Syria: Representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Brussels and Geneva as “Ambassadors of the Children”
By Eva-Maria Kolmann
Over the last few days, more than one million Syrian children in over 2,000 schools across the country have appealed for peace in their country via drawings and by writing letters to political decision makers in Europe. As “Ambassadors of the Children”, Patriarch Gregorios III, the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, as well as Metropolitan George Abou Zakhem of Homs representing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and Bishop Selvanos Boutros Al Nemeh of Homs of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate will travel together to Brussels and Geneva from 10th to 13th October to present the children’s letters and drawings to high-ranking representatives of the European Union and United Nations. Among others, the church representatives will meet with the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. In Geneva, they will give the children’s messages to the High Commissioner for Refugees, Dr Filippo Grandi, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Al-Huzain.
(The delegation in Brussels with one of the children’s drawings. (Left to right) The Church officials from Syria are: Bishop Selvanos Boutros Al Nemeh, Metropolitan George Abou Zakhem and Patriarch Gregorios III)
This event, which arose from an initiative of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is a concrete reaction and answer to the joint declaration of Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. During a meeting in Havana in February of this year, they had confirmed their desire and intention to have Catholic and Orthodox Christians speak out more in a united voice for peace in Syria and for persecuted Christians. The dramatic situation in the Middle East was one of the most important reasons for this historic meeting.
Aid to the Church in Need used this call for action as an opportunity to initiate specific joint campaigns with the churches in Syria. Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need, said, “The more we Christians are united in our defence of peace and in our support, in particular of children in need, the stronger is our voice and the more effective our efforts.”
A first definite step was taken when Aid to the Church in Need organised a trip for a Catholic Orthodox delegation in April of this year, which met with representatives of various Christian denominations in Lebanon and Syria to explore possibilities for collaboration. The first fruits of this trip was the “International Children’s Day” on 1st June that, on the initiative of Aid to the Church in Need, was observed as a children’s prayer day for peace. On this occasion, a joint message was released by Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs based in Syria. The appeal for peace sent by Syrian children to EU and UN representatives and the joint campaigns of the Christian denominations are further steps towards intensifying the unanimous efforts of Catholic and Orthodox Christians for peace in Syria.
(A young Syrian boy writing out a peace message © Aid to the Church in Need)
Thousands of children in Syria have been killed during the war. According to data provided by the Oxford Research Group, more than 11,500 children died in the first two years of the conflict alone. Half of the 11.4 million Syrians who have fled inside or outside of the country are underage minors. More than 2.1 million Syrian children are unable to attend school because of the war. Many children are severely traumatised. Children are frequent victims, not only of direct acts of war, but of abductions, torture and sexual exploitation.
The children’s campaign for peace arose from an initiative of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Since the conflict began in March of 2011, the international pastoral charity has been active in supporting the victims of the war and providing financial support, in particular for families who have lost their homes, have been forced to flee within the country or have been displaced. Aid is primarily granted to projects that secure the immediate survival of the people, and especially of children and babies. A sizable amount of the financial aid is used to procure accommodations for what are in general large families with many children, to supply essential foods and medicines as well as baby formula and diapers, warm winter clothing and heating oil and electricity. It is also being used to ensure that children can attend school. The aid is provided directly to the families in need, irrespective of their religious affiliation, through Catholic bishops and local church structures. Over the past five years, emergency aid amounting to approximately $19 million has been granted.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153.
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