Pope Francis last Sunday before reciting the Anglus lit a candle sent to him from Syria as part of the Candles for Peace Campaign launched by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) who this year will intensify its efforts on behalf of the various Christian communities in Syria.
The Christian presence in Syria is in grave danger of extinction. Before the beginning of the war, Christians accounted for some 10% of the population while today, it is estimated that approximately only 700,000 remain, although it is difficult to give precise figures at this stage.
This decline is a direct consequence of the humanitarian crisis sparked by the civil war in Syria and aggravated by the outright persecution of Christians at the hands of extremist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
ACN aims to finance emergency, reconstruction and pastoral assistance projects valued at a total 15 million Euros, and directed especially to the needs of children and young people.
The Foundation aims to provide food, medicines, personal hygiene items, electricity and fuel for displaced families; build private homes of refugee families that have returned as well as providing other essential structures in Christian towns and villages, such as churches and monasteries.
On a Pastoral level, Aid to Church in Need will be providing basic subsistence support for priests and religious sisters, offer training programs and spiritual care, as well as post-trauma support programs.
The Foundation is also aiming to help in the educational sector by paying school fees and scholarships for children and university students, buy school equipment and educational materials, supply milk and food supplements for babies and children aged three years and under as well as offering a small Christmas gifts for over 15,000 children.
The campaign will kick off with a symbolic action in which some 50,000 children from different Christian communities in six war-torn cities of the country will light candles for peace.
“By means of this Christmas campaign, ACN hopes to offer consolation to Syrian Christians in the suffering they are going through, for peace still has not arrived everywhere in the country. At the same time we hope to touch the hearts of all people of goodwill and mobilize the world to help this Christian community in the Middle East and allow the Syrians to stay put in their ancient homeland“, explains Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive Chairman of ACN.
The Greek Orthodox Bishop Demetrios Charbak of Banias said “We need to pray and stand together in order to be able to meet all the challenges that face us here in Syria. Candles for peace in Syria is a really beautiful and symbolic idea.”