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By Oliver Maksan

 

Feature Story – Syria Ceasefire

10.03.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Middle East, Syria

Syria

Archbishop Selwanos

Archbishop Selwanos

“Hoping the ceasefire will be the beginning of the end”

A representative of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Syria has expressed his hopes that the current ceasefire will be the beginning of the end of the war in Syria.

When asked about the temporary end of hostilities that took effect on 27 February in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Sunday, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama said, “We pray to the Lord God to put his hand in every good work, and the ceasefire process is good work, especially after such a long period of war. And ask the Lord to bless this step, and will be the beginning of the end of the war in our beloved Syria.”

And ask the Lord to bless this step, so that it will be the beginning of the end of the war in our beloved Syria. While talking with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Selwanos expressed his joy over the recent release of Christian hostages from captivity by the Islamist terror militia Islamic State. On  February 22, ISIS released the last 43 hostages from an initial group of 253 Christians who were captured one year ago when IS advanced through the Khabur region of northeastern Syria. At the time, around 3,000 Christians were forced to flee their villages in the face of the jihadists’ onslaught.

“There is no doubt,” Archbishop Selwanos said, “that the thing that happened with the hostages may enter the joy of all Christians, and has increased the belief that God still works miracles in difficult times, and that the Lord responds to the prayers of the good people.”

 

ACN-20150206-19909 new“There is no doubt,” Archbishop Selwanos said, “that the thing that happened with the hostages brings joy to all Christians and has increased the belief that God still works miracles in difficult times, and that the Lord responds to the prayers of the good people.”

Meanwhile, ISIS still has more than 170 Christian captives from the Syrian town of Al-Qaryatayn, which was conquered by the terror militia in August of 2015. The jihadists followed this with the destruction of Mar Elian, a 1,500-year-old monastery.

“…Christian loves peace and seeks peace by all means.”

According to Archbishop Selwanos, Syria’s Christians continue to live in fear of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups even after the release of the hostages from the Khabur region. “Christians lived fear of Daash (Arabic term for ISIS) and jihadists in the previous period, and are still so far. But this fear is hope that ends soon, especially as the Christian loves peace and seeks peace by all means.”

“Christians used to live in fear of Daesh (Arabic term for ISIS) and other jihadists, and still do so. But we hope that this fear will soon end, especially as the Christian loves peace and seeks peace by all means.”

Aid to the Church in Need supports the humanitarian work of Archbishop Selwanos. Since the outbreak of war in Syria, the aid organisation has donated a total of more than 11 million euros to its local church project partners for pastoral and humanitarian aid. The aid work is primarily focused on supporting the many internally displaced persons.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

ACN Feature – The Wall separating Israel and Palestine

11.02.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Israel, Journey with ACN, Palestine

(Crédit: Marcin Mazur)

The Holy Land

“Where can we go? After all, this is our home”

Israel’s wall in the Cremisan Valley: The hopes of  Beit Jala Christians are again diminished

 

The hopes of Beit Jala Christians , a town  neighbouring Bethlehem, have again diminished. Israel’s supreme court has now dismissed their lawyers’ most recent petitions. The aim was to force the Israeli army to disclose the precise course of the wall in the Cremisan Valley, which is part of Beit Jala, before construction commenced.

 

The plaintiffs, Christian families and members of Catholic orders, wanted to use this  to stop the army creating a situation on the ground in the agricultural area which could not be appealed against. The judges did emphasize the possibility of an appeal. But with the rejection of the petition, continued work to close the gap connecting the sections of wall between Israel and Palestine has become possible.

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

Mgrs. William Shomali “People feel very frustrated and depressed.”

 

“This dismissal has weakened their trust in the justice and will motivate some people to sell and leave,” Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali explained in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need. In the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem he is responsible for the Palestinian areas. As for the promise to allow owners to have full access to their land, it is not enough. It means the owners can use their land to plant grapes and olives but not to construct a home. The access itself may be denied in the future, since the land behind the wall will be part of Jerusalem. Going there needs a permit and permits can be denied,” the Bishop said.

 

The legal dispute between the Christian landowners and the Israeli army has been dragging on since 2006. The proceedings are being followed closely by the media and also by diplomats from the whole world stationed in Israel. Pope Francis has also intervened. But minor successes over the past year have ultimately given way to disillusion. Israel’s supreme court as the final arbiter announced that the army could build – on Palestinian soil.  As a result, 58 Christian families will lose their land where the wall is and sooner or later or will only have limited access to it. Israel justified the planned route by quoting security reasons and defence against terrorism, and it talks of this being a temporary measure. But the Palestinians regard the course of the wall as a state-organised land grab. They talk of the “annexation wall.”

 

In actuality, the barrier, which meanders across more than 700 kilometers between Israeli and Palestinian areas, has about eighty per cent of its structure on Palestinian land, and not on the Israeli border.

“The land has belonged to us for generations”

 

In August of last year, the excavators advanced in the valley(Credit: Society Saint Yves).

In August of last year, the excavators advanced in the valley (Credit: Society Saint Yves).

In August of last year, the excavators advanced in the valley. Ancient olive trees uprooted: The wall – already growing out of the soil. “I have to date lost fifteen olive trees because of the wall. They were many hundreds of years old. It makes my heart bleed,” said Mr Nahmi. “And they intend to take even more from us.” The elderly gentleman, an Orthodox Christian from Beit Jala, is directly affected by the construction of the wall. He doesn’t think much of the agricultural gates in the wall which the army intends to install for the farmers. “This hasn’t worked in the past. For some security reason or other people are then stopped from entering. Regardless of whether they have permission or not to take heavy agricultural machinery and workers across to the fields located on the Israeli side. The fact is that our land is lost. The Israelis still apply Ottoman law by which private land passes into state ownership if it hasn’t been cultivated for ten years.”

 

His nephew Xavier, a Chilean-born Palestinian, agrees with him. He had very consciously decided to return to the home of his forefathers. The young Catholic said: “For four years we have celebrated  Holy Mass and prayed every Friday in the olive groves so that we will be spared what is now happening. I said to our critics that prayer and non-violent resistance pay off. But what can I say now?”

 

Mrs Ilham is also affected by the planned wall. “It’s very difficult for us. A catastrophe,” the teacher from Beit Jala said. “The land has belonged to us for generations. It’s not only about the fruit that we grow there. It’s about our history, our bond with our homeland which is being taken from us.” This seventy-year-old lady understands it when young people from Beit Jala think about emigrating. “But where can we go? After all, this is our home. Everywhere else we are strangers.”

 

Priests saying mass in cremisan valley, August 2015 (Credit: Saint-Yves Society).

Priests saying mass in Cremisan valley, August 2015 (Credit: Saint-Yves Society).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


 

ACN INTERVIEW – Middle Eastern Christians must remain in the region

05.02.2016 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Middle East, Syria

Israel, June 2014
The procession on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua. The procession goes through the streets of Jaffa in the direction of the church of St. Anthony in Jaffa – the parish for migrants.

 

 

“If we hate ISIS, then they have won”

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Franciscans in the Middle East, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need: 

(Holy Land) Palestine, Bethlehem 01.12.2012 A Franciscan friar praying in front of an icon in the milk grotto in Bethlehem. The place - close to nativity church - is dear to Christians and Muslims because the virgin Mary is said to have lost her

(Holy Land) Palestine, Bethlehem 
Praying in front of an icon in the milk grotto in Bethlehem. The place – close to the Church of the Nativity  – is dear to both Christians and Muslims 

Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa is head of the Franciscans in the Middle East. The brothers of the Custody of the Holy Land are active in Israel and Palestine, also in Egypt and Syria. A Franciscan brother was recently abducted in Syria. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) met the with him in Jerusalem to discuss the prospects of Christians in Syria and the Middle East five years after the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” He believes that the war in Syria will continue to have repercussions for Christians in the country, even, long after its end. It is imperative to rebuild the trust between Muslims and Christians. In his opinion, Christians need to pray for forgiveness. And Muslims need to rethink their religious teachings.

ACN: Father Custos, the Arab Spring is now five years old. It has primarily resulted in chaos and the disintegration of nations, especially in Syria. Is there any reason for the hard-pressed Christians in the region to be optimistic in 2016?

It is difficult to say whether there are reasons for hope. However, from a political and military standpoint, this year will doubtlessly be a decisive year. 2016 could be a turning point. In Syria, I detect a certain war-weariness among the parties concerned. Therefore, they will not be able to continue at this intensity for much longer.

ACN: Do you believe that this will make it possible to find a political solution at the Geneva peace talks for Syria? (Just two days after its beginning, these talks were halted by the UN negotiator.  Talks should resume at the end of the month.)

Probably not immediately. The trenches are too deep for that. But it may be a beginning.

ACN: But do the Christians still have enough time left to wait and see if a political agreement can be reached at some point? After all, many Christians have already left Syria.

This is because the Christians are not only suffering from the war and its consequences, such as the destruction and shortfalls in supply. Even if the weapons were to fall silent, it would remain difficult for them. You have to realise that this war also has massive social repercussions. After all, this war is not just a civil war, both in Iraq and in Syria. It has had a very distinct denominational, religious character from the very beginning. It will not be a simple task to rebuild the trust that has been lost between Christians and Muslims in these countries. Added to this are the economic consequences. It will be very difficult to rebuild these countries, even if they retain their current borders. The Christians are also worried about the uncertain political future. Which kind of government will Syria have? In answer to your question: Of course not all will leave. Those that could afford to or wanted to, are already gone. Those who remain are those who did not want to leave or could not leave. These are the ones we have to take care of.

ACN: You said that the trust between Christians and Muslims is strained or has been destroyed. Why?

Well, for this you only have to think of jihadists such as Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan

ACN: But do these groups really reflect the beliefs of the Sunnis in Syria or Iraq?

Not all Syrians agree with their ideology or support them, of course. After all, they also suppress Muslims in the areas under their control, and thus numerically speaking one could even say they primarily suppress Muslims. But they still enjoy great popularity. It would be impossible for these groups to control such large parts of Syria and Iraq for such a long time without support from the general population.

ACN: And Christians are being targeted because the Islamists believe that they are on the side of the government?

Yes. However, one also has to say that in many places in Syria Christians and Muslims work and live together wonderfully. I am speaking more in terms of general developments.

ACN: But how can you rebuild trust in this case? Is it perhaps necessary to separate the groups along religious and ethnic borders? This is a trend that has developed in Syria.

This should not be done under any circumstances. In order to make a future possible for Christians in their countries, you have to push through the concept of citizenship and civil equality. This is the decisive point. And this is where the religious leaders have a part to play. Because Islamic fundamentalism didn’t just come out of nowhere.

ACN: However, most of the Islamic clerics say that ISIS, for example, has nothing to do with Islam.

It is surely a deviation, but there are links to the established theology. After World War II, we Catholics also had to ask ourselves from where modern anti-Judaism that brought to the Shoah was born and if we had a role in this. Muslim theologians now have to ask themselves similar questions. A theological examination of conscience is necessary. They have to ask themselves: What in our doctrine led to modern fundamentalism? After all, you have to ask yourself where the hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists suddenly came from. They kill Christians and persons of different religions. Why are they doing this? This needs to be answered by non-radical theologians. But we Christians also have a role to play in this.

ACN: Which role is that?

We Christians have to set an example of forgiveness. The Year of Mercy in particular can help make this clear to us.

Israel, June 2014 Holy Mass in the church in Jaffa on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua - the parish for migrants. Concelebrated holy Mass, the main celebrant - Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan custody of the Holy Land

Israel, June 2014
Holy Mass in the church in Jaffa on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua – the parish for migrants. Concelebrated holy Mass, the main celebrant – Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa,

ACN: But how can a Christian forgive ISIS, for example?

If we hate them, then they have won. And that is exactly what they want. Being human, it is of course extremely difficult to grant forgiveness and this cannot be done automatically, but in a frame of a process that requires time. But we have to put this in our perspective. And as an Italian who is living in safety, I am the last person who can tell a Christian in Aleppo how this is to be accomplished. I don’t have any answers for this either. But the Christians in Syria and Iraq have to ask themselves this question. The Gospels require this of us. If we fail to do so, our faith will remain theoretical. After all, our faith was born on Mount Calvary. This means that forgiveness has been at the heart of Christianity from the very beginning.

“Under no circumstances would I encourage the Christians to emigrate…”

ACN: Europe has long ceased being simply an observer of the upheaval in the Middle East. It is directly affected by the flow of refugees from the region. Many Christians are also going to Europe. Does this trouble you?

Under no circumstances would I encourage the Christians to emigrate. We are doing everything in our power to make it possible for the Christians to stay. I would tell them: Go to a safe part of the country, but stay in Syria. Fleeing is not a solution. Because the Christians belong here. They have a calling here. And Europe is not a paradise.

ACN: Don’t welcoming signs from Germany, for example, make your work a lot harder?

Yes. Of course this makes our efforts to help the people stay and not leave more difficult. Everyone is now talking about wanting to go to Germany. Angela Merkel has invited them, the people say. However, I would tell the politicians in Europe: It would be better to help the refugees, including the Christians, here than in Europe. It would be better to invest the money required to admit millions of refugees here. It is better for both the refugees and the region.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

ACN Press Release – Destruction of an ancient monastery in Mosul

22.01.2016 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Persecution of Christians, Press Release, Religious freedom

Iraq

“A symbol of our presence”

Christians in Iraq are distressed at the destruction of Iraq’s oldest monastery by ISIS

Since it was made known that Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery was destroyed by the terrorist militia “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” ISIS there has been widespread distress in Iraq.

“St. Elijah’s Monastery in Mosul was a symbol of the Christian presence in Iraq. The fact that it has been destroyed is terrible,” Father Dankha Issa told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Thursday. Father Dankha is an Iraqi monk belonging to the Antonian Order of Saint Ormizda of the Chaldeans, a religious community of the Chaldean Church which is in full communion with Rome.

 

The “sons of devils” relentlessly destroy

Before he was forced to flee ISIS in 2014, he lived in Saint George’s Monastery in Mosul. “St. Elijah’s Monastery was over 1,400 years old. It stood abandoned for a long time, but it meant a lot to us Christians. It was an expression of our extremely long history in Iraq.” Father Dankha said what had affected him most was that clearly; no-one was able to stop the jihadis. “It is the sons of the devil who do such work. We can only pray for them. God alone can help us.”

On Wednesday, the American news agency AP, announced that ISIS had razed St. Elijah’s Monastery to the ground. An analysis of satellite pictures of the sites conducted on behalf of the agency revealed that the monastery was actually destroyed somewhere between August and September 2014.

 

ISIS deliberate in its destruction of religious sites

Thousands of Christians lived in the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul in Northern Iraq right up to its conquest in June 2014, fleeing immediately following the jihadi conquest or leaving the city after receiving an ultimatum by the self-appointed ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014.

ISIS has deliberately destroyed a large number of sites of religious and cultural significance in Iraq and Syria. Worldwide concern had followed the destruction of the 1,600-year-old Mar Elian Monastery in the Syrian city of al-Qaryatayn in August of last year after the town was overtaken by ISIS. In a number of cases where ISIS has been involved, churches and church institutions were also put to different use, for instance turned into prisons.

 

More of the story in Mosul in the video below: 

 

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

 

ACN Press – Abbey targeted by extremists in Jerusalem

21.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Jerusalem, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org

Jerusalem

“Praying for those who hate us”

The Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem has been targeted by vandals again. Last 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.”

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. Only this very small file quality available

© Latin Patriarchate of Jerusale

A sword dripping with blood was also drawn next to a Star of David.

The community of monks reacted with dismay to the incidents. “We are praying for those who hate us,” Father Nikodemus Schnabel, sub-prior of the monastery, said to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “If we are being attacked because we are Christians, then we want to react as Christians.” When asked, Father Nikodemus was not able to explain why the extremists had targeted the Abbey of the Dormition again. However, he emphasized that the Jewish community had reacted with commiseration.

 

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. Only this very small file quality available

© Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem          Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem  – 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”.

“We are thankful for all of our friends in Israel who stand by us in solidarity,” said Father Nikodemus. “We as monks of the Abbey of the Dormition will not cease praying for reconciliation, justice and peace – as well as for the perpetrators of last night, that the hatred may disappear from their hearts.” But in the meantime, he has also called for the Israeli authorities to act.  “We ask that the security forces take this criminal act seriously and finally take steps to improve the security situation on Mount Zion, something which has been promised to us since the summer of 2013.”

The police had already approved the installation of cameras in the summer of 2013, after parked cars belonging to the monastery were heavily damaged and vitriolic graffiti was discovered. However, Father Nikodemus said that nothing has happened to date. Over the last few years the Benedictine community has repeatedly been targeted by what are suspected to be Jewish extremists.

Shortly after Pope Francis visited in May of 2014, an attempt was made to set fire to the abbey church in Jerusalem. Up to this point, the worst incident was an arson attack on Tabgha Priory belonging to the monastic community on the Sea of Galilee, in June of 2015. The priory sustained damages totaling more than 2.32 million dollars. Two people suffered from smoke poisoning. The perpetrators, Jewish extremists, have since been arrested. It remains unclear how much of the costs for the reconstruction of the destroyed parts of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes the state of Israel will undertake to pay.

For years now, Christian and Muslim churches and establishments have been under attack by what are presumably Jewish extremists. The perpetrators are suspected to be primarily extremist Jews who support the Settlement movement. Hardly any arrests or convictions have yet to be made. Recently, in December, the cemetery of the Salesian monastery of Beit Gemal in Israel was desecrated by unknown persons who overturned and damaged crosses.

 

 

*  Cover photo:  Father Nikodemus Schnabel OSB is subprior of the German speaking Benedictine monastery Dormitio Mariae in Jerusalem. The abbey has been attacked repeatedly by presumably Jewish extremists.

 

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International, press@acn-intl.org

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada, ag@acn-aed-ca.org

 


 

A difficult Christmas in the birthplace of Jesus

09.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Holy Land, Persecution of Christians

Holy Land

Bethlehem celebrates Christmas under difficult circumstances 

Joseph and Mary quietly rocked the child. Shepherds gathered around them. Children in costumes were enacting the Nativity of Jesus deep in the subterranean chapels tucked away into nooks and crannies under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The actual Nativity took place close by over 2,000 years ago. A silver star marks the birthplace in a grotto just a few metres away. The little actors that played the parts of the Holy Family and the Magi were children with disabilities from all over Palestine. They live in a house near the Church of the Nativity, which is run by nuns from the Institute of the Incarnate Word. “Our children need strong impressions to understand the truths of our faith,” Sister Maria, who takes care of the little ones, said. “A nativity scene helps them understand the mystery of Christmas. That, out of love for us, God became a small and weak child just like them so that He could share our lot: this makes it clear to them.”

Les enfants handicapés vivants à la maison gérée par les Sœurs de l’Institut du Verbe incarné, situé à proximité de l’Église de la Nativité.

Disabled children staging the birth of Jesus. The children live in a house in Bethlehem run by the Sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word IVE.

The quiet, peaceful scene in the Church of the Nativity stood in stark contrast to the situation in the Holy Land in general. There was no sign of Christmas peace. For months a wave of violence has been sweeping through Israel and Palestine. More than 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian assailants since the end of September. In most cases knives and other stabbing weapons were used. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in defensive action or in violent clashes, hundreds were wounded. The violence was sparked by fears that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is revered as a sacred site by both Muslims and Jews alike. Observers, however, believe that the underlying reason for the unrests is the political gridlock between Israelis and Palestinians. A peace settlement and a two-state solution do not seem to be in reach.

The Church wants to use the Year of Mercy to strengthen the faith of Christians in the birthplace of Jesus  

A reduced number of festivities

This year, in 2015, Bethlehem’s municipal administration decided to hold more modest Christmas celebrations out of respect for the victims of the violence. Catholic Mayor Vera Baboun explained what makes this year different. “We did not just want to celebrate Christmas as though nothing were happening. When we set up the Christmas tree before the Church of the Nativity, we did not hold the fireworks display. Instead, the bells of the city’s churches were rung. Churches from all over the world joined us in ringing their bells for peace. We also reduced the holiday illuminations. We wanted to show that although we are celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, at the same time we are not at peace and are mourning our dead.”

However, the violence is not only reflected in the reduced number of festivities. Bethlehem’s tourism sector is complaining that this year’s season has fallen far short of expectations. And that although the Christmas season is crucial to Bethlehem in general and to its Christians specifically. The livelihood of many Christians depends upon providing food, drink and lodgings to pilgrims and selling devotional items.

“This year was very bad,” Jack Giacaman told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The Catholic sells figurines carved out of olive wood from Bethlehem. His shop, which is close to the Milk Grotto, where it is said that the Virgin Mary nursed the Christ child, is empty. “The Gaza War last year has made the people afraid of travelling to the Holy Land. This is unfounded. Pilgrims are safe here. But many have still cancelled their bookings.” The Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that the rooms were scarcely at half their usual occupancy during this year’s Christmas season. Thus, in the place where Mary and Joseph once searched unsuccessfully for a room, many now stand empty in 2015.

Des travailleurs palestiniens passent au ''check point'' pour rentrer à la maison.

Palestinian workers returning from Israel and passing the checkpoint to Bethlehem.

 

In light of the difficult economic and political situation, more and more Christian families have taken the decision to leave Bethlehem and the Holy Land. The mood has further been depressed by the fact that almost sixty Christian families in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem are now going to lose their land to the separation barrier built by Israel despite years of litigation. This has also led many Christians to doubt the possibility of a future in the Holy Land. “Several more families just recently left. This is very painful for us,” Father Pater Ricardo Bustos said when he spoke to Aid to the Church in Need.

“Jesus is the door to peace with God and with each other. God has come to change the state of affairs here. Even though the child in the manger may appear fragile: God’s promise is strong and constant.”

The priest is guardian of the Franciscan monastery near the Church of the Nativity. In May of last year he welcomed Pope Francis here. Father Ricardo still knows him from the time when the pope was working in Argentina. “However, we as the church want to use this Year of Mercy to remind the Christians of Bethlehem of their calling and to strengthen them in the faith. They are witnesses to the peace that Jesus brought us. And although peace may still seem far away and the road to it bumpy: the fact that God was made man here 2000 years ago is a sign of hope for this country and its people.”

According to Father Ricardo, this is especially true in the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. The Latin Patriarch also opened a Holy Door at the Catholic Church of St. Catherine near the Church of the Nativity before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Father Ricardo is convinced that “Jesus is the door to peace with God and with each other. God has come to change the state of affairs here. Even though the child in the manger may appear fragile: God’s promise is strong and constant.”

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin : ag@acn-aed-ca.org

 

ACN Feature – The Holy Land

21.12.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Holy Land

 

Mgr Marcuzzo, vicaire patriarcal et évêque auxiliaire du patriarcat latin d’Israël.

Msgr Marcuzzo, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Auxiliary Bishop

Holy Land

“Exercising mercy and demanding justice belong together”

The Holy Doors in Bethlehem and Nazareth will soon be opened – Auxiliary Bishop Marcuzzo from Nazareth emphasizes the role forgiveness in the Holy Land as also having political dimensions

“The Holy Year of Mercy is very important for the Holy Land. It has spiritual, but also social and political dimensions,” Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of the Latin Patriarchate and patriarchal vicar for Israel, emphasized. In an interview with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the bishop, who resides in Nazareth (Israel), explained that the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis should transform both the individual Christian as well as the Christian community.

According to Auxiliary Bishop Marcuzzo, both belong together. “This year is an opportunity to grow in the faith and active love. Mercy is exercising love in difficult situations. The circumstances of the Holy Land, however, are such that the individual faithful Christian is called upon to make a heroic testimony of love.” According to Bishop Marcuzzo, the most important outcome of the Holy Year for the individual would be the rediscovery of the sacrament of penance. “To begin with, I am hoping for a more mature, more conscious and more adult return to the sacrament of confession. This is above all a matter of the individual, but it does also have a social dimension. Because people who are willing to change their ways are also willing to do things for others. We hope that this will lead to more solidarity and selflessness. A Christian has to prove himself to be stronger than the brother of the brother. This is true for the relationships of Christians among each other, but also for associations with members of other religions, whether they are Muslims, Jews or Druze. You have to accept the other in his otherness.”

 

The church does not ask of us to be

merciful but stop calling for justiceProject trip of Agnieszka Dzieduszycka and Ilona Budzbon

 

The auxiliary bishop highlighted a decisive aspect of mercy is the willingness to bestow forgiveness. In light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course, the discourse on forgiveness is a special challenge for the primarily Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land. “At the moment, the people are asking me how they can live mercy and forgiveness following such great injustices as those caused by the wars and the violence they experience. There is no easy answer. But one thing is clear, we cannot on the one hand exercise mercy and stop demanding justice. We have to bring them into sync with each other. The church does not ask of us to be merciful but stop calling for justice.” Bishop Marcuzzo mentioned examples from other contexts. “Of course, for us Christians, Jesus Christ is the quintessential example of how this is done. But he was also followed by people who tried to bring mercy and justice into sync. I believe that within his context Gandhi, for example, was the perfect example of this way of living. We can also let this inspire us as Christians in the Holy Land.”

The Holy Door will be opened in Bethlehem on the 24th, in Nazareth on the 27th of December.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International,          

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN Report – Christmas in Aleppo

18.12.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Emergency Aid, Persecution of Christians, Syria

Aleppo, Syria

“Christmas without joy in their hearts”

In the midst of the hellish conditions that have overshadowed Aleppo, Sister Annie endeavours to give the people a merry Christmas – Aid to the Church in Need is supporting her

Christmas gift for the children and the people in Al Hassekeh and AleppoChristmas music, colourful balloons, lights and a Christmas tree: Sister Annie and her helpers have decorated the church hall for the festive season. Gifts are being handed out. Happy faces can be seen. Small children are racing around. There’s a lot of laughter. And yet – this pre-Christmas idyll allows the people of Aleppo to forget at most for a short while the circumstances in which they are forced to live.

“Two days ago missiles struck quite near us. Six people were killed. A few days before an apartment building had been hit. Nobody was hurt but a lot of people were injured. Injured often means that people have lost arms and legs. This is an everyday occurrence for us. No-one knows whether he’ll get home alive whenever he leaves his house. All we have left is our trust in God,” reports Sister Annie .

“Recently I visited a family who were living in their apartment which had been destroyed by a missile. My heart wept. It was such a terrible sight.”

This Armenian-Catholic nun of the Community of Jesus and Mary has held out for years in Aleppo, a town ravaged by the Syrian war. The government and the rebels hold different parts of the town. Time and time again they fight one another. Together with her co-sisters and helpers she is serving Aleppo’s Christians by endeavouring to provide clothing, heating, rent assistance and medicines.

Gifts: Clothing made in Aleppo

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting Sister Annie in her initiative. Hundreds of thousands of Christians once lived in this prosperous commercial metropolis in the north of Syria. Today only a few tens of thousands remain in a city where large parts  have been destroyed. “Life here is so difficult. For days on end there is no electricity or water. It’s bitterly cold in the winter in particular. Recently I visited a family who were living in their apartment which had been destroyed by a missile. My heart wept. It was such a terrible sight.”

As in previous years, Sister Annie is endeavouring to give the people a merry Christmas. “We distribute trousers, pullovers and jackets to the people. They’re often unable to buy new things for themselves. That’s why such things are so important for them specifically in the winter.”

Sister Annie and her volunteers have been preparing the project since September. 12,000 items of clothing have been made for 3,000 needy people. “The clothes have been made by Christian tailors here in Aleppo. They told me that they are so grateful for the orders. This is how they get work to feed their families.”

Les cadeaux de Noël pour des habitants d'Al Hassekeh et d'Alep: des vêtements chauds pour l'hiver.

Christmas presents for the people of AlHassekeh and Aleppo – warm clothing for the winter ahead.

Christians are not only being helped in Aleppo but also in Hasake, a town in the north-east of Syria. “Formerly we were able to transport the relief aid from Aleppo to Hasake by truck. But because Daesh (the terrorist group “Islamic State”) has now conquered the area between these two places this is no longer so easy. We have therefore sent the clothes by air. The priest with whom we work has reported that they arrived safely.”

ACN announces additional aid

The situation in the Near-East is not seeing improvement. Therefore a series of supplementary emergency measures have been taken and announced by ACN for Iraqis as well as Syrians who have fled persecution. For Syria: 19 aid programs have been launched.  All in all, projects financed to support Christians in Syria have totaled $14,500,000 CAN since the onset of the conflict in 2011.

However, Aid to the Church in Need has supported Sister Annie’s Christmas project for years now. “Without Aid to the Church in Need I wouldn’t be able to give the people anything. For me it is one of God’s miracles that things are different. We are so grateful to the benefactors for their generosity. Just now we celebrated a Holy Mass to pray for them. And the people also bless the benefactors when they hear who the gifts are from.” Since Friday last week Sister Annie has been distributing clothes to the needy from ten o’clock in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon.

“We don’t want the people to feel they are beggars. That’s why we’ve decorated the distributing room so nicely. We’re also trying to talk to them all. It isn’t only supposed to be a clothing distribution point, but a place where people can meet one another.” When they come, Sister Annie says, the people complain about their everyday sufferings. “This is the fifth Christmas festival that Syrian’s Christians will be celebrating in conditions of war. The people no longer have  joy in their hearts. Of course, they will go to church. But the joy which we all used to feel at Christmas has gone. It has been replaced by sadness.”

She reports about an old man who told her despondently that he and his wife were alone at Christmas. “Formerly all his sixteen children and grandchildren celebrated with them. Now they’re all gone, fled. Only the two old people are left.” Many have suffered the fate of this elderly couple. They had lost relatives in the attacks, their sons were serving in the army or the children had fled. “In every household there is a sad story to be told,” Sister Annie explains. “But the people trust in God. And they are happy that their fellow Christians in other countries have not forgotten them.”

ACN Feature – A chapel for Christian refugees in Baghdad

03.12.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Oliver Maksan, CONSTRUCTION, Iraq

Iraq

“A piece of a lost homeland”

Inauguration de la chapelle dédiée à la Vierge Marie, dans le camps du même nom. de nombreuses familles chrétiennes de la Plaine de Ninive s'y retrouvent. Maintenant, elles auront un endroit propice à la prière.

Inauguration of the chapel dedicated to named for the Virgin Mary with many families from the Nineveh Plains present for the celebration.  Now they will have a place to gather and to pray. 

Father Luis Montes is glad. “We have just consecrated a new chapel. It was high time that our refugees got their own small church. This gives them back a piece of the home they have lost. And the people can now go to Mass without risking their lives.”

This Argentinean priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word has been living in Baghdad for five years – this,  one of the most dangerous cities in the world. “There were 128 bomb attacks in Baghdad in October alone. It is therefore hardly surprising that the people are afraid of leaving their homes to go to church.” And this, he reported, even though the nearest church is not that far away. “However, because of the danger it was important that the church came to them in the camp.”

Since last year, 135 families from the Nineveh plains near Mosul have been living in this refugee camp named for the Virgin Mary where each family, all of them Christian, has been given a caravan. Most belong to the Syrian Catholic church. “The people lost everything last year. When the Islamic State attacked their city of Karakosh, they ran for their lives and left everything behind.”

Over 120,000 Christians have had similar experiences and have been biding their time as refugees in camps primarily in Northern Iraq. Thousands have already left their homelands to go to Australia or other Western countries. “All of our refugees here want to leave. They came to Baghdad because the camps in the North were overcrowded, but primarily because they needed new documents so that they could leave Iraq. Most of them forgot or lost their documents in the chaos of fleeing,” Father Luis said. “None of them still harbour the hope that they will be able to return to their hometowns, which are currently occupied by ISIS. After all, there are no signs of liberation. And furthermore, the people have lost their faith in Iraq and in general in the Arab world,” Father Luis explained. Once, when he asked a woman whether she could imagine a future for herself in what are in fact safe autonomous Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq, she answered, “Yes. Right now it is still safe there. But will it continue to be so tomorrow? Many people from Iraq fled to Syria years ago. And now they have to set out again. No, the best thing for us to do is to leave the Middle East completely.”

A container for a chapel

Visa applications of the families are being processed only slowly. Which means that the people are living in limbo, Father Luis said. “Of course the people are suffering under their situations. Not all have found work here. In particular the fathers of the families feel useless. However, when I look at our people, I am still looking into happier faces than those in the West. The people still have their faith in God. This supports them and fills them with confidence.”

Father Luis has been taking care of the people since their arrival in Baghdad. “I quickly realized that the camp did not have a chapel. And then Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) agreed to help us, which is why we were recently able to consecrate our little container church.”

“I only saw thankful faces looking back at me at the consecration. It shows them that they have not been forgotten, that the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need are thinking of them. Every sign of solidarity is worth a great deal to them in their situation. And we are all one in the Mystical Body of Christ. What we do for each other becomes a blessing for all. The small church is helping the people here. The benefactors, however, and all believers are blessed by the suffering of these confessors of the Christian faith. They are the true treasure of the church and one we have to take care.”

In the future, Holy Mass will be celebrated here on Saturday evenings according to the Syrian Catholic rite. “Of course we are all Catholics. But the Latin rite that I celebrate is in fact very different from what the people are used to. And so priests of the Syrian Catholic church will be called in. However, because there are only two of them in Baghdad and they already hold many services on Sunday, they will celebrate the Sunday liturgy on Saturday evenings. As they do so, I will be taking confession from the faithful.”

The people, Father Luis reported, are very happy about the little chapel. “I only saw thankful faces looking back at me at the consecration. It shows them that they have not been forgotten, that the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need are thinking of them. Every sign of solidarity is worth a great deal to them in their situation. And we are all one in the Mystical Body of Christ. What we do for each other becomes a blessing for all. The small church is helping the people here. The benefactors, however, and all believers are blessed by the suffering of these confessors of the Christian faith. They are the true treasure of the church. And one we have to take care Father Luis Montes is glad. “We have just consecrated a new chapel. It was high time that our refugees got their own small church. This gives them back a piece of the home they have lost. And the people can now go to Mass without risking their lives.”

Enfin, un endroit où l'on pourra vivre le sacrement de réconciliation en toute quiétude. Une chapelle multifonction pour les réfugiés chrétiens de Bagdad.

Finally a quiet place to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.  A multiuse chapel for Christian refugees in Baghdad.

This Argentinean priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word has been living in Baghdad for five years – this,  one of the most dangerous cities in the world. “There were 128 bomb attacks in Baghdad in October alone. It is therefore hardly surprising that the people are afraid of leaving their homes to go to church.” And this, he reported, even though the nearest church is not that far away. “However, because of the danger it was important that the church came to them in the camp.”

Since last year, 135 families from the Nineveh plains near Mosul have been living in this refugee camp named for the Virgin Mary where each family, all of them Christian, has been given a caravan. Most belong to the Syrian Catholic church. “The people lost everything last year. When the Islamic State attacked their city of Karakosh, they ran for their lives and left everything behind.”

Over 120,000 Christians have had similar experiences and have been biding their time as refugees in camps primarily in Northern Iraq. Thousands have already left their homelands to go to Australia or other Western countries. “All of our refugees here want to leave. They came to Baghdad because the camps in the North were overcrowded, but primarily because they needed new documents so that they could leave Iraq. Most of them forgot or lost their documents in the chaos of fleeing,” Father Luis said. “None of them still harbour the hope that they will be able to return to their hometowns, which are currently occupied by ISIS. After all, there are no signs of liberation. And furthermore, the people have lost their faith in Iraq and in general in the Arab world,” Father Luis explained. Once, when he asked a woman whether she could imagine a future for herself in what are in fact safe autonomous Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq, she answered, “Yes. Right now it is still safe there. But will it continue to be so tomorrow? Many people from Iraq fled to Syria years ago. And now they have to set out again. No, the best thing for us to do is to leave the Middle East completely.”

A container for a chapel

Visa applications of the families are being processed only slowly. Which means that the people are living in limbo, Father Luis said. “Of course the people are suffering under their situations. Not all have found work here. In particular the fathers of the families feel useless. However, when I look at our people, I am still looking into happier faces than those in the West. The people still have their faith in God. This supports them and fills them with confidence.”

Father Luis has been taking care of the people since their arrival in Baghdad. “I quickly realized that the camp did not have a chapel. And then Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) agreed to help us, which is why we were recently able to consecrate our little container church.”

In the future, Holy Mass will be celebrated here on Saturday evenings according to the Syrian Catholic rite. “Of course we are all Catholics. But the Latin rite that I celebrate is in fact very different from what the people are used to. And so priests of the Syrian Catholic church will be called in. However, because there are only two of them in Baghdad and they already hold many services on Sunday, they will celebrate the Sunday liturgy on Saturday evenings. As they do so, I will be taking confession from the faithful.”

The people, Father Luis reported, are very happy about the little chapel. “I only saw thankful faces looking back at me at the consecration. It shows them that they have not been forgotten, that the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need are thinking of them. Every sign of solidarity is worth a great deal to them in their situation. And we are all one in the Mystical Body of Christ. What we do for each other becomes a blessing for all. The small church is helping the people here. The benefactors, however, and all believers are blessed by the suffering of these confessors of the Christian faith. They are the true treasure of the church and one we have to take care.”

With the help of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a chapel for Christian refugees is consecrated in Baghdad.

 

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

 

New ACN Office Opens in South Korea

19.11.2015 in ACN International, ACN KOREA, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan

South Korea

“It is important to pray for peace and reconciliation in Korea”

Aid to the Church in Need President Cardinal Mauro Piacenza opened the new office of Aid to the Church in Need in Seoul – and visited the demarcation line between South and North Korea

Following his visit to South Korea, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza talked about how impressed he had been by the vitality of the local Catholic church. “The people came in droves to the services I had the honour of celebrating. And their sympathy for the situation of the persecuted Christians across the world was remarkably high,” the president of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said. Cardinal Piacenza travelled to Seoul last week to celebrate the opening of the South Korean office of the pastoral charity. The Melkite archbishop of Homs in Syria, Jean Abdo Arbach, also accepted the invitation to talk about what was currently happening in his church.

Le cardinal Piacenza, président de l'AED, en visite au nouveau bureau national en Corée du Sud. Ici, lors du symposium sur l'Église de Syrie organisé pour marquer l'événement.

Visit of ACN delegation with Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, President of Aid to the Church in Need, in South Korea, where he addresses the audience at the first ACN Symposium for Syria in Seoul, South Korea.

Visite de la délégation de l'AED dans la zone démilitarisée entre les deux Corées. “I was particularly moved by the visit to the intra-Korean border. We were able to look the North Korean soldiers in the eyes; that was how close we were. We were only separated by a sheet of glass. I noticed how suspicious they were about our visit. However, I also saw curiosity in their eyes. This is certainly a positive thing,” the curial cardinal said following the visit to the demarcation line between North and South Korea. “The South Korean soldiers, some of them Catholic, were very welcoming. The same can be said for the Buddhist general, who reacted to our prayer for peace with sympathy.” Cardinal Piacenza recalled a recent incident at the intra-Korean border, during which two South Korean soldiers lost their legs. “All along the border there was evidence that there really is a war going on there. We saw how bleak the towns along the imposed border are. It was therefore very important to pray for peace and reconciliation in this wonderful country as well as for the healing of the inner and outer wounds of its people.”

 

The ACN delegation visits the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas

The executive president of Aid to the Church in Need, Baron Johannes Heereman, was also impressed by what he saw at the opening ceremony of the Seoul office. “In South Korea we saw the great power of prayer of the faithful. This will strengthen us in our mission to pray for the suffering church.” Baron Heereman added that South Korea is currently transitioning from a receiving to a giving country. “Aid to the Church in Need acts as an intermediary between churches that are free and those that are oppressed or even persecuted. We are happy that South Korea has joined the international family of Aid to the Church in Need,” Baron Heereman said.

Aid to the Church in Need maintains offices in 22 countries around the world. The international pastoral charity supports pastoral projects of the oppressed and persecuted church in more than 130 countries.