EU Politicians to Skype with Children in Aleppo on the feast day of St. Nicholas
By Mark Reidemann
Together with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), European Parliament Vice-President Mr. Antonio Tajani along with EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom and Belief Mr. Jan Figel, will organize on December 6th a 1 hour Skype conference call between politicians at the European Parliament and school children in a Catholic church in Aleppo, Syria.
The children, both Christian and Muslim students, will tell their stories and answer questions about their lives in 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.
(Syrian schoolchildren drawing and writing messages to the global community. These messages included such things as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!” © Aid to the Church in Need)
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”.
(One of the thousands of drawings that the Syrian children have made asking for peace © Aid to the Church in Need)
Among the letters collected is that from Razan in Grade 5:“I haven´t seen anything of my childhood. My home was destroyed. My life changed. I am afraid whenever I hear the sound of the explosions. A lot of sounds; I feel very sad when I see the kids dying. I hope that God will bring everything back to its condition before and that God saves our country Syria.” Another short message comes from Shifa in Grade 6: “Father, I miss you but you will still be in my heart.” A poem from 12 year old Shan in Aleppo describes the suffering in war:
“I am praying, God my country is suffering
Cold, sadness and darkness, no electricity nor candles.
A mother is calling with her unheard voice
to the father who left that morning and unsure if he will come back.
Please, God, do not abandon us to sorrow and hunger
God, keep your hands with us, our country is suffering.
Children, like the sunrise, study in the darkness;
we are waiting for good news covered by mercy,
hoping to meet in the neighborhood beautiful smiles,
but they find black hearts even darker than the carbon.
They are baptized with blood and we do not even have tears.
God, don´t abandon our suffering country!”
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 Abou Zakhem of Homs, and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Selwanos Boutros Al Nemeh of Homs.
(Front row left to right: Metropolitan George Abdou Zakhem of Homs, Patriarch H.B. Gregorius III - Gregory III Laham Greek Melkite of Antioch, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Al-Neme, Fr. Andrzej Halemba (Head of ACN’s Middle East department). Second row: Mark von Riedemann and Marcela Szymanski © Aid to the Church in Need)
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 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The December 6th 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.
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.
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