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ACN PRESS

 

ACN Press – For Immediate Release – 7.5 million for COVID-19

09.04.2020 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS

 

ACN International response COVID-19


Aid group commits 7.5 Million to support priests and religious serving communities most vulnerable to COVID-19

 

Ukraine: A Soup Kitchen run by the Church continue in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the international pontifical charity serving the persecuted and suffering Church around the world, is providing 7.5 million in emergency funding to priests and religious caring for the most vulnerable communities around the world.

 

“As a rising tide of human suffering related to COVID-19 makes itself felt around the world, the demand for social and spiritual care is soaring,” said Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN’s Executive President. “It is our wish that this aid, made possible thanks to our benefactors, will help ease the burden on our courageous religious, who stand on the front lines, bringing God’s love and compassion to our suffering brothers and sisters.  Now more than ever, the Light and Hope of the Lord is needed.”

While the entire world is coping with the ravages of the pandemic, countless communities in developing countries — already impoverished and with limited resources — are particularly vulnerable in this crisis; often they are dependent on the local Church for social services, including health care.

Venezuela: The Church supports the poorest during COVID-19 Pandemic

This vital initiative will assist religious who lost their basic subsistence, so that they may be able to continue to carry out their spiritual and social ministries, such as administering the sacraments, teaching the faith, caring for the sick and elderly, helping the poor and visiting prisoners. ACN’s funding will be a broad-spectrum intervention, in the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, through project support.

“We are united in prayer with the brave and dedicated priests and nuns who give their all to serve the world’s most vulnerable communities, and with all who are suffering around the world” Heine-Geldern continued. “This is a drop in the bucket in terms of what is and will be needed, but the Church plays a particularly vital spiritual and pastoral role in the day-to-day life of the world’s poorest Christian communities, and we must help strengthen the safety net it provides. I am so thankful to our donors, who, often despite their own pain and hardship, are reaching out to their fellow faithful. It is a beautiful gesture, one that is helping to keep the Faith alive.”

 

India: Emergency help during Corona times in India. Food for the poor families in the diocese of Hazaribag 

www.acn-canada.org.
#ACNSolidarityCovid19

 

 

ACN Feature: Stopping India becoming a confessional state

07.02.2020 in by Doreen Abi Raad, Dalits, India

India

The battle to stop the country becoming a confessional state

by Doreen Abi Raad, for ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web February 7, 2020

 

Millions of demonstrators all over India have been protesting the country’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which essentially fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim refugees. Critics charge that the CAA sets a dangerous precedent for the country in using religion as a criterion for citizenship.

 

The Indian government also plans to roll out two other citizenship measures—the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizenship—that could negatively affect India’s Christian community. Because most Indian Christians don’t have the required birth certificate to prove their citizenship, they might feel pressured to identify themselves as Hindus.

Driver and passengers on the tuk-tuk in Bihar State.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash is the founder of Prashant, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Center for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He is part of a national campaign of citizens, “We the People of India,” which is demanding that the CAA, the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) be withdrawn immediately and unconditionally. Father Prakash spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

 

“The CAA, in assuring citizenship for all undocumented persons, except for Muslims risks tearing the country apart, reopening the wounds of partition (between India and Pakistan), and ultimately destroying the secular and democratic tenets of the Constitution. Furthermore, the Act is blatantly discriminatory, divisive and draconian. It is also clearly unconstitutional and goes against the grain and spirit of India’s secular, democratic framework.

 

“The cry of the people is for a more just, humane and egalitarian society in which their dignity and rights are respected. As a human being, a Christian and a Jesuit, I have no option but to listen and respond to these cries, above all, by trying to accompany those who suffer in whatever way I can. My driving force is the person and message of Jesus himself.

 

“The citizenship laws are particularly troublesome for Christians, since the majority of Indian citizens do not have a government-issued official birth certificate. Previously, identity documents such as a driving license, passport or certificate from secondary school were accepted as proof of birth.  And for Christians, particularly Catholics, a Baptism certificate sufficed.  This is no longer the case. In order to prove that you are a citizen of India today you have to produce a birth certificate from an official Government agency.

India, February 2017
A gate of metallic spikes and a cross on top of the convent chapel in the background in Bihar State.

“A considerable number of India’s Christians are from the lower castes and from indigenous peoples, most of whom had come from remote and backward areas of the country.  For them, obtaining the mandatory birth certificate is impossible.”

 

“If they say that they are Hindus, [their lack of paperwork] may be overlooked; however, if they insist on saying that they are Christians and are unable to produce the required documentation, they risk being rendered stateless; they could be sent to detention camps and even deported.  But God knows where? There are going be very serious implications for the future of the Christians.”

 

“These are extremely bad times for Christians in India. We have had consistent attacks on pastors, priests and lay Christians.  Church property is targeted. Intimidation, harassment and denigration of Christians by Hindu nationalists which conform to the Hindutva ideology continue with frightening regularity.

 

Hindutva has nothing to do with mainstream Hinduism, which is by and large rather tolerant. There is a very small percentage of Indians who subscribe to the Hindutva ideology, but today they control the reins of power in the central government and in some states in India. Hindutva adherents believe in the fascist dictum of one nation, one religion, and one language. All the rest are meant to be subservient and minorities—particularly Christians and Muslims—who are treated as second class citizens.”

 

Christians in India number approx. 30-35 million, some 70 percent of whom are Catholic. Though this number seems large, Christians comprise solely an estimated 2.3 percent of the Indian population.

ACN News: Four seminarians abducted – Nigeria at risk of becoming a failed state

13.01.2020 in ACN PRESS, Nigeria, Peace

Nigeria

“The government must act now, before it is too late”


by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Posted to the web – Monday January 13, 2020

 

Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International, has learned with dismay of the abduction of four young seminarians in Kaduna, Nigeria.

Königstein/Montreal, Monday, January 13, 2020 – According to local sources, four seminarians were abducted from the Good Shepherd seminary in the city of Kaduna in northern Nigeria on Wednesday January 8. Shortly after 10.30 p.m. armed intruders broke through the fence surrounding the seminarians living quarters shooting sporadically and forcing their way into the student hostel. They then stole laptops and phones, and finally kidnapped four of the seminarians.

 

Who are these seminarians?

The four young men concerned are Pius Kanwai (aged 19), Peter Umenukor, (23), Stephen Amos (23) and Michael Nnadi (18). All come from various Catholic dioceses across northern Nigeria and had only recently begun to study for the priesthood. There has as yet been no news of them since their abduction and no information as to their whereabouts. Nothing is known thus far of the identity or background of their abductors.

 

Religiously motivated?

According to ACN, there has been no indication of the abduction being religiously motivated up to now.  No clear information about the demand for ransom has been made to the families.

What is concerning is the security situation of the whole of Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt – which includes Kaduna. The situation is already extremely precarious owing to the numerous and repeated attacks on mainly Christian villages by members of the nomadic Fulani people. Thousands of people have lost all their properties and been left as refugees. At the same time, Islamist Boko Haram terrorist group has continued to perpetrate its atrocities across the northeast of the country.

 

Marie-Claude Lalonde, director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada commented on the news of the abductions saying: “We are devastated.  It is so difficult to believe that these kidnappings have happened and continue to happen.  We feel so powerless in the face of this tragedy happening to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, to the priests whose role it is to guide and comfort God’s people. Worst of all, it seems that nothing is being done to put a stop to it!“

Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International, expressed his outrage at the abduction. “The security situation in Nigeria is appalling,” he said. “Criminal gangs are further exploiting the chaotic situation and making matters still worse.” It is time for the government to address the issue urgently, he said, and protect the lives and property of its citizens. It is the duty of government to guarantee the security of the country and its people, he added. Otherwise Nigeria would run the risk of becoming a failed state. “The murders and abductions remind me of the situation in Iraq before the invasion of the forces of the so-called Islamic State. Already at that stage, Christians were being abducted, robbed and murdered because there was no protection by the state. This must not be allowed to happen to the Christians of Nigeria. The government must act now, before it is too late,” Dr Heine-Geldern insisted.

 

“This violent abduction of innocent young seminarians is a horrific act,” he added. “Two of the victims are not even 20 years old. We appeal to the conscience of their abductors and urge them to release these young men. At the same time, we call on all people of goodwill to join us in praying that the four seminarians will soon be freed unharmed.” Dr Heine-Geldern also expressed his sympathy with the families of the abducted young men and with the remaining 268 students at the seminary in Kaduna. “They must be going through a terrible time,” he said. “For years now Nigeria’s Christians have been going through hell, but their faith remains unshaken,” the ACN president concluded.

 

Press Release  – #RedWednesday, November 20, 2019 – Stones and Prayers

18.11.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Press Release, RED WEDNESDAY

Press Release  – For Immediate Release

 

#RedWednesday, November 20, 2019

Stones and Prayers

A show of solidarity with persecuted Christians!

 

The face of at least five monuments will be illuminated in red this year across Canada.  Of them: Mary-Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal and Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto.

 

Montréal, November 18, 2019 – This Wednesday, November 20, Aid to the Church in Need Canada is inviting all Canadians to participate in Red Wednesday events (#RedWednesday).  For the occasion, five stone monuments will be lit up in red:  Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, the entrance of the Grand Seminaire de Montreal and the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa located in the historic Chateau Birkett building. 

 

In the diocese of Calgary, more than 80 activities are already planned. “I believe that more and more Canadians are aware of the problems connected to the lack of religious freedom in the world, and in particular, of the situation of over 327 million Christians living in  persecution stricken countries,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada.

 

 

A Great International Movement

 

The events planned in Canada open an entire week of events taking place across the world until November 27.  In at least 15 countries, moments of prayer and information sessions have been organized along with monuments and buildings to be lit in red. To date it has been announced that there will be over 2,000 in Philippines and 120 in the United Kingdom in order to bring awareness to questions related to religious freedom and the persecution of Christians.

 

In Canada, there are several ways to offer a show of solidarity:

  • Participate in one of the planned events listed at this address acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/ or call : 1 (800)585-6333 or by email at info@acn-canada.org.
  • Find out more about the situation of Christians through the Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19 Report https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/
  • Share the information on social media using the hashtag: #RedWednesday
  • Wear red on November 20th
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world in small or large groups and for all who suffer because of a lack of religious freedom.

 

Among the many scheduled activities taking place Canada-wide we would like to highlight a few:

  • Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 pm at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal,
  • An ecumenical prayer vigil will be held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, also scheduled for 7:30 pm.
  • Mass will be celebrated at Saint Mary’s Parish in Banff, Alberta at 6:30pm.


 

ACN Interview: Mark von Reidemann on Religious Persecution

21.10.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN USA, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

ACN International

A look at the question of denominational organization and humanitarian support

 
Interview conducted by Maria Lozano of ACN International,
Text adapted by ACN Canada
  • EU Ambassador announces new European Union initiative aimed at reducing religious ignorance or religious “illiteracy” worldwide
  • Cardinal Parolin: Governments should avoid “ideological or cultural colonization”
  • 20th anniversary of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Religious Freedom Report

 

Mark von Riedemann, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom for the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, was invited to moderate a panel on humanitarian aid at a recent USA – Holy See symposium titled: “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations.” Maria Lozano, head of information at ACN International interviews him about his impressions.

 

ACN: The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the Holy See co-sponsored recently a symposium featuring presentations from the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, as well as Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, about how governments can partner with faith-based organizations to better defend religious freedom. What prompted this symposium?

 Mark von Riedemann: The symposium marked 35 years of positive cooperation between the US government and the Holy See, reflecting on the work of St. Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and their combined efforts to bring about the end of Communism in the former Soviet Union.

 

The intent was to communicate new initiatives taken by the US government to work directly with Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) on the ground. As Ambassador Gingrinch observed in her opening speech governments alone can only do so much. Even if the United States is one of the main providers of humanitarian aid worldwide, she noted, delivering that support efficiently requires partnerships with organizations on the ground. Catholic agencies and other FBO’s can help to make an impact in places where governments have neither the experience nor the network to do so.

The large diplomatic participation in this occasion also prompted the representative of the European Union to the Holy See, Ambassador Jan Tombinski, to announce the creation of an EU initiative called the “Global Exchange on Religion in Society”, supporting projects aimed at reducing religious ignorance or “illiteracy” in the EU and worldwide. The objective of such initiative is to acknowledge the importance of faith in everyday life. This is an absolute first for Europe, which to date prided itself of being “religion-blind.”

Cardinal Parolin praised the new initiatives. In his speech, however, he cautioned against the temptation by donor nations to impose certain cultural values or worldviews as a precondition for recipient nations to receive aid.

Yes, he requested firmly that governments avoid, when sponsoring faith-based organizations, what Pope Francis has called an “ideological or cultural colonization,” which consists in “imposing a different worldview or set of values on poorer societies, often by making the adoption of those values a prerequisite to receiving humanitarian or development aid.” Although Aid to the Church in Need has never been impacted by this as we rely solely on support from private donors, I was glad that he made mention of this as, through our project partners, we have heard time and again testimony of this kind of abuse. And it is abuse. Making food aid contingent upon the acceptance programs promoting contraception and abortion is well documented.

This symposium marks a string of actions over the last months with regard to religious freedom and attention to the issue of Christian persecution. What trend have you noted?

 Increasingly religious freedom is being recognized as a foundational right, that two thirds of the world’s population reside in countries with restrictions on religious freedom, and that Christians represent the largest faith group experiencing religious persecution.

This conference follows closely on the heels of a September 23, 2019 “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom,” the first-ever UN event on religious freedom hosted by a US president, and the May 28, 2019 UN resolution marking August 22 as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief.’ Over the last two years there has been a flurry of initiatives including the creation of a State Secretariat for Christian Persecution in Hungary, the US initiated International Religious Freedom Alliance and perhaps of greatest note, the growing number of nations instituting or reactivating Ambassadors for Religious Freedom and Belief in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, the USA, Norway, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom among others.

2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the ACN Religious Freedom Report. Has ACN been like a prophetic voice in the wilderness calling for religious freedom and an end to Christian persecution?

 The report has indeed been prophetic. In 1999, religious freedom was not a major topic on most government radars, yet ACN, from our project partners on the ground, received increasing testimonies of Christian persecution. For example, religious tensions in Nigeria developed with the imposition of Shari’ah law in a dozen Muslim-majority states in 1999 resulting in significant sectarian violence still ongoing today.

Since that time we have witnessed dramatic world events in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia, and the consequent suffering of untold millions have demanded greater attention and response. A pivotal moment was in 2016 when the European Union and the US passed resolutions labelling the ISIS atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq a Genocide. Is Christian persecution a surprise? No, it has grown over the centuries from the roots of intolerance, to discrimination, to persecution, and finally the world awakens to the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Symptomatic of this is the reduction of the Christian presence in the Middle East: in 1910, Christians represented 13.6% of the population, by 2010 that number had declined to 4.2%. The call from the US government for a new partnership between government and FBO’s is a further sign of Western countries waking up to these realities and as such are important steps in the right direction.

  1. With regard to the expression or religious “illiteracy”, Please see the abridged version of the report :  Persecuted and Forgotten 2018 

ACN Press – ACN supports UK report on persecution of Christians

16.07.2019 in ACN, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN United Kingdom, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Persecution of Christians

Persecution of Christians

Aid to the Church in Need Supports the Publication of a Government Report in the United Kingdom

Published on the web July 16, 2019

Montreal-London-Konigstein, Monday, July 15, 2019An independent report commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary has been published showing the scale of persecution of Christians around the world and the response of the United Kingdom Government to their plight.

 

The report is the first of its kind to be requested by a national government minister and produced with the cooperation of government civil service and other officials. The review was overseen by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Reverend Philip Mounstephen. The UK Office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provided support for its publication.

 

In his introduction to the report, Bishop Mounstephen points out that Christian persecution is not an isolated incident, but rather a “global phenomenon.” In the report, he also remarks that the focus on Christianity is “not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit.” Reflecting on the findings of the report, he states that Christians are the religious group who suffer the most persecution. The Church of England Bishop expressed regret that Western nations “have been blind to this issue” and expressed the hope that the report would be a wake-up call “not to be spectators but to be actors,” emphasizing the persecution of Christians is a question of universal human rights and should be seen as such.

 

The report of 176 pages analyzes world trends, detailing the situation in countries such as Iraq, Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Syria and concludes with a list of 22 recommendations directed at the FCO (Minister of Foreign Affairs). It calls for more government action in response to the violence against Christians, which it describes as having at times reached “near genocidal levels.” Among other things it calls on the British government to ensure that “freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains at the heart of the priorities of UK foreign policy,” and urges the country to become a “global leader in championing FoRB.”

 

Common Funeral Service for Easter Sunday Victims at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo (Sri Lanka).

 

The report was drawn up by a commission composed of FCO staff, members of NGOs experienced in the field of religious freedom and other independent members. Among the bodies included was the Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which for over 70 years now has been supporting persecuted Christians around the world. ACN was closely involved in the information-gathering for the first part of the report with essential investigative work on the scale of persecution in Africa, the Near-East and in South Asia.

“I hope the action of the British Government will inspire other governments in the world to dare to broach the question—the larger question—of religious freedoms.” – Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director ACN Canada

 

UK’s social media image.

ACN’s DNA: Keep Talking About Importance of Religious Freedom

“As an international organization we are happy to be able to give voice to the voiceless,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of ACN Canada. “From the beginning, our founder Father Werenfried warned western countries in the ’50s of the terrible tragedy endured by Christians ruled by authoritarian regimes, such as communism. Still today, our work with our partners in 139 countries allows us to ascertain the extent of the discrimination and persecution exercised against Christians. I hope the action of the British Government will inspire other governments in the world to dare to broach the question—the larger question—of religious freedoms.”

 

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK national office of ACN, underlined report’s importance, saying: “We are delighted to have been involved in this report. It is an incentive for our work that these problems should finally be recognized at the political level.” At the same time, he stressed the importance of protecting Christian minorities in countries where they face persecution and oppression. “There is a vital need to support this Christian presence, given that the Christians are frequently bridge builders and agents of peace in many of these countries.”

 


 

ACN Interview – ACN Head of section sheds light on the DRC, Africa

06.06.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Religious freedom

DRC: “What ACN offers, no other organization does”

On her return from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she visited the Catholic dioceses of the Kasai region, Christine du Coudray, ACN’s section head for this country, reported on the situation in the region and gave her impressions.

 Interview conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Published to web – June 6, 2019

 

Can you give us a description of the overall situation in the country?

This was the first time I had visited the Kasai region of this immense country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, four times the size of France in area. You’re walking on land rich in mineral wealth of every kind – diamonds, gold, minerals of all kinds, petroleum and so forth, yet the infrastructure is wrecked. This particular region, which I spent two weeks travelling, is particularly isolated, and some areas are isolated enclaves. In the country as a whole, the state of the roads, where they exist at all, is catastrophic, but I really found this particular region to be in a state of complete desolation. Historically, this was a privileged region during the time of King Leopold II, the King of the Belgians, who founded the Congo Free State in 1885. He made it his shop window and gave hundreds of hectares of land to the Catholic Church, which he wanted to see established in the country. The Scheutist Fathers (Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) in particular were there in numbers, and in every diocese one can still see today the remains of the buildings built by these missionaries. Later the tables were turned, and the region was punished after independence, under the regime of Mobutu and afterwards, suffering from under-investment and generally abandoned to its fate. The structures are falling apart. The Kivu region, on the frontier with Rwanda, which I know better, is suffering from still worse conflicts, but benefits from having more and better structures.

The situation you describe sounds pretty desperate. How were the people you met on the spot living?

What struck me was the situation of complete abandonment on the one hand, yet on the other hand the local people displayed incredible energy in coping with the situation. I’m thinking of the young people who set out, sometimes from Lake Tanganyika, in the extreme east of the DRC, pushing their bicycles with loads of up to 500 kg of goods piled on them which they plan to sell on the other side of the country. They walk for days and nights like this on the potholed roads, helping each other as they go. I met with one of these young men, who explained to me that he had managed to save up enough for a brand-new bicycle, so that he could also become a “bayanda” – that’s the name they give to these young human beasts of burden – and that he was going to have to make still more savings in order to be able to change his wheels, so that he could carry still heavier loads.

After years as leader of the country, Joseph Kabila finally decided not to stand for the presidential elections last December, partly under pressure from the strong opposition, particularly on the part of the Church. How was this change of decision received by the Catholic leadership in the DRC?

Within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference there was some fairly lively discussion, and this body, which had deployed thousands of observers in the polling stations around the country, finally published a communique stating that in its view the election of the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, had not been in accordance with the “truth of the ballot.” They made it clear that they were pleased to see the political transition, but at the same time considered that the candidate declared as the victor was not necessarily the person who had received the most votes according to their own observations. But the most important thing to be borne in mind was that this change in the head of state is a historical one and that the transition took place almost without any violence. In January everyone had expected that the announcement of the results by the electoral commission would trigger an explosion of violence, and observers continue to be surprised that there has not been. That said, Joseph Kabila is still very much a part of the political scene and the present “truce” is a fragile one.

What is the situation of the Catholic Church, both in the country and within this particular region?

In the Kasai region there are eight dioceses, but for the moment there are only seven bishops, because the diocese of Kabinda is in a state of transition. Of these eight dioceses three, in my view, are in a particularly bad way, namely Kabinda, Mweka and Kole. In addition to its own internal problems, the Church here has to make up for the deficiencies of the state and is at the forefront of all the civic activities – social, political, development and so forth. For example, the town of Kabinda suffers from a terrible problem of soil erosion – it is literally in danger of collapsing – and it is the diocese that is leading the efforts to try and resolve this problem.

What particularly impressed you during this trip?

On the one hand it was the fact that a region so rich in diamonds could be suffering such poverty, yet on the other hand it was the commitment of many of the priests, who are doing exceptional work. I’m thinking of Father Apollinaire Cibaka and his association, which he founded and which is doing wonderful work. They have built 62 schools, four orphanages and four health centres, one of which has its own operating theatre and the regular support of Spanish doctors; then the pastoral work with albino children, helping them to be recognized in their own right, the work with abandoned children or street children, with teenage mothers and the programs for the advancement of women. The construction of an enclosure wall around the local prison, so that the prisoners do not have to be locked up 24 hours a day in a dark, unlit building, the work for the protection of the environment, including the planting of 30,000 trees… We helped Abbé Apollinaire to complete his studies for a doctorate in Spain, and on his return we helped him to set up a radio station, which is an authoritative voice in the local society. So despite the isolation, despite the difficulties, the courage and energy of the people are impressive and admirable. That is why a visit like this one is so very important.

And what would you say was the most difficult moment?

I was horrified to learn that, just a few hours after our visit there, the philosophy seminary in Kabwe had been attacked and vandalized. This is an indication of the fragile situation of the local Church.

What kind of aid is ACN supplying to the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Given the many issues requiring assistance, we are liaising closely with the bishops in order to decide with them on their various projects and assess their priorities in light of our resources. The important thing is that, following our visit, we can provide our aid rapidly. We are concentrating our support on the spiritual formation of the priests and on their living conditions, and likewise on the formation of religious sisters and catechists and the implementation of the teachings of Pope St John Paul II in regard to the family.

What kind of aid is ACN giving to the priests and seminarians?

We want to do all we can so that the Church here can have holy priests. A bishop once said to me, “What ACN offers, is something no other organization offers.” The structures vary greatly from one seminary to another. For example, in the philosophy college in Kabwe there are no toilets, no showers, and the septic tank is blocked up. It is hard to leave them in conditions like that. The seminarians only eat meat once a term.

As to the formation of the future priests, which is truly one of the priorities of ACN, we think that this depends on the formation of the teaching staff in the seminaries. And so we are sending entire teams of trainers for a five-week training course in Rome each summer. Quite apart from the fact that they can in this way live the experience of the universal Church, together with other trainers from all over the world, they learn to live, work and pray together there. Their testimonies of the sense of satisfaction and spiritual renewal there make for moving reading.

As far as their living conditions are concerned, we are providing vehicles to enable the local Church to reach the furthest corners of their dioceses. And sometimes even just a moped will help priests to travel much further than they can ever do on foot. We are also helping the priests with Mass stipends and contributing to the renovation and improvement of their presbyteries, which are frequently in a shocking state and which they scarcely dare to show us.

But you have also mentioned the support for religious brothers and sisters. What form does this aid actually take?

We are also very responsive to the needs of the religious, and especially the contemplative religious, who play a major role in the growth of the Church, thanks to their presence and their prayer. I visited the communities of the contemplative Poor Clare sisters in Mbuji-Mayi and Kabinda. They are a French foundation, formerly supported by their mother house, but today totally dependent on their own resources. It is not easy to provide the daily necessities for 40 religious sisters, including the novices and the postulants. They have a vegetable garden, they rear pigs and poultry, they have a host baking workshop. And they also have a guest house, offering a place of silence and prayer that is open to all. Their convent is some way from the town of Mbujimayi, and sometimes the sisters need hospital care. And there is also necessary shopping to be done, for which they need a robust 4×4 vehicle which we are hoping to be able to help them with.

Does ACN have any projects linked to the various internal wars and conflicts within the country?

Ever since 2016 the Kasaï region has been the theatre of tribal violence of exceptional cruelty; even the ethnologists are puzzled by these outbreaks of brutality, which mingle political issues with fetishist pagan beliefs. It is thought that the Kamwina Nsapu movement alone may have claimed between 4,000 and 23,000 victims, leaving some 1.4 million people uprooted and homeless as a result. The conflict suddenly came to an end with the election of the new president in January 2019, who is a son of the region. But the consequences are enormous, whether visible or invisible.

The visible scars can be seen because, for example, the diocesan structures in Luebo became the target – with the Bishop’s house set on fire, the convent of the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the cathedral both burnt out after first being looted, the presbytery destroyed, the novice house and the propaedeutic seminary both burnt to ashes, official buildings ransacked and looted, many people with their throats cut… Since June 2017 the Bishop has had to take refuge in the parish of Ndeseka. We have promised to help rebuild his diocesan chancery and the convent of the sisters, whose role is so important in helping the traumatized population.

The invisible wounds are in people’s hearts, but they are going to need a long-term program of re-integration for people of all ages – some of the killers were children of seven years old, who after just having served Mass beheaded as the people coming out of the church, they were under the effect of drugs! In light of these events of such enormous and still “unexplained” violence, the Catholic Church now needs to reconsider its pastoral approach and work for an in-depth evangelization, so that Christ may truly reign in people’s hearts through the grace of a profound and personal encounter. ACN’s mission is to accompany the local Church in this new evangelization.

ACN Interview: Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference

18.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN PRESS, By Maria Lozano, Dalits, India, Peace, Persecution of Christians

INDIA

Rise in violent attacks against Christian minorities

 

India has just begun its electoral process, which will take place in seven separate stages between April 11 and 19 May this year. Fears that this, the most populous democracy in the world, might end up becoming a theocratic Hindu nation have strengthened recently, in light of the fact that the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) and its president Narendra Modi are seeking a second mandate. During its present term in office there has been an increase in interreligious violence, according to the report on Religious Freedom Worldwide by the international Catholic Pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The figures speak for themselves: in 2016 a total of 86 people were killed and 2371 injured in 703 separate incidents of sectarian (Hindu fundamentalist) violence; in 2017 the figures were 111 killed and 2384 wounded in 822 separate reported incidents.

 

The most recent attack –  March 26 – took place in Tamil Nadu against a Catholic school, the Little Flower Higher Secondary School in Chinnasalem, when a crowd of Hindu fundamentalists smashed up the school and even attempted to strangle the religious sisters who were running the school. ACN journalist Maria Lozano interviewed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference and asked him about the elections and the gravity of this recent incident.

 

Interview with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, 12.04.2019
by Maria Lozano
Published by ACN Canada April 18, 2019

ACN: We have heard of the increase in attacks by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities in other parts of India, especially in the north of the country, but the brutal violence of this recent incident has shocked us. Was there any particular reason for the attack?

Over the last year or so there has been a rise in fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu. Above all it has been the evangelical or Protestant so-called “house churches” that have complained of these attacks. There is an activist, who publishes on the web stories of groups of Christians being beaten up while praying in their house churches or some little church structure destroyed. But as the Catholic Church we have not had this type of open attack until this time, at least not such a big one, we have had small, small things. Two years ago there was a Good Friday incident; a mob did not allow us to worship in one place.  So we have had incidents here and there. But the Protestant churches or Protestant groups or these smaller denominations have had a lot of problems over the last two years. So it did not come to me as a surprise that eventually we would be attacked. But that it took place on such a large scale is really frightening.

 

ACN: It must also have been an enormous shock for the sisters of the Franciscan Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have been running the school for 74 years now. What is the present situation in Chinnasalem? And how are the sisters faring?

 

It is a small town. And the sisters have been doing a lot of this work for very, very poor children. And in fact the hostel, the boarding school can take girls who come from very poor areas and poor families.

 

I spoke to the Sisters a few days ago and I spoke to the Archbishop also, and they say for the moment that some people have been arrested and we are waiting for some more people to be arrested. But for me it is not what happens after the incident. For me the whole thing we have to question is how such incidents can even come about in a civilized society.

 

ACN: But apart from the incident itself and notwithstanding the gravity of it, are you concerned about the social dimension that this kind of attack implies?

How is so much hatred being spread in society and how can we stop this hatred being propagated – that is exactly the question. There are groups that are promoting hatred and these groups are not being stopped, neither in social media nor in actual life, and they seem to be getting political privilege, patronage, and that is my worry, even political authorization, and that is my problem. It is not that these small groups make demands against us or make charges against us or accuse us. The problem is that political leaders are actually encouraging them.

 

ACN: Do you think this increase in incidents in the last year is also related to the elections?

It might be related to the elections but I think it is going long-term now. I have a very simple philosophy on this. Once you plant the seed of hatred, once you bring the beast, the animal of anger, hatred, violence, that animal cannot be controlled. And this is my worry. All those who are spreading this hatred must know what harm they are doing to society and that it will become difficult to bring back things under control; and if it cannot be brought back under control we will have a problem.

 

ACN: But this problem is already damaging especially to the minorities in India…

Yes, it is the minorities, but today I was just thinking of that beautiful poem attributed to a German Lutheran pastor: ‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’ So we use this now today because first you start with one minority and then the second. the Muslims are under attack, the dalits are under attack and we are under attack, we don’t know who next.

 

ACN: Does that mean then that in the end this nationalist fundamentalism which the political leaders are promoting will actually damage the whole country?

We must say one thing in all fairness. A large Hindu majority, and a large Indian majority of whatever religion we belong to, we are tolerant, we accept each other, and we live with each other, we have been living for thousands of years together, this is a multi-cultural, multi-religious diverse society, and we’ve been living with each other and enriching each other. Now we suddenly come to a situation where certain groups are getting strong and spreading this hatred around and that is not acceptable, because eventually it is the nation that is going to suffer from this. Not just the minorities.

 

ACN: Is India heading towards becoming a theocratic nation like Pakistan?

In 1947 two countries were born, Pakistan and India. Pakistan decided that it would be a country founded on a religion, Islam; our founding fathers in India decided we would not be based on any religion or any one culture but we would be multi-cultural, pluri-religious and with diverse languages and regions. And the country has lived peacefully after that.

 

ACN: But who are these new people who want to change what the founding fathers decided, and why? 

These are certain fundamentalist groups which come up in every society and fundamentalist groups always damage society. But when they start getting overt or covert support from the others then they become dangerous.

ACN: What has been the reaction of the Christian community on hearing this news? Surely these incidents must make them feel very frightened?

We as Christians, we trust in the Lord, we are not afraid. When I asked the Sisters ‘Are you afraid?’ they said ‘No, we shall continue our work.’ I think that is our spirit, we shall continue our work, we will not be afraid of anyone. We think of Jesus who told us ‘Be afraid of the one who can take care of your soul rather than those who can destroy your body.’ So that is our basic principle. I don’t think anyone is frightened and we will go ahead with our work, we will continue serving the poorest of the poor. We know that this will bring us difficulties, this will bring us persecution, and this will bring us even hardships, but we will continue doing our work for the poor, for God and for Jesus.

 

ACN: One last question: do you believe that it is precisely the fact that you are working with the poorest and most socially discriminated against is one of the reason why some people don’t seem to like the work of the Church?

We have a saying in my own local language Konkani: ‘Stones are thrown only at a tree that bears fruit’. You don’t throw stones at a useless tree, only at a tree that bears fruit. So I think that one of the reasons we are under attack is that we are serving the poor, somebody does not like that we are serving the poor and this I believe is the real reason why the fundamentalists do not like us.

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, February 10th, pray for Venezuela!

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

Venezuela

Call to pray for the country on Sunday, February 10

 

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

Photo : María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

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

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

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

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

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

An unprecedented situation

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

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

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

 

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


 

Central African Republic – Massacre of Alindao – Emergency Help

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

Central African Republic

Death toll from november massacre in Alindao is 80

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Country Torn Apart

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

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

 

Alindao, “a cow to be milked”

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

 

The Church as a Target

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

 

“We have lost everything, except our faith.”

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

 

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