Aid to the Church in Need and other Church organisations have helped save Christianity in Syria from wipe-out, according to the Syriac Catholic Patriarch. Speaking at a meeting in Brussels about Syria in the aftermath of Daesh (ISIS), His Beatitude Ignatius Younan III said that since the war began in spring 2011 the Christian community had been under huge pressure at a time of mass migration and displacement.
The Patriarch said: "We are the indigenous population but because we do not have our own militias or territorial ambitions, everyone thinks we agree with everything or are easy to overrun. For us it is a matter of survival. If it was not for the Church organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need we would be about to disappear."
The Patriarch made his comments to 30 representatives of European NGOs at the meeting co-hosted by ACN and the Commission of European Bishops' Conferences (COMECE).
It comes after reports that up to two-thirds of Syria's pre-2011 Christian population had fled within five years - down to 500,000 - with governments and parliaments accusing Daesh of genocide against Church communities and Yazidis. But, with Daesh in retreat all over the Middle East, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Antoine Chahda of Aleppo told the ACN-COMECE meeting that an end to violence in many parts of Syria meant reconstruction should now begin in earnest.
An absence of conflict did not necessarily mean an end to the war, Archbishop Chahda said, explaining: "The signs of the destruction of the entire life of Aleppo are visible and painful, such as the empty factories where the rebels and their supporters stole all the machinery.
"We need the industrial leaders to come back and produce, to give a solid base to the reconstruction."
The Archbishop and the Patriarch called for an end to sanctions against Syria, saying that the people who suffer the consequences are not high-level politicians but thousands of widows and orphans.
Syria is a priority country for ACN aid, with pastoral help and emergency support being rolled out in cities and towns all over the country.
In Aleppo, thousands of people are receiving emergency food, shelter (rental costs), hot water (electricity subsidy) and up to 2,200 Christian families in the city are receiving medical aid.
This Christmas, the charity is providing gifts for 1,500 Christian children in Aleppo, including a hat, socks, trousers, a shirt and a pair of winter shoes.
In Azizieh, a mainly Christian district of Aleppo, ACN is helping with running costs for Our Lady's Secondary School, which was bombed several times, and the Lord's Care Orphanage as well as repairs to the Al-Yarmouk Youth Sports Centre, damaged by shells.
ACN is also providing shelter for 340 families in towns and villages in southern Syria.