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ACN Interview

 

ACN IVIEW – Beirut, Lebanon: “Christians in Lebanon can count on help from ACN”

11.08.2020 in ACN International, ACN Interview, By Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Lebanon, Middle East

Beirut, Lebanon

“Christians in Lebanon can count on help from ACN”

The charity is funding food parcels for survivors of the explosion in Beirut

 

By Tobias Lehner, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

The international Catholic pastoral and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) has been working for decades with numerous different project partners within Lebanon – above all in the areas of pastoral care and help for refugees. This has proved to be a great advantage in the aftermath of the recent catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut.

 

ACN has immediately sent $ 362,500 in emergency aid of starving Christian families, many of whom are facing real hunger. There is a great deal more still to be done. For example, the Christian quarter of Beirut has been extensively damaged. Tobias Lehner has spoken to Regina Lynch, the Director of Projects for ACN International, about the situation in Beirut and what further aid the charity is planning.

 

What news do you hear from the project partners in Beirut? What is the situation in the city?

 

Beirut is in a state of crisis. There is hardly any electricity and in some places no means of communication (telephone, Internet etc.). Some 90.000 homes and houses have been destroyed or damaged. The international aid of US$297 million promised on Sunday falls far short of what is needed to rebuild the district affected by the explosion.

 

What is the local Church doing to help those who have survived the disaster?

 

Already before the explosion, the Catholic Patriarchates (Maronite, Greek-Catholic, Syriac-Catholic, Armenian) in Lebanon had got together with local parishes and institutions such as Caritas, St. Vincent de Paul and the Pontifical Mission Societies, and created a committee to see how to help the Christians who were already facing soaring inflation, coupled with spiraling unemployment. Many families were on the brink of starvation and Christians were already talking of leaving the country.

 

Regina Lynch: “Christians in Lebanon can count on help from ACN”

Since an aid distribution plan had already been set up, this now means that the Church is in a good position for distributing the aid that is being provided by foreign NGOs, e.g. food, medicine, blankets. It is inspiring to see the role that the Catholic young people are playing in helping with the distribution of the emergency aid.

 

For what purpose will the aid from ACN be used?

 

The initial aid of $362,500from ACN will be used for supplying food packages to 5,000 families, most of whom were affected by the explosion, but also for those Lebanese and refugee Christians, who were already struggling to survive before the explosion. Some of Lebanon’s main grain silos were destroyed in the explosion, resulting in even higher food prices.

 

What other relief efforts is ACN planning?

 

Some 80% of the Christian district of Achrafieh has been among the areas worst affected by the explosion – the lower part of it nearest to the port has disappeared. Hundreds of Christian families have lost their homes and livelihoods. Numerous Catholic hospitals and dispensaries are in urgent need of repair, so that they can continue to function. Countless Church structures have been destroyed or badly damaged, e.g. St. George’s Maronite Cathedral, several parish churches, the Middle East provincial houses of various congregations, convents. Aid to the Church in Need is working with our local Church partners to see which of these needs can be addressed immediately and which subsequently, in the next few months before winter sets in.

 

Christians in Lebanon may be sure that they can count on the prayers and financial support of ACN’s benefactors.

 

To learn more and to donate to projects helping the people of Lebanon, please visit our website: https://acn-canada.org/urgent-call-for-lebanon/


 

ACN Interview – Mozambique: The hidden war

28.04.2020 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Mozambique

Mozambique: The hidden war

“It is important to know what is happening – 52 young people were massacred on April 7 for refusing to join the insurgents.”

An interview with Mgr. Luiz Fernando Lisboa, Mozambique 27.04.2020
by Maria Lozano

Published on the web April 28, 2020

Pope Francis has been one of the few international figures to speak publicly about the terrorist violence in the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique. It is a tragedy ignored by many and unknown to others.

Maria Lozano, of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), spoke recently with Catholic Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of the diocese of Pemba, which is in the region of Cabo Delgado, to find out more about the situation.

 

A few weeks ago we heard about attacks on the town of Mocímboa da Praia, in the north of your diocese. What is the situation there at present?

In the past few months not only Mocímboa da Praia, but also Quissanga and Muidumbe have been attacked. These are the three major centres that have suffered such attacks. In Mocímboa da Praia, as I speak, the situation is under control, but unfortunately there was a lot of looting. During the attacks many people fled the town and took refuge in the forest, spending the night there. Some heartless scoundrels took advantage of the situation and many houses were broken into; they stole food, clothing and other belongings. Last week [20 April] one of these thieves was captured and lynched by the people. Unfortunately, this whole climate of terror has ended up generating insecurity and increasing crime. The people are so weary and very anxious after what has happened.

 

You mentioned Muidumbe; this was in fact the district where the most recent attack occurred, on Good Friday 10 April, on the Catholic mission in the town of Muambula. What else can you tell us about this attack?

In the district of Muidumbe seven small towns or villages were attacked in fact during the days of Holy Week, among others that of Muambula where the Catholic mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is situated, in Nangololo. They attacked the church and burnt the benches and a statue of Our Lady, made of ebony. They also destroyed an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom the parish is dedicated. Fortunately, they were unable to burn the building itself, only the benches.

 

Was this the first attack on a church?

No, this was not the first attack on a church. They had already attacked and burnt five or six local chapels, but they also burned some mosques. Although ultimately, it seems, the target is the Christian churches. The tragic thing for us is that this mission in Nangololo is almost a hundred years old and is the second most important mission in the diocese. So, it was a very tragic attack in what it symbolizes.

 

Is it true that there was a massacre in one of the towns of the Muidumbe district?

Yes, on April 7 in Xitaxi. To our immense sadness, 52 young people who refused to join the insurgents were massacred. To us they are true martyrs of peace because they would not agree to take part in the violence, in warfare, and that is the reason why they were murdered.

 

How many attacks have there been, to your knowledge, since the beginning of 2020?

I don’t know exactly how many attacks there have been altogether. But as I said, in this last wave alone they attacked seven towns and villages. Today I read a news bulletin that speaks of 26 attacks so far this year. But to tell you the truth, I think the true figure will have been higher.

 

These terrorist attacks have increased since 2017 and Mozambique has gone from being a safe place to being numbered on the foreign embassy lists as a place of potential danger… How is it that Mozambique has become a theatre of Islamic terrorism? What are they trying to achieve exactly?

I believe that this change of international perception is due to the war in Cabo Delgado. Here in the north, and also in the centre of the country, there have been attacks on public transport, and this creates a clear sense of insecurity within the country. However, I would not say that Mozambique is a theatre of Islamic terror. The most recent attacks have apparently been claimed by the Islamic State, but there are still doubts about this. Some people are saying that it is a local group which began small and is using the name of Islamic State, while others say that it really is the Islamic State. All we can say is that we don’t know for certain. Equally, we don’t know what is behind all this, but we imagine that it has to do with the natural resources. There are many financial interests and those who are funding all this are finding fertile ground due to the poverty, the lack of opportunities and the resulting youth unemployment. Cabo Delgado has always been a very poor province, neglected by everyone, including the authorities. What we’re seeing is the result of all these factors.

 

But the authors of these acts of terror are the same ones in every case, are they not? Where do they come from?

As I said earlier, we don’t know exactly who are the agents behind these actions. We have noted that initially they would only attack a single locality, but recently they have carried out several attacks at the same time, at least in two places at once… Nor do we know where they come from, although many reports indicate that while some of them are Mozambicans, the rest are from Tanzania and other countries…

 

But how do they operate? Is there a particular area under terrorist control, or do they attack and then withdraw again?

I don’t know if we can say that there is an area under the control of the terrorists, but there is certainly a region where they are most active. The people from the villages closest to this area have been forced to abandon their homes and are unable to return, because the terrorists go from there to other places and then come back again.

 

Is there also a religious element to these attacks?

That is difficult to say. Ever since they started, the main Muslim authorities in Cabo Delgado and throughout the country have distanced themselves from the attacks and have said that they have nothing to do with all this. A few days ago they published another letter, the second one, distancing themselves from these groups. In the declaration they insist that Islam is a religion of peace and understanding among peoples and among religions. They do not want violence. We cannot say that these attacks were carried out by religious groups. Both in Cabo Delgado and in the rest of Mozambique we have never had problems between our religions or between their leaders. We have engaged in many joint activities – prayers, declarations and walks for peace.

 

Are the priests and religious of the region in danger?

We have priests and religious, men and women throughout this region where the attacks are taking place. The official government personnel, such as teachers and healthcare workers, have left the districts because they were attacking public buildings. A large proportion of the population has fled out of fear. And several foreign NGOs which were operating within the territory have also left because they were being threatened. I asked the missionaries to leave because as their diocesan bishop I am responsible for them and the risk of attacks was imminent, given that they were the only ones who had remained. They were starting to attack churches, and the violence was taking on a religious dimension. I have to keep them safe, although they want to return as soon as they can in order to serve the people.

 

What is the central government doing to alleviate the situation?

The central government has strengthened its defences and sent reinforcements. It is playing its part; I don’t know if it couldn’t do more, but it is here to provide a defence. However, there are many young people in the military who are mere conscripts, and when the attacks take place there are many desertions and they flee to the woods with the people. They have very little training and little ability to cope with this situation. I feel terrible sorrow for the young people who have to go and fight, because a great many of them have already lost their lives.

 

The Holy Father spoke about Mozambique during his Easter Mass; he is one of the few voices to have broken the silence…

Yes, on Easter Sunday, after celebrating the Eucharist and giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing, the Holy Father spoke about the situation the world is facing, about the pandemic and the various conflicts around the world. For us it meant a great deal that he referred to the humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado because there is a certain “law of silence” surrounding it.

 

What precisely do you mean by referring to a “law of silence”?

The situation is a very grave one, because we can’t speak about it openly. Some journalists in the country have been arrested, and many of them have had their cameras confiscated. There is a journalist from the Community Radio station of Palma, Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco, who has been missing since April 7. It is important to know what is happening and important for the international organizations such as the UN, the European Union and the African Union to do something about it. The people here have suffered greatly, there have been hundreds of deaths, thousands of people forced from their homes. In our province we have over 200,000 refugees. It is an injustice that is crying out to heaven. The people here have very little, and what little they have they are losing because of this war. I appeal for help and solidarity for my people, so that they can live in peace once again, as they desire and as they deserve to do.

ACN Interview – the changes brought to Cuba through the communist ideologie

18.03.2020 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Cuba

 CUBA

“The Communist ideology has fundamentally changed society”

Text by ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted on line March 18, 2020

In a country shaped by half a century under Communist rule, a country facing a lack of economic prospects and the disintegration of the traditional family, the Church in Cuba remains steadfast. Father Jean Pichon is a priest from the Community of Saint Martin who serves in Santa Clara, a diocese located at the heart of Cuba. He has answered the questions of the international Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports the priest in a number of evangelization projects.

 

ACN: How do you see Cuban society today?

Cubans are caught between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, living costs are on the rise, on the other, wages and salaries continue to fall. They are currently stagnating at 20 to 30 dollars a month. A large number of Cubans have moved to other countries, particularly Spain. This has contributed to the dissolution of families and the destruction of social ties within the country. Besides the economic issues, which are, of course, significant, I believe that Cuba’s primary problem is the collapse of the family. The father-figure has ceased to exist.

You say that the family, and particularly fatherhood, has been weakened in Cuba. What do you believe has caused this?

When I arrived on the island, an older priest told me that there were only biological fathers here, no real fathers. I believe that the Communist ideology has fundamentally changed society. For half a century, it was not the father who protected and nurtured in Cuba, but Fidel Castro! There is a very strong bond between mothers and their children, but the fathers are not around. I also think that the pressure exerted by the regime has led young people to see sexuality as one area in which they can be free. There are a lot of single mothers here and prostitution has become a gigantic problem. Weddings are a rare occurrence and most young people just go from one partner to the next.

 

What are your duties in a society that is at such odds with itself?

When I talk with young people, I cannot suggest that they abstain from sexual relationships until they marry. That would be too far removed from the reality in which they live. But I do try to get them to at least associate sexuality with love. However, in spite of everything, a few couples do marry. Another problem is that there are hardly any vocations to the priesthood; this is a well-known problem here in Cuba. When I drove to a remote village in 2009, an old lady told me that she had not seen a priest in over 50 years.

But don’t the Cubans continue to be very devout?

They are an endearing people and full of paradoxes! There are many followers of the Santeria among the Catholics. This religion is inspired by animism and likes to recruit its followers from among people who have been baptized in the Catholic faith. The influence of the materialistic Marxist ideology is also palpable. However, the Cubans who define themselves as atheists or agnostics are often the ones who deeply revere the Virgen de la Caridad (Virgin of Charity). This statue of Our Lady was found on a beach by slaves gathering salt and has become a point of reference for all Cubans of all religious persuasions. I can tell you an anecdote that clearly demonstrates this. One day, I knocked on the door of a Cuban who at first refused to open the door when he saw that I was a priest. This is very unusual for Cubans, because they set great store by hospitality in this country. However, when I told him that we were organizing a procession in honour of the Virgen de la Caridad, his eyes lit up. He answered that if it were for her, then he would also attend… The Virgin of Charity is often able to open the door to the hearts of the Cuban people for us.

ACN Interview – Archbishop reports on the current situation in the Holy Land

11.09.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Tobias Lehner, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN Iview – Holy Land

“Religious fundamentalism places Christians on the fringes of society”

by Daniele Piccini & Tobias Lehner, ACN International

Pierbattista Pizzaballa has already spent more than three decades of his life in the Holy Land. In 2016, the Franciscan was made Archbishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In an interview with Daniele Piccini while visiting ACN Germany, the archbishop recently explained why current international political decisions exacerbate the conflict in the Holy Land and why the Church is relying on the power of small steps.


 

ACN: Your Grace, what is the current situation of the Christians in the Holy Land?

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa: It is often said that three groups of people live in the region that is considered the Holy Land proper: Israelis, Palestinians and Christians. But the Christians are not a “third people”. The Christians belong to the people among whom they live. As Christians we don’t have any territorial claims. Meeting a Christian does not represent a danger to Jews or Muslims. However, life is not easy for the Christians: it is more difficult for Christians to find work or a flat. The living conditions are much more difficult.

 

 

Does this mean that the religious freedom of the Christians is very restricted in the Holy Land?
It is necessary to make distinctions here. The freedom to practice religion is one thing, the freedom of conscience is another. The freedom to practice religion exists: the Christians can celebrate their divine services and develop their community life. Freedom of conscience means that all church members can express themselves freely and should members of other religions wish to become Christians, they have the right to do so. That is a lot more complicated.

Politics always plays a major role in the Holy Land. Even wanting to visit a certain place can quickly evolve into a political issue. For example: Christians from Bethlehem would like to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to pray. However, this is often not possible because they need a permit to do so. Therefore, is this an issue of religious freedom or is it just politics and they are not being granted permission to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because they are Palestinians? It is all interconnected.

 

“The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians.”

 

The U.S. government recently moved its Embassy to Jerusalem. How perceptible are the effects of political measures of this kind?
For the time being, this has not had much of an effect on everyday life. However, politically, relocating the U.S. Embassy is a dead end. All issues relating to Jerusalem that do not take account of both sides – Israelis and Palestinians – lead to a deep fracture on a political level. And that is exactly what happened. After the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, the Palestinians broke off all relations with the U.S. government, bringing the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian regions, which were moving sluggishly anyway, to a complete standstill.

The old City of Jerusalem

The latest escalations have led to the radicalization of a growing number of young people, particularly among the Palestinians. Does this also have repercussions for the Christians?
There are Palestinians who belong to fundamentalist movements. But there are also many who oppose violence. The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians. Therefore, they live under the same conditions as the Palestinian Muslims. Religious fundamentalism places Christians clearly on the fringes of society. We experience both cooperation and solidarity, but also exclusion and discrimination.

 

Another problem is the growing emigration of Christians …
Emigration is not a mass phenomenon, or the Christians would have long since disappeared from the Holy Land. It is a constant trickle. Each year when I visit the parishes, the priests tell me, “This year we lost two, three families.”

Holy Land, May 2011: The wall separating Palestine and Israel

 

Is there something the Church can do in this dead-end political situation?
Christians make up about one per cent of the population. We therefore cannot expect to carry the same political weight as other groups. But of course the Church has strong connections worldwide. And then there are the millions of Christian pilgrims from all over the world. It is our job to communicate to the people: there is a Christian way of living in this country. There is a Christian way of living with this conflict. This is not the time for big gestures. The Church has to try to establish small connections, to build small bridges.

 

Holy Land/Jerusalem, January 19, 2016. The Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem was targeted by vandals for a second time.

Pope Francis visited the country in 2014. Did this have an effect on the political situation, but also on the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians?
The visits of the Pope are important stepping stones on the way to peace, even though they will not bring about a major change. However, the opposite is true when it comes to ecumenism: with his visit, Pope Francis built on the historic meeting that took place between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964. Keeping this in mind, the visit of Pope Francis, in particular the ecumenical prayer in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was a decisive and perceptible turning point in the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

 

Financial aid for the implementation of the course “Healing Hatred: Spiritual Counseling in Situation of Conflict” (Sept. 2018 – Aug. 2019)

Aid to the Church in Need has been close to the Christians in the Holy Land for many years. In Jerusalem, for example, the pastoral charity funds an interreligious seminar entitled “Develop Forgiveness, Overcome Hatred” which is attended by hundreds of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Could you tell us  something about this initiative?
First and foremost, I would like to thank ACN because the pastoral charity does a great deal in the Holy Land. It supports many projects, including this seminar, which is organised by the Rossing Center. Daniel Rossing was a Jew who felt that Jerusalem in particular needed to be a place where all religions felt at home. Many young people who participate in these classes apply what they learn in their professional lives. Which makes religion, which is often an element of division in the Holy Land, an element of unity.

ACN Interview: Cardinal Baltasar Porras of Venezuela

05.08.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Interview, Venezuela

Venezuela

Interview of Cardinal Baltasar Porras: “Venezuela is suffering from a wartime economy”

by Maria Lozano & Josué Villalón for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada
Published on the web August 5th, 2019  

The social, political and economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate gravely, with shortages of food, medicines and the basic necessities of daily life. The Church is suffering the consequences of this crisis along with the people, and in many of the dioceses of the country the clergy and other pastoral workers, who are involved in the indispensable work of addressing the material and spiritual needs of the people, are themselves in need of aid in order to survive.

Cardinal Baltasar Porras, who is apostolic administrator of Caracas and Archbishop of Mérida, spoke recently with a delegation from the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) who were visiting the country to see the situation for themselves and observe how the aid projects of the charity are helping the Church in Venezuela in its pastoral and social outreach.


 

Venezuela is not actually at war, yet in reality it is living as though it were in a state of war. What would you say of this assessment?

We are living in an exceptional and unheard-of situation, which is not the result of war, nor of any armed conflict, or any natural catastrophe, and yet which is having similar consequences. The political regime that is running Venezuela has broken the country and has generated an atmosphere of social conflict that is steadily growing worse. On top of this there is the reality of so many Venezuelans living in exile – something that was unheard of before. People are leaving on account of their economic situation and because of their political ideas, while others are doing so on account of the harassment and repression in the country, whose economic system is now practically ruined. There is absolutely no security under the law. At the same time there is no work and no proper healthcare, there is no possibility for people of bringing home even the minimum to support their family. The experts describe this whole situation as a wartime economy.

 

Cars waiting in long lines for fuel

We have heard about the negotiations in Oslo between the government and the opposition, but there is a great deal of scepticism in regard to them. Do you think that this could really be a way forward to improve the situation in the country?

We have to understand that over the past 20 years, when the government found itself in difficulties, it frequently called for dialogue. But these appeals were only made in order to “paper over the cracks”, because the government had no real desire to negotiate sincerely, or to concede anything at all. Given this situation, a large proportion of the population have lost all trust and belief in the idea of dialogue. But despite this, it is an opportunity to discover if there is any will to restore democracy, which has for now been totally sidelined in this country. We are deeply concerned at the fact that in the last year the number of people who have been arrested, tortured, murdered or “disappeared” has been growing and that those involved in these actions include not only high-ranking members of the military, but also some members of the pro-government popular classes. Some of the state organisations are looked on by people as “Nazi” police, and generate fear among the people. The government has lost the streets, and now the only way it can control the people is through fear, and by deliberately provoking fuel, food and energy shortages.

 

Lack of transportation has become a problem for Venezuelans

During our visit we were able to see how, wherever there is a parish or another Church institution, people flock to it and find help and leave somewhat comforted. Could one say that the Church in Venezuela is a Church of Hope?

The public and private institutions have been destroyed, and the only institution remaining is the Church. This is thanks to our closeness to the people and to our presence at every level of society. Besides, the Church has had the courage to point out the defects of this regime. Other social agencies have not spoken out about this crisis, for fear of the government, which has threatened and closed down the communications media and attacked private enterprises.

 

Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras eating with the poor

 

As a result of its clear and firm stance the Church too is suffering from threats and pressure. Can it be said that the Church in Venezuela is being persecuted?

I would say, we cannot say that it is not persecuted. For example, in the field of education there are restrictions on the Catholic centres; it seems as though they are looking to place obstacles, so that it is the Church itself who has to close her own schools. For years we have been suffering subtle forms of pressure, including verbal threats and harassment against our social institutions such as Caritas, for example. The parishes are attacked by the government, by the communal councils and the so-called “colectivos”, pro-government popular groups. For example, in Caracas, the members of these groups stand at the church doors and listen to what the priest says in his homilies, and if they don’t like it, then the threats begin.

 

Poverty is on the rise

What would happen in Venezuela if it weren’t for the presence of the Catholic Church?

The situation would be worse, and worsening for many people. It hurts us to see our people like this. Given the phenomenon of emigration, those of us who have been left behind are “orphans of affection”, because the family and the whole environment in which we used to live have disappeared. We feel the lack of companionship and we also suffer because many of those who have emigrated are not doing well either. Venezuela is turning into a geopolitical problem that affects other countries also. There are already 4 million Venezuelans outside the country – 1.5 million in Colombia, 700,000 in Peru, 400,000 in Chile, 500,000 in Florida – half of them without papers, we are told. And there are many more in other countries of the Americas and in Europe. It is terribly sad.

 

What has Pope Francis said to you in the meetings you have had with him?

The Pope knows the situation in Venezuela very well, since long before he was appointed Pope. And in addition, his closest collaborators, such as the Vatican Secretary of State, have had direct connections with Venezuela and are very much involved. The Pope is trusting in the local bodies. In the last meeting that we had between the entire Venezuelan episcopate and the Holy Father he said to us “I endorse everything you are doing.” Some people wonder why he doesn’t say more about Venezuela. Things are being done, but discreetly, partly so as not to endanger the organisations which are helping the Church in Venezuela.

 

 

Have you a final message for those in ACN who are working together with the Church in Venezuela?

The support of many institutions, and not only Catholic ones, is a great source of consolation for us. In particular we are profoundly grateful to ACN, not only for your material support, but for the spiritual closeness expressed by you, above all through prayer. And there is one thing in particular we must acknowledge, namely that thanks to the support we receive from ACN in the form of Mass intentions, you are helping enormously to alleviate the needs in the parishes, and in this way we can devote other resources to support our social outreach. You are helping us to continue to be present and support the people who need us most.

 

March 2012: Ranchos in Caracas

ACN Interview – Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis, Tunisia

05.07.2019 in ACN Interview, ACN Intl, By Maria Lozano, Tunisia

ACN INTERVIEW – Tunisia

Our mission here is to bear witness

The ancient city of Carthage, in the era of the Phoenicians – where modern Tunis stands today – was the city that saw the greatest number of martyrs of the Church after Rome. Now, in the 21st century, it has become a “very fragile” Church, according to Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis. He was speaking in an interview with Maria Lozano, during a visit to the  headquarters of the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).

* It should be noted that this interview was done prior to the suicide bombings of June 27 which claimed one life and injured eight in central Tunis.

 

by Maria Lozano , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 7, 2019

 

ACN: What is the situation in Tunisia today, eight years after the so-called “Arab Spring”?

P: The “Arab Spring” raised high hopes of greater freedom and prosperity, but it lacked a leader who could tell the people how to achieve this. That is why many people have become disillusioned. People today want jobs and security to give them a sense of greater peace and serenity, since for many people the future seems uncertain. As far as the situation of the Church is concerned, the truth is that we cannot complain. We can do what we want within the Church and go wherever we wish without asking permission. We are free, and that is a good thing.

 

ACN: What you mean when you say that you are free? What aspects are you referring to, given that the field of action for the Church is very limited?

We are governed by a modus vivendi, the accord signed in 1964 between the Holy See and Tunisia during the presidency of Habib Bourguiba. Prior to that the French army had been expelled from Tunisia. The Church was viewed as the “long arm” of France, the colonial power. It was for this reason that almost all the property of the Church was confiscated in Tunisia. We had 125 churches, and today we have just four. That left the Church in a fragile state, but at the same time it did do one thing for us: our faith became stronger. Being unable to count on the support of men and having nothing, we are compelled to turn to God and to call on him for everything we need and ask him to give the strength to work in the situation in which we currently find ourselves, in Tunisia. Our modus vivendi does have certain negative aspects as far as the Church is concerned, but at the same time it has forced her to concentrate on the essential, on the spiritual.

 

We had 125 churches, and today we have just four.

ACN: Given that 99% of the population is Muslim, the Church is in a very delicate situation. What does the Church do in your country?

P: We are simply missionaries. The missionary is someone who witnesses to the presence of Christ where He is not known. In Tunisia Christ is not known. All the Christians are foreigners – either students coming for the most part from sub-Saharan Africa or else entrepreneurs who have come to work in Tunisia. We have to support them and welcome them to the best of our ability, something that is not easy, because there are no church bells to hear. All the Church activities have to take place inside the churches; there is nothing to see from the outside. It is not easy to make contact with them, but once we do manage to do so they play an active part in the Church in Tunisia. As a result we number between 15,000 and 20,000 Christians. It is not easy to obtain statistics because, for example, the students leave once they have finished their studies and other students arrive. According to our own calculations we lose around one quarter of our faithful each year, but at the same time another quarter arrives. This means in effect that every four years the Catholic community we serve is a completely new one. As a result it is not easy to establish long-term projects within the Church, or with the Church, because those who begin such a project almost never complete it, while those who are newly arrived do not know what it’s all about. Hence there is no stability, and this is another additional difficulty for our Church.

I am the only bishop in Tunisia, because, little by little, Tunisia abandoned the Christian faith and today the population is entirely Muslim.

 

ACN: But Tunisia has Christian roots! Should that not be something seen and felt?

P: In Tunisia they were saying Mass in Latin even before they were doing so in Rome. Christianity arrived in Tunisia in the earliest centuries of the Church. We need only think of Saint Cyprian, Saint Augustine or all the martyrs we have had in Tunisia. After Rome, the city that gave the highest number of martyrs to the Church was Carthage, in other words Tunis. The country had some 120 bishops, and the bishop of Carthage was regarded as the Primate of Africa, with authority over all the bishops of Africa. Of course we no longer have 120 bishops today. I am the only bishop in Tunisia, because, little by little, Tunisia abandoned the Christian faith and today the population is entirely Muslim.

 

ACN: We cannot see the future of course, but some people think that in a hundred or two hundred years Europe itself may have lost the Faith and be living in a situation like that in North Africa. What do you think we can do to avoid such a situation happening?

P: It is true that Europe is in danger. However, not because the Muslims have invaded, but because we no longer attach sufficient importance to the faith that we do have. If we look at the Muslims and the way they live, on the other hand, on the day of prayer everybody goes to the mosque. In our countries the churches are empty. The Muslims have children, but the Christians have fewer and fewer. Little by little, we are committing suicide for lack of believers, for lack of children. You only have to look at our churches in Europe; the majority of those praying there are aged 60 or over. Where are the young people?

 

ACN: Another factor is the shortage of priests. In Europe the average age of priests is also increasing. What is the situation like in your country?

P: I am quite possibly the only bishop in the world who is complaining that his priests are too young. Currently, among my priests there are two or three who are aged around 90. But of all the rest the oldest priest is 45 years old. We don’t have enough older priests who have a historical knowledge of Tunisia, of its society, of the Church and everything else. That is something we lack. The same is true of their work in supporting the religious sisters, and other priests… There is a need for a priest to have a degree of religious and pastoral experience.

There are no Tunisian priests.

 

ACN: Is it true that in Tunisia all the religious sisters and all the priests are missionaries who have come here from outside?

P: Yes. There are no Tunisian priests. The religious sisters and the priests belong to various different congregations, and most of them come here for a missionary stay of 5 to 10 years and then return to their home countries. We lack a permanent presence of our priests.

 

ACN: Caritas plays an important role here, and not only for the Christians…

P: Caritas is not simply a “movement” within the Church, something that is a part of the Church. For us Caritas is the Church. This represents a great responsibility. With its help, everything we do can actually reach the families, reach society, where no priest or religious can go. Hence Caritas is seen as the “missionary” of the Church. It witnesses to Christ, to a Christ who loves, who helps people, through all the individuals working with Caritas. When someone comes to us, we never ask him about his religion but only about his troubles. Whether the person is a Christian or not is something of no importance to Caritas. We do have Christians; those who come to us are above all Africans, but there are also many Tunisians. We work in areas of Tunis that are 100% Muslim, and we are there to help the women to learn a trade, such as making sweets and pastries for example, so that they can lead an independent life. Once they have been trained in this way they can earn a living and live a more dignified life.

 

ACN: What would you like to say to the Aid to the Church in Need benefactors? What can we do for Tunisia, to help you in your work as a bishop?

P: We have a Church that is fragile, because its activities are very limited, fragile, too, on account of our lack of means of subsistence, since everything we once had has been taken from us. And equally because for everything we need, we have to ask help from abroad. ACN is extremely important for us in enabling us to continue our work and our apostolate, above all among this people, who need our witness. Simply being there is to bear witness for Christ, through our own lives and not simply by words. It means showing by our conduct who Christ is, a Christ who loves, a Christ who forgives. The Tunisians will never have a Bible in their homes, but we are the Gospel that they can read, through the way we behave. And all the aid we get from ACN enables us to bear witness, by our lives, to who Christ is. In the end it is He who gives the grace that touches hearts, not us. I want to thank ACN for all the aid you are giving us. Because this is helping us to stay on our feet, helping us to continue our mission.

 

 

Religious Persecution: “Our silence is our shame”

07.06.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview

Religious Persecution: “Our silence is our shame”

On May 28, 2019 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution establishing August 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The proposed observance was tabled by Poland with the support the United States, Canada, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, serving the suffering and persecuted Christians for over 70 years, welcomes this resolution as a first step towards drawing greater attention to the as yet under recognized tragedy of religious persecution – particularly that of violence against Christians, to date the largest faith group experiencing persecution for religious belief. Maria Lozano interviewed Mark Riedemann, Aid to the Church in Need’s Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom.

Do you know how did the idea originate?

The initiative was initiated and carried out by Ms. Ewelina Ochab, lawyer, author and co-author of a number of books and articles addressing religious freedom.  In September 2017 after the success of the ACN-hosted international conference in Rome presenting the post-Daesh reconstruction of the Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains, Ms. Ochab proposed drawing global attention to religious freedom violations, and more specifically Christian persecution. We encouraged her call for action by the international community.

Throughout the 2018, she spoke at 17 conferences proposing the idea to a network of supporters including, among others, supportive representatives in the USA, UK and the EU. In mid-2018, the Foreign Ministry of the Polish government gave confirmation of support and the USA included the proposal in their Potomac declaration and action plan.  As Ms. Ochab told me: “Poland presented and proceeded with the steps necessary at the UN General Assembly, gaining support and working on the draft to ensure consensus. It was a long process with many people involved however, ACN was the inspiration.”

Is this a useful step? How can this promote religious freedom and prevent religion based violence?

This is not only a useful but crucial step. To date the international community’s response to religion based violence, and religious persecution in general, can be categorized as too little too late. This resolution is a clear message and mandate – and every August 22 a reminder – that acts of religion based violence cannot and will not be tolerated by the UN, member states, and civil society.

By implication, the protection of those suffering religion based violence is also a recognition of religious freedom: an acceptance of the sociological reality of religion in society, the positive role of religion in societies in guaranteeing plurality and furthering economic development, and, as Pope Benedict XVI stated, the fundamental right of the individual to seek Truth, to seek the transcendent, to seek God.

Is this a sign that religious violence is taken more seriously internationally and by the UN?

Tragically, research from international religious freedom reports such as those published by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Pew Research Center, and Aid to the Church in Need confirm an unprecedented increase in violence against religious believers of virtually every faith on every continent – with Christians suffering the greatest persecution. In the last five years alone we have witnessed two cases of genocide, as perpetrated by Daesh against Christians and minority religious groups in Iraq and Syria, and against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, not to mention the systematically organized atrocities increasingly perpetrated against (predominantly) Christians in Africa. Our silence is our shame.

What other measures need to be taken at UN level?

Religious groups are being eradicated from the places of their birth. Prior to the 2003 invasion Iraqi Christians numbered 1.3 million. Today there are at best 300,000. The importance is that this step, this day, not be treated as an end in itself, but understood as the beginning of a process towards an internationally coordinated (UN and member states) action plan working towards prevention – to end religious persecution.

What are the next steps?

The establishment of August 22 as a day recognizing those who have suffered religion based violence and focusing on the issue of religious persecution is an important step, but only a first step. It is up to states and civil societies to ensure that this symbolic action is turned into a meaningful one. The ultimate aim is to prevent acts of religious persecution in the future. This will not happen overnight as the necessary infrastructure is currently lacking. An important consideration is the establishment of a dedicated UN platform to which, for example, representatives of the persecuted groups or NGOs working with them, could engage and provide the first-hand information about their situation and the challenges they face. These case studies would serve as a basis for recognizing persecution trends, the perpetrators of such atrocities, how they operate, how they are funded, and in so doing help develop a tailored action plan to prevent such acts in the future – or prevent them from escalating to mass atrocities like genocide. A further measure to be taken is to address the present impunity for acts of religious persecution.  To date the unrecognized victims of, for example, the Daesh genocide, need to be provided with a comprehensive legal recourse to justice. The UN needs to work towards establishing an international tribunal addressing the issue of impunity for acts of religion based violence by groups ranging from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab to Daesh.

 

What is ACN’s help to persecuted Christians and why?

ACN seeks to draw attention and provide support to help keep the faith and the hope alive of those Christians who suffer and are persecuted for their religious beliefs. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we raised 120 million dollars last year and funded more than 5000 projects in some 145 countries. Our donors are the foundation on which we build bridges of faith, hope and charity. As much as the financial support is necessary, so too is the awareness about the suffering of these Christian communities – so that their cries do not unheard, that their suffering does not go unrecognised.

An ACN Interview – Archbishop Petros Mouche of Iraq

12.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, CONSTRUCTION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Persecution of Christians

Iraq longs for better times for its Church and its people

Archbishop Petros Mouche heads the Syriac-Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which was captured by ISIS in the summer of 2014. Today, with ISIS ousted from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, Christian communities are slowly coming back to life. Thousands of Iraqi faithful, having spent upwards of three years in exile in Kurdistan, have resettled in their former homes, villages and towns. In an interview with the pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Mouche—who also oversees the Syriac-Catholic Church in Kirkuk and Kurdistan—takes stock of the situation:

by Ragheb Elias Karash, for ACN International

Positive change has occurred in our region—no one can deny it. Things may not yet be at the required level, but there are very clear and concrete signs of progress. But no credit goes to the state: credit belongs to the faith-based and humanitarian organizations that rushed in to support us.

However, we still lack the funds to complete the reconstruction of all the homes that were very badly damaged or completely destroyed; we are waiting and hoping that governments, like those of the United Kingdom and Hungary, will step in and help us on this front.

Problems will not end so long as greed prevails

As for the creation of jobs, there are very few initiatives; we have made many requests to several American, British, French and even Saudi Arabian companies to launch some major projects in the region, so that our people can survive and especially our young people can find work—but we are still waiting. The Iraqi government has made many promises, but few projects have been implemented. Our confidence in the state is low. We are convinced that, offered the right opportunities, many of our people would return to Qaraqosh—if they could live there in peace and stability.

The problems will not end as long as greed prevails; when only the strong prevail and the rights of the poor are crushed; as long as the state is still weak and the law is not applied. But our hope is in God and we pray that ISIS will never return. For their safety and overall well-being, Christians depend on the rule of law and the integrity of government—that is what can guarantee safety for us and the Church.

There is not one specific and well-known party with plans to attack Christians; however, whoever has ambitions to grab our land loses the sense of citizenship and does not respect the rights of others. Such parties don’t even feel comfortable with our survival and ongoing presence.

There are many goodwill visits by official delegations and many good words are spoken—but nothing happens. Good intentions are not enough. On the part of some, there is not sufficient respect for our rights; and Christians do not use violence to defend themselves, but appeal to mutual respect. But if that is not answered in kind, more and more Christians will emigrate. This hurts all of us, who love this land, our history, our civilization and our heritage.

The Church as a whole—its bishops, pastors and laity—is sparing no effort to claim the rights of its people and to secure an area where we can live in dignity and peace. Church leaders do their best to instill confidence and hope in our people, but without forcing anyone to return, stay or be displaced. That decision each family must make for itself, the decision that guarantees its dignity, its future, especially the future of the children.

Here is my message to the Christians who have left Qaraqosh, wherever they may be—still in Iraq, or whether they are already in foreign lands:

Qaraqosh is the mother who has fed you the love of God, the love of the Church and the love of the land; it will remain your mother despite her sadness at your absence; the city is your heart that is still attached to you and its eyes are watching all your steps. It is happy when you are happy, and it is worried about your destiny when you are not happy. Its doors remain open to you. At every moment Qaraqosh is ready to embrace you again—Qaraqosh asks that you remain faithful to the pure milk that it gave you!”

Mgr-Petros-Mouche

Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has been on the forefront of supporting Iraqi Christians with projects totaling more than 40 million dollars, including humanitarian aid for faithful who fled to Kurdistan to escape ISIS, the repair and rebuilding of Christian homes on the Nineveh Plains, and, currently, the reconstruction and repair of Church infrastructure in northern Iraq.

ACN Feature Story – Bitter memories of time of terror for the priests in Zanzibar

08.03.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN Interview, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Priests, TANZANIA, Tanzania, Violence against Christians, Zanzibar

Father Damas Mfoi: “There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work.”

Father Damas Mfoi is a Catholic priest in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a small Christian population. Since 2010, Father Mfoi has been a parish priest on the main island of Unguja. In 2012, the otherwise peaceful island community witnessed a series of violent attacks on religious leaders. A Muslim cleric was burned with acid in the fall of that year; a Catholic priest suffered gunshot wounds on Christmas Day 2012, and another was shot to death the following February. At the time, leaflets were distributed to incite violence, some of which bore the stamp of the radical Islamist group Uamsho. However, responsibility for the attacks has yet to be claimed or officially assigned. Father Mfoi tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) of the time of terror.

Interview by Anne Kidmose

 

“It was Christmas 2012, and we had planned to go for supper until we heard that Father Ambrose had been shot. Church leaders were in a state of shock, and we could no longer have our shared meal. We were frightened. We rushed to the hospital, but cautiously, as it was announced via leaflets that Church leaders would be killed, and that churches would be destroyed.

 

When we arrived, Father Ambrose was still bleeding, and he couldn’t talk. The following day, he was flown to Dar es Salaam for further treatment. After that, it was our faith that kept us here. People on the mainland called us home, but as Christians committed to the Gospel, we knew from the very beginning that ours was a mission of suffering, and that our lives might be threatened. There was no running away.

 

More leaflets were distributed, saying that Muslims should not allow the sale of alcohol, or the presence of churches. They were published anonymously, but today we know who they are. We didn’t know what would happen, though some said that they were just idle threats. But less than three months later, Father Evaristus Mushi was struck, and tragedy befell us.

 

It was a Sunday morning at 7:15 A.M.; I was saying Mass in a small church. A non-Catholic neighbour came running in; he shouted, “Father Damas, I have something to tell you!” He told me that Father Mushi was dead, the victim of a shooting. Some man shot him that morning, when he was parked in front of his church. I drove to the other churches to say Mass; now that Father Mushi was dead, I had to carry out the mission of Christ alone.

 

News of Father Mushi’s death rippled throughout the community, but that wasn’t the end of it. After we buried him and paid our last respects, a group of women came to our gates, crying. I told them, ‘Don’t cry now. Father Mushi is in heaven.’ One replied, ‘Father, she is not crying over Father Mushi. She is crying because of you.’ The assailants targeted me because I had built too many churches.

 

Father Damas Mfoi at the grave of Father Evaristus Mushi

The next morning, I escaped to the mainland, and a month later, I returned. I thought to myself, ‘There is no abandoning our mission. Jesus wouldn’t want to see us fail. There are Christians still here—why should their leaders run?’

 

Upon my return, I found that the police had set up a command post within my compound, and over the next two years, they patrolled the area because of the tension that lingered. The government took good care of us, but we knew, above all, that God protected us. When I was offered a bodyguard, I refused, believing that the work of Jesus did not require a machine gun; He promised his people that he would be with us until the end of time.

 

Six or seven months passed, and for a while, we thought that the worst was over, though security was still tight. But come September, a priest had acid splashed on him as he was leaving his regular café. He survived the attack but sustained major injuries.

 

There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work. We talk to people in the community, and we tell them that we believe God created us all and gave us the freedom to believe in whatever way we were taught. Muslims are taught about Muhammad; Christians are taught about Jesus Christ. We should all do our best to respect that and avoid mixing politics with religion.”

 

In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Church in Tanzania with projects totaling more than 2,5 Million dollars.

 

On line: March 8, 2019


 

The Philippines – Extremists try to create confusion and interreligious tension in the Philippines

25.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Asia, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, The Philippines

The Philippines

Extremists try to create confusion and interreligious tension in the Philippines

On 27 January 2019, two bombs exploded inside the Jolo cathedral in the Sulu Archipelago, situated between the islands of between Mindanao and Borneo. The attack killed 23 people and injured112 others. On January 30, there was a grenade attack on a mosque in Zamboanga, west of Mindanao Island. Father Sebastiano d’Ambra, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME) has been working for interreligious dialogue in the Philippines for 40 years. In an interview with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the situation in the country with the greatest number of Catholics in Asia.

***

ACN Father D’Ambra, can you tell us what happened on January 27?

Father D’Ambra: We were naturally shocked by the violence of the attack and by the fact that it targeted a sacred place. Unfortunately, this act of violence took place in a context of growing tensions in the area. In recent years, Islamic radicalism has been on the rise. And the Christian minority on the island of Jolo (1% of the total population of 120,000 inhabitants) is not the only victims; there are also Muslims who tell me: “Father, we too are threatened because we are not the same kind of Muslims as they are.”

ACN: Three days after the attack on the cathedral, a grenade claimed two lives at a mosque in Zamboanga, in the southern Philippines where you work. Are you afraid of interreligious violence?

Father D’Ambra: I do not think we should see a connection between the two attacks. I cannot imagine Christians wishing to avenge their dead by attacking a Muslim place of worship. On the other hand, I do believe that this is once again the work of those extremist groups whose violence is on the increase and who are sowing confusion. They want to divide Christians and Muslims and take advantage of the situation to provoke chaos throughout the country and challenge its balance; a balance that is largely based on harmonious relations between believers of different religions.

ACN: However, according to the authorities, the war against Islamic terrorism is being won. Do you share this assertion?

Father D’Ambra: No, not at all. Unfortunately, interreligious tension is present. The fact that the heads of extremist groups have been executed does not mean that the Philippine Government is winning the war, that is a mistake. I know that the Army is doing what it can to control these groups, but I do not think that’s enough. Groups such as Daesh, Maute or Abu Sayyaf share the goal of causing trouble in the country and may gain more strength in the times to come. I don’t say we have to live in fear, but we have to be realistic, and I don’t see them defeated. I believe they will continue to test the friendship we have with our Muslim neighbours.

ACN: And you, do you have the feeling that your life is in danger?

Don’t be afraid! Believe me, love is stronger than hate.

Father D’Ambra: Oh, I know that I’ve been living here for 40 forty years, so I’ve had a lot of time to be a target; I’d say many times. Once, especially when I was ambushed, and the bullet intended for me, killed one of my friends. At that time, I was mediating with the Muslim rebels. The fact that a priest was among those groups for almost three years was an unusual experience. We had managed to establish a relationship of mutual respect and I suppose that the idea that one priest alone could be more effective than a thousand soldiers in making peace must have surprised those who did not want the end of the conflict. This attitude is repeated today. Some Muslims tell us that our programs for dialog between Christians and Muslims are not to the liking of extremists.

ACN: Would you like to leave a message to finish?

Father D’Ambra: Don’t be afraid! Believe me, love is stronger than hate. I thank ACN for being so close to Christians in difficulty in the world, and I ask all Christians to promote dialog in their own sphere in order to get out of the logic of conflict. (2019-02-25)

***

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement and project partner from ACN, our organization supported Silsilah Media Centre for Dialogue and Peace, Publications and Harmony Chain Initiative for years.