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Nigeria: Pray for peaceful elections! – Interview with Mgrs. Kaigama – ACN-Interview

13.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Africa, by Grace Attu, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Mgrs. Ignatius Kaigama, Nigeria, Prayer

Nigeria 

Pray for peaceful elections! 

 “If the elections are marred by violence many innocent Nigerians will pay the price. Aid to the Church in Need can mobilize their world network of friends, benefactors and supporters to commit Nigeria to special prayers at this critical time of elections.”

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*This article was published before the decision of the Nigeria electoral commission to delay the election to next Saturday (February 23rd), and also the second round from March 2nd to March 9. 

Nigerians will be going to the polls on 16th February and 2nd March 2019 to elect a president, Federal Parliament and other representatives. Parts of the Country have continued to experience violence from the Muslim extremist groups such as Boko Haram.  Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Mgr Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop of Jos regarding the current situation, the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria and his hopes for the country.   Finally, let remind that the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria still represent an extremely strong moral authority esteemed by the population, in a country where there is great corruption, and also, violence against Christians, especially in the central and northeastern regions of Nigeria.

***

Interview by Grace Attu

Bishop Kaigama discussing with Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN in Canada. Mgrs Kaigama toured in Canada in June 2018 talking about the many challenges that Nigeria People are facing.

As the Country’s General Elections approach next weekend, what is the situation across the Country?

Mgr Kaigama: Like every pre-election period everywhere in the world, political emotions here are high. Many politicians and their allies are politically paranoid. One hears of how easily some politicians switch from one political party to another which shows that their reason for being in politics is not motivated by good political principles or ideology or people-friendly political manifestos, but mainly for personal interests. Most of them are hardly concerned about good governance and improving the lot of the common person, especially the poor, marginalized, unemployed, victims of religious extremism and the millions who are also victims of the poisonous by-products of pandemic corruption.

Compared to previous pre-election campaigns, the present campaigns even though have recorded some casualties are fairly moderate, but what stands out is the sometimes wild and unsubstantiated statements made by some politicians that could be regarded as hate speeches or incitements to violence.

While a few political rallies have already recorded a few accidental deaths and the disruption of peace, we must commend the campaigns of most of the parties that have carried out their activities peacefully. However, there is a general tension and apprehension as to what may be the likely reactions of those who already feel that there might be manipulations of the elections.

 

Attacks by Boko Haram have intensified lately. Do you think this is connected to the elections?

Mgr Kaigama: Even before now, Boko Haram has intensified its attacks by killing a number of military personnel. The insurgents have become so daring as to take on armed personnel and to inflict heavy casualties on them and not even sparing International Aid workers. They boldly warn the international community to stay off their track. They are doing their best to take over certain parts of Nigeria and neighbouring countries to consolidate their quest for the Islamic State of West Africa.

Attacks by Boko Haram have surprisingly intensified in the last couple of days in areas like Michika, Shuwa, Madagali, Mubi, – in Borno and Adamawa States. Some people say that the renewed attacks are politically motivated or sponsored to score political points or may be an attempt to disenfranchise some of the electorate during the elections. It is clear, however, that Boko Haram wants to make a statement that it has not been defeated. The threat by Boko Haram is still real. They are far from being defeated.

 

Do you have any concerns?

Mgr Kaigama: I should be concerned. When peace is disrupted, Catholic religious leaders like me suffer more than those elected into government because people flock to our houses and offices knowing that there are no gun-wielding police or soldiers to scare them off or police dogs to sniff and bark at them when they come to ask help for the basic things of life. We have to manage to assist those who are displaced and without means of livelihood. Because of how overstressed and overwhelmed we religious leaders become when there are crises, we pray and work very hard to proactively promote the culture of peace and we are making concerted efforts to ensure that we have free and fair elections which will culminate in peace for all.

Signing of the “Plateau Peace Commitment for the Elections”. The document called “Plateau Peace Commitment in view of the 2019 general elections” was signed by the governourship Candidates in Plateau States and witnessed by traditional/religious heads, civil society groups, senior security personnel and various community stakeholders .The signing ceremony was organized by the Dialogue Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre of the diocese. 

If the elections are marred by violence, many innocent Nigerians will pay the price. I hope for fair, peaceful and credible elections; for good, patriotic, selfless and God-fearing leaders to emerge, who will be more concerned about the masses rather than their personal ambition and luxury of the office. Well-formed and qualified youths are on the streets in huge numbers without jobs. We hope that those aspiring to offices at all levels will consider the plight of the youth as a priority.

 

What role is the Church playing to contribute to the proper conduct of elections?

Mgr Kaigama: As the Catholic Church in Nigeria does during every election, our Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) is proactive and highly sensitive to the need for peaceful and fair elections. The JDPC has served creditably as election monitors/observers in the past, pointing out flaws, weaknesses and strengths witnessed. A statement has recently been issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria encouraging prayers, proper conduct of elections and correct attitudinal approach by citizens of the elections.

The Church in the Archdiocese of Jos has been frantically multitasking as a way of contributing to the peaceful elections. We have cautioned our members to be law abiding, to go on peacefully and not to allow themselves to be used by selfish politicians. They must ensure that they possess their voters’ card and go out to vote. As priests, we encourage our people to be prayerful and alert during this season; we caution ourselves the clergy to remain non-partisan. Our Justice, Peace and Development Commission has in the past two years been running projects in target communities for peaceful elections. They have taught different communities what to ask for by training them on the ‘Charter of Demands’ when the politicians come looking for their votes. Our JDPC has organized training on peace building and Alternatives to Violence Programmes (PB/AVP) in schools and communities. As part of the activities leading to the elections, our Dialogue Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre recently organized a peace accord signing ceremony for all the governorship candidates in Plateau State, which was witnessed by traditional/religious heads, civil society groups, senior security personnel and various community stakeholders. Also, going into the elections, as a Church our JDPC is officially accredited as election observers. We are equally prepared to intervene and manage post-election violence should it occur. We pray it doesn’t.

 

What are your hopes for Nigeria?

Mgrs. Kaigama talking during the signing of the “Plateau Peace Commitment for the Elections”.

Mgr Kaigama: I am a strong optimist. I believe strongly that the best for Nigeria lies somewhere close by. I am deeply patriotic about my country Nigeria. There are so many negative things said about Nigeria but I believe that Nigeria with all her defects and imperfections will surprise the world one day, leaving those who ridicule and write her off spellbound and flabbergasted. Nigerians are a peaceful, joyful, hardworking, religious and resilient people who are only unfortunate not to have selfless leaders with vision but leaders who take joy in pilfering the enormous wealth God has blessed us with. This, they do with the collaboration of some foreign countries, companies, organizations and individuals.

Many like me believe that Nigeria will survive as one nation and one people. The time is coming nearer when a moral revolution by the youths, transcending tribe and religion will bring into leadership only serious persons who are prepared to suffer and even lay down their lives for Nigeria and Nigerians rather than asking the poor people to die for them (political leaders). Those who manipulate elections, buy votes, use government structures to win elections, announce losers as winners and winners as losers will sooner than later have nowhere to hide.

 

How can ACN and her benefactors help Nigeria at this time?

Mgr Kaigama: ACN can mobilize their world network of friends, benefactors and supporters to commit Nigeria to special prayers at this critical time of elections. We need to support our various peace building, awareness-raising initiatives and various proactive programmes of peace education organized before, during and after the elections. Furthermore support for training/empowerment programmes for our youth, teenage girls and widows is needed, to give them hope and to keep them out of trouble.

Above all, let us be in communion of prayers for peaceful elections and general stability, hoping that by God’s grace the forthcoming elections will produce visionary leaders who will lift this promising country from grass to grace.


Please consider donating to support the work of the Catholic Church in Nigeria

To learn more about our support and projects on Nigeria visit acn-canada.org/nigeria2018

The Philippines: The Church in Jolo fighting the “forces of evil” – ACN

11.02.2019 in ACN International, AED Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, The Philippines

The Philippines:

The Church in Jolo fighting the “forces of evil”

“We will not allow this tragedy to divide and isolate us from the rest of the country.”

Jolo, province of Sulu – A small city in a military lockdown, an all-out war in the adjacent municipality against violent extremists, families in mourning after burying their dead, injured patients recovering in various hospitals, and some having to be amputated. Amidst all this, a local Church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo is doing its best to provide hope for the Christian minority while their Muslim partners rally their members to show a force of unity amidst the fear and pain, which this impoverished city in the province of Sulu is suffering.

The ceiling of the cathedral was damaged by the explosion.

 

This was the scene when the Aid to the Church in Need delegation visited the capital of the island of Jolo to express its solidarity with the victims just nine days after the fatal double bomb attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 27th January. This attack caused the death of 23 people, leaving 112 injured.

Discouraging Situation

News of arrests and surrender of suspected perpetrators has failed to lift the spirit of the residents. Even with the assurance of tight security, a well-organized ‘Tribute to the Victims’ managed to draw only a fraction of the expected audience. Many opted to stay at home. A few of the families are seriously thinking of leaving Jolo for good. The bombing was the last straw, breaking their resilience in the face of years of threats, kidnapping, assassinations and harassment by what they call “the forces of evil.”

The “forces of evil” are the Muslim extremists, mostly Abu Sayyaf supporters, who have been terrorizing Christian minorities for years. Among their crimes are the killing of Bishop Benjamin (Ben) of Jesus in February 1997 in the Cathedral and two other priests, Claretian Father Roel Gallardo kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2002 and Father Rey Roda, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, in 2008. The victims of violence are not only Christians, because terrorists also kidnap Muslims with the intention of obtaining ransom to finance their actions.

Sources consulted by ACN name members of Ajang Ajang – a faction of Abu Sayyaf composed of drug traffickers and criminals, as the perpetrators of the latest attack at the headquarters of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo.

However, the messages from military, local government, traditional leaders, lay partners visited by ACN are constant: the persecution was not done by Muslims but a small minority of violent extremists.

A call to stay united

“No bullet or bomb can destroy the harmonious relationship between Muslims and Christians in Jolo,” states Fr. Romeo Saniel, OMI. He has lived on the island for 18 years and was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo just a few weeks ago. As the pastor of a small minority (one percent of the whole population of 120,000), he is revered and admired by the people for his commitment to provide quality education and opportunities to the younger generation of Tausug (Sulu’s indigenous ethnic group), as well as his courage and determination to reach out to the former fighters of the Moravian Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“The only way for peace to be lasting is for both Muslims and Christians to stand together. We will not allow this tragedy to divide us and isolate us from the rest of the country,” remarks Datu Sakul Tan. As the patriarch of a powerful political clan, he is considered the most influential man in the whole of Sulu, and he strongly believes in the relevance of quality education provided by the Catholic Church for the locals.

Fr. Saniel, Administrator Apostolic of Jolo and ACN-Philippines Diirector, Jonathan Luciano.

The needs are clearly articulated by the clergy and lay people. Even as the armed forces of the Philippines aim to eliminate the Abu Sayaf Group, everyone agrees that it doesn’t guarantee peace. Those who die will simply be replaced by the younger generation.

To Find Solutions Against Extremism

Fr. Saniel and Datu Sakul Tan both concur that a long-term need is to provide young people with programmes to prevent violent extremism through formal education, awareness campaigns, the creation of productive work for young people to provide them with livelihoods, and the development of sport.

On the other hand, Fr. Jeff Nadua, OMI, Rector of the Cathedral, points to the need to rebuild the Christian community first and then rehabilitate the cathedral. “We need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”

The National Director of ACN Philippines, Jonathan Luciano, paid a solidarity visit to the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo on 4 and 5 February 2019. He visited the seriously damaged Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and spoke with the Apostolic Administrator, Fr. Romeo Saniel, OMI, as well as some relatives of the victims. 

 


 

 

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

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

Pope Francis

“The seed has been sown”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

On Sunday, February 10th, pray for Venezuela!

08.02.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Venezuela

Venezuela

Call to pray for the country on Sunday, February 10

 

United in their concern to “avoid still greater suffering and pain for the people” and in their hope for a change in the course of the political and democratic situation that Venezuela is currently going through, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has launched a joint communiqué, together with the Conference of Male and Female Religious and the National Council of the Laity in Venezuela, published on Monday, February 4th in Caracas.

Photo : María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

The statement expresses the “determination and hope,” with which the signatories urge the search, “for a political transformation via a process of transparent and peaceful transition that will lead to free and legitimate elections, and the resumption of a democratic course, the restoration of the rule of law, the rebuilding of the social fabric, the revival of economic production, the restoration of the morale of the country and the coming together of all the Venezuelan people.”

They speak of the difficult situation that is currently being written in the annals of Venezuelan history and one that both the Venezuelan people and clergy and also the international community are witnessing with great hope, and yet at the same time with great concern.

In their communiqué, the presidents of the three bodies, which most fully represent the Catholic Church of the country, denounce “the growing, politically motivated repression, the violation of human rights and the selective and arbitrary detentions,” of individuals and they stress that this path of democratic change to be allowed to unfold peacefully and with the National Constitution in hand.

They express their appreciation of the work of the activists who are defending and promoting human rights at a time of crisis and despite the risks, and they urge them to continue in their concern for “the victims who are suffering injustices.” They state: “We call for personal and legal respect and safety for those who are exercising this worthy service in Venezuela.” In this way, they remind people that the Catholic Church is committed to helping those most in need, “acting in accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and humanity” and at the same time they request, “the necessary permission to have access to humanitarian aid as a means of mitigating the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable of the people. Caritas Venezuela and the various other social support institutions of the Church which have a wider outreach throughout the national territory commit themselves to continuing the service we have been providing, with equity, inclusivity, transparency and effectiveness.”

The communiqué ends with a call for prayer on Sunday, February 10th in “every church, every home and every community, calling on the Lord to grant us peace, reconciliation, liberty and health of body and spirit.”

An unprecedented situation

The current political situation in Venezuela is the result of the presidential elections held in May 2018 which, according to the official government version, were won by the current President Nicolas Maduro, but which were widely qualified as “illegitimate” by the majority of countries in the international community. It includes other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia, as well as Canada, Spain and the United States. They base their decision on accounts of numerous irregularities in the way in which elections were held.

Hence, given the illegitimate nature of the elections, President Maduro would thereby cease to be the legitimate president as at the conclusion of his previous mandate, on 10 January, and therefore no longer be recognized as President of the Republic.

Instead, and in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, the acting president of Venezuela would be the president of the National Assembly of the country, who in this case is Juan Gerardo Guaidó. And so, on 11 January 2019, Guaidó announced that he would be invoking article 233 of the Constitution and calling new national elections, and on 23 January he was sworn in as acting president of Venezuela.

 

PLEASE, on Sunday, February 10th, please pray for the People of Venezuela! 


 

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

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

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

Pakistan – Interview – “The blasphemy law destroys lives”

01.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., Asia, By Mario Bard, By Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Mario Bard, Pakistan, Religious freedom, Voyager avec l’AED

Pakistan

“The blasphemy law destroys lives”

Dominican Father James Channan has been working to establish a dialogue between Christians and Muslims for years – in a country in which acts of violence against the infinitesimally small minority of Christians are a regular occurrence and any perceived criticism of Islam is subject to draconian punishments under the blasphemy law; Asia Bibi was not an isolated case. Father Channan is head of the Peace Center located in the city of Lahore in Pakistan.

During a visit to the headquarters of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Channan talked about the impact of the blasphemy laws, propitious developments in the Islamic world, and the future prospects of Asia Bibi in an interview with Tobias Lehner.

***

Tobias Lehner: The fate of Asia Bibi has given the world a face to associate with the perilous situation of many Christians in Pakistan. After years on death row, she was acquitted of blasphemy charges in late October 2018 and released from prison. What can you tell us about the current situation?

Father James Channan: The situation of the Christians in Pakistan is alarming. They live in fear and uncertainty. This situation has not changed since the 1970s, when legislation in Pakistan began to be based on Islamic Sharia law. Radical Muslims are misusing the controversial blasphemy law in particular to settle personal scores. Anytime, Christians are accused of supposed blasphemy, all Christians in the region are indicted with them. This often leads to acts of violence against Christians.

And this is exactly what happened in the case of Asia Bibi. She was on death row for nine years on charges of blasphemy. Even now, after her acquittal, she is anything but safe. Radical Islamists are trying to find her so that they can kill her. That is why she is currently under state protection. We hope that the Supreme Court will soon confirm her acquittal and refuse to grant permission to appeal. Then, hopefully, she will be able to leave the country and live in freedom.

Asia Bibi is not an isolated case. What can you tell us about the fate of Christians who are also facing charges of blasphemy?

According to a report of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, there are 224 other cases of Christians since 1984 facing charges of blasphemy, and currently 25. One of these is the case of the married couple Shafqat Masih and Shagufta Bibi. I visited them on death row. They have been accused of sending blasphemous text messages, which the couple denies. Their prospects are very bleak. Even should they be acquitted, they and their children will no longer be able to live in Pakistan. Fanatic Muslims will try to kill them. The blasphemy law destroys the lives of those who have been accused, even if they avoid being executed.

Following the acquittal of Asia Bibi we saw pictures of an angry mob that continued to call for her execution. In view of this, is there even a chance of religious freedom for Christians living in Pakistan?

It seemed as though at any moment, a group of militant Muslims would bring the entire country to a standstill. However, militant Islam does not hold the majority in Pakistan. The country has a fraction of about 10 to 15 per cent of radical Islamists who are provoking people to violence. The majority of Muslims do not follow these agitators. They are advocates for religious freedom, also for Christians. Both Christians and Muslims were greatly relieved when Pakistani security forces recently arrested more than 1000 Islamists. Cracking down on extremism was the right thing for the government to do. And I hope that this will continue.

Aid to the Church in Need has been working with you for many years. From a European standpoint, there is little one can do to change the situation. Does the aid actually make a difference for the Christians in Pakistan?

The support provided by ACN plays a crucial role in ensuring that the church in Pakistan can continue to proclaim the faith and promote a dialogue. The assistance has allowed us to build many bridges between Christians and Muslims. We want to demonstrate that the different religions have nothing to fear from one another. A large number of Muslim clerics, including the Grand Imam of the second largest mosque in Pakistan, are a fixed part of our programme at the Peace Center in Lahore and close friends. I am convinced that the foundation for a good and peaceful future can only be built by establishing a dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Amanda Griiffin and Mario Bard from ACN-Canada met Father James Channan last September.


 

Central African Republic – Massacre of Alindao – Emergency Help

01.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Africa, By Mario Bard, By Tobias Lehner, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Central African Republic

Death toll from november massacre in Alindao is 80

ACN is funding two aid projects for the local Catholic community as they return to a scene of utter devastation

The number of people who have died as a result of the terrorist attacks, on November 15 last year – in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, diocese of Alindao and on the refugee camp right next to it –, continues to grow. Now, it is estimated that over 80, according to information given to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). What is the reason behind this sudden upsurge in violence against Christians in the south of the Central African Republic? In the report below, the local Church analyzes the situation and explains the consequences of these terrible events.

“The people, who almost all fled into the forest, are now returning, hoping to be able to find a few grains of rice that they can eat and foraging among the ashes for any beans that have been only partially burnt”, says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao, describing the dramatic scenes in his town. The number of those who have died since the attack has now increased to over 80, including two priests and two Protestant pastors, according to hospital sources.

Even if they live under constant threat of attacks and they are sometimes afraid, the Monks are there to help, and vocations are on the rise!

A local Church source reports that the refugee camp, which once sheltered over 26,000 people and was supervised by the priests of the diocese, has now been totally destroyed. “The old people and the handicapped were simply burned alive, if they were not already shot dead or beheaded”, Bishop Yapaupa added. “In their panic, many parents were forced to leave one or other of their children behind in order to save the others. The attackers simply fired indiscriminately on the people.” Quite apart from the loss of human life, “the fire tore through the reception centre and several of the Church buildings. The cathedral lost its roof. The terrorists stole cars, motorcycles, solar panels, food from the storeroom, money and fuel…”

 

A Country Torn Apart

At the present time, there are over 14 different armed groups scattered across the Central African Republic. The president of the country, Faustin Touadéra, does not have the resources to control the activities of these groups, the remnants of the civil war initiated in 2013. That was dissolved into clashes between the Seleka rebels – an almost entirely Muslim coalition – and the so-called “anti-balaka”, initially a self-defence militia (a contraction of the phrase “anti-balas AK-47”, or “anti-bullet AK-47”) which ultimately degenerated into gangs of animist or nominally ‘Christian’ youths.

The authors of this particular terrorist attack were a Muslim militia, an offshoot of the Seleka, ironically named “Unity and Peace in Central Africa” (UPC). So why have the tensions suddenly increased just here in Alindao?

 

Alindao, “a cow to be milked”

According to the UPC, this was a legitimate act of defence because the Anti-balaka in Alindao had killed two Muslims on 14 and 15 November. However, our source informed us that it was rather the desire to compensate for a lack of means on the part of the UPC, which saw Alindao as “a flourishing commercial centre, and a cow to be milked”. After being expelled from Bambari in October, the UPC was forced to abandon its local commercial support base and the gold and diamond mines it controlled. “The weekly collections extorted from local traders in order to feed their troops,” had led to big protests, and so they had had to go in search of another source of income, “Alindao and its war booty.”

 

The Church as a Target

“Organized and structured as she is, the Catholic Church plays a fundamental role in responding to the local humanitarian crisis”, this African bishop explains. The Church maintains relations with the humanitarian agencies, with the president and the UN mission MINUSCA. At the same time, however, she is an “object of covetousness” and an institution that the men of war would like to bring down. Was this the reason for the inaction of the Mauritanian UN forces during the terrorist attack on Alindao, who, “in this way smoothed the path for the attackers by not fulfilling their mission of protecting the refugee population”? Our source also provided a further piece of information, explaining that “two days before the tragedy, the leader of the UPC was received by the Mauritanian contingent.” The diocese sees this meeting as having been possibly one of “consensual planning”, or outright collusion. The leaders of the three main faith communities in the Central African Republic – Cardinal Nzapalainga, Pastor Guerekoyame Gbangou and Iman Omar Kobine Layama – have called for an investigation by the international community.

 

“We have lost everything, except our faith.”

“We have lost everything, except our faith”, Bishop Yapaupa concludes. “We can still look into the eyes of our enemy and offer him our sincere pardon, without giving way to a spirit of vengeance or fear.”

 

ACN is proposing an emergency aid for the diocese of 60 000 dollars, to help rebuild the community, and also Mass stipends to help the local clergy in this situation of total desolation. You can give on our secure web page.  


 

ACN Info – Nigeria Attacks by Fulani herdsmen; “a timebomb”

19.12.2018 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Thomas Oswald & Maria Lozano

Nigeria

Attacks by Fulani herdsmen; “a timebomb”

 

NIGERIA / GBOKO – Bishop William AVENYA

Christians in northern Nigeria, in addition to suffering attacks by the terrorist Boko Haram group, are also facing a terrible situation as a result of the bloody attacks by Fulani herdsmen against Christian villages in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt.

 

“This is a time bomb that threatens to ignite the whole region,” says Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko. He was speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). He described how in his diocese, located in Nigeria’s majority Christian Benue State, “Fulani tribesman, armed to the teeth, are murdering pregnant women and children and destroying our smallholdings”. Ever since 2010 the Christian villages have been the target of violent attacks by the nomadic, Muslim Fulani herdsman from the Sahel region, who have been armed with a wealth of modern weaponry. The result has been thousands killed and numerous communities forced to flee. “The Fulani have claimed far more victims during 2018 than Boko Haram, but no one is doing anything about it,” the bishop explained.

Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria  Credit: © Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications

“This is a time bomb”

According to Bishop Avenya, the Nigerian authorities are simply not taking the necessary measures to address the violence. He denounced the silence of the government and of the media. During his visit to Europe to attend the official launch of ACN’s Report on Religious Freedom in the World, the bishop met with EU politicians from Brussels who likewise “seemed poorly informed about the situation in our country and about the threat posed by the Fulani, who have been supplied with modern weapons of a kind not used by simple herdsmen. We need to ask who is behind this.”

 

Presentation of the Religious Freedom Report at the European Parliament in Brussels on 04.12.2018
(from left to right):
Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla (Head of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace),
Mark von Riedemann ( ACN Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom)
His Excellency Mgr. Alain Lebeaupin (Apostolic Nuncio to the EU),
His Excellency Mgr William Avenya (Bishop of Gboko, Nigeria),
Sister Fida Chaaya (Damascus in Syria)

“We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

Nigeria, Kaduna : Destruction by fulani attacks 2017

Already a month ago, Bishop Avenya had issued a desperate appeal to the international community, urging it “not to wait for a genocide to happen before intervening.” Additionally, on numerous occasions, the Nigerian bishops’ conference has called on the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to provide effective guarantees for the safety of his people or, if he is unable to do so, to resign. Their petition has been ignored and the violence continues. Meanwhile, Muhammadu Buhari plans to stand once again for president in the new elections to be held in February next year.

“Meanwhile, the Church continues to try and heal the wounds,” Bishop Avenya added. “We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

ACN Canada is supporting the Church in Nigeria.  Please be generous with our project partners!  Learn more here: NigeriaACN

 

ACN Interview – Sister Yvonne Gera in Algeria

18.12.2018 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Algeria, By Grace Attu

ALGERIA / CONSTANTINE  Management of buildings in the parish of Skikda.

Algeria

“They died at their post”

Between 1994 and 1996, Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 others were killed during the Algerian civil war. The cause for their beatification opened in 2007 and at the beginning of this year, Pope Francis signed the decree confirming that they died in “odium fidei” (hatred of the faith) thus recognizing them as martyrs.

On December 8th the ceremony of beatification took place in the Cathedral of the Diocese of Oran, where Msgr Pierre Claverie was Bishop. 

Sr Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary who worked in Algeria for 22 years and knew each of the 19 martyrs personally, speaks to Grace Attu from the ACN National Office in Malta about the martyrs and her experience in Algeria at the time.

 

ACN: The official document of the Congregation for the causes of Saints describes the 19 Martyrs as “Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 companions,” who are they, really?

Sr. Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary

Sr. YVONNE GERA: Yes. They are Bishop Pierre Claverie, seven Trappist monks from Tibhirine, one Marist brother, four White Fathers, and six Nuns from various congregations that had a presence in Algeria. They all worked with the people; helping the poor, the sick, the children.  The Marist brother Henry worked in a Library of the diocese that attended to more than a thousand youth  especially poor children, some of the sisters were Nurses. The 7 Trappists had a clinic, one of them was a doctor and all the people came. They didn’t ask if they were Muslim or Christians before helping them. Bishop Pierre Claverie always spoke the truth to the government and the people.

 

ACN: Can you give us a background of the situation that led to their death?

YVONNE GERA: First of all I would like to say that the war in Algeria was not a religious war but a civil war. The Islamists took advantage of the situation. On October 3, 1993, all foreigners were warned that if they didn’t leave the country by the end of the year, they would be targeted.

On the eve of Christmas, the terrorists visited the Monastery. They wanted money but the Prior told them, “we live on our crops.” All of a sudden the bell rang for Christmas Eve Mass and he told them, “Today is born the King of Peace” and they told him, “Ayisa” in Arabic meaning that they will come back.

The quit notice was not only to religious but also to foreign Christian families. So, between 1992 and 1993, the Church lost almost all foreign Catholic families. Even as we were targeted, we all stayed. We used to say that the captain is not going to leave the ship while it is sinking. So we all remained.

 

ACN: They are being beatified together.  What do they have in common?

YVONNE GERA: At that time, almost all religious had to write to their superior general if they were willing to stay. Those who were afraid left. But one thing these 19 had in common was that they decided to stay despite the threats. They continued working and taking care of the people. And they died at their duty posts.

Fr Paul-Elie Cheknoun serving the parishes of om Alger and Constantine

 

ACN: You were also working in Algeria during this period. What was your experience?

YVONNE GERA : I worked 22 years in Algeria and out of it was 14 years of war. Why I am here and was not killed during that time, I don’t know. I was also a target. In the morning I tell the Lord, “keep your Hand on me, help me to do my duty.”

One morning, I received a call from French Ambassador. He asked to speak with Msgr Henri Teissier. The ambassador told him, “Go to the French hospital.” We went to the French hospital, and there were 7 coffins. At first, they didn’t want to open it but Msgr Teissier told them, “If you don’t open it, I can’t say if they are the terrorists or the brothers.” Then he opened and in each coffin, there was only the head of each monk (the 7 Trappists). As I was waiting, Msgr Teissier told me, “Do you want to see them?”, I replied, “Yes, for the last time,” It was horrible to see.

The Church suffered a lot. But it was a Church of presence. We never preached. We didn’t go and preach here and there but everyone was welcomed and they came. I was in charge of all the clinics of the Church and all clinics had a centre for malnourished children and a centre for mother and child-care. Everything was free.

We never had difficulties with the people. During Ramadan we used to be invited every evening to different families to have the meal with them. In the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa, it is written “pray for us and for the Muslims.” And the young women (including Muslims) who could not have a baby used to come to pray to our Lady, bringing a doll, and when she had the baby, she came to present it to Our Lady.

Participation of 30 young faithful of the church of Algeria in the WYD in Krakow, Poland, July 2016.

 

ACN: Even today, many priests and religious who work in crisis ridden countries suffer threats to their lives. Some have been abducted. What word do you have for them?

YVONNE GERA: We are missionaries. Whatever happens, we are missionaries. We know that that is our vocation and I say one thing, “you will receive more than you give”. It is sometimes difficult, yes but the Lord has called us. If the people suffer, we suffer with them. It is our vocation and the Lord is always there to help us. Even in suffering or in martyrdom. These 19 martyrs knew that they were targeted but they remained. Don’t be afraid, the Lord is there to help you.

On the occasion of the beatification of the 19 Martyrs in Oran, Algeria on December 8, 2018, Aid to the Church in Need (Malta) will issue a booklet about the Martyrs, who they were, the kind of life they lived and some testimonies about them.

 

To learn more about the situation of the religious freedom in Algeria please see: www.religious-freedom-report.org

ACN Project of the Week – Supporting Carmelite Sisters in Bolivia

13.12.2018 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Bolivia, Sisters, South America

Project of the Week – Bolivia

Support of five religious Sisters in Cochabamba

 

Bolivia has long been the poorest country on the South American continent. And even though the economic situation has seen slight improvement recently, there has been little sign of benefit for large sections of the population. The same can be said for the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia’s fourth-largest city. For although it has grown to become an industrial centre, many of its inhabitants continue to live in deep poverty. And, the ongoing flight from rural areas has led to more and more people flocking to the city.

Subsistence aid for Carmelitas del Sagrado Corazón in Quillacollo, 2017.
Photo: Sister Griselda with the children of the school Nuestra Señora de Urkupiña.

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart have been working in a western suburb of Cochabamba at two Quillacollo parishes, since 2005. Unlike the Discalced Carmelites, their better-known sister congregation, which is an enclosed, contemplative congregation founded by Saint Teresa of Avila, the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart are an active religious community. The five Carmelites in Cochabamba have opened up an educational centre for children, young people and women, where they offer, among other things, literacy courses and basic skills courses for women with which they can earn a living to support themselves and their families.

 

The Sisters also prepare the children for their First Holy Communion, accompany the children, young people and adults on their path of faith, organize retreat days and – in an area where there are very few priests and the parishes very large – they play a vital role in spreading the Catholic faith. They also support and counsel women who are victims of domestic violence.

 

The Sisters have turned to ACN for support for their life and ministry, since by themselves they cannot make ends meet. They also have to find money for transportation, medical provisions, food and so forth, as well as for their own general basic living essentials.

We have promised these Carmelite Sisters $4,000 dollars to help them in their work.

 

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