Vatican City, Jul 4, 2018 / 07:24 am
Since 2014 international charity organization Aid to the Church in Need has spent some 40 million euros [$46.6 million] funding relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, with the majority of support going toward basic needs such as housing.
However, according to Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), now that the international community is chipping in to rebuild Christian villages destroyed when ISIS took over the Nineveh Plains in 2014, the organization's primary focus will shift from funding basic reconstruction to restoring religious structures such as churches and monasteries, many of which were desecrated and burned under ISIS rule.
With nations such as Hungary, which has long supported for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and the United States offering financial help, ACN can take a step back and focus on their “pastoral vocation,” Heine-Geldern said, noting how ACN was founded as a means of providing both spiritual and material help to Christians who are persecuted or living in poverty.
The next stage in the rebuilding process in Iraq, then, will center “on the renovation of destroyed churches, there are many, destroyed seminaries and destroyed monasteries. That's back to our original vocation,” Heine-Geldern said.
In June the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) pledged to give some $10 million to two aid organizations working in Iraq, one of which is Catholic Relief Services, and an additional $25 million will be given later to support “persecuted communities” in Iraq, specifically Christians returning to the Nineveh Plains and Yazidis in Sinjar.
So far, structures being built or restored as part of this “pastoral vocation” include a pastoral center in the village of Kirkuk; a church in each of the villages of Teleskuf, Qaraqosh and Bartella; three convents for Dominican sisters serving in Bartella and Qaraqosh; and the Holy Family orphanage in Qaraqosh.
Representatives from ACN will be making visits to both Iraq and Syria within the next few months to determine what the needs are and to discuss with local ecclesial leaders which structures should be taken up next.
Heine-Geldern was present alongside other ACN representatives, including Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, major penitentiary of the Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary and president of ACN international, at the July 4 presentation of the organization's annual activity report for 2017.