Adaptation Mario Bard


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

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

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Hope for Christians’ Access to Education

22.01.2019 in Adaptation Mario Bard

Pakistan – Interview
Hope for Christians’ Access to Education

Joseph Arshad, archbishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, discussed the situation of the Catholic Church in Pakistan with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit of the pontifical Charity in his country. Catholics are a minority, representing just 2% of the country’s population. The Pakistani Church has placed its hope for the future, in giving to the people a good education so that they can earn the respect of others. The objective is to change the image that other religions have of Catholics. Most Catholic families are poor and labour in slave-like conditions. The overwhelming majority of Catholics cannot read or write.

ACN – What are the origins of the church in Pakistan?

Mgrs. Arshad – According to tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle introduced the Gospel to this region. His journeys took him all the way to India, through territories that, up until a few centuries ago, were once shared by Pakistan and India. It is said that St. Thomas followed the route of Alexander the Great on his way to southeastern India, passing through present-day Pakistan, where ancient Christian communities still exist today. The old city of Taxila is located close to what is now Islamabad. There, excavations from Greek and later times brought to light the remains of a cross chiselled into stone, which has been attributed to St. Thomas. The cross is currently being preserved in the Cathedral of Lahore.

ACN – What happened after St. Thomas the Apostle?

Mgrs. Arshad – In the 16th century, this region was part of the Mongolian Empire. At the time, a king by the name of Akbar invited several priests to explain Christianity to his royal household. Several Jesuit missionaries accepted his invitation. The king gave his permission for two churches to be built in Lahore, which, however, were destroyed by later kings. Finally, a new wave of evangelization took place in the 18th century, at the beginning of the rule of the British Empire. The church entered a new heyday. Catholic chaplains from the British army began to carry out the missionary work among the people. This set off a new era that continues to this day.

ACN – How did you discover your calling to the priesthood?

Mgrs. Arshad – My grandparents were already Catholic. For this reason, I was born into and raised in a Catholic family. They passed the faith on to me. There was a parish church close to my school that my friends and I attended. I was either a reader or an acolyte during Eucharistic mass. Sometimes we travelled through the parish to visit the Christian families who lived scattered across the region, to help them in their need. Little by little, I grew more familiar with the way of life of the priests and recognized that God was calling me to be like them, to serve God and the community. At seminary, we carried out pastoral work. For a while, I visited the Christian villages. I saw that life was very difficult there and said to myself, “Their lives are very difficult. I could not live like this. My life may not be easy, I also have things that trouble me. But the problems these people face are even greater. If I were a priest, I could help my neighbours and bring these people hope.”

ACN – What do you consider to be the most important thing that you have learned?

Mgrs. Arshad – The faith of the ordinary people has strengthened me in my faith. I learned to love the church through the love of the people. They ask for our presence, our help, our leadership. I am very happy to be a priest. I thank God every day for this. The ordinary people were the ones who taught me that God is a vital aid, that there is always hope with Him.

ACN – What does the future of the church in Pakistan look like?

Mgrs. Arshad – The Catholic Church is focusing on priestly formation. We need good, well-educated priests and religious. In addition, our community has to have access to education. When Christians are educated and have had professional training, then the image of our community will change. We are also trying to create better Christian families, in which spouses treat each other with respect and love and parents recognize the importance of educating their children. The aid that we receive from ACN in these areas is absolutely indispensable.

ACN – And what is the status of vocations to the priesthood and to a consecrated life?

Mgrs. Arshad – Thank God that there are both vocations to the priesthood and to a consecrated life, particularly in the small villages with Christian majorities. In my bishopric, there are currently 35 candidates to the priesthood. There are also 20 novices at the house of formation of the Dominican sisters that is located next to the cathedral.

ACN – What are the special needs of the church in Pakistan?

Mgrs. Arshad – As I have already mentioned, education is of prime importance. Many people cannot continue their education, either because there are no schools or no money. Most of the students in Christian schools are Muslim. Our schools are open to all. However, we need more schools. The church was once highly regarded and esteemed because of its schools. Nowadays, the population and the cities have grown by leaps and bounds. Our institutions have other challenges to face. Moreover, we once had a large number of missionaries from other countries. Now that the Pakistani church is becoming more and more a local church, we receive less support from outside. We also have great financial problems that make it difficult to continue with our mission.

ACN Success Story – Thank you for the Mass intentions in Papua New Guinea!

28.02.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, Catholic priests, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Mass Offerings, Papua New Guinea, Priests

Papua New Guinea

Success Story – Thank you for your Mass intentions!

The 26 priests of the diocese of Wabag, in central Papua New Guinea, are very grateful to you for the 2,025 Mass Intentions that you have provided. Bishop Arnold Orowae appealed to us for help last year, since his diocese is very poor and his priests are forced to supplement their income by growing their own food in order to support themselves. At the same time, they have to minister to vast parishes with numerous outstations in this remote and difficult mountain terrain.


The long distances they have to travel include negotiating sometimes almost impassable tracks. Yet they still minister unfailingly to the 75,000 Catholic faithful of the diocese, visiting the sick, counselling and accompanying families, travelling to remote outstations to say Mass and administer the Sacraments, providing religious education and celebrating Holy Mass in the schools, organizing retreats for children, young people, altar servers and catechists.


Since the Year of Mercy, there has also been an increase in the number of people seeking the Sacrament of Confession, which, of course, takes up much of the priests‘ time. In many places there has also been an intensification in Eucharistic adoration. Feast days and holy days are celebrated with great festivities. For example, each parish prepares for its own patronal feast with a novena, and during October, the month of the Rosary, there are processions in all communities where there is a chapel. So it is that the priests are tirelessly on the go.


In this situation the Mass Intentions of our benefactors are an immense support. There is no question here of “paying” for the Holy Mass, but there is a long tradition in the Church of asking priests to celebrate Mass for a particular intention – for example a deceased loved one – and in return giving a gift that is in no sense a “payment” but rather a gesture of love and gratitude and material support on the part of the giver. Bishop Orowae writes to tell us that “All my priests are most grateful for the Mass Intentions they have received and gladly celebrate Holy Mass for the intentions of those who have given them.”


Your Mass stipends not only help to support the priests themselves but also enable them to provide for some of the needs of their parishes, for example by providing hosts and altar wine or helping to maintain and worthily furnish some of the chapels in the remotest communities.


May our Lord bless all who have helped!

If you wish to have a mass celebrated, just click on the red button and offer your Mass intentions via Aid to the Church in Need.  Thank you!


ACN’s Project of the week – Argentina – Scholarship funding for 12 seminarians

31.01.2018 in ACN PROJECTS, Adaptation Mario Bard, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Argentina, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, SEMINARIANS


Scholarship  funding for  12 seminarians

Miles Christi – a religious community of priests, was founded in 1994 in Argentina. The “Soldiers of Christ’’ – the name in English – speaks something different from what the world has to offer. The vow of the members stipulates that they should reject a “vulgar, empty and useless life”. Instead, they must ask themselves, as they turn to Jesus Christ’s teachings and Cross : What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ ?

Their particular charism lies in the pastoral care of young people and adults, and the goal of their apostolate is the “sanctification of the lay people.”. One example is by organising spiritual retreats for different groups that they have eshtablished.

As the congregation grows,  there are presently 12 young seminarians. In 2016, two young men took their first, temporary vows and were clothed in the habit of the order. The Miles Christi formation house is situated close from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lujàn, held in high honour by the Argentinian people. It was consecrated in April 1987
by Pope Saint John Paul II. 

The economic crisis in the country and the high inflation create a challenge to this growing Congregation. Their superiors are concerned about covering their cost. How will they be able to support these young men on their journey? To achieve this goal, they are hoping very much that our benefactors will come to their aid. So, we have already promised them 3 600 dollars in your name.

Just click if you want to give to a similar project.

Turkish offensive in northern Syria: Christians desperate for help

25.01.2018 in ACN International, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Karla Sponar, Middle East

Turkish offensive in northern Syria
Christians desperate for help


Just a few days after the attacks on north Syria began, Christians in Afrin have launched an urgent appeal for help. “The congregation of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Afrin is asking for immediate international protection for the believers in the city,” reads the appeal, which was forwarded to the international aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We call for an immediate stop to the Turkish bombardment.”


The appeal had been written by members of the local evangelical community during the shelling that began in northern Syria over the previous weekend.

“We are under serious attack,” states the desperate message from Christians in Afrin. Afrin is part of the Aleppo Governorate with around 36 000 inhabitants.

According to the appeal, the community is even under siege from two sides: for days, they have been subject to heavy Turkish shelling as well as attacks from Islamic troops that are also moving in on the zone from the periphery.

Damascus: Christians attacked

ACN’s partners on the ground have reported that in Damascus in southern Syria, attacks on Christian districts began last Monday. Several individuals were injured, with at least one fatality. Most of the victims are young, including a student According to the Maronite Archdiocese of Damascus 24 people were injured, including seven children who were hit while entering their school. The short message stated that there was fear and trepidation among the faithful and called for prayers for peace on January 25th, the feast of Saint Paul’s conversion, which is a key date in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.


Last autumn the security situation had improved to the point where schools in Syria were able to reopen.  In 2017 the international charity ACN has contributed 6,9 millions dollars in emergency aid to Syria.




Iraq – Back to School

29.08.2017 in ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, By Daniele Piccini, Children, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Middle East

Kids in school, essential to the survival of Christian villages


The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is working against time, together with the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC) to repair and rebuild as many family homes as possible, so that the Syriac Catholic families can return in time for the beginning of the school year. Already at least 600 families have returned to this town in the Nineveh plains. Father Georges Jahola, who is in charge of the Syriac Catholic team on the NRC, predicts confidently: “In 10 years time the city will be repopulated as it was before IS.”


The town of Baghdeda (or Qaraqosh) on the plains of Nineveh is engaged in a fight against time, a fight for life. In September, its schools will be reopening. The Syriac Catholic families, forced to flee the town three years ago to escape the violence of the fighters of the so-called Islamic State (IS), and who have spent the last three years as internal refugees in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, now want to return home finally – in time for their children to begin their school year… if possible.

In the center, Fr. Georges Jahola, syro-catholic priest from Qaraqosh, Iraq, last spring. Celebration of the olive tree ceremony to mark the begining of the reconstruction in the Nineveh Plain.


“The schools in Baghdeda have been repaired by various international agencies such as the UN”, explains Father Georges Jahola, a Syriac Catholic priest who is in charge of the Syriac Catholic team and a member of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, tasked with rebuilding the city. “Unfortunately, however, the houses of the Christian families who want to return have not yet been rebuilt. Before the arrival of IS there were around 5,000 Syriac Catholic families here, of whom around 60% have school-age children. If their homes are not yet ready for habitation by September, these families might well decide to go elsewhere, and this time for good. On the other hand, if we succeed, I am sure that within 10 years, Baghdeda will have been repopulated and there will be just as many Christians here as before.”


An inheritance of destruction


In this town, 2 ½ years of occupation by thousands of IS militants – who, Father Georges suggests, “probably had their operational base right here” – have left a “legacy” of some 6,327 homes needing to be rebuilt. The terrorists set fire to 2,269 homes, partially damaged 3,950 apartments and bombed another 108. In collaboration with other organizations, ACN is helping to rebuild these homes, starting with those that are least damaged. In fact, 47 are already rebuilt in Sector E of the city. “The families are responding to this signal of hope and are beginning to return,” Father Georges remarks. “In Baghdeda 600 families have already returned. And then we have around 120 workers who have already transferred here to work on their homes while their families are still waiting in Erbil to be able to rejoin them. The children especially are so happy to be able to return home”, he adds.

Last May in Qaraqosh. The inhabitants looked at what was done to their houses by ISIS. Though hope is back, there is still a lot to do.


In order to be able to bring life back to Baghdeda, the water and electricity networks are gradually being repaired. “The electricity supply is slowly returning. The government in Baghdad has repaired the old generators and purchased 15 new ones, which are still not enough, however. In fact, we would need at least another 150. The terrorists of the Islamic State also damaged the water supply network and in some areas of the town, there is still no water. The authorities really need some form of earthmoving equipment, which we have not got, however”, Father Jahola explains.


The real beating heart of the reconstruction effort in Baghdeda is precisely here, in the offices of the Syriac Catholic team, led by Father George. “Every day we receive phone calls from Christian families who want to return home. Our engineers go and check on the structural condition of their homes and record the damage. Then they return to the office here and register the data recorded in the survey. More and more families are asking us to provide a cost estimate for the repair of their homes – in fact on account of the many requests in the last few days we have even had to engage two more engineers.”


Other villages in line


Despite the difficulties, other Christian families are now slowly returning to other places too, including Bartella, a majority Syriac Orthodox town on the Nineveh plains. Of the 650 families who lived here before the invasion of IS, 24 have now already returned. In this town, which was occupied from 6 August 2014 until 20 October 2016, IS burnt down 69 homes belonging to Syriac Catholic families, damaged 274 and totally destroyed 19. Father Benham Benoka of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee is overseeing the reconstruction of these homes in Bartella. As in Baghdeda, a team of engineers visits the homes, surveys the structural damage and provides a cost estimate. “This is the home of Dhiya Behnam Nuna, and it was built on the ruins of old Bartella”, explains Father Benoka. “The terrorists smashed holes in the walls of the apartments, so they could move from house to house without being spotted by the American helicopters”, he explains, as we walk from house to house through these very same holes in the house walls.

Hope to return home is clear for the children or Mariana school. A dream that will become true only with the help of the Universal Church.


The ground is covered with all kinds of ruined items – holy pictures, items of clothing, mattresses and pieces of furniture. It seems impossible that anyone could come back to live here. Yet there is an engineer measuring the size of the holes in the walls. Before long, Mr Dhiya Behnam Nuna will have new windows in his house.


The challenges facing Christians in the Nineveh Plains are enormous.  Currently, the count of registered families who have fled from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains living in Erbil is 14,000 (approximately 90,000 people); nearly 13,000 homes require rebuilding; there are security concerns in the villages; there are Kurdish-Iraqi political manoeuvrings on the ground; infrastructure concerns (water, electricity, roads, schools and clinics)… At the top of the list of concerns is the transition period between the end of monthly rentals and food packages and the move of these families to the restored villages. Drawing from the most recent surveys updated by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee on July 14, 2017, 1228 families have already returned to Nineveh Plains and 423 properties are under renovation of which 157 have been restored through financial contributions by ACN.


Since the crisis began in the summer of 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has provided ongoing support to the Christian refugees in northern Iraq. To date, a total of 45 million dollars has been donated for emergency aid including food, education, housing, pastoral help and reconstruction.


Feature Story – Christians return to Aleppo

15.06.2017 in Adaptation Mario Bard, By Josué Villalón (ACN Spain), Syria, Texte: Josue Villalón


Christians are returning to Aleppo

Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh of the Custody of the Holy Land reports that 15 families of the Latin rite Catholic community, who had emigrated, have already returned to the Syrian city and many others are hoping to return.


Entering Aleppo centre, Syria

During a recent visit to the war-torn and widely devastated city of Aleppo in Syria by a delegation of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest of the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi – the centre of the Latin Catholic community in the city – assured them, “We are very happy to confirm that in the last two months or so 15 families of the Christian community of the Latin rite have returned to Aleppo. One family returned from France, another from Germany, three from Venezuela and several others from Armenia.”


Opposite entrance to St Wartan Jesuit Centre, Midan district, Aleppo, Syria

The total number of Christian families of other denominations and rites who have returned to Aleppo is as of yet unconfirmed, but it is hoped that hundreds will return over the next few months. “A number of families who have returned from Armenia or Venezuela are telling us that all the families there also wish to return. For example, over 400 families who found refuge in Armenia are now hoping to be able to return. It is notable that when the Church helps these families, they feel more secure and are willing to return home,” Father Ibrahim explained.


Other Christian families from Aleppo who have returned to their homes have come from within the country, from other cities such as Latakia, Tartus and Marmarita. “The prices in these regions are also increasing rapidly; consequently, as the situation stabilizes in Aleppo, these internally displaced families are preferring to return to their own homes,” said the priest.



Maronite Cathedral Old City, Aleppo, Syria

Security restored, but so much left to do

The situation in Syria’s second city has improved in recent months, since full control was taken by government forces of Bashar al-Assad at the end of December 2016. “Although there are still some suburbs on the outskirts of the city that are in dispute, the bombings have ceased and security has returned to the streets. Nevertheless, the consequences of the war are still very much present, the people have been left profoundly impoverished, there is a shortage of work and wages are minimal, owing to the devaluation of the currency. There are only two hours of electricity a day and food prices have gone through the roof. Before the war one dollar was equivalent to 50 Syrian pounds, but today it is equivalent to 550 Syrian pounds,” explained the Franciscan.

“The situation in Aleppo is certainly better today. There is security in the streets and in the churches. But at the same time we are beginning to suffer the consequences of the war – the poverty, the shortages of food and other essential family needs, and numerous signs of trauma as a result of the war,” he continues. “The principal needs of the people are on the one hand help with the cost of food, electricity and healthcare. But at the same time we are helping with the rebuilding of the city, which means not only helping to rebuild people’s homes but also supporting education and the formation of the young, so that they can have a future.”

“Christ urges us to help everyone, regardless of their creed”

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, Franciscan of the Custody of Holy Land and responsible for the Latin Community in Aleppo.

Father Ibrahim Alsabagh expressed his thanks for the aid offered by Aid to the Church in Need for the rebuilding of 270 homes, for 170 scholarships for primary, secondary and university education and for the training of 2,000 young people and adults so that they can find work. “The families who have already returned tell us that they are happy that the Church is helping so many people,” he told ACN.

The help provided by the Custody of the Holy Land extends to include not only the community of the Latin rite but also Catholic families of other rites, Orthodox Christians and even Muslims. “Christ urges us to help everyone, regardless of their creed”, Father Ibrahim insisted. He was speaking in the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, the seat of the apostolic vicariate of Aleppo.

He concluded with renewed words of thanks for everyone from outside who is helping to provide this aid. “I am most grateful. On behalf of all the Christians of Aleppo and all the families of the Latin rite, I want to express to you my most sincere thanks. We are praying for all of you that you may always have peace in your hearts and in your countries and that you may never have to go through the terrible experience that we have witnessed here in Syria.”



ACN Interview – Violence in Marawi, Philippines – Bishop’s speaks

02.06.2017 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Jonathan Luciano, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Philippines

Violence in the Philippines

Cathedral destroyed and interreligious dialogue in peril


“The general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.


Interview by Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines National Director, with Bishop Prelate of Marawi Edwin dela Peña (MSP) about the situation in the Prelature of Marawi in the Southern Philippines, where the terrorist Maute group attacked the city, killing Christians and burning down buildings. including the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. As of press time, 104 people have been killed and more than 12,500 families have been displaced. Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General, was abducted together along with several staff from the ca. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed the authenticity of the video now circulating on Facebook which had surfaced on Fr. Chito Suganob’s profile on Tuesday (30 May). 


How is the present situation now in the Prelature of Marawi?

We are still right in the midst of it, I don’t know how to describe it, our people are not there anymore, they have been evacuated.  Those who have been left behind, I don’t know what their situation is because there is a continuing operation to clean up the city, to flush out the terrorists plus there is aerial bombing.  I don’t know how they are surviving it.

Source: Wikimedia


Was the Cathedral totally destroyed?

Yes, I was told that the cathedral and the bishop’s house have been totally destroyed, first by the torching, it was set on fire, and then by the bombing as we are right there at the center of the fighting. I’m not so sure how soon we will be able to recover. It will be very difficult for all of us, not only for Christians, but for the Muslims as well.


How was the Muslim-Christian relations in Marawi before the incident happened?

Marawi is about 95% Muslims. We are a very tiny minority, we are a very small church in Marawi and the greater bulk of the Catholic population in the city in the area of the university where we have students coming from other provinces in Mindanao.


It was beautiful. We were engaged in interfaith dialogue and we have many partners. And in fact, Fr. Cito was in the thick of it because he was, his primary focus really is to connect, to link up with all the Muslim NGOs who have partnered with us in community development and education for interfaith dialogue. It was beautiful until this extremism emerged, the fighting, the presence of these extremist elements from the Middle East. Then the radicalization of our young people, unwittingly, unknowingly, some not oriented towards the current situation in the Middle East, still have become radicalized, especially here in Mindanao.

But generally, our relations with our partners have remained very positive and in fact, we learned from them that also disavow this influx of ISIS elements coming into Marawi, because they understand exactly what this would do to the culture of their people, to their way of life. The people of Marawi have always been very peaceful.

Marawi City on fire during the first day of the siege. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)


Is it correct to say that the general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.

Yes, yes, yes, that is correct. In fact, what is happening today, especially that we are on Ramadan, a very holy month for them, they are not able to celebrate it the way they would have wished. They feel a certain kind of anger toward these terrorist groups coming in to disturb this very holy remembrance of Ramadan. So if these extremist groups wanted to get the support of the people, they are going about it all wrong.










Based on your knowledge of how ISIS operates in the Middle East, do you see any difference with what is happening in Syria and Iraq versus what is happening now in Marawi?

It is something like that. It may not be another Syria or Iraq, but the way the city looks now after the bombing and all, it doesn’t look like Marawi anymore. The remnants of the old city, everything that we see on the news feed about Marawi, is all ruined, there is destruction everywhere. That is the image we have in mind of Syria and Iraq.


Who are the Maute group who led these terror attacks in Marawi?

From my own discussion with some religious figures here in Marawi, Maute is made up of Maranaos who have had to fend for themselves since the ouster of their mayor.   The mayor, previous heir of Marawi, had supported their drug-trade business.  Because he’s no longer mayor, and now that the drug peddling has been controlled by the government, the people who were used to an easy life of free-flowing drug money are suddenly without. That was probably one factor that led them toward radicalization.

We were also informed that money was coming from the outside,  as well as individuals who are part of some training.  There are foreign elements training them inside the lairs of Lanao Sur.  All of which probably are driving them to this kind of life.

The Maranao Muslims of Marawi City preparing to evacuate their ancient hometown. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN))


The government has kept denying that there is ISIS presence in the Philippines. What can you say about that?

I’m not so sure about it. They can deny it for as long as they can, but some people…you know what?  I’m not the right person to speak about it. I’m just echoing what I know: that some of them have even been trained outside.  For instance, the Maute brothers studied in the Middle East. They come from very rich families here who have the means to send their children to school in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I have heard about this.


Is there a relationship between Maute and the infamous terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf? 

I think so, the fact that Hapilon is in Lanao, in fact they were about to serve him with an arrest warrant before all this happened. That was the trigger. Hapilon is Abu Sayyaf, so they have a tactical alliance with the Maute brothers in Lanao Sur aside from the fact that both are also sympathetic to ISIS, so they have this tactical alliance, and they probably have joined forces.


Do you have any updates about Fr. Chito and other kidnapped Christians?

I am aware of the video of Fr. Chito since yesterday. He is alive! I am happy about that, but sad also about the reactions of the DDS netizens (DDS stands for Digong Duterte Supporters- the supporters of the president), who castigated him for his message without any regard for his present situation as a hostage deprived of his freedom. We have lost our sense of humanity! How sad! I grieve for this country, and I am so sorry for the situation of Fr. Chito and company.

Father Teresito Suganob kidnapped Mai 2017 in Marawi. (Pictures taken from facebook page from Father Suganob) Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General was abducted together with other Cathedral Staff.

We did not have any contacts with the military until a few days ago when I was able to link up with a commanding officer of the Marines division who are now doing up the clean-up operations in Marawi.  He has promised that they will do their best to locate Fr. Chito and company. There are about 12 to15 people with him. Some of them were teachers from nearby Dansalan college and they just happened to be meeting together in one place where they are being held, but some of them were at the Cathedral at the time as they were preparing for the feast of Mary, Help of Christians the following day. So we had many people in the house and in the Church doing all sorts of things.


Do you consider this incident as an escalation of the various anti-Christian events that have happened in Mindanao?

Yes, I suppose it is.


Do you know of any personal stories of solidarity between Muslims and Christians these past few days?

Yes, personal knowledge concerning the family of my driver who were holed up in one of the rice mills in Marawi City.  Accompanying them was their barangay (village) chairman. who is Maranao.  He was the one who organized the group and gave them an orientation as to how they should respond if the Maute group intercepts them along the way. So they left the house together and went toward the bridge, where buses were waiting to take them out of Marawi. I would consider them heroes for leading this group of both Christians and Muslims, to flee the danger that awaited them.

But there were some people in the group who were trying to catch up, part of the crowd trying to cross the bridge, who were then accosted by this Maute group, this terrorist group. They were asked if they were Christians. Unfortunately, they responded “yes” because they were not there when the orientation was given.

One fellow, the husband of one of our adopted families living in the cathedral compound in Marawi, was pulled out of the group because he was wearing a sleeveless shirt and had a cross tattoo on his shoulder. So he was identified as a Christian and was pulled out.

Then, lately we have heard reports of men being killed and dropped into a ravine. They say they were also part of the group trying to catch up to join the convoy of evacuees.

You can also read in the papers many other stories of Muslims trying to protect Christians.


How would this incident affect Christian-Muslim relations in Marawi?

Even though people are familiar with what we have been doing here in Marawi and the relationship that we have built up through the years, the old biases that Christians have had against Muslims are bound to be stirred up because of the current situation. This is very frustrating.  Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process, and incidents like these can destroy the very foundation.

And there are some people fueling these anti-Muslim sentiments. It’s sad, because we’ve made such headway in improving relations between Muslims and Christians in Marawi. Without a doubt,  Muslim-Christian relations among the Maranaos is the best compared to others considering we have done in the 41 years since the establishment of the prelature.

Our schools, some of which were here before the prelature, have always been dear to our Muslim brothers and Christians because many of their parents studied there.  Professionals in the town have attended our schools and sent their children to our schools, because they have developed this kind of patronage and loyalty to our schools.


What is your message to the ACN community worldwide?

It is very unfortunate that our small prelature which is the smallest and poorest local church in the Philippines had to undergo this very difficult crisis. Our Cathedral, the Bishop’s house and our parish have been destroyed.  We will have to start from scratch to rebuild and to re-establish the Christian presence in this predominantly Muslim area of Central Mindanao. We must continue our mission of offering the hand of reconciliation and friendship to our Muslim brothers and sisters because this was the legacy of Pope Paul VI when he re-established the prelature of Marawi.

At the height of the crisis in the early 70s, the Pope, quoting Bishop Tutu, stated, “We Christians should be the first to offer the hand of reconciliation and brotherhood to our Muslim brothers and sisters. That is the way to establish peace that has been broken because of the war.” I think that the same holds true for our present situation today.

We cannot turn our backs away from what we have started, what the Prelature had begun in the middle 70’s: to continue the work of dialogue, continue working with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to establish, to rebuild the broken relationships, the broken dreams and hopes of so many people to live in peace. We just want to live in peace and we would like to ask you to help us to rebuild that peace with the kind of work that we do: working with and being in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

A group of 100-200 armed men of the Maute group, a terrorist group founded by a Muslim clan whose children studied in the Middle East. The Maute group has pledged its allegiance to ISIS. (photo:  Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)




What are the most urgent needs at the moment?

We are not so much concerned about our needs in the moment. Our focus is more trying to do what we can to respond to the humanitarian crisis that happening in Iligan right now.  We have so many evacuees from Marawi, and they need all the support that we can give.

This is what some of our dioceses and all the dioceses of the Phillipines, including Caritas Filipinas in Manila and the Archdiocese of Manila through Cardinal Chito Tagle have requested.  They have asked us how they can be of help, and where to send all their donations. So we have united with the Diocese of Iligan to put up command centers at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Iligan City to be able to receive donations, and have organized volunteers to do the repacking and the distribution.

We are also working with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are with us in dialogue.  It is a great opportunity for us to show our solidarity in responding together to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those in the evacuation centers. So this is what we are doing.   If there is anything you can do to help us, to bring the attention of the world to what is happening in Marawi right now, to our relief operations, we would appreciate it so much.

One of the evacuation centers for Marawi City refugees. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ ACN).

Interview: Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines
English adaptation: R.P.Delaney for ACN Canada

Feature Story – EU reps Skype with Syrian Children

06.12.2016 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN Intl, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, European Union, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need

Initiative at the European Parliament with Syrian Children

European parliamentarians will be speaking directly to school-children from Aleppo, Syria via Skype this Tuesday December 6, also, Saint Nicolas day. In cooperation with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), European Parliament Vice-President Mr. Antonio Tajani along with EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom and Belief Mr. Jan Figel.  The event is intended to allow these children – both Muslim and Christian –  to tell their stories.


Syria, Aleppo, 05. October 2016 In addition, Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!” These days, children at more than 2000 schools all over Syria are drawing and writing messages to the political decision makers of the European Union and United Nations under the motto “Peace for Children”. More than one million children are also signing a petition. This appeal for peace is a joint campaign being carried out by Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Syria, and members of all religious communities have been invited to take part.

Syria, Aleppo, 05. October 2016  – In addition, Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!”

They will also answer questions about their lives in a war that has lasted 5 years, claimed the lives of over 400,000 people, destroyed 2,960 schools and where, of the approximately 2.9 million school aged children, almost 2 million cannot attend class. The appeal for peace seeks to draw attention to the fact that, unlike in Iraq, despite the divisions of war in Syria, Christians and Muslims are still united.


Syrian children speak to Westerners

ACN’s Middle East expert, Fr. Andrew Halemba, who conceived of the idea after several visits to the region stated: “The video link between Syrian children and the European politicians builds on an initial concept of ‘Drawings for Peace for Syria’ where ACN together with the local churches in Syria, representing about 95% of all Syrian Christians, gathered over one million drawings and letters from children of all religions between the ages of 3 and 16 from over 2,000 schools in Aleppo, Homs, Tartus, Yabroud and Damascus. These messages and drawings are a vibrant, innocent call for peace by the Syrian children to the West.”

Among the letters collected is that from Razan in Grade 5: “I haven´t seen anything of my childhood. My home was destroyed. My life changed. I am afraid whenever I hear the sound of the explosions. A lot of sounds; I feel very sad when I see the kids dying. I hope that God will bring everything back to its condition before and that God saves our country Syria.” Another short message comes from Shifa in Grade 6: “Father, I miss you but you will still be in my heart.” A poem from 12-year-old Shan in Aleppo describes the suffering in war:


Mark von Riedemann took some pictures of the thousands of drawings that the Syrian children have made asking for peace. Note that this is only a selection.


Baptized with blood

“I am praying, God my country is suffering
Cold, sadness and darkness, no electricity nor candles.
A mother is calling with her unheard voice
to the father who left that morning and unsure if he will come back.
Please, God, do not abandon us to sorrow and hunger
God, keep your hands with us, our country is suffering.
Children, like the sunrise, study in the darkness;
we are waiting for good news covered by mercy,
hoping to meet in the neighborhood beautiful smiles,
but they find black hearts even darker than the carbon.
They are baptized with blood and we do not even have tears.
God, don´t abandon our suffering country!”


Festivities in Damascus (provinceTouma), 05 October 2016 Peace for the children in Syria 2016 at the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate. In addition, Syrian schoolchildren – also including many Muslims – are writing messages to the global community on white balloons. These include such messages as “We want peace!”, “Give us our childhood!”, “We don’t want any more war!” and “We want to go to school!” These days, children at more than 2000 schools all over Syria are drawing and writing messages to the political decision makers of the European Union and United Nations under the motto “Peace for Children”. More than one million children are also signing a petition. This appeal for peace is a joint campaign being carried out by Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Syria, and members of all religious communities have been invited to take part.

Festivities in Damascus (province Touma), 05 October 2016 Peace for the children in Syria 2016 at the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate.


These letters and drawings were presented from October 10 to 13 to political decision makers at the EU and UN institutions in Brussels and Geneva by the “Ambassadors of the Children,” Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan George Abou Zakhem of Homs, and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Selwanos Boutros Al Nemeh of Homs.

Among others, the Church representatives met with the Jean-Claude Juncker President of the European Commission, Martin Schulz President of the European Parliament and Federica Mogherini High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In Geneva, the children’s messages were presented to Dr. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The December 6th video-conversation between the political leaders in Brussels and the children in Aleppo will be followed by an exhibition of the original children’s drawings in a main hall at the European Parliament. Simultaneously European Commission President Juncker has offered the drawings he received during the Patriarch’s visit to be integrated in an overall exhibition organized together with UNICEF titled, “Standing Strong: The Human Faces of the Syrian Crisis” to be held from December 5 to 15 at the Berlaymont Building of the European Commission. Here 18 drawings, alongside ACN photos of the Syrian children, will be exhibited after which these will then travel to other EU venues during the first three months of 2017.




Project of the Week – reconstruction of a presbytery in Chile

23.11.2016 in Adaptation Mario Bard, AED Canada


Rebuilding after an earthquake

acn-20160906-45626-1-chileIn the 19th century Sotaquí, lived an elderly and very holy woman. Her name was Antonia Pizarro. She had a profound knowledge of herbal remedies, and thus was able to help many sick people. One day, as she was on her way to visit a sick person who lived close to the river Hurtado, she spotted two children in the distance, herding goats.

As she drew closer, she saw that they were playing with another child, who seemed to be almost naked. It was in fact, a statue of the Child Jesus. This holy woman took this image of the Divine Child back to her home in order to pay fitting homage to it. It quickly became the focus of miracles, and in 1873  was enshrined in the parish church of Sotaquí.

Devotion to this image became increasingly widespread and more and more people came seeking help through this miraculous “Little Jesus” image. Eventually, in 1898, a new church was built in honour of the Divine Child. Devotion to this image remains very strong today, and in January, around the time of the Epiphany, there is a great four-day festival with processions and traditional dances in honour of the Divine Child. The feast is preceded by a Novena prayed in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Part of the shrine area includes the old presbytery, which was built in the year 1800. In 1997 it was damaged by an earthquake, but the severe earthquake of September 2015 rendered it completely uninhabitable with the roof timbers, ceiling, and several of the walls having collapsed, while doors and windows were destroyed. The parish priest is living in some discomfort in a single room adjoining the church, for the time being.




The diocese of La Serena, to which Sotaquí belongs, is still facing the massive challenge of repairing and rebuilding 60 churches, chapels and presbyteries that were similarly destroyed or damaged to a greater or lesser extent by the same earthquake.

ACN has promised 43,800 CAD, to help rebuild the parish house in Sotaquí.




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