The U.S. branch of the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need has pledged $1 million to help persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria, calling on all Christians to pray and to give financial support for those in need. “Both countries are threatened with the extinction of ancient Christian communities,” George Marlin, chairman of the board of Aid to the Church in Need-USA, said Aug. 12. “Both churches and governments in the West must do their utmost to prevent what has become a tragedy of historic proportions.” He said that the West must stop the atrocities and the “cruelties beyond words” committed by the Islamic State. Executions, beheadings, and crucifixions of Christians and other religious minorities have been reported. There are shortages of water, food, emergency supplies, and medicine. Aid to the Church in Need-USA has already given $135,000 for emergency aid for Iraq’s Christian refugees and another $186,000 to support Christians in Syria. The funds it has pledged will deliver emergency aid to Iraqi Christians in Erbil and the plains of Nineveh. Aid to the Church in Need is seeking donor support for its goal of $1 million in aid; donations can be made through this website or by calling (800) 628-6333. “Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting the Church and Christians in Iraq and Syria for decades,” Edward Clancy, director of outreach and evangelization for Aid to the Church in Need-USA, told CNA Aug. 13. He said the charity’s support has helped “to fortify the Catholic Church and to keep her ministry alive so that she might provide the educational, spiritual, community and sacramental support needed.” Clancy encouraged Christians to pray for those in Iraq and Syria, noting that Aid to the Church in Need can provide prayer materials. “Build awareness.  Keep reading and listening to authentic news sources to understand what is really happening and tell others.” Clancy asked Christians and others to “give from the heart and ask others to give.” “While there are many agencies that do wonderful work when there is a crisis, Aid to the Church in Need differs in that we are committed to keeping the Church alive in these countries and around the world before, during and after the crisis.”

Aid to the Church in Need’s work in Syria helps the Archdiocese of Homs, Hama and Yabroud provide emergency relief for families. The relief work is concentrated in Syria’s Valley of the Christians, where fighting in the country’s more than three-year civil war has been intense. Other efforts in Syria include church repair and reconstruction, as well as livelihood projects so that Christians are not forced to emigrate. Marlin said that the “rich Christian patrimony” of Iraq and Syria are at stake. He said that Christians also play a “vital role” as a moderating force in Muslim societies. Christians play “an indispensable role in mediating between warring factions and maintaining relations with the international community.” The charity said that there are now only 150,000 Iraqi Christians remaining, down from more than 1 million before the U.S. invasion in 2003. In Syria, almost one third of its 1.8 million Christians have left the country. Most are stranded in Lebanon, while several hundred thousand more are displaced within Syria. The Islamic State has declared a caliphate in the large swaths of territory it controls in Syria and Iraq. In Syria on Aug. 13, it seized a string of towns located northeast of Aleppo and near the Turkish border, including Akhtarin. On Aug. 11 it had seized the Iraqi town of Jalawla, located 90 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province. The militants have ordered Christians, Shia Muslims, and Yazidis to convert, pay a tax known as jizya, or be killed. Most of Iraq’s newest Christian displaced persons have headed to Iraqi Kurdistan. However, the local churches are already overburdened. Kurdistan’s 100,000 Christians are fearful that Islamic State forces may attack their homeland.