ACN Canada


PRESS RELEASE: Aid to the Church in Need – Invitation to the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq

31.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to refugees, Iraq, Pope Francis, Prayer, Refugees

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget GriffinIRAK-1

Montreal, Thursday, July 31, 2014 – The international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” is inviting people from the whole world to take part in a Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq, which is scheduled for 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Together with the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako the charity is using this occasion to call on “all people of good will” to “combine our voices and our hearts before the Lord in order to ask for peace,” Patriarch Sako writes in his message for the World Day of Prayer.

To join together with our suffering brothers and sisters

Johannes von HeeremanThe source of inspiration for this initiative had been the call of the Holy Father to stop the violence in Iraq, Johannes von Heeremann, the International President of “Aid to the Church in Need”, explained:   “Last Sunday at the Angelus, Pope Francis called out to all mankind ‘Please stop! I ask you with all my heart, it’s time to stop. Stop, please!’ This urgent appeal prompted us to invite not only Christians, but also the faithful of other religions, and in particular various Muslim communities, who are also suffering very much from the war, to join in a prayer for peace which encompasses the whole world. In view of such suffering as we are forced to watch in Iraq today, it is time to join together with our suffering brothers and sisters and to show the world that we have not abandoned them.”

Patriarch Sako, who has also formulated the prayer for this initiative, wrote in his message: “The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is a feast of the transformation of hearts and minds in the encounter with the light and love of God for mankind. May the Light of Tabor, through our proximity, fill the hearts of all those suffering with comfort and hope. May the message of Tabor working through our prayers move those governing this country to sacrifice their personal interests for the general good.”

Please take note that ACN is currently working on a way to send material assistance to Iraqi refugees.


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PRESS RELEASE: Gaza – Church in Jordan takes in Gaza refugees

28.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Aid to refugees, Holy Land, Palestine



Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


Montreal, Monday, July 28th, 2014 – The Catholic Church in Jordan had taken in Muslim and Christian refugees from Gaza. Father Khalil Jaar from Amman informed the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) of this on Friday. “On Sunday we took in 87 people from Gaza in Amman, including 39 children. Thanks to the support of the United Nations they were able to enter Israel from Gaza at the Erez border crossing. The Spanish consul in Jerusalem then brought them to the Jordanian border,” said this priest of the Latin Patriarchate.


“The injured are now receiving medical treatment. We have housed the rest in boarding houses,” Jaar continued. “We would like to take in more people from Gaza but all accommodation is fully booked in Amman because of the festival of Ramadan. And so we have to wait a little.” Jaar expects about 32 additional people.

“The children have seen bombing victims”

“The children are particularly badly traumatized. They have experienced terrible things in Gaza. We are paying special attention to them; people from the parish play with them to provide them with some diversion. They are completely traumatized by the bombing. Even if you are not directly affected, you’re bound to feel the impact of the bombs intensely in such as small area as Gaza,” Jaar said. “Many of the children report that their houses or those of their neighbours were destroyed. Many saw bombing victims in the rubble. Many of the little ones are afraid of staying in enclosed spaces because they think a bomb could hit them there.”


The United Nations claims that in the Gaza conflict more than 700 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids, including at least 160 children. Father Jaar is already supporting about 120 Syrian and 320 Iraqi refugee families in his parish. ACN is helping him with his work.




















Press Release – Iraq: Shocked, in pain and worried

24.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Press Release

For Immediate Release        

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Archbishops from Mosul, Iraq: “We call on all people of conscience in the world to put pressure on to the militants to stop the destruction”


Montreal, Thursday July 24, 2014 – In a dramatic appeal to the international community the Archbishops of Mosul in Iraq are asking for more outside help for minorities in Iraq. With violence still ongoing in parts of the country, they declared: “We, the Archbishops of Mosul, coming from all the denominations gathered in Erbil/Ankawah, headed by His Beatitude Patriarch Raphael Louis I Sako, are shocked, in pain, and worried about what happened to the innocent Christians of Mosul because of their religion. It is a crime against humanity, as the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon said, and ‘a shameful stain that should not be tolerated’ as the Secretary General of the Arab League Mr. Nabil Alaraby called it. It’s a crime in and of itself – a blatant persecution that we condemn and denounce.”


In the appeal presented to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Archbishops stated their demand for the national government to provide protection for Christians and other minorities, financial support for displaced families who have lost everything, as well as a list of all the damage incurred to ensure they are compensated. The Archbishops also declared: “We call on all people of conscience in Iraq and the world to put pressure on to the militants to stop the destruction of churches and monasteries and the burning of manuscripts and relics from our Christian heritage, which are also a priceless Iraqi and global heritage. What has been said about an agreement between the militants and churchmen is completely untrue, because what has happened is an unmitigated crime that cannot be denied or justified!”

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Syria – “I come to you because my people suffer”

23.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Syria

Mark Riedemann, ACN International

Adaptded by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada


“Many Muslims are now shy to declare themselves Muslim. I have heard several Muslim say to me: ‘I am ashamed – I do not understand that Islam is like that’. So I think it is the time for a true dialogue. I think it is the day of the Lord perhaps. So I have to take my Cross in my hand, even if I’m 70, and begin my mission again – and I feel myself a man of 45.” With these words, the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, voiced his dedication to those whom he calls ‘his people’ during a visit to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.



Struggling to survive

The war in Syria is now three years old. The suffering is indescribable, the devastation terrible. Hundreds of thousands of families in mourning, millions of refugees who no longer know where to turn and so hide at home, hunting day and night to feed their children. Archbishop Jeanbart explains that a barbaric scorched earth policy has left nothing untouched in its passage – thousands of industries damaged and tens of thousands of schools, hospitals and dispensaries destroyed. “All the structures, all the infrastructure, the heritage, all the industry – they have destroyed every single means of income for these people. People have no way to live in the cities – of course in the country they are farmers and they can live – but in the cities … Aleppo has lost 1400 industrial structures, this is a suffering.”

The Christian population too has not been left unscathed. Before the war there were approximately 150,000 Christians, states the Archbishop and Aleppo was home to numerous churches serving a Christian community present in the city since the third century. Today approximately 100,000 Christians, struggling to survive, remain. With inflation at 200 percent, the little income earned buys little and it is for these families that the Catholic Church is providing emergency food baskets. 1400 families receive bread, oil, sugar, rice, butter, pasta, tea and sweets every day.  “Everything that we provide is attached to bread as it is the most nourishing,” says Archbishop Jeanbart.

With the destruction Aleppo’s industries, thousands of fathers found themselves without work, without an income to allow the minimum provisions for their family.  “In this we have also provided emergency support, to give a monthly sum equivalent to half a salary each month. It is not much but 400 Christian families benefit from this financial support and, with the help of God, we hope to continue until the fathers of these families find work again.”




Muslims  take note of  Catholic charity


Archbishop Jeanbart explains that the Church structures too have been targeted. More than 18 bombs have struck and damaged the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s house located less than 300 meters from the demarcation line in the old city. The Church of St. Michael has been hit by two rockets, the Church of St. Demetrius situated in a quarter along the demarcation line has been the target of a number of mortar shells and the church in the village of Tabaka is in ruins.

“I am here because my people suffer,” says Archbishop Jean-Clement his tired voice cracking. The electricity is bad. Water is also very bad. We have some wells. We have dug three wells at three different churches. At the Cathedral we have reopened a well that dates back some 100 years and we are distributing water to the population.  We have to do what we can to help.” The Catholic Church is also providing help to Muslim families and Muslims have taken note of the Catholic charity. “There are many Muslims that say: ‘Look, the priests are the ones who are working.’ This is a beautiful witness and even Muslims ask us to intercede for them to get help from the Red Cross or the Red Crescent – they understand that we are a reference for charity and mercy.”

The faith of this 70 year Archbishop has not always been so unshakeable. “I have been a Bishop 18 years now. I did all I could to help our people to stay. And then came the war. Two years ago I was depressed; it was very bad, but then the Lord helped me to see things in another light, which again allowed me to take up my courage, my hope, and to fight against this Christian flight. I realized that what happens does not depend on us. Even if we only have the poor remaining, we will help them to grow and to be the people that we need to be a witness. I thought it is the time to work; it is the time to fight. Over all these years I look to the day of freedom which will allow us Christians to bear witness to Christ.”


A cautious optimism

Slowly, and only in some of the larger cities, a certain level of security is being established. According to the Archbishop, the government army advances have created security zones. Increasingly in Aleppo checkpoints are being removed. With a cautious optimism, Archbishop Jeanbart looks to the future and is already planning. “The poor people, the Christian workers will not find work when peace comes. They will be perhaps one or two years without finding any job.  For this reason, I thought to start a training program for construction work.”

Christians, with a greater focus on education, have historically not participated in the construction industry. Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart recognizes this weakness and that the immediate important sector of work will be the rebuilding, the restoration of buildings that have been destroyed. “Everything is completely destroyed or stolen.  When the war stops the reconstruction of houses will start immediately. We have to start preparing now to allow Christians to start getting jobs in this industry. Without work, the young people will leave.”

With hope and projects in hand the Archbishop laid out his plans. “I ask Aid to the Church in Need to continue to be a partner in this struggle. I want you to be beside us in these very hard moments – to help people to stay – because you have the same objective. We have been here for 2000 years. The Church grew up in Syria.  If the Church was born on the Cross, it did not live in Jerusalem. The Christians came to Syria, to Damascus.  St. Paul didn’t find any Christians to arrest in Jerusalem, he had to go to Syria to catch them – it means that the Church was living in Syria two years after the Resurrection.” The Archbishop also awaits this Resurrection.




ACN Interview – Gaza: “violence provokes more violence”

21.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Gaza, Holy Land, Uncategorized

Father David Neuhaus, Jesuit and head of the Hebrew speaking Catholic community in Israel, on Christian ways out of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians 


By Oliver Maksan


  • Father David, is Israel in Gaza fighting for a just cause or is it committing a genocide? Both positions have their supporters also amongst Christians. 


Those are two extreme positions, neither of which captures the question very well. What is going on is an intensification of a conflict that remains unresolved for more than sixty years. The Israeli leadership, and in a special way the present leadership, seems to believe that the way to solve the conflict is by military means. They seem to believe that military intervention will bring victory or at least the realization of important goals. This is not genocide but certainly the attempt to crush resistance and make everyone believe that all resistance is terrorism. In Hamas and more radical elements in the Islamic movement, the Israeli leadership has a foe that plays into its hands. Hamas is born out of the despair that has festered for more than sixty years as Palestinians have progressively lost hope that negotiations will bring any fruit. Hamas and its like propagate the parallel lie: violence will bring Israel to its knees.


  •  Is this conflict also dividing the Christian community in the Holy Land? Hebrew speaking Christians on one side, Arab speaking on the other?


This is the huge challenge! Can we as Christians be united not only in spite of the conflict but also as a part of our mission: to show that brotherhood, peace and reconciliation are possible? Christian Palestinians are fully Palestinian, Christian Hebrew speakers (immigrants and migrants) identify fully with Israel. This is natural but both need to remember that there are brothers and sisters in faith on the other side. Christians in Beer Sheba should not forget the Christians in Gaza and vice versa! Each is called to solidarity with the society in which each lives but this solidarity must be critical solidarity and promote the evangelical  values of Justice and peace, pardon and reconciliation. We need a “prophetic ecumenism” in the Holy Land that will bring Christians together over the political divide so that Christians on each side of the divide can get to know one another and challenge the societies in which they live with what they learn.


  • Should Christians in the West take sides? Or what would be their role?


Yes, Christians must take sides! They must first and foremost take sides with all those suffering from the leadership’s refusal to enter into dialogue. They must take sides with the children, doomed to this dismal situation because their parents have refused to recognize the other and come to know him or her. They must take sides with those who are promoting understanding and dialogue.  Most importantly they must take sides with a language that seeks to re-describe reality: not a hostile territory where enemies war it out but rather a land where God has firmly planted Jews, Christians and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, not to fight but to recognize that they are brothers and sisters.


  • What is the way out of the current crisis from a Christian perspective?


The only way out is for Israeli and Palestinians to realize that violence will only breed more violence. Bombarding Gaza will only create more people who seek revenge for their shattered lives. The international community certainly needs to take a stronger role in bringing the two sides together. The biggest enemy right now is the conviction that military might will bring victory. A first step out of the current crisis will be the admission that military might simply provokes more violence.


  •  Can local Christians/the Churches play a role in solving that conflict or are they to few to matter?


They can play a very important role. Their small number is also a blessing because they cannot even pretend to be among the powerful. Planted in the margins, Christians are free to develop a discourse that promotes the values taught in the Gospel. A recent document of the local Justice and Peace Commission put it very well: “Our role, as religious leaders, is to speak a prophetic language that reveals the alternatives beyond the cycle of hatred and violence. This language refuses to attribute the status of enemy to any of God’s children; it is a language that opens up the possibility of seeing each one as brother or sister. Pope Francis at the invocation for peace on Pentecost 2014, cried out: “We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word “brother”. But to be able to utter this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.




Ethiopia – “I’m going to become a priest!”

18.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Ethiopia, FORMATION, Uncategorized

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Father Hagos Hayish, the general secretary of the Ethiopian Catholic Bishops’ Conference describes how he came to his vocation and how he followed it in difficult times.

20120918_010Excitedly, five-year-old Hagos runs up to his mother: “Mummy, mummy, Our Lady is down by the river! The priests sang for her! They have such beautiful, colourful robes on! I want to be like them!” His mother laughs.But Hagos, that’s not the Mother of God! The Orthodox are celebrating the feast of Timkat today. They are celebrating the baptism of Jesus down by the river!” Nevertheless, from that day onwards Hagos Hayish is quite clear: “I’m going to become a priest!”

In his family, faith has always played an important role. “All my family and my relatives have been Catholics for years. My parents and grandparents always used to tell me exciting stories about the missionaries. In the evening, when darkness fell, my father would call us eleven children together. We would gather around him and listen. First of all he would play something on the flute, then he would tell us stories – about people, animals, about God and also about priests. And then finally he would teach us the Catechism, with questions and answers. In this way he prepared us for our First Holy Communion. If I had quarreled with a friend and told my father about it, he would insist that I go and settle the quarrel and clear up the matter completely.”

On Sundays Hagos goes with his family to church. The journey is too far for them to be able to go to Holy Mass in the week as well. It is over 11 kilometers (seven and a half miles) each way – in all a journey of over 22 kilometers (15 miles). But Hagos is happy to go to church. “I did not understand everything, but I loved the pictures especially. The picture of St George always impressed me particularly,” he recalls today.


At the age of six the youngster goes to school. He is able to skip a full year because he is so quick to learn. But when he comes to the end of primary school, his father tells him: “Now you have learnt enough. You can now read and write like I can. That’s enough! I need someone to herd the goats.” Hagos cries and cries. After all he wants to become a priest! He appeals to his uncle to mediate between him and his father. And the parish priest is also called in. He is able to send two boys from the village to the minor seminary, where the younger boys prepare to enter the seminary proper, the “major seminary”. Three boys from the village have already applied. “What am I going to do if I can’t find a place?” asks young Hagos tearfully, who is now 13. The priest draws lots, and Hagos is one of the two lucky ones who will have the chance to go to the minor seminary. At the beginning he is homesick, but nonetheless he is happy to be able to follow his vocation.

The times are difficult ones. There is a civil war going on in Ethiopia. The communist regime under the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam is calling up schoolboys and students for military service. It is a fate with which the seminarians are also threatened. In the holidays it is hard for them to get home, because a special permit is needed in order to travel from one place to another.

In 1985, after his A-levels, Hagos Hayish enters the major seminary. This is the time of the devastating famine, the horrifying pictures of which go all around the world. Again, the seminarians are threatened with being called up for military service – this time for the war against Eritrea. The young men have to hide.

When Mother Teresa visits Ethiopia in order to form a picture of the famine, she also visits the young seminarians. Hagos is the youngest and also, physically, the smallest of them. Because of this, he is standing in the front row to welcome the famous “angel of the poor.” “Do you want to be a priest?” Mother Teresa asks him. “Yes!”, he replies. “Do you want to be a GOOD priest? If so, carry on. If not leave the seminary today!” But Hagos is in no doubt: “I want to be a good priest!”



The times become ever harder. “I have seen many people die,” he recalls. At that time the government had decided to forcibly resettle hundreds of thousands of people. Many of them died as a result. Hagos’ own father is also due for deportation, but at the last moment he is rescued.

During his second year in the seminary, Hagos is called to undergo a medical examination. Now he is really in danger of being called up for military service. After the examination he has to collect his health certificate. The man who is handing out the documents cannot find his name on the list, however. Instead of Hagos, someone has written “Hagosa”. This is the female form of his name. “Women do not serve in the army. You’re in luck. You do not exist here! Go quickly,” the man tells him. “God had guided the hand of a man so that he wrote down my name wrongly,” Hagos Hayish explains, still full of wonder today. When he gets back to the seminary, the rector embraces him.

He enters the Vincentian order and on November 11, 1990 he is ordained to the priesthood. But then in 1998 war breaks out between Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea, which in 1993 gains independence from Ethiopia. Actually Abba (Father) Hagos is due to write his doctoral thesis, but for him the decision is clear: in 1999 he volunteers to go to the North of the country, where the people are suffering the most from the war. His own family is also expelled. His father has been abducted by the Eritrean forces, and there is no trace of him. Given this situation, Abba Hagos chooses not to return to university. Instead he takes over the parish of Nkala. For one week he is in the parish, for the next in the mountains, where the many refugees and expelled people have sought refuge. “Every day there was shooting; death was constantly present. The whole time I did nothing but hear confessions, because the people did not know if they would even survive that day. All of them were preparing themselves for death.”

One day the Archbishop of Addis Ababa himself comes to comfort the refugees. He promises the people: “You will return to your parishes!” Abba Hagos recalls the incident precisely. “The people were happy, but some of them asked, ‘Where is the Blessed Virgin? We can no longer hear the bells from Our Lady’s church. What has happened?’ And the children sang: ‘Where is the Blessed Virgin? Where is the Blessed Virgin?’ Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel answered them: ‘the  Mother of God is here among you!'”

One month after the Archbishop’s visit, the refugees are able to return to their ruined villages. “Everything was smashed, the houses destroyed, the trees felled; everywhere was full of landmines. Some 70,000 people had lost their lives,” Abba Hagos tells us. Yet his own family had once more been protected, for his brother returned safely from the war, and his father was released from prison after two years.

Today Father Hagos can look back on almost a quarter of a century of priestly ministry. “A vocation is a gift of God, but I received it through my family”, he says, deeply moved.

The Catholic Church in Ethiopia has around 700,000 faithful. That means that Catholics make up barely 1% of the population. Yet despite these small numbers, the Catholic Church is extremely active. She maintains 203 kindergartens and 222 schools, which are open to children and young people of all faiths and religions. They are attended by almost 180,000 children. Through this school is the Church hopes to be able to build bridges between the different ethnic groups and cultures. The Catholic Church also runs four universities, with over 7,000 students.

During the past year the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) helped the Catholic Church in Ethiopia with a total of over 1.71 million dollars CAN.






Iraq – To stay or go?

17.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Iraq

Two brothers, two visions: young Christians and how they see the future  

by Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Kirkuk: it’s a microcosm of Iraq. The multi-ethnic city in the north of this battered country is the home of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens and Christians. Different religions, languages and ethnic groups call this home. Their co-existence is accordingly riven with conflict, especially since the province of Kirkuk has significant oil deposits. For years the town has been convulsed by attacks. Christians have also fallen victim to such attacks. After the advance of ISIS in June the Kurds occupied the town and incorporated it into their area of control. The jihadis of ISIS are hardly twenty kilometres away and they also have the town in their sights. Many fear that a fighting will develop some time. But how does a Christian live in such a situation?

“My tank is always full. If the situation escalates I’ll grab my wife and my child and flee. At the present time there is a petrol shortage here because a large refinery is being fought over. To save petrol I am already going to work by bike. I don’t want to take any risks.” Karam is 23 years old. This young father is a Chaldean Catholic like about 5000 other Kirkuk inhabitants. His wife is soon expecting their second child. “I never thought I would ever think of leaving. But now I’m not only responsible for myself.” Mohand nods. The 26-year-old is Karam’s older brother. The seminarian is studying theology and will be ordained as a priest in a few years. “Another three years, all being well,” he estimates. “I understand my brother. He’s got a wife and children. We talk a lot about it in the seminary. The emigration of our faithful is really our greatest challenge.” There are no patent solutions, he thinks. “People fear for their children. If I tell a young family: ‘Stay, don’t go,’ they say: ‘What if someone comes and wants to kill us? Who will guarantee our safety?'” This dilemma of having to trade their home for security is plaguing many Iraqi Christians nowadays. “It’s mainly the well-educated, prosperous families who are considering emigrating. They will easily be able to establish themselves in the west as engineers or doctors. Those who stay behind are the ones who can’t afford to go,” Mohand says.

The young man has wanted to become a priest since he was 14. “I see the priest as a burning candle of faith and hope. If it goes out then faith will extinguish as well.” In Mohand’s view the Christians must be educated to understand their faith better. “It’s often only a faith of habit. But it must be a faith of conscious conviction,” he says. “We Christians are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Without salt food does not taste at all. That is the Christian calling here in Iraq as well.”



Karam agrees with his brother. “I love my homeland and my faith. But even before ISIS advanced it was not easy to be a Christian here.” The young man studied agriculture.” I was second in my year but I still can’t find a job.” He is now working as a driver for the Bishop of Kirkuk. “The Church helps us as well as it can. But apart from that all the good jobs go to Muslims. It’s difficult for Christians to find employment anywhere. For instance, I applied to Northoil, a large oil company here in Kirkuk. But the Shiites are in charge here and they employ their own people. We Christians don’t stand a chance. The only jobs for Christians are in the army and the police. But that’s only because it’s dangerous and nobody wants to do it.”

At the same time Karam describes the relations with Muslims as not bad on the whole. “I never had any problems with them. Many Muslims respect us Christians because we’re not aggressive and violent.” But the boundaries between the religions are still clear, he believes. “Mostly it’s restricted to a few friendly words with neighbours or in shops. My only real friends are Christians. We live in a closed community.”

The Church is now endeavouring to extend the hand of friendship to Muslim fellow citizens. About 500 mostly Muslim families are at present being supported with food by the diocese of Kirkuk. Only twenty families are Christian. Young people in the parish work with nuns to put together packages for the refugees who have sought safety from ISIS in Kirkuk. Beans, sugar, flour and rice are wrapped in yellow bags. “Our faith teaches us not to discriminate. The love of God is for all people, whether Muslims or Christians,” Mohand says. “That’s how I see our role here. I don’t want to leave. Jesus himself also planted the seed of our faith here in the Middle East. And so I belong here.”

In the past five years “Aid to the Church in Need” has given aid in Iraq to the tune of around $3.75 million dollars CAN.


Press Release: Iraq – Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako to EU Leaders: “Help us avoid a civil war”

14.07.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq

By Mark von Reidemann, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


ACN – Montreal, July 10, 2014 – Iraq’s Christian leaders called on the European Union (EU) to help the country avoid a civil war threatening the future of the country and their “very fragile” minorities. The EU heads of State will discuss the common policy toward the Iraq crisis on July 16.

In view of the rapidly declining situation in Iraq, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) invited a delegation to Brussels from this country headed by His Beatitude Louis Raphaël Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Patriarch Sako, accompanied by Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul and Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Youssif Mirkis of Kirkuk, met EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy as well as members of the European Commission and Parliament.

Patriarch Sako outlined to EU representatives that the situation for the weakened Christian minority is extremely difficult and if no peaceful resolution is found, “Christians will be left with just a symbolic presence in Iraq. If they leave, their history is finished.” The Patriarch further stated that Christians continue to flee areas held by jihadist militants in the north, though they “so far have not been targeted as a group. Muslims are also fleeing and they have found shelter in the nearby villages with Christian families and in Church buildings.”

The delegation explained that the Christian community, despite systematic persecution and violence over its nineteen centuries of existence,  still performs  a constructive role in negotiating between warring parties in these sectarian conflicts, and facilitating relations with the international community. Having not taken sides and promoting non-violent solutions, Christians are often mediating between different actors of conflict, trying to build bridges through dialogue.  “We are known  to be a disinterested mediator seeking the good of the country. Where fighting groups refuse to meet outside, when we invite them to our Churches to talk, they come.”

European People’s Party MEP Tunne Kelam noted that the Iraqi crisis has made EU politicians more aware of the fate of Christians in the Middle East. “We cannot remain indifferent to their situation, the EU should do its utmost to assist them and create conditions that Christians, the oldest known inhabitants of that region, can remain there in conditions of equality and mutual respect.”

In spite of its vital role as the connective tissue of the Iraqi society, the loss of security and growth of sectarianism has made the Christian community a shadow of its former self. Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 Iraqi Christians numbered more than 1.5 million nationwide with 70% living in Baghdad. Today there are fewer than 400,000 Christians with the majority still in Baghdad, but continuing to migrate to the North in regions under Kurdish control where there is a semblance of security. Patriarch Sako stated: “Under Saddam we had security but no religious freedom. Today we have religious freedom but no security.” Archbishop Mirkis confirmed saying that today “there’s so much panic that few Christians see their future in Iraq.” The Catholic Chaldeans leaders fear that the ongoing violence in Iraq is hastening the end of nearly 2,000 years of Christianity in Iraq.

PRESS RELEASE: South Sudan – Christians in Sudan only second-class citizens

10.07.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Sudan

Christians in Sudan only second-class citizens


Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada


SOUDAN-1Montreal, July 10, 2014 – The legal situation of Christians in Sudan is worrying. The Bishop of the South Sudanese diocese of Tambura-Yambio, Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala, made this clear when he visited the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN). “In Sudan bishops and priests have been living de facto as illegals since South Sudan’s independence,” Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala said.

Sudan’s constitution did guarantee all citizens equal rights regardless of their religious affiliation, but the reality was different: “When we confront those in charge with this they emphasize that Christians have the same rights as their compatriots, but this changes nothing in legal terms. Bishops and priests are not granted passports and they do not have legal status. They are able to leave the country but re-entry may be refused. Priests have already been expelled; and the bishops are condemned to remain silent,” Bishop Kussala claimed.


Condemned for apostasy

The Bishop of Tambura-Yambio explained: “Christians in Sudan can attend divine service unmolested, but there is no genuine freedom of religion and conscience in the country. This is illustrated by the disgraceful case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq, which, unlike any others, has been widely publicized.” This 27-year-old Sudanese woman, the daughter of a Muslim man and an Orthodox Christian woman, was arrested in May and initially condemned to death for “apostasy.” Bishop Kussala stated: “Among those around her she had long been known as a Christian. For whatever motives, she was blackmailed and then charged. The government expressed no view on the matter and simply left it all to the Islamic clerics.”

The accusation of apostasy was levelled at her because Meriam Isaq’s father is a Muslim. After he left the family her mother raised their common daughter as a Christian. Only in response to international pressure was Meriam Ishaq eventually released in June; this mother of two had previously been compelled to give birth to her youngest child in prison.

In the words of Bishop Kussala, discrimination against Christians in the north is not a recent development, but in its present form it is a reaction to the division of the country three years ago: “Because the Church has always called on those with political responsibility to respect the dignity of the people, their freedom and also their vote in favour of the independence of the South, it is now being made responsible for the South’s break-away. But the Church does not pursue any political aims. We only call upon politicians to respect freedom of religious faith and conscience.”

The Catholic Church still maintains ties across the new border in a joint Bishops’ Conference. One of its most important concerns is the inter-religious dialogue. Bishop Kussala estimates the number of Christians in Sudan at more than three million.



07.07.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Uncategorized

 Marta Petrosillo & Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Layout 1During 2013, the benefactors of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) donated a total of $117, 408, 249 USD. It is the second largest amount ever raised in the charity’s history. “A veritable miracle, considering the difficult economic times,” commented the Head of the international projects Department of ACN, Regina Lynch. “Thanks to the generosity of so many people, we have been able to say yes to a full 5,420 requests for financial aid from all over the world,” she adds. The projects funded came from no fewer than 140 different countries, and above all from those places where “the Church suffers persecution or outright discrimination.” Over one third of the aid given went to the Middle East and to countries such as China, Pakistan, Cuba and Sudan. “There are many places where Christians are forced to worship in hiding, in which their every movement is monitored, or where the Church cannot receive any economic support from abroad, or indeed have any visible presence whatsoever,” Miss Lynch explained.

At the international level the aid granted can be broken down into the following categories: help for building projects 37.4%; Mass Offerings 17.6%; support for theological formation 12.5 %; for catechesis 10.3%; for motor vehicles and transport 6.9%; for the biblical apostolate 5%; for emergency aid 4.5%; for basic subsistence 3.7% and for the media apostolate 2.1%.

Compared with the year 2012, the emergency aid more than doubled, mainly as a result of the conflict in Syria. “Our priority in the Middle East is with the over 2.5 million Syrians refugees and the more than 7 million internally displaced,” explains Father Andrzej Halemba who is responsible for the section dealing with the countries of the Middle East. In fact the majority of the requests received by this pontifical foundation from this area are projects on behalf of refugees – an area in which the intervention of the Church is essential. Many of the refugees, and in particular the Christians, refuse to register as refugees with the United Nations because they are afraid that their details and identity may be revealed. “The Church is the only organization they trust and their sole point of reference,” Father Halemba explains. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis ACN has donated over 4.7 million USD to projects for the support of the internally displaced in Syria and the Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The year 2013 was also a difficult year for Egypt, where last August dozens of churches and other Christian buildings were attacked by sympathizers of the former president Mohammed Morsi, who accused them of sympathizing with the Army. ACN helped the victims of the anti-Christian violence with a special contribution of 40,800 USD, and it is currently funding the rebuilding of a number of the churches and other buildings that were destroyed.

Last year the continent that received the largest percentage, once again, of aid from ACN was Africa, to which approximately 32% of the allocated funds were sent, the bulk of which was used for construction projects. Among these was the construction of the new major seminary in Juba, in South Sudan, which was partly funded by ACN. Exceptional aid was also, not surprisingly, sent to a Church in the Central African Republic, for which again almost 657,142 USD were allocated. “We have made numerous contributions of emergency aid,” reports Christine du Coudray, who heads the Africa Section – “in support of the refugees and the courageous work of so many priests and religious who continue, in spite of the danger, to stand by the people and support them.”


Another type of project much appreciated in Africa is the funding of essential vehicles for pastoral work (last year ACN funded 448 vehicles). A means of transport is essential in a diocese the size of those in Africa. It also enables the priests and bishops to go out and meet the faithful, without having to wait for them to find their way to the sacristy.

In 2013, an international delegation of ACN representatives visited the North of Nigeria, where they met some of the victims of the attacks by Boko Haram. The purpose of the visit was to understand how ACN can help the Church in this martyred region of Africa, especially through its support for religious formation. This is another priority area for ACN, which last year approved 1,249 projects for scholarships, the training of catechists and other lay formation courses. Last year our pontifical foundation was able to help one in every 11 seminarians worldwide to continue their studies, by providing financial support for no fewer than 10,972 of the 120,616 seminarians around the world. This year the continent from which we received the largest number of requests for scholarships for priests and religious was once again Asia (40%), followed by Africa (25%), Latin America (21%) and Eastern Europe (14%).

Asia was the country that received the largest total sum in support, namely India (5 659 731 USD). “The political situation in India is extremely worrisome,” reports the head of this Section, Véronique Vogel. “And the Christians are very much afraid of the rise to power of the ultra-nationalist and Hinduist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

The pontifical foundation, ACN, has continued to support the persecuted Church in China, this year with a total contribution of almost 780,956USD. “We are subjected to every kind of pressure, and we cannot celebrate Holy Mass every day,” one Chinese believer wrote to ACN, “but Jesus is always in our hearts and, thanks to the generosity of your benefactors, we can now finally have a new church.”


After India, the countries which received the largest proportion of our aid were Ukraine (5,562,286USD) – with considerable help from ACN for the local Church during the recent dramatic months – Brazil (4,086,907USD), the Democratic Republic of Congo (3,442,200USD) and Russia, where the support given by ACN was divided between the Catholic Church (1,391,440 USD), the Russian Orthodox Church (648,137 USD) and ecumenical interfaith projects for both churches (429,772USD). The last included funding for Christian cultural and media initiatives which, as Peter Humeniuk, the head of ACN’s section for the Russian Federation explains, “make a real contribution to ecumenical dialogue.”

Also notable was ACN’s support for Bosnia and Herzegovina (1 745 653USD), “a nation in which there is real concern for the future of Catholics,” as Magda Kaczmarek, who heads the section concerned, explains.

In the poorest countries a particular form of aid that makes an enormous contribution to the work of the Church is that of Mass Offerings. Frequently, these are the only real sources of income available to priests. In 2013 ACN benefactors gave no less than 1,229,993 Mass Offerings to approximately 43,000 priests (one in every 10 worldwide). This translates to around 3,206 Holy Masses celebrated each day (or one every 25 seconds) for the intentions of ACN’s benefactors. They were celebrated in Africa (40.15%), Asia (15.86%), Latin America (15.86%), Eastern Europe (16.65%) and Western Europe (2.39%).

The year 2013 was also the year of the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks to ACN support, it was an event in which hundreds of young people were able to participate from countries where the Church is in need, such as in Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Egypt, for example. Also to mark the occasion of the World Youth Day, ACN funded the publication of YOUCAT, the youth catechism, in a number of different languages, and also donated 1 million copies in Portuguese to the dioceses of Brazil.