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ACN International

 

ACN News, Cameroon: Boko Haram – “ the beast of the Apocalypse”

27.01.2020 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Cameroon, Nigeria

Cameroon

Boko Haram – “ the beast of the Apocalypse”

The toll of daily attacks on Cameroon’s villages bordering on Nigeria

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted for ACN Canada by Mario Bard and Amanda Griffin

Published on the web January 27, 2020

 

Boko Haram is like the beast of the Apocalypse, or a many-headed Hydra; whenever you cut off one of its heads, it simply seems to grow another,” says Bishop Bruno Ateba of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo in northern Cameroon, while speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).

 

Nearing the end of 2015, the Nigerian government announced that the terrorist group called Boko Haram – born in Nigeria in 2002 and radicalized in 2009 – had finally been defeated.

However, according to information received by ACN, there is every indication that the group has simply shifted its sphere of operations to the more rural areas of Nigeria and even extended it into the border regions of Cameroon and Lake Chad. “In the villages of Borno State in Nigeria, and throughout the border regions of Cameroon, not a day passes without news of attacks and incursions by the terrorists. The abductions and executions of the country-people have become a veritable reign of terror and a source of deep psychosis among the population,” Bishop Bruno insists.

Since just after this past Christmas, a video has publicly circulated showing the beheading of 11 people in Nigeria. Responsibility for this atrocity has been claimed by the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), one of the two factions into which Boko Haram split in 2016.

At almost the same time, Bishop Barthélemy Yaouda Hourgo of Yaouga in Cameroon, native to a village close to the Nigeria border, wrote the following alarming message to ACN: “My birthplace, the village of Blablim, no longer exists! The terrorists have murdered a young man of my family and totally devastated the entire village, including the house I was born in. Everybody, with the exception of the sick and elderly, was forced to flee to Mora, 10 miles (17 km) away. It will be impossible now to gather in the cotton harvest. Right now the weather is very cold in this area. Please pray for all those who are having to sleep outside in the inclement weather at this time the year.”

 

Terrorism, or organized crime?

Destruction, pillaging, robbery and kidnappings are the hallmarks of this terrorist group’s activity. According to senior figures in the Nigerian army, the jihadist Islamic group has lost its power and broken up into organized criminal gangs. Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, the current Chief of Staff of the Nigerian army, indicated on September 19, 2019 that “the mode of operation of these elements is pure criminality for personal gain. It is common knowledge that the criminals no longer pretend to be championing any cause other than the quest for materialism as manifested in murder and terror of hapless people.”

At the same time, he urged the Nigerian people to refrain from “glorifying these criminals by calling them by any name other than “criminals” “rapists” “kidnappers” “armed robbers” and “murderers.”

According to the data from the Nigeria Security Tracker, although more than 36,000 people have died since 2012 as a result of these conflicts, including civilians, soldiers and terrorists, the number of victims in Nigeria has now fallen sharply, in comparison with the horrific numbers recorded in 2014 and 2015.

This positive result has been due in part to the defensive efforts of the multi-national military forces, which in addition to the Nigerian army include also those of Cameroon, Niger and Chad. According to the independent International Crisis Group, in Cameroon alone an army of over 7,000 soldiers was deployed during two important military operations, including units of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), an elite army corp.

 

A more violent beast re-emerges

Nevertheless, although in recent years these Armed Forces have effectively prevented the conventional attacks previously launched by Boko Haram, they have not succeeded in cutting off the movement at its roots; instead it appears that a new generation of militants is now posing a fresh threat. “The poverty and insecurity faced by people in the rural areas and the lack of prospects for young people makes them an easy target for manipulation by the jihadists,” Bishop Ateba confirms.

According to data supplied by Human Rights Watch, the conflict between Boko Haram and the international armed forces has led to the displacement of over 270,000 people within the country since 2014. The armed Islamist Boko Haram group apparently carried out over 100 attacks in Cameroon during 2019, killing more than a hundred civilians.

“Just at the moment when people thought that the beast of Boko Haram had been completely decapitated, the horror has resurfaced in northern Cameroon. Within my own diocese there have been 13 attacks in the last weeks. One church was burnt down on the feast of the Epiphany. We are still investigating who was behind the incident, but everything points to a terrorist attack,” Bishop Bruno explains.

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.

ACN Project of the Week – Post flooding, Malawi receives help from ACN

09.10.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Emergency Aid, Malawi

Malawi

 

Mission accomplished! Emergency aid following severe flooding

 

In March 2019 many areas of southern Malawi– a country located on the border between southern Africa and East Africa— were struck by torrential rainfall which continued for days on end resulting in devastating floods  which affected close to 1 million inhabitants in 16 of the 28 districts of the country.

 

 

The toll it took: Close to 80,000 people lost their homes, over 500 people were injured and some 60 lost their lives. Adding to the devastation, houses, fields, roads and bridges were also damaged or destroyed

Malawi, already has its share of difficulties as it is already one of the poorest nations in the world. And,  according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as reported in Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)  Religious Freedom Report “thousands of refugees have come to Malawi from Mozambique in recent years, fleeing fighting between the Mozambican government and rebels. The provision of care for refugees also presents a challenge for Malawi’s Churches and religious communities in social as well as pastoral terms. Experience shows that religious tensions often worsen when different faith groups live in close proximity in extreme poverty.”

Where we came in

Despite the reality in the country, the Catholic Church was on the ground immediately, ready with spiritual and moral support. But given the circumstances there was also a very real need for food, clothing, blankets and temporary shelters. Every day articles like cooking utensils and water purification systems to prevent the spread of diseases were also needed at a minimum.

 

ACN also responded immediately. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to provide $30,000 in emergency aid. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed and prayed for the relief effort in Malawi!

 

 

ACN Project of the week: Ukraine – Novices in training

24.07.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Pastoral care, Sisters, Ukraine

ACN Project of the week in Ukraine

Support for the training of 13 novices

 The Ukraine congregation of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, has been blessed with many vocations. Currently there are no fewer than 13 young novices undergoing formation in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk with the desire of consecrating their lives, forever, to the service of God and their human being. Most of them are young, no more than around 20 years old.

The Sisters of the congregation accompany young people, organize retreat days and provide catechetical training.  They also care for orphans, as well as for the sick and the elderly in Ukraine who often live in great need.

Religious who receive and nourish the faith

Among other things, the young novices help during the summer holiday season to organize camps for children and young people, giving them an opportunity to take a break and enjoy themselves, and at the same time to deepen their understanding and faith in God.

For these young Sisters it is also a good exercise in the work of catechesis. Last year some of them travelled with a group of 50 or so young people to attend a youth meeting in Italy. Although the bus journey was long and tiring, they were all enthusiastic and inspired. Sister Maria Christiana, the novice mistress, recalls: “I have never seen young people so filled with enthusiasm at the truth and the experience of community.”

The Sisters also organize walking pilgrimages to the shrine of Krylos in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk itself. During the pilgrimage, a walk of around 25 km, they pray and sing, and the are also available for personal counselling sessions, at which the young people can unburden themselves freely and put all their many questions about the Christian faith or their own personal problems. Last year some 400 young people took part.

ACN regularly supports the congregation for the formation of these young religious, and this year we are proposing to do so again, with a contribution of $11,700.


Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN Success Story – Central African Republic (CAR)

17.07.2019 in ACN, ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Africa, Central African Republic

ACN Success Story

Central African Republic (CAR)

Ongoing training in the diocese of Bouar

Published to the web Wednesday July 17,2019

Thanks to the support of our benefactors who have given $4,500, close to 40 diocesan priests and religious from the diocese of Bouar were able to participate in an ongoing formation session last March.

 

Given the country is suffering such violence and extreme problems in the Central African Republic, it is especially important to lend support and strength to priests. They are often the only ones who can really reach their people and help them not to lose hope.

The program included important pastoral issues such as marriage preparation, preparation for the sacraments, adult baptisms and the role of catechists in small and remote rural villages. At the same time, the priests were able to reflect on their own vocation and the importance of the priesthood, while additionally receiving training in a range of practical matters. Some topics such as bookkeeping, general administration and record keeping, all subjects essential and obligatory in every parish and institution, but for which many priests are often inadequately prepared.

 

The priests of the diocese have all benefited greatly from these days of sharing and ongoing formation and wish to express their gratitude to all our generous benefactors who made this meeting possible.

A facilitator found assassinated

Sadly, immediately after these beautiful and encouraging days, a terribly tragic incident occurred. A 47-year-old Capuchin, Father Toussaint Zoumalde, who had so recently given a talk on the priesthood and vocation, was murdered on his way home from the meeting.

 

This priest, who had originally come from the diocese of Bouar, but was currently serving as Provincial Superior of his order in Chad, had been planning to spend the night in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. He was stabbed to death by unknown assailants on his way home.

 “This priest who was so rich in the fine qualities of the Gospel and the beauty of the priestly order.”

Father Toussaint was a highly educated priest who had studied in Rome and been involved in the work of priestly formation. Friends and colleagues have described him as a fine and multi-talented individual with a profound soul and great love for the Church and the priesthood in particular.

A songwriter and poet, he had a wonderful way with young people, to whom he brought the Gospel message. He was previously responsible for the Catholic radio station in Bouar. In addition to his many other activities in Chad, he was the head of a cultural museum of the Mboum ethnic group. In their obituary for him the Capuchin Fathers wrote: “In killing him on the night of 19 March, the cowardly hand of his murderer knew nothing of the beauty and elegance of Brother Toussaint, this priest who was so rich in the fine qualities of the Gospel and the beauty of the priestly order.”

It was that just a few days after meeting with his fellow priests in Bouar, where Father Toussaint had given his confreres an inspiring and profound reflection on the priesthood, that his mortal remains were carried to their burial by his brother priests. Great mourning could be felt among all the people and the entire Church in the diocese. The words he had spoken at this meeting of the priests have thus become his lasting legacy.

In Central African Republic, the last words of an assassinated Capuchin priest, became a special legacy for forty or so priests whom you helped receive continuing education.

 

ACN Feature: Sowing hope for more Christian families in Iraq

03.07.2019 in ACN International, by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota, Iraq, Religious freedom

Iraq

Sowing hope for more Christian families in Iraq

by by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 3, 2019

As part of its reconstruction efforts in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has begun work to restore the homes of 41 Christian families in the town of Bartella. Approximately 220 additional people will benefit from this project, the latest in ACN’s program, which has already helped renovate more than 2,000 houses in the region.

 

Prior to Daesh’s (Islamic State) invasion in 2014, Bartella was a town of 3,500 Christian families (i.e., ca. 17,500 people, including around 12,300 Syriac Orthodox and 5,200 Syriac Catholics). When residents returned after the liberation of their town in 2016, they found their churches desecrated, with the black flag of Daesh draped over the walls. Their homes: burned, looted, and damaged in an attempt to prevent Christians from ever returning home. Other houses were destroyed by airstrikes during the liberation.

 

A ceremony marking the beginning of the work was held on June 5, 2019, beginning with Gospel readings and prayers chanted in Syriac, a neo-Aramaic dialect.  Fr Benham Lallo, representing the parish priest, Fr Benham Benoka, who could not make it to the event, led the proceedings and interpreted for Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s Middle East section head. The latter, in a message to the families, compared their mission to that of families in the Old Testament, who had to rebuild Jerusalem after its destruction. He also asked them to pray for ACN’s benefactors. The olive trees were then blessed and distributed to each family, symbolizing the hope that peace will return to the region, after many years of war – that these trees, planted in the gardens of these families, might bear fruit.

 

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil and elsewhere. After the expulsion of Daesh when the communities began returning home, the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.  ACN donors gave 63,933,318 million in aid to Iraq, from 2014 to May 2019.

ACN Press Release: Aid to the Church in Need 2018 Annual Report

20.06.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo

ACN INTERNATIONAL—ANNUAL REPORT 2018

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

OVER 166.5 MILLION RAISED FOR THE CHURCH IN NEED WORLDWIDE
Over 166.5 million dollars for the suffering, oppressed and persecuted Church throughout the world.
This was the total raised in donations for 2018 by ACN International via its 23 national offices around the world and its international headquarters in Germany.

By Marta Petrosillo for ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Published on the web June 20, 2019

The resources raised, thanks to the generous donations of its more than 330,000 benefactors around the world, have enabled the charity to fund no fewer than 5,019 pastoral projects in some 139 different countries.

“We are deeply moved by the generosity of our benefactors all over the world,” commented Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International, at the formal presentation of the charity’s Annual Report. “Once again their sacrifices and their faith have moved mountains!”

“Every year, I rejoice at the generosity of our benefactors who keep supporting the projects entrusted to us. At the same time, we must meet the challenge of introducing the situation of the poor and persecuted Church to younger generations,” underscored Marie-Claude Lalonde.  ACN Canada’s national director also explained, “And so we are exploring new ways to reach people and speak to them about the Church around the world and its needs—and of its great vivacity.”

Last year, the Canadian office received close to 2.6 million dollars to support a multitude of projects, many of which were in Nigeria. The visit of Msgr Ignatius Kaigama, an agent of peace and dialogue in his country, was a significant moment in our year. One of the many fruits of the event today is the ACN photo exhibit on persecution to be held in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Another important event, Red Wednesday, will see its second edition next November 20, will unfold in many dioceses across Canada including Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

Support on Every Continent

A child in Ethiopia holds an image of the Gospel, distributed by ACN.

These figures illustrate the fundamental reality of ACN’s support for the Church throughout the world, given above all in a spirit of closeness to the oppressed and persecuted Church. And, with a capacity to react promptly and in practical terms to the attacks to which Christian communities are ever-increasingly subject to around the world.

In the event of such tragic attacks as the recent bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday; or the frequent attacks in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, ACN has always been able to react promptly and appropriately to help the wounded communities get back on their feet again and reaffirm their presence, even and especially in those countries where Christians are a small and oppressed minority. It does so by helping to rebuild their damaged churches, supporting the families of the victims and helping the priests and religious to continue in their pastoral mission. And thereby, ultimately, demonstrating that faith has the power to overcome hatred.

Supporting Sisters who work in situations of conflict: this one in Syria.

The Prominent Issues

As in recent years, a major proportion of these donations went to support projects in Africa (27%) and in the Middle East (25%). Over the last few years, the Middle East region has witnessed a substantial increase in aid from ACN. Since the beginning of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, in fact, the Pontifical Charity, ACN, has given a total of 148.5 million dollars, of which over 27 million were in 2018 alone. The charity’s emergency support for the thousands of uprooted Christian refugees in this region above all accounted for over 12% of the total aid granted last year. What should be underlined as particularly significant, is the huge project of rebuilding the homes of Christian refugees in Syria and Iraq, made possible by the support of ACN International. In fact, no fewer than 1,479 Christian homes were rebuilt in these areas of the Middle East, thanks to the charity’s involvement.

The country which saw the largest single amount in aid from ACN in 2018 was also in this part of the world—namely Syria, where the support given by the charity totalled a full 12.9 million dollars:  4.35 million more, than in 2017. And in second place in terms of the aid given was Iraq, also in the Middle East, where last year ACN funded projects to a total value of some 9.75 million. These two countries were followed by India (7.8m), Ukraine (4.8m) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (4.2m).

In terms of the types of project supported, as in recent years, the first place was that of construction or reconstruction, with over 34.8 million (31.9% of the total) attributed for 2,470 buildings, including private homes, chapels, churches, convents, seminaries and pastoral centres.

A deacon enters a church in Aleppo, Syria. It is heavily damaged by bombs and mortars. Hope is on the horizon, thanks to our benefactors! 

One Holy Mass every 22 seconds!

In second place were Mass Offerings (16.4%). During 2018 this particular form of support—absolutely crucial in the poorest parts of the world where priests have virtually no other form of support—brought help to no fewer than 40,569 priests, or roughly one in every 10 worldwide. In this way, last year, no fewer than 1,421,001 Holy Masses were celebrated for the intentions of the benefactors, or approximately one Holy Mass every 22 seconds.

Tied in third place in terms of the types of aid given were emergency aid projects and those providing support for the formation of priests and religious (12.4%). During 2018 ACN supported the formation of 11,817 seminarians, or approximately one in every 10 worldwide, in addition to the ongoing studies of 4,370 priests. In addition to this, the Mass Offerings given were able to support the life and work of 1,383 priests teaching in the major seminaries.

Also of great importance for ACN was the education of the lay faithful, which took fifth place in terms of the percentage (11.2%) of the total aid given. In this way the charity was able to support the formation of some 14,169 catechists and lay leaders last year.

In sixth place was the aid given for the means of pastoral transport (6.8%), with a total of 907 vehicles funded—370 cars, 189 motorcycles, 342 bicycles, two trucks, two coaches and two boats. This was followed by support for the Catholic media and the publication of Bibles and other religious literature (4.6%). Including sacred texts and its own publications, ACN was able to fund the publication and dissemination of some 1,103,484 volumes.

An image of despair – here in the State of Bihar, India. Discrimination and religious persecution are the lot in many countries, even in democratic countries!

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 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?”