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ACN International

 

Lebanon – “The solidarity of Lebanon is reaching its limits”

03.06.2015 in ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Lebanon, Refugees, Syria

Lebanon

“The solidarity of Lebanon is reaching its limits”

Many Syrian Christians have found refuge in Lebanon – Aid to the Church in Need is providing support

Lebanon, March 2015Syrian Muslim refugee children in a camp ofFlodia is lying in bed with acute abdominal pains. “The whole situation has now started to affect me physically,” she says. “Being a refugee means having stress. You cannot imagine it. Worrying about tomorrow eats you up, first mentally, then physically.” This young Syrian woman has been living in Zahle with her husband George and their three children since 2012.

The Christian city on the Lebanese Beqaa plateau called Zahle, is not far from the Syrian border, making it a destination for many Syrian Christians as they fled their homeland during the uprising against President Assad, beginning in 2011, as the situation became more and more bloodied.

“We had a good life in Syria. We lived in a beautiful house near Homs. But we could not stay. The rebels kept advancing. We have nothing left. We have no idea what has happened to our house,” she says bitterly and gestures to the room around her. The family is renting a bedsit. Five people are living in one room, in which they cook, eat and sleep. It is filled with old furniture donated by local Christians. “We have to pay 250 dollars a month for this small flat. That is a lot for us. Quite a lot.”

Flodia’s husband George worked in Syria as a labourer. However, he is no longer completely healthy. Neither he nor she has any kind of work. Instead, the three sons have to contribute to the upkeep of the family. Flodia has tears in her eyes as she talks about it. “My sons should be going to school or be in training for a profession or even going to university. But that is not possible. We need the money. But you can imagine how a mother feels when she robs her children of their future. I feel so guilty.”

Her son Eli, however, waves her words aside. The 16-year-old works at a warehouse and delivers goods. “Our parents used to do everything for us. Now it is simply our turn.” His younger brother, who is only 13, works in a bakery. The oldest of the sons, 17-year-old Roger, washes hair at a barbershop. The young men do not earn much. “My sons work twelve hours a day. For that, they are earning just 150 dollars a month. That is exploitation. But what can we do?”

Lebanon, Zahle March 2015The Syrian Christian refugees Flodia,

 

According to Floria, their family of five needs six to seven hundred dollars a month to make ends meet. Eli has pretty much come to terms with the situation. “It was awful, having to leave home. However, I have also found friends here. And luckily we are all alive and together as a family. I am grateful for this. But I would like to continue my education.” He and his father would like to return to Syria when the war is over. “That is my home. I belong there,” he says.  But, their mother Flodia sees things differently. “Of course I long to be in Syria. But how long will it take to heal the wounds that the war has inflicted between Christians, Sunnis, Druze, Kurds and Alawites? I don’t want to go back. I am ready to go anywhere.”

The family is grateful for the support they receive from the church. The Melkite Archdiocese of Zahle has been helping the Christian refugees from the very beginning. “We would not be able to make ends meet without the church,” mother Flodia says. For Archbishop Issam Darwish, this is a matter of course. The bishop is a native Syrian himself. “In 2011, when the first Syrian Christians from Homs knocked on our door in the middle of the night, it was clear that we needed to help them. After all, these are our brothers and sisters.”

LEBANON / ZAHLEH-MLC 15/00013  PrID: 1502194Humanitarian assistThe archdiocese is helping a total of 700 Christian families with food, clothing and other necessities. The church is also supporting a number of Muslim families. “We would not be able to do all this without the generosity of the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need,” the archbishop gratefully says. “It is usually not that easy for Christians to get help. Since they live in flats and not tents like many Muslim refugees, they do not meet the requirements of many aid organizations. For this reason they are dependent upon us.”

The overall situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon does not appear to be getting any easier. According to cautious estimates, every fourth inhabitant in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. The UN has counted 1.2 million refugees, not all refugees are registered and so it is possible the number is likely much higher. Many speak of two million Syrians who have been taken in by Lebanon and its four million inhabitants.

They are important for the Middle East

“The solidarity of the Lebanese is reaching its limits. They are losing patience,” Archbishop Darwish says. “Crime has risen sharply. In addition, the Lebanese are coming under pressure because of the cheap labour. There were already not enough jobs for the young Lebanese. For this reason, many Lebanese are thinking about emigrating. The burden is simply too great for such a small country as Lebanon. The government has therefore decided to refuse any further refugees admittance into the country.”

According to the archbishop, several families among the Christian refugees under his care have already returned to Syria, at least to those areas in which the situation has calmed down. “In this year alone, 100 Christian families were able to return to their places in Syria. That is good. However, many Christian families have since also emigrated to Western countries,” Archbishop Darwish says. “However, we encourage our faithful to stay. They are important for the Middle East. It has also become more difficult to emigrate to Australia, for example. The obstacles are very high.”

Those, however, who are thinking about leaving need to be given hope. “We try to find jobs for them. However, we primarily try to convince them that they have a calling as Christians in the Middle East. And this is not my opinion alone. There are Islamic scholars who say that the Christians need to stay here. The Middle East would not be the same without them.” According to the archbishop, the Christians bring the various groups together. “Sunnis and Shiites can talk to each other in my house. Where else is this possible? We Christians have a calling for reconciliation.”

 

 

Pakistan: THE GOVERNMENT ACTED IN TIME

28.05.2015 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo

FOR ONCE, THE GOVERNMENT ACTED IN TIME

“When a Muslim is accused of blasphemy, it is he alone who pays the consequences. However, if it is a Christian who is accused, then the entire Christian community is held responsible.”

This was the comment made to ACN by Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shah of Lahore, after the events of Sunday, May 24, in Sanda, a mainly Christian quarter of this large Pakistani metropolis.

A young Christian man, Humayun Faisal Masih, was accused of blasphemy after having burnt some pages of a newspaper alleged to have contained verses of the Koran. Shortly afterwards an enraged crowd attacked the Christian quarter. “According to certain witnesses, the boy was tidying up the house,” Archbishop Shah explained. “However, it is not yet clear exactly what happened. Yesterday our priority was to protect the people of the quarter, and we didn’t have time to verify the validity of the accusations. This afternoon I will go to Sanda and endeavour to find out more.”

Tmons. Shahhe archbishop was alerted to the incident at seven o’clock on the Sunday evening, when a crowd had blocked traffic in the ancient Christian quarter, setting fire to tires and hurling stones at houses. The Christians immediately fled their homes fearing a tragedy similar to the ones at Gojra in 2009 and Joseph Colony in 2013.

“I immediately requested help from some Muslim leaders and local politicians. Thanks to their intervention, the police succeeded in dispersing the crowd by midnight. It is the first time the government has succeeded in acting in time to save both the people and their homes.” For Archbishop Shah, the effectiveness of the response by the authorities was as a result of dramatic attacks on two churches earlier this year in Lahore, on March 15. “Since then I have maintained close relations with politicians and representatives of the local Muslim community. It was their support that has enabled us to avert the worst.”

What remains to be investigated are the accusations against Humayun, who has been formally charged with blasphemy under Article 295b of the Pakistani constitution which, together with Article 295c, are known as the so-called “anti-blasphemy laws” and which carry a penalty of life imprisonment for anyone who “profanes” the Koran.

According to local sources, the young man in question is mentally challenged – but this does not constitute as a mitigating factor under Pakistani law. As Professor Shahid Mobeen, a professor at the Pontifical Lateran University and author of a book on the Blasphemy Laws and Religious Freedom, explained to ACN, “The law takes no account of the intention on the part of the accused. In order to be convicted it is sufficient to drop a copy of the Koran or accidentally tread on a page of a newspaper on which are printed verses of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam. And yet only 5% of Pakistanis even understand Arabic, and consequently 95% the population could easily commit blasphemy without even realizing it.”

 

Syria – JIHADISTS KIDNAP ANOTHER PRIEST

22.05.2015 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Syria

“We priests are fully aware of the risks we run, but we cannot do otherwise than remain alongside the Syrian people, both Christians and Muslims. In many cases we are the only ones they have to turn to.”

Syria

JIHADISTS KIDNAP ANOTHER PRIEST

It has been less than two years since the abduction of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was kidnapped in Raqqa on 29 July 2013 – and now the same horror has once again struck the monastic community of the Deir Mar Musa monastery, some 50 miles (80 km) north of Damascus.

Yesterday, another of its monks, Father Jacques Mourad was abducted in Qaryatayn – a small town in central Syria around 65 miles (100 km) from Palmyra – where for the past 12 years he had been ministering to the local Syro-Catholic community, while living in the monastery of Mar Elias. The last contact between Father Mourad and the Deir Mar Musa community was around midday yesterday.

“We still have no news of him. We only know that he was abducted by four men, undoubtedly belonging to a jihadist group,” Father Nawras Sammour, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service for the Middle East, told ACN. Father Mourad was travelling with a co-worker when two motorcycles drew up alongside his car. His kidnappers seized the vehicle, abducting the Jesuit priest at the same time.

Speaking on the telephone to ACN from Damascus, Father Sammour recalled his last meeting with Father Jacques around two months ago. “He was extremely concerned about the presence of the fundamentalists in Qaryatayn,” he told ACN. Yet although conscious of the imminent danger, he did not want to leave his Catholic faithful or the many refugees whom he was sheltering and supporting in his monastery. Indeed, in the past he had even negotiated with the Al Nusra Front to secure the release of hostages. “When I asked him if he was intending to leave, he told me that he would do so only if forced; otherwise he would remain with his people,” Father Sammour added.

In the last few days Father Jacques had also welcomed many refugees from Palmyra, the city now in the hands of the Islamic State. “He has always helped the Syrians and has welcomed a great many Muslims into the monastery of Mar Elias,” the Jesuit continued.

The abduction of this priest is interpreted by many as a sign of the intention of Isis to capture the city of Homs. The same fear was expressed by Father Jacques himself, just a few days before he was abducted.

In addition to the abduction of Father Dall’Oglio and the two bishops in Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Bulos Yazigi, Father Sammour also recalled the killings of Father François Mourad, who was assassinated in Ghassanieh on 23 June 2013, and of Father Frans Van Der Lugt, was shot dead in Homs in April of last year. “We priests are fully aware of the risks we run, but we cannot do otherwise than remain alongside the Syrian people, both Christians and Muslims. In many cases we are the only ones they have to turn to.”

 

 

Feature story: Syria

19.05.2015 in By Oliver Maksan, Most Urgent Needs, Prayer, Syria

Syria

Pray for Aleppo – people are afraid like never before

Heavy battles are expected – a religious Sister reports on the situation of Christians in Aleppo

SYRIA / ALEP-CLD 15/00051Emergency help for the displaced famil“Pray for Aleppo. People are more fearful than ever before in recent years.” With these heartrending words the Armenian Catholic religious Sister Annie Demerjian appealed on Wednesday to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “People are afraid of heavy fighting; thousands have already left the city, both Christian and Muslim. We are preparing ourselves for the worst.” So says this Sister, who has been holding out for years in this city, still so fiercely contested between the Syrian government and the rebels.

“The Christians are taking everything they can carry with them and are seeking refuge in the coastal region or in the ‘Valley of the Christians’.  I do not know how many have already left, but there are many thousands of them. We sense this, because the Christian quarters have noticeably emptied out.”

People keep going, with God’s help

The situation of the Christians in Aleppo in northern Syria – once a city of millions – has recently deteriorated yet further. On Friday April 10 – Good Friday in the Eastern Churches – the predominantly Christian quarter of Suleymaniye came under heavy bombardment from rebel forces. “The Christians of Aleppo are still in shock today, so heavy were the attacks. People are startled in fear at every loud noise. Many people once again found themselves living among the ruins. One woman saw her own children lying motionless among the rubble, but fortunately, they had survived. But others lost their lives in the attacks. On Easter Sunday we buried many of our brothers and sisters. We hurried from one funeral to the next. It was so sad,” Sister Annie continues. “One entire family was wiped out; another family lost their mother and two sons. The force of the explosion flung one of the sons out of the house, leaving him lying dead, hanging on the power cables. His mother and brother were blown to bits by the bombs. Their relatives are still finding parts of the bodies among the rubble and burying them. Can you imagine the suffering their bereaved families are going through? Those who have survived are deeply wounded inwardly, in their innermost souls. But we have grown accustomed to the bombs and to death. People keep going, with God’s help.”

 

SYRIA / ALEP-CLD 15/00051Emergency help for the displaced famil

For years now, Sister Annie and her team have been helping the embattled people of Aleppo by providing the basic necessities for everyday life, such as food and clothing. ACN supports her work. “Without ACN benefactors we could not do what we are doing. May God bless you. It gives the people here a little bit of security and hope to know that they have not been forgotten. But above all I ask you to pray for Aleppo and for Syria. May God enlighten the hearts of those in power so that they can find a way to peace. Otherwise I do not know how long the people can continue to endure it all.”

“Without ACN benefactors we could not do what we are doing. May God bless you.”

Syria, Aleppo April 2015Damage to Christian quarter of Aleppo a

 

 

In the last few weeks a number of Christian churches in Aleppo have also been severely damaged, including the Armenian Orthodox and the Maronite churches. On Friday of last week (May 8) the Melkite Cathedral of the Dormition of Our Lady was badly damaged again and is no longer fit for worship. ACN was told by the Melkite patriarchate in Damascus, that the bombardments are the work of extremist Islamist opposition groups, including the “Islamic State” (IS) and the Al-Nusra Front. According to the patriarchate, prior to the war there were 18,000 Melkite Christians living in Aleppo alone. Today there are no more than 12,000.

 

donateAid to the Church in Need has been particularly active in the Middle East. Since the end of 2011 the charity has given over 16.36 million dollars toward helping Christians in Syria and Iraq – and just recently, ACN ear-marked over 2.73 million dollars for humanitarian aid, funds which were also used to help the people of Aleppo.

 

Holy Land – “Canonization gives hope to Christians in the Holy Land”

14.05.2015 in ACN International, By Oliver Maksan

Holy Land

“Canonization gives hope to Christians in the Holy Land”

On Sunday Pope Francis will canonize two Palestinians. Jerusalem’s Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali regards them as intercessors for the World Church

Tomb Saint Mariam Bawardi.On May 17th 2015 Pope Francis canoniz “The canonization of the Palestinian Blessed Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Blessed Mariam  Baouardi on Sunday in Rome gives hope to Christians in the Holy Land.”  These were the words of the Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, responsible in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the Palestinian territories, when talking recently to the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need  in Jerusalem. “Sanctity is evident in the new Saints from Palestine. Saint Marie Alphonsine was very humble. Saint Mariam led an intense life of prayer and piety. When we read the life of the new Saints, we are encouraged to emulate them. It is indeed a great source of encouragement for our Christians here. It also enhances the image of our people that it can produce saints and not only terrorists.”

Mons. Shomali, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of JerFirst and foremost a spiritual happening

According to Bishop Shomali, more than 2,000 pilgrims from Israel, Palestine and Lebanon will be taking part in the ceremony in Rome with Pope Francis. In view of the fact that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be taking part, Shomali said: “The canonization is first and foremost a spiritual event. But when our President heard of the canonization of two Palestinian women, he expressed the wish to travel to Rome. He is a friend of Pope Francis. He will take part with a delegation. This also has a political dimension. The name of Palestine will appear in the media. Some people will carry the flag. We have no objection to this. But we cannot reduce the event to its political significance. It is first and foremost a spiritual happening.”

Bishop Shomali went on to stress that it was important that the two Saints came from the Middle East. “Many Saints come from Europe and America. We have not had so many coming from the Middle East in recent times. But these two come from the Holy Land, which is revered by Christians from across the globe. With their graves there are now two more holy sites in the Holy Land.

The Auxiliary Bishop set great store by the significance of the canonizations in terms of the Universal Church. “The two Saints from Palestine belong to the whole Church. One of the healing miracles that led to the canonization of the Blessed Mariam took place in Syracuse in Sicily. After a novena a child was completely delivered from a heart condition in an inexplicable way. The child will take part in the Holy Mass. This shows that the new Saints are intercessors not only for the Holy Land, but also for the World Church as a whole.”

Bishop Shomali expressed his hope that the canonizations were a sign of a better year for the Holy Land. “It is my hope that, not least due to the canonizations, 2015 will be a better year than 2014 with the war in Gaza and the unrest in Jerusalem. But we shouldn’t see everything in black and white. There were also positive events last year. The Holy Father visited the Holy Land. In 2014 Egypt’s President el-Sisi won the elections. The Copts were happy about this. The anti-ISIS coalition was also established, even if it has not enjoyed any major victory to date. But perhaps the bad has outweighed the good. We hope that the reverse will be the case this year. We pray for this. In particular for Syria and Iraq. The Lord is the master of history. He can change its course.”

 

Bosnia – “Let us show the world how strong we are!”

13.05.2015 in ACN International, Bosnia Herzegovina, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Uncategorized

Bosnia

“Let us show the world how strong we are!”

 

Twenty years after the end of the civil war here, Bosnia’s young people are looking forward to the Pope’s visit

 

Neville's trip to Lebanon 2014“Bosnia? What was all that about, then?” Many people are surprised to hear that Pope Francis is due to pay the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo a brief 11-hour visit on 6 June this year.

 

It is has been 20 years now since the civil war which cost 243,000 human lives and forced over 2 million people from their homes. Two decades have not been enough to heal the deep wounds that the war has left behind. Yet, 20 years has been long enough for the people living there to have the feeling that they have been forgotten. When Pope Francis announced his visit, he said, “I ask you all for your prayers, that my visit may be an encouragement for the Catholics, a leaven for the good and a contribution towards greater fraternal harmony and peace. And also for interreligious dialogue and for friendship.”

 

“Encounter, Reconciliation – Shaping a Future in Peace together”

This encouragement is something that the Catholic citizens of the country most urgently need. The bishops of the country – above all Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo and Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka, who is also the chairman of the bishops’ conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina – have never ceased to raise their voices on their behalf. For the Catholics of the country, who belong overwhelmingly to the Croat minority, have no lobby to speak for them – neither in the government of this majority Muslim entity, nor in the international political community. So it is that Bishop Komarica is constantly protesting at the fact that the Catholic Croats scarcely see a cent of all the EU aid money that is designated for the returning war refugees. Similarly, in the world of work, people with Croatian names often find themselves discriminated against, with the result that even among those who stayed on in the country during the war there are many who can now see no other alternative than to try their luck abroad. According to information from the Catholic Church in the country, out of the 835,000 or so Catholics who once lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina prior to the war between 1992 and 1995, only around 440,000 are now still resident in the country.

BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA-/ Vhrbosna 13/1136 Financial support for the

And yet the Church is very much alive. The fact that many young people in particular are so involved is something that the Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina owes above all to the intensive youth work in the archdiocese of Sarajevo. It is here that a youth centre is being built that will be named after Pope Saint John Paul II. This centre – the construction of which ACN has supported with $675,000 – is open to all the ethnic groups in the country and will also be used for international gatherings. “Europe will come together here!” says Father Simo Marsic enthusiastically. He is the youth pastor for the archdiocese of Sarajevo and also the director of the centre.

 

“This centre will be an open window on other religions and denominations and on other ways of thinking and living. In this way we can learn and live the art of tolerant and peaceful coexistence,” he adds. In practical terms this will be achieved through pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities in which individuals and groups from all over the country will be free to participate. The centre will also offer overnight accommodation, so that gatherings of several days can take place. Its motto is:  “Encounter, Reconciliation – Shaping a Future in Peace together.”

 

Father Marsic is particularly pleased that Pope Francis has chosen this new centre as the place to meet with the young people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the most excited of all are the young people themselves. Mandalena, one of these young people, sees the papal visit as a message from the young people of Bosnia to the world and to the people in their own land. She says, “Let us show the world, let us show Bosnia and Herzegovina how strong we are! Let us follow the footsteps of peace, with a smile on our faces and with love in our hearts. Let us welcome this man who believes in us, let us draw strength from this historic event – strength for the future, for new challenges and for the battle against hopelessness, and so that we can have a bright future in this country. Let us draw the strength to proclaim Christ, to love the Church and to respect other people.”

 

Portrait of ć, one of the young people who aValentina, one of the youth group leaders, says of the forthcoming papal visit, “This event will mark the month of June, will mark this year, this decade and our own hearts, thoughts and feelings. It is an opportunity for us all to make our contribution to this community and to this Church.” It is, she adds, “a chance for us to listen to what this gentle and modest man, the Peter of our times, has to say to us”. It is also a chance for her personally, as a group leader, to awaken in herself “the spirit of peace, the spirit of prayer, the spirit of solidarity and mutual respect, the spirit of love and loving kindness,” and to let it grow and so help spread the spirit of Christianity.

 

Portrait of Antonio Topalovic, one of the young people who are aAntonio, a young man, also has great hopes of the papal visit to Sarajevo. He believes that “this meeting will bring back hope,” and adds: “Hope, as one of the foundations of human society, is slowly losing ground in our country. More and more young people are leaving the country in search of happiness, and they are leaving their families and friends behind because they believe that everything will be better then.” But the Pope has said, “Do not fear, life is before you. Do not let your hope be stolen from you.” For Antonio this means that “our life is right here, with all its crosses and difficulties, with all the pain, but at the same time with a sense of inner happiness. Life is worth living, and we can achieve great things.” He also sees the Pope’s visit as an opportunity to show the world, and at the same time to show themselves, that there are “great people living in Bosnia, people who believe.”

 

As for Father Marsic himself, he also has high hopes of the papal visit. “I believe that the visit of the Pope will be a huge encouragement, and I am hoping that the young people will become still more strongly engaged in the Church and in society. The young people who are involved with the Saint John Paul II Centre are often the ones who are most active in their own home parishes. They are showing that it is possible to live peaceably together in this country, to find work, to found a family and to build a life for oneself.”

 

And there is another issue dear to his heart, namely the harmonious coexistence between the various ethnic groups and religions, so that bridges can be built for a peaceful future. The older generation often finds it difficult to step out from the shadow of the past. “But through these joint activities the young people also bear witness to the older generation that they have the courage to believe in a better present and a better future,” he concludes.

Koenigstein, 15.052006Father Dr. Simo Marsic (responsible for t

There is another great moment approaching this year,  in fact, for Father Marsic is hopeful that the centre can be formally opened on 22 October 2015. It is on this day that the Church will be commemorating the patron of the centre, Pope Saint John Paul II. It is no coincidence that the centre bears his name, for as early as 1997, just two years after the war ended, Pope John Paul II travelled to Sarajevo to appeal for peace and reconciliation. Then in 2003, already marked by age and illness, he visited Banja Luka. He urged the young people there “to engage their energies, so that life can get back to full swing again at every level” and warned them “not to stand on one side, not to give way to discouragement, but to strengthen their initiatives, so that Bosnia and Herzegovina can once again become a land of reconciliation, encounter and peace.” And Father Simo Marsic comments: “We are taking these words to heart as a mission for the work of our youth centre.”

Nigeria: 5,000 killed, 100,000 displaced, and 350 churches in ruins

12.05.2015 in ACN International, ACN United Kingdom, John Pontifex, Nigeria

Nigeria

5,000 killed, 100,000 displaced, and 350 churches in ruins

More than 5,000 Catholics in north-east Nigeria have been killed and at least 100,000 have been displaced, according to a fresh report which highlights the scale of atrocities against Christians in the heartland of Islamist terror group, Boko Haram. The ‘Situation Report on the activities of Boko Haram in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri’ states that more than 350 churches in the diocese have been badly attacked, “a good number of them destroyed more than once.”

0511Nigeria_Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme in the remains of a Catholic church in Bahuli

With more than three-quarters of the diocese under Boko Haram control, the report records that 22 of the diocese’s 40 parish centres and chaplaincies have been deserted and occupied by the terrorists. The report, a copy of which diocesan authorities sent to Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, records a total of 7,000 widows and 10,000 orphans.

“Our faith has been purified through persecution” 

Commenting on the report, Father Gideon Obasogie, the Diocese of Maiduguri’s director of social communications, said: “People are very scared and those who are able to return home find there is nothing left.” He stressed the extent of the suffering in the diocese which covers the whole of Borno, Yobe and part of Adamawa state, adding: “A life lived with much fear is terrible.” But, commenting on the people’s faith in the face of adversity, Father Obasogie added: “The good Lord has always been on our side. He has seen us through thick and thin. “Our faith has been purified through persecution.”

With reports on Friday May 8th of an Islamist attack on a business college in Yobe state, schools in Maiduguri diocese are at particular risk and the diocesan report records that 32 of the 40 primary schools have been deserted. Displacement of people has been very widespread in the Diocese of Maiduguri and the reports states that 26 of the region’s 46 priests were currently displaced as well as 200 catechists and 30 Sisters. Four of the diocese’s five convents were closed.

Aid to the Church in Need is providing emergency aid for people from Maiduguri seeking sanctuary outside the diocese. ACN has given approximately $62,000, providing food, shelter and medicine for displaced people and also Mass stipends for Maiduguri priests taking refuge in nearby Yola diocese. The charity is also providing security for Catholic schools under threat from Islamists. St Peter’s Church School near Kaduna received $18,800 from ACN, providing security lights and a sound-proof generator.

 

 

 

 

 

Feature Story – Syria

12.05.2015 in ACN PRESS, By Oliver Maksan, Syria

Syria

“Syria’s Christians have a calling”

Melkite Patriarch Gregory III believes in the power of prayer for peace

 

 

Patriarch Gregory III, the spiritual leader of the Melkite Church, a church that is united with Rome, warned that the jihadists would achieve their goal Patriarch H.B. Gregorius III Laham Greek Melkite of Antioch andin Syria and that the hatred between the religious groups would gain the upper hand. In a recent interview held in Beirut with the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need, Gregory commented, “It is the goal of the jihadists to sow hatred between Christians and Muslims. However, the most dangerous thing is when hatred takes hold of hearts. This is why we are working together with the imams so this does not happen.”

Gregory further said that the war has now spread to include most of Syria, which has also deeply affected Christians. “Approximately 450,000 Christians have been forced to leave their homes and have become refugees either inside or outside of the country. Christians are leaving Syria almost every day. We thank the Lord that many have been taken in by Lebanon. That is the country next to us and chances are good that they will return. Others try to make it to Europe, especially to Germany and Sweden, some of them taking dangerous routes. In these cases there is little hope that they will return. This is also true for those who go to Canada, the US or Brazil,” the spiritual leader of the Church said. Gregory continued by describing how more than one hundred churches of various denominations have been destroyed to date. By late 2013, there were over 91, the patriarch said. “Many were destroyed quite deliberately, especially in the region around Al-Hasakah in the northeastern part of Syria.” Furthermore, Gregory calculates that up to 2,000 Christians, both soldiers and civilians, have been killed during combat operations or by other means.

However, there are also regions inhabited by Christians that are less heavily affected by the war. “Aside from the bombing raids, life in Damascus is largely normal. The people go about their business, schools and universities are functioning. The so-called Valley of Christians has also not been affected as much, even though they have taken in many refugees there. Up until now, things have basically been peaceful in several Christian towns around Damascus as well,” the patriarch said, but then spoke of the Christian town of Maaloula, which, in contrast, has stood completely empty at times. “However, over 350 people have returned. They are rebuilding their houses. The Church of St. George and the Monastery of St. Sergius and Bacchus have also been repaired.”

St. Mayrs Church - Syrian Orthodox in HomsPatriarch Gregory sees this as an encouraging sign. “We have to find a way to rebuild the churches. However, in doing so, we of course cannot forget the people. We cannot just rebuild churches, but also have to help the living stones out of which the church is built. Many people have returned to their homes in Al-Qusayr, Homs, Yabroud or Maaloula. We have to help them repair their houses. The government is helping by taking over 25 to 35 per cent of the cost. The people have to pay for the rest themselves. It would already help the Christians in Maaloula or Al-Qusayr if just one room were inhabitable again. They could then slowly rebuild the rest. This is a very important moment for the church.”

Patriarch Gregory expressly thanked the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need. “Their material and spiritual help enables us to show people the love of God. This is very important. We are thankful that we can do this, now more than ever.” According to Gregory, the church had already started helping people in need in late 2011, as the Syrian war was just beginning, and priests and religious played a special part in this. “The clerics became a refuge for the people, for both Christians and Muslims. Everyone goes to church when they need help. No matter who they are, no one leaves without having received at least a little support.” Gregory stressed that the clerics faithfully remained at their posts. “No one left Syria. All religious and priests stayed so that they could be with their people. Most of our parishioners have also remained strong in their faith, despite the situation. The churches are full. Pastoral activities are also still being carried out, for example the Legion of Mary or our youth work. This is proof of the power of the Holy Spirit in our people.”

Patriarch Gregory emphasized the significance of the Christian presence in Syria and the entire Middle East. “We Christians have a calling here. Without Christians, only an Islamic, but not an Arab, world would be left. We are the moving force of pluralism in the Arab world. Anyone who stands up for our presence is not only championing Christians, but also the Muslims in the region.”

 

Syrian Arab Republic, diocese Damas-ARM 24.04.2005St Serge and

Patriarch Gregory concluded by pointing out the important role that prayer plays in ending the war. “I have made a call for prayer for Syria through the wonderful organization Aid to the Church in Need. Many people have responded. On March 16, we prayed at the beginning of the fifth year of the war in Syria. My role model for this was the prayer of the Holy Father Francis in September 2013. At the time, the Americans were on the verge of carrying out a military strike against Syria. It could be averted. The same thing happened again now. Prayers were said all over the world. On this day, the US Secretary of State John Kerry said that a solution could only be found for Syria by talking with President Assad. Shortly thereafter, the EU followed suit and was later joined by other countries. It is important that politics change. It is very wrong to think that western Christians can help the Christians in the East by supplying them with weapons. The only solution is peace. Weapons are not the solution. Every war ends at a round table at which a solution is sought.”

 

ACN Feature Story – Lebanon

06.05.2015 in By Oliver Maksan, Lebanon

Lebanon

“What will remain of Lebanon?”

 

Lebanon, 19 August 2012H.B. Mar Bechara Boutros Rai, PatriarchBeirut/Montreal, Tuesday May 5, 2015 –  Patriarch Bechara Cardinal Rai is worried about the religious balance in Lebanon. In an interview with the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) at his official residence in Bkerke (Lebanon), the head of the Maronite Church, which is in communion with the church in Rome, recently commented, “There are no problems arising from Muslims and Christians living together in Lebanon. All Lebanese want to live together. Our greatest problem is the Syrian refugees. These comprise over 1.5 million people. Of course it is our humanitarian duty to help. And the church is doing a great deal. However, most of them are Sunnis. They can be exploited both politically and religiously by the Lebanese Sunnis,” the cardinal said. “We already had this experience with the Palestinians. They started the civil war in the 1970s against the Lebanese and the Lebanese Army. At the time they were joined by the Lebanese Sunnis. This could happen again now. When we had the first confrontation between the Lebanese Army and ISIS last year, the army was attacked by armed Syrian Sunnis. In the long run, this is a ticking bomb. The war in Syria and in Iraq has to end so that the people can return. Time is not on our side.”

“The West must realize the gravity of the situation”

Sheltering the large number of Syrian refugees also has economic consequences for Lebanon, which the cardinal also deplored. “The Syrians want to eat, of course. And so they work for lower wages than the Lebanese. This means that the Lebanese lose their jobs. They open up shops that undercut the prices of Lebanese shops. This is why a number of Lebanese have emigrated. This also has grave social and cultural consequences. “What will remain of Lebanon and Lebanese culture in the long term when over one and a half million Syrians are living in our country?” the Cardinal asked anxiously. “This also has an effect on the Christians in Lebanon, of course. The Christians want freedom and a good life. This is why they are selling their possessions and emigrating. The danger that the Middle East will gradually lose its Christian presence is growing. The West must therefore realize the gravity of the situation.”

Lebanon Diocese of Zahle unofficial tent refugee camp at the out

 

With over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, Cardinal Rai is worried about the future of his country 

The cardinal called on Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness of the situation of the Christians in the Middle East among western politicians. “The politicians need to understand that the war in Syria has to end. The international community has to stop fomenting and fostering the war. The arms trade has to stop. They have to set their pride aside, sit down at one table and find a political solution. However, their pride will not allow this, because, economic interests such as gas and oil are behind this pride.” Cardinal Rai believes that extremist Islamist groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and al-Nusra were created by western and Arab countries and backed with money and weapons so that they could be used as an instrument to achieve their economic and political interests. “After all, did they just fall from the sky? However, they have now become a weapon against the whole world.”

According to Cardinal Rai, a political solution in Syria can no longer be avoided. “Why did Assad not fall like Mubarak in Egypt, or Ben Ali, in Tunisia? The entire population was against them. This is not the case in Syria. There, the people are for the president. Elections were recently held that confirmed Assad as president. The West does not want to recognize these elections. It is said that they were manipulated. They do not accept democracy in the name of democracy,” the patriarch of the largest Christian community in Lebanon continued. “However, you have to talk with Assad. The dialogue between government and opposition is decisive. In France, for example, I was told that the opposition does not want to talk with Assad. However, with whom else should they talk to solve the conflict?”

 

Mass at the Maronite Patriarchate in Beirut -prayerCardinal Rai further elaborated that the Muslims in the Middle East need Jesus Christ and the values of the Gospel. “What are the Muslims in the Middle East hearing about today? –war, hate, persecution, murders, displacement and fundamentalism. However, they need to hear about things like peace, justice, human rights, respect for life, fraternity, freedom and respect for the other. They need the antidote of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to hear another language. Here, no one is talking about love and peace. They are talking about war and hate.” In this context, he talked about the Holy Year of Mercy that will begin in the autumn as a “prophetic gesture” of Pope Francis. “There is no mercy in the world. However, the world needs mercy, especially today. We pray that we Christians can be the apostles and heroes of mercy.”

The patriarch expressly thanked the benefactors of ACN for their generosity and help. “I thank the 60,000 benefactors from all over the world who help through their prayers and material support. In the name of all Christians in the Middle East I would like to extend my appreciation to them. They represent the mercy of God. They are witnesses to the mercy in this chosen region of God.”

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Cameroon: The terrorism of Boko Haram is spreading

30.04.2015 in ACN International, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Cameroon

Cameroon 

 The terrorism of Boko Haram is spreading 

“What happened during the Paris attacks is what we are experiencing here every day!”

 

 

 

Montreal / Königstein  April 22, 2015 –  In a document made available to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Bruno Ateba EdoCAMEROON / MAROUA-MOKOLO 15/00094ConstruBishop Bruno Ateba of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo, complains that the violence perpetrated in northern Cameroon by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, remains largely unnoticed by the world.

“What happened in Paris during the attacks there is something we experience here every day, and yet nobody in the world says anything about it. Instead the attention of the world is focused above all on the Middle East.”

And yet, in his diocese alone, since the last quarter of the year 2014, no fewer than two senior diocesan staff, three catechists and over 30 other Christians have been murdered, and in addition there have been numerous abductions.

However, it is not only the Christians who are affected by the terror, he adds, for many Muslims have also fallen victim to it. In many places mosques have been burnt down and the imams have had their throats cut, because “they refused to obey the orders of Boko Haram.” Since as early as December 2013 the native Muslim community within Cameroon has adopted an increasingly clear stance against Boko Haram, declaring that it has no right to claim to be Muslim. In fact, Muslims have often been willing to help Christians who were in danger.

It is true, the bishop adds, that in the past three decades there has been a change within Islam in northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon, a change attributable to the influence of Salafist and Wahabi tendencies, strongly promoted and financially supported by Saudi Arabia and more recently also by Qatar. As a result, he says, more and more students are being sent to study in Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Niger. Nor should it be forgotten that it is this particular tendency within Islam that “has produced the terrorists of Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, the Islamic State, Boko Haram and so forth, and nurtured them,” the document states. And while, “this wind of Islamic reform, which is in the process of changing the face of Islam in our region, cannot yet be described as radical Islamism, yet where is the boundary?” Such reformism becomes radical Islamism “once it adopts a clear political plan for an Islamic society.”

In northern Cameroon the Muslim community has not yet crossed this line, by adopting a political plan to impose an Islamic society there. Instead there have been an increasing number of interreligious meetings between Christians and Muslims. “We are enduring this suffering together with them,” the bishop writes.

CAMEROON / MAROUA-MOKOLO 15/00094Construction d'un hangar comme

Already in the past, Boko Haram has used the villages on northern Cameroon, on the Nigerian frontier, as places to retreat to for the terrorists seeking to escape the retaliation by the Nigerian army. Over time, however, more and more weapons have been smuggled into the region. Additionally, in 2013 Boko Haram took advantage of the elections by fraudulently obtaining Cameroonian identity documents, which they are now using to escape government controls and remain unchallenged in Cameroon. Another worrying aspect, it seems, is the fact that many local police are corrupt and willing to issue false identity documents in return for a cash payment that is 5 to 7 times the cost of the official fee – with the result that “undesirable persons now are able to find their way into the country,” the bishop explains.

One of the earliest warning signs of the spread of the terrorist incursions was the abduction of a French family in February 2013, followed in November of the same year by the abduction of a French priest, Father Georges Vandenbeusch. Since July 2014 the attacks have been almost incessant, and above all during the period from 24 December 2014 to 8 January 2015 there was “not a single day when peace prevailed.”

Heavily armed men, travelling in threes or fours on motorcycles are “sowing panic” in the region. People have also observed a “degree of professionalisation” of these fighters, the bishop adds. The use of landmines from October 2014 onwards likewise marked a new phase in the strategy of terror and has dealt a “heavy blow” to the morale of the Cameroonian troops, he writes.

Another major problem lies in the strategy of Boko Haram of enticing away children, aged between 5 and 15, by means of financial inducements for their families, or of simply abducting them by force and th

en compelling them to serve as canon fodder, the bishop reports. According to his information as of December 2014, within a few months no fewer than two thousand Cameroonian children and adolescents have been seized by Boko Haram, including a number of girls.

The infrastructure of the affected region – already one of the poorest in Cameroon – has been severely damaged. According to Bishop Ateba, the terror attacks have caused the closure of over 110 schools and 13 health centres, and many police stations have been destroyed. Over 55,000 people are now refugees in the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo alone. Many have sought shelter with friends and relatives, but more than 22,000 are still hiding somewhere in the bush.

CAMEROON / MAROUA-MOKOLO 15/00094Construction d'un hangar comme

 

The situation is particularly bad in Amchidé, where a series of attacks by Boko Haram have caused the entire population to flee. As a result, the pastoral activities in the area have for now been brought to a complete standstill. The chapel has been burned down and, according to eyewitness reports, there are human skulls lying in the streets. The local population, all of whom have fled, has been swollen by tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria, who are likewise trying to escape the terror of Boko Haram.

Bishop Ateba has issued this appeal to the world: “Today we beseech your attention, your prayers and your help. Help us to bring an end to this nameless brutality that is destroying all hope for the future and bringing to nothing all the hard work of generations of believers.”

At the same time he praises the courage of the faithful, who continue to gather together to pray, despite the dangers and the fear. They are like “glow-worms of faith, illuminating the night,” he writes.

donateACN is proposing to help with $19 560 for the construction of a multipurpose hall where the 5,200 Catholic refugees in the Minawao refugee camp can gather to pray, join in Holy Mass and be given pastoral and practical support.