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ACN Intl

 

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.

 

 

ACN Feature Story: Rwanda – the first victims of the 1994 genocide

25.04.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN Intl, Rwanda

RWANDA

A Christian couple, among the first victims of the 1994 genocide

Twenty-five years ago, on April 7, 1994, Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba were cut down by the bullets of the Hutu militias. Cyprien was already a celebrated poet and choreographer who had undergone a radical conversion and was working actively for the reconciliation of the different tribal groups within his country.

Text by Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted for Canada by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published online: April 25, 2019

Their killers murdered them on the first night of the genocide while they were praying before the Blessed Sacrament in their home. They desecrated the Tabernacle and scattered the consecrated hosts over the floor.

Everybody, or at least nearly everybody in Rwanda, already knew the name of Cyprien Rugamba, a recognized poet, dancer and choreographer who was now working tirelessly for reconciliation in Rwanda. Together with his wife, Daphrose, he had introduced the Emmanuel community into their country and was working to support street children while making no distinction between the three main ethnic groups in the country, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Shortly before he was murdered, Cyprien had appealed to the authorities to remove the designation of tribal identity from people’s identity cards. It was an initiative that provoked deep hostility from the agitators who were seeking to foment civil war and which probably earned him his place among the very first victims of the massacre.

Rwanda-pray

A radical conversion

Although he was raised as a Christian, Cyprien Rugamba had subsequently become very hostile towards Christianity, according to Laurent Landete, member of the Emmanuel community. For example, when his wife was in hospital on one occasion, Cyprien demanded that all the crucifixes be removed from her room, and he was also unfaithful to her and willing to listen to all kinds of calumnies against her, even to the point of being about to repudiate her. But then he fell gravely ill, and he, who was an artist, an intellectual and a dancer, found he could no longer speak, think or even move. “My pride was annihilated by this trial,” he recalled subsequently. Meanwhile, his wife faithfully continued to stay by him, remaining by his bedside throughout his illness, praying for him and watching over this husband whom she loved without apparently receiving any love in return.

Cyprien made a complete recovery – “miraculously,” he subsequently maintained. And following this “desert experience” he underwent a radical conversion of heart. Together with his wife, he set out to devote himself to works of charity. She had a little shop in the capital, Kigali, but the street children kept stealing potatoes from her stall. Realizing their terrible poverty, she decided to do something to help them. And the charity she set up then – and which is named after them – CECYDAR (Centre Cyprien et Daphrose Rugamba) – is still bearing fruit today. For 20 years the Centre has been welcoming children from the streets of Kigali and transforming their lives.”

“I will enter heaven dancing”

Cyprien Rugamba’s conversion also marked a profound change in his artistic career. “From now on, his centre of gravity was in heaven,”says Father Guy-Emmanuel Cariot, Rector of the Basilica in the French city of Argentueil, who organized an evening during which the Rugamba couple would be especially honoured on the 25th anniversary of their death. In fact, the cause for their beatification had already been launched by the Archdiocese of Kigali in 2015.

One of their children, who was actually present with them but survived the massacre, reported that when the killers entered, their first question to Cyprien was, “Are you a Christian?” to which his father had replied, “Yes, very Christian! And I will enter heaven dancing!” He was in fact repeating the words of a song he had written and which had become very popular in Rwanda. Daphrose then asked permission to pray one last time before the Tabernacle, which the family kept in their home. Her only answer was to be clubbed over the head with a rifle butt, then the soldiers turned their machine guns on the Tabernacle and then scattered the hosts over the floor, as though it was necessary for them to kill God first before they could kill men. They were roughly manhandled, then the whole family, including both parents, six children, one niece and a household employee, were herded together and machine-gunned to death.

The evening before they were executed, several friends had telephoned them in anguish. They later recalled being impressed by their quiet serenity. They had made no attempt to flee, preferring instead to believe right to the end in a Rwanda that was still united and capable of making peace.

ACN Feature – Burkina Faso: Religious congregation forced to flee

11.04.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Burkina Faso, By Emmanuelle Ollivry, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

Burkina Faso

Sisters forced to flee their convent

  After their hasty departure from Kompienbiga, in the south-east of Burkina Faso, the sisters of the congregation, Sœurs des Campagnes took refuge with the brothers in the male branch of their same congregation, in Pama, back in January 2019 and just before the assassination of Father César Fernandez. Sister Thérèse, the Mother Superior, and Father Soubeiga, the parish priest of Pama, spoke to the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) about the increase in violence which has struck the country, despite the fact that it is generally considered more peaceful than its tumultuous neighbours, Mali and Niger.
 
By Emmanuelle Ollivry for ACN-International Revision for ACN Canada by: Amanda Bridget Griffin

“Either you give us the medicines, or we blow your head off!” was the order given to Father F. Soubeiga, the parish priest of Pama and missionary brother of the congregation Frères Missionnaires des Campagnes. He was describing the threats made back in January 2019 against Sister Victorine, a nurse at the health and social care centre in Kompienbiga and a member of the female branch of his own congregation. “She was working alone at the dispensary. At around four in the afternoon a group of some 8 to 10 individuals, armed and wearing balaclavas, burst in and demanded medical supplies for their wounded comrades. But Sister Victoria did not have access to the pharmacy. So instead they made violent threats against her and smashed up everything in order to help themselves.”

The incident was the last straw for the sisters in Kompienbiga. Coming on top of a succession of other violent incidents, it forced them to finally withdraw and take shelter with the brothers of their congregation, just 15 km away, since they no longer felt safe on their own.

“The tension is growing, and the people are gripped by fear”

“During the night of 14 September 2018, two terrorist attacks took place in the villages of Diabiga and Kompienbiga, respectively 60 km and 15 km from Pama, in the east of the region,” according to the governorate of the region. According to Father Soubeiga, “the violence began in Pama back in March 2017, and there were a string of bomb explosions aimed at the police – at least three or four of them since August 2018.” Sister Therese, who is Mother Superior of the female branch of the congregation, the Soeurs des Campagnes in Kompienbiga, adds, “The tension is growing, especially since August 2018, in Kompienbiga. The attackers regularly come into the villages, round up the population, and shout orders at them. Fear is gripping them.” A little further north, Father Caesar Fernandez was assassinated in February 2019 and on 17 March 2019 Father Joël Yougbaré was “probably abducted by armed individuals,” according to the local Church. And so the sisters have taken refuge with the brothers in Pama, where it is just a little calmer.

The community is scattered

“This is the first time we have had to leave everything in haste like this,” admits Sister Therese, who had been living in Kompienbiga since 2001. “Out of the seven sisters in the community, four have taken shelter in Pama, while three have left the country for Togo, where they are completing their formation. Nobody knows when they will be able to return. It is hard,” she continues. In fact, their priory was established in Kompienbiga 25 years ago. They had established an elementary school in which they were caring for around 40 young children aged between three and six, children who in many cases had been neglected or abandoned. And they had just opened a sewing and dress-making school, where they were planning to teach five young women.

“All we want to do is to go back as soon as possible so that we can continue the work that we began,” insists Sister Therese. “Please pray for us!”

“The Catholics are the most vulnerable”

For now, even in Pama, “where things are calmer,” there is an obligatory curfew. “We are living in a deteriorating climate,” Father Soubeiga confirms. “As Catholics, we are the most vulnerable, because we represent a centralised institution, and thus an easy target. To attack a priest is to inflict harm on an entire territory. The consequences would not be the same for the Protestants or the Muslims, in their more fragmented communities, led by numerous different pastors and local imams.”

 

 

Unable to celebrate the Easter Vigil

As a result, the police have imposed strict security regulations. “Some areas are forbidden to me”, says the parish priest of Pama, sadly. “In January, in the space of two weeks, I had to evacuate all the catechists from Diabiga, Kompenbiga and another village, around 50 miles (78 km) from Pama. As for the immediate future, it’s looking very unlikely that we will even be able to celebrate the Easter Vigil.”

In response to the question as to who is responsible for the criminal armed attacks of recent months, Father Soubeiga is quite candid: “It’s impossible to say. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Some people refer to them as mercenaries, but some of the terrorists are quite clearly from Burkina itself, because they speak the local languages perfectly.”

Cameroon – The Church is threatened – ACN-Interview

15.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, AED Canada, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Cameroon, Journey with ACN, Thomas Oswald, War

Cameroon


“The truth we speak is not welcome in this fratricidal conflict.”

At present the Anglophone areas of Cameroon are constantly being shaken by a conflict between Anglophone separatist groups and the Francophone central government. In this context of fratricidal conflict, the Church is attempting to rekindle dialogue between the two parties. Bishop Emmanuel Abbo of Ngaoundéré, in the Francophone area, who is 49, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Bibi of Bamenda, in the Anglophone area, talk about the situation in their country. Aid to the Church in Need spoke with them (By Thomas Oswald).

 

***

 

Mgrs. Emmanuel Abbo: ”I am not on the spot, but the news that reaches us is not reassuring. ”

ACN: “Are we talking about ‘civil war’ in the Anglophone areas?

Bishop Michael Bibi: The Elections in October 2018 should have enabled the people of this region to express themselves democratically via the ballot box. But in reality the situation is more complicated than that, since there are a great many internally displaced people and very few Cameronians were able to vote in practice. Unfortunately, the conditions for a peaceful exercise in democracy are not established. And yet it is only through a candid and inclusive dialogue that we will be able to emerge from this crisis. But for the time being, the only voices urging this are the religious leaders!

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: I am not on the spot, but the news that reaches us is not reassuring. We receive widely differing information, so it is difficult to speak objectively.

 

ACN: On several occasions the Church in Cameroon has sounded the alarm, alerting us to the situation of the priests and religious living in the Anglophone areas. What kind of role is the Church able to play?

Bishop Michael Bibi: The Church is on the front line. A priest and a seminarian have both been murdered in the Anglophone region. In the case of the latter it was a deliberate execution, staged in front of his church in the presence of the parishioners. And sadly, these two are not simply isolated cases. I receive alarming news from many priests and religious who have been shot at, or kidnapped and ransomed. I myself have been arrested, but they let me go again after a few hours.

I can bear witness to the fact that the clergy who stay on in the Anglophone area is particularly under threat. We speak the truth. We tell the young people to stay in school and not join the militias that it will lead to nothing – and so the militias accuse us of playing the government’s game for them. But we also denounce the actions of the government army and call for the region to be demilitarized – and so all of a sudden we are accused by the authorities of siding with the rebels! The truth we speak is not welcome in the midst of this fratricidal conflict. The truth is that both sides are involved in the killing and are only adding violence to violence.

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: The Church is playing her part in resolving conflicts and upholding the peace. The bishops’ conference is taking initiatives, but we prefer the path of quiet diplomacy, talking directly to the parties in the conflict, since too much media attention risks undermining the success of these initiatives.

 

ACN: How is the Church faring in your country?

Mgrs. Michael Bibi: ”I receive alarming news from many priests and religious who have been shot at, or kidnapped and ransomed. I myself have been arrested, but they let me go again after a few hours.”

Bishop Michael Bibi: Thanks be to God, the Cameroonian people have a strong faith. They attend Sunday Mass with real fervour, and we have a number of priestly vocations. What is needed now is for our political leaders to be likewise illuminated by this faith.

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: My diocese was evangelized barely 60 years ago. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a congregation of French origin, arrived here in the 1950s. There are three factors that give me hope: I have a cohort of priests in my diocese who are very young, very dynamic and with whom I enjoy an excellent collaboration; then we have the presence of the religious congregations, who share our pastoral concerns; and finally, despite the widespread poverty, we have the Catholic faithful who are willing to do whatever they can to help our Church move forward.

We are facing enormous challenges. On the pastoral level, the diocese does not have enough priests – that is why I have appealed for fidei donum priests to come – nor does it have enough of human and material resources. In the social sphere, we would like to be able to rebuild our schools and health centres in solid materials. And in the development field we would like to be able to support our people, who are extremely poor, in organizing associations or cooperatives. And one of our priorities in the pastoral field is the construction of a diocesan pastoral centre where we can hold our formation sessions which we would like to organize for our 343 catechists and 57 priests.

 

ACN: Would you like to say something to our benefactors?

Bishop Michael Bibi: We need the prayers of ACN. And we also need practical help for the victims of the conflict in the Anglophone region, in line with the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked, and you clothed me.”

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: I would like to thank them all for their generosity. They have been a huge support for us in our dioceses, and especially here in Cameroon, because ACN helps us greatly with our pastoral projects. And please redouble your generosity, because our problems and our concerns are continuing to grow.

 

***

Good news came from Aid to the Church for Mgr George Nkuo.

 

Just now arrived an email from Kumbo. After they got a message announcing grants to various projects for the diocese. Please find the thank you message of Bishop George Nkuo:

“You have allotted grants for our 110 major seminarians, for the NFP in our family life office, for the novices of the Tertiary Sisters, and for the Brothers of St Martin de Porres.  I wish to sincerely thank you for your very kind consideration.

These grants come at a time when the church in our Ecclesiastical Province is going through a very difficult time and our local income has been seriously affected because of the war going on in our regions so you can imagine the relief it has brought to our various communities. I hasten to write on their behalf to say Thank You. Once more thank you and may God continue to bless you and our benefactors. +George.’’


 

ACN Info – Nicaragua, Cardinal Brenes: “The tears of the people are the tears of God”

14.12.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN Intl

Nicaragua

November 2018
Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano, diocese of Managua in Nicaragua

Cardinal Brenes: “The tears of the people are the tears of God”

“Dialogue is the only solution”

A few days before the national feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, called on people to “pray for Nicaragua; for peace and unity among the people and in the families,” in a video message sent to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The Cardinal goes on to insist, “The tears of the people are the tears of God, and so they are also the tears of Mary, who is our Mother. She would weep seeing our situation.”

Speaking to the media about the significance of this great feast day for the Nicaraguan people, Cardinal Brenes gave thanks to God for the fact that conflicts in the country “are diminishing” and expressed the hope that little by little, “we will be able to regain peace.” And he invited people to “continue working during this Advent of hope” and at the same time to reflect on the broad pastoral message for Advent published by the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, which has not been well received in every sector of society.

In their Advent message – issued at a critical moment for the country, still in the throes of a social and political crisis caused by the killings and repression which first prompted the protests against President Daniel Ortega – the Nicaraguan Bishops remind people that they must act as though they are “co-workers of God” in the face of “injustice and oppression.” They must not allow themselves “to be seduced by quick-fix solutions.” Instead, “the new Nicaragua needs non-violent leaders who, with the help of God, will achieve goals of freedom and justice.” The bishops call for dialogue, for words and gestures of solidarity, love and forgiveness in order to confront the violence. They remind people that in the face of the conflicts and the crisis the country is going through, “no one can remain detached with arms folded,” at the sight of “the suffering of our adversaries, who have not ceased to be our brothers.” The bishops insist that everyone must break with their own “personal egoisms” in order to become more and more like “the Lord.”

 

A family in the village of Inotaga, Inotega diocese

Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes insists on dialogue, which he describes as “the spirit of the Church, be it in the family, vis-a-vis our neighbours or in politics.” The same sentiment is contained in the Advent message of the bishops, in which they emphasize that “a good politician is one who has in mind the interests of all parties and seizes the opportunity to engage in dialogue with an open spirit.” At the same time, they also recognize the difficulty in solving every issue through dialogue between the state and society, and add that they themselves are “willing to accompany any proposals that best live up to human dignity and the common good.”

“With dialogue there is hope for the future; without it every effort will end in failure. This is the only peaceful way out of this social and political crisis,” they conclude.

 

The crisis in Nicaragua

Trip to Nicaragua, November 2018
Bishop Jorge Solórzano Pérez (Bishop of Granada, Nicaragua) – World Day of the Poor

Nicaragua is currently going through a political and social crisis which has its root cause in the growing authoritarianism and lack of respect for the rule of law that started emerging in the last decade, following the electoral victory of President Daniel Ortega in 2006. An attempted reform of the social security system by the government in April 2018 prompted mass protests, which were violently repressed by groups close to the government. The result was hundreds killed, hundreds of young people still lingering in the prisons of Nicaragua and thousands of young people who simply left the country. Nicaragua is now a divided and desperate country. The Church in Nicaragua, which has taken a critical stance in response to the political authoritarianism it has witnessed, has likewise been subjected to a campaign of vilification on the part of the government and has received a constant string of threats from groups close to President Ortega.

Several bishops have been attacked, among them auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez of Managua, Bishop Juan Mata of Estelí and Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa. Not to mention the violent incident in the Basilica of San Sebastian in the city of Diriamba, when Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag were both assaulted.

 

ACN International has just concluded a visit to Nicaragua to investigate the situation at first hand and assess what practical help can be given to the local Church to help reinforce its pastoral outreach in these difficult and delicate moments for the country.

 

 

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – Angola

30.05.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Intl, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, CONSECRATED LIFE, Dominican Sisters

Angola

Subsistence aid for Dominican Sisters

 

Thirty-four Dominican Sisters in Benguela pray the canonical hours 7 hours a day. Their prayers rise up for the Church and for all of humanity. These contemplative nuns live secluded from the world and in poverty, but say, “We are aware of the greatness of our calling. In our enclosure, we offer up our lives to God to magnify His Kingdom and save souls.”

 

To make a modest living, the Sisters bake communion wafers and sew liturgical vestments. They tried their hand at a small pastry shop, but it was not a success. The raw materials were so expensive, the revenue did not even cover their costs and left them operating at a loss.  Misfortune has recently come knocking again – the vegetables they grow in their garden, the maize, tomatoes and onions, were all afflicted by disease. The Sisters were in a crisis. They did not know how they would be able to go on and prayed to God for help.

 

At times, God works through other people. Our benefactors donated $13,500 to help them and of course, they were overjoyed and filled with gratitude when they received it. They wrote to us, saying, “It was a great surprise and we are filled with joy at the amount that you have sent us! We are very, very grateful for the generosity of our benefactors. This is a sign of Divine Providence, which always watches over us. We hope that all of our benefactors are blessed with God’s bountiful grace and His mercy and assure you that all of our prayers, our affection and gratitude are yours.”

 

 * To make a donation which will go to support a similar project – please click to‘ donate’ .

 

 


 

ACN Interview – The situation in Nigeria and Maiduguri

18.05.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Nigeria

Nigeria – Maiduguri

“We may be doing better. But we are still far from normalcy.”

 

Father Tobias Bature, a priest of the diocese of Maiduguri in the state of Borno, Nigeria recently visited the headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Koenigstein im Taunus, 23 April 2018

Father Tobias Bature, a priest of the diocese of Maiduguri in the state of Borno, Nigeria recently visited the headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The foundation is helping to rebuild the diocese both materially and spiritually after it suffered for many years under the violence and terror inflicted by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

 

ACN: What is the situation in the state of Borno at the moment?

Father Tobias Bature: The situation in the state of Borno has improved a little. The people who had fled from the terror are returning to their houses and their work. However, the job market has not improved. Unemployment remains very high, but the people are returning to their previous places of employment. During the conflict, not even those who had jobs went to work. Some came back to find their houses had been destroyed. In other cases, their houses had been ransacked by vandals. This means that they now have to start afresh and somehow deal with the new situation. This is difficult, but there are organisations in Maiduguri that are helping the people restart their lives. A number of them have already returned because of this. They are trying to restore their houses and lead normal lives, which is why one can say that the situation is improving.

Are there still a lot of displaced persons?

Yes, there are still a lot of refugees, but not as many as there once were. Their numbers have declined because many were sent back to where they came from. Others who were originally from rural areas have also returned home. There are still refugee camps in Maiduguri, but the number of refugees has gotten smaller.

Refugees for Catholic families at St. Hilary Church, all the people fleed because the Boko Haram. They are from the Pulka Parish Community in Gwoza Local Area of Borno State.

The terrorist group Boko Haram was thought to have been weakened. But there are still reports of kidnappings and attacks. How do the inhabitants of Maiduguri see the situation?

The inhabitants of Maiduguri see a lack of transparency and honesty on the part of the authorities. The citizens believe that they are not being kept properly informed. The government says that it has defeated the rebel group and that things are getting better… However, although we may be doing better now, we are still far from normalcy. The situation is not anywhere near what the people had hoped it would be. Kidnappings are still taking place, the latest happened in Dapchi in the state of Yobe, which is close to Maiduguri.

 

Hands of the widows, there husbands were killed by Boko Haram

Immediately thereafter, it was reported that Boko Haram had released all of the girls except one, whom they continue to hold hostage because she is a Christian. Do you know anything about this?

One hundred and sixty-six girls were kidnapped, all of them 14 to 15-year-old school girls. The secondary school is located next to the property of Saint Mary Damatro. I often celebrated Mass there. One of the kidnapped girls testified that this one girl was not released because she would not abandon her Christian faith. She did not want to renounce her Christian faith and become Muslim. And that is why she was not released and continues to be held hostage by the terrorists. Several of the other girls became Muslim. Others renounced their faith. There is no news about the girl who refused to

Nigeria, March 2017
Most Rev.Oliver Dashe Doeme at IDP camp

convert to Islam. The last I heard is that prayers were being said for her survival. She is currently being held in one of the camps of Boko Haram. The girls who were released were able to return home.

 

What is the local Church doing to help all those who have suffered for years from violence and persecution?

The local Church in the Diocese of Maiduguri has worked hard to support them. It has supplied them with small things, such as food. I know that Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri has sent them food aid on more than five occasions. He bought the food and asked us all the priests in the urban area to go with him to distribute the aid. Thanks to ACN, we have also been able to help widows. A fund was set up to help them begin to earn a living through small trade initiatives. Scholarships have been granted to help orphans.

 

In addition to material assistance, is psychological support also necessary to help people deal with the trauma they suffered?

Yes. Bishop Doeme has appointed several priests to organise classes or workshops on overcoming trauma. Someone is there to listen to the people. We are trying to help them get out of this situation. The priests have received special psychological training from professionals from Abuja. They held a training programme for priests in Maiduguri that lasted at least six months. Now special classes are being held in Church facilities, with an open invitation to all who are suffering from trauma. People are there to talk to them. Their situation is explained to them. All the priests who are residing in the capital city have taken part in this. They are actively involved. It is more difficult for priests in mission areas to take part.

 

Nigeria, March 2017
Smiling faces at ACN welcoming parade for ACN at Archbishop’s house

ACN is helping to rebuild a minor seminary that was also attacked and destroyed by Boko Haram. What can you tell us about this project?

The project is already well underway. The rector, Father Alex Misquita, is back at the minor seminary with three other priests. The buildings are not fully functional yet, but students and teachers are already living there. Five students are from my parish. And we have also resumed Bible school. Two priests are responsible for that.

 

 

 

ACN Interview – Korea – After the Olympic, will romance continue?

02.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, ACN KOREA, Asia, By Maria Lozano, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

Korea:

What will happen to the inter-Korean Olympic romance after the Olympic fire has gone out?

Rarely have current politics played such a key role in the Olympic Winter Games as they did in PyeongChang. Maria Lozano spoke with the director of the South Korean office of Aid to the Church in Need in Seoul, Johannes Klausa, about the fragile step the North and South have taken towards one another and the situation of Christians.

 

Johannes Klausa, National Director of Korea. “Unfortunately, the arguments of those who support taking a hard line against the North cannot be dismissed that easily. If there is serious interest in a lasting solution and real change to the situation on the Korean peninsula, I believe that there is no way to avoid starting a dialogue, building up mutual trust and signing a peace treaty.”

 

ACN-International – The Olympic Winter Games have just drawn to a close. Some have called PyeongChang a historic show of unity. What is your opinion?

In spite of all the tensions and unsolved problems, the Olympic Spirit briefly brought divided Korea one step closer together. Athletes from the south and the north marched under a united flag at the opening ceremony. A unified women’s Korean ice hockey team was even set up on short notice, which may not have exactly shone on the ice, with 28 goals scored against them in five games, but still captured headlines all over the world. The actual achievement lies in the fact that it was even possible to set up a team. Just a few months earlier, no one would have been surprised if Pyongyang had sent missiles over to the Olympics instead of athletes and cheerleaders.

Johannes Klausa – Do you believe that the progress that was made will last?

It remains to be seen whether the step the two Koreas took towards one another on the sidelines of the Games will last beyond the Olympics and Paralympics. After all, during the opening ceremony, a lot of people were not only watching the handshake of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the sister of the North Korean dictator, Kim Yo-jong, but also the just as noteworthy handclasp of the South Korean president with the titular North Korean head of state, Kim Young Nam. All this, of course, unfolded under the sceptical gaze of US Vice President Mike Pence, who did everything in his power to avoid any such reconciliatory gestures. This is also noteworthy and a cause for concern, because it could certainly mean that the “delicate flower of inter-Korean dialogue”, as Korean expert Hartmut Koschyk recently called this careful step towards each another, may be “Trumpled” before a true Korean Spring can even begin.

 

What do you mean by this? Do you believe that this will be followed by military manoeuvres and missile tests in the near future?

Unfortunately, it is certainly possible that this public intermezzo of inter-Korean Olympic romance could end just as quickly as it began. It is questionable whether a serious dialogue, or even direct talks, between the US and North Korea are possible in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the arguments of those who support taking a hard line against the North cannot be dismissed that easily. If there is serious interest in a lasting solution and real change to the situation on the Korean peninsula, I believe that there is no way to avoid starting a dialogue, building up mutual trust and signing a peace treaty. This would also finally bring the Korean War officially to an end; to this day, there is only an armistice. A military solution should not even be on the table because of the number of casualties this would bring to both North and South Korea. For this reason alone, it should not be considered a serious option. I also hope that the resurrected inter-Korean channels of communication will at least remain open after the Olympic fire has gone out, and that the course may even have already been set for a better future behind the scenes. Then, the Olympic Games will really have provided an urgently needed way out of a formerly gridlocked situation.

In your opinion, how much was the northern Korean population aware of the events that took place in PyeongChang during the past weeks?

It is impossible to say from here if they were aware of anything, and if so, just how much. The same can in general be said about any statements that are made about the current situation in North Korea; these can only be considered with caution.

Visit of ACN delegation with Mauro Cardinal Piacenza – président of ACN-International – in South Korea, November 2015:
A South Korean Soldier demonstrates the current situation and the latest clashes at the demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to Cardinal Piacenza and the ACN delegation. Visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Even though the information we receive is scant, we know that terrible things have happened in the past, not only to those of a different political persuasion, but also to Christians. What can you tell us about the situation of Christians there?

There is sufficient evidence that horrible crimes were committed against Christians by the North Korean regime in the early 1950s, one example being the martyrs of Tokwon. And I think that we all have heard the heartbreaking stories about North Korean refugees, as well as the reports and rankings released by prominent NGOs on states that persecute Christians. I do not dare judge what is going on in North Korea right at this moment. However, I very much assume that three generations of prescribed state ideology and propaganda have largely succeeded in driving out and replacing the Christian faith in the country. Moreover, I fear that the Christian doctrine, as well as its symbolism, have, in the meantime, become completely foreign to the majority of North Koreans. It may be that, within the very immediate family, a small flicker of faith has been passed down and survived in secret. Pyongyang was once called the Jerusalem of the East. Today, only four official churches are left, whose leaders and parishioners first and foremost have to prove on a daily basis that they are loyal citizens and patriots. It would otherwise be impossible for them to live in the capital city. However, we cannot look into their hearts. After all, who are we to pass judgment on their faith? I believe that several members of Pyongyang’s parishes had already been baptized before the division of Korea.

 

You and various delegations from your organization Aid to the Church in Need went to the inter-Korean border and the blue barracks of the “Panmunjeom” within the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ). This is the place where North and South meet for negotiations and where the border line between the two countries is. How did this make you feel?

Every time I go there, it is a very emotional experience for me. I have had the opportunity to visit the same place from both sides. Both sides are operated by friendly Korean men who, although they are wearing different uniforms, are very similar to each other in many essential areas. The young soldiers who stand eye to eye with each other day after day are brothers who no longer know each other and have been trained to hate one another. This becomes painfully obvious to me every time I visit the border region.

Galmaemot Holy Ground, a place where Korean Martyrs have been killed in 1866. 

Visit of ACN delegation with Mauro Cardinal Piacenza in South Korea, November 2015: Visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

 

ACN Press Release – Iraqi Christians’ future threatened by referendum crisis

06.10.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Intl, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Bishops, By John Newton, Chaldean Catholic, Iraq, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org

 

Iraq

 Iraqi Christians face new threat

Church leaders in northern Iraq have issued a stark warning that the crisis triggered by last week’s Kurdistan independence referendum could endanger the region’s Christian presence.

Vigil prayer for the Middle East at Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark´s Basilica) in Rome, 27.09.2017 
(From left to the right): 
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul, 
Mons Timothaeus Mosa Alshamany (Syriac Orthodox Archishop from Iraq) 
Syrian orthodox bishop Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf (Syro-Orthodox Metropolitain from Musu, Kerkuk and Kurdistan)

Following the referendum, which could see the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) area seceding from northern Iraq, five senior Catholic and Orthodox bishops issued a statement appealing to the international community to protect Christians and help them stay in their ancestral lands, especially the Nineveh Plains. In the statement, a copy received by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, they wrote: “We cannot hide our concern that the situation for the Christians has become very difficult and leads to uncertainty.”

“It is a clear fact that this situation has created in Christians a state of fear and concern about the possibility that the struggle may develop into a crisis that will have far-reaching repercussions for all,” they added.

The message was written by Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Sharif of Mosul, Archbishop Apris Jounsen, Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah and Zaku, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timotheos Mousa of the Archdiocese of Mor Mattai Monastery.

Their message stressed the precarious situation of Nineveh’s Christians – many of whom are still in the capital of the Kurdish northern Iraq, Erbil, after Daesh (ISIS) drove them out of their homes in 2014. With many Christian settlements located in disputed territories, the bishops cautioned, “Care should be made not to involve the last remaining Christian land in political bargaining, as our vulnerable community cannot withstand further schism and division in addition to the ongoing political and sectarian fights.”

The statement stressed that in the community’s vulnerable situation, further upheavals could see new waves of emigration – threatening its very survival.

Photo: Iraq, September 2017  Qaraqosh the procession of the Christians in Qaraqosh who symbolically coming back their town (from the outskirts of the city at the roundabout with a huge Cross to the Church of Immaculate Conception Church (Syriac Catholic)

 

The Plain of Nineveh should remain a unified territory

Notably, the bishops called for the Nineveh Plains not to be split between Iraq and an independent Kurdistan. “The future Plain of Nineveh should be maintained as a unified territory – it is critical to not divide it into parts.” The bishops expressed fears that the restoration of the towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains may be brought to a standstill as the area now faces an uncertain political future.

“While both the federal government and the KRG are engaged in struggles over the disputed area, including the historical areas of our people, the areas liberated from the control of the criminal ISIS gangs are in an appalling condition in terms of reconstruction, public services, and security.

“There are no serious attempts at reconstructing the area at all by the governments. This makes it difficult for the IDPs to return, thereby prolonging their plight.”

 

Committed to the resettlement program

In the meantime, Archbishop Warda, fellow bishops and aid coordinators including Stephen Rasche in interviews, have underlined their commitment to enabling the resettlement program to continue in spite of the post-referendum setbacks.

Photo: Archbishop Warda at Myeondong Cathedral, cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul, where Special Mass and Lecture for the Church in Iraq was held.

Expressing concerns that Christian areas risked losing their historic identity, the bishops in their statement called for dialogue between the Iraqi Federal Government and the KRG.

“Amidst the crisis that the country experiences today following the referendum of Kurdistan Region, we call upon all parties involved to opt for dialogue and moderation and to stop the escalation of the conflict through the media.”

The bishops hoped that both sides could work on the disputed issues “to reach a suitable solution apart from spreading the feelings of hatred that fuel conflicts.”

 

Grateful to Kurdistan

Fearing that Christians could be caught in an armed struggle between factions vying for power, the bishops added: “We demand that the use of arms be restricted to the official government security forces, which we encourage our young men to join.”The bishops also paid tribute to the Kurdish people who had assisted the Christian community after they were driven out of their homes.

“Undoubtedly, we Christians can never forget how our brothers in Kurdistan Region, as a people and government, received us and supported our displaced persons, not only Christians but also other components of the Iraqi people.”

 

 

Headline Photo : Iraq, September 2017  Qaraqosh the procession of the Christians in Qaraqosh who symbolically coming back their town (from the outskirts of the city at the roundabout with a huge Cross to the Church of Immaculate Conception Church (Syriac Catholic)
Text by John Newton, ACN UK
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

 

ACN Press: The Church in Camagüey Cuba takes a direct hit from Irma

12.09.2017 in ACN Intl, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Cuba, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org, Urgent need
PHOTOS : CUBA – Archdiocese of Camagüey – 11.09.2017 
After the Hurrican Irma
 sent by S.E.R. Mons. Wilfredo Pino Estevez 

 

The Church in Camagüey Cuba takes a direct hit from Irma

Like the sound of an explosion

In Cuba, Archbishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez of Camagüey tells of his visit to the most badly damaged areas of his diocese where homes and buildings sustained damage and one recently renovated church.  Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was able to reach him to find out more.

According to the local municipal emergency services, Hurricane Irma lashed the town of Esmeralda in the eastern province of Camaguey for a full nine hours, with winds in excess of 250 km an hour. Over 7000 people had to be evacuated.

On Sunday, the day after the passage of Hurricane Irma, the Archbishop of Camaguey visited the town, where he saw “great destruction, not only in Esmeralda itself, but also in the area around the sugar refinery in Jaronú in the nearby town of Brazil, where the recently restored church was damaged.” Likewise, in the small town of Jiquí, the chapel had collapsed. “Apparently, it exploded,” the Archbishop was told. “When we arrived in Esmeralda, we celebrated Mass there with the handful of people who were able to attend. There too we saw many damaged homes, partially or totally demolished, roofless, etc. Some of the people were still visibly scared. ‘What a long night that was!” was the most common thing I heard from the people I talked to.”

Archbishop Wilfredo went on to tell ACN that on arriving in Jiquí “it was painful to see our church totally razed to the ground, with the benches smashed and the holy pictures ruined”. While he was there, despite the continuing rain, he met with Ismaela and Alberto a local married couple and was deeply impressed by the first words Ismaela said to him: “Archbishop, the chapel may have collapsed, but not the Church.”

In his message, Archbishop Wilfredo spoke about the work underway by the Church in the various different towns and parishes affected. When he asked his priests and religious if they were all okay, the response of most of them was unanimous: “We are well, but we were going out with some food and a few other things, practical items, in order to help anyone who may be in need.”

 

Cuba/Santiago – celebration of the 400 years of the finding of Our Lady of the Charity of Cobre

Archbishop Wilfredo concluded his message by recalling that on 8 September, Our Lady’s birthday and the feast of the Patroness of Cuba, “We were unable to hold the usual processions of Our Lady of Charity, but now, as on other occasions, Our Good Lord is inviting us to make “processions of love” like the ones I’ve just been telling you about. I’m sure that tomorrow, Monday, when the priests come to the Bishop’s House, they will be telling me about new “processions” of this kind…”

Ulrich Kny, ACN’s section head with responsibility for projects in Cuba, thinks that the priorities for aid will be the rebuilding of the ruined churches in Jaronú and Jiquí. ACN is also considering sending emergency aid, “so that the Church can act as an instrument of God’s mercy and help remedy some of the damage caused by the hurricane, which also did not spare other dioceses, such as Ciego de Ávila, Santa Clara, Matanzas and Havana, where 10 deaths have already been reported.”

 

 

 Text by Maria Lozano, ACN International Press
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada