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Visit in the United Arab Emirates – “A historic visit” – a first for a pope

04.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Adaptation Mario Bard, By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Middle East, Pope Francis, United Arab Emirates

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”

 

Pope Francis is visiting Abu Dhabi until tomorrow. The country is more tolerant to Christians than other countries in the area. However, full religious freedom does not exist in the United Arab Emirates.

Bishop Hinder: “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Shortly before the visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, the local church talked about the support it has received from Muslims. In an interview with ACN International, Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of southern Arabia, spoke of a “historic” visit and declared, “It will be the first time that the Eucharist will be celebrated on public property that the government has placed at our disposal for this purpose.”

Bishop Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin monk, is expecting around 130 000 faithful, who will gather together on 5 February to participate in the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Francis will be visiting the Islamic country from 3 to 5 February. This will be the first time that a pope has ever visited the Arab Peninsula. “A number of Muslims have contacted me to ask how they can help prepare for the visit. Many have expressed an interest in attending the Mass. The government is also doing everything in its power to ensure that as many of our faithful as possible will be able to see the Pope,” Bishop Hinder continued.

The United Arab Emirates is considered relatively open and tolerant towards non-Muslims. Thus, according to ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi had the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Mosque renamed Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque in June 2017. According to the crown prince, this decision was taken to strengthen the human ties between the followers of different religions. “I have been living in Abu Dhabi for the last 15 years and have never experienced any animosity,” explained Bishop Hinder. “Of course we know that in all Islamic countries, non-Muslims – not only Christians – have to comply with the social laws of Islam. On the other hand, I see a deep respect for Christians, also among the local population. This is even more apparent now in the run-up to the papal visit.” According to the bishop, while in Saudi Arabia divine services are only tolerated when held in private in relatively small groups, in the United Arab Emirates there are churches where thousands of worshippers gather regularly to celebrate mass. Almost one million Catholics of different rites live in the United Arab Emirates. Practically all of them are foreign workers who stay in the country for a limited period of time. Many come from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They are taken care of by nine parishes. For this reason, Bishop Hinder is hoping that more churches will be built. “More churches would be desirable, as the number of our parishes is still not commensurate with the number of believers.”

The visit of the pope: to answer The Spirit of the Gospel

Last year ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report stated that Islam is the state religion of the emirates. Islamic sharia law is one of the primary sources of legislation. The report stated that “while Muslims may proselytize, penalties are in place for non-Muslims proselytizing among Muslims. If caught, non-citizens may have their residency revoked and face deportation.” According to the report, Christian churches may not be adorned with bell towers or have Crosses in them. Muslims do not have the right to convert to Christianity. Bishop Hinder explained, “I am not aware of any Muslim country that allows full religious freedom. Even in those where converting a Muslim to another religion is not punishable by law, at the very least the person’s social circle, in particular his or her family, will react with ostracism or even physical violence. Freedom of religion is greater or less depending upon the country.”

Bishop Hinder mainly hopes that the papal visit will have an effect on the general mood. “I hope that the visit of the pope will be able to change the overall mood for the better. However, it would be a mistake to expect too many miracles from this kind of visit,” the Apostolic Vicar said. “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Father Andrzej Halemba, who is responsible for this region at ACN, agrees with Bishop Hinder. “The visit of the Holy Father is a great encouragement for the Christians working on the Gulf. They will experience the solidarity of the world Church.” Father Halemba emphasized the great importance of today’s interfaith meeting between the Pope and representatives of Islam. “By reaching out to Muslims, the Pope is fulfilling the mandate of the Gospel. This is a dialogue of God with humanity, which is continued as a dialogue from person to person.”

 


 

Pakistan – Interview – “The blasphemy law destroys lives”

01.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., Asia, By Mario Bard, By Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Mario Bard, Pakistan, Religious freedom, Voyager avec l’AED

Pakistan

“The blasphemy law destroys lives”

Dominican Father James Channan has been working to establish a dialogue between Christians and Muslims for years – in a country in which acts of violence against the infinitesimally small minority of Christians are a regular occurrence and any perceived criticism of Islam is subject to draconian punishments under the blasphemy law; Asia Bibi was not an isolated case. Father Channan is head of the Peace Center located in the city of Lahore in Pakistan.

During a visit to the headquarters of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Channan talked about the impact of the blasphemy laws, propitious developments in the Islamic world, and the future prospects of Asia Bibi in an interview with Tobias Lehner.

***

Tobias Lehner: The fate of Asia Bibi has given the world a face to associate with the perilous situation of many Christians in Pakistan. After years on death row, she was acquitted of blasphemy charges in late October 2018 and released from prison. What can you tell us about the current situation?

Father James Channan: The situation of the Christians in Pakistan is alarming. They live in fear and uncertainty. This situation has not changed since the 1970s, when legislation in Pakistan began to be based on Islamic Sharia law. Radical Muslims are misusing the controversial blasphemy law in particular to settle personal scores. Anytime, Christians are accused of supposed blasphemy, all Christians in the region are indicted with them. This often leads to acts of violence against Christians.

And this is exactly what happened in the case of Asia Bibi. She was on death row for nine years on charges of blasphemy. Even now, after her acquittal, she is anything but safe. Radical Islamists are trying to find her so that they can kill her. That is why she is currently under state protection. We hope that the Supreme Court will soon confirm her acquittal and refuse to grant permission to appeal. Then, hopefully, she will be able to leave the country and live in freedom.

Asia Bibi is not an isolated case. What can you tell us about the fate of Christians who are also facing charges of blasphemy?

According to a report of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, there are 224 other cases of Christians since 1984 facing charges of blasphemy, and currently 25. One of these is the case of the married couple Shafqat Masih and Shagufta Bibi. I visited them on death row. They have been accused of sending blasphemous text messages, which the couple denies. Their prospects are very bleak. Even should they be acquitted, they and their children will no longer be able to live in Pakistan. Fanatic Muslims will try to kill them. The blasphemy law destroys the lives of those who have been accused, even if they avoid being executed.

Following the acquittal of Asia Bibi we saw pictures of an angry mob that continued to call for her execution. In view of this, is there even a chance of religious freedom for Christians living in Pakistan?

It seemed as though at any moment, a group of militant Muslims would bring the entire country to a standstill. However, militant Islam does not hold the majority in Pakistan. The country has a fraction of about 10 to 15 per cent of radical Islamists who are provoking people to violence. The majority of Muslims do not follow these agitators. They are advocates for religious freedom, also for Christians. Both Christians and Muslims were greatly relieved when Pakistani security forces recently arrested more than 1000 Islamists. Cracking down on extremism was the right thing for the government to do. And I hope that this will continue.

Aid to the Church in Need has been working with you for many years. From a European standpoint, there is little one can do to change the situation. Does the aid actually make a difference for the Christians in Pakistan?

The support provided by ACN plays a crucial role in ensuring that the church in Pakistan can continue to proclaim the faith and promote a dialogue. The assistance has allowed us to build many bridges between Christians and Muslims. We want to demonstrate that the different religions have nothing to fear from one another. A large number of Muslim clerics, including the Grand Imam of the second largest mosque in Pakistan, are a fixed part of our programme at the Peace Center in Lahore and close friends. I am convinced that the foundation for a good and peaceful future can only be built by establishing a dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Amanda Griiffin and Mario Bard from ACN-Canada met Father James Channan last September.


 

Central African Republic – Massacre of Alindao – Emergency Help

01.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Africa, By Mario Bard, By Tobias Lehner, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Central African Republic

Death toll from november massacre in Alindao is 80

ACN is funding two aid projects for the local Catholic community as they return to a scene of utter devastation

The number of people who have died as a result of the terrorist attacks, on November 15 last year – in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, diocese of Alindao and on the refugee camp right next to it –, continues to grow. Now, it is estimated that over 80, according to information given to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). What is the reason behind this sudden upsurge in violence against Christians in the south of the Central African Republic? In the report below, the local Church analyzes the situation and explains the consequences of these terrible events.

“The people, who almost all fled into the forest, are now returning, hoping to be able to find a few grains of rice that they can eat and foraging among the ashes for any beans that have been only partially burnt”, says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao, describing the dramatic scenes in his town. The number of those who have died since the attack has now increased to over 80, including two priests and two Protestant pastors, according to hospital sources.

Even if they live under constant threat of attacks and they are sometimes afraid, the Monks are there to help, and vocations are on the rise!

A local Church source reports that the refugee camp, which once sheltered over 26,000 people and was supervised by the priests of the diocese, has now been totally destroyed. “The old people and the handicapped were simply burned alive, if they were not already shot dead or beheaded”, Bishop Yapaupa added. “In their panic, many parents were forced to leave one or other of their children behind in order to save the others. The attackers simply fired indiscriminately on the people.” Quite apart from the loss of human life, “the fire tore through the reception centre and several of the Church buildings. The cathedral lost its roof. The terrorists stole cars, motorcycles, solar panels, food from the storeroom, money and fuel…”

 

A Country Torn Apart

At the present time, there are over 14 different armed groups scattered across the Central African Republic. The president of the country, Faustin Touadéra, does not have the resources to control the activities of these groups, the remnants of the civil war initiated in 2013. That was dissolved into clashes between the Seleka rebels – an almost entirely Muslim coalition – and the so-called “anti-balaka”, initially a self-defence militia (a contraction of the phrase “anti-balas AK-47”, or “anti-bullet AK-47”) which ultimately degenerated into gangs of animist or nominally ‘Christian’ youths.

The authors of this particular terrorist attack were a Muslim militia, an offshoot of the Seleka, ironically named “Unity and Peace in Central Africa” (UPC). So why have the tensions suddenly increased just here in Alindao?

 

Alindao, “a cow to be milked”

According to the UPC, this was a legitimate act of defence because the Anti-balaka in Alindao had killed two Muslims on 14 and 15 November. However, our source informed us that it was rather the desire to compensate for a lack of means on the part of the UPC, which saw Alindao as “a flourishing commercial centre, and a cow to be milked”. After being expelled from Bambari in October, the UPC was forced to abandon its local commercial support base and the gold and diamond mines it controlled. “The weekly collections extorted from local traders in order to feed their troops,” had led to big protests, and so they had had to go in search of another source of income, “Alindao and its war booty.”

 

The Church as a Target

“Organized and structured as she is, the Catholic Church plays a fundamental role in responding to the local humanitarian crisis”, this African bishop explains. The Church maintains relations with the humanitarian agencies, with the president and the UN mission MINUSCA. At the same time, however, she is an “object of covetousness” and an institution that the men of war would like to bring down. Was this the reason for the inaction of the Mauritanian UN forces during the terrorist attack on Alindao, who, “in this way smoothed the path for the attackers by not fulfilling their mission of protecting the refugee population”? Our source also provided a further piece of information, explaining that “two days before the tragedy, the leader of the UPC was received by the Mauritanian contingent.” The diocese sees this meeting as having been possibly one of “consensual planning”, or outright collusion. The leaders of the three main faith communities in the Central African Republic – Cardinal Nzapalainga, Pastor Guerekoyame Gbangou and Iman Omar Kobine Layama – have called for an investigation by the international community.

 

“We have lost everything, except our faith.”

“We have lost everything, except our faith”, Bishop Yapaupa concludes. “We can still look into the eyes of our enemy and offer him our sincere pardon, without giving way to a spirit of vengeance or fear.”

 

ACN is proposing an emergency aid for the diocese of 60 000 dollars, to help rebuild the community, and also Mass stipends to help the local clergy in this situation of total desolation. You can give on our secure web page.  


 

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

WYD 2019 – Panama ACN support the rosaries included in the Pilgrim Kit

22.01.2019 in ACN Canada

WYD 2019 – Panama

ACN Support the Rosaries Included in the Pilgrim Kit

On different occasions Pope Francis expressed the wish that young people should pray for peace in the world. In order to respond to this request, ACN has offered to send rosaries as a gift to the young people gathering these days at the World Youth Day in Panama.

Responsibility for supplying these rosaries has been entrusted to Caritas Jerusalem. In this way this charity has been able to provide work to many needy families, young unemployed, prisoners and refugees over many months in Bethlehem and its surrounding area. The rosaries, which can also be worn as an armband, have been produced at a cost of one US dollar a piece.

Rosary, Sign of Active Solidarity

Bethlehem is a sort of microcosm of the situation of Christians in the region – their presence and survival is now at stake in the very place where Christ was born. “So that these rosaries can be a genuine instrument of peace, they have been made in the Holy Land, of local olive wood, and by the people of this very region, which is marked by such violent tensions and yet is at the same time a bearer of hope and peace. You could buy these rosaries cheaply in China – but if we made them in Bethlehem it is a sign of active solidarity with the people of the Holy Land”, says the initiator of the project, Emeritus Bishop Peter Bürcher of Reykjavik.

Archbishop Ulloa Mendieta of Panama underlines this ideas as well in a letter sent to the pontifical foundation ACN, one of the sponsors of the project: “On the one hand, it will encourage prayer and on the other, thanks to this initiative, it will sponsor an aid project that contributes to the support of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land”.

For months now the Christians of Bethlehem have been working to produce 1 million rosaries. For each of the 200 families involved in Bethlehem the project will yield enough to support them for a full year. And they too will be contributed by their work; they will be personally involved. Though trapped in the shadow of the warfare in the Middle East, they are not forgotten. And what is equally important to them is the fact that hundreds of thousands of young people will be praying for peace and thereby fulfilling a personal wish of the Pope.

It is expected that there will be at least half a million young people in Panama. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on us to pray this prayer, saying that with the Rosary nothing is impossible, since “the Rosary is the summary of the history of God’s mercy.” This is also very in the line of the theme of the World Youth Day: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Bethlehem remains a city of hope. And we are entrusting this hope, along with the rosaries, into the hands of the young people in Panama.

The Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need supports the World Youth Day in Panama with several projects. The charity is also one of the sponsors of the rosaries included in the pilgrim’s kit, a project that it has helped with 150 000 dollars.

 

Brazil Support for 12 elderly and infirm religious sisters

17.01.2019 in Brazil, By Mario Bard

Brazil
Support for 12 elderly and infirm religious sisters

Despite her 88 years, Sister Halina does not just sit around twiddling her thumbs. She has surely earned the right to do so, after a long life of daily service on behalf of the poor. And yet she continues to this day, tirelessly visiting the sick and sewing quilts and pillowcases for newborn babies. And her equally elderly fellow sisters also still want to make themselves useful – listening to and counselling those who come to them for advice, helping children with their homework and comforting the sick and needy. Some of them even continue to instruct and give talks.

The sisters are delighted to see that there are many young women who also wish to join their congregation. At the same time, however, seven of their elderly sisters are already in need of constant care, while another five are very advanced in age. Since the congregation has very limited sources of income, we help every year for the most elderly and infirm, with a contribution to the cost of their care and support. This year we are giving 6900 dollars.

 

 

Christmas, it’s you

14.01.2019 in Africa, By Robert Lalonde

Robert Lalonde, regular contributor to the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need, is currently travelling in Africa. Before heading to Burkina Faso and then to the Ivory Coast, he spent Christmas and New Year’s in Senegal. This is the first of a series of three texts about the people who make up the local Catholic Churches in these West African countries. Note that all quotes about the Christmas holiday are from Pope Francis, taken and translated from the book L’esprit de Noël, éditions Michel Lafon, 2016.

Christmas, it’s you

On the night of December 22, 2018, Jean-Baptiste, a friend I met at the Institut de formation humaine intégrale de Montréal – a regular partner of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – welcomed me at the Dakar airport, in the capital of Senegal.

Over the next few days, this Brother from the Discalced Carmelite congregation passed down so much knowledge on his adopted country to me that one would think he is actually Senegalese. But, above all, he revealed to me the love he feels for his people whose hospitality is only matched by their kindness. I feel this profound love when he celebrates the morning mass on Christmas Eve.

That morning, in the Carmelite chapel of Kaolack, I hear the song of the stone curlews through the barred wrought iron windows. It’s as if these Senegalese birds are approaching to accompany Brother Marie-Pierre caressing his kora. This instrument, a cross between a harp and a guitar, invites God to penetrate our soul.

“Christmas is you, when you decide to be born again each day and let God into your soul.”

Then comes the moment to sing Il est né le divin enfant. My singing is out of tune, but my heart, filled with joy, joins the voices of the monks to worship God. We are one, we are together in His name.

The crucifix on the wall behind the altar reigns over the kingdom of the monks. The crèche is kneeling in front of the altar. Despite the absence of Jesus in this nativity scene, we doubt neither his presence nor his coming. Jean-Baptiste’s homily, recited softly, is proof. After having been invited to go in the peace of Christ, we exit, ready to face life’s torments.

“The Christmas tree is you, when you vigorously resist strong winds and the obstacles of life.”

Right away, I accompany Jean-Baptiste in his mission, that of preparing a choir of some twenty Serer* young adults for the evening mass. Once the keyboard, violin and guitar are in the trunk of the car, we cross the scrubland to head to the parish of Ndiaffate, where we will join the choristers.

Once there, and despite the disorientation, I feel at home. I am surrounded by the humanity and solidarity of the people. The harmony of the voices impresses me, the amount of energy overpowers me. The rhythm is so lively that I seem to see the garlands dance on the ceiling and the lights on the tree following the beat by shining above a motley crèche. Lighthearted, I watch the master craftsman, wearing his most beautiful smile. Jean-Baptiste loves music. For him, it is an occasion to glorify God. “Singing is praying twice”, as St. Augustin says.

 

“Christmas decorations are you, when your virtues are colours that adorn your life.”

On the way back, no motor vehicle. At times we see carts pulled by donkeys or horses, at other times we see herds of cows or goats, guided by Fulani people going in the same direction as us. It’s as if they will all be setting up camp in the Carmelite crèche. All of a sudden, I feel as though I am back in the time of Jesus. Momentarily feeling like an apostle delights me.

Jean-Baptiste frequently stops on the side of the road to greet passersby. He says “Salamalakoum”, they answer “Malakoumsalam”. Muslims, Christians, it doesn’t matter. In Senegal, everyone exists side by side, without hostility. A Muslim man even invited Jean-Baptiste for the next day. Jean-Baptiste declines, not without an explanation, and proposes to postpone the invitation. This simplicity and warmth fill my heart with hope.

“The bell that rings Christmas, it’s you, when you invite to gather and attempt to reunite.”

At supper, silence is in order. I am integrating the day’s experiences and feel the peace reigning and the joy flourishing in me. The four Brothers surrounding me look radiant. One of them, Marie-Pierre, who will be presiding over the evening mass, seems to be preparing his homily. I have no doubt when I see him embodying it in such a dynamic and inspiring way when the moment comes to deliver it to the 200 faithful in attendance.

“You are also a Christmas light, when you illuminate with your life the path of others with kindness, patience, joy and generosity.”

Once the church is full, Jean-Baptiste gives the choristers the signal as the celebrant enters, accompanied by two other Brothers. From the first notes, my heart is touched by the presence of the Holy Spirit. All these liturgical songs contain a comforting je-ne-sais-quoi. As if the invisible momentarily captured all the weight of the world. It was this way throughout the Eucharist. I leave in the peace of Christ, ready to welcome him again tomorrow in the crèche.

“The Christmas angels are you, when you sing to the world a message of peace, justice and love.”

*West African people. In number, they make up the third largest ethnic group of Senegal, after the Wolof and Fulani people.

 

A roof for a new church

10.01.2019 in Africa, Mali, Project of the Week

Mali

A roof for a new church

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. However, until recent years Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional African religions continued to live peaceably together, as they had for centuries. However, this situation came to a bloody end in 2012 when war broke out in the northern part of the country, much of which lies within the Sahara Desert region. Tuareg rebels had formed an alliance with radical Islamists and sought to establish an independent Islamic state in this part of the country. Initially the jihadists gained control over the northern half and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee as a result.

But then in 2013, when the Islamists attempted to conquer the south of the country as well and turn the civil state into an Islamist theocracy, France and the UN intervened militarily in the conflict and rapidly defeated the Islamist rebels.

However, in practice Mali has been a divided country since 2013. A fact that has also impacted the lives of Catholics in the country, who today make up around 200,000 faithful in the midst of a total population of some 18 million.

Whereas in the north of the country, it is all but impossible for the Church to function normally, and the great majority of her structures there have been destroyed, the situation is somewhat better in the south of the country – although even here there are occasional violent assaults. Nevertheless, the Catholic community is even growing here, although almost all her new members are former animists, rather than Muslims.

In the south of the country, in the diocese of San, lies the very lively parish of Yasso, which is dedicated to Saint Therese of Lisieux. It has some 5 000 active faithful and includes around 40 villages. And the number of Catholics is growing steadily. So far they have only a small and somewhat temporary chapel, which is far too small for the community and at risk of collapsing when the rainy season comes. But now, they have been able to start work on a large and permanent church, big enough to accommodate 2 000 people. The walls are already standing, but they do not have the money for the roof. So they have turned to ACN for help, and we have promised them 72 000 dollars so that they can finally complete their church.

ACN Info – Nigeria Attacks by Fulani herdsmen; “a timebomb”

19.12.2018 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Thomas Oswald & Maria Lozano

Nigeria

Attacks by Fulani herdsmen; “a timebomb”

 

NIGERIA / GBOKO – Bishop William AVENYA

Christians in northern Nigeria, in addition to suffering attacks by the terrorist Boko Haram group, are also facing a terrible situation as a result of the bloody attacks by Fulani herdsmen against Christian villages in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt.

 

“This is a time bomb that threatens to ignite the whole region,” says Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko. He was speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). He described how in his diocese, located in Nigeria’s majority Christian Benue State, “Fulani tribesman, armed to the teeth, are murdering pregnant women and children and destroying our smallholdings”. Ever since 2010 the Christian villages have been the target of violent attacks by the nomadic, Muslim Fulani herdsman from the Sahel region, who have been armed with a wealth of modern weaponry. The result has been thousands killed and numerous communities forced to flee. “The Fulani have claimed far more victims during 2018 than Boko Haram, but no one is doing anything about it,” the bishop explained.

Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria  Credit: © Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications

“This is a time bomb”

According to Bishop Avenya, the Nigerian authorities are simply not taking the necessary measures to address the violence. He denounced the silence of the government and of the media. During his visit to Europe to attend the official launch of ACN’s Report on Religious Freedom in the World, the bishop met with EU politicians from Brussels who likewise “seemed poorly informed about the situation in our country and about the threat posed by the Fulani, who have been supplied with modern weapons of a kind not used by simple herdsmen. We need to ask who is behind this.”

 

Presentation of the Religious Freedom Report at the European Parliament in Brussels on 04.12.2018
(from left to right):
Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla (Head of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace),
Mark von Riedemann ( ACN Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom)
His Excellency Mgr. Alain Lebeaupin (Apostolic Nuncio to the EU),
His Excellency Mgr William Avenya (Bishop of Gboko, Nigeria),
Sister Fida Chaaya (Damascus in Syria)

“We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

Nigeria, Kaduna : Destruction by fulani attacks 2017

Already a month ago, Bishop Avenya had issued a desperate appeal to the international community, urging it “not to wait for a genocide to happen before intervening.” Additionally, on numerous occasions, the Nigerian bishops’ conference has called on the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to provide effective guarantees for the safety of his people or, if he is unable to do so, to resign. Their petition has been ignored and the violence continues. Meanwhile, Muhammadu Buhari plans to stand once again for president in the new elections to be held in February next year.

“Meanwhile, the Church continues to try and heal the wounds,” Bishop Avenya added. “We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

ACN Canada is supporting the Church in Nigeria.  Please be generous with our project partners!  Learn more here: NigeriaACN

 

ACN Interview – Sister Yvonne Gera in Algeria

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

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

Algeria

“They died at their post”

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

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

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

 

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

Sr. Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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