As Christmas approaches in the Middle East, persecuted Christians seeking to rebuild after the Islamic State genocide need help to build businesses, feed their families, and stay in their home communities, Father Benedict Kiely, the founder of the church charity Nasarean, told Breitbart News this week.
Nasarean is a Catholic charity that offers small business aid to Christians in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon – a mission, Kiely told Breitbart News, that offers “the answer to the migration crisis: people stay in their own land, the lands where Christians have been for 2,000 years, and give hope for the future.” Doing so for many is impossible if they have no hope of establishing a stable income to build families.
We’re able to support 13 more Iraqi families in time for Christmas! A new shop in Quaraqosh owned by Amer Kheder supports 4 and an agricultural & livestock farm in Bartella owned by Amil Abraham supports 9. Exciting news to come about a 3rd business: it’s a first! @benedict_kiely pic.twitter.com/AB1LE3GzJb
— Nasarean.org (@NasareanO) December 14, 2022
Nasarean is a project born of Kiely’s ministry, which he described as “speak, write, preach, appear in the media – to advocate for persecuted Christians – to educate.” The official goals of the charity, he says, are aid and advocacy for persecuted Christians.
“Everyone understands the importance of aid, which I will explain more about, especially as our program is quite unique, but often people think the advocacy is less important: it is not, it is critical,” he explained. “Most people, including committed Christians, have no idea of the level of persecution the Church is enduring.”
“Sadly, for many in the Church, including our bishops, care for the persecuted seems to be less important than other issues, like climate change,” he continued. “This is not biblical and contradicts the Gospel message about the suffering of the members of the Body of Christ.”
The state of Christian communities in the countries that Nasarean serves is dire. Christians in Iraq and Syria suffered tremendously under the Islamic State “caliphate,” which the Sunni terrorist group established in 2014 and lost with the liberation of Raqqa, Syria, its “capital,” in 2017. The region is home to the oldest Christian community on earth, dating back to the original followers of Jesus Christ, and lost almost its entire Christian population during the ISIS genocide.
The Kurdish outlet Rudaw, citing the Iraqi Kurdish government’s Christian affairs officials, reported on Tuesday that Iraq has lost an estimated 70 percent of its Christian population. Prior to 2003, Iraq boasted a Christian population of about 1.8 million; Kurdish officials estimated that only 500,000 remain. Of those, 138,000 traveled to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and half have left the Erbil-based region for other countries.
“There are about 300,000 Christians in the Kurdistan Region and the Nineveh Plain, although there are no accurate statistics available because, unfortunately, we do not have a complete database on the migration of Christians,” a Kurdish official told Rudaw, estimating that “between five and six” Christian families are fleeing Iraq a month currently – five years after the fall of ISIS.
Father Kiely offers an even more dramatic estimate of the collapse in the Christian population: “from about 1.5 million Christians to less than 200,000.” Syria lost about half its Christian population during the Islamic State occupation, according to estimates from the beginning of this year.
In Lebanon, a country where the constitution mandates the president must be a Christian, the outsized influence of Shiite jihadist organization Hezbollah and other radical Islamist forces have endured to make it difficult for Christians to stay in their homelands. The ongoing political chaos – Lebanon has not had a president since October after Hezbollah thwarted nine attempts to choose one – has obliterated the nation’s economy, leading to bizarre situations such as citizens “robbing” banks to access their own frozen savings, backed by throngs of supporters.
Father Kiely told Breitbart News in response to questions about his work in the region that offering Christians a lifeline to strengthen their communities via small businesses instills hope in an otherwise bleak situation.
“Many of the towns in Iraq have been rebuilt, or are continuing to be rebuilt – but many of the people have not returned,” he explained, citing eight visits to the country since 2015. “With jobs people will stay, without them, they will leave – it’s as simple as that.”
“Syria and Lebanon are suffering economic collapse and, of course, war continues in Syria, but, once again, with jobs there is some hope,” he explained.
Nasarean works by offering small business grants to people in the affected communities who want to start businesses.
“With our contacts on the ground, and my visits (I will be in Iraq again in January, my ninth visit since 2015),” Father Kiely explained, “we identify people starting a business – or with an embryonic business – and give them a comparatively small amount – anything between $5,000 to $10,000 to get the business up and running.”
“The concept of ‘small is beautiful’ is at the heart of our philosophy – we can track the progress of these businesses,” he continued, “the amount is small enough not to get lost in any corruption on the ground – and we work with the Church in place to supervise.”
“The help means that people have dignity – they don’t just receive a handout to do nothing – they start a business, provide for their families and then empty others,” he added.
Among the businesses benefitting from the program so far are gyms, cafes, cosmetology schools, taxi services, shops, and farms. Father Kiely shares the example of Beirut’s Grizzy Gym, damaged by a bomb in 2021, hiring nine employees thanks to Nasarean’s aid.
In Syria, Nasarean sponsored a hairdressing and cosmetology course to help women in Damascus start their own businesses or find jobs at established ones.
Father Kiely noted that Nasarean was forced to halt aid to Syria as a result of sanctions on the Syrian government, which he lamented as harmful to the general population. The organization hopes to expand, however, into Egypt – where Coptic Christians face routine, and extremely violent, persecution – in the new year.
He emphasized that Nasarean is making a unique effort by targeting business development.
“A little anecdote about that: meeting a very senior Lebanese politician in June in Beirut, he was very complementary about what we are doing,” he explained. “I was rather embarrassed and had to tell him that we were very small and he responded, ‘I know, but you are the only ones doing this – keeping Christians in their homeland by helping businesses.’”
Asked what Christians in the free world can do for the persecuted in the Middle East, Father Kiely reminded Christians “not to take our freedom for granted,” but also suggested reframing the question.
“Perhaps a different perspective is to ask what persecuted Christians can do for us?” he asked. “Give us courage and fortitude – and the willingness to stand and proclaim our faith body.”
“From the very beginning,” he concluded, “from the Crib in Bethlehem, from Herod’s persecution to the work of ISIS or radical secularists, the forces of darkness have tried to hurt Christ and His followers. Christmas tells us that the light will always defeat darkness – if we recognize both and never call darkness light.”
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