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ACN Feature

 

ACN Feature Story from Nigeria –  A spiritual reflection on the recent terrorist attacks

23.01.2020 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Tobore Ovuorie, for ACN USA, Journey with ACN
Photo, Nigeria, diocese of Minna – March 2012
St. Theresa´s Catholic Church in Madalla – partly destroyed by Christmas day bombing in the church on 25.12.2011

Nigeria

“Darkness has thrived, but it has never won.”

  A spiritual reflection on the recent terrorist attacks

 

By Tobore Ovuorie, for ACN USA
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web January 23, 2020

 

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) on Dec. 26, 2019 released a video of its fighters beheading 10 blindfolded Christian hostages. And on Christmas day, executing an eleventh person.

 

The victims’ names have not been released. However, an earlier ISWAP video revealed that they’d been taken from the African states of Borno and Yobe (Nigeria). The terror perpetrated by ISWAP and Boko Haram has deeply scared Nigerians, particularly the country’s Christians, who suffered a further shock at the news of the December 26 beheading of a bridal party in Gwoza, in the state of Borno.

 

Aid to the Church in Need spoke about the killings with Father Panachy Longinus Ogbede, the Catholic pastor of the Church of the Visitation in Lagos, Nigeria. Father Panachy said:

 

St. Theresa´s Catholic Church in Madalla – partly destroyed by Christmas day bombing (by Boko Haram) in the church on 25.12.2011

 

“We must never accept violence. It is not a part of our culture. Traditional Nigerians are known to have discussions; our forefathers taught us that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless. There will always be better and more productive ways to express our grievances.

 

“But many people feel otherwise. They would benefit from a stronger relationship with God, which leads to more positive relationships with other human beings; it’s how the human being becomes sacred in our eyes. And we are quickly losing our sense of the sacred, as well as our sense of community. Egotism and relativism have crept in everywhere, and we have forgotten that there are still objective truths. It is not right to kill your brothers and sisters. It is not right to behave cruelly. I implore Boko Haram and ISWAP to reconsider their ways.

 

 

To stay and live in freedom

 

A little girl at Sunday Mass at St. Rita’s in Kaduna

“The truth is that Christians cannot leave their homelands. Where would we emigrate to? And for how long? We are aliens everywhere we go. Only in our parents’ homes are we safe. We must learn tolerance and fortitude; we must persist and live freely.

 

“The Scriptures predicted hard times for us, but hard times don’t last. Tough people do. Life is filled with ups and downs, which are often the results of human selfishness. And there will always be a Judas among the disciples. There will always be a child who strays. And when they do, they see that it rarely works out.

 

“It’s when things fluctuate that we find opportunities for growth. And in order to achieve that growth, we must accept instability, imperfection, and uncertainty. Life is a mystery and requires our ongoing formation. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we must walk through that tunnel before we reach it, or even see it.

 

“The early apostles faced persecution, too. But Christ has never abandoned His Church. Without Him, all of us would be gone. Darkness has thrived, but it has never won.”

 

 

 

ACN Interview: Christians in the Middle East

19.12.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Fionn Shiner, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
Photo: Iraq 30 November 2019
Candlelight vigil around the cross in Baghdeda

Christians in the Middle East

Fresh risk of genocide to Middle East Christians

by Fionn Shiner, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web December 19, 2019

 

Middle East Christians are at direct risk of a second genocide which threatens them with wipe-out from the lands of the Bible – according to an expert in the region who has coordinated emergency relief there for nearly a decade. 

 

Father Andrzej Halemba, head of Middle East projects at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), said that Christians could face total eradication from countries such as Iraq and Syria where they have existed since the time of Christ’s first apostles.

 

“I cannot imagine the Middle East without Christians,” said Father Halemba. “But the threat is real. Daesh (ISIS) wanted to eradicate Christians. The genocidal mentality is alive with Al-Nusra and other groups. If Christians can stay together and help each other they can stay in the Middle East. If they don’t, it may be like Turkey after the terrible genocide in 1915.”

Father Halemba said Christianity’s eradication would be tragic from a religious plurality point of view and because of Christians’ role as bridge builders in conflict zones.

“Christians are the soul of the country and they play a very important role in Middle Eastern societies. They are the peacemakers,” said the director. “Christians work for peace and peaceful co-existence and collaboration for the good of the country.”

 

ACN helps all Christians 

In 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, now there are less than 250,000 – with some reports putting the number as low as 120,000. Similarly, in Syria in 2011, there were 1.5 million Christians and there are now 500,000.

Fr. Halemba said all Christians must work together to ensure their survival in the region.

“Families which pray together stay together. We all need to work for the good of all. ACN helps all Christians – not only the Catholics. Christians should stay together and this is the desire of Jesus Christ. He wanted unity among His supporters,” stated the priest.

In Iraq and Syria, ACN has supported hundreds of different projects, helping Christians who wanted to stay in their homelands with food baskets, water in Aleppo, milk for children, education grants, reconstruction of houses and churches, and much more.

This year the charity has approved 147 projects in Syria. In 2018 ACN supported 40 projects in Iraq.“ACN is always trying to help Christians and others in need with both hands. In one hand we have bread to feed the people, and in the other hand we have the Bible,” Father Halemba recalled. “We provide material help and spiritual help in the form of the Word of God.”

Iraq, December 18, 2016 Mr Emab Kiryakos (Syriac Orthodox) visiting the Mart Shmony Church in Bartella (Syriac Orthodox Church) Mart Shmony Church It’s unknown when this church was first built, but it is old for sure. It was perhaps built after the destruction of Mar Aho Dama Church. It was renovated in 1807. Then brought down completely and rebuilt in 1869. The construction included the transfer of a piece that dates back to 1343 from the Assyrian village of Ba-skhraya. It was reinvigorated again in 1971.

International Day Victims of Acts of religious Violence

21.08.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International

An important step, but one that needs to be followed by action

 Montréal/Könisgtein, Wednesday August 21st – “The new day to commemorate the victims of religious violence is an important step to ensuring that more attention is paid to persecuted Christians in the future,” explained Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern. The executive president of the pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is pleased that for the first time this year, 22 August can be celebrated as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence
Based on Religion or Belief. The respective resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in May. The resolution for the creation of this day, which Canada supported, was made last May by the United Nations General Assembly.

“This is really a fundamental step that is being taken this Thursday with this international day,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, director of the Canadian office of ACN. “In countries like Canada where religious freedom is enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights, and where it is widely respected, people think that freedom is a given everywhere in the world. They often struggle to imagine that one can be tortured, beaten, raped, imprisoned or even put to death because of the religious tradition to which one belongs or because of the convictions that one professes. In addition to remembering the victims, this day will certainly help to raise awareness about this issue,” said Ms. Lalonde. “I am also pleased that Canada is one of nine countries that have put forward the resolution that created this first day. “

ACN at the origin of this Day

Following an international conference held by ACN in Rome in September 2017, the lawyer and author Ewelina Ochab took the initiative to draw attention to infringements of religious freedom and in particular to the persecution of Christians and to appeal to the international community to act. Since then, she has spoken at many conferences to build up a network of supporters. The proposed resolution was ultimately introduced to the United Nations General Assembly by Poland. The proposal was supported by the United States, Canada, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Pakistan. “It was a long process and involved many people, but ACN was the inspiration,” Ms Ochab said.

“As an organisation that has been dedicated to helping suffering Christians for over 70 years, we at ACN are very excited that the United Nations has proclaimed this day. A step that has long been overdue,” Dr Heine-Geldern said. “All religious communities regularly fall victim to violence, but as international reports on religious freedom confirm time and again, Christians are unfortunately the group that is most persecuted.” During the last five years alone, there have been two cases of genocide of religious minorities: the first of Christians and other religious groups by the troops of the “Islamic State” in Iraq and in Syria, and the second of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Dr Heine-Geldern also referred to systematically-organised atrocities which are increasingly being committed in particular against Christians in Africa.

 

The ACN president considers the new day of commemoration to be an important milestone, which, however, should be seen only as a first step. “It is important that 22 August does not become an end in itself, but triggers a process that motivates the international community to implement a coordinated plan of action to end religious persecution and prevent it in the future. It is really the duty of the United Nations, governments and political actors to enforce the human right of freedom of religion. This symbolic day must be followed by action.” The president then said that one of the necessary instruments would be a UN platform for the promotion of an exchange with representatives of the persecuted religious groups. In addition, the United Nations need to work towards establishing an international tribunal dedicated to the issue of the impunity of groups ranging from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab and IS from prosecution for acts of religious violence.

Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern. executive president of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Last year alone, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need granted more than 100 million euros to over 5,000 projects in 139 countries worldwide to help Christians in need.

ACN News – Christians still in a state of shock in Sri Lanka

27.06.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN NEWS, by Matthias Böhnke, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Christians still in a state of shock

by Matthias Böhnke, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Published on the web June 27, 2019

“The attacks have reminded many people of the time when a state of emergency was declared during the civil war. The general public and especially all of the Christians in Sri Lanka are still in a state of shock.” This was the summary given by Veronique Vogel, head of projects in Asia for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), upon returning from a visit to the country (Sri Lanka), exactly four weeks after the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday that killed or injured hundreds of people all over the country to take stock of the situation and to sympathize with some of the partners who were directly touched by the violence.

 

She spoke of palpable tensions throughout the country, recurring unrest and fear. “The security measures throughout Sri Lanka were very strict during our visit; security forces and the military were everywhere. But fear persists, particularly among the Christian population. Everyone is well aware of the fact that more assassins were involved on Easter Sunday than were identified and arrested. Therefore, everyone knows that somewhere out there extremely dangerous people are running around who could attack again at any time.”

 

The archbishop of the diocese of Colombo, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, is now appealing to the public to remain calm and to refrain from carrying out acts of revenge. “During our trip, I repeatedly got the sense that the Christians were thankful for the words of their archbishop and were taking them to heart,” Veronique Vogel reported. Over a period of just a few days, the small delegation from ACN visited mainly the regions around the capital city of Colombo and the neighbouring city of Negombo, where most of the attacks on churches and hotels had taken place. “This trip was arranged so that we could see for ourselves the state of the Catholic parishes and to assure them of our solidarity. After all, the terrorist attacks were specifically targeted at Christians,” Vogel continued. “It is important for us to provide the benefactors of ACN with first-hand information about the situation on site to ensure that we don’t forget to pray for Sri Lanka and we can give the country our support.”

 

In spite of everything, Christians have a great faith

Veronique Vogel reported that although the churches in the country have been accessible again to the faithful since 21 May, exactly one month after the series of attacks were carried out, many Christians are severely traumatized. “Many told me that they are afraid to enter a church at the moment or feel fear when they hear the bells ring. Saddening testimony of just how stressful the memories of Easter Sunday must be for them.”

 

However, she also discovered that many who had themselves become victims or had lost family members felt that their experiences had strengthened them in their faith. “Since the situation in the country had been comparatively quiet over the last few years, many people are having trouble understanding why they in Sri Lanka had to endure such suffering. But their will to live and faith remain very strong. The Christians and the people in Sri Lanka do not want civil war, but are actively working to maintain lasting peace,” the head of projects in Asia for ACN emphasized.

 

Mrs. Vogel was especially impressed by their visit to a Franciscan convent in Negombo. She explained that the convent is located directly across from the Catholic Church of St. Sebastian. During the attacks, at least 100 people were killed at this location alone. She spoke of how the Franciscans showed them videos of horrible scenes from the day of the attacks and how they had immediately rushed to the scene after the explosions to care for the wounded and help recover the dead. “In spite of these traumatic experiences, they are models of lived charity and have not let terrorism and violence detract them from their faith and their willingness to help others.”

 

The island nation of Sri Lanka is situated in the Indian Ocean and has about 22 million inhabitants: 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.5 percent Hindu, 9.5 percent Muslim and 8 percent Christian. Many people were killed or severely wounded during a series of attacks on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, that mainly targeted three Christian churches and three hotels in the capital city of Colombo, the neighbouring city of Negombo and the east coast city of Batticaloa. The latest figures estimate nationwide casualties of at least 253 dead and about 500 wounded. The authorities have attributed the attacks to radical Islamist group and jihadists.

 

Over the last 15 years, the pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has invested more than 12 million dollars in projects for Sri Lanka. Among other projects, these funds were used for the building of Christian facilities, for Mass Offerings for priests, for theological education and to ensure the local availability of Christian literature. Following the latest terrorist attacks, ACN is even more strongly committed to strengthening long-term pastoral aid in the country to help heal wounds and bring back hope and confidence to the parishes.

 

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

17.06.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Engy Magdy, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

In January of last year, Adeeb Nakhla, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or condition. A relative of Nakla’s shares the story with Engy Magdy of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  Here is what they said:

Egypt 

‘We fear torture and savage death’

by Engy Magdy, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website June 17,2019

 

On January 17, 2019, around 9am, Nakhla, 55, was traveling from Ismailia to Al-Arish to visit relatives, when a militant Islamic group stopped the minibus he was riding in and checked the national identity cards of those on board. The cards state religious affiliation, and when the militants saw that Nakhla was a Christian, they asked him to get out of the vehicle. He was taken away.

 

A city under siege

 

Nakhla had fled Al-Arish two years ago, as did dozens of Christian families who moved to Ismailia after receiving death threats. A relative, who spoke to ACN on condition of anonymity, said that many Coptic Christians who chose to stay were slaughtered: “We left Al-Arish in 2017, after terrorists killed seven of our neighbours. Among the dead were a father and son; they burnt their bodies and their home, and the mother, Nabila, was forced to watch. She is severely traumatized.”

 

Last year, Nakhla’s family returned to Al-Arish, where family members work and own property; Nakhla stayed in Ismailia for his job. Nakhla’s relative said: “We had to return to our home and work. We were unemployed in Ismailia, and we lived on aid from the Church. Conditions in the city have improved thanks to the Egyptian army’s stepped-up campaign against terrorist groups, though it is still dangerous on the road.”

 

He continued: “Militants affiliated with ISIS have staged ambushes on the highways and launched attacks on civilians and security forces. The Muslim driver of the communal taxi Adeeb rode in said that militants stopped the vehicle and started to check national identity cards. When they saw that Adeeb was a Christian, they asked him to get out. Our biggest fear is that they may abuse, torture, and kill him, just as savagely as they have other Copts.”

 

Violence towards Coptic Christians in Egypt has increased since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Most attacks have occurred in northern Sinai, where, according to the Gospel, the Holy Family entered Egypt. In 2012, unknown assailants issued a handwritten statement demanding that all remaining Copts leave the border city of Rafah; since then, a number of local Copts have been kidnapped and killed by terrorist groups.

 

Egypt: A paradox

 

Terrorist groups are still very much present in Egypt.  However, the paradox finally revealing itself is good news, for since 2016, the authorities have regulated, restored or built 984 Christian places of worship.  (Source: Église dans le monde)

 

 

 

ACN Feature Story: The Pope visits Bulgaria

17.05.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Eastern Europe

Bulgaria

A heartfelt meeting in faith

One early Sunday morning in May, His Holiness, Pope Francis arrived in Bulgaria for his 29th trip abroad. During his two-day stay in Bulgaria, the Pope visited Sofia and Rakovski. The media was primarily interested in political and social issues such as migration or poverty; these were addressed. However, the leader of the Catholic Church is also a shepherd and travelled to Bulgaria to visit the people and to strengthen the minority group of Catholics.


By Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

“In my opinion, our Catholics need to become more confident. It was a heartfelt meeting of the religions. I believe that it was also important for the Pope to see how strong our faith is,” explained Salesian Father Martin Jílek. The project partner of the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) had travelled the 230 kilometres from Stara Zagora to the capital city of Sofia.

Bulgaria’s population strongly identifies itself with the Christian faith, with 80 percent belonging to the Orthodox Church. Muslims make up the second largest group with about ten percent of the population. Catholics are a small minority. “In spite of this, there is a strong feeling of euphoria. A survey taken before the visit found that 54 percent of the population supports the Pope and his mission,” the missionary said.

Pope John XXIII: “The Bulgarian Pope”

For many, the joy of anticipation was dampened by the attitude taken by the Orthodox Church, which made a statement that it would not join the Holy Father in prayer. However, Father Jílek is certain “that this opinion is not shared by all Orthodox. The Bulgarians are open and tolerant people.” However, he did point out that patience would be necessary because ecumenism has yet to take root. “On a personal level, we have established a good relationship with Orthodox priests. Moreover, almost two million Bulgarians live in other countries and are well acquainted with the Catholic Church, especially that in western Europe. Our experiences have been very positive.”

The motto chosen for the trip, “Peace on Earth”, came somewhat as a surprise for those living in other countries; after all, Bulgaria has not drawn the attention of the West because of violence, as other Balkan states have, or because of war, as is the case for Ukraine. Father Jílek explained the background: “The motto ‘Peace on Earth’ was derived from the papal encyclical Pacem in terris, which was written by Pope John XXIII. He was the Apostolic Nuncio in Bulgaria from 1925 to 1935. This is why we call him the ‘Bulgarian’ Pope.”

According to Father Jílek, the motto shows that Bulgaria can be an example to others, because all the different religions and cultures have lived together in peace for many years. A number of minorities still live here in Bulgaria today.

Where God Speaks

One hundred people from Father Martin’s parish travelled to Sofia and 40 to Rakovski. Among them were about 20 boys from the Romani settlement. “This was, of course, a great opportunity for evangelization.” According to Father Jílek, almost all Bulgarians –can be said to be devout.

Unfortunately, none of the children from Stara Zagora took part in the First Communion Mass held at the Sacred Heart Church in Rakovski. “We have a group of ten young people and young families who are preparing themselves, but they are not ready and we don’t just want it to be a festive day with pretty pictures,” explained the priest. However, there was still cause for great joy because in Sofia, “our young people were able to assist during Holy Mass as volunteers.”

All of the participants were very enthusiastic upon their return. “The Pope also had a surprise for us. After Holy Mass, he unexpectedly went up to the young people to say a few words. The young people called out to the Pope very loudly and so he went to them, saying that in order for them to be able to hear, they needed to achieve silence in their own hearts. After all, that is where God speaks. Then he told them to go back to making a lot of noise.”

PopeSpeakingtotheYoung-Impromptu

Father Martin would like to thank the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their support for a large project: the construction of a new church and training centre. “In particular for the Romani children, but of course for all Bulgarians.” He would like to open a primary school in two years. “We are very thankful that we can feel the Church as a world Church. It is not only a source of financial aid for us, but also spiritual support. Who knows, one fine day we may be sending new priests and sisters from Bulgaria out into the world as missionaries. That is the dynamic of the Holy Spirit.”

  * Roma or Romanis, also called gypsies. It is estimated that they number approximately 14 million people worldwide, including eight to ten million in Europe.

ACN Feature Story: Rwanda – the first victims of the 1994 genocide

25.04.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN Intl, Rwanda

RWANDA

A Christian couple, among the first victims of the 1994 genocide

Twenty-five years ago, on April 7, 1994, Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba were cut down by the bullets of the Hutu militias. Cyprien was already a celebrated poet and choreographer who had undergone a radical conversion and was working actively for the reconciliation of the different tribal groups within his country.

Text by Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted for Canada by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published online: April 25, 2019

Their killers murdered them on the first night of the genocide while they were praying before the Blessed Sacrament in their home. They desecrated the Tabernacle and scattered the consecrated hosts over the floor.

Everybody, or at least nearly everybody in Rwanda, already knew the name of Cyprien Rugamba, a recognized poet, dancer and choreographer who was now working tirelessly for reconciliation in Rwanda. Together with his wife, Daphrose, he had introduced the Emmanuel community into their country and was working to support street children while making no distinction between the three main ethnic groups in the country, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Shortly before he was murdered, Cyprien had appealed to the authorities to remove the designation of tribal identity from people’s identity cards. It was an initiative that provoked deep hostility from the agitators who were seeking to foment civil war and which probably earned him his place among the very first victims of the massacre.

Rwanda-pray

A radical conversion

Although he was raised as a Christian, Cyprien Rugamba had subsequently become very hostile towards Christianity, according to Laurent Landete, member of the Emmanuel community. For example, when his wife was in hospital on one occasion, Cyprien demanded that all the crucifixes be removed from her room, and he was also unfaithful to her and willing to listen to all kinds of calumnies against her, even to the point of being about to repudiate her. But then he fell gravely ill, and he, who was an artist, an intellectual and a dancer, found he could no longer speak, think or even move. “My pride was annihilated by this trial,” he recalled subsequently. Meanwhile, his wife faithfully continued to stay by him, remaining by his bedside throughout his illness, praying for him and watching over this husband whom she loved without apparently receiving any love in return.

Cyprien made a complete recovery – “miraculously,” he subsequently maintained. And following this “desert experience” he underwent a radical conversion of heart. Together with his wife, he set out to devote himself to works of charity. She had a little shop in the capital, Kigali, but the street children kept stealing potatoes from her stall. Realizing their terrible poverty, she decided to do something to help them. And the charity she set up then – and which is named after them – CECYDAR (Centre Cyprien et Daphrose Rugamba) – is still bearing fruit today. For 20 years the Centre has been welcoming children from the streets of Kigali and transforming their lives.”

“I will enter heaven dancing”

Cyprien Rugamba’s conversion also marked a profound change in his artistic career. “From now on, his centre of gravity was in heaven,”says Father Guy-Emmanuel Cariot, Rector of the Basilica in the French city of Argentueil, who organized an evening during which the Rugamba couple would be especially honoured on the 25th anniversary of their death. In fact, the cause for their beatification had already been launched by the Archdiocese of Kigali in 2015.

One of their children, who was actually present with them but survived the massacre, reported that when the killers entered, their first question to Cyprien was, “Are you a Christian?” to which his father had replied, “Yes, very Christian! And I will enter heaven dancing!” He was in fact repeating the words of a song he had written and which had become very popular in Rwanda. Daphrose then asked permission to pray one last time before the Tabernacle, which the family kept in their home. Her only answer was to be clubbed over the head with a rifle butt, then the soldiers turned their machine guns on the Tabernacle and then scattered the hosts over the floor, as though it was necessary for them to kill God first before they could kill men. They were roughly manhandled, then the whole family, including both parents, six children, one niece and a household employee, were herded together and machine-gunned to death.

The evening before they were executed, several friends had telephoned them in anguish. They later recalled being impressed by their quiet serenity. They had made no attempt to flee, preferring instead to believe right to the end in a Rwanda that was still united and capable of making peace.

ACN Feature Story – Bitter memories of time of terror for the priests in Zanzibar

08.03.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN Interview, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Priests, TANZANIA, Tanzania, Violence against Christians, Zanzibar

Father Damas Mfoi: “There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work.”

Father Damas Mfoi is a Catholic priest in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a small Christian population. Since 2010, Father Mfoi has been a parish priest on the main island of Unguja. In 2012, the otherwise peaceful island community witnessed a series of violent attacks on religious leaders. A Muslim cleric was burned with acid in the fall of that year; a Catholic priest suffered gunshot wounds on Christmas Day 2012, and another was shot to death the following February. At the time, leaflets were distributed to incite violence, some of which bore the stamp of the radical Islamist group Uamsho. However, responsibility for the attacks has yet to be claimed or officially assigned. Father Mfoi tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) of the time of terror.

Interview by Anne Kidmose

 

“It was Christmas 2012, and we had planned to go for supper until we heard that Father Ambrose had been shot. Church leaders were in a state of shock, and we could no longer have our shared meal. We were frightened. We rushed to the hospital, but cautiously, as it was announced via leaflets that Church leaders would be killed, and that churches would be destroyed.

 

When we arrived, Father Ambrose was still bleeding, and he couldn’t talk. The following day, he was flown to Dar es Salaam for further treatment. After that, it was our faith that kept us here. People on the mainland called us home, but as Christians committed to the Gospel, we knew from the very beginning that ours was a mission of suffering, and that our lives might be threatened. There was no running away.

 

More leaflets were distributed, saying that Muslims should not allow the sale of alcohol, or the presence of churches. They were published anonymously, but today we know who they are. We didn’t know what would happen, though some said that they were just idle threats. But less than three months later, Father Evaristus Mushi was struck, and tragedy befell us.

 

It was a Sunday morning at 7:15 A.M.; I was saying Mass in a small church. A non-Catholic neighbour came running in; he shouted, “Father Damas, I have something to tell you!” He told me that Father Mushi was dead, the victim of a shooting. Some man shot him that morning, when he was parked in front of his church. I drove to the other churches to say Mass; now that Father Mushi was dead, I had to carry out the mission of Christ alone.

 

News of Father Mushi’s death rippled throughout the community, but that wasn’t the end of it. After we buried him and paid our last respects, a group of women came to our gates, crying. I told them, ‘Don’t cry now. Father Mushi is in heaven.’ One replied, ‘Father, she is not crying over Father Mushi. She is crying because of you.’ The assailants targeted me because I had built too many churches.

 

Father Damas Mfoi at the grave of Father Evaristus Mushi

The next morning, I escaped to the mainland, and a month later, I returned. I thought to myself, ‘There is no abandoning our mission. Jesus wouldn’t want to see us fail. There are Christians still here—why should their leaders run?’

 

Upon my return, I found that the police had set up a command post within my compound, and over the next two years, they patrolled the area because of the tension that lingered. The government took good care of us, but we knew, above all, that God protected us. When I was offered a bodyguard, I refused, believing that the work of Jesus did not require a machine gun; He promised his people that he would be with us until the end of time.

 

Six or seven months passed, and for a while, we thought that the worst was over, though security was still tight. But come September, a priest had acid splashed on him as he was leaving his regular café. He survived the attack but sustained major injuries.

 

There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work. We talk to people in the community, and we tell them that we believe God created us all and gave us the freedom to believe in whatever way we were taught. Muslims are taught about Muhammad; Christians are taught about Jesus Christ. We should all do our best to respect that and avoid mixing politics with religion.”

 

In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Church in Tanzania with projects totaling more than 2,5 Million dollars.

 

On line: March 8, 2019


 

On Sunday, February 10th, pray for Venezuela!

08.02.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Venezuela

Venezuela

Call to pray for the country on Sunday, February 10

 

United in their concern to “avoid still greater suffering and pain for the people” and in their hope for a change in the course of the political and democratic situation that Venezuela is currently going through, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has launched a joint communiqué, together with the Conference of Male and Female Religious and the National Council of the Laity in Venezuela, published on Monday, February 4th in Caracas.

Photo : María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

The statement expresses the “determination and hope,” with which the signatories urge the search, “for a political transformation via a process of transparent and peaceful transition that will lead to free and legitimate elections, and the resumption of a democratic course, the restoration of the rule of law, the rebuilding of the social fabric, the revival of economic production, the restoration of the morale of the country and the coming together of all the Venezuelan people.”

They speak of the difficult situation that is currently being written in the annals of Venezuelan history and one that both the Venezuelan people and clergy and also the international community are witnessing with great hope, and yet at the same time with great concern.

In their communiqué, the presidents of the three bodies, which most fully represent the Catholic Church of the country, denounce “the growing, politically motivated repression, the violation of human rights and the selective and arbitrary detentions,” of individuals and they stress that this path of democratic change to be allowed to unfold peacefully and with the National Constitution in hand.

They express their appreciation of the work of the activists who are defending and promoting human rights at a time of crisis and despite the risks, and they urge them to continue in their concern for “the victims who are suffering injustices.” They state: “We call for personal and legal respect and safety for those who are exercising this worthy service in Venezuela.” In this way, they remind people that the Catholic Church is committed to helping those most in need, “acting in accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and humanity” and at the same time they request, “the necessary permission to have access to humanitarian aid as a means of mitigating the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable of the people. Caritas Venezuela and the various other social support institutions of the Church which have a wider outreach throughout the national territory commit themselves to continuing the service we have been providing, with equity, inclusivity, transparency and effectiveness.”

The communiqué ends with a call for prayer on Sunday, February 10th in “every church, every home and every community, calling on the Lord to grant us peace, reconciliation, liberty and health of body and spirit.”

An unprecedented situation

The current political situation in Venezuela is the result of the presidential elections held in May 2018 which, according to the official government version, were won by the current President Nicolas Maduro, but which were widely qualified as “illegitimate” by the majority of countries in the international community. It includes other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia, as well as Canada, Spain and the United States. They base their decision on accounts of numerous irregularities in the way in which elections were held.

Hence, given the illegitimate nature of the elections, President Maduro would thereby cease to be the legitimate president as at the conclusion of his previous mandate, on 10 January, and therefore no longer be recognized as President of the Republic.

Instead, and in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, the acting president of Venezuela would be the president of the National Assembly of the country, who in this case is Juan Gerardo Guaidó. And so, on 11 January 2019, Guaidó announced that he would be invoking article 233 of the Constitution and calling new national elections, and on 23 January he was sworn in as acting president of Venezuela.

 

PLEASE, on Sunday, February 10th, please pray for the People of Venezuela! 


 

ACN Feature Story from Syria – The new “Nazarenes” of the Valley of the Christians

12.10.2018 in ACN Feature, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Josué Villalón

Syria

The new “Nazarenes” of the Valley of the Christians

 

Emergency support in the Valley of Christians, Marmarita, Governorate of Homs. Medication prescriptions and renting houses.December 2015 – May 2016

Working through the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, the international Catholic pastoral and pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is helping thousands of displaced Syrians each month.

 

Nasra is one of the 20 or more villages belonging to the region known as the Valley of the Christians (Wadi Al-Nasara, in Arabic). The word Nasra literally means “Nazarene”, the word used throughout the Arab and Muslim world to refer to Christians. For several years now around a hundred refugee families have been living in this little village, having fled here from other parts of Syria to escape the war. The Mussa family is just one of these families, the new “Nazarenes” of the Valley of the Christians.

 

Marwan Mussa is the father of the family. “We were forced to flee from Homs, where we were living, because the bombing was getting closer and closer to our quarter of the city. The noise of the bombing and the shelling was shattering. We did not know whether from one day to the next we would die in these attacks, as had already happened to some of our neighbours,” he explains. And so, they decided to leave for the Valley of the Christians which was just an hour’s drive away and where things were safer. They managed to find a small apartment where they could live for the time being until the fighting ended.

 

Nahila, Gabi and Marwan Mussa

However, the war continued and the Mussa family have now been living in Nasra for over five years. “I used to work as a bricklayer, but now I am helping in a bakery, although I do not earn enough to support us all,” Marwan adds. His family is one of the more than 350 receiving support from the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in the Melkite Catholic parish of Saint Peter’s in the nearby village of Marmarita. “The Church has literally saved our lives, if it were not for the Church we wouldn’t be here.”

 

One day, nine months earlier, Marwan was working in an orchard near his house when he suddenly collapsed, unconscious. His son Gabi managed to pick him up and take him to the health centre in the village. From there they took him to the hospital in Tartus, on the coast, more than an hour away by car. “I felt an intense pain in my chest,” Marwan explains to a visiting group from ACN. The diagnosis was a serious one: he had had a severe heart attack. However, they were unable to treat him in the hospital in Tartus, so they sent him to a hospital in Homs, another two hours round trip.

 

“The doctors told me it was a miracle I had survived the operation, since my arteries were 90% obstructed. They inserted stents, and now I feel quite well, although I have to be careful not to over exert myself.”Marwan is continuing his treatment and regularly goes for checkups to Mzeina Hospital, also located in the Valley of the Christians.

 

“My wife, Nahila, is also undergoing treatment there for cancer,” says Marwan. All the medication and the medical care she receives are being supplied by ACN, via the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita. “We are extremely grateful for this help. We knew that many people from different countries were sending help for the centre here. We also want to thank the team of volunteers at Saint Peter’s for accompanying and helping us in our most urgent need,” he adds.

 

Syria, Marmarita, January 2016 In the pharmacy collecting the medicine and stamping the prescriptions of those in need.

Nahila Murad, his wife and the mother of their family, has a gaze of crystalline clarity. She nods in agreement with every word spoken by her husband. “I have bowel cancer. They are helping us to pay for my treatment. When the doctors discovered my tumor they didn’t hold out much hope for me. But I am a woman of strong faith and so I told them to go ahead and operate on me, and now I am feeling better.” They both assured us that they do not know how to thank ACN for the 130 dollars they receive each month to pay for their medication and consultations.

The faith of these true “Nazarenes” is apparent. Nahila tells us how the worst moment they experienced was when they told her that her other son Dani was missing. “We had to get through two years without hearing anything about him. We thought he must have been killed on the front. But then a month ago he came to see us and it was like a fresh miracle of God here in our house.” Dani told them that he had always kept a small Bible close by, from which he read a passage every day. “He never departed from the Word of God, and now we know that the Lord did not abandon him either,” she explains.

 

Through the intermediary of the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provides monthly help to hundreds of displaced Christian families throughout the region of the Valley of the Christians in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. The monthly aid of 50,000 dollars provided by the charity helps to cover the cost of surgical operations, medication and other forms of medical treatment and aid, including examinations, wheelchairs and spectacles.

 

Emergency Financial Support in the Valley of Christians: Health Care – July/December 2018 286.800 € ($433,068 CAN)