alike, particularly those in Lebanon—can eventually return to their homeland.” Once there, he continued, “international powers must guarantee the rights of religious minorities to remain in their ancestral lands and give them the means to survive.”

Long-term planning, said Marlin, must therefore include large-scale reconstruction and job-creation projects. “It is not just a matter of defeating ISIS,” he argued, “but of developing a kind of Marshall Plan for the region, a holistic strategy to win the peace.” Only genuine, “comprehensive peace-building” can put a halt to the “unfolding human tragedy of epic proportions” that is engulfing the region and spilling over into Europe as well.

“Our leadership must have the political will to look beyond self-interest and serve the common good,” Marlin stressed. Meanwhile, ACN and other Church-run agencies will continue to meet the most urgent needs of Christians in the Middle East. “But time is running out,” Marlin concluded.

Destruction in the Christian quarter of Aleppo, Syria; ACN photo

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