By Aid to the Church in Need
t is a large warehouse with white and grey walls. Dozens of boxes are
piled up on the floor. It might seem to be a somewhat gloomy-looking
building, but in fact it is a warehouse of dreams. Beneath the concrete
beams and among the wooden pallets, dozens of pairs of hands work
industriously and happy faces smile. In the last few days volunteers
from the Chaldean Catholic parish of Erbil in Iraq have become Santa’s
little helpers here in the warehouse.
Christmas is coming of course, and the Iraqi children of the Nineveh
plains – like children all over the world – are looking forward with
excitement and expectation to these very special days. For many of them
this Christmas will be different, because it will be the first one they
have celebrated in their own homes. For they had to spend the last three
Christmases homeless, as refugees in their own country, following the
invasion of their homes by the Islamist fighters of IS in August 2014.
Just like the Child Jesus himself, who was born in a stable and had no
place to call his home, the children of the Christian villages and towns
of Nineveh spent the last few Christmases in refugee camps or in other
accommodation rented with support from the diocese of Ankawa.
After immense effort on their part and thanks to the financial
support of friends and benefactors from all over the world, over 6,330
families have now been able to return to the various different Christian
towns and villages in this area and start to try and rebuild their
lives. Many other families are still waiting their opportunity, however.
Christmas is the great gift of God to mankind and for this reason it
is a message of hope for them all. The Catholic charity and pontifical
foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is committed to ensuring that
the Iraqi children from the Nineveh plains – not only those who have
been able to return to those homes but also those who are still waiting
to be able to do so – will not be without Christmas presents this year.
And as a result the warehouse in Ankawa has been transformed into a sort
of “Santa’s workshop” and the 20 or so young people who are helping the
Chaldean religious sisters of the community of the Daughters of Mary
are like those little helpers working furiously to bring joy and hope to
the children. They are aiming to wrap up a total of 15,000 Christmas
parcels which will then be distributed to the children of the different
Christian rites in Qaraqosh, Karamless, Bartella and Bashiqua, and
likewise to the large number of children who are still living as
refugees in Ankawa, which is the Christian quarter of Erbil.
In their Christmas wish lists and letters to Santa, these children
often say that their first wish is to have a stable place where they can
live in peace. A second wish is to be able to continue attending
school, and their third wish to have a place where they can play. Wishes
like these are not so easy to parcel up and give them, as these young
volunteers well know. But they are in no doubt that the children will
also be absolutely delighted with these “material gifts which carry with
them the Good News of the presence of God among us and are stamped with
the love of God the Father”, as Sister Ni’am puts it. She is the
project coordinator. The parcels will include “an anorak – something
very necessary, because winter in this part of Iraq can be very cold and
the temperatures often fall below zero – plus chocolates and, in order
not to overlook the profoundly religious meaning of this feast, a Bible
or another spiritual book in every parcel, depending on the age of the
child concerned”. The helpers here in “Santa’s workshop” in Ankawa are
profoundly grateful to ACN for having sponsored and funded this
initiative of “love and solidarity with the Christians of Iraq”.
“It will be a joyful and a painful celebration at the same time:
Joyful because of their return to their birthplaces and houses; and
painful because of the state of the villages: destroyed, burned and
looted houses; stolen, burned and destroyed churches; neglected streets,
almost non-existent services, friends who left the country”, Sister
Ni’am explains. A Christmas very close to that first Christmas in
Bethlehem, where joy and suffering were mingled together in the lives of
Mary and Joseph as they prepared for the birth of the God Child.
According to ACN the cost of each gift parcel is 24 US dollars, or 20
Euros, so that the total cost of the whole project is 300,000 Euros, or
360,000 USdollars. Similarly ACN is also supporting a Christmas parcel
project for the children of Aleppo (75,000 Euros) and another for the
Syrian refugee families in Armenia (20,000 Euros).