As cathedrals and monuments around the world are illuminated in red this week to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians, the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has announced that it is donating five million euros ($5.6 million) to help Christian communities in Lebanon and Syria.
The funds will help establish a project to support young newlywed couples in Syria, who are starting families after 10 years of war in the Middle Eastern country.
Regina Lynch, a project manager for the charity, said: “Many young people don’t get married because they can’t afford to set up home together. It is a situation that also worries the bishops, recognizing that the faithful do not marry because they simply cannot afford it.”
“We are working on a project in Aleppo, which will consist of giving couples enough money to cover basic needs for setting up home or to pay the rent of a flat for two years.”
Other projects in Syria funded by the relief package include a meal program for the elderly, fuel for central heating in a students’ residence, medical supplies, and academic scholarships.
The aid will support Christians from all communions, according to the charity, which said that some of the funding will go directly to Orthodox Churches, such as the Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and the Armenian Apostolic Church in Aleppo.
Thomas Heine-Geldern, the international executive president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), said he hoped that this would help to preserve “the rich tapestry of Christian traditions in Syria.”
He highlighted Pope Francis’ words that Christians in the Middle East have endured “an ecumenism of blood” through their shared suffering and witness to love for Christ in the face of persecution.
In Lebanon, where three-quarters of the population lives in poverty and there are widespread shortages of medicine, fuel, and food, the ACN funds will provide food packages, heating for the winter, and Mass stipends to support clergy.
The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial situation as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.” It estimates that the country’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation and high unemployment.
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has expressed concern that the dire situation will further drive Christians to leave Lebanon and move out of the Middle East.
“We are very, very scared that if this crisis continues it will be the end of Christians in Lebanon and the whole of the Near East in a few years. Normally when Christians leave, as happened in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, they don’t return,” the Catholic patriarch said in an interview with ACN.
The pontifical foundation announced the funds as part of its annual initiative to bring awareness about Christian persecution around the world and the need for religious freedom.
What started out as Red Wednesday in 2016 with hundreds of public buildings lit up in red has grown to become Red Week.
This year, Red Week will include not only illuminated buildings, but also Masses and prayer services for persecuted Christians held throughout the world on Nov. 17-24.
In Austria, about 100 churches will be lit up in red this year and a prayer service will be held at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on Nov. 17.
Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, in Montreal, Canada, will also be illuminated on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Archbishop Christian Lépine will offer a Mass in the basilica and an African choir will sing parts of the Zaire Use liturgy.
In other countries, churches and public buildings will be lit red on Wednesday, Nov. 24, including Westminster Cathedral in London, Lisbon’s Sanctuary of Christ the King, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, the cathedral in Sarajevo, and 50 buildings in the Czech Republic.
Catholic schools have also joined the Red Week initiative. In Australia, students at Catholic schools across six dioceses will wear red and host prayer gatherings. Aid to the Church in Need in Ireland has also given out 1,200 rosaries for young students to pray for the persecuted throughout the week.
A march for those “Killed in silence” will take place in the Polish city of Poznań on Nov. 20 in which people will walk with red lanterns in memory of those killed in hatred of the faith.
The Maronite Catholic Cathedral in Aleppo will be illuminated in red on Nov. 22.
Heine-Geldern said he hoped that the Red Week initiative and additional funds would help create conditions “to keep alive the Christian presence” in the Middle East.
“Christians have lived in these lands for 2,000 years, but if we do not help now their heritage could become no more than a relic,” he said.