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Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

 

ACN Project of the Week: Subsistence Support for Religious Sisters in Benin

05.12.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Benin, Religious formation

Benin

Subsistence Support for Religious Sisters

Sister Helène and Sister Epiphanie, both from Togo, belong to the Congregation of the Missionary Catechetical Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Since July 2018, they have been living and working in Parakou, a large and quickly developing town, situated in northern Benin. Many different cultural and ethnic groups make up the population of Parakou, with a Muslim majority.

 

Since Parakou is at the centre of an important intersection and is easily accessible, the congregation established its formation house here in 1997, a place where the congregation’s young Sisters receive their training. Currently there are five young religious in the program. All are from poor African families, most are from faraway and cannot hope to be supported by their families – nor the local parishes which cannot afford to support their work despite the vital contribution they make. For example, instructing young people and adults in the Faith, or visiting the sick and elderly and bringing them Holy Communion.

ACN decided to step in and help. We are proposing subsistence support of $3,000 for the coming year for Sister Helène and Sister Epiphanie to sustain them in their work of providing a sound formation for the younger sisters.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN News: Supported Projects in Iraq

03.12.2019 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Iraq

ACN Supported Projects in Iraq

A next new phase of rebuilding

 By Xavier Bisits, ACN International
revised by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

Published on-line December 3, 2019

 

It was just in March of this year that ISIS lost the final vestiges of its “caliphate” in Syria, and not long ago that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the world’s most notorious terrorist, died in a shootout with American soldiers.

 Meanwhile, life in a Christian region to the north of Mosul, the Nineveh Plains, is slowly resuming with the help of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), two years after Mosul was liberated from its Islamist overlords.

On October 30, Philipp Ozores, Secretary-General of ACN, visited the Nineveh Plains to announce the beginning of a major new phase of support to the Nineveh Plains, involving the rehabilitation of church-owned properties, to restore a feeling of security to returned residents.

Over 35 million dollars since 2014

Approximately 45% of the population has returned; shops have reopened, many houses have been repaired, and church life has resumed: catechism, radio, schools, and women’s groups.

A significant part of this return to normalcy has been supported by ACN benefactors, who have allowed the pontifical charity to engage in a wide-ranging program of emergency aid and home rehabilitation. Since 2014, it has spent 35 million dollars in emergency aid to support Christian IDPs (Internally Displaced People in Iraq, primarily through food and rent support.

 

In the Nineveh Plains, ACN has funded the rehabilitation of 2,086 homes, or 37% of all homes that have been repaired. This program, to the value of 9.6 million dollars, supported homes in Baghdeda, Bartella, Tesqopa, Karamless, Bashiqa, and Bahzani.

 

Still, emigration remains a grave threat to the future of the region, where some people are losing hope that Christianity can flourish in Iraq, and look to countries like Australia and Germany for a better future. The rate of departures is such that urgent action is needed to restore security, and create positive reasons for the indigenous Christian people of Iraq to stay in their homeland.

 

In this context, ACN is shifting towards a new phase of projects designed to make people feel safe in the towns to which they have returned. These projects are all about rebuilding critical church infrastructure in several of the Christian towns and villages that dot the area.

 

Mr Ozores attended a meeting of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), chaired by ACN Middle East Section Head Fr Andrzej Halemba, to announce several of these projects. The NRC meeting was attended by representatives of the Syriac Catholic Church (Fr George Jahola), Syriac Orthodox Church (Fr Jacob Yasso), and Chaldean Catholic Church (Fr Thabet Habib). Mr Ozores told participants of the solidarity of the global Catholic Church: “We are with you, and we will remain with you in Iraq.”

 

Restoring Iraq’s largest church

Chief among these projects is Great Al-Tahira Church, the largest church in Iraq, sitting in Baghdeda, Iraq’s largest Christian city, which is 95% Syriac Catholic. ACN will be supporting the $765,000 restoration of the interior which remains charred and unsightly after ISIS militants piled the pews and furniture of the church in a heap, set it alight, and fled the town.

 

Every day, parishioners gather in the remains of the church, although many are saddened to worship in a visibly desecrated church, once the pride of the town. Many people are still recovering from the trauma of displacement, murdered relatives, and their knowledge that their home was colonized for two years by Islamist fanatics and their Yezidi slaves. ACN hopes that this project will restore hope to Iraq’s remaining Christians – a battered and fragile mere 10% of the 1.5 million Christians who lived in the country prior to its descent into civil war, and the religiously motivated murder of at least 1,000 Christians.

 

Although the Christians of the Nineveh Plains have proved their resilience, in this critical period of reconstruction, they hope not to be forgotten.

 

After the interior is restored, more work will need to be done to restore the damaged exterior and belltower of the building. The Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Petros Mouche, told ACN: “For us, this church is a symbol. This church was built in 1932, and it was the villagers of Baghdeda who constructed it.  For this reason, we want this symbol to remain as a Christian symbol to encourage the people, especially the locals of Baghdeda, to stay here.”

“This is our country, and this is a witness that we can give for Christ … I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who help, as these organizations can’t help us without the support of their benefactors.”

 

ACN also approved $1.3 million to reconstruct the Najem Al-Mashrik Hall and Theatre in Bashiqa, a Yezidi-Christian town, with a large Syriac Orthodox population. The Hall will allow the church to resume large wedding ceremonies, and encourage young people to build their future in their home, rather than looking to foreign countries.

Fr Daniel Behnam, the local priest, said: “We are happy to accept the reconstruction of Najem Al-Mashrik Hall. This project will help ensure the survival of Christian families, and provide them with important services. In particular, it will help young people, providing a space for pastoral, cultural, and youth activities.”

 

ACN also recently approved 13 other projects amounting to more than one million dollars for Syrian-Catholic, Chaldean and Syrian-Orthodox Christians, all to rebuild church properties damaged by ISIS militants.

 

ACN, Aid to the Church in Need, is a pontifical charity, relying mainly on small donors to provide support and hope to the poor and persecuted Church.

 

Ghana, a Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

25.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ghana

Ghana

A Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

 

The town of Nkontrodo is one of eight smaller communities belonging to the parish of Saint Francis in Elmina. The town, located in the south of Ghana, has around 200 actively practicing Catholics who regularly attend Holy Mass and play an active part in Church life.

 

For many years the people of Nkontrodo have been waiting for a church of their very own. Only recently did Holy Mass and other forms of worship and liturgical services move from being celebrated in the dining hall of a local school. Not only was it a less than fitting setting for the celebration of the Eucharist, but the parish also had to negotiate with the school for its use for every event. Inevitably, there were constant clashes and conflicts in scheduling. Moreover, the town already had eight different sectarian groups and Pentecostalist groups, all of whom already had their own, solidly built places of worship, making it a real danger that members of the Catholic faithful might leave to join these groups out of sheer frustration with the situation.

 

To “pray” day and night

Father Martino Corazzin, their parish priest, had constantly exhorted the faithful to “pray day and night, with faith and trust, and the Lord will hear your prayers and touch the hearts of those who are able to help us!” They were not left disappointed.

 

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors we were able to contribute $75,000 to bring the dream of the Catholic faithful at last, into reality. In August 2019, the new church was finally consecrated. We helped with an initial contribution of $45,000, but the construction work ran into problems because of difficult soil conditions and other unexpected complications, hiking the cost higher than originally planned for. Thanks again to our generous benefactors, we made another contribution, this time of $30,000.

 

Father Martino has written to thank us: “We are all extremely happy and grateful to you for your generous support and for the confidence you have placed in us, and above all for the fact that you have made our dream come true. We ask God to bless you and the many benefactors who have helped us. The faithful of the parish of Saint Anne in Nkontrodo have also asked me to thank you on their behalf and they have promised to remember you in their prayers, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. They also asked me to tell you that more and more people are now coming to our church. And it is true, we are already seeing new faces.”

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Press Release  – #RedWednesday, November 20, 2019 – Stones and Prayers

18.11.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Press Release, RED WEDNESDAY

Press Release  – For Immediate Release

 

#RedWednesday, November 20, 2019

Stones and Prayers

A show of solidarity with persecuted Christians!

 

The face of at least five monuments will be illuminated in red this year across Canada.  Of them: Mary-Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal and Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto.

 

Montréal, November 18, 2019 – This Wednesday, November 20, Aid to the Church in Need Canada is inviting all Canadians to participate in Red Wednesday events (#RedWednesday).  For the occasion, five stone monuments will be lit up in red:  Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, the entrance of the Grand Seminaire de Montreal and the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa located in the historic Chateau Birkett building. 

 

In the diocese of Calgary, more than 80 activities are already planned. “I believe that more and more Canadians are aware of the problems connected to the lack of religious freedom in the world, and in particular, of the situation of over 327 million Christians living in  persecution stricken countries,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada.

 

 

A Great International Movement

 

The events planned in Canada open an entire week of events taking place across the world until November 27.  In at least 15 countries, moments of prayer and information sessions have been organized along with monuments and buildings to be lit in red. To date it has been announced that there will be over 2,000 in Philippines and 120 in the United Kingdom in order to bring awareness to questions related to religious freedom and the persecution of Christians.

 

In Canada, there are several ways to offer a show of solidarity:

  • Participate in one of the planned events listed at this address acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/ or call : 1 (800)585-6333 or by email at info@acn-canada.org.
  • Find out more about the situation of Christians through the Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19 Report https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/
  • Share the information on social media using the hashtag: #RedWednesday
  • Wear red on November 20th
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world in small or large groups and for all who suffer because of a lack of religious freedom.

 

Among the many scheduled activities taking place Canada-wide we would like to highlight a few:

  • Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 pm at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal,
  • An ecumenical prayer vigil will be held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, also scheduled for 7:30 pm.
  • Mass will be celebrated at Saint Mary’s Parish in Banff, Alberta at 6:30pm.


 

ACN Project of the Week – India

07.11.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN Intl, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, MOTORIZATION

India

Success Story: A car to reach marginalized tribal peoples

For many years now, Sister Christine of the Merciful Sisters of the Cross has been serving the poor and oppressed in the East Indian province where her congregation is also located.  Members of the indigenous tribal peoples are the main group of people she tends to. She has a great deal of experience behind her and now coordinates the pastoral work in the various small Christian communities that have formed here, many of them places a priest very rarely is able to visit. The faithful generally gather with a catechist to pray together, celebrate liturgies of the Word and to share their life experiences.

 

 

Sister Christine must cover considerable distances to fulfill her pastoral work. She frequently faces travelling on poor roads leading into nearly inaccessible regions. Her old car served her well for eight long years. But, unfortunately, owing to the harsh conditions, it became increasingly unreliable, repeatedly leaving her stranded mid-route and becoming ever more expensive in repair costs.

 

Thanks to the help of our generous benefactors, we were able to provide $15,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle. Sister Christine is delighted with her new vehicle. She writes, “May God richly bless you all. I promise you my prayers and the prayers of all the people in our parishes!”

 

ACN Interview: Mark von Reidemann on Religious Persecution

21.10.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN USA, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

ACN International

A look at the question of denominational organization and humanitarian support

 
Interview conducted by Maria Lozano of ACN International,
Text adapted by ACN Canada
  • EU Ambassador announces new European Union initiative aimed at reducing religious ignorance or religious “illiteracy” worldwide
  • Cardinal Parolin: Governments should avoid “ideological or cultural colonization”
  • 20th anniversary of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Religious Freedom Report

 

Mark von Riedemann, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom for the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, was invited to moderate a panel on humanitarian aid at a recent USA – Holy See symposium titled: “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations.” Maria Lozano, head of information at ACN International interviews him about his impressions.

 

ACN: The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the Holy See co-sponsored recently a symposium featuring presentations from the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, as well as Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, about how governments can partner with faith-based organizations to better defend religious freedom. What prompted this symposium?

 Mark von Riedemann: The symposium marked 35 years of positive cooperation between the US government and the Holy See, reflecting on the work of St. Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and their combined efforts to bring about the end of Communism in the former Soviet Union.

 

The intent was to communicate new initiatives taken by the US government to work directly with Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) on the ground. As Ambassador Gingrinch observed in her opening speech governments alone can only do so much. Even if the United States is one of the main providers of humanitarian aid worldwide, she noted, delivering that support efficiently requires partnerships with organizations on the ground. Catholic agencies and other FBO’s can help to make an impact in places where governments have neither the experience nor the network to do so.

The large diplomatic participation in this occasion also prompted the representative of the European Union to the Holy See, Ambassador Jan Tombinski, to announce the creation of an EU initiative called the “Global Exchange on Religion in Society”, supporting projects aimed at reducing religious ignorance or “illiteracy” in the EU and worldwide. The objective of such initiative is to acknowledge the importance of faith in everyday life. This is an absolute first for Europe, which to date prided itself of being “religion-blind.”

Cardinal Parolin praised the new initiatives. In his speech, however, he cautioned against the temptation by donor nations to impose certain cultural values or worldviews as a precondition for recipient nations to receive aid.

Yes, he requested firmly that governments avoid, when sponsoring faith-based organizations, what Pope Francis has called an “ideological or cultural colonization,” which consists in “imposing a different worldview or set of values on poorer societies, often by making the adoption of those values a prerequisite to receiving humanitarian or development aid.” Although Aid to the Church in Need has never been impacted by this as we rely solely on support from private donors, I was glad that he made mention of this as, through our project partners, we have heard time and again testimony of this kind of abuse. And it is abuse. Making food aid contingent upon the acceptance programs promoting contraception and abortion is well documented.

This symposium marks a string of actions over the last months with regard to religious freedom and attention to the issue of Christian persecution. What trend have you noted?

 Increasingly religious freedom is being recognized as a foundational right, that two thirds of the world’s population reside in countries with restrictions on religious freedom, and that Christians represent the largest faith group experiencing religious persecution.

This conference follows closely on the heels of a September 23, 2019 “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom,” the first-ever UN event on religious freedom hosted by a US president, and the May 28, 2019 UN resolution marking August 22 as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief.’ Over the last two years there has been a flurry of initiatives including the creation of a State Secretariat for Christian Persecution in Hungary, the US initiated International Religious Freedom Alliance and perhaps of greatest note, the growing number of nations instituting or reactivating Ambassadors for Religious Freedom and Belief in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, the USA, Norway, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom among others.

2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the ACN Religious Freedom Report. Has ACN been like a prophetic voice in the wilderness calling for religious freedom and an end to Christian persecution?

 The report has indeed been prophetic. In 1999, religious freedom was not a major topic on most government radars, yet ACN, from our project partners on the ground, received increasing testimonies of Christian persecution. For example, religious tensions in Nigeria developed with the imposition of Shari’ah law in a dozen Muslim-majority states in 1999 resulting in significant sectarian violence still ongoing today.

Since that time we have witnessed dramatic world events in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia, and the consequent suffering of untold millions have demanded greater attention and response. A pivotal moment was in 2016 when the European Union and the US passed resolutions labelling the ISIS atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq a Genocide. Is Christian persecution a surprise? No, it has grown over the centuries from the roots of intolerance, to discrimination, to persecution, and finally the world awakens to the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Symptomatic of this is the reduction of the Christian presence in the Middle East: in 1910, Christians represented 13.6% of the population, by 2010 that number had declined to 4.2%. The call from the US government for a new partnership between government and FBO’s is a further sign of Western countries waking up to these realities and as such are important steps in the right direction.

  1. With regard to the expression or religious “illiteracy”, Please see the abridged version of the report :  Persecuted and Forgotten 2018 

ACN Project of the Week – India

18.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Holy Cross, India, Religious men, SEMINARIANS, Youth Apostolate

ACN Project of the Week – India

Help for the formation of 23 seminarians

The Congregation of the Holy Cross was officially founded in Mans, France, in 1837. Born of a fusion between the Brothers of Saint Joseph—founded in 1820 by Father Jacques Dujarie and auxiliary priests of Mans, founded by the canon Basile Moreau in 1835. During this post-revolution era, an entire generation of young people grew up without practically any Christian or Catholic education. This community of men was thus born of a group of young men who wanted to educate youth in rural areas. The resulting religious congregation spread swiftly over 20 or 30 years, as far as Algeria, the United States, Italy and East Bengal (which now includes parts of India and Bangladesh).

Today, the congregation is present and active in 16 countries. Its religious brothers and priests are devoted to the religious instruction and general education of young people and run many schools, as they see the formation of the spirit as the essential foundation for treating pressing present-day problems.  Canadians know them well, for one thaumaturge priest, Brother André Bessette, who founded Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal in 1904. This place of pilgrimage receives approximately 2 million visitors every year.

 

Families First

The congregation is particularly active in four Indian provinces where it enjoys numerous new vocations. Indian priests of the Holy Cross Congregation are present not only in India but offer themselves at the service of the Universal Church in other countries.

These days, helping families and young people to become more deeply rooted in the Christian faith as they face consumerism and many other challenges brought about by the phenomenon of globalization. But in order to achieve this, the priests themselves must have a sound formation.

In the southern Indian province of the congregation 23 young men are currently studying for the priesthood. ACN is proposing to help them, with a contribution of $10,350. The seminarians pray for all those who are helping them. Thank you to all of you who can help monetarily, and thank you for praying for them as well.

ACN Project of the Week – Post flooding, Malawi receives help from ACN

09.10.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Emergency Aid, Malawi

Malawi

 

Mission accomplished! Emergency aid following severe flooding

 

In March 2019 many areas of southern Malawi– a country located on the border between southern Africa and East Africa— were struck by torrential rainfall which continued for days on end resulting in devastating floods  which affected close to 1 million inhabitants in 16 of the 28 districts of the country.

 

 

The toll it took: Close to 80,000 people lost their homes, over 500 people were injured and some 60 lost their lives. Adding to the devastation, houses, fields, roads and bridges were also damaged or destroyed

Malawi, already has its share of difficulties as it is already one of the poorest nations in the world. And,  according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as reported in Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)  Religious Freedom Report “thousands of refugees have come to Malawi from Mozambique in recent years, fleeing fighting between the Mozambican government and rebels. The provision of care for refugees also presents a challenge for Malawi’s Churches and religious communities in social as well as pastoral terms. Experience shows that religious tensions often worsen when different faith groups live in close proximity in extreme poverty.”

Where we came in

Despite the reality in the country, the Catholic Church was on the ground immediately, ready with spiritual and moral support. But given the circumstances there was also a very real need for food, clothing, blankets and temporary shelters. Every day articles like cooking utensils and water purification systems to prevent the spread of diseases were also needed at a minimum.

 

ACN also responded immediately. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to provide $30,000 in emergency aid. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed and prayed for the relief effort in Malawi!

 

 

ACN Feature Story – Crimea: A worsening slide into poverty

30.09.2019 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Matthias Böhnke

Crimea

A worsening slide into poverty

 

For many families in Crimea, their financial situation makes going on summer holidays together just a pipe dream. As soon as school closes for the holidays, many children have to spend their time on the streets while their parents earn a living. To offer children and adolescents meaningful activities and prospects in regions where Christians are living under difficult conditions,  Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) donates funds for holiday camps each summer. An offer that is received with great enthusiasm and gratitude.

 

The difficult economic situation in Crimea is worsening. Since the peninsula in the Black Sea was annexed by Russia, wages and earnings have decreased while prices, particularly those of food, have soared. A situation that most negatively impacts the poorer part of the population.

 

“In comparison to 2013, salaries in the first half of 2017 dropped by 18 per cent and pensions by 14 per cent,” reported the Roman Catholic bishop of Odessa-Simferopol, Mons. Jacek Pyl, OMI. “The average pension in Crimea is only about 8,500 roubles, or 165 dollars. Every third person is at risk of sliding into poverty in the near future.” However, although earnings have decreased, the cost of living has skyrocketed due to the import ban on foods such as meat, fish, milk products, vegetables, fruit and nuts that Russia imposed in response to sanctions: “The prices of these and other products have doubled within the country since 2014 and the prices of many everyday items have even tripled in Crimea,” the Bishop deplored.

 

Respite: Holidays with God

According to Bishop Pyl, the increase in the number of families in Crimea that are living below the poverty line has been particularly steep. The risk of poverty for families with up to two children is 66 per cent, for families with three or more children it is even up to 78 per cent. Many families cannot afford to go on holiday. “However, the risk of becoming addicted to computers, the Internet, drugs or alcohol is particularly high for children and adolescents who spend their holidays on the streets, bored,” explained the Bishop, who is grateful that ACN supported two holiday camps held in Crimea with the theme Holidays with God. These ACN projects are offered to young people irrespective of their religion and gives them something meaningful to do during the holidays.

 

One of the participants, Bogdan Loginov, described the time he spent at the holiday camp, which was run by religious Sisters: “In addition to the many nice activities, we learned a lot of new things in catechesis during the holiday camp. It was never boring and I met a lot of new friends. If it hadn’t been for the camp, this summer would have gone by without anything meaningful happening. I am hoping that it will be held again next year.”

 

“This is the age at which many young people have a lot of unanswered questions: how should I live, who do I want to be and what should I live for? These summer camps are not just about recuperation, but also about the future of the country and the Church, because it is very important to communicate and live Christian values,” Bishop Pyl said.

 

This perfectly describes what 15-year-old Andrej Prospunov experienced: “You have a lot of questions during your teenage years. You perceive the world differently and more intensely. However, when you begin to challenge things, this is not always good for your own religious beliefs. But thanks to the summer camp, my friends and I understand that you can remain religious even if you are having doubts – and more than that: that belief in God and the experience of community with believers of the same age are wonderful things. The participants came from different religious communities. But in spite of this, we noticed that we are all one through our faith. Thank you to all the organisers and particularly to all the people who made this time possible for us through their financial support!”

 

Thanks to the philanthropy of our benefactors all over the world, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was able to donate more than 495,000 this year to support 30 summer camp projects for children and adolescents – a reflection of the great generosity of 330,000 benefactors around the world.

 

ACN Interview – Archbishop reports on the current situation in the Holy Land

11.09.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Tobias Lehner, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN Iview – Holy Land

“Religious fundamentalism places Christians on the fringes of society”

by Daniele Piccini & Tobias Lehner, ACN International

Pierbattista Pizzaballa has already spent more than three decades of his life in the Holy Land. In 2016, the Franciscan was made Archbishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In an interview with Daniele Piccini while visiting ACN Germany, the archbishop recently explained why current international political decisions exacerbate the conflict in the Holy Land and why the Church is relying on the power of small steps.


 

ACN: Your Grace, what is the current situation of the Christians in the Holy Land?

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa: It is often said that three groups of people live in the region that is considered the Holy Land proper: Israelis, Palestinians and Christians. But the Christians are not a “third people”. The Christians belong to the people among whom they live. As Christians we don’t have any territorial claims. Meeting a Christian does not represent a danger to Jews or Muslims. However, life is not easy for the Christians: it is more difficult for Christians to find work or a flat. The living conditions are much more difficult.

 

 

Does this mean that the religious freedom of the Christians is very restricted in the Holy Land?
It is necessary to make distinctions here. The freedom to practice religion is one thing, the freedom of conscience is another. The freedom to practice religion exists: the Christians can celebrate their divine services and develop their community life. Freedom of conscience means that all church members can express themselves freely and should members of other religions wish to become Christians, they have the right to do so. That is a lot more complicated.

Politics always plays a major role in the Holy Land. Even wanting to visit a certain place can quickly evolve into a political issue. For example: Christians from Bethlehem would like to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to pray. However, this is often not possible because they need a permit to do so. Therefore, is this an issue of religious freedom or is it just politics and they are not being granted permission to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because they are Palestinians? It is all interconnected.

 

“The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians.”

 

The U.S. government recently moved its Embassy to Jerusalem. How perceptible are the effects of political measures of this kind?
For the time being, this has not had much of an effect on everyday life. However, politically, relocating the U.S. Embassy is a dead end. All issues relating to Jerusalem that do not take account of both sides – Israelis and Palestinians – lead to a deep fracture on a political level. And that is exactly what happened. After the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, the Palestinians broke off all relations with the U.S. government, bringing the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian regions, which were moving sluggishly anyway, to a complete standstill.

The old City of Jerusalem

The latest escalations have led to the radicalization of a growing number of young people, particularly among the Palestinians. Does this also have repercussions for the Christians?
There are Palestinians who belong to fundamentalist movements. But there are also many who oppose violence. The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians. Therefore, they live under the same conditions as the Palestinian Muslims. Religious fundamentalism places Christians clearly on the fringes of society. We experience both cooperation and solidarity, but also exclusion and discrimination.

 

Another problem is the growing emigration of Christians …
Emigration is not a mass phenomenon, or the Christians would have long since disappeared from the Holy Land. It is a constant trickle. Each year when I visit the parishes, the priests tell me, “This year we lost two, three families.”

Holy Land, May 2011: The wall separating Palestine and Israel

 

Is there something the Church can do in this dead-end political situation?
Christians make up about one per cent of the population. We therefore cannot expect to carry the same political weight as other groups. But of course the Church has strong connections worldwide. And then there are the millions of Christian pilgrims from all over the world. It is our job to communicate to the people: there is a Christian way of living in this country. There is a Christian way of living with this conflict. This is not the time for big gestures. The Church has to try to establish small connections, to build small bridges.

 

Holy Land/Jerusalem, January 19, 2016. The Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem was targeted by vandals for a second time.

Pope Francis visited the country in 2014. Did this have an effect on the political situation, but also on the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians?
The visits of the Pope are important stepping stones on the way to peace, even though they will not bring about a major change. However, the opposite is true when it comes to ecumenism: with his visit, Pope Francis built on the historic meeting that took place between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964. Keeping this in mind, the visit of Pope Francis, in particular the ecumenical prayer in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was a decisive and perceptible turning point in the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

 

Financial aid for the implementation of the course “Healing Hatred: Spiritual Counseling in Situation of Conflict” (Sept. 2018 – Aug. 2019)

Aid to the Church in Need has been close to the Christians in the Holy Land for many years. In Jerusalem, for example, the pastoral charity funds an interreligious seminar entitled “Develop Forgiveness, Overcome Hatred” which is attended by hundreds of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Could you tell us  something about this initiative?
First and foremost, I would like to thank ACN because the pastoral charity does a great deal in the Holy Land. It supports many projects, including this seminar, which is organised by the Rossing Center. Daniel Rossing was a Jew who felt that Jerusalem in particular needed to be a place where all religions felt at home. Many young people who participate in these classes apply what they learn in their professional lives. Which makes religion, which is often an element of division in the Holy Land, an element of unity.