martedì, dicembre 23, 2014

 

“Christian love transcends all frontiers” - Christmas parcels for the refugee children of Iraq

By Aid to the Church in Need
Oliver Maksan


The nuns and their helpers work tirelessly, opening the cardboard boxes that are stacked, head high, around them. They lift out items of clothing, the plastic packaging rustling loudly as they do so. Piles of clothing lie around them on the floor. Together with the other sisters and volunteer helpers, Sister Angela, of the Chaldean order of the Daughters of Mary ties up parcels for the Christian children. Preparations have been ongoing for weeks for this campaign, which is aimed at children aged between two and twelve. It has been funded by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“The children have an extremely traumatic year behind them. In the summer they were forced to flee from IS and ended up as refugees. We want to bring back a little joy into their lives and so we are putting together a Christmas parcel for each of them”, explains one of the younger sisters, who was also forced to flee herself. “We had an orphanage in Karamles. Last August we had to flee for our lives, in the middle of the night – eight of us crammed together into a small car. We were terrified.” Now the sisters are making up no fewer than 15,000 Christmas parcels. They are destined above all for the Christian refugee children from Mosul and the region of the Plain of Niniveh, to brighten up their Christmas. “As well as clothing, such as a tracksuit, the children will receive a small ACN Child‘s Bible and, needless to say, some sweeties as well. There will also be a little Christmas crib”, explains Sister Angela, opening yet another packing case as she speaks. “Each parcel costs around (US)25.00. And it also contains a Christmas card from our benefactors, in English and in Arabic”, adds Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN‘s section head in charge of the projects for Iraq. “In this way it makes it a more personal gift for the children, so that they can see that other people around the world are thinking about them, and so understand that Christian love transcends all frontiers.”
Often it is the children above all who are hardest-hit by the trauma of flight and expulsion, as Fr Douglas Bazi knows all too well. This Chaldean priest runs the Mar Elia Centre in Ankawa, a mainly Christian suburb of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where since August hundreds of people from the region of the Niniveh plain have sought refuge and are now living in tents. “They arrived here with us, utterly devastated. Many of them have suffered nightmares”, he explains. “Right at the beginning we gave out some toys, because we wanted to make the children happy. For they had absolutely nothing. But afterwards my colleague came back, quite shaken, and told me that the children had destroyed all the toys. Everyone wanted something for himself and thought he was being left out. As a result it all ended in chaos. It made us realise just what fear and insecurity the children were suffering and just how much aggression there was within them. Since then things have changed greatly. Thank God, they have become much calmer.”
In Shaklava, in the mountains of Kurdistan, many of the children are living in a large hall. In a place where once the great weddings and family festivities of the large Christian families used to be held, there are now hundreds of people living in this one hall. “It is not easy. There is absolutely no privacy, and it is also very noisy. At night the lights are put out at 11 pm, but that doesn‘t mean that things get quieter then. But what else can we do? We are trying to make the best of it.” Hanna is the mother of four children; the youngest of them is just six months old. A Syrian Catholic Christian, she fled here together with her husband and children in August from the town of Karakosh. “We have nothing left; we left everything behind us there.” She goes on to tell us how, in the Christian villages of the plain of Niniveh, Christmas was traditionally a great feast, with people visiting one another‘s houses. “We use to fast on Christmas Eve. And so the joy of our Christmas meal was always all the greater for it. We womenfolk prepared special meals and sweets. But this year we couldn‘t do that. We had no ingredients and, to be honest, we no longer had the heart for it.” Nonetheless, for her and her family Christmas has still not been forgotten. “The local Christians here in Shaklava have brought us pastries and sweeties. And the Church has organised a big feast for us refugees. The children are looking forward to it.” But her 10-year-old daughter Tamara has just one wish above everything: “My biggest wish this Christmas is that I can one day go back home and play together with my friends again. I want to go home. That is the most important thing of all.”

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