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ACN International

 

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 News: Aid to the Church in Need to receive the 2019 Path to Peace Award

13.05.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, By Joop Koopman

New York

Aid to the Church in Need to receive the 2019 Path to Peace Award

NEW YORK/KÖNIGSTEIN/Montreal —Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and president of the Path to Peace Foundation, has announced that Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be the 2019 recipient of the Path to Peace Award.

by Joop Koopman, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for Canada
Published on the web – May 13, 2019
 

 

Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN International will be accepting the Award at the annual Path to Peace Gala Dinner May 22, 2019 in New York. “To receive this outstanding Award is a great honor for Aid to the Church in Need,” said he. He added: “It is an eminent recognition of the worldwide bridge of love built by the generosity of our benefactors and the suffering and persecuted Church.” The Holy See Mission said it has chosen to honour the international pontifical charity in recognition of its humanitarian and pastoral support of persecuted Christians.

 

 

Recognition during a particularly dark year

“I am, of course, very happy our organization is receiving such an exceptional award for its work,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada.  This prize has arrived at a good time for since early 2019, we seem to be in the midst of one of the worst years where the persecution of Christians in concerned.”

In a recent article—which can be found on the ACN Canada website)—Mr. Heine-Geldern recalled the four major attacks against Christians already taken place this year such as the recent attack in Sri Lanka killing 268 people, mainly people attending Easter Mass, and injuring another 500.  “Aid to the Church in Need fights day after day to support these local churches and, to share information about them as well,” states Mrs. Lalonde.  “Religious freedom, which a great number of them do not enjoy, is a fundamental freedom inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.  This tribute we are being awarded invites us at ACN to continue working with the greatest diligence.

The Path to Peace Foundation supports various aspects of the work of the Holy See Mission to the UN. The Foundation also funds humanitarian projects in developing countries.

Previous recipients of the Path to Peace Award include: Cardinal Mario Zenari, papal nuncio to Syria; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus; and Queen Sofia of Spain.

Founded in 1947 by a young Dutch Norbertine Priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten (1903 -2003), to help meet the needs of refugees and displaced people in post-World War II Germany, ACN supports more than 5,000 projects each year in more than 140 countries.  These projects include the construction of churches and chapels; support for the training of seminarians, men and women religious as well as lay catechists; emergency aid; and transportation for clergy and religious.

 

Last year, ACN benefactors gave over 150 million in aid. Since 2011, ACN has provided more than 105 million to support Syrian and Iraqi Christians threatened by ISIS and other Islamist groups, ensuring the survival of Christianity in the region.

The Path to Peace Gala Dinner will be held from 6PM-10PM on May 22, 2019 in Manhattan.

ACN Feature Story: Pakistani government-run schools – harsh environment for Christians

10.05.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Pakistan

Pakistan

Government-run schools are a harsh environment for Christians

NOMAN is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith. Here is Noman’s story:

by Tabassum Yousaf,  for ACN International

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian.

No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

 

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall, because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

 

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities, so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives. Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”

ACN Project of the Week – Supporting the family apostolate in Papua New Guinea

08.05.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Family Apostolate, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea 

Support for the family apostolate in the diocese of Wabag

Papua New Guinea is the largest and most populous country in Oceania. It also has one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet as well as the most diversity of human societies and cultures, with a total of some 830 different spoken languages.

Most of its 5 million inhabitants follow Christianity today, and roughly half of these are Catholics – though Christianity was in many cases introduced only a few generations ago and is in some cases not deeply rooted in the culture.

Many people in Papua New Guinea have found it difficult to adjust to the extremely rapid social developments associated with the modern information age, while the State in many regions seems unable to fulfill even its most basic duties. The consequences have included a sense of social uprootedness, extensive crime, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence and child abuse. The Church is therefore focusing very much upon the family apostolate, since this is the only way to bring about improvement.

In the diocese of Wabag, the work with families is likewise a major priority. Conditions are difficult, however. The diocese is poor and many of the priests also have to support themselves by growing their own food, in addition to carrying out their priestly duties. Most of the faithful live in remote and inaccessible mountain regions, and the parishes are vast, with numerous outstations, while the roads are often nearly impassable. In order to be able to reach as many of the Catholic faithful as possible, there are 13 diocesan committees which operate pastoral and social activities in the parishes, thereby covering almost every area of social life.

Training is also offered to members of the laity that they in turn can carry on the same work independently later on. Along with all this work, the improvement of the practical living circumstances of the people goes hand in hand to deepen and strengthen their faith. ACN has committed to supporting this extensive pastoral outreach program for a period of three years. Our contribution for this year is $45,000.


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ACN Project of the Week: Support for Catholic radio in Lithuania

24.04.2019 in ACN, ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Lithuania, MEDIA, Radio

Lithuania

Support for the Catholic radio station: Mazoji Studija

Since 1993, ACN has been supporting the Mazoji Studija Catholic radio station in Vilnius. The name means “Little Studio.” But though little, it is an important and precious instrument of evangelization in the country and a very dear one to the Lithuanian bishops‘ hearts. Its work is of great importance to the Church in Lithuania.

Lithuania is in fact the only country of the former Soviet Union that is overwhelmingly Catholic (80% of the population). Hence this Catholic radio station is widely welcomed and listened to, as the abundant positive feedback from its listeners testifies. Indeed, its programs are enjoyed and appreciated even by people who have never had any contact with the Church before and such Christian radio broadcasts are an excellent means of introducing such people to the faith and encouraging them to reflect on it. It allows them to ask questions and find answers and so take a growing interest, even without ever setting foot inside a church or speaking to a priest. But for Catholic believers alike, the radio broadcasts from Mazoji Studija are a welcome source of information, allowing them to learn more about their faith and enter more deeply into the life of the Church. Furthermore, for the sick, the elderly and housebound these radio broadcasts are a special comfort and consolation.

ACN regularly supports the work of Radio Mazoji Studija. Again this year, thanks to our donors, we will with a contribute 22,500 dollars to support this worthy project.

Sri Lanka faces “a crime against humanity”

23.04.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Easter morning suicide bombings of churches, hotels in Sri Lanka are a “crime against humanity,” Said Bishop Chilaw to pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need. Suicide bombers hit three churches and hotels in coordinated, near simultaneous, attacks Easter morning that left 290 people dead, while wounding an estimated 500 more.

Text by Joop Koopman, ACN International
English revision for Canada : Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published on-line : April 23, 2019

The series of bombings began at approximately 8.45AM in the capital of Colombo with an explosion at St. Anthony Shrine, a historic church designated as the country’s national shrine. It is the country’s best-known Catholic church. Within about 45 minutes, a second Catholic church was hit, St. Sebastian’s, in Negomba, some 20 miles up the country’s western coast from Colombo. Subsequently, a bomb exploded at the Protestant Zion Church in Batticaloa, on the eastern coast.

During the same time period, there were explosions at three upscale hotels in Colombo that are popular with Westerners. There are several dozen foreigners among the dead. There are reports of two additional explosions in Colombo.

Reached by telephone, Bishop Warnakulasuriya Devsritha Valence Mendis of Chilaw told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he condemned “the brutal attack, these acts of absolute violence that we cannot understand.” The bishop said the bombings were “totally unexpected” and that the country had been enjoying peaceful relations among the different faiths.

Buddhists account for 70 percent of the country’s population of 21 million; 13 percent are Hindus, with Christians making up some 10 percent. Sri Lankan Catholics number 1.3 million.

Most Catholics live in the western, coastal part of the country. “The area has many churches,” said Bishop Mendis, adding that St. Anthony’s Shrine attracts “people of all faiths,” with thousands of people visiting the shrine every day.

No group has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks, but there are some reports that Sri Lankan security officials had received warnings that there was a threat to churches, linked to the return to Sri Lanka of ISIS fighters. Indian officials said the coordinated explosions targeting crowded urban settings are typical of the terror method of ISIS.

Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass Easter Sunday, called the bombings “horrendous” and conveyed his “heartfelt closeness to the Christian community, attacked while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such a cruel act of violence.” Secretary General to the UN, Antonio Guterres,also condemned the bombings and expressed his hope that the aggressors be “quickly brought to justice.”

In Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist country, Christianity is minority religious group representing barely 9 percent of the country’s population.  Catholics are about 7 percent of the population.  Meanwhile, this percentage is higher in some regions, such as the capital city of Colombo, or the Western coastal region.

Noting that people of various faiths died in the attacks on the hotels, Bishop Mendis labeled the terrorist strikes “a crime against humanity.” “Our Easter joy was taken away from us,” he said and Easter Sunday “became a day of mourning.” The bishop expressed confidence that “our people will face the future with courage and faith.”

In a message to ACN donors, Bishop Mendis said that “we need your prayers that peace and harmony may be restored to our country.” He concluded: “As an act of solidarity, we must pray for all Christians who are suffering because of their faith.”

Are you inspired by this text? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Help to Sri Lanka.

ACN Interview: Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference

18.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN PRESS, By Maria Lozano, Dalits, India, Peace, Persecution of Christians

INDIA

Rise in violent attacks against Christian minorities

 

India has just begun its electoral process, which will take place in seven separate stages between April 11 and 19 May this year. Fears that this, the most populous democracy in the world, might end up becoming a theocratic Hindu nation have strengthened recently, in light of the fact that the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) and its president Narendra Modi are seeking a second mandate. During its present term in office there has been an increase in interreligious violence, according to the report on Religious Freedom Worldwide by the international Catholic Pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The figures speak for themselves: in 2016 a total of 86 people were killed and 2371 injured in 703 separate incidents of sectarian (Hindu fundamentalist) violence; in 2017 the figures were 111 killed and 2384 wounded in 822 separate reported incidents.

 

The most recent attack –  March 26 – took place in Tamil Nadu against a Catholic school, the Little Flower Higher Secondary School in Chinnasalem, when a crowd of Hindu fundamentalists smashed up the school and even attempted to strangle the religious sisters who were running the school. ACN journalist Maria Lozano interviewed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference and asked him about the elections and the gravity of this recent incident.

 

Interview with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, 12.04.2019
by Maria Lozano
Published by ACN Canada April 18, 2019

ACN: We have heard of the increase in attacks by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities in other parts of India, especially in the north of the country, but the brutal violence of this recent incident has shocked us. Was there any particular reason for the attack?

Over the last year or so there has been a rise in fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu. Above all it has been the evangelical or Protestant so-called “house churches” that have complained of these attacks. There is an activist, who publishes on the web stories of groups of Christians being beaten up while praying in their house churches or some little church structure destroyed. But as the Catholic Church we have not had this type of open attack until this time, at least not such a big one, we have had small, small things. Two years ago there was a Good Friday incident; a mob did not allow us to worship in one place.  So we have had incidents here and there. But the Protestant churches or Protestant groups or these smaller denominations have had a lot of problems over the last two years. So it did not come to me as a surprise that eventually we would be attacked. But that it took place on such a large scale is really frightening.

 

ACN: It must also have been an enormous shock for the sisters of the Franciscan Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have been running the school for 74 years now. What is the present situation in Chinnasalem? And how are the sisters faring?

 

It is a small town. And the sisters have been doing a lot of this work for very, very poor children. And in fact the hostel, the boarding school can take girls who come from very poor areas and poor families.

 

I spoke to the Sisters a few days ago and I spoke to the Archbishop also, and they say for the moment that some people have been arrested and we are waiting for some more people to be arrested. But for me it is not what happens after the incident. For me the whole thing we have to question is how such incidents can even come about in a civilized society.

 

ACN: But apart from the incident itself and notwithstanding the gravity of it, are you concerned about the social dimension that this kind of attack implies?

How is so much hatred being spread in society and how can we stop this hatred being propagated – that is exactly the question. There are groups that are promoting hatred and these groups are not being stopped, neither in social media nor in actual life, and they seem to be getting political privilege, patronage, and that is my worry, even political authorization, and that is my problem. It is not that these small groups make demands against us or make charges against us or accuse us. The problem is that political leaders are actually encouraging them.

 

ACN: Do you think this increase in incidents in the last year is also related to the elections?

It might be related to the elections but I think it is going long-term now. I have a very simple philosophy on this. Once you plant the seed of hatred, once you bring the beast, the animal of anger, hatred, violence, that animal cannot be controlled. And this is my worry. All those who are spreading this hatred must know what harm they are doing to society and that it will become difficult to bring back things under control; and if it cannot be brought back under control we will have a problem.

 

ACN: But this problem is already damaging especially to the minorities in India…

Yes, it is the minorities, but today I was just thinking of that beautiful poem attributed to a German Lutheran pastor: ‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’ So we use this now today because first you start with one minority and then the second. the Muslims are under attack, the dalits are under attack and we are under attack, we don’t know who next.

 

ACN: Does that mean then that in the end this nationalist fundamentalism which the political leaders are promoting will actually damage the whole country?

We must say one thing in all fairness. A large Hindu majority, and a large Indian majority of whatever religion we belong to, we are tolerant, we accept each other, and we live with each other, we have been living for thousands of years together, this is a multi-cultural, multi-religious diverse society, and we’ve been living with each other and enriching each other. Now we suddenly come to a situation where certain groups are getting strong and spreading this hatred around and that is not acceptable, because eventually it is the nation that is going to suffer from this. Not just the minorities.

 

ACN: Is India heading towards becoming a theocratic nation like Pakistan?

In 1947 two countries were born, Pakistan and India. Pakistan decided that it would be a country founded on a religion, Islam; our founding fathers in India decided we would not be based on any religion or any one culture but we would be multi-cultural, pluri-religious and with diverse languages and regions. And the country has lived peacefully after that.

 

ACN: But who are these new people who want to change what the founding fathers decided, and why? 

These are certain fundamentalist groups which come up in every society and fundamentalist groups always damage society. But when they start getting overt or covert support from the others then they become dangerous.

ACN: What has been the reaction of the Christian community on hearing this news? Surely these incidents must make them feel very frightened?

We as Christians, we trust in the Lord, we are not afraid. When I asked the Sisters ‘Are you afraid?’ they said ‘No, we shall continue our work.’ I think that is our spirit, we shall continue our work, we will not be afraid of anyone. We think of Jesus who told us ‘Be afraid of the one who can take care of your soul rather than those who can destroy your body.’ So that is our basic principle. I don’t think anyone is frightened and we will go ahead with our work, we will continue serving the poorest of the poor. We know that this will bring us difficulties, this will bring us persecution, and this will bring us even hardships, but we will continue doing our work for the poor, for God and for Jesus.

 

ACN: One last question: do you believe that it is precisely the fact that you are working with the poorest and most socially discriminated against is one of the reason why some people don’t seem to like the work of the Church?

We have a saying in my own local language Konkani: ‘Stones are thrown only at a tree that bears fruit’. You don’t throw stones at a useless tree, only at a tree that bears fruit. So I think that one of the reasons we are under attack is that we are serving the poor, somebody does not like that we are serving the poor and this I believe is the real reason why the fundamentalists do not like us.

 

 

 

 

ACN Feature Story: Nicaragua – A Church supporting its people 

16.04.2019 in ACN, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Ines San Martin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Nicaragua

Nicaragua: A Church supporting its people

“We are carrying a small corner of the cross of Christ. We cannot carry it all. It is He who is helping us.”

by Ines San Martin , ACN International
Revised by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Posted April 16, 2019

Nicaragua today is a country trapped between two identities: on the one side it is a nation led by a government that in many respects continues a long history of dictatorship, as typified by the Somoza dynasty, which governed the country for almost 6 decades during the 20th century.

On the other hand, it is also a country whose people have said “enough.” A people who have woken up from their stupor and now wish to move forward, with a Catholic Church led by ten bishops who have no fear of shepherding their flock and being a Church that goes out to the margins, as Pope Francis keeps asking, and which opens the doors of its cathedrals in order to be, quite literally, a field hospital. A Church without political banners and which makes no distinctions in caring for the wounded, supporting those who suffer and feeding their hunger, both physical and spiritual.

“They stepped up at a difficult moment… When the people were suffering greatly, because they were afraid to go out into the streets,” says one priest from the diocese of Matagalpa – who for reasons of security prefers to remain anonymous. He is speaking to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which visited the country at the end of November 2018 to express its support and solidarity with the situation in which the country finds itself.

A population in distress

Despite the posters in the city, which boast of a Matagalpa that is “Christian, socialist, in solidarity,” the tension is palpable, with police and paramilitaries on the streets to dissuade the civil population from organizing protests, although these, for the most part, have been peaceful. The protests began in April 2018, but in the case of Matagalpa, the government forces have even prohibited a group of women from honouring the memory of their children, who were murdered in the civil-war in a march that they have done regularly for almost 20 years.

“I am one of the lucky ones. Many priests have been forced to flee,” our friend tells us. “But we cannot remain unmoved when people burst in during Mass because they are killing them. Because the army and police aren’t throwing sweets at them. They are shooting to kill, aiming at people’s heads, their backs and their chests.”

“The Gospel teaches us that we must open our doors to those who are persecuted, and this is what we did. Our churches were turned into refuges, not into opposition planning centres, as the government claims to believe.”

This is a priest who knows what he’s talking about. On May 15, 2018, in a car belonging to the diocese and known as “the ambulance,” he rescued 19 wounded demonstrators who had been hit by army AK-47s bullets. By government order, the public hospitals were forbidden to help the wounded, the majority of whom were university students.

“During those days, the people on our church benches were not listening to the Gospel, they were living it,” he told us with emotion.

The Church defends the right to peaceful protest

From September onwards, and with help from various international organizations, the diocesan church opened five pastoral Human Rights offices providing support to families who lost children during the demonstrations, and to those who are still persecuted today for having protested. Around 50 are still imprisoned without trial, and hundreds have “disappeared,” while an estimated 30,000 or so have gone into exile in Costa Rica, and many more into other countries.

“They accuse us of hiding weapons, but we have never done so,” the priest tells us. “Our only weapon has been Jesus in the Eucharist.”

The number of people who today depend on the Church for their survival has tripled since the month of April.

“We are carrying a small corner of the Cross of Christ,” he tells us. “We cannot carry it all. It is He who is helping us.”

The situation of the bishops and of many religious in Nicaragua is far from easy. Their act of opening the doors of churches to care for the wounded, both students and police, and their willingness to be involved in a failed process of national dialogue, has resulted in many being branded by official sources as “coup plotters” and “terrorists.”

One of these is Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the Archbishop of Managua, the capital of the country. Despite the difficulties, he has lost neither his smile nor his faith. But despite his smile, Brenes cannot hide his concern for the future of Nicaragua, a country that has lived through enough revolutions to know that many of the grandiloquent ideas that convince the masses, sooner or later end up being destroyed by the abuses of power of the few.

The last revolution began on 18 April, although many people in Nicaragua agree that in reality it was no more than the “matchstick that ignited the bonfire that had been building up a long time previously.”

“The Church is accompanying the process of dialogue that was initiated after the protests, but as a service to the country,” Brenes insists. “We are not interested in power, but in supporting the efforts for peace, without looking for any personal benefit other than the good of the country. When the clashes took place between the government forces and the demonstrators, we defended all sides.”

More than once, the Cardinal was forced to mediate between the government and the protesters, both in order to rescue police officers who had been captured in the crush, and to prevent the soldiers from shooting on the students.

“We never asked anyone what side they were on, we simply helped all those who asked our aid,” he told us, though he did acknowledge that they could have denounced the use of violence on the part of some of the demonstrators.

“Both sides were violent at times, but the government made disproportionate use of violence,” he said. “The riot police had rifles, whereas the young demonstrators had catapults and home-made petrol bombs.”

 

Praying the Rosary to bring peace

The challenge now is to work for national reconciliation; something he knows will take generations and cannot be achieved overnight. “But we have to lay the groundwork for this reconciliation.”

Despite the challenges, Brenes chooses to cling to his faith rather than lose hope, more than ever convinced of the prophetic words of Pope Pius XII, who said, “Give me an army of people who pray the Rosary every day, and we will change the world.”

“I pray the Rosary every day: the first mystery for Nicaragua, the second for the conversion of those in government, the third for the mothers who have lost their children, or have them in prison, the fourth for the political prisoners, and the fifth for the clergy.

We believe that faith can move mountains, and the prayer of the Rosary can convert hearts and move them to a true reconciliation that will care for the wounded hearts and seek the good of everyone,” the Cardinal concluded. “And you, will you pray for Nicaragua?”

An ACN Interview – Archbishop Petros Mouche of Iraq

12.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, CONSTRUCTION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Persecution of Christians

Iraq longs for better times for its Church and its people

Archbishop Petros Mouche heads the Syriac-Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which was captured by ISIS in the summer of 2014. Today, with ISIS ousted from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, Christian communities are slowly coming back to life. Thousands of Iraqi faithful, having spent upwards of three years in exile in Kurdistan, have resettled in their former homes, villages and towns. In an interview with the pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Mouche—who also oversees the Syriac-Catholic Church in Kirkuk and Kurdistan—takes stock of the situation:

by Ragheb Elias Karash, for ACN International

Positive change has occurred in our region—no one can deny it. Things may not yet be at the required level, but there are very clear and concrete signs of progress. But no credit goes to the state: credit belongs to the faith-based and humanitarian organizations that rushed in to support us.

However, we still lack the funds to complete the reconstruction of all the homes that were very badly damaged or completely destroyed; we are waiting and hoping that governments, like those of the United Kingdom and Hungary, will step in and help us on this front.

Problems will not end so long as greed prevails

As for the creation of jobs, there are very few initiatives; we have made many requests to several American, British, French and even Saudi Arabian companies to launch some major projects in the region, so that our people can survive and especially our young people can find work—but we are still waiting. The Iraqi government has made many promises, but few projects have been implemented. Our confidence in the state is low. We are convinced that, offered the right opportunities, many of our people would return to Qaraqosh—if they could live there in peace and stability.

The problems will not end as long as greed prevails; when only the strong prevail and the rights of the poor are crushed; as long as the state is still weak and the law is not applied. But our hope is in God and we pray that ISIS will never return. For their safety and overall well-being, Christians depend on the rule of law and the integrity of government—that is what can guarantee safety for us and the Church.

There is not one specific and well-known party with plans to attack Christians; however, whoever has ambitions to grab our land loses the sense of citizenship and does not respect the rights of others. Such parties don’t even feel comfortable with our survival and ongoing presence.

There are many goodwill visits by official delegations and many good words are spoken—but nothing happens. Good intentions are not enough. On the part of some, there is not sufficient respect for our rights; and Christians do not use violence to defend themselves, but appeal to mutual respect. But if that is not answered in kind, more and more Christians will emigrate. This hurts all of us, who love this land, our history, our civilization and our heritage.

The Church as a whole—its bishops, pastors and laity—is sparing no effort to claim the rights of its people and to secure an area where we can live in dignity and peace. Church leaders do their best to instill confidence and hope in our people, but without forcing anyone to return, stay or be displaced. That decision each family must make for itself, the decision that guarantees its dignity, its future, especially the future of the children.

Here is my message to the Christians who have left Qaraqosh, wherever they may be—still in Iraq, or whether they are already in foreign lands:

Qaraqosh is the mother who has fed you the love of God, the love of the Church and the love of the land; it will remain your mother despite her sadness at your absence; the city is your heart that is still attached to you and its eyes are watching all your steps. It is happy when you are happy, and it is worried about your destiny when you are not happy. Its doors remain open to you. At every moment Qaraqosh is ready to embrace you again—Qaraqosh asks that you remain faithful to the pure milk that it gave you!”

Mgr-Petros-Mouche

Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has been on the forefront of supporting Iraqi Christians with projects totaling more than 40 million dollars, including humanitarian aid for faithful who fled to Kurdistan to escape ISIS, the repair and rebuilding of Christian homes on the Nineveh Plains, and, currently, the reconstruction and repair of Church infrastructure in northern Iraq.

ACN Feature – Burkina Faso: Religious congregation forced to flee

11.04.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Burkina Faso, By Emmanuelle Ollivry, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

Burkina Faso

Sisters forced to flee their convent

  After their hasty departure from Kompienbiga, in the south-east of Burkina Faso, the sisters of the congregation, Sœurs des Campagnes took refuge with the brothers in the male branch of their same congregation, in Pama, back in January 2019 and just before the assassination of Father César Fernandez. Sister Thérèse, the Mother Superior, and Father Soubeiga, the parish priest of Pama, spoke to the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) about the increase in violence which has struck the country, despite the fact that it is generally considered more peaceful than its tumultuous neighbours, Mali and Niger.
 
By Emmanuelle Ollivry for ACN-International Revision for ACN Canada by: Amanda Bridget Griffin

“Either you give us the medicines, or we blow your head off!” was the order given to Father F. Soubeiga, the parish priest of Pama and missionary brother of the congregation Frères Missionnaires des Campagnes. He was describing the threats made back in January 2019 against Sister Victorine, a nurse at the health and social care centre in Kompienbiga and a member of the female branch of his own congregation. “She was working alone at the dispensary. At around four in the afternoon a group of some 8 to 10 individuals, armed and wearing balaclavas, burst in and demanded medical supplies for their wounded comrades. But Sister Victoria did not have access to the pharmacy. So instead they made violent threats against her and smashed up everything in order to help themselves.”

The incident was the last straw for the sisters in Kompienbiga. Coming on top of a succession of other violent incidents, it forced them to finally withdraw and take shelter with the brothers of their congregation, just 15 km away, since they no longer felt safe on their own.

“The tension is growing, and the people are gripped by fear”

“During the night of 14 September 2018, two terrorist attacks took place in the villages of Diabiga and Kompienbiga, respectively 60 km and 15 km from Pama, in the east of the region,” according to the governorate of the region. According to Father Soubeiga, “the violence began in Pama back in March 2017, and there were a string of bomb explosions aimed at the police – at least three or four of them since August 2018.” Sister Therese, who is Mother Superior of the female branch of the congregation, the Soeurs des Campagnes in Kompienbiga, adds, “The tension is growing, especially since August 2018, in Kompienbiga. The attackers regularly come into the villages, round up the population, and shout orders at them. Fear is gripping them.” A little further north, Father Caesar Fernandez was assassinated in February 2019 and on 17 March 2019 Father Joël Yougbaré was “probably abducted by armed individuals,” according to the local Church. And so the sisters have taken refuge with the brothers in Pama, where it is just a little calmer.

The community is scattered

“This is the first time we have had to leave everything in haste like this,” admits Sister Therese, who had been living in Kompienbiga since 2001. “Out of the seven sisters in the community, four have taken shelter in Pama, while three have left the country for Togo, where they are completing their formation. Nobody knows when they will be able to return. It is hard,” she continues. In fact, their priory was established in Kompienbiga 25 years ago. They had established an elementary school in which they were caring for around 40 young children aged between three and six, children who in many cases had been neglected or abandoned. And they had just opened a sewing and dress-making school, where they were planning to teach five young women.

“All we want to do is to go back as soon as possible so that we can continue the work that we began,” insists Sister Therese. “Please pray for us!”

“The Catholics are the most vulnerable”

For now, even in Pama, “where things are calmer,” there is an obligatory curfew. “We are living in a deteriorating climate,” Father Soubeiga confirms. “As Catholics, we are the most vulnerable, because we represent a centralised institution, and thus an easy target. To attack a priest is to inflict harm on an entire territory. The consequences would not be the same for the Protestants or the Muslims, in their more fragmented communities, led by numerous different pastors and local imams.”

 

 

Unable to celebrate the Easter Vigil

As a result, the police have imposed strict security regulations. “Some areas are forbidden to me”, says the parish priest of Pama, sadly. “In January, in the space of two weeks, I had to evacuate all the catechists from Diabiga, Kompenbiga and another village, around 50 miles (78 km) from Pama. As for the immediate future, it’s looking very unlikely that we will even be able to celebrate the Easter Vigil.”

In response to the question as to who is responsible for the criminal armed attacks of recent months, Father Soubeiga is quite candid: “It’s impossible to say. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Some people refer to them as mercenaries, but some of the terrorists are quite clearly from Burkina itself, because they speak the local languages perfectly.”