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Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin

 

ACN Feature Story – Helping women in Cape Verde, Africa

16.05.2019 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, By Robert Lalonde, Journey with ACN

Cape Verde Archipelago – Africa

Moving ahead for women who have nothing left

 

During a trip to the Cape Verde Archipelago in February 2019, Robert Lalonde, a regular Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) contributor, spoke with Sister Romualda Tavares, the provincial leader of the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary for Cape Verde, which also includes Guinea-Bissau in its territory. The Cape Verde Archipelago is a small island country located off the northwestern coast of Africa and is comprised of ten islands, nine of which are inhabited.

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The country includes two dioceses, that of Santiago – the oldest in modern Africa – and that of Mindelo, which serves a population of 535,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom are Christians. Among its many congregations, that of the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary (DHHM), in addition to being the oldest Indigenous congregation, is, by far, the one with the greatest number of this country’s communities, with nine.

In addition to helping me appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Santiago Island, my visit with Sister Romualda gave me the opportunity to meet nearly all of the forty sisters who are part of six communities surrounding them on the island: Calcheta (2), Praia – the capital –, Santiago, Somada and Tarrafal . Aspirants, postulants and novices who will ensure the future of the congregation are added to these Sisters, all Cape Verdeans.

During our trip, Sister Romualda shared with me the worries she has for each one of them, while never losing sight of the gratitude she feels towards those who came before her: “I arrived as an aspirant in the Calecheta community in 1976, the first one founded by the DHHM in Cape Verde and was welcomed by Sister Regina, a pioneer who gave us everything. “

This visionary Sister knows that, to bear fruit, it is essential to feed its roots, but also the hope of a better world by giving our heart and soul. Keen on preserving the exemplary unity reigning among her communities, it is with the same enthusiasm that she told me about one and the other. And, while there are many urgent projects to complete, when the time came to favour one, she chose Terrafal, a small town located at the edge of the sea.

The Consequences

A few years ago, the DHHM were planning the construction of a building which would include a social centre and a residence for the Sisters. This centre, whose vocation is to provide daycare for children and to teach women various manual activities and also to get them out of an environment of domestic violence is partially in operation today.
However, while the community has the land, the project to build a residence could not be realized. Thus, the Sisters must live in the centre which is their place of work. This situation becomes problematic for several reasons, some being fundamental, since life in community isn’t lived according to the rules of the constitution by which they are governed.

“As busy as we are with professional or apostolic work that our founder advocated, we preserve, at all costs, strong times of prayer, testament to our strength, vitality and apostolic effectiveness.” This life of prayer is the source from which they draw their apostolic dynamism.
However, by permanently staying at their work location, not only do the Sisters not gain perspective regarding their daily apostolate, but they also do not have a vantage point to experience together the essence of their spirituality. Furthermore, the locales that serve as bedrooms are on the second floor. This represents a major inconvenience for the aging Sisters whose physical health is declining.

 

They must also adapt to a temporary chapel, since it is located in a small room that was supposed to serve as a space for one of the activities related to the center’s vocation. This situation is surely not conducive to quality contemplation.
Lastly, what can we make of the consequences experienced by the people targeted by the project? The rooms used by the Sisters take away from the space for the activities planned for the women. For example, these spaces should instead serve as sewing rooms or spaces for other manual work, or transition places when they are victims of domestic violence. This means that women, deprived of such a space, are currently living in a precarious situation, both physically and psychologically. Consequently, they are prevented from engaging in a wellness process.

In spite of difficulties, the Sisters continue to move ahead with their formidable task. They are the motor for so many changes happening for women who otherwise would feel totally lacking and unprotected. The Sisters of Tarrafal’s courage is anchored in putting into action the values of the Gospel. Thanks be to God!

Release of Asia Bibi : “A Triumph of Human Rights”

30.01.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN NEWS, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, Asia, By Mario Bard, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pakistan, Press Release, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

 Press Release – Release of Asia Bibi

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is relieved by the definitive release of Asia Bibi.

Montréal, Tuesday, January 30, 2019 – “This is a great day for the respect of human rights, for religious freedom and for justice. The Pakistani government didn’t allow the extremists who took to the streets with violence to influence them,” declared Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN).

The international Catholic charitable organization, which regularly provides information on the issue of religious freedom in the world, and particularly on the issue of Christians persecuted because of their faith, is celebrating today. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “Today’s decision is a triumph of human rights over religious intolerance, a victory of the law over the hatred of fanatics – and above all, personal happiness and great joy for Asia Bibi and her family”.

“Now, I would like the family to spend beautiful moments together and to savour the newfound freedom,” indicated Ms. Lalonde. She reminds us that, throughout the nine years of detention, many ACN benefactors prayed for her release. “Many prayed for her and this shows that faith really can move mountains,” she added, very moved by the events. “What’s most important is that Ms. Bibi is free, and that she can at last be reunited with her loved ones.”

At least 224 others accused since 1984

If Asia Bibi is free at last, there are 25 Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy who are still in prison, some of whom are awaiting execution. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “ACN will continue to pray and work for them with other organizations and project partners in Pakistan. We can only hope that the court’s decision will at least cause the government to rethink its position and that the blasphemy laws will be relaxed or better respected.”

Marie-Claude Lalonde is sad to say that, “in Pakistan, the blasphemy law can be invoked to accuse one’s neighbour in order to resolve an unrelated dispute. We hope that the signal given with the decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court is a step in the right direction.”

Pakistan is part of the sad list of 38 countries identified in ACN’s 2018 Abridged Report on Religious Freedom as a country where violations of religious rights are significant. The situation has even worsened for religious minorities in 2018, with the country’s President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops describing “an alarming increase in violence, intolerance and extremism.” *

Summary of the story

Asia Bibi is a Catholic woman who is now 51 years old. In the fall of 2009, she was in the fields with other women, harvesting the crops. During a break, she drank from the same well as the other women, but these women considered that Asia had just contaminated it since she is not Muslim.  Asia replied, the situation escalated and her colleagues accused her of blasphemy. After a hearing, she was found guilty of blasphemy according to the laws in effect in Pakistan. In 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Thanks to the persistence of the country’s Christian community, her lawyers and international organizations denouncing this situation, Asia Bibi was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31, 2018. A fundamentalist group wanted to appeal this decision, which forced Asia Bibi to remain in the country, in hiding, for her protection. Finally, on January 29, 2019, the Supreme Court definitively rejected the request to appeal and Asia Bibi is finally free.  

In Pakistan, only 2% of the population is Christian, with a population of more than 192 million inhabitants, which is in majority Muslim.

*Page 38, Abridged Report on Religious Freedom in the World, available at the address https://files.acn-canada.org/2018/11/ACN-Religious-Freedom-Report-2018_CanENGL_WEB-1.pdf

ACN News: Nigeria Bishops call on the president to “consider stepping-aside”

11.05.2018 in ACN NEWS, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, Africa, Nigeria

Nigeria

Bishops call on the president to “consider stepping-aside”

Last April 24, Nigeria’s bishops  issued a formal statement calling on the President to “consider stepping aside,” and accusing the government of security failures which they blame for the murder of 17 Christians, including two priests.

Father Joseph Gor, Father Felix Tyolaha and 15 parishioners were killed during a funeral Mass in Mbalom, Benue State, by gunmen, with reports that about 30 Fulani militants waited for the faithful to gather at the church before attacking. They also burned down about 50 homes in the area.

Condemning the “rampaging and murderous terrorists”, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) issued a formal statement, asking: “…how can the federal government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to the cries and wails of helpless and armless citizens, who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highway and now, even in their sacred places of worship?”

Writing in bold typeface, the bishops stressed: “…it is time for [Nigeria’s President Mudammadu Buhari] to choose the part of honour and consider stepping aside to save the nation from total collapse.”

Accusing the President of ignoring repeated calls to step up security, the bishops assert: “He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become.”

Written in the wake of the funeral Mass killings, which took place last Tuesday (24th April), the bishops assert that they have lost confidence in the country’s security apparatus.

In their statement, the bishops declare: “Faced with these dark clouds of fear and anxiety, our people are daily being told to defend themselves. But defend themselves with what?”

The statement notes that the “government should encourage and empower citizens to secure themselves and their environments. This is not the time to disarm people with legally procured weapons of self-defense.”

The CBCN statement reports that back in January, Father Gor, one of the priests killed last Tuesday, had warned about the continuing threat posed by Fulani herdsmen, of whom he said: “‘They still go grazing around. No weapons to defend ourselves.’”

Highlighting security concerns across Nigeria’s Middle-Belt, Father Alexander Yeyock, parish priest of St John’s Catholic Church, Asso village in nearby Kaduna State, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “The concern now is that the entire nation should not depend so much on national security protection.

“Every individual, group and community should struggle to defend themselves.  This is grossly unfortunate.”

 

Nigeria, diocese of Maiduguri in October 2017
The diocese of Maiduguri has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, in which context Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme has reconsecrated it to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: People are at the foot of the cross.

Fulani militias forming abroad

Father Yeyock’s parish was attacked a month ago when two Catholic men were shot dead, an atrocity which took place almost exactly a year after Fulani militants murdered 12 Christians during the Easter Vigil service at his church.

Referring to tension in his parish and across the region, Father Yeyock said: “In Asso, farmers go to farms in fear and in groups… Bereaved families have come to terms with the reality that attacks by Fulani herdsmen [occur] frequently in Asso, but no place is spared.”

Father Yeyock added: “It’s again unfortunate that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are known by the government of Nigeria, those who sponsor them too, and yet no action is taken.”

Highlighting that Fulani militants receive military training abroad before going on to target Christians, he said: “With the news of the current attacks, Nigerians have argued with the earlier narrative from the federal government, which has very often told the world that it was always a clash between the herdsmen and farmers.

“It’s now evidently revealing that there is more to it than meets the eye… it is purely a religious jihad in disguise.

According to reports, the Acting Governor of Benue State, Benson Abounu, said last Tuesday’s attack showed that the security breakdown had “gone beyond [a] farmers-herders crisis.”