"It was so inspiring but also heartbreaking." Rachel Buckley is recalling the words of Jean-Clement Jeanbart, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, when he spoke at the Metropolitan Cathedral on 14 October.
Archbishop Jeanbart visited the Cathedral to promote the work of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and, for Rachel, his account of the suffering of Syria's Christian population summed up just why she is so eager to get to work in her new role as the charity's area secretary for Liverpool.
"Really it should be close to all our hearts," she says of our fellow Christians' plight in Aleppo, a great Syrian commercial centre for thousands of years. "Everything has been taken away from them. It would be like us here in Liverpool having no electricity, no food or water, no commerce, no schools and no churches."
Rachel, who holds a separate, part-time administrative role with Shrewbury Diocese, will be giving ACN appeals at weekends around the Archdiocese of Liverpool. She has already underlined her commitment to the cause with a sponsored walk for ACN along the Wirral coastal path on 4 October.
As the feast of St Francis of Assisi, it was a fitting date given she did the walk with her 14 pet dogs. "I've rescued them all, apart from two or three," she says of the dogs, which were kitted out with laminated ACN stickers for the occasion.
Once a pupil of St Matthew's primary school in Walton and Mary Help of Christians High School, Rachel has long identified with the founder of ACN, Father Werenfried van Straaten, who established the charity in the Low Countries in the aftermath of World War Two.
"He was a real hero of mine because my mother, knowledgeable as she is, explained to all eight of us [children] who he was and how he helped refugees after World War Two," she recounts.
"We always pray for his canonisation when we have a family rosary once a month. Fatima is a devotion close to my heart and around 13 May each year I organise a day dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. Father Werenfried dedicated his whole mission of Aid to the Church in Need to Our Lady of Fatima. So we have the same devotion to Our Lady."
Rachel brings to her ACN role considerable experience working in PR – including with footballers and pop stars during a 14-year stint with MTV in London. "All I listen to now is classical music!" laughs the theology graduate, whose focus is increasingly on her faith. "I enjoy volunteering and giving my time to worthwhile causes. I'm a palliative care volunteer for the Royal Liverpool Hospital, I'm a member of the Legion of Mary and head lay person for the Sacred Heart Society at the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in the Wirral."
Encouraging a focus on the world's persecuted Christians is her next task. "ACN have 5,000 projects going on in 140 countries around the world," she says. "One of the reasons I want to be part of ACN is because they have people with boots on the ground who go into the deepest, darkest, most dangerous places to help Christians. ACN also help the Christian Orthodox Church, and have helped rebuild many churches in Ukraine for example.
"The majority of Christians want to stay where they are in their own homeland, and we need to help them continue to keep their established communities going. Some have been there for 2,000 years. Around the Aleppo area was where St Peter converted and baptised the 3,000, and it would be disastrous for there to be no Christian communities left after all those years. That is why we need to support them."
• Visit www.acnuk.org/persecuted to read ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? report for 2013–15. Anybody wishing to invite Rachel to their parish can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07770266679.