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Aid to the Church in Need Canada

 

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

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

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

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

Interview by Anne Kidmose

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Father Damas Mfoi at the grave of Father Evaristus Mushi

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

On line: March 8, 2019


 

ACN’s Project of the Week – Support for the Catholic the families in Togo

07.03.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Family Apostolate, FORMATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Togo

The Fédération Africaine d’Action Familiale (FAAF, or African Family Life Federation) is an initiative for the support of healthy families and the protection of life. It involves doctors of various disciplines, theologians, priests, religious and lay pastoral workers. Its aim is to support families and help them to tackle their problems, offering Africa-friendly, family-friendly and pro-life solutions, as opposed to the alien Western-style solutions which many Africans have by now seen through as a “culture of death.” Instead, they seek to promote a “culture of life” of the kind so frequently referred to by the late Pope Saint John Paul II.

In Togo – West Africa –, the programs of the FAAF have been established since 2005. In the diocese of Aneho in the southeast of the country there are five people who have been involved up to now, for example in giving introductory talks and sessions in the parishes, so as to encourage more people to become aware of issues surrounding marriage and the family and train them to be able to accompany families and married couples.

 

The meetings address such questions as, “What is God‘s plan for marriage?” and “What does it mean to be a mother or a father?” Couples are encouraged to talk together and grow in mutual love and respect. Another important aspect is natural family planning, which observes and respects the natural fertility cycle of the woman. Husbands also learn in this way to respect their wives and respect their bodies. The goal is an education in love, which emphasizes the beauty and value of human sexuality and the human body and the importance of fidelity and responsibility and openness to life. It is the best way to counter such evils as abortion and the spread of AIDS. At the same time, the program aims to help and accompany families and married couples in conflict and crisis.

 

There is a great demand for these talks and for personal counselling, and they are hoping to be able to train up 10 more female counsellors. Printed information materials are also needed.
Aid to the Church in Need has promised 17,500 dollars in support of this laudable initiative.

 

Make your donation now to support family education training in Togo. Thank you very much for your generosity.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Brazil – ACN Project of the week – Catechetical Material for Marginalized People

27.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Brazil, Brazil, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, South America

Brazil

Catechetical materials for pastoral work

The “Bethlehem Mission” (Missao Belem) is a lay spiritual community of people who devote themselves above all to caring for the homeless, the addicts, the lonely and all those facing a crisis or some other difficult situation. The members of the community, who describe themselves as “missionaries,” share their lives full-time with these homeless victims, often even living on the streets with them. In doing so they are endeavouring to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to these people on the margins of society and make His teachings living and tangible for them.

The community is still very young, having been founded only in 2005 in Brazil, yet it already has 160 mission houses and another 7 intermediate centres in 70 different cities of Brazil, Haiti and Italy.

Right now some 2000 or so homeless people are being cared for by members of the community in Brazil, which includes 70 consecrated members and 200 full-time voluntary members. They all live together in the various communities, like one big family. People who have until now been living on the streets slowly become accustomed to living an orderly life in the community and are able to begin to discover the potential for themselves. The community also offers them the opportunity to have therapy where necessary. And they can also take advantage of the chance to gain practical and professional qualifications or become re-accustomed to the world of work. Wherever possible, the street children are encouraged to return to or at least make contact with their families. Where this is not possible, they are helped to find loving homes with foster parents or adoptive families, in collaboration with the relevant authorities.

So far around 50,000 people have been taken in and helped by these communities. Roughly half of them have since been able to return to normal life. Many have found their way to faith and sought baptism. It is a particularly moving sight to see grown men, some advanced in age and after years of homelessness and addiction, dressed in a white baptismal robe, standing there with a baptismal candle in their hand, or going forward like little children to receive their First Holy Communion. In such cases it is quite evident that baptism has been the start of a new life for them as children of God.

Also very popular and very successful are the evangelizing courses run by members of the community. More than 1400 people have so far taken part in these courses, which are aimed at training them for the mission of reaching out to people who still far from the Church, and especially to the marginalized in society, and proclaiming the Gospel to them. At the same time the participants are equipped with appropriate catechetical material, which they can distribute to those who are interested.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is happy to help this wonderful initiative, and we have promised 69 150 dollars to help provide the necessary teaching materials for the coming four years.

Iraq – Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits! – ACN-News

26.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Marta Petrosillo, By Marta Petrosillo, Communiqué, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Reconstruction

Aid to the Church in Need in Iraq

Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits!

Montreal, February 26thThanks to a donation of 300 000 dollars from the Holy Father, following the auctioning of the Lamborghini that was given to him last year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be able to fund two new projects on behalf of the Iraqi Christian families and other minorities who have returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

Marta Petrosillo for ACN-International and Mario Bard, ACN-Canada

On 15 November 2017 the Holy Father decided to give ACN part of the proceeds from the auctioning of the Lamborghini Hurricane that had been donated to him by the famous Italian carmaker. Now ACN will give concrete form to the Pope’s gesture by funding the reconstruction of two buildings of the Syriac Catholic Church, destroyed by the war. They are the nursery school (kindergarten) of Our Lady and the multipurpose centre of the parish of the same name.

Both buildings are in the village of Bashiqa, just 30 km from Mosul. The village was badly damaged during the war, but the Christian community has returned, and in large numbers. In facts by now, 405 of the 580 homes that were destroyed here have already been rebuilt and around 50% of the Christians, or 1,585 people, have already returned.

The Parish Hall was totally destroyed.

The two projects funded with money from the Lamborghini will also benefit the other minorities in the town, since the multipurpose centre, which has capacity for over 1,000 people, will be used for weddings and the religious feasts of all the different communities. It will be the largest such centre in the area and will be available for use to over 30,000 people of all different faiths and ethnic groups.

The Return of Iraqi Christians: An Unexpected Success!

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Just a little over two years since the liberation of the villages of the Nineveh Plains, the number of Christians who have been able to return to their homes has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. By January 11th this year at least 9108 families had returned to their villages, almost 46% of the 19,832 families dwelling there in 2014 prior to the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (IS). This is thanks above all to the immense work of reconstruction – to which ACN have greatly contributed – that has made it possible so far to rebuild or repair some 41% of the 14,035 homes
destroyed or damaged by IS.

This intervention, in which the pontifical foundation ACN has played a major role in collaboration with the local Churches, has also found a generous benefactor in the person of the Holy Father. Already back in 2016 Pope Francis gave 150,000 dollars in support of the “Saint Joseph Charity Clinic” in Erbil, which provides free medical assistance.

This most recent gift by the Holy Father will be a further help to local Christians, enabling them to live their own faith and offer a future in Iraq to their children. At the same time it is a powerful message and an invitation to peaceful coexistence between the different religions in a region where fundamentalism has sadly damaged interreligious relations.

***

Since 2014 and up to the present day ACN has given over 60 million dollars for the support of Iraqi Christians.
Thanks to you, Christians in Iraq can return home.
Thank you!

Iraq: New hope for Christians in Iraq!


Syria – ACN’s support of reconstruction gives hopes for Christians

25.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By John Pontifex, CONSTRUCTION, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria

Syria

An action plan to enable thousands of Christians to return to their homes in the Syrian city of Homs was agreed in a house-repair program involving Church leaders and a leading Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

by John Pontifex, ACN-International

At the meeting in Homs, the leaders of five Church communities signed the Homs Reconstruction Committee agreement, in which Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need will repair 300 homes as part of the first stage of the plan.

In the second phase, a further 980 homes are due to be rebuilt – 80 from the Melkite Greek Catholic community, 600 Greek Orthodox and 300 belonging to Syriac Orthodox families. ACN will support part of the project.

Highlighting the significance of the agreement, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said: “The agreement is one of the most critical steps forward in the recovery of the Christian community in Homs. The commitment to rebuild so many homes offers the light of hope for people desperate to return to the city that is one of the most important for Christians in the whole of Syria.”

Fr Andrzej Halemba and Archbishop Nicolas Sawaf, archbishop of Lattaquié, with ‘Jesus is my Rock’ stone tablets

They cannot come back without the program

Happy to be able to come back home.

 

Greek Orthodox Bishop Georges Abou Zakhem of Homs said: “The people need to come back to their houses but they can’t do so without the help of ACN.”

Melkite priest Father Bolos Manhal said: “I am very happy that people have this wonderful opportunity to return to their homes. They have suffered so much and for many coming home will be a dream come true.

“They have had to spend so much money renting a place to live so to have their homes rebuilt will take a huge pressure on family budgets. There are more job opportunities in the city than in the countryside so they will now be able to take advantage of them.”

ACN will be contributing to a maximum of US$3,500 towards each house being repaired.

With more than 12,500 homes destroyed in Homs and 37,500 badly damaged, many Christians have been living in displacement in the nearby Valley of the Christians for up to seven years.

At the height of the conflict in 2014, less than 100 Christians were remaining in Homs Old City and targeted attacks by Islamist extremists forced nearly 250,000 to leave.

Last year ACN piloted a program to repair 100 homes belonging to Melkite and Syriac Orthodox families, of which 85 are already reoccupied and the rest due to return at the start of the new academic year in the autumn.

The 2018 Homs renovation plan was part of a program which has already led to the repairs of nearly 500 homes across Syria, of which many are in Aleppo.

 


Since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, ACN has completed 750 projects involving 150 partners. (2019-02-25)

Pakistan – The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about – ACN-News

16.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, Asia Bibi, Blasphemy Law, By Maria Lozano, By Marta Petrosillo, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Pakistan

Pakistan: “My husband is innocent!” –

The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about

 

In Pakistan, 224 Christians have been victims of the blasphemy law since the law’s passage in 1986, Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan, told a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the Asian country.

The Colony Joseph. In March 2013, almost 300 houses and 2 churches were destroyed after the Christian Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.

 

By Marta Petrosillo and Maria Lozano

 

Although the legal case against Asia Bibi finally came to a positive resolution on January 29th, 23 Christians were killed for blasphemy accusations between 1990 and 2017 and the Commission has documented a further 25 cases of Christians under trial, according to a study presented to ACN.

 

Specifically, there are two paragraphs of Section 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code (paragraphs B and C) that can be understood as the “anti-blasphemy law”. Section 295B stipulates a life sentence for anyone who desecrates the Quran, while insulting the Prophet Muhammed carries the death sentence under Section 295C.

 

“The anti-blasphemy law is a powerful tool that fundamentalists can wield to the detriment of minorities and is often misused as a means of personal revenge,” Chaudhry said. “And when charges are brought against Christians, the entire community suffers the consequences.”

 

This is exactly what happened in March 2013 in Joseph Colony, a Christian district in Lahore, after the young Christian Sawan Masih was accused of having insulted Muhammad. “On 9 March, after Friday prayers, a mob of 3000 Muslims burnt down the entire district, destroying almost 300 houses and two churches,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf, NCJP President, explained to the delegation from ACN during a visit to the residential area. In the meantime, the district been rebuilt, thanks to funding from the government and returned to the Christians.

 

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan.

While the 83 instigators of the arson attack have all been released, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death in 2014 and is still waiting for the appeal proceedings to be held. “The hearings are constantly being postponed,” attorney Tahir Bashir explained. “The last hearing was scheduled for 28 January, but the judge did not appear. A new court date has now been set for 27 February.”

National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) was formed in 1985 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan. It provides services in the field of human rights advocacy. Since 1990 the Commission has defended cases of blasphemy against Muslims, Christians and Hindus, and has campaigned for abolition of the blasphemy laws. The team of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

Just as in the case of Asia Bibi, there are a lot of irregularities in Sawan’s case. The charges against him were brought by one of his Muslim friends, Shahid Imran, following an argument between the two men. Only two days later, two witnesses appeared who in reality had not even been present at the time Muhammed was allegedly insulted. “The charges against Sawan are being exploited,” Father Yousaf told ACN. “The true motivation behind this is an attempt to drive Christians out of this city district. It has become very popular because it lies very close to the steel factories.”

 

In the meantime, Sawan’s wife Sobia is raising their three children all by herself. “I don’t know why they have accused my husband,” she said to ACN. “I just know that the man who brought charges against him was a friend of his with whom he had quarrelled. Sawan is innocent!”

 


 

Cameroon – The Church is threatened – ACN-Interview

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

Cameroon


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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

ACN: How is the Church faring in your country?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

***

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

 

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

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

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


 

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! 


 

ACN Project of the Week – Kazakhstan – Books for the Seminarists

07.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By ACN Project Services, By Mario Bard, FORMATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Kazakhstan

Books for the seminary in Karaganda

 

Kazakhstan is a vast country, covering an area of well over 1 million square miles (2.7 million km²), or the equivalent of more than a quarter of the size of the entire United States! Yet it has a population of just 18 million. A former Soviet republic, it has been an independent state since 1991.

 

The population of the country is 70% Muslim and around 25% are Christians, most of whom belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Catholics make up only a tiny minority of some 300,000 souls. At present there are barely 100 Catholic priests for the entire country, serving in the four dioceses of Kazakhstan. Most of these are the descendants of former Polish, German, Baltic or Ukrainian people, deported here under Stalin and others.

 

Kazakhstan is today an exceptional and happy example of friendly coexistence between the Catholic and Orthodox Christians and there are many positive encounters and joint initiatives between them. Therefore, it was, just recently, for the feast of the Orthodox Christmas, which falls on 7 January. Bishop Jose Luis Mumbiela Sierra of the diocese of the Most Holy Trinity in Almaty, who is also chairman of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Kazakhstan, met together with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Alexander to congratulate him and express his best Christmas wishes on behalf of all the Catholic bishops, priests and faithful in the country. Gifts were exchanged and the two men spoke together about some of the important issues facing both Churches at the present time.

 

The challenges facing Christians today are also keenly felt by 12 young men currently preparing for ordination to the priesthood in the seminary in Karaganda – the only Catholic seminary in the country. The seminary has asked for our help in providing theological books for the seminary, so that these future priests can enjoy a solid and rounded formation. We have promised $2,250.

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

Pakistan – Interview – “The blasphemy law destroys lives”

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

Pakistan

“The blasphemy law destroys lives”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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