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ACN International

 

Egypt – Two Years After the Arab Spring

11.09.2013 in ACN International, egypt, Emergency Aid, Persecution of Christians, Uncategorized

Egypt is not only pyramids and sun soaked beaches; it is also a country where the economic and political interests of the world’s great powers intertwine.The Arab Spring popular uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir square in January of 2011, has resulted in the country stumbling toward an uncertain future, evermore polarised between Islamist and secular forces. The Muslim Brotherhood, opposed to secularising tendencies and keen to introduce Shari’ah law, took over the reins of state in 2012. After a controversial year in office, Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was ousted by the army following nationwide demonstrations. The country seems to be divided between two fractions. Egypt’s citizens are struggling for stability and economic recovery as they face an uncertain future!

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Satellite TV, not social media, was the driving force behind the Arab Spring

10.09.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Communication
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Interview with Kurt Johansen, Executive Director of SAT-7, Christian satellite TV for the Middle East

Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

How long have you been involved with SAT-7?

SAT-7 is 17 years old now; we are still a teenager. We grew out of this awareness that this was the first time in Church history that we could go into more than half the homes in the Middle East because everybody has a satellite dish. It was a very difficult beginning; back then we had television only one hour per week and even producing for that was very difficult – now we have five channels 24 hours a day, so we’ve grown a lot.

17 years doesn’t seem like much and yet it is a lot in the context of media development, especially when you think about the powerful tools linked to the Internet today. Is the Internet an important force in the Middle East?

The Internet is not very widespread in the Middle East. The number of Internet users is between 15 and 20% – it is least wired region in the world.  It also has to do with literacy – 30 % of the population cannot read and write. How can they use the Internet? So Internet is there and it’s used by many, but the majority do not have Internet and cannot use it. For the majority, especially the poor, satellite TV is the media.

And yet many consider social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, to have been the driving forces behind the revolutions experienced in the Middle East today?

Yes, yes, that’s partly right, but not the whole truth. Very few have access and you have to keep in mind that Facebook and Twitter are also used by the military or the security agents and so there was a lot of false information – a lot of information about people being killed that were documented by photos, but in the end these photos were shown to have come from other countries – so you can manipulate a lot. The revolution was driven mainly through satellite media. It started in Tunisia and in the beginning none of the bigger networks believed that there was something going on; then Al Jazeera started showing it, and then Al Arabia, and then CNN, and so on. Because so many stations started showing it, people started believing that this was the truth. So I think it’s fair to say that Twitter and Facebook played a role but not alone – to mobilize the millions you needed you couldn’t do that with Facebook alone, because too few people have Facebook and so it had to be done through the satellite television.

In the Middle East some of these networks are showing scenes that in Europe we are not used to seeing: live images of the war; very bloody and cruel. What are your thoughts about the power and the influence of these images on the children who are watching this violence – almost the whole day long and often with his message of hate…

Yes, TV in the Middle East is very different from the public service channels that we have here in Europe where we tried to see both sides of the story and where there are certain limitations and rules that you follow. This is not the case in the Middle East.  Most of the channels are propaganda oriented.  Organizations like Hezbollah, or Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood who have their own channels, speak for themselves and against others. Very few talk with each other; very few try to be balanced. A lot of TV stations promote hatred: hatred against the Jews and against the others, hatred against Christians and so on.

How does SAT-7 respond to this?

We have decided right from the beginning that we are not here to criticize any religion, we are not here to promote hate or violence, we are here to present Christ and his teaching, to represent the churches of the region. We teach love and forgiveness, to love your enemies and so on, and of course we are just one voice out of many but, what else can you do? You have to begin somewhere and I think our Kid’s Channel has become very popular because there is no hate promotion, there is no violence, it is all good values. There’s also no half-naked western girls promoting Coca-Cola or whenever, it’s very safe. In fact the SAT-7 tagline is: “Where your children can be safe”. That’s why I think we have a lot of Muslim viewers watching our programs. In fact a recent study said that one out of four children in Saudi Arabia are watching SAT-7 Kids and one out of three children in Iraq are – of course with the permission of their parents.  Here they can find good educational and inspiring programs – they are opening the minds of children.

So there is a visible impact to this philosophy, promoting these kinds of values?

Sure,  if not, the people would not watch it. There are 600 other channels to choose from so, yes I think we are making a difference.

Muslim and Christian values in some areas of life are similar; of course there are fundamental differences, each one has their own ideas – but sometimes there are common values?

Yes, every Saturday night we have a live program and the viewers can call in and comment.  In  these programs we have Muslims and Christians discussing common issues because everybody is interested in security: how to survive, how to find good schools, how to get a good future. We have things in common and at least we should try and live peacefully. I think we disagree on things but we should live together as they have done in Egypt for so many years. It’s only recently that problems have arisen and so we should come back and live peacefully, protect each other and respect each other. I think coming together and having an honest dialogue with the understanding that we are different, that we have different views on the Prophet, on the Church and so on – but at least we can talk and show what we’re doing.

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We have many problems. And there are a few Fatwas issued against us but this is something that we take for granted – if we speak about women’s rights we will have a lot of problems. The local understanding of women’s rights is very different from the Western vision. Women have a very difficult life in most of the Arab countries and don’t have equal rights. In a court case, the witness of a woman is less valued than that of a man, so we talk about that. Also we talk about the fact that the rate of sexual harassment in Egypt is almost 100%.  There’s a lot of rape, unwanted and improper touching of women and we talk about that as well. Indeed, there is a lot of pressure that even Christian women should wear the headscarf and not wear jeans and so on. We talk about the serious problem of  women in households: in Egypt perhaps 30% of women are divorced, and to be a divorced woman is a traumatic experience; you’re a victim of gossip, you have difficulty surviving financially and raising your children. In many countries men can get a divorce easily but for women it is impossible.

Do you mean women are divorced not because they want to, but because the man can leave his wife at will?

Yes, the man can just leave her and take a new wife.  We show them what they can do to overcome their problems. We don’t want to treat them as victims, we want to show positive role models who say: ”Yes, I’m divorced, yes it’s very difficult and yet I just started a small stall in the market…”   We have live programs with call ins from women talking about how they have overcome their problems and in fact a lot of men have called asking forgiveness saying: “On behalf of all men of the Middle East, I did not know that this was a problem, that the culture was like this – it is only a part of my upbringing but I can see, now that we are talking about this, that this is a terrible way to treat women”.

I suppose that it is important that the people producing these programs are not people from the West – because our ideas on marriage and family are very different and  that these are programs are done by people from the same culture?

Yes, 80% of the programs we broadcast are produced in the Middle East by Middle Eastern Christians; we from the West can only support them. We are not producing the programs.  We have three Arabic channels all staffed by Arabic Christians: we have one channel for Iran and all the staff are from Iran, and we have one channel for Turkey and again all the staff is from Turkey.

Some of the countries you mentioned like Iran and Turkey do not favor religious freedom – at least not a full freedom. How do Christians deal with this situation because they are a minority and have no full rights?

Yes, in Iran we do not have a studio. We send the programs in from outside of Iran due to the severe lack of religious freedom. In Egypt, Lebanon and in Turkey the governments allow us to have studios because it is a fact that there are Christians there and we are representing the local Christians. We are not criticizing Islam, we are not criticizing any denomination at all – we are here to improve society, to talk about the social problems. These governments understand that and they see us not as a Western missionary activity but as a truly local ministry or TV station that serves the local Christianity.

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It is forbidden to own a satellite dish, so it’s not specifically against SAT-7; they don’t want anyone to watch any outside programs. There is still a ban on the ownership of satellite dishes in Iran, still many millions have a satellite dish. There are many paradoxes in this country and one of them is that the government turns a blind eye but that everybody knows it’s done.

You are interested in speaking to Christians living in these countries but also to those Christians who originate from these countries but live abroad – as there is a lot of migration in this region for both security and economic reasons.

Right, SAT-7 also covers Europe so that the 12 to 14 million Arabs, Persians and Turks living there can also benefit from SAT-7. In a way we are a free gift to the Church in Europe – we provide 24 hours of quality programming for the immigrants living there.  In the case of Iran, because we don’t have a studio in Iran, we are cooperating with the many Iranians who are living in other countries and who love to give their time to SAT-7 and so we can produce almost 24 hours daily.

Are you worried about the situation in the Middle East?

I try to be an optimist but it is difficult to be so at this time. Then again Christianity has survived 2000 years in the Middle East; there have been worse times and still the Church has survived. I am very inspired and very impressed by the local Church and how they have been salt and light during their long history. I speak to the Christians in Egypt and Lebanon and they say they are committed to stay, they see their calling to be there in spite of the security issues, in spite of persecution and discrimination and in spite of all the negative things going on.

Questions regarding the financial aspect and the ACN ‘support:

 

You  mentioned the difficulties you faced at the beginning. What was the biggest difficulty –  financial or with people?

We visited all the churches in the region and they all thought it was a very good idea but impossible: how would you find the finances? How would you find the local talent willing to be exposed on television? How to get all the churches to work together – and they are often from many different countries, and how would you find local studios? How would you get air times on satellites …  so there were many obstacles, but somehow God wanted this to continue.

Do you still fight these same problems or have they changed?

The problems we have now are mostly financial problems.  We have a lot of missions and we always want to do more; we have accomplished a lot, like having a Turkish channel and we have been allowed to broadcast on Nilesat, which is a satellite platform controlled by the government of Egypt. So we have two channels on that platform. Unfortunately our income has been flat for five years now so we had to decrease a little bit and lay off staff in this difficult climate. 2012 was a very difficult year, but thanks to the support of our partners 2013 has been much better. Financing is always a problem, however. We just lost five editors from Egypt to a major television station based in Dubai but in a way we are proud of that because our staff is so talented that they are sought by other stations. And we have this dilemma: we do not know how long we can continue – what is happening in Egypt can stop us anytime – but for the time being we can do it – so let’s do it. This is the mentality we have and that is very important.

Aid to the Church in Need has and continues to help you.  Can you tell us a little bit about this help ?

Aid to the Church in Need came to us at the very beginning and has been very, very generous and very faithful since our start so many years ago. I think that you have given us more than 200.000 € over the years and it is not only that, but we work together hand in hand – you have a lot of contacts all over the world that you give us and you have come to see us and you pray for us – so you’re not a donor, you are a partner and that’s very important for us to have partners; we love donors but we love partners even more because it means that you pray for us, you give us advice and critique and try to help us any way you can.  Aid to the Church in Need is a role model of what we would like our supporters to be, so thank you for that.

Journey with ACN

06.09.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, egypt, Emergency Aid

Egypt

Financing the children’s education

AED International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

 

ACN promises $42 000 for the victims and their families

What is a small trader to do when all his possessions, his shop, his means of existence go up in flames? How is the father of a family to cope, knowing that he can no longer feed his own family? It is hard to comprehend what A.W. must have felt when precisely this happened to him. As a Coptic Christian, he was one of many victims of the recent violent clashes in Egypt.

The basic rules of peaceful coexistence no longer seem to apply in the streets of Cairo. Since the deposition and arrest of former President Mursi there have been continuing and frequently violent protests on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shops and private dwellings have gone up in flames, and numerous Egyptians now have to confront the ruins of their former existence. “In our diocese many fathers of families have lost their jobs and been forced to withdraw their children from school for financial reasons,” reports Patriarch Ibrahim Isaak Sedrak of the Coptic Catholic Church. He is asking ACN to provide for the support of four affected families, including that of A.W.

All means of existence –  wiped out

Until recently this 40-year-old devout Christian and family man was the owner of ACN-20130823-00290a bookshop. Business was good and he was able to support his wife and three school-aged children. Then the so-called “Arab Spring” broke out, followed later by some of the first attacks, during which his shop was torched.

It was a bitter blow, but A.W. was soon back on his feet. With the help of a loan he was able to rebuild his business. His children grew and flourished, despite the difficult circumstances. A.W. was able to breathe again – until August 14, 2013 that is, when his nightmare was repeated. At a stroke, the livelihood of this proud and independent man was wiped out. For the second time he was forced to watch helplessly as his entire means of existence went up in flames.

This time, however, he was unable to get a loan, since he was already in debt. “I have no work, I have no business. I have been forced to give it up to pay some my debts. I have now moved back to live with my parents, so as to reduce the living costs for our family. My parents are feeding us. The new school year is beginning, but I have no idea how I can pay for the schooling of all my children. And because I am still in debt, nobody will give me work.” So he describes his desperate situation.

With the help of ACN, A.W. would be able to pay off his debts and begin to rebuild his life. “I pray to God that he will help my family and so make it possible for us to go on living here in Egypt,” he writes to ACN, and asks us to pray for him and his family.

ACN would like to help A.W. and others like him who have been particularly hard-hit by the recent violence. We are proposing to send a contribution of $42,000, which would above all enable the children to continue attending school.

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donation If you are interested in offering a financial contribution     for this project: please click the button to make a donation on line – or call us at: (514) 932-0552 ext:  226

Week of prayer for peace in Syria

05.09.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Prayer, Syria

Prayer and Intercession for Peace in Syria

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God of Compassion,
Hear the cries of the people of Syria
Comfort those who suffer violence
Console those who mourn the dead
Give strength to Syria’s neighbouring countries to welcome the refugees
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms
And protect those who are committed to peace.

God of hope,
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with their enemies
Inflame the Universal Church with compassion for the people of Syria
And give us hope for a future built on justice for all
We ask this through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Light of the world.

Amen

Seventh day: Give us hope in a future of peace, founded on justice for all

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“It is time to finish with these weapons and, instead of calling for violence, international powers need to work for peace. Throughout this whole time of crisis, our churches have been almost full. The people feel that in spite of the problems, God is granting miracles for them. There is a mixture of hope and despair. People do not know what their future may be. People feel fear but in spite of that they are strong in their faith.” Patriarch Gregor III. Laham

“Thus, we are not discouraged. On the contrary. Even though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day after day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

We pray that hope does not grow faint. We pray that Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World, fills the Syrian people with trust, so that they “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for Syria, pray for us.

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Aid to the Church in Need thank you for the compassion you have shown throughout this week for the Syrian people.

If you wish to donate, you can do so by calling (514) 932-0552 ext 226

Press release : Syria- Stop sending arms to Syria

04.09.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Prayer, Syria

John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

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The leader of Catholics in Syria has hit out at all countries which send in arms, saying that the impact of military shipments is “far more dangerous” than the use of chemical weapons.

While issuing an unequivocal condemnation of the “destructive” use of chemical weapons, Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch said that armed military support – including intelligence – coming from outside the country remained the most serious threat.

In a statement issued to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Gregorios, who last week spoke out against armed intervention by the West, said that his country’s death toll, displacement crisis and infrastructure devastation was the direct fault of military hardware sent from outside Syria following the March 2011 start of the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.

Like a destructive new flood

Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria as well as Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Gregorios  wrote: “…For the last 2½ years, Eastern and Western countries have not stopped sending weapons, money, military experts, secret service agents and Salafist fundamentalist armed gangs of thugs and criminals…They have fallen on Syria like a destructive new flood, far more dangerous even than destructive chemical weapons, whose use on our Syrian soil we reject on any pretext whatever.”

He said the weapons and their impact “have caused” the deaths of 100,000 Syrians, the displacement of millions of others, the destruction of thousands of villages and harm to the futures of millions of young people.

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Renewing his opposition to military intervention by the West, the Patriarch stressed the need for peace talks, stating: “Contrary to the calls to arms, attacks and military interventions, we enjoy listening to appeals from around the world aimed at creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, dialogue, humanitarian solidarity, hope, forgiveness and finally peace.”

Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end of all arms shipments to Syria from all international sources echoes a similar call made in January by Beirut-based Cardinal Bechara Boulos Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.

Accusations of foreign military aid and intelligence entering Syria date back many months.

On Saturday (31st August), Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faysal al-Mikdad accused Saudi Arabia of being “the main player” responsible for financing and arming terrorist groups operating in Syria.

It comes as other reports state that President Assad has been increasing the purchase of arms from Russia, with more sightings of ships travelling to Syria from a Ukrainian port used by Russia’s armed export monopoly.

Prayer launched around the world

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Last week, Patriarch Gregorios spoke out against armed intervention by the West in Syria, stating that it would “fuel hatred, criminality and fundamentalism.”

In an interview with Catholic News Service, he said: “Surely military engagement will spread like a world war.”

In his statement, Patriarch Gregorios said that prayer campaigns were taking place across Syria – in churches, homes and youth movements.

He stated: “We join in the calls for prayer that have been launched around the world for peace in Syria, as that is the real movement for solidarity with Syria.

Patriarch Gregorios praised Pope Francis’ appeal for peace which is set to climax on Saturday (7th September) with a day of fasting and prayer for Syria led by the Pontiff.

ACN announced a week of prayer for peace in Syria, which started on Friday (30th August) and involving the charity’s 17 national offices around the world.

Father Martin Barta, ACN’s international spiritual assistant thanked the Holy Father for his prayer and fasting initiative.                He said: “Having received support for our prayer campaign from many quarters throughout the world, we regard it as a sign of God and of divine providence that we may now, in union with the Holy Father and the universal church, conclude the week of prayer for Syria with a global day of prayer for peace.”

Week of prayer for peace in Syria

04.09.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Prayer, Syria
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God of Compassion,
Hear the cries of the people of Syria
Comfort those who suffer violence
Console those who mourn the dead
Give strength to Syria’s neighbouring countries to welcome the refugees
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms
And protect those who are committed to peace.

God of hope,
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with their enemies
Inflame the Universal Church with compassion for the people of Syria
And give us hope for a future built on justice for all
We ask this through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Light of the world.

Amen

Sixth day: Inspire within the universal Church compassion for the Syrian people

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Today we pray especially for the Christian minority in Syria (5.2%). After the Synod on the Church in the Middle East (2010), Christians wanted to be active witnesses of the Gospel in the heart of the Judeo-Islamic world. … Violence has quickly suffocated the fruits of this synod in many countries.
The Christian minority is always in a fragile situation, in an ambiguous status quo: “In the conflicts in the Arab world, Christians generally maintain neutrality: They are not with the government, nor with the opposition. … Because of this, they end up being rejected by both sides. Both want their loyalty. Thus, neutrality did not save the two bishops and three priests who were kidnapped. It did not save the hundreds of Christians who have been assassinated or kidnapped, nor has it stopped the massive exodus of young people and entire families.”
Paul of Tarsus, who had dedicated himself to persecuting the Church, radically changed his way of thinking and acting as a result of his experience on the road to Damascus. That is how he became Saint Paul, apostle and missionary. There, he preached for the first time.

We pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith. St. Paul, bless Christianity in Syria, help the Christians of this country. Don’t forget this place, which was the cradle of Christianity. May the Faith not be diminished! May they feel the support and consolation of their Christian brothers and sisters all over the world. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for Syria, pray for us.

To be continued…

Week of prayer for peace in Syria

02.09.2013 in ACN International, Prayer, Syria

Prayer and Intercession for Peace in Syria

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©AED/ACN

God of Compassion,
Hear the cries of the people of Syria
Comfort those who suffer violence
Console those who mourn the dead
Give strength to Syria’s neighbouring countries to welcome the refugees
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms
And protect those who are committed to peace.

God of hope,
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with their enemies
Inflame the Universal Church with compassion for the people of Syria
And give us hope for a future built on justice for all
We ask this through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Light of the world.

Amen

Fourth day: Help the nations that border Syria, as they welcome the refugees

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According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are 1,971,003 Syrian refugees, above all in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. In addition, there are many refugees who are not registered because they are afraid, or who are displaced within Syria itself.
“Every second of the day, I have only one desire: to return to my homeland. My heart is wounded. The only thing that keeps me here is my children. Even if it meant going back to die, if it were just me, I would go back,” laments a mother of two children who has taken refuge in Turkey.
It is impossible to imagine the future for this country, this peaceful land that once was the home of many refugees from the Middle East: “We fled Iraq during the war and went to Syria. We had managed to rebuild our lives, but almost two years ago, we had to flee again to Iraq. There my son was hit with a bullet in the head as he was playing soccer. He survived, but with paralysis, and the bullet is embedded. Surgery is dangerous. We arrived in Turkey two months ago. A family took us in. Maybe here they can help us.”

In Lebanon, there are more than 700,000 refugees. Archbishop John Darwish writes: “We’ve been helping for 10 months. We began with 19 families. But their number has increased drastically. Now we are helping 580 families. If the conflict gets more complicated and the violence extends to the whole country, this number will grow even more.”

We pray for all those who have had to abandon their families, their homes, their land and their property. For all those who are hungry and do not have a roof over their heads. We pray for those who live in refugee camps. We pray for all the countries receiving the displaced, for all of those all over the world who are offering aid, assistance and care to the emigrants and refugees. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for Syria, pray for us.

To be continued…

Press release: Syria – “Military intervention by the West would be disastrous”

28.08.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Syria
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Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Military intervention by the West against the Assad regime in Syria would be disastrous, according to the head of the country’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church, who says nobody can be sure who was responsible for last week’s chemical weapons attack.

Speaking from Lebanon following a pastoral mission to the conflict-ridden Syrian capital, Damascus, Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarch of Antioch, stressed that in spite of the ongoing conflict, reconciliation initiatives were still viable and should be the top priority for all countries concerned with the crisis.

In the interview yesterday (Tuesday, 27th August) with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios spelled out his doubts about the credibility of some of the evidence emerging from centres of conflict in Syria. He said: “Who can know who was behind the chemical weapons attack?”

To work for peace instead of calling for violence

Criticising US policy towards Syria, the Patriarch added: “You should not accuse the government one day and then accuse the opposition the next. That is how you fuel violence and hatred. The Americans have been fuelling the situation for two years.”

While condemning chemical weapons attacks, he highlighted concerns about foreign fighters coming into Syria, a problem he said was compounded by the flow of arms into the country, actions he described as “immoral”. He said: “Many people are coming from outside Syria to fight in the country. These fighters are fuelling fundamentalism and Islamism.”

Patriarch Gregorios said the USA, Russia and other world powers should put together a peace plan. “It is time to finish with these weapons and, instead of calling for violence, international powers need to work for peace.”

Patriarch Gregorios, who ordained three bishops on Sunday (25th August) during his trip to Syria, described the situation in his country as “tragic”. The Patriarch said that 450,000 Syrian Christians – nearly a third of the total – were either displaced within the country or were refugees abroad.

Problems in Damascus

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He highlighted problems in Damascus, which until now has acted as a refuge for Christians and others fleeing Homs and other centres north of the capital where violence has been especially severe. He said that on Monday afternoon (26th August), soon after he left the country, two bombs fell in the Old City of Damascus, both of them very close to the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarchate, where he was based.

One explosive fell on a Scout centre, about 10 meters from the entrance to his patriarchate, killing two adult male bystanders. No children were hurt. He said: “We do not know if the attackers are targeting the Churches. It could be that we are attacked because we are close to an army base. The extremists are wanting to fuel hatred between the Christians and Muslim [groups].”

The Patriarch highlighted the work of a relief centre at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate, set up at the end of 2011, and now providing food, medicine and other help to 2,800 displaced families. “While the road from Beirut to Damascus is normally safe, once you are inside Damascus it is very difficult. In Damascus, bombs can fall on your head at any time.”

ACN is organizing a Novena

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He renewed calls for prayer, stating: “We are happy that our people are responding to this situation with prayer. Throughout this whole time of crisis, our churches have been almost full. Stressing how many Christian lives had been saved, the Patriarch said: “The people feel that in spite of the problems, God is granting miracles for them.”

In conclusion, he said: “There is a mixture of hope and despair. People do not know what their future may be. They are very concerned about their children and about vulnerable people – including the disabled. People feel fear but in spite of that they are strong in their faith.”

To support our Syrian brother in prayer, ACN, in collaboration with its National Offices is organizing a novena. Information is forthcoming.

Press release : Holy Land = Between hope and scepticism

27.08.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

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When it comes to the current peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians the Jerusalem Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali feels torn between hope and scepticism. Talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Shomali, who is responsible in the Latin Patriarchate for the Palestinian areas, said (last Friday): “My heart, filled with hope and faith, tells me negotiations will succeed. My sceptical mind, bringing to the surface the past rounds of negotiations – Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, River Plantation, Sharm El-Sheikh, Amman etc. – and how they failed, tells the opposite. “

“In the meantime, I feel the need not to dress up as a prophet but to continue praying and inviting others to do the same.” Should the talks fail, Bishop Shomali expressed his wish that there will not be a third Palestinian intifada.” The experience of the two last ones was destructive. Fighting should continue on the political level.”

“Their moderating role can be of great help”

Bishop Shomali described the role of Israel’s and Palestine’s Christians in the conflict as a moderating one. “They pray and believe that peace remains possible. They are moderate actors in their respective country. Some Palestinian Christians are present in the negotiations, in a direct or indirect way. Their moderating role can be of great help.”

20121207_004When asked what the Church’s position was on what status East Jerusalem should be accorded as part of a final status solution, Shomali expressed the view: “Jerusalem should be a city for two peoples and three religions, which should have equal rights and dignity.” Bishop Shomali, a Palestinian by birth, went on to stress that Jerusalem should remain an open city enjoying a particular status and international guarantees. “For the details of the implementation of such vision, we need creative negotiators, open to new solutions in order to deal with all the obstacles such as the settlements and how to keep open Jerusalem and all its holy Places,” Shomali stated.

Concerning the position of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, according to whom the conflict was not fundamentally about Jewish settlements on the West Bank, but about the Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Bishop Shomali said: “I believe that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a State, with full rights and secure borders. It is up to Israelis, not Palestinians, to decide what character this state should have; in the same way it is up to Israelis and not to others to decide who is a ‘Jew’ and who is not. In a reciprocal way, it will be requested of Israel that they recognize an Arab country as such without specifying whether this Arab country should be secular or ‘Islamic’.”

In conclusion Bishop Shomali stressed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no longer the only conflict which threatened the stability of the Middle East today. “Since the so called ‘Arab spring’ there are new realities on the ground. But this conflict remains an important factor.”

Ukraine – “This place will be the heart of our Church!”

27.08.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, CONSTRUCTION, Ukraine

Major Archbishop Shevchuk dedicates the Greek Catholic Cathedral in Kiev

Maria Lozano, AED International

Adaptation Robert Lalonde, AED CanadaACN-20130823-00248

On the invitation of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevczuk – Head of the Ukrainian Church which is in full communion with the Holy See – a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) attended the dedication of the newly-built Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev. The dedication took place on 18 August on the occasion of the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Kievan Rus, the precursor of today’s states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

“We have built it together!”

More than 25,000 faithful attended the three-hour liturgy, including pilgrims from Ukraine, Eastern and Western Europe as well as Canada, Australia, the USA and Scandinavia among others. The Papal Legate Cardinal Audrys Bačkis, Apostolic Nuncio Mons. Thomas Edward Gullikson, and more than 40 bishops from Ukraine as well as from the aforementioned diaspora regions also celebrated the Mass together with more than 500 priests. Only a small proportion were able to attend the celebrations inside the Cathedral. The great majority of the faithful watched the liturgy on screens outside. The liturgy was broadcast live on Ukrainian television.

ACN-20130823-00243The sermon by Major Archbishop Shevchuk was aimed in particular at the Ukrainian youth, who represent the future of this Church: “Jesus Christ be praised! 1025 years ago, our people became a part of God’s people. We are the people of God! And so the city of Kiev has become the centre of our Christianity…Father! You are our God! Happy is the people whose Father is the Lord!” Again and again, Shevchuk emphasised the significance of the “Sobor”, which in the Slavic language means “the assembly” but also “the cathedral”: “Our ‘Sobor’ is in Kiev. This ‘place’ will be the heart of our Church! We have built it together! It is our house! I thank you for your aid from Ukraine, from Western and Eastern Europe, and from the other continents!”

Our building project : a spiritual dimension

ACN has also given its support to the building of the “Sobor Voskresinnya Khrystovoho” Cathedral to the tune of $548 000 in recent years. Magda Kaczmarek, head of the charity’s Ukraine country section, was especially pleased to be able to be present for the project’s completion: “I am delighted to be able to be here, because I can feel how young and flourishing the Catholic Church in Ukraine is. When I see so many children and young people here, I notice once again that our building projects not only have a material dimension but also a spiritual one. We are not only erecting a building, we are also helping to build the future of our Church.”

An especially moving part of the liturgy was the renewal of the baptismal promise and the Blessing of the Waters at the Dnieper River by Major Archbishop Shevchuk. The Papal Letter, read by Cardinal Audrys Bački, further indicated the significance of the event. The 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus by Saint Vladimir was an occasion of hope for the full unity of all Christians among the Ukrainian people, it said.ACN-20130823-00247

Relics of the three Apostles Peter, Paul and Andrew are preserved and honoured in the Cathedral together with those of two popes who died on Ukrainian territory – Clement I and Martin I – as well as the Ukrainian martyrs Jozafat Kuncewicz, Mykola Czarneckyj and Josaphat Kocylovskyj.

The largest Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine in full communion with Rome has a congregation of approximately 4.2 million, at least half of whom are living abroad. At the end of the 1990s, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar decided to transfer the seat of the Head of the Church in Ukraine from Lviv to Kiev, and with that move the construction of the Cathedral in Kiev began.