By Oliver Maksan


“The seed has been sown” – Abu Dhabi interreligious dialogue conference

11.02.2019 in Abu Dhabi, ACN Canada, ACN NEWS, By Oliver Maksan, Interreligious Dialogue, Journey with ACN

Pope Francis

“The seed has been sown”

Eastern Church leaders hope historic papal visit in Abu Dhabi will be a source of lasting momentum

Catholic Church leaders from the Near East have emphasised the significance of Pope Francis’s visit to the United Arab Emirates. “I believe that this is a very positive sign for the relationship between Islam and Christianity in the region,” Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, head of the Coptic Catholic Church, commented. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Monday in Abu Dhabi, he said, “We Christians in Egypt may harbour renewed hope. The fruits will not become apparent immediately, but the message of tolerance and fraternity has been sown.”

The importance of the meeting taking place on Monday in Abu Dhabi between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University of Cairo, Ahmed al-Tayeb, one of the highest Sunni authorities, cannot be stressed enough, the Church leader explained. “This visit will help to correct the false image that many Muslims have of Christianity,” said the Patriarch, which Church is united with Rome. “Conversely, many Christians will realise that the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. The Islamic authorities want to show that they have nothing to do with terrorism.”

In the Holy Land as well, there is hope that the papal visit will be a source of momentum. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need on Monday in Abu Dhabi, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said, “The message of fraternity and dialogue that the Pope has brought to the Arab Peninsula is hopefully a seed that will also take root in the Holy Land.” The Apostolic Administrator of the

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  “The message of fraternity and dialogue that the Pope has brought to the Arab Peninsula is hopefully a seed that will also take root in the Holy Land.” 

Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stayed in the Gulf State during the visit of Pope Francis. This is the first time in history that a pope has visited the Arab Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

Archbishop Pizzaballa continued, “We cannot expect this visit to bring a concrete solution. Only general statements can be made. However, the meeting itself is momentous because it gathers together religious leaders in a region that is the cradle of the monotheistic religions, but also one that is shaken by religious conflict. A meeting between the Pope and the Grand Imam is thus an important sign.” According to Archbishop Pizzaballa, the Christian-Islamic dialogue has entered a new phase. “There is a before and after ISIS,” the Italian Franciscan said. “The Islamic-Christian dialogue began a long time ago. But it was very formal and general. With the appearance of ISIS, the dialogue became more concrete and more realistic. For all involved, it is about stopping aberrant behaviour as well as killing and massacre in the name of religion.” As religions in the Near and Middle East also have a political and social dimension, the archbishop continued, the issue has now become how to develop positive relationships with each other in everyday life.

Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, head of the Coptic Catholic Church and Bishop Camillo Ballin, Apostolic Vicar of North Arabia, discuss during the intereligous conference of Abu Dhabi. 

On Monday, Pope Francis attended an interfaith meeting in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The meeting with the grand imam of Cairo on Monday and the celebration of Holy Mass with 130 000 Christians on Tuesday were the highlights of the three-day trip. Pope Francis returned to Rome on Tuesday.

The Pope’s next trip to a Muslim country will take place on March 30 and 31 when François visits Morocco. This year marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s visit to the Grand Sultan of Egypt and the Pope’s travels are a way of celebrating this anniversary.


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

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

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



ACN Feature Story – Eritrean refugees in Sudan

26.10.2017 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan


“With my faith, I can endure anything”

Sudan – is not a Christian country. In fact, 90% of the population today are Muslims. In the last few years, however, the tiny Christian flock in this Eastern Africa country has welcomed new members who have enriched the Church and Sudanese society, even if this influx has come from a tragedy obliging them to leave their countries because of an authoritarian regime.


Tens of thousands of people from Eritrea, many of whom are Christians and many Catholics, are seeking refuge in Sudan, their neighbouring country since they can no longer bear living in their own home country. “The regime in Eritrea is forcing people to serve for years, and sometimes even decades, in the army under compulsory military service. They are practically not paid and kept utterly at the mercy of the regime. It is a situation fewer and fewer people are willing to accept,” explains one of the Catholic volunteers, let’s call him Joseph to protect his identity, who takes care of the Eritrean refugees in the capital Khartoum.

ACN visit Sudan 2017  ACN visiting a chapel/centre of the Eritrean Catholic refugee community in Khartoum area: Khartoum Erithrean parish – praying rosary

Usually, Sudan is merely intended as the first stop en route to what is hoped will end in Europe.  From Sudan, the journey to Libya costs approximate $2,190, a small fortune making human smugglers a little

wealthier, and from there to Italy, it will cost them just as much. But many refugees have no money to make such a trip, leaving them stuck in Sudan. Often they have to spend years in the place before they can move further. “Any idea of returning to Eritrea is unthinkable. There they will only face imprisonment or worse,” Joseph explains. “But meanwhile, life must go on. For the children especially, the years they spend here must not be wasted ones. In fact many were actually born here.”

This is just one reason why the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting a school which is attended by some 1,200 children. “The people want their children to have a solid education, and they also want them to be brought up and instructed in the Christian Faith. In this way the children will be at less risk of losing their Christian roots and at the same time they will have the possibility of a future,” explains Christine du Coudray-Wiehe, the head of ACN’s project section that deals with Sudan. “The Eritrean refugees in Sudan have a very difficult time of it. They have fled a totalitarian regime in their own home country, and ended up living in an Islamist regime. We want to stand by them and help them by supporting their children and help them to grow in the Catholic Faith.”


Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees by Capuchin Friars, Catholic school in Kassala (2016-2017)

A dream of coming to Canada

ACN is helping to pay the cost of schoolbooks and teachers’ salaries, as well as the cost of food for the students themselves. More often than not their families have very little money to help pay for their children‘s schooling. Employers give priority to the Sudanese, so most of the Eritreans struggle to make ends meet in the black economy. They save up every possible penny in the hope of being able to pay for the journey to Europe or some other Western nation. Not one of them wants to stay on in Sudan.

“Our people are so afraid of the police,” Joseph adds. “We Christians are helpless and at their mercy.” Moreover, it is true that many of the refugees repeatedly fall victim to oppression by the police. “Sometimes the police imprison our people and will only set them free on payment of a ransom.” And he tells us how, when this happens, the people willingly put together what little money they have in order to help their brothers and sisters in need. “Our people have a strong faith. It gives them the strength to endure everything that happens here.”

Undoubtedly, these refugee families have to endure a great deal. Close to the Eritrean church in one of the poorest suburbs of the city, we visit the family of Isaias, who live in one room in a corrugated steel roofed hut. Here, in this one room, the lives of his family of five play out. “Here is where we sleep, here we cook, here we eat, here is where our children play,” the father of the family explains. They offer us lemonade and sweets, as with typical generosity they share what little they have. The father of this family served for years in the Eritrean army before deciding a few years ago to leave his homeland, because he could see no hope either for himself or for his children. “We would like to go to Canada,” he explains. Asked if he is not afraid of travelling to this distant foreign land, he responds energetically, “With my faith and my Church I am not afraid of anything!”

Aid to the Church in Need supported projects in Sudan to a total value of 633,079 dollars in 2016.


Text by Oliver Maksan, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada


ACN Interview – Meeting between the Pope and Grand Imam

07.06.2016 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Journey with ACN, Pope, Pope Francis


The ice has been broken

The meeting between Pope and Grand Imam received very positively in Egypt


Following the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of the Sunni al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayeb, on May 23 at the Vatican, hope soared in Egypt that the meeting would bring Christians and Muslims closer together.


“It was the first time that the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University visited the pope. It was clearly a very cordial meeting. You could see that from the body language and the familiarity between the Pope and the Grand Imam.

“We believe that this has broken the ice in the relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar University,” Father Rafic Greiche, the chief spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, said Wednesday, June 1, in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “The resumption of official dialogue, which was suspended by al-Azhar University in 2011, may not have been explicitly announced yet, but that is just a formality. I am firmly convinced that talks will resume.”

Father (Antoine) Rafic Greiche, a Greek Catholic priest and the press spokesman for the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Egypt. The departure of President Morsi has been seen as ''God's miracle''.

Father (Antoine) Rafic Greiche, a Greek Catholic priest and the press spokesman for the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Egypt. The departure of President Morsi has been seen by Christians as ” a God’s miracle”.


The most important Islamic institution of Egypt, which is highly respected throughout the Sunni world, had unilaterally suspended bilateral talks with the Holy See in 2011. The reason given for this was Pope Benedict XVI’s public admonition to better protect religious freedom in Egypt. Al-Azhar University considered this to be an inadmissible interference in the internal matters of Egypt. The former Pope made the statement in response to the bloody attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day in 2011 where 21 were left dead and more than 70 were wounded.


It concerns all Christians 


Father Rafic talked about the positive response to the meeting on the part of Egyptian media. “The meeting was headline news both on television as well as in the newspapers. In general, the comments were very positive.” Father Rafic then said that the encounter not only has an interreligious dimension, but also an ecumenical one. “The head of the Coptic Orthodox church, Pope Tawadros, had encouraged the Grand Imam to begin a dialogue with the Catholic Church on numerous occasions. A meeting like this and the resumption of talks naturally not only has an effect on the relationship between Muslims and Catholics, but also all Christians.”


The situation is really improving for Christians! 


Father Rafic emphasized that under the leadership of Grand Imam al-Tayeb, al-Azhar University is making an effort to reform the schoolbooks and textbooks used at the schools and institutions of higher education it oversees. “They are trying to use a new language with respect to us Christians. But there is still a lot left to be done. This is a process that will take years. However, it would be more critical to change the mindset of the imams than to change the books,” Father Rafic said.


Project trip of Agnieszka Dzieduszycka and Ilona BudzbonFather Rafic emphasized that the situation of the Christians in Egypt has vastly improved since Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted in July of 2013. “There is no comparison between the situation today and that during the government of the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, we have very good relations between church leaders and government agencies. However, there are still many problems, of course. But it is my impression that Muslims are growing more aware of our situation,” the Greek Catholic priest said. “Of course, the most pressing matter for us is the question of church building projects. This has been subject to massive restrictions up until this point. Five churches have now submitted draft legislation to parliament. President Sisi asked us to prepare a draft law. We hope that this parliamentary session will still deliberate upon and pass the draft legislation by October.


After all, we have never had as many Christian members of parliament and so many Muslims on our side. It will of course be opposed by the Salafist members. But there are not many of them. And so I am confident.”


Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting the Catholic Church in Egypt for many years. In addition to numerous pastoral projects, it also promotes the building of churches.


Project trip of Agnieszka Dzieduszycka and Ilona Budzbon


By Oliver Maksan, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office







Feature Story – Christians of Israel targeted by Jewish extremists

19.05.2016 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Holy Land
Photo Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Fire and graffiti devastated part of the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Galilee, in northern Israel on June 18th, 2015

Holy Land

“A toxic mix ”

Many Christians in Israel are scared. They feel threatened by Jewish extremism. The arson attack carried out by Jewish extremists in June of last year on the Benedictine monastery of Tabgha made international news.


“What comes next?” Auxiliary Bishop Shomali from the Latin Patriarchate asked anxiously in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) following the incident. More attacks followed this year. For example, anti-Christian scribbling on the Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem: “Death to Christians,” it said.


Burn down all the churches

Mgrs. William Shomali "People feel very frustrated and depressed. "

Mgrs. William Shomali “What comes next?”

The extremist rabbi Bentzion Gopstein is regularly making headlines. He is head of the Lehava group, which strictly opposes mixing Jews and non-Jews in Israel. Thus, supporters demonstrated vociferously in 2014 against a wedding between a Jewish bride and a Muslim groom. The extremists have also set their sights on the Christians of Israel.

Last August, Gopstein publicly called upon Israeli authorities to burn down all the churches in Israel, saying that this was the duty of a Jewish state. Before Christmas, Gopstein’s supporters demonstrated against a Christian Christmas celebration in Jerusalem that was also attended by Jews. In an appeal published on the Internet, Gopstein called upon the authorities to ban all Christian Christmas celebrations, in Israel. He believes that, as they have throughout history, Christians continue to work toward the goal of converting Jews and must therefore be deported. “Let’s throw the vampires out of our land before they drink our blood again,” Gopstein said and continued by saying that the Christian church is the greatest enemy of Judaism today as it has been historically. “If Jews cannot be killed, they can still be converted,” Gopstein said about Christians.


Photo Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Fire and graffiti devastated part of the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Galilee, in northern Israel on June 18th, 2015

Photo Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Fire and graffiti devastated part of the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Galilee, in northern Israel on June 18th, 2015

The a scared and vulnerable community

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land filed criminal charges against Gopstein on grounds of incitement following his appeal to destroy the churches. In a statement, the Catholic Bishops said that the Catholic community in the Holy Land was scared and feels vulnerable. And when Gopstein called the Christians bloodsuckers at Christmas, leaving the bishops to feel that the public peace in Israel was at risk. “The recurring intimidation and provocations are a real threat to peaceful coexistence in the country,” they declared. “It is necessary to condemn this firmly and employ all necessary means against it in the interest of all citizens.”

The rabbi was just recently interrogated by police. Proceedings may be initiated against him. Gopstein has been arrested and interrogated on numerous occasions in the past. However, up until this point charges have never been brought or a sentence pronounced.

Father David Neuhaus, however, does not believe that remarks such as those of Gopstein are the main problem of the Christians in Israel. By order of the Latin Patriarchate, the Jesuit oversees the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. Born as the son of Jewish parents in South Africa, he immigrated to Israel and converted there to Catholicism. He is convinced, “The rhetoric of Gopstein is not where the most serious damage is done to Christian Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.”

“I think that most Christian and Muslim Palestinians are perfectly aware that they are not treated equally and that discrimination is alive and well in a state defined as Jewish,” Neuhaus says. “This discrimination is structural, its most felt impact is in the budgeting for development in the Arab sector – it becomes palpable in education, health, employment, welfare, etc.”


Photo Credit: Dormition Abbey Jerusalem Holy Land/Jerusalem, 19 Jan. 2016. The Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem has once again been targeted by vandals. On Saturday night, unknown persons defaced the walls and doors of the German-speaking Benedictine monastery on the outer edges of the Old City of Jerusalem. Also targeted were nearby establishments of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic church. The graffiti, which had been written in Hebrew and in several different handwriting styles, proclaimed: “Christians go to hell”, “Death to heathen Christians, the heretical enemies of Israel”, “Revenge for Israelis” or “Erased be His name”. A sword dripping with blood was also drawn next to a Star of David.

Photo Credit: Dormition Abbey Jerusalem Holy Land/Jerusalem, 19 Jan. 2016. The Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem has once again been targeted by vandals. On Saturday night, unknown persons defaced the walls and doors of the German-speaking Benedictine monastery on the outer edges of the Old City of Jerusalem. Also targeted were nearby establishments of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic church. 


Father David Neuhaus celebrating mass in the Chapel Our Lady Woman of Valor during our visit to the Pastoral Center

Father David Neuhaus celebrating mass in the Chapel Our Lady Woman of Valor at the Pastoral Center

Religious extremism and nationalism – a toxic mix

Even though Gopstein and other extremists are only few in number, Gopstein does have his supporters, Neuhaus estimates. “There are surely many Israelis who share his views. But only few would express themselves with such complete contempt for the religious other.” Father Neuhaus believes that the Jewish establishment does not do enough to counter Rabbi Gopstein’s views. “Although I think many might be disgusted at his vulgarity, what is needed is an educational campaign among the Orthodox that teaches respect for the religious and national other.”

As a biblical scholar, Neuhaus is now convinced that religious extremism and contempt for the religious other does indeed have a basis in the three religious traditions of the Middle East. “Sacred Scriptures seem to promote an idea of a chosen people that is the instrument of God’s rule and error that must be combated even violently. I am not sure that there is anything particularly Jewish in this. What is clear is that when this religious extremism is combined with nationalist ideology the mix is extremely toxic.”

Neuhaus is sure that those who are offended and threatened by this toxic mix must come together to jointly combat these ideas by providing alternative interpretations of the same Scriptures. “They must help each other develop strategies by means of which religious extremism can be rooted out.”

According to Neuhaus, many Jews remember and perhaps even dwell on the wounds accumulated in history by a small, marginal minority. “And these wounds were deeper and more deadly in lands where Christians were the majority than in lands where Muslims were the majority.” However, Neuhaus regrets that too few Jews are willing to take seriously the fact that in Israel the Jews are now the dominant majority. “The contempt they might espouse for the ones defined as ‘non-Jews’ might have similarly disastrous effects.”



By Oliver Maksan, Aid to the Church in Need International  

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office



ACN Feature – The Pope’s visit to Lesbos

28.04.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Lesbos, Refugees

Pope Francis in Greece

“Pope has changed the way people think about Christians”

A Jordanian priest believes: The Pope’s visit to Lesbos sends a message to Arab states to do more for the refugees


ACN-20160425-39730 (1)


The Pope’s solidarity visit to Lesbos last Saturday sent a strong message to the Arab states to do more for refugees, specifically those from Syria and Iraq. Father Khalil Jaar, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate in Jordan, is convinced of this. Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Khalil, who has cared for Christian refugees from the Middle East for years, said on Thursday: “With his visit to Lesbos Pope Francis has shown that he is concerned with every single individual. He is not indifferent to the people in need because God is not indifferent to them. Without words he thus sent a strong message to those Arab countries that have to date not taken in any, or hardly any, refugees.”  Father Khalil believes that by his example he has shown that a solution of the refugee crisis is possible if everyone pulls together. “Why should Europe alone bear the burden of the refugees? If all join together to help it will make things much easier. And the people in need will then be helped in the best and most efficient way.”




Pope Francis had come to the Greek island last Saturday for a brief visit to meet refugees and declare his solidarity with them. Father Khalil had also taken part in the visit at the invitation of the Greek government and church bodies. “On Lesbos I was able to talk to Syrian refugees after the Pope had met them. They were all Muslims. They told me that the Pope’s caring example had changed the way they think about Christians.


Most of them were amazed in the face of such love and humility. They told me they hadn’t expected that,” Father Khali said.


“I was able to speak briefly to the Holy Father. He told me that I should continue my work for people in need.”


ACN-20160425-39729 (1)




Father Khali rejected the criticism expressed around the Pope’s gesture of taking only Muslim and not Christian refugees in his plane on the return flight in order to grant them refuge in Italy. “The Holy Father also wanted to take Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq. Unfortunately their papers were not ready. They will follow at a later date. And anyway, in the last analysis the crucial factor in a situation of need is not the question of faith. Whether Muslims or Christians: They are all people who are loved by God and need our help.”



ACN-20160425-39725Father Khalil expressed thanks for the encouragement shown by Pope Francis. “I was able to speak briefly to the Holy Father. He told me that I should continue my work for people in need. The Pope’s example inspired and encouraged me. I thank Aid to the Church in Need for helping me assist poor people who are fleeing.”



Aid to the Church in Need supports the work of Father Khalil in Marka, Jordan. There he provides accommodation and food for Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS, as well as Christians from Syria. A total of 600 families are being helpe d in this way. Aid to the Church in Need supports numerous projects of church partners for Christian refugees in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.



By Oliver Maksan, ACN International  

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canadadonate


ACN Press – Syria

12.04.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Persecution of Christians, Syria

  Wassim Farkouh Homs :  Destruction in another Syrian town: Homs


“We don’t want to live under Islamic rule”

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II expresses his shock at the extent of the destruction by ISIS on his recent visit to the town of Al Qaryatayn  



Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II

Montreal/Königstein April 12, 2016 – After visiting the Syrian town of Al Qaryatayn, which had just been liberated from IS, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II said he had mixed feelings.

The Church leader who resides in Damascus spoke with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need on Friday saying on the one hand, he was happy about the expulsion of the terrorist militia from the town where Muslims and Christians live. The terrorists had occupied Al Qaryatayn last August (2015). “This is certainly an encouraging development. But the residents who had fled now sometimes wept when they saw what had become of their town. It was particularly painful for me as someone with pastoral duties to see these tears.”

The Patriarch went on to say the infrastructure had been severely damaged. “When I managed to visit the town with our Catholic brothers on Friday I was shocked by the extent of the devastation. Many houses had been completely or severely damaged during the fighting. Fittings had been stolen,” the Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church explained. “It was especially painful to see how the churches had been willfully defiled by IS. Both the Syriac Catholic Saint Elian monastery and our Syriac Orthodox church had been deliberately desecrated. Our church was even more severely damaged than the monastery.”

The Patriarch stressed that the visit he made together with Catholics on Friday had been an important signal. “At times like this we Christians must stick together. IS wants to kill us all regardless of a Christian’s church affiliation,” added Msgr Ignatius Aphrem said.

A hatred not easily overcome

“During my visit my main concern was to give people hope. I told them that they should thank God for their lives. Houses and churches can be built up again. A life lost cannot be restored. But as a Church we will not simply talk about it; we will also give the people material help in their reconstruction efforts wherever we can. The crucial factor is the faith that God is with us. Our help is given in the name of the living God.”

The Patriarch also conceded, however, that it was very difficult in situations like this to bear Christian witness and to forgive one’s enemies. “In view of our circumstances it is not easy to overcome hatred and to ask God for the gift of forgiveness. It will take time for people to find it in themselves to do this. This is only human and understandable. But we can’t get round the willingness to forgive. It is a basic element of Christian life.”

A possible reconciliation

The Patriarch emphasized during this exchange the Syrians experience in religious co-existence. “In Syria there is no war between Christians and Muslims. What we’re dealing with here is primarily foreign terrorists coming to fight the jihad. There are certainly now Syrians who have adopted the jihadi ideology. But these ideas come from outside, primarily from Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabism practiced there. I therefore do not see the reconciliation between Syrians of different faiths as the problem here. This is possible. After all, despite the many difficulties we all lived peacefully together before the war in Syria. That was the Syria we knew.”

In view of the efforts of the United Nations to bring about a political solution to the conflict by holding discussions between the government and the opposition, the Patriarch said: “If we Syrians settled things between ourselves, there would be no problems, I believe. But we are not naïve. The difficulty of a political solution is that there are both regional and international interests which come together in Syria. This makes the situation so complicated.”


Help us stay here

Ignatius Aphrem II expressed skepticism about the representatives of the Syrian opposition negotiating with the government in Geneva. “Of course, I hope that the talks will be successful. But the opposition there does not have many adherents here in Syria itself. What’s more, there are many islamists among them. We Christians and others do not want to live under Islamic rule.”

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem assumes that about 40 percent of Syria’s Christians have now left the country and fled to the neighbouring countries or to the west. “I have no illusions. Most of them will not return. If it goes on like this, we Christians in Syria will disappear, just as we have almost disappeared in Turkey and Iraq.” The Patriarch therefore rejects any emigration of the Christians furthered by the West.

“The best way to support us is to help us stay in our homeland. Moving to the west is not a solution. Being a refugee in Europe is not a positive experience. It means you are culturally uprooted. It’s not good for the refugees and it’s not good for the societies that take them in.”

The Patriarch explained that both in Syria itself and in the neighbouring countries there were safe refuges for the people. “It would be much cheaper for Europe to help our people to stay in Syria, or temporarily in Lebanon or elsewhere. It would be important mainly to help the projects of the church on the spot. We are very grateful to Aid to the Church in Need for adopting this approach and helping people on the spot. I hope that more organisations will follow this example.”


By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada






Feature Story – Syria: “The fruits of your love are a consolation to us”

07.04.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Oliver Maksan, Feature Story, Syria


“The fruits of your love are a consolation to us”

Despite the ceasefire, life for the Christians of Aleppo remains difficult – Aid to the Church in Need is now supporting a project intended to help improve day-to-day life


Father Ibrahim

Father Ibrahim

The conflict in Syria entered its sixth year in March. The ceasefire and the talks in Geneva between the warring parties have for the first time given rise to a glimmer of hope that the perishing of hundreds of thousands of people may soon come to an end.

However, real security and peace remain non-existent for the people in the contested city of Aleppo. Father Ibrahim, a Franciscan priest who works in the Roman Catholic parish there, talked about it in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need. “Even though there is a lot of talk about the ceasefire at the moment, the bombing just recently started up again in those parts of Aleppo that are controlled by the regular army. And that is exactly where the Christians of Aleppo live.” However, Father Ibrahim does not despair. “Let us thank the Lord for the positive things that are happening and let us hope that the ceasefire, which is at least honoured by a part of the militias and armed groups, may last.”

Years of hardship have left deep scars

However, Father Ibrahim believes that even if the guns were to fall completely silent, everyday life would continue to be anything but easy for the people. “The situation of our families in Aleppo is simple to explain. Of all the families in Syrian cities, the families in Aleppo are worst off,” he said. And calculated aloud: “According to a recently held survey, every family in Aleppo needs 17,000 Syrian pounds. This is the minimum required to buy the essentials: electricity, water and gas.” But there are people who do not even have this. “Of our 600 families, more than 250 live in extreme poverty with a monthly income of less than 25,000 Syrian pounds.” According to Father Ibrahim, this means that they are not able to buy food in an amount sufficient to be commensurate with human dignity. In many cases, the consequences are devastating. “Fifteen of our parishioners were recently admitted to hospital and required several litres of blood transfusions because they were about to die of malnutrition and its consequences.”



According to Father Ibrahim, all but few are suffering hardships. “Our data tells us that, of the 600 families in our Latin parish, only five families are really well off, while the rest live on the poverty line. Further, most of those who used to be well off have become poor during the five years of war and are now openly asking for help.” The years of hardship have left deep scars. “It is striking to see people who were industrialists earning hundreds of thousands of dollars and who have now become destitute. They have lost their offices and their companies with all of the machines. All they have left are bank debts that they cannot pay.”

In addition to malnutrition, there are also other supply problems. “Electricity is one of our greatest problems. Electricity is only available in homes via the electric generators of private companies that sell the ‘ampere’ at inflated prices,” he complains. “A family or even a single person needs at least two amperes to operate just two or three lamps or a television or a radio. Two amperes are not even enough to operate a washing machine or a pump in those rare instances when water is available. Two amperes are the minimum needed by a poor person or a poor family.” With any less, Father Ibrahim said, you are sitting in the dark. “As we have already observed in many cases, this has caused a lot of people to suffer from a number of psychological disorders and desperation.”


Project: Two Amperes for Every Family

Families with children are especially hard hit by the lack of electricity. “A family with school children or children at a higher-level school or university cannot live without electricity since the children cannot do their homework or study without it. This is why we thought about helping the poor families who have stayed here, either because they feel a connection to their country or because a lack of money made it impossible for them to flee. We want to help them live in dignity.” To achieve this, Father Ibrahim initiated the “Project Two Amperes for Every Family”. “This is our contribution towards covering the minimal expenditures of a family. It is a form of aid that is also of psychological value and represents an expression of solidarity.”

Aid to the Church in Need has supported the project for Aleppo’s Christians with donations from various countries.

Father Ibrahim is already grateful to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need. “Even if the missile strikes scare us, make our hearts heavy and sadden us, the fruits of your love are a consolation to us. In the name of the Christians of Aleppo, and especially in the name of the Latin parish and the Franciscans of Aleppo, I send you the best wishes for a Holy Path of Conversion to the Father, who is full of mercy.”

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada



Feature story : “We identify more with Good Friday than with Easter”

24.03.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, Feature Story, Holy Land, Israel, Jerusalem, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Middle East, Moyen-Orient, Uncategorized, Voyager avec l’AED

Jerusalem, the Holy Land

“We identify more with Good Friday than with Easter”

Holy Week has begun in Jerusalem with the big Palm Sunday procession – but the political situation has left its mark   


Jerusalem belongs to the Christians on Palm Sunday. Bearing palm fronds and olive branches, thousands of locals and visitors from all over the world make their way singing and praying down the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem to receive the blessing of the Latin Patriarch.


Much to the annoyance of motorists, Israeli police close off the streets to traffic so that the kilometres long procession can pass through unhindered. Long after the Palm Sunday procession has ended, the celebrations continue in and close to the Christian quarter of the Old City. Even the tram has to temporarily discontinue operations when the Christian scout groups parade with their bagpipes. With these celebrations Palestinian Christians – only a small minority in both Israel and Palestine – not only want to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but also show Jews and Muslims: We are still here – even though we only make up two percent of the population in Israel, and even less in Palestine.


This year however, the joy was subdued. The wave of violence that has shaken the Holy Land since last autumn has left its mark. Since fewer foreign pilgrims are traveling to the Holy Land because of the current situation, the procession was much smaller than usual. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a representative of the Israeli police estimated that the procession, which had 30,000 participants last year, was probably only half as large this year. Most importantly, however: Christians from the West Bank were missing.


Bishop Fouad Twal leads the procession on Palms Sunday 2016.

Bishop Fouad Twal leads the procession on Palms Sunday 2016.

“The people are afraid to come to Jerusalem”


“Last year we arrived from Bethlehem in seven buses. This year there were only three,” explained Johnny, a Catholic from the birthplace of Christ. He said that in contrast to previous years, no Christians came from West Bank cities such as Nablus or Jenin. The reason, he explained, was that Israeli authorities only started issuing entry permits to Jerusalem very late this year. “We only found out on Friday whether we would be able to go on Sunday. For many this was just too short notice,” he told the pastoral charity.


However, Johnny then said, what the real reason was: “The people are afraid to come to Jerusalem. They fear that something could happen to them. We constantly hear about Palestinians being shot here.”


In fact, since autumn more than 180 Palestinians have died in clashes with Israeli security forces in the Holy Land. However, many of them were killed because they attacked Israelis, including civilians. The attacks were carried out with knives, scissors or guns. More than 30 Jews were killed in this way. Israelis speak of victims of terrorism when referring to their dead and insist on their right to self-defence. Most Palestinians consider their dead to be resistance fighters who were executed by Israelis without sentencing. These viewpoints are irreconcilable. And thus hatred and distrust continue to grow on both sides.


“The church is opposed to any form of violence, be it from Palestinians or from Israeli soldiers. After all, the fact that they are wearing a uniform does not justify everything they do. However, at the same time we are for justice. It is simply not enough to say: No more violence. As long as there is injustice, there will be no peace,” Jamal Khader, said the rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jalla, a neighbouring town of Bethlehem.


Jerusalem has to be an open city. It belongs to everyone…


In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he was not surprised to hear about the drop in the number of visitors to the Palm Sunday procession this year. “I can understand that Palestinian Christians do not feel like coming to Jerusalem – and that despite the fact that it is Easter and we traditionally celebrate it in Jerusalem.” The priest said that it all started in the late nineties with the checkpoints. “The people often had to wait for hours. Then came the

The city of Jerusalem.

The city of Jerusalem.

wall and the permits. I used to come to Jerusalem for an ice cream. Today, I avoid coming here whenever I can. I do not want to have to pass through the checkpoints. And many feel the same.”


Father Jamal believes that Israel wants to discourage Palestinians from visiting Jerusalem. “Not everyone is issued an entry permit for the high feast days. Sometimes only the parents receive a permit and not the children. Then everyone stays home of course. Sometimes they are all issued a permit, but are then turned back again for some reason. This can’t be. Jerusalem has to be an open city. It belongs to everyone, Jews, Christians, Muslims. It can never be an exclusive city. Because then there will never be peace.”


Father Khader said that the political situation also influences how Palestinian Christians celebrate Easter. “We Christians of Palestine identify more with Good Friday than with Easter. We as Palestinians can closely relate to the sufferings of Christ. When we see Christ suffering, we see our suffering. The Gospels of the Passion not only tell the story of Jesus, but also our own. That does not mean that we do not believe in resurrection and the hope that goes along with this. But we are not that far yet.”


Interview by Oliver Maksan
Adaptation: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada.



Feature Story: Yemen and the murder of four Sisters

16.03.2016 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Persecution of Christians, Yemen

ACN-20140124-04605 Yemen

Photo: A few Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Teresa


They gave bread “and received gunfire” 

The Church deplores the world’s indifference to the murder of four nuns in Yemen

Montreal/Königstein, 15 Mar. 2016 – The Catholic Church on the Arabian Peninsula deplores the indifference that the people of the world have shown in response to the nuns murdered in Yemen. In Aden in early March, four nuns of the order founded by the Blessed Mother Teresa (to be made Saint this coming September as recently announced by the Holy See) whose work involved the care of the elderly and disabled, as well as twelve employees were presumably murdered by Islamic extremists.


…”they can quite unequivocally be called martyrs.”


A monk native to India has been missing since then. In an interview with the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Camillo Ballin, who is responsible for the northern part of the region, commented that neither the media nor politics has expressed any interest in the incidents. “No one has lifted a finger. It doesn’t interest anyone when it is Christianity that is under attack. The same thing happened to Jesus. They all abandoned him. And this is what is now happening to the church.” Bishop Ballin, who is head of the Bahrain-based Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, said that a normal Muslim could not approve of this kind of massacre.


The Italian bishop emphasized that the four nuns of Mother Teresa’s order were slain out of hatred for the Christian faith. “Thus, they can quite unequivocally be called martyrs.” Bishop Ballin then said that the nuns have now joined three fellow nuns of the order who were murdered in Yemen in 1998. “The congregation of Mother Teresa has seven nuns in Yemen, who, I believe, can quite unequivocally be called martyrs.”


Bishop Ballin feels that the martyrdom of the nuns reflects the vitality of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa. “The martyrdom of these nuns is a confirmation to us that her congregation continues to be close to Jesus. Because anyone who draws near to Jesus is always bound to His suffering and His death, which was followed by resurrection.” In this sense, the Christians in this region are called upon to bear witness to Jesus by suffering violence, he continued.


Bread for everybody, like Christ


According to Bishop Ballin, the road of the Christian is that of Christ, and therefore that of the cross, of death and resurrection.“These nuns gave bread to the elderly and disabled Muslims living in their facility. In return, they received gunfire. But God is not absent. He sees everything and knows what He is doing. These fanatics, who have perpetrated this so heinous crime, have basically declared to the entire world that these nuns were very close to Jesus. So close that they shared in His end and were also killed themselves.”


However, the death of these nuns was not the end, just as the death of Jesus was not His end. “It was followed by resurrection,” the bishop declared. “The same can be said for these nuns. Their sacrifice was not only made for their personal resurrection, but also for their congregation and for those whom they served, for Yemen and for their murderers.”

The bishop believes that God alone has the capacity to enter the hearts of these inhuman fanatics. “I am convinced that the sacrifice these nuns made will also prove itself valuable to these hearts of stone that continue to spread hate and malice.”


Yemen is currently the scene of a bloody conflict in which both religious and tribal rivalries play a role. According to information provided by the United Nations, the fighting has led to the internal displacement of more than 2.4 million people. Since March 2015, neighbouring Saudi Arabia has been intervening on behalf of the government, which is beleaguered by Huthi rebels. Jihadist groups are also active, primarily in the southern parts of the country. In December, jihadists blew up a Catholic church.


Article by Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adaptation: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada