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ACN Feature

 

Burkina Faso: No stop to terrorism during this pandemic

19.05.2020 in ACN Feature, Africa, Burkina Faso, By Maria Lozano, Persecution of Christians

Burkina Faso

No stop to terrorism during this pandemic

by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published to the web May 19, 2020

The terrorist threat, which has affected five regions of northern and eastern Burkina Faso in particular, has been “eclipsed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to a number of different local sources consulted by the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). For those directly affected by the terrorist attacks, the coronavirus is “a disaster within a disaster” sources told ACN. All those spoken to by the charity, in the three Catholic dioceses of Dori, Kaya and Fada N’Gourma – all of which have been gravely impacted by the consequences of the terrorism – were in agreement that “the gravity of the situation is unchanged, and indeed in some places even worse” than before the pandemic, with almost a million people left homeless and a total absence of any effective response from either the national or the international authorities.

Sheltering thousands of refugees while under daily attacks

In the department of Bourzanga (Central northern region) and Djibo (Sahel region), the attacks are continuing on a daily basis. Entire regions have been cut off – not because of the lockdown resulting from the pandemic, but because of the total insecurity in which they are forced to live. The few still inhabited towns and villages are now sheltering thousands of homeless refugees, yet at the same time they are finding themselves increasingly cut off from the rest of the country.

This is particularly true of the town of Djibo, which has been cut off by the terrorists since mid-January this year (2020). According to ACN’s sources, “there is no transport, no food supplies, no possibility of entering or leaving the town. There is a shortage of water, vehicle fuel and food, frequent electricity cuts and so forth.”

According to the national emergency relief and rehabilitation agency CONASUR (Conseil National de Secours d’Urgence et de Réhabilitation), there are close on 150,000 internally displaced people now living in the provincial capital Djibo, while the town of Arbinda, which is similarly blockaded, is sheltering around 60,000 internally displaced people. These two towns are the last remaining enclaves of life in the province, and the last remaining protective barrier for thousands of people in the face of the terrorist occupation.

 

Water.

One displaced priest, forced from his parish in the diocese of Kaya in the central-northern region, told ACN of a similar situation. “The villages are almost completely deserted. Their entire rhythm of life has been disrupted, although there are still some signs of hope. In my parish, where many people have sought refuge, there are problems in obtaining basic necessities. The crucial problem is always water. It is very difficult to obtain this precious liquid, and this means that the women are forced to return to the neighbouring abandoned villages, with all the risks that implies, since they are under constant threat from the terrorists, in order to try and obtain water and transport it back on their tricycles.”

Again in Kaya region, there are important villages, such as Namisgma and Dablo, which are cut off from the towns which supplied them until now. And after repeated attacks, the terrorists have now established themselves in the large village of Pensa, leaving this small town effectively cut off from the rest of the territory.

A fervent plea for authorities to react

Those involved acknowledge that local and national authorities are fully aware of the crisis suffered by the people. But most of the time their efforts are quickly brought to nothing by a lack of adequate resources. Many people are disappointed that the sheer scale of the tragedy is not understood outside the country itself. “Out of the 75 villages in my parish, there are no more than 10 that are still inhabited. Everyone else has fled. And given that certain key villages have been abandoned, a large part of the territory is now in the hands of the terrorists, outside the control of the state,” explains another priest from the diocese of Kaya, who has also been forced to flee because of the threats made against him in his parish.

Although there are foreign troops present, principally French, many people in Burkina are skeptical and complain that they have seen no resulting response. They also criticize the fact that if their own national army had the same level of equipment and weaponry as the foreign troops, it would be able to respond more effectively.

Both dangers are real

Generally speaking, most people feel helpless in the face of this evil, and “all the more so at this time when all the emphasis is on the coronavirus pandemic, forgetting that this terrorism is causing as many and indeed more victims than Covid-19,” the priest explains.

There are many voices appealing to the authorities to show the same determination and seriousness in doing something to improve the situation of the refugees within its own borders and to fight against terrorism, as it is in conducting the fight against the pandemic. “Both dangers are real. And we are trapped in the middle. It is very difficult to know which is worse. At all events, the consequences are the same; both situations lead to death,” says one of ACN’s project partners in the Fada N’Gourma region who has just been given help to build a security wall around his parish centre after having suffered a number of violent attacks.

For almost 5 years now, Burkina Faso has been struggling with this unprecedented wave of terrorism. In February 2020 a delegation from ACN visited the country to see for itself the problems faced by Christians in the north of the country and to reaffirm the solidarity of the universal Church with its people.

According to the information obtained by ACN during this visit, the number of internally displaced people has reached almost a million. Since last year over 1,000 people have been killed – including Christians, members of traditional African religions, Muslims and members of the Armed Forces. Thirteen priests and 193 community leaders, or pastoral coordinators, have been forced to leave their parishes and take refuge in other parishes that are still safe for the time being. It should be said, finally, that at least eight parishes have had to be closed and seven religious communities belonging to different congregations have had to flee to safer places.

 

 

ACN Feature – Covid19: What will become of Africa?

27.03.2020 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Africa

Central African Republic

“Don’t abandon Africa” – Father Gaetán Kabasha’s dramatic appeal on the Covid-19 epidemic

Letter Father Gaetán Kabasha to the world and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

 Original Portuguese, ACN Portugal
to English, Felipe Bezerra, ACN Canada and adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web March 27,2020

“Do not abandon Africa, remain very attentive and when the complicated situation arrives in these countries, be willing to reach out to help,” asks Father Gaetán Kabasha of all people in the face of the dramatic evolution that Covid 19 may take on this continent of more than a billion souls.

The priest sent a video message to the ACN office in Lisbon, Portugal,  appealing for everyone’s solidarity with the victims of this pandemic. – A native of Rwanda and ordained a priest in the Central African Republic and currently living in Madrid where, as a chaplain at the San Carlos Hospital, Father Gaetán is dealing daily with patients infected with Covid19  “It is very complicated, there are a lot of patients and a lot of stress.”

“If the pandemic cannot be controlled in countries with many economic and health means, I don’t know how it can be controlled if it reaches Africa.”

This experience also allows him to draw a comparison with what may happen in the short term in Africa. He doesn’t hide his concern. “As an African, I am also very concerned about our countries, because if the pandemic cannot be controlled in countries with many economic and health means, I don’t know how it can be controlled if it reaches Africa.”

With the figures being updated almost every hour, it is difficult to understand the scale of this pandemic in Africa, with more than a thousand confirmed cases in about forty countries. But this data can be illusory, Father Gaetán underlines in his message sent to ACN.

“It is true that there are very few cases and that we can still control them, but as we saw here in Europe, everything starts with a case and little by little it grows, multiplying until it gets out of control,” says the chaplain of the Madrid hospital. “It is important for African countries to take action before the situation is too difficult, because really this virus that is transmitted in an incredible way can cause a catastrophe in African countries. I think of the suburbs of big capitals or cities in Africa … ”

 

 

A continent in danger

Father Gaetán, who was in Portugal last November invited by ACN in Portugal, knows like few what suffering, persecution and life means in refugee camps.

The knowledge of this reality leads him to look now at the African continent to conclude that the fight against the coronavirus can be extremely difficult. And he explains why: “Because it is said that people have to isolate themselves and [in Africa] there are people who have nowhere to isolate themselves. There are thousands of people who live on the street, who live day to day and who get something to eat because they go out on the street. If the authorities decide to isolate themselves, these thousands of people will not know where to isolate themselves and, if they find somewhere, they will not be able to survive.”

In the face of this frightening reality, there is hope that scientists will be able to find the solution to the pandemic before it hits the African continent. “We are praying a lot that this situation that I am seeing in Spain, that is happening in Italy and that can happen in other European countries, does not reach Africa before the remedy is discovered,”says Father Gaetán Kabasha.

All around the world, the members of the Catholic Church are actively comforting people most touched by this pandemic.  In many countries Sisters are nurses, they manage the dispensaries, the homes for the elderly and other health related institutions.  Helping them through this crisis means supporting the presence of the Church for the weakest members of society. Aid to the Church in Need around the world will continue to support the Church in every way possible.

Thank you for continuing your support, in any way you find possible.

ACN Feature Story – Senegal Memories and the vision of three bishops

12.03.2020 in ACN Feature, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, By Robert Lalonde, Senegal

ACN Feature Story – Senegal

Memories and the vision of three bishops

By Robert Lalonde for ACN Canada

Translated by Traductions Julie Bourbeau, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Published on the web March 12, 2020

 

During a visit to Senegal, Robert Lalonde, a regular contributor to Aid to the Church in Need, spoke with three bishops who succeeded each other in the Diocese of Kaolack from 1974 to 2020. Rich with 46 years of episcopacy in this diocese, Bishop Martin Boucar Tine, current pastor of the diocese, Bishop Benjamin Ndiaye, current Archbishop of Dakar and pastor of Kaolack from 2001 to 2015, and Bishop Théodore Adrien Sarr, retired cardinal and pastor of the same diocese from 1974 to 2001, shared their experiences with regard to this diocese, but also their vision of the Senegalese Church. 

 

Bishop Théodore Adrien Sarr

“When all is said and done, it’s God’s call.”  

Established in 1965, the Diocese of Kaolack is located in central-western Senegal. Its two million inhabitants include 17,000 Catholics and 200 catechumens. The number of faithful has been growing steadily since 1860, the year the first missionaries arrived.

In 1974, Bishop Sarr took over, continuing the missionary work already accomplished. His episcopate is dedicated to the deepening of the faith and the development of social works, for a diocesan Church “at the service of every man and of the whole man,” he said.  In 2001, his successor, Bishop Ndiaye, consolidated all that concerns the field of faith through, among other things, the strengthening of the pastoral care of proximity with the establishment of new religious communities and the organization of a Eucharistic and Marian Congress.

 

“I have become all things to all people” 1 Corinthians 9:22

These first years of work established a diocesan pastoral care in 18 parishes spread over four deaneries1 It should be noted that certain structures support the work of evangelization of the parishes, ensuring the humanitarian and spiritual objectives pursued by the Senegalese Church.

 

First of all, in terms of humanitarianism, the Direction des Œuvres is the hub of the lay apostolate. It periodically hosts several organizations, including the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, the Young Catholic Workers, the Young Catholic Students, the Rural Adult Catholic Movement and a few others.

It also coordinates the Kingdom of Childhood, born of a pastoral initiative by Bishop Ndiaye. This diocesan centre aims to offer children, many of whom come from the streets, a healthy environment in which they can blossom and develop, while respecting their abilities. Social ministry is also animated by the Association des Postes de Santé Catholiques, (Association of Catholic Healthcare positions) a centre for disabled children run by the Sisters of the Communauté de la Providence de Lisieux, the Association for the Promotion of Women and the Direction de l’Enseignement Catholique (Direction of Catholic Education). The Church has always paid particular attention to this association, convinced that education is the basis for the socialization of man.

 

Next comes the diocesan “spiritual pole” called “Keur Mariama”. This is made up of several structures which are constantly growing in size. Through these, we see four Church realities that give life to Keur Mariama, according to the charism of each one and within the framework of a collaboration dictated by the needs of the various pastoral missions. Thus we find the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at the Shrine, the diocesan priests in training for the priesthood at St. Paul’s Propaedeutic Seminary, the Carmelite Brothers in spiritual formation and pastoral animation, to conclude with the Carmelite missionary Teresian nuns for the dispensary and the promotion of women.

 

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is a place of pilgrimage and renewal with Mary, each year welcoming the children’s pilgrimage for the Epiphany and the diocesan Marian pilgrimage in May. Last January, they hosted the first edition of the pilgrimage of catechists from Senegal: about 4,500 catechists responded to the call!

 

The commitment shown by the establishment of these structures, ensuring that their objectives are also humanitarian and the closeness of the laity to the various institutions of the Church, demonstrate the importance the clergy gives to projects affecting not only Catholics but civil society as well.

 

In this regard, the three bishops recall in unison that when the time comes to justify the  the engagement of the Church in projects affecting not only Catholics but also civil society, the three bishops recall in unison the words of Christ when He judges men by their love for the unfortunate: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me! ”  Matthew 25:35-36

 

Bishop Benjamin Ndiaye

Isn’t my relationship with my neighbour where I should verify the incarnation and rootedness of charity? Smiling, Bishop Ndiaye said that he sometimes tells the Christians around him that “charity is the passport to heaven.” However, since faith without deeds is dead faith, it is often through the challenges to be met that the intensity of this faith can be measured. But what are these challenges?

 

Challenges to be met

“As demographic progression is rather significant and is reflected in the physiognomy of our community, the first challenge to be taken up,” says Bishop Ndiaye, “is that of building places of worship and even creating new parishes. Unfortunately, on our own, we are unable to meet this challenge.”

 

The second is that of young people who lack prospects for the future: “Even if some of them have received training, they don’t necessarily manage to find work,” explains the Archbishop of Dakar. “The Senegalese Christian is a man of duty, but he doesn’t fight in the arena to take his place. Sometimes I wonder if he is not preaching a false sense of humility. Jesus asks us to have ambition. Didn’t he give us talents to display? I question the strategy that should be employed to unblock this situation. There is certainly a catechesis to be transmitted on commitment in order to take better care of one’s life.”

The Archbishop expressed his gratitude to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by recalling some of the projects for which the diocese has received support: the training of priests, a vehicle for a parish and, more recently, Mass intentions that allow for the priests who are in the bush to be taken care of.

 

Msgr Martin Boucar Tine

“But you know, in spite of all our expectations and with my experience in the diocese of Kaolack which was built with few means, there are people who have helped me throughout my episcopate. This has the advantage of showing that, in the end, it is God who decides to do it anyway, and in His own way.”

 

For his part, the current bishop, Bishop Tine, after first expressing his gratitude to the benefactors of ACN for the booklets on the Rosary obtained at the end of the year, then concluded in these terms: “Now 55 years old, the diocese has reached a certain maturity and with the help of the pillars that surround me, we will continue our mission as servants in the following of Christ.”

 

  1. A deanery is an administrative district that includes several parishes.

 

 

 

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.