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Abducted Clergy and Religious

 

ACN Interview – Sister Yvonne Gera in Algeria

18.12.2018 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Algeria, By Grace Attu

ALGERIA / CONSTANTINE  Management of buildings in the parish of Skikda.

Algeria

“They died at their post”

Between 1994 and 1996, Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 others were killed during the Algerian civil war. The cause for their beatification opened in 2007 and at the beginning of this year, Pope Francis signed the decree confirming that they died in “odium fidei” (hatred of the faith) thus recognizing them as martyrs.

On December 8th the ceremony of beatification took place in the Cathedral of the Diocese of Oran, where Msgr Pierre Claverie was Bishop. 

Sr Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary who worked in Algeria for 22 years and knew each of the 19 martyrs personally, speaks to Grace Attu from the ACN National Office in Malta about the martyrs and her experience in Algeria at the time.

 

ACN: The official document of the Congregation for the causes of Saints describes the 19 Martyrs as “Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 companions,” who are they, really?

Sr. Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary

Sr. YVONNE GERA: Yes. They are Bishop Pierre Claverie, seven Trappist monks from Tibhirine, one Marist brother, four White Fathers, and six Nuns from various congregations that had a presence in Algeria. They all worked with the people; helping the poor, the sick, the children.  The Marist brother Henry worked in a Library of the diocese that attended to more than a thousand youth  especially poor children, some of the sisters were Nurses. The 7 Trappists had a clinic, one of them was a doctor and all the people came. They didn’t ask if they were Muslim or Christians before helping them. Bishop Pierre Claverie always spoke the truth to the government and the people.

 

ACN: Can you give us a background of the situation that led to their death?

YVONNE GERA: First of all I would like to say that the war in Algeria was not a religious war but a civil war. The Islamists took advantage of the situation. On October 3, 1993, all foreigners were warned that if they didn’t leave the country by the end of the year, they would be targeted.

On the eve of Christmas, the terrorists visited the Monastery. They wanted money but the Prior told them, “we live on our crops.” All of a sudden the bell rang for Christmas Eve Mass and he told them, “Today is born the King of Peace” and they told him, “Ayisa” in Arabic meaning that they will come back.

The quit notice was not only to religious but also to foreign Christian families. So, between 1992 and 1993, the Church lost almost all foreign Catholic families. Even as we were targeted, we all stayed. We used to say that the captain is not going to leave the ship while it is sinking. So we all remained.

 

ACN: They are being beatified together.  What do they have in common?

YVONNE GERA: At that time, almost all religious had to write to their superior general if they were willing to stay. Those who were afraid left. But one thing these 19 had in common was that they decided to stay despite the threats. They continued working and taking care of the people. And they died at their duty posts.

Fr Paul-Elie Cheknoun serving the parishes of om Alger and Constantine

 

ACN: You were also working in Algeria during this period. What was your experience?

YVONNE GERA : I worked 22 years in Algeria and out of it was 14 years of war. Why I am here and was not killed during that time, I don’t know. I was also a target. In the morning I tell the Lord, “keep your Hand on me, help me to do my duty.”

One morning, I received a call from French Ambassador. He asked to speak with Msgr Henri Teissier. The ambassador told him, “Go to the French hospital.” We went to the French hospital, and there were 7 coffins. At first, they didn’t want to open it but Msgr Teissier told them, “If you don’t open it, I can’t say if they are the terrorists or the brothers.” Then he opened and in each coffin, there was only the head of each monk (the 7 Trappists). As I was waiting, Msgr Teissier told me, “Do you want to see them?”, I replied, “Yes, for the last time,” It was horrible to see.

The Church suffered a lot. But it was a Church of presence. We never preached. We didn’t go and preach here and there but everyone was welcomed and they came. I was in charge of all the clinics of the Church and all clinics had a centre for malnourished children and a centre for mother and child-care. Everything was free.

We never had difficulties with the people. During Ramadan we used to be invited every evening to different families to have the meal with them. In the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa, it is written “pray for us and for the Muslims.” And the young women (including Muslims) who could not have a baby used to come to pray to our Lady, bringing a doll, and when she had the baby, she came to present it to Our Lady.

Participation of 30 young faithful of the church of Algeria in the WYD in Krakow, Poland, July 2016.

 

ACN: Even today, many priests and religious who work in crisis ridden countries suffer threats to their lives. Some have been abducted. What word do you have for them?

YVONNE GERA: We are missionaries. Whatever happens, we are missionaries. We know that that is our vocation and I say one thing, “you will receive more than you give”. It is sometimes difficult, yes but the Lord has called us. If the people suffer, we suffer with them. It is our vocation and the Lord is always there to help us. Even in suffering or in martyrdom. These 19 martyrs knew that they were targeted but they remained. Don’t be afraid, the Lord is there to help you.

On the occasion of the beatification of the 19 Martyrs in Oran, Algeria on December 8, 2018, Aid to the Church in Need (Malta) will issue a booklet about the Martyrs, who they were, the kind of life they lived and some testimonies about them.

 

To learn more about the situation of the religious freedom in Algeria please see: www.religious-freedom-report.org

ACN News – Missionary kidnapped in Niger last September 17, still missing

28.09.2018 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo

 

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016
Emergency help for the refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: The plastic sheeting is covering the huts of the displaced and refugees 

Niger

Missionary kidnapped last September 17, still missing.

His confrere, Father Armanino told ACN: “If they reach Mali, the fear is that the abduction could be as long as that of Sister Gloria.”

“It was a swift and coordinated attack. The abductors were familiar with the movements of Father Pierluigi and had chosen him as their victim.” This was the account given by Father Mauro Armanino of the Society of the African Missions (SMA) in Niger to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about his confrere, Italian Father Pierluigi Maccalli who was abducted last Monday, from the mission where he worked, some 125 km from the capital of Niger, Niamey.

It was a well-planned attack that took place in a matter of minutes, according to his Indian confrere, Father John, who lives and works in the same mission together with Father Maccalli. “Monday evening, Father John arrived here at our regional headquarters in Niamey, visibly traumatized,” Father Armanino told ACN. “He himself lives in another small room, just a few metres away from that of Father Pierluigi, and he told us how the abductors had simply knocked on the door, seized the priest and then left again firing shots into the air. From the way they went about it, it was clear that their target was the European priest, since otherwise they would not have left his Indian confrere behind,” he added. As a matter of fact, Father Pierluigi had only just returned from a rest period in Italy. “I myself went to meet him at the airport last Saturday. The kidnappers must have known this, which is why they acted when they did. Certainly it does not help that the government, although well aware of the presence of these armed gangs in the area, has done nothing about it.”

“The fact that they have now attacked a Catholic priest for the first time, shows that there are no longer any limits to their violence,” he suggested

According to Father Armanino, one possible motive for the abduction, apart from the likelihood of a ransom demand – which has not yet become known – and the attempt to gain international media attention, is the desire to frighten the Christian community in one of the very small areas of Niger in which Christianity is the majority faith. “The fact that they have now attacked a Catholic priest for the first time, shows that there are no longer any limits to their violence,” he suggested.

 

Three of the four cars, all burnt with petrol and fire by the terrorists.
cars of the sisters of the Assumption near Niamey

Corroboration of the thesis of an anti-Christian attack has come with the fact that another small group of criminals shortly afterwards attacked the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Fortunately, the sisters were able to elude them, some by escaping and others by hiding inside the house. “In fact it was they who were able to provide us with important information about the attackers, who were speaking in the language of the Peul ethnic group while they were ransacking the convent,” Father Armanino explained. Peul is the French name used to describe the Fulani tribesmen in Niger. Consequently, it is likely that Father Pierluigi is in the hands of the same Islamist herdsmen who have murdered thousands of people in nearby Nigeria, where they have launched numerous attacks against Christian villages and even murdered two priests in April this year.

St Joseph Parish after the violence. Emergency help for the diocese of Niamey following the violence of 16 and 17 January 2015

Padre Armanino went on to explain that for the moment it is believed that the kidnappers have not yet succeeded in moving their hostage to Burkina Faso, given that the nearby frontier is very strictly patrolled. Hence it is thought that Father Pierluigi is still in Niger, but the fear is that his abductors may be able to reach Mali, where they have more support. “The group that abducted Pierluigi was a small group. But if they were to succeed in getting to Mali, the situation would be much worse for our confrere,” Father Armanino explained. For there are many other members of the Fulani community there, who would give support to his abductors. “It was in Mali of course that the Colombian religious Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti was abducted in February 2017, and she is still being held prisoner today. And so we are fearful that the abduction of Padre Pierluigi could likewise drag on for a long time.”

 

 

 

ACN News: Attacks by Fulani Herdsmen – The Bishops of Nigeria’s Middle Belt appeal to ACN

05.07.2018 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Nigeria, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

Nigeria, May 22, 2018
Christians demonstrating peacefully against the bloodshed in Nigeria – after the murder of two Priests and their parishioners during the celebration of the Holy Mass, in Mbalom, Benue State on 24.04.2018

Nigeria

 “DO NOT WAIT FOR A GENOCIDE TO HAPPEN TO INTERVENE!

Do not let this become another Rwanda

 “Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda. It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended.” These are the words of Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko, in the majority Christian Benue State. He was speaking to ACN. He is only the latest of the bishops of Nigeria’s Middle Belt to have raised his voice to denounce what is an increasingly worrying phenomenon – the attacks by Islamist Fulani Herdsmen on Christians in the region. In the last few days there have been new attacks in the area of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, killing over 100 people.

 

Peaceful protest, May 22, 2018

The Fulani Herdsmen have herded their flocks in parts of Nigeria’s Middle Belt for centuries and there have always been occasional clashes with local peasant farmers, the majority of whom are Christians today, and whose crops were frequently trampled and even destroyed by their flocks. But whereas in the past these conflicts were generally either tribal in nature or economically driven, today they appear to have become increasingly religion-based in character. According to official data, there have been 492 victims since the beginning of the year in Benue State alone. “They are criminals and terrorists, but they do not do the same things in the majority Muslim areas,” Bishop Avenya adds. “We are convinced

that what is happening is an ethnic cleansing of Christians.”

Bishop Peter Iornzuul Adoboh of Katsina Ala diocese (Benue State) and Bishop Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia diocese (Nassarawa State) believe that there is a “clear agenda of Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt,” a plan that is making use of the Fulani Herdsmen.

Italy, 11.05.2018
Bishop William Amove Avenya from Gboko Diocese in Nigeria during his visit at the Italian National Office of ACN in Rome

“Their aim is to strike at the Christians,”explains Bishop Audu, “and the government is doing nothing to stop them, because president Buhari himself is also a member of the Fulani tribe.” Adding to the suspicions of complicity on the part of the government is not merely the inactivity of the federal police but also the fact that these Fulani Herdsmen are being armed with ever more sophisticated weaponry.

 

492 people killed in the span of two months

“At one time they were armed only with sticks,” Bishop Avenya explains. “But now they are armed with AK-47 rifles – expensive weapons that they could not possibly afford. So who is supplying them? And besides, in these areas there are checkpoints every 2 km. Is it possible that armed men followed by their flocks of cattle could have somehow become invisible?”

Nigeria, May 22, 2018
Christians demonstrating peaceful against the bloodshed in Nigeria –

On May 22, all the dioceses of Nigeria took part in a protest march, calling on the government to protect the Christians. “Our faithful are being murdered or forced to live as refugees as a result of the violence,” the bishops tell us. “And the West continues to view the matter of the Fulani as merely an internal problem. Don’t do as you did in Rwanda; don’t wait for the genocide to happen before intervening!”

ACN News – Facilitating the return of Christians to the Nineveh Plains

30.09.2017 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Maria Lozano, Chaldean Catholic, CONSTRUCTION, Iraq

Rome /Iraq

“Facilitate their return and guarantee their protection”

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin calls for the respect of the rights of Christians in Iraq.

The Cardinal was speaking at a conference organized by the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Thursday 28 September in Rome to support the return of the Iraqi Christians to their former homes in the Nineveh plains. This is a major concern for the Holy See which, as Cardinal Parolin emphasized, “has missed no opportunity to speak out on behalf of these Christians, reiterating on numerous occasions the necessity of facilitating their return and ensuring adequate measures of protection and respect for their rights.”

The Secretary of State expressed his gratitude for “the support provided by ACN in the three years since the ISIS invasion, which has enabled the many uprooted Christian families to endure this situation with dignity and in security.” At the same time, however, he emphasized that although “much has been done, yet much remains to be done” and called for support for the ACN sponsored reconstruction program “Return to the Roots”, showing the charity that “this so-called ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Plains of Nineveh, is yet another sign of the concern you have shown, with a sense of urgency and with remarkable efficiency and organization.”

Rome, Italy 27.09.2017
Dinner before the Conference “Return to the roots: Christians in the Nineveh Plains” hosted by Aid to this Church in Need starts the next morning – His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako (Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church from Iraq)

A genocide, beyond any doubt

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, another of the keynote speakers at the conference, also denounced the “genocide” of the Christians in Iraq, whose numbers have declined in recent years from 1.5 million people to less than 500,000:  “The real reason behind this kind of discrimination is the hatred of the radical Muslim persecutors towards the Christians, which has driven them to wipe away our heritage, destroy our homes and even to remove us from the memory of Iraqi history,” he said, adding, “This is genocide by all possible means.” Answering the question as to how the international community can prevent this terrible tragedy from continuing, Patriarch Sako said: “We urge those in charge to be seriously open-minded. The United States of America especially bears a moral responsibility to ‘diagnose’ the reality of what is happening in Iraq and the region,” he added. The Chaldean Patriarch highlighted five points for immediate action – educational support, political support, security and stabilization of the liberated areas, humanitarian assistance and defeating fundamentalism and terrorism.

For his part the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan and Iraq, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin (pictured above) , outlined the “complex situation of the region,” and mentioned, as an example,  “the referendum being pursued by President Masoud Barzani of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, which took place on Monday 25 September”. The archbishop recalled the importance of the Christians in the region and called on all people to “commit themselves for the protection of the religious minorities and at the same terms sponsor aid for development and the promotion of peace.” This would help “get to the root of the situation and help to prevent the crisis of emigration,” he said.

 

The conference, which took place 27 – 28 September in Rome, was “a call to the international community – politicians, entrepreneurs, ambassadors and other organisations – at a crucial moment in time in order to make possible the return of the Christians to their ancestral homes,” according to Philipp Ozores, (photo above) the Secretary General of ACN. “Now is the time to help,” he said. “We are working with benefactors around the world to support our Iraqi brothers and sisters and keep their hope alive. But action of governments is indispensable in order to bring the reconstruction to a larger scale and guarantee the rights of the Christians. We are conscious that Iraq is still in a difficult moment. But we are certain that if we do not help the Christians in Iraq today, there will be no need to even talk of this topic tomorrow.”

The Canadian office of the international charity will be launching a fundraising and awareness raising campaign for its benefactors and the public at large in November to facilitate the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, essential to the survival or Iraqi Christians.

 

Text by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 


 

 

 

 

ACN Interview – Violence in Marawi, Philippines – Bishop’s speaks

02.06.2017 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Jonathan Luciano, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Philippines

Violence in the Philippines

Cathedral destroyed and interreligious dialogue in peril

 

“The general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.

 

Interview by Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines National Director, with Bishop Prelate of Marawi Edwin dela Peña (MSP) about the situation in the Prelature of Marawi in the Southern Philippines, where the terrorist Maute group attacked the city, killing Christians and burning down buildings. including the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. As of press time, 104 people have been killed and more than 12,500 families have been displaced. Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General, was abducted together along with several staff from the ca. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed the authenticity of the video now circulating on Facebook which had surfaced on Fr. Chito Suganob’s profile on Tuesday (30 May). 

 

How is the present situation now in the Prelature of Marawi?

We are still right in the midst of it, I don’t know how to describe it, our people are not there anymore, they have been evacuated.  Those who have been left behind, I don’t know what their situation is because there is a continuing operation to clean up the city, to flush out the terrorists plus there is aerial bombing.  I don’t know how they are surviving it.

Source: Wikimedia

 

Was the Cathedral totally destroyed?

Yes, I was told that the cathedral and the bishop’s house have been totally destroyed, first by the torching, it was set on fire, and then by the bombing as we are right there at the center of the fighting. I’m not so sure how soon we will be able to recover. It will be very difficult for all of us, not only for Christians, but for the Muslims as well.

 

How was the Muslim-Christian relations in Marawi before the incident happened?

Marawi is about 95% Muslims. We are a very tiny minority, we are a very small church in Marawi and the greater bulk of the Catholic population in the city in the area of the university where we have students coming from other provinces in Mindanao.

 

It was beautiful. We were engaged in interfaith dialogue and we have many partners. And in fact, Fr. Cito was in the thick of it because he was, his primary focus really is to connect, to link up with all the Muslim NGOs who have partnered with us in community development and education for interfaith dialogue. It was beautiful until this extremism emerged, the fighting, the presence of these extremist elements from the Middle East. Then the radicalization of our young people, unwittingly, unknowingly, some not oriented towards the current situation in the Middle East, still have become radicalized, especially here in Mindanao.

But generally, our relations with our partners have remained very positive and in fact, we learned from them that also disavow this influx of ISIS elements coming into Marawi, because they understand exactly what this would do to the culture of their people, to their way of life. The people of Marawi have always been very peaceful.

Marawi City on fire during the first day of the siege. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)

 

Is it correct to say that the general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.

Yes, yes, yes, that is correct. In fact, what is happening today, especially that we are on Ramadan, a very holy month for them, they are not able to celebrate it the way they would have wished. They feel a certain kind of anger toward these terrorist groups coming in to disturb this very holy remembrance of Ramadan. So if these extremist groups wanted to get the support of the people, they are going about it all wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on your knowledge of how ISIS operates in the Middle East, do you see any difference with what is happening in Syria and Iraq versus what is happening now in Marawi?

It is something like that. It may not be another Syria or Iraq, but the way the city looks now after the bombing and all, it doesn’t look like Marawi anymore. The remnants of the old city, everything that we see on the news feed about Marawi, is all ruined, there is destruction everywhere. That is the image we have in mind of Syria and Iraq.

 

Who are the Maute group who led these terror attacks in Marawi?

From my own discussion with some religious figures here in Marawi, Maute is made up of Maranaos who have had to fend for themselves since the ouster of their mayor.   The mayor, previous heir of Marawi, had supported their drug-trade business.  Because he’s no longer mayor, and now that the drug peddling has been controlled by the government, the people who were used to an easy life of free-flowing drug money are suddenly without. That was probably one factor that led them toward radicalization.

We were also informed that money was coming from the outside,  as well as individuals who are part of some training.  There are foreign elements training them inside the lairs of Lanao Sur.  All of which probably are driving them to this kind of life.

The Maranao Muslims of Marawi City preparing to evacuate their ancient hometown. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN))

 

The government has kept denying that there is ISIS presence in the Philippines. What can you say about that?

I’m not so sure about it. They can deny it for as long as they can, but some people…you know what?  I’m not the right person to speak about it. I’m just echoing what I know: that some of them have even been trained outside.  For instance, the Maute brothers studied in the Middle East. They come from very rich families here who have the means to send their children to school in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I have heard about this.

 

Is there a relationship between Maute and the infamous terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf? 

I think so, the fact that Hapilon is in Lanao, in fact they were about to serve him with an arrest warrant before all this happened. That was the trigger. Hapilon is Abu Sayyaf, so they have a tactical alliance with the Maute brothers in Lanao Sur aside from the fact that both are also sympathetic to ISIS, so they have this tactical alliance, and they probably have joined forces.

 

Do you have any updates about Fr. Chito and other kidnapped Christians?

I am aware of the video of Fr. Chito since yesterday. He is alive! I am happy about that, but sad also about the reactions of the DDS netizens (DDS stands for Digong Duterte Supporters- the supporters of the president), who castigated him for his message without any regard for his present situation as a hostage deprived of his freedom. We have lost our sense of humanity! How sad! I grieve for this country, and I am so sorry for the situation of Fr. Chito and company.

Father Teresito Suganob kidnapped Mai 2017 in Marawi. (Pictures taken from facebook page from Father Suganob) Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General was abducted together with other Cathedral Staff.

We did not have any contacts with the military until a few days ago when I was able to link up with a commanding officer of the Marines division who are now doing up the clean-up operations in Marawi.  He has promised that they will do their best to locate Fr. Chito and company. There are about 12 to15 people with him. Some of them were teachers from nearby Dansalan college and they just happened to be meeting together in one place where they are being held, but some of them were at the Cathedral at the time as they were preparing for the feast of Mary, Help of Christians the following day. So we had many people in the house and in the Church doing all sorts of things.

 

Do you consider this incident as an escalation of the various anti-Christian events that have happened in Mindanao?

Yes, I suppose it is.

 

Do you know of any personal stories of solidarity between Muslims and Christians these past few days?

Yes, personal knowledge concerning the family of my driver who were holed up in one of the rice mills in Marawi City.  Accompanying them was their barangay (village) chairman. who is Maranao.  He was the one who organized the group and gave them an orientation as to how they should respond if the Maute group intercepts them along the way. So they left the house together and went toward the bridge, where buses were waiting to take them out of Marawi. I would consider them heroes for leading this group of both Christians and Muslims, to flee the danger that awaited them.

But there were some people in the group who were trying to catch up, part of the crowd trying to cross the bridge, who were then accosted by this Maute group, this terrorist group. They were asked if they were Christians. Unfortunately, they responded “yes” because they were not there when the orientation was given.

One fellow, the husband of one of our adopted families living in the cathedral compound in Marawi, was pulled out of the group because he was wearing a sleeveless shirt and had a cross tattoo on his shoulder. So he was identified as a Christian and was pulled out.

Then, lately we have heard reports of men being killed and dropped into a ravine. They say they were also part of the group trying to catch up to join the convoy of evacuees.

You can also read in the papers many other stories of Muslims trying to protect Christians.

 

How would this incident affect Christian-Muslim relations in Marawi?

Even though people are familiar with what we have been doing here in Marawi and the relationship that we have built up through the years, the old biases that Christians have had against Muslims are bound to be stirred up because of the current situation. This is very frustrating.  Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process, and incidents like these can destroy the very foundation.

And there are some people fueling these anti-Muslim sentiments. It’s sad, because we’ve made such headway in improving relations between Muslims and Christians in Marawi. Without a doubt,  Muslim-Christian relations among the Maranaos is the best compared to others considering we have done in the 41 years since the establishment of the prelature.

Our schools, some of which were here before the prelature, have always been dear to our Muslim brothers and Christians because many of their parents studied there.  Professionals in the town have attended our schools and sent their children to our schools, because they have developed this kind of patronage and loyalty to our schools.

 

What is your message to the ACN community worldwide?

It is very unfortunate that our small prelature which is the smallest and poorest local church in the Philippines had to undergo this very difficult crisis. Our Cathedral, the Bishop’s house and our parish have been destroyed.  We will have to start from scratch to rebuild and to re-establish the Christian presence in this predominantly Muslim area of Central Mindanao. We must continue our mission of offering the hand of reconciliation and friendship to our Muslim brothers and sisters because this was the legacy of Pope Paul VI when he re-established the prelature of Marawi.

At the height of the crisis in the early 70s, the Pope, quoting Bishop Tutu, stated, “We Christians should be the first to offer the hand of reconciliation and brotherhood to our Muslim brothers and sisters. That is the way to establish peace that has been broken because of the war.” I think that the same holds true for our present situation today.

We cannot turn our backs away from what we have started, what the Prelature had begun in the middle 70’s: to continue the work of dialogue, continue working with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to establish, to rebuild the broken relationships, the broken dreams and hopes of so many people to live in peace. We just want to live in peace and we would like to ask you to help us to rebuild that peace with the kind of work that we do: working with and being in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

A group of 100-200 armed men of the Maute group, a terrorist group founded by a Muslim clan whose children studied in the Middle East. The Maute group has pledged its allegiance to ISIS. (photo:  Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)

 

 

 

What are the most urgent needs at the moment?

We are not so much concerned about our needs in the moment. Our focus is more trying to do what we can to respond to the humanitarian crisis that happening in Iligan right now.  We have so many evacuees from Marawi, and they need all the support that we can give.

This is what some of our dioceses and all the dioceses of the Phillipines, including Caritas Filipinas in Manila and the Archdiocese of Manila through Cardinal Chito Tagle have requested.  They have asked us how they can be of help, and where to send all their donations. So we have united with the Diocese of Iligan to put up command centers at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Iligan City to be able to receive donations, and have organized volunteers to do the repacking and the distribution.

We are also working with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are with us in dialogue.  It is a great opportunity for us to show our solidarity in responding together to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those in the evacuation centers. So this is what we are doing.   If there is anything you can do to help us, to bring the attention of the world to what is happening in Marawi right now, to our relief operations, we would appreciate it so much.

One of the evacuation centers for Marawi City refugees. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ ACN).

Interview: Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines
English adaptation: R.P.Delaney for ACN Canada

ACN Interview – Father Jacques Mourad visits Canada

31.10.2016 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Mario Bard, Syria

Syria

Stop the sale of arms!

While travelling through Canada recently, Father Jacques Mourad, a monk from the Mar Mousa Community in Syria, spoke with Aid to the Church in Need.  During a brief telephone interview given before leaving for Europe, the priest – once kidnapped by the ISIS (Islamic State) and held from May to October 2015 – asks Canadians to reflect on the impact of the sale of arms, especially those in the Gulf region, which according to him, find their way into the hands of fighters in Syria.

 

Picture of Father Mourad, kidnapped on 21st May 2015, carrying a cross. Only this low quality file available (picture sent to Fr Halemba during his trip to Syria)

Picture of Father Mourad, carrying a cross.  He was kidnapped May 21, 2015.

ACN: What would you say to the people of Canada about the war in Syria?

Father Jacques Mourad:  “For my first point:  I wish to thank and convey my thanks from the people of Syria – especially the Christians of Syria – to the Canadian people who opened their hearts and their country.

But, I also say however that importing the Syrian people is not a good solution.

Secondly, what we hope for from the democratic countries such as Canada – who [though] are unable to stop this war – will continue to welcome the refugees, and in so-doing save their lives.  Especially [those who are found] in areas where they are in danger (such as in Aleppo among other places). But, I also say however that importing the Syrian people is not a good solution.

Is it possible to bring the entire country over, for everyone in Syria is in danger! Therefore, the effort [needed] from a country with a good heart and who possesses its freedom [like your own] is to do all that is required to raise awareness [about the consequences of war] and convince the government to do everything in its power to stop the sale of arms.

For it is with these arms – like those Canada is producing and which are sold in the Gulf countries – it is with these arms, which land in the hands of all those who are fighting – that the Syrian people are killed. We have no idea of the death toll, the misery, etc. The fact that this country continues to produce and sell arms – makes it in part responsible for the war in Syria.

Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

Canadians are invited and called [its government] to reflect and to take into consideration that we are aware of what is happening, that we are wounded and that we are suffering.”

Father Mourad calls on all Canadians to pray for the Syria people and for peace to come.

Father Mourad calls on all Canadians to pray for the Syria people and for peace to come. Since the beginnings of the war in March 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has supported the Syrian people by means of emergency projects developed by the local Churches in Syria.  Whether the need required providing support for lodging for the elderly and sick who cannot leave the country – or for the distribution of diapers, food, and warm clothing for those in need – the pontifical charity has provided support in the amount of approximately 19 million dollars.

The projects continue to develop.  Along with the renewal of the project for milk and diapers to help families, the organization is supporting elderly priests and religious Sisters who are living on the edge of exhaustion with Mass Offerings.  Finally, 600 families will receive help to pay for heating this winter, as the cost of mazut remains prohibitive.

 

 

 

Interview and text by Mario Bard, Aid to the Church in Need Canada

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

 


 

 

 

ACN News – Abducted priest – Father Dhiya Aziz – freed

07.01.2016 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, John Pontifex, Syria, Violence against Christians

Syria

Abducted priest freed

Released after two weeks of captivity in Syria, Iraqi priest, Father Dhiya Aziz, is safe and recovering, according to fellow Franciscans in Aleppo.

The priest, who was released late yesterday (Monday, January 4), is reported to have suffered extreme cold while he was being held and when freed was in a state of severe exhaustion. No other details have emerged about his condition.

During a trip in Aleppo in May 2015, an ACN delegation saw the devastation of churches. The war in Syria is going on its 5th year these next days. (Credit: ACN-Melikte Archdiocese of Aleppo)

During a trip in May 2015, an ACN delegation saw the devastation in Aleppo. The war in Syria is going on its 5th year these next days. (Credit: ACN-Melikte Archdiocese of Aleppo)

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need yesterday (Tuesday), Fr Aziz’s fellow Franciscans in Aleppo, northern Syria, said they had yet to establish if he had been tortured but that the priority now was sleep and rest.

Fr Aziz’s disappearance was announced after he failed to return to his parish in Syria’s Idlib province on December 23. The priest had set off from the Syrian city of Lattakia, aiming to arrive at his parish before Christmas. He was returning from a visit to Turkey where he was visiting family who had fled from Qaraqosh, northern Iraq, seized by militant Islamic group Daesh (ISIS) in August 2014.

Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said that Fr Aziz was now recovering at an undisclosed location. “The Franciscans told me that in this Year of Mercy they were giving thanks to |God for showing his mercy through the release of Fr Aziz. “We are just so grateful to God that Fr Aziz has been freed.”

Fr Halemba said the identity of Fr Aziz’s kidnappers was as yet unknown and that “it is not quite clear yet what Fr Aziz’s state of health is. He explained that Fr Aziz has a pre-existing back condition dating back to an earlier kidnapping in July and a planned operation on his spine will now be rescheduled.

Latest in a series of abductions

The Custody of the Holy Land, the region’s Franciscan authority, announced Fr Aziz’s release late last night but added that, “due to confidentiality reasons,” no further details could be given about how he came to be freed. The kidnapping of the priest is the latest in a series of clergy kidnapped in Syria. Previously, on July 4, 2015, Father Aziz had been seized by militants in Yacoubieh and released after five days. Among those still missing are Archbishops Boulos Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, kidnapped in April 2013 and Jesuit priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, abducted three months later.

By John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : ag@acn-aed-ca.org