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PRESS RELEASE : Pakistan – “We need harmony”

12.02.2014 in ACN Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan

New Archbishop of Lahore sets out his vision in a country wracked by violence  

John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

PAKISTAN 1

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore

Montreal, Wednesday February 12th, 2014 – The man appointed to be archbishop of Pakistan’s largest diocese has said he wishes to dedicate his ministry to the cause of justice and peace – which he says are desperately needed in his country.

Calling on people to pray that he has “courage and faith” as he takes up his post, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said there was an urgent need to “conscientise” people about harmony and civil rights.

Speaking from Lahore in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Shaw, a Franciscan, said inter-faith cooperation, ecumenical dialogue and outreach via television and other communications were key to the development of social harmony. He said these themes would be reflected in the ceremony of his installation on Friday (14th February) at a packed ceremony at Lahore’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, led by Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, Apostolic Nuncio to Pakistan, and attended by all the country’s bishops.

To be more aware of their rights

PAKISTAN 2

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha

Archbishop Shaw, who has been the diocese’s Apostolic Administrator since Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha stepped down in 2011, said: “There is not much peace in Pakistan. Therefore we need all the more to conscientise people, so that people feel the need for peace. They will see that peace comes when people have justice. What we need is to learn to respect one another – to realise that we are all Pakistanis, whether we are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Hindus.”

The archbishop, whose diocese has as many as 600,000 faithful – approaching half the total number of Catholics in the country – said he was committed to stepping up meetings with other faith leaders, as well as training programmes for teachers, catechists, parents and women so that they are more aware of their rights and responsibilities.

The archbishop said: “There is an urgent need for greater equality and social justice and for peace. The Church should be a visible sign of our commitment to this and we can only move forward by lives of service.”

In a reference to the ongoing persecution and discrimination suffered by Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, notably Ahmadiyyas and Shiite Muslims, Archbishop Shaw appealed for prayer, saying: “Please pray that I may have courage and faith.”

Journey with ACN – Morocco

07.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Journey with ACN

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:  MOROCCO To Holy Mass by lift

Thanks to Aid to the Church in Need, the aged Carmelite nuns of Tangiers can attend the Eucharist again after many years.

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

It is a quiet spot where the Carmelite Convent of the Holy Family and St Therese is situated in the northern Moroccan city of Tangiers. It is far from the bustle of the lively Mediterranean port. But now, for several weeks the contemplative sisters’ quiet was broken by the noise of building work. The reason: a lift was being installed in the building, which dates from the 1930s. Not a luxury but pure necessity. For no good reason, due to the whims of the architect, the house was built as a labyrinth of steps and stairs. For the sisters, aged in their seventies and sometimes with mobility problems, large parts of the building were simply inaccessible. “It was the case for years and we suffered greatly from it. Our dear Mother Superior, for example, was unable to take part in the Holy Mass and choral prayer for years. She is as happy as a child, now that she can once again visit the chapel on the first floor,” says Prioress Maria Virtudes, a young, infectiously cheerful Spanish woman. “In her prayers she takes before God the donors from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) whose generosity made it possible. And we other sisters are also thankful that we can once again all join together for our communal prayers. Every day we pray for the benefactors, who we do not know but who the Lord sees and blesses in his Goodness.”

ACN-20140113-04370

© ACN

During the building works, the sisters experienced again the respect with which they are regarded by the Moroccan Muslims. They know it already from their neighbours. In the fasting month of Ramadan, for example, they bring in food for the sisters. “While the lift was being installed, the workers told us again and again how thankful they are to be allowed to work in the house of God, as they call it. They are all faithful Muslims. But perhaps for that reason they respect us sisters as women whose lives are entirely dedicated to God, like that of Maryam the Mother of Jesus. They know her from the Koran,” Sister Maria Virtudes continues. “They are respectful, hard-working and devout. We learn much from their example, such as their faith in prayer. It would often happen that they prayed during their short rest breaks. One could really see in them the joy of prayer and devotion to God. For us, their example is a gift that inspires us to be ever more faithful to our life of prayer in this Islamic country.” Seven sisters live in the convent which was founded in 1934. The majority are Spanish. In 2012 the small community was reinforced by three nuns from other convents. “They are very content and have settled down well. They are even learning a little Moroccan Arabic,” says Sister Maria Virtudes, who has lived for nearly five years in Morocco, a 99 percent Islamic country. “Our mission here is one of peace. We pray for peace in Morocco and Spain and for the spread of the Kingdom of God. The new sisters therefore see it as a true blessing to be able to live here. We hope and pray that the Lord will move other sisters to come and share with us our wonderful calling in North Africa.” But the sisters’ prayers are not only for Morocco but for oppressed Christians throughout the Arabic world. “The situation of our Christian brothers, for example in Egypt or Syria, is always present in our hearts and prayers. We take them all before Our Lady the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Peace. With our prayers we want to embrace them all in the love and communion of Jesus Christ.”

CENTRAL – AFRICA: History of a Conflict (V)

07.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Central Africa

Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandan genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy.  How can this tragedy be forgotten?  And nonetheless…

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


“Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”

by José Carlos Rodríguez Soto / María Lozano

Dieudonné is a young priest from the diocese of Alindao. When the Séléka rebels came to his parish in March last year, they launched an attack which left a trail of destruction. His own life was threatened and he had to flee in a canoe together with many members of the parish. They managed to cross the Mbomou River and land on the other bank, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are among more than 80 000 Central Africans who have had to flee to neighbouring countries. A further 600 000 inhabitants are internal refugees – a monstrous figure in view of the fact that the total population of the Central African Republic numbers just under four and a half million.

Father Dieudonné was able to return to his parish a few months later. At the beginning of December he stayed in Bangui to recuperate at his parents’ home in the urban district of Lakuanga. On  December 5, the attacks on the capital started and they claimed more than 500 lives in only three days. The increasing violence soon took a religious turn: there were numerous clashes between Christians and Muslims.

On Monday, December 9, Father Dieudonné was at his parents’ home in the evening when he heard worrying noises outside. He went out onto the street and found a large group of agitated young men who had come together to attack Muslim-owned businesses. Without hesitation he called the district headman. Together they tried to calm the young men down and to stop them from attacking Muslims. A number of young Christian men even placed themselves in front of the Muslims’ houses and shops to protect them. For weeks, Father Dieudonné has been preaching at the 6:15 a.m. mass in an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters and to remind the Christians that hatred and violence are completely contrary to the Gospel. He and his brothers in the parish organized two days of reconciliation for Christians and Muslims. He points to a poster on the notice-board in the parish bearing the slogan “Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”

©AED/ACN

©AED/ACN

Father Dieudonné is not acting alone. Kobine Layama is a Muslim Imam and chairman of the Islamic community in the Central Africa Republic. Together with Kobine Layama, the Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the Protestant Minister Nicolas Guerekoyame established an interdenominational peace group at the beginning of January. During the time when half the country was occupied by the Séléka rebels, the three men conducted peace missions. They mediated between the parties in the country’s interior in order to prevent the clashes from becoming open warfare.

When the Séléka rebels occupied Bangui and seized power there, Imam Layama found himself in a difficult personal situation: many Central African Muslims saw this as a sign that the time had come for them to take power.

In many places Séléka rebels and Muslims openly collaborated. Kobine Layama is a religious person, a pious Muslim who is convinced that Muslims and Christians should live in peace and mutual respect. He became an awkward figure for the Séléka rebels because he preached: “What you are doing – stealing, killing, raping women and terrorizing people – is contrary to what God commands us to do in the Koran.”

Imam Oumar Kobine Layama ©AED/ACN

Imam Oumar Kobine Layama
©AED/ACN

In August the Sélékas’ feared Number 2, General Nouroudine Adam, called him in his office: “Stop taking the side of the Christians and criticizing us. Otherwise, you will bear the consequences.” Asviolence raged through Bangui on December 5, and caused 500 deaths in three days, Kobine sought shelter with his friend, the Archbishop Schutz. He knew that his life was under threat from the extremists on both sides. Since then he has indefatigably called for calm and reconciliation. Kobine has called on those of his Muslim brothers who have weapons to give them up. Many could not understand his attitude.

The nature of the Central African conflict is not religious, but social and political. Violence and revenge is being fomented by those who want to see an outbreak of hostilities between Christians and Muslims; time and again this puts the country’s citizens in borderline situations. The archbishop, the minister and the imam are three courageous voices tirelessly calling for peace; they are therefore running considerable risks. The number of people who have lost their lives in Bangui in the last few days is estimated to be about 500; it would have been more if it weren’t for people like them and Father Dieudonné.


Coming up on Monday:

For the final word in this series of five articles on Central Africa, we give you the words of Father Federico who will speak to us about an extraordinary man: Father Anastasio Roggero.

Father Anastasio: the Soul of Carmel de Bangui

CENTRAL – AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT (IV)

06.02.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Uncategorized

Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandese genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy.  How can this tragedy be forgotten?  And nonetheless…

 

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


 “The Km5 came to me!”

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated and adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

 And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to bring hope – even where unity reigns within disorder; where the celebration of a Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.

 

Chronicle of a love story

ACN-20131210-03532

© ACN/AED

 On December 5, 2013, as he was preparing breakfast, Father Frederico Trinchero, prior of the Carmes brothers in the Bangui monastery, was ‘disturbed’ by some un-awaited guests. Suddenly, 2000 people were waiting at our door,” he declared to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) only a few days later, when speaking about the crowd who came to find refuge in the convent where they were welcomed with ‘open arms’ by eleven brothers.  They hoped they would be protected from the danger caused by the massacres which took place not very far from there.

How did the brothers arrive at finding enough provisions to face this situation?  “If Jesus did it, we can also do it!” thought the prior, inspired by the miracle of the multiplication of bread.  Close to 50 days later, not only are the 2000 “guests” still there and very much alive, but so are the 8,000 who followed on December 20, as very violent clashes had provoked the arrival of a this new wave.

A live ‘crèche’…

It was during the celebration of a Mass with shots echoing in the background, during which the faithful sang so loud that the noise of rebellion fell into the deep of the Word, that the new arrivals, arrived. This improvised refugee camp, in no time at all, was reorganized into a system of zones, each one directed by what could be called a ‘village chief’ who would be responsible for the distribution of goods.  This African approach worked so well because of its simplicity, that the prior’s rigour overcame his cold, and so demonstrating that Life surpasses death.

ACN-20131210-03531

© ACN/AED

Add to that the births which quietly increased the number of lodgers. For, along with Christmas came four newborns.  The Carmes came to realize that their convent had been transformed into a living crèche where the Child-Jesus was arriving multiple times over.

Since, however, the war made itself known again though its gunshots, its dead, the pillaging and the attacks in numerous neighbourhoods, some of which were very close to the convent.  While waiting for better days and a more stable sense of peace, the refugees preferred to stay.  “Stay here, for this is a form of passive protest to ask for lasting peace, not temporary,” said Brother Frederico to the people. According to the last estimates, one million people, 20% of whom are Central African, are currently refugees.

… Becoming a miniature Central Africa

“In our refugee camp,” continues brother Federico, “life goes on somewhat normally… if we can consider normal life being thousands of people gathered around a convent.” And the little crèche became somewhat of a miniature Central Africa “along with all its vices and virtues…  this co-habitation allowed me to better know the former and to better appreciate the latter.” They also agreed on a kind of code of ethics, which would better help them live together during the day, and rest a little more soundly at night.

In this miniature country, the people created a market for vegetables, meat and commodities of all kinds which surrounded the convent; a hair dressing salon, a small pharmacy, a sewing workshop, stores selling religious articles; a lottery and a popular bistro.  The prior recalls, amused, “My predecessor liked going to the famous Km5, the most well-stocked market in Bangui to do his groceries.  I can say I am very fortunate, because the Km5 came to me!”

And, Brother Federico concluded list of services available by speaking of their hospital in these terms: “Our little country hospital is in full operation and without committing the sin of pride, let us just say it is our ‘jewel’. With four young doctors, four nurses (including Sister Renata who must walk an hour every day to reach it) and other assistants – we can do hundreds of consultations per day and numerous interventions during the night.  The medications, which are kept safely in my room, are dispensed free of charge by an organization.  I could have imagined anything in my life other than becoming the director of a hospital, which was set up in a flash in my convent.”

Now, with the presence of Pietro and Father Anastasio who came to lend a strong hand to this “new society,” Brother Federico can breathe a little easier.  The prior said of Pietro: “He is the same age as me and he works with a great deal of competence and passion for the International Red Cross.”  Whereas his praises are such, of Father Anastasio, that we will let him tell you himself about this man in our final article of this series dedicated to Central Africa.

Finally, with a sense of humour in the face of all challenges, Brother Federico concludes by saying, “We have learned that amidst the hundred thousand displaced at the airport, a newborn was named ‘François Hollande’.  As you can see, everyone has their Saint, Patron or rather, we don’t know anymore to which Saint we should devote ourselves!

Coming up tomorrow:

 “Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”

by José Carlos Rodríguez Soto / María Lozano

CENTRAL – AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT (III)

05.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Aid to refugees, Central Africa, Central African Republic, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


 

20130513_013


© ACN

 

How far can the suffering go?” 

 

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Joy broke out and the people danced in the streets when the news of the resignation of interim president Djotodia was announced on January 10. Just two weeks later, the Séléka ex-rebels withdrew from Bouar. “They were armed to the teeth, and they set off in a convoy in the direction of Chad,” reports Father Beniamino Gusmeroli after the days of fear and severe unrest. But the initial joy did not last long: on the same day, the retreating rebels entered Bocaranga with 31 vehicles. There they attacked the mission station of the Capuchins, where some 2,500 refugees were sheltering at that time.

120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house

 © ACN/AED


© ACN/AED

“It was an apocalyptic day,” Polish Capuchin priest Robert Wnuk describes what happened. “Shooting and detonations could be heard everywhere. There were numerous groups of 10-15 rebels each. They forced their way into all the rooms. The refugee women were sitting there on the floor with their children.  The rebels threatened the priests and also fired on the church,” Father Robert reports. “They fired and fired and fired as if they were crazy.”

The bullets left large holes in the walls and floors and later, 120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house. A woman and a man had died, and one of the friars was wounded. A doctor was struck in the face, and a bullet narrowly missed his head.  The rebels stole all the cars and took money, computers, telephones and cameras.  Then they moved on to the Sisters’ convent where the same scenario was repeated. Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye On the same day, rebels also attacked the mission in Ngaoundaye, where they took a locally-born friar hostage, but later released him. The following day they looted the Capuchins’ mission station in Ndim.

Father Robert cannot believe what took place in his mission station amidst the many helpless refugees: “These are war crimes, crimes against humanity! Crimes against defenceless women and children! The perpetrators are now in Chad, which although it has closed its borders evidently lets armed criminals enter the country in cars that they stole from the missions and aid organizations.”Ngaoundaye Ngaounda

 

And in his desperation and disappointment he asks himself questions. “Protective troops have been in the country for some months. But in reality they are only in Bangui. They supposedly came to protect the civilian population. For many days we have asked the military authorities in Bangui and Bouar for help, but we always get the same answer: ‘Let’s see, we’ll see what happens, we have made a note of it…’ They give replies like this during a military intervention? They ask us on the telephone for information about the situation on the ground, and then nobody responds. Nobody! How far can the suffering go?” 

 A climate full with hate and violence explodes

Meanwhile, the Séléka have also withdrawn from Bozoum. Even shortly beforehand, the rebels had burned down 1,300 houses in the close vicinity, making 6,000 people homeless. In the now empty Séléka barracks there are slogans on the wall such as: “This is the law of Hell,” signed by somebody calling himself, “The Devil Incarnate.”

“The UNO decision in favour of a military intervention came too late,” criticizes Father Aurelio Gazzera who has been working in the Central African Republic for twenty years. “The eight-month reign of terror by the Séléka has created a climate of hatred and vengeance which has exploded into mad and demonic rage that is directed against everybody: against the Muslims, many of whom had profited from the Séléka and let themselves be protected by the rebels to avenge themselves, and the rest of the population, who are often seen by the Muslims as accomplices of the Anti-Balaka.”

The Italian Carmelite priest explains that to present the Anti-Balaka as “Christian militia,” as is often done is a mistake. “There is not much about them that is Christian,” he explains. “They carry fetishes and amulets for protection, and they are full of anger after having to endure long months of assaults and violence. An explosion of madness has taken place. There are arbitrary killings; disabled people are left behind, and so on. We need a strong military presence in the whole district to stop the crazy murders!”

 ACN-20140130-04718

The missionary, who conducts peace negotiations with all population groups in Bozoum, reports that the discussions have been made more difficult by the fact that many supporters of the Anti-Balaka have drunk a lot of alcohol and thus become unpredictable. In many places the Church is now also protecting the Muslims who are living in fear of vengeance. Thus for example, Father Aurelio is providing the Muslim refugees with drinking water and rice at his own expense, and attempting to prevent the Anti-Balaka from massacring the Muslims, and at least sparing the women and children.

During the Séléka’s withdrawal, Father Aurelio Gazzera himself was almost killed when several outraged Muslims attacked him with stones and weapons. But a Séléka rebel and another Muslim protected him and saved his life. Meanwhile, in the city of Bozoum, rumours were spreading that the priest was dead. When he reached his mission in the evening in his smashed-up car, the people cried for joy. “They spread their clothes in front of my car, and greeted me almost as if I were the Messiah. It was unbelievable. We gave thanks by saying an Ave Maria – also for those who commit evil.” 

Many more prayers will still be required for those who commit evil. In Bossemptélé, where 80 people were killed this week and the Séléka even looted the hospital of the Camillian Fathers, the Anti-Balaka has meanwhile demanded ransom money from the Carmelite Sisters. The Sisters have been told that if they fail to pay it within two days they must hand over the Muslim civilians who have sought shelter in the mission. Otherwise the members of the Anti-Balaka themselves will force their way into the convent premises and kill the Muslims.

The violence spirals faster and faster. And a humanitarian disaster looms, because the situation in the country is resulting in many more malnourished children .

ACN-20140130-04723And yet, there are hopeful moments: “In Bozoum the children are now able to go back to school again,” says Father Aurelio happily. And there are also small miracles: A catechist had fixed a rosary to a door lock. The rebels didn’t dare to break the door open during their looting debauchery. But the greatest miracle is the courage with which, day by day, Catholic priests and members of religious orders set their own lives against the whirlpool of violence. They try to save what can be saved.

“Ciao, now I must go to the refugees,” says Father Beniamino Gusmeroli. Because for the missionaries, their brave service is the most normal thing in the world.

Coming up:

And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to give hope.  An even where union reigns within disorder, where the celebration of Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.

 Chronicle of a love story

© ACN/AED

PRESS RELEASE: Syria – Compassion in a time of crisis

04.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN UK, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Syria

Charity rushes through aid payments after urgent appeal from bishop

 John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN CanadaSYRIE 1

Montreal, February 4th, 2014 – Wounded, destitute and sick people in one of the cities worst affected by the conflict in Syria are to receive emergency aid from the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need amid worsening reports of crisis as winter bites deep across the region.

The aid packages totalling 284,500 $, being sent out by ACN this week will provide medical help for the wounded, repairs to the war-damaged homes of Christians and basic aid – heating, food and rent money for people on the breadline.  This latest emergency help means that, since the Syrian crisis broke nearly three years ago, ACN urgent aid for the region has now topped 4,42 million dollars one of the largest aid packages of its kind since the charity began in 1947.

Jesus and Mary are being entrusted

Amid continuing dire reports from Syria, ACN pushed through this latest aid after a desperate S.O.S. appeal from Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, who described “the bombing of many Christian homes” and the urgent need to help “many wounded people” in his city, in the north of the country.

SYRIE 2Working under Bishop Audo’s authority, Aleppo-based Sisters of Jesus and Mary are being entrusted with 134,765 $ to help up to 500 families in urgent need of gas and electricity for heating and cooking as well as rent money, medical assistance, food and clothing. A further 74,860 $ will fund repairs to war-damaged homes, shops and other businesses of Christians in Aleppo who are determined to stay in the country. Bomb-blasted windows and doors are being given top priority for repairs. At Bishop Audo’s request, another 74,860 $ is going to help wounded people receiving treatment at St Louis Hospital, Aleppo.

In her letter of last week requesting ACN help, Sister Annie Demerjian from the Sisters of Jesus and Mary described the urgent need to increase help for suffering families both in Aleppo and in another northern Syrian city, Hassake, also receiving aid from the charity.

At a time of increasing reports of a widespread breakdown of schools and employment in Aleppo with bombing of factories and key services, Sr Annie said: “We feel the massive need to carry on providing assistance to our Christian families threatened with the loss of morale. “The assistance will enable us to erase the families’ pain.” This aid for Aleppo comes on top of earlier ACN aid sent through the Jesus and Mary Sisters a year ago.

A key aim : to help Christians to stay in the region

Since then, the help needed has drastically increased and the number of people receiving emergency assistance from the Sisters has more than doubled. Appealing to ACN for help, Sr Annie wrote: “Unfortunately, life has become very expensive due to the lack of materials, particularly energy. To obtain gas and diesel fuel, especially in the harsh winter, is like a dream.”

SYRIE 3

Echoing the words of Bishop Audo, she said that a key aim is to help Christians to stay in the region. She said: “Despite the dramatically difficult situation, people still do not want to leave their homes. “So that they are not forced to emigrate, we are trying to help them survive until hopefully this present crisis is overcome.”

Commenting on the latest ACN aid packages, Aid to the Church in Need UK National Director Neville Kyrke-Smith noted the lack of progress in the Geneva II peace talks set up to bring the warring sides in Syria to the negotiating table. He said: “There seems to be a terrible impasse in the Syrian conflict. Yet, all our efforts, prayers and aid must continue. Now, thanks to solidarity and compassion of the friends and benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need we are providing vital help for those injured in the conflict and trying to rebuild some hope in Aleppo.”

Thanking ACN for its help, Sr Annie wrote: “Many people in Aleppo and Hassake, particularly women, children and elderly are expecting us – as workers of Christ – to give a helping hand. “Without your help, we cannot alleviate their suffering in this misery that we actually undergo in Syria.”

 

Journey with ACN – Armenia

31.01.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Armenia

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.  

Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:  ARMENIA

 

 

 

Mass Offerings for priests

 

 ACN International, Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada 

 

The Armenians are proud of the fact that Christianity was declared the state religion in their country as early as the year 301, thus making it, they say, the first Christian nation in the world. Almost 95% of the population belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church which, like the Coptic Church in Egypt, is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. However, there is also the Armenian Catholic Church which, while also celebrating its Liturgies according to the Armenian rite, remains in communion with Rome and loyal to the Pope.

 

© ACN

© ACN

In 1991 an eparchy (diocese) of the Armenian Catholic Church was established in the country, which today ministers to all the Armenian Catholic faithful in Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Europe. According to the Pontifical Yearbook, there are some 420,000 Armenian Catholic faithful living in these areas. In Armenia itself there are 48 Catholic parishes, in Georgia five, in Russia four.

 

 

 

Gifts from the faithful: acts of love

 

Archbishop Raphael Minassian tells us that he and his priests face major challenges. “Now, after the end of the Soviet era, the people need the constant presence of the priests”, he writes, “in order to bring them the Word of God in their everyday situations. They need to listen still, to speak, to ask questions, get answers and understand what it means to live their faith. But now there are many sects in the region, who exploit the difficult economic and social situation to lead the people astray“, he adds. But the truth is that, because of the dire economic situation, the Catholic Church herself scarcely has the resources to provide this much-needed pastoral care for the faithful – who moreover live scattered across a wide area.

 

And so, the archbishop has asked us for Mass Offerings so that he can at least provide some support for his priests. As in many other countries, Mass Offerings are the sole source of income that the priests have available to them. Having a Holy Mass celebrated for a particular intention, such as for the soul of a departed loved one, is already a long-standing tradition in the Church. The stipend, or financial gift, that the faithful give the priest in return is by no means a “payment”, but rather a gesture of loving support and gratitude for the priest who, through the words of Consecration, makes the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ once more present on the altar. For many priests, however, this small gift is vital to their survival. In his letter Archbishop Minassian writes: “If we do not receive help from you now, we are risking our mission in these countries.” We have given him 1080 of these Mass Stipends, given by our benefactors, so that he can help his 18 priests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel Building the wall in the Holy Land

29.01.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Israel

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Bishop places his hopes on the Israeli Supreme Court

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Montreal, Wednesday January 29, 2014 –  Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem hopes that Israel’s Supreme Court will find a just solution in the Cremisan case. The bishop imparted in conversation with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) last Monday.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court judges in the final court of appeal will hear the objections of Christian plaintiffs against the building of the Israeli security barrier. The court had originally set the date of the hearing for December 25, but after protests by the plaintiffs, the date it was moved to today, January 29.

The flame of hope is not extinguished

Bishop Shomali who is responsible for the Palestinian territories in the Latin Patriarchate, said: “My sceptical head tells me there will not be a decision that will benefit the people of Cremisan,  because Israel’s security is holy. But my heart refuses to resign and tells me there is still hope. After all, we have prayed a great deal and made a lot of effort. So the flame of hope is not yet extinguished.” 

Looming in the background,  is the threatened confiscation of the properties of 58 Christian families in the Cremisan Valley at Beit Jala near Bethlehem, in order to build a barrier between Israel and the occupied territories. Two convents in the largely agricultural district are also affected. The Israeli army emphasized that the planned course of the wall through the terraces of the Cremisan Valley, is strictly necessary for security reasons. The Palestinian plaintiffs do not see this as convincing and point to alternative routes. Most recently, an objection to the army’s plans was rejected last year by a Tel Aviv court.

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Every Friday, those affected in the locality pray for a just solution. Last year the Catholic pastor of the community, Ibrahim Shomali, gave the auxiliary bishop a letter to be delivered to Pope Francis in Rome, in which the Pope was requested to help. But Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali dampened the hopes expressed by some of those affected that the Pope might make a public stand on behalf of Cremisan during his visit to the Holy Land in May. “The Catholic Church has intervened in various ways, for example through the US Bishops’ Conference. The Cremisan file is on the desk of Secretary of State Kerry,” said Shomali. “But with regard to a possible intervention by the Holy Father himself, I must remind you that there are many questions of justice in the world and in the Holy Land. Should the Pope involve himself, he will do so discretely, for example in private talks and through the Nunciature. Pope Francis wants results, not just confrontation.”

 

 

 

Journey with ACN – Burkina Faso

24.01.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Burkina Faso, Journey with ACN

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.  

Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:  Burkina Faso

 

Support for a centre for young single and expectant mothers

In Burkina Faso women have a very low position socially. Only 14% of them can even read or write. The number of girls and young women bringing up one or more children alone is on the increase.

Media influence has led to an increase in sexual promiscuity, and when a girl does get pregnant the young father is, more often than not, unwilling to take responsibility for the child.

Sadly, it is also common that the young woman will not find support or help from her parents either.In fact, most are likely to kick her out of the house – often on the pretext of the traditional belief that it will bring misfortune on the family if a daughter gives birth in her parents home.

Many girls attempt to abort the child somehow or other, with great risk  to their own lives in the attempt. Others give birth, but will abandon the child somewhere on a street corner. Some bravely attempt to get by on their own with their child. Often these women fall into prostitution, simply to survive. This results in the continuum of a vicious survival spiral, since many become  infected with the HIV virus making their lives all the more difficult, and frequently, they often become pregnant again.

The Catholic Church in Dedougou has created a centre for pregnant girls and young mothers, where they are taken- in and given as much care and support as possible. They receive not only practical, material and pastoral help, but at the same time they can get vocational training and acquire a useful skill.

Elodie is one such young mother whose story has ended well. At the age of 17 she was married by her strictly Muslim family to a much older man whom she did not know and who already had several wives.

She was given no other choice, and had she not obeyed, she would have been thrown out by her family. The two months following her wedding were a living hell for her, and she decided to run away. She managed to find her way to the capital, nearly a hundred miles away, but she knew absolutely no one there. Spontaneously, the idea came to her  to seek shelter with Catholic nuns, who did indeed lovingly take her in.

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They quickly noticed that Elodie was pregnant and put her in touch with the “Carmen Kisito”  centre in Dedougou. “I harboured great hatred in my heart towards my family and towards the man I had been forced to marry. I wanted never to see them again. I also felt unable to accept my daughter, Djami, since in my eyes she was responsible for my misfortune. But the more I came to know Jesus, the more I realised that I had to forgive them all. After a three-year long journey, I was preparing to receive Baptism at Easter. I was full of joy at the thought that God would forgive me all my sins and renew me. It was then that I realised that I must also forgive all those who had harmed me. Hatred and revenge could no longer have any place in my life. In my heart I forgave them, therefore. My Baptism was a moment of immense joy for me. I was immersed in a joy that I had never known before and there was a sense of deep peace in my heart.”

After her baptism, Elodie went to visit her family to be reconciled with them. “It was not easy for me, but rather an inner struggle. But through the grace of God I was able to meet them. My father was both astonished and very happy to see his daughter again after almost 5 years, and the reconciliation with my family took place in great joy.”

She did not again see the man whom she had been forced to marry, but she has forgiven him too, in her heart. Today Elodie is able to stand on her own two feet. She has trained as a hairdresser and now earns enough to support herself and her little daughter.

 ACN has been supporting the work of this centre, and is doing so again this year with a grant of $29 400 .

Zanzibar Jubilee “150 Years of Catholic Faith” – and the growing concern about radical Islam

21.01.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN PROJECTS, Zanzibar

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

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To the Spiritan Fathers working on the two main islands of Unguja (or Zanzibar) and Pemba, which together make up Zanzibar and which since 1964 have also formed part of the East African nation of Tanzania, the words of Father Liebermann have been a source of comfort and enabled them to confront every difficulty – both then and now. On January 19th , 2014, the diocese honoured the commitment of these first missionaries with a special Jubilee celebration, marking “150 Years of Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Zanzibar”.

While it is true that Portuguese missionaries had already reached these East African islands by the end of the 16th century, they had subsequently been expelled again. It was not until the end of 1860 that the Catholic Faith took permanent root here. The then ruler of the islands, Sultan Sayyeid Majid bin Said, welcomed the new arrivals with these words: “You are welcome! My house is your house, my people are your people, I am your brother.” In 1863, Zanzibar was established by Rome as an apostolic prefecture.

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Today, according to the Church’s pontifical yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, there are some 13,600 Catholics living on Unguja and Pemba, thereby representing roughly 1% of the population. There are 20 priests involved in the pastoral work of the diocese. Bishop Augustine Shao, himself a Spiritan (CSSp), has been in charge of the diocese since 1997. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting the pastoral work of the diocese for many years now. Traditionally, the Catholics have always lived in great harmony with the overwhelmingly Muslim population; however, sadly – and for some years now – the open attitude of Sultan Sayyeid Majid bin Said has no longer been shared by all his fellow Muslims. In recent years the climate of tolerance on Zanzibar has sharply changed, and although the charitable initiatives of the Catholic Church extend to include everyone, and indeed mostly Muslims, there are some extremist groups that are virulently hostile to the presence of Christians on Zanzibar and which express their opposition in more than simply words.

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This was again made evident very recently, in September 2013, when in the parish of Mpandae an elderly Catholic priest was attacked with acid and severely burned. He survived the attack, but suffered severe acid burns and is currently being treated in India. For his parish it was not the first, but the fourth such violent attack. As Bishop Augustine Shao observed, “This has triggered fear – in me, in the priests, the religious and the parishioners. We are living like wanted criminals. It is sad enough that not one of the attackers has been arrested by the police, quite apart from the fact that this criminal act took place in broad daylight, in a market place.” Earlier, at the end of May 2012, the parish church in Mpandae had been attacked, and parts of the building and its furnishings had been set on fire and burned, before the attackers could be chased away.

ACN has already agreed to help towards the cost of repairing the damage.

Although the authorities in Zanzibar are now starting to move against the extremists, the situation remains tense and unpredictable. Bu,t the Catholics of Zanzibar are not going to let this spoil their joy in the Jubilee of their faith.