fbpx

Asia

 

ACN Feature Story – The kidnappings of under-age Christian girls in Pakistan

25.11.2019 in ACN Canada, Asia, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, Violence against Women and Girls

 

Pakistan

Two kidnappings of under-age Christian girls

 

by Tabassum Yousef, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada

 

Samra Munir was 13 when she was kidnapped.

This is the story of Samra Munir (13 years) and Neha Pervaiz (14 years). Both Catholic girls were kidnapped from their homes by Muslims. Samra was forced to marry and convert to Islam; her family has not seen her since her abduction. Nehah got away from her captor, though she suffered sexual assault. These are but two examples of kidnapping of under-age Christian girls in Pakistan and the practice of forced marriage and conversion to Islam. The number of such incidents is sharply on the rise.

Samra loves her family and understands that she must help them; she enjoys cooking and assisting with household chores. She has only completed three years of primary school; the family lives on daily wages and her parents cannot afford school fees.

On September 16, 2019, Samra was abducted.  She was home alone. Her parents were at work and her siblings were at the market. It was then that she was kidnapped; she was forcibly thrown into a car and taken away. Samra’s brother Shahzad saw the car drive away. He ran after it but could not keep up. Samra’s parents repeatedly reported the kidnapping, but local police insisted that she was not taken. Police said she ran away from home. Her parents were even told not to create a scene.

 

Forced into marriage: the authorities do nothing

Some time passed before the family received any news.  They learned that Samra had married and converted to Islam. Her marriage certificate listed her age as 19. The police ordered her parents not to come again and also threatened that their other daughter, Arooj, would suffer a similar fate.

Still, the family persisted. They took out a 40,000 rupee loan (about $260) so they’d have money to give to officers each time they went to the police station, in the hope that the money would prompt the police to act; they sold their sewing machine and phones, too. Every dollar they made went toward the search for Samra, but nothing has come of their efforts so far. Arooj said: “My life is not easy. We miss Samra; we don’t eat or sleep properly. I don’t go to school because we can’t afford the fees. Still, I know that God hasn’t forsaken us. Jesus is with me. I carry a Rosary with me at all times, and I pray that Mother Mary continues to protect us.

This area isn’t safe for us. My Muslim friends treat me well, but their mothers don’t like me. They think that I’m impure; I can only use certain plates and glasses. I love my country, but I want to live where we are all respected. I humbly ask that world leaders work on behalf of our safety and peace. People forget to be kind.”

 

Neha Pervaiz was held for seven days 

Neha Pervaiz (14), Catholic girl, was kidnapped from her home by Muslims. She got away from her captor and she suffered sexual assault.

And now, here is the story of Neha Pervaiz.  Contrary to Samra, she was able to tell her own story because she was able to escape the claws of her abductors.  Here is what she said to the Aid to the Church in Need:

“ In many ways, I am a normal girl. I love to draw, sketch, and race; I love to play with my best friend Madiha and my three younger siblings. But I am also Christian, and I have suffered greatly for it.

“My aunt, whose children I’ve cared for and bathed, allowed my rape and abduction. While in her home, my brother and I were locked in separate rooms and beaten. A man named Imran raped me and forced me to recite the Koran; I initially refused, but they beat my brother harder because of it. I relented to keep him safe.

“God protected me and I escaped. I proudly carry the cross wherever I go.”

 

“Then, for seven days, I was held captive in Imran’s home, until one of his daughters spared me. One of my aunt’s children took me in and managed to keep me hidden. She lent me a burka and 500 rupees (about $3.50) so I could safely return to my family. But my parents did not believe me when I told them what had happened.

“I now live under the protection of the Church. But I am not safe. I cannot go anywhere alone, for I might be attacked again, and I cannot worship freely. I have no security or legal protection. Still, I do not want to leave my country. This is my home. I want to study law so I can protect other girls from similar crimes. I also hope that world leaders support legislation that ensures the safety of women and prevents forced conversion and marriage. “God protected me and I escaped. I proudly carry the cross wherever I go.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need publishes a report every second year called Persecuted and Forgotten?  Which reveals the situation of religious persecution around the world of which Christians are often victims of.  The PDF version may be accessed through the following link: https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/

 

 

Sri Lanka Undeterred courage!

25.07.2019 in ACN, ACN NEWS, Asia, Sri Lanka

Saint Sebastian Church reopens

Last Sunday, July 21, in Sri Lanka at Saint Sebastian Church (situated in the Katuwapitiya neighbourhood of Negombo, close the capital of Colombo), Mass was celebrated for the first time in a long time. This comes after three months ago to the day, on Easter Sunday last April 21, a bomb ripped through the inside of the church during Mass. 

According to local media (newsfirst.lk) over 1,000 people participated in the reopening of the repaired Church. The surviving families were seated in the front pews.

It should be recalled that on the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord—the most significant day of the year on the Christian calendar—suicide bombers killed 253 people injured over 500 others in six different locations in Sri Lanka. Saint Sebastian’s Church was one of the places targeted by terrorists and 100 people lost their lives.

Inside the church, the parishioners could see a statue representing the risen Jesus, now preserved under protective glass—the statue is covered by the blood of the victims of the bombing. For many Christians, this symbol is not seen as morbid, but instead represents the memory of the deceased who lost their lives because of the hatred expressed against them, solely because they were Christian.

The first Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo. Newsfirst.lk reported that near the end of his homily, the cardinal reminded Christians not to hate Muslims or the people of the Muslim faith, for in his estimation, the attacks were not at all orchestrated by the members of this faith. Rather, by an international group—not named in this article—who used a group of young people for its international conspiracy. He urged people to treat people of the Muslim faith with respect for he feels they should not be held responsible for the attacks.

The images you see in this video were filmed by a team from the Catholic Radio Television Network (CRTN), regular partners of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). CRTN produces among others Where God Weeps—a program broadcast in Canada on Salt and Light TV/ Télé Sel et Lumièreand dozens of documentaries produced by ACN which are also broadcast countrywide in Canada, in English and in French.

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

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

The Philippines

Extremists try to create confusion and interreligious tension in the Philippines

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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


ACN-Projects of the week – India – Help for the formation of 15 novices Sisters

20.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Asia, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, FORMATION, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Sisters

India

Help for the formation of 15 novices of the Holy Spirit Sisters

 

The Holy Spirit Sisters are a congregation founded in 1950 in Germany. They work above all in pastoral care and their role is to support the priests in their work. Right from the start it was the desire of their founder that these religious sisters should be given a thorough theological formation, so that they could fulfil this mission as well as possible.

 

The sisters give catechetical instruction, prepare children, young people and adults to receive the sacraments and organize prayer meetings. They also visit the sick, poor families and the needy, and help them in their difficulties.

 

One of the pastoral work is to visit families.

In the two regional provinces of the congregation in India, namely Atmadhara and Jeevadhara, there are a total of 207 religious sisters in a region that covers seven of India’s federal states. In the state of Odisha, which until 2011 was called Orissa and which became notorious in the year 2005 on account of the violent and unprovoked attacks against Christians there, the sisters run a hostel or boarding home for 40 schoolgirls whose homes are too far from the nearest school and who would therefore be unable to attend school otherwise. The girls belong to various faiths and ethnic communities, and the sisters seek to convey genuine Christian values to them while teaching them mutual respect, so that their boarding home is at the same time making a contribution to peaceful coexistence among the various religions and ethnic communities in the country.

 

 

 

***

At the present time the Holy Spirit Sisters have 15 young novices undergoing training. Aid to the Church in Need have promised the congregation $6,750 to help with the cost of their formation. Thank to help us to help them!

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

 

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!”

 


 

The Philippines: The Church in Jolo fighting the “forces of evil” – ACN

11.02.2019 in ACN International, AED Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, The Philippines

The Philippines:

The Church in Jolo fighting the “forces of evil”

“We will not allow this tragedy to divide and isolate us from the rest of the country.”

Jolo, province of Sulu – A small city in a military lockdown, an all-out war in the adjacent municipality against violent extremists, families in mourning after burying their dead, injured patients recovering in various hospitals, and some having to be amputated. Amidst all this, a local Church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo is doing its best to provide hope for the Christian minority while their Muslim partners rally their members to show a force of unity amidst the fear and pain, which this impoverished city in the province of Sulu is suffering.

The ceiling of the cathedral was damaged by the explosion.

 

This was the scene when the Aid to the Church in Need delegation visited the capital of the island of Jolo to express its solidarity with the victims just nine days after the fatal double bomb attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 27th January. This attack caused the death of 23 people, leaving 112 injured.

Discouraging Situation

News of arrests and surrender of suspected perpetrators has failed to lift the spirit of the residents. Even with the assurance of tight security, a well-organized ‘Tribute to the Victims’ managed to draw only a fraction of the expected audience. Many opted to stay at home. A few of the families are seriously thinking of leaving Jolo for good. The bombing was the last straw, breaking their resilience in the face of years of threats, kidnapping, assassinations and harassment by what they call “the forces of evil.”

The “forces of evil” are the Muslim extremists, mostly Abu Sayyaf supporters, who have been terrorizing Christian minorities for years. Among their crimes are the killing of Bishop Benjamin (Ben) of Jesus in February 1997 in the Cathedral and two other priests, Claretian Father Roel Gallardo kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2002 and Father Rey Roda, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, in 2008. The victims of violence are not only Christians, because terrorists also kidnap Muslims with the intention of obtaining ransom to finance their actions.

Sources consulted by ACN name members of Ajang Ajang – a faction of Abu Sayyaf composed of drug traffickers and criminals, as the perpetrators of the latest attack at the headquarters of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo.

However, the messages from military, local government, traditional leaders, lay partners visited by ACN are constant: the persecution was not done by Muslims but a small minority of violent extremists.

A call to stay united

“No bullet or bomb can destroy the harmonious relationship between Muslims and Christians in Jolo,” states Fr. Romeo Saniel, OMI. He has lived on the island for 18 years and was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo just a few weeks ago. As the pastor of a small minority (one percent of the whole population of 120,000), he is revered and admired by the people for his commitment to provide quality education and opportunities to the younger generation of Tausug (Sulu’s indigenous ethnic group), as well as his courage and determination to reach out to the former fighters of the Moravian Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“The only way for peace to be lasting is for both Muslims and Christians to stand together. We will not allow this tragedy to divide us and isolate us from the rest of the country,” remarks Datu Sakul Tan. As the patriarch of a powerful political clan, he is considered the most influential man in the whole of Sulu, and he strongly believes in the relevance of quality education provided by the Catholic Church for the locals.

Fr. Saniel, Administrator Apostolic of Jolo and ACN-Philippines Diirector, Jonathan Luciano.

The needs are clearly articulated by the clergy and lay people. Even as the armed forces of the Philippines aim to eliminate the Abu Sayaf Group, everyone agrees that it doesn’t guarantee peace. Those who die will simply be replaced by the younger generation.

To Find Solutions Against Extremism

Fr. Saniel and Datu Sakul Tan both concur that a long-term need is to provide young people with programmes to prevent violent extremism through formal education, awareness campaigns, the creation of productive work for young people to provide them with livelihoods, and the development of sport.

On the other hand, Fr. Jeff Nadua, OMI, Rector of the Cathedral, points to the need to rebuild the Christian community first and then rehabilitate the cathedral. “We need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”

The National Director of ACN Philippines, Jonathan Luciano, paid a solidarity visit to the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo on 4 and 5 February 2019. He visited the seriously damaged Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and spoke with the Apostolic Administrator, Fr. Romeo Saniel, OMI, as well as some relatives of the victims. 

 


 

 

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.

***

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.


 

Release of Asia Bibi : “A Triumph of Human Rights”

30.01.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN NEWS, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, Asia, By Mario Bard, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pakistan, Press Release, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

 Press Release – Release of Asia Bibi

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is relieved by the definitive release of Asia Bibi.

Montréal, Tuesday, January 30, 2019 – “This is a great day for the respect of human rights, for religious freedom and for justice. The Pakistani government didn’t allow the extremists who took to the streets with violence to influence them,” declared Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN).

The international Catholic charitable organization, which regularly provides information on the issue of religious freedom in the world, and particularly on the issue of Christians persecuted because of their faith, is celebrating today. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “Today’s decision is a triumph of human rights over religious intolerance, a victory of the law over the hatred of fanatics – and above all, personal happiness and great joy for Asia Bibi and her family”.

“Now, I would like the family to spend beautiful moments together and to savour the newfound freedom,” indicated Ms. Lalonde. She reminds us that, throughout the nine years of detention, many ACN benefactors prayed for her release. “Many prayed for her and this shows that faith really can move mountains,” she added, very moved by the events. “What’s most important is that Ms. Bibi is free, and that she can at last be reunited with her loved ones.”

At least 224 others accused since 1984

If Asia Bibi is free at last, there are 25 Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy who are still in prison, some of whom are awaiting execution. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “ACN will continue to pray and work for them with other organizations and project partners in Pakistan. We can only hope that the court’s decision will at least cause the government to rethink its position and that the blasphemy laws will be relaxed or better respected.”

Marie-Claude Lalonde is sad to say that, “in Pakistan, the blasphemy law can be invoked to accuse one’s neighbour in order to resolve an unrelated dispute. We hope that the signal given with the decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court is a step in the right direction.”

Pakistan is part of the sad list of 38 countries identified in ACN’s 2018 Abridged Report on Religious Freedom as a country where violations of religious rights are significant. The situation has even worsened for religious minorities in 2018, with the country’s President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops describing “an alarming increase in violence, intolerance and extremism.” *

Summary of the story

Asia Bibi is a Catholic woman who is now 51 years old. In the fall of 2009, she was in the fields with other women, harvesting the crops. During a break, she drank from the same well as the other women, but these women considered that Asia had just contaminated it since she is not Muslim.  Asia replied, the situation escalated and her colleagues accused her of blasphemy. After a hearing, she was found guilty of blasphemy according to the laws in effect in Pakistan. In 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Thanks to the persistence of the country’s Christian community, her lawyers and international organizations denouncing this situation, Asia Bibi was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31, 2018. A fundamentalist group wanted to appeal this decision, which forced Asia Bibi to remain in the country, in hiding, for her protection. Finally, on January 29, 2019, the Supreme Court definitively rejected the request to appeal and Asia Bibi is finally free.  

In Pakistan, only 2% of the population is Christian, with a population of more than 192 million inhabitants, which is in majority Muslim.

*Page 38, Abridged Report on Religious Freedom in the World, available at the address https://files.acn-canada.org/2018/11/ACN-Religious-Freedom-Report-2018_CanENGL_WEB-1.pdf

ACN Editorial: A Summit for Pope Francis and Kim Jong-Un?

19.10.2018 in ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Johannes Klausa, South Korea

Korea

Italy, Rome 29.09.2017 Johannes Klausa (Director of ACN South Korea)at St. Peter Square in Rome

A Summit for Pope Francis and Kim Jong-Un?

Editorial by Johannes Klausa, National Director of ACN Korea

Last year in October, US President Donald Trump tweeted out to the world: “being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it now?” Just months before he had called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un “little rocket man” and threatened him with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

One year later, the tone on the Korean peninsula changed completely. The two Korean leaders have met three times after a peace- and charm offensive before and during the Olympic Winter Games paving the way for summits, family reunions, as well as a considerable amount of political and cultural exchange. Donald Trump also held a summit with Kim, now publicly praising his personality, calling him “very talented,” “a smart cookie,” and said he wants to see him again after the elections.

A rare glimpse of North Korea by a foreign delegation

The latest development in this almost theatrical performance: Kim Jong-Un reportedly would “enthusiastically” welcome the Holy Father, if he would be willing to visit Pyeongyang. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is en route to the Vatican next week, carrying in his briefcase an invitation for the Pontiff.

All this is a good reason to get excited, but not for everyone in Korea to applaud enthusiastically.
Although a majority of Koreans, especially the younger generation, seems euphoric about this prospect, there are voices heard, which would not welcome the Holy Father’s visit to the North. Many question the true motives and willingness of the “Young Marshal” to break with the politics of his father and grandfather. They doubt he would give up his nuclear arsenal and lead his country towards peace and reconciliation.

North Korea

For them, a Papal visit to Pyeongyang would look as if the Catholic Church would forgive crimes against humanity as well as the persecution of Christians even before the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Crimes have undoubtedly been committed by the brutal Kim dictatorship in the past. The Catholic Church, in the eyes of the critics, should be the advocate of the regime’s victims and denounce its crimes, rather than helping Kim to polish his negative image and offering a stepping-stone onto the world-stage and into the presidential palaces of the international community.
However, until now, nothing substantial has happened. The Vatican has not accepted the invitation. Neither is it the first time that Pyongyang called for a Papal visit. During the period of political rapprochement and the so-called “sunshine-policy” of former president Kim Dae-jung at the beginning of the new Millennium, Pope John Paul II was also invited to visit the DPRK. But the Holy Father did not accept.

Pope Francis at the Wednesday audience on St. Peter’s Place in Vatican City (Rome, Italy) during the ACN pilgrimage to Rome in Octobre 2013.

If Pope Francis should take the decision to travel to Pyeongyang, he would not do so naively. He could demand concessions, such as the acceptance of a permanent presence of priests in North Korea. Or, he could promise to come after “verifiable and irreversible” progress in other fields.
Should he accept the invitation, this would certainly not happen without a previous series of unofficial contacts and negotiations. The president of the Korean Bishop’s Conference and other religious leaders were also part of the delegation that personally met Kim Jong-un last month. Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-jong has already been to Pyeongyang with a delegation of South Korean bishops and priests a few years ago and was appointed presidential “special envoy to the Vatican” by South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who is himself a devout Catholic. Therefore, all critics can rest assured the Holy Father will take an elaborate and well-informed decision.

The Archbishop of Seoul and president of ACN Korea, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who is also Apostolic Administrator of Pyeongyang, recently said he was “waiting for the day” when he could send missionaries, priests as well as monks and nuns to North Korea, so that he could celebrate the sacraments together with them. He continued: “I knew that Pope Francis has a lot of concern for peace on the Korea Peninsula and that he prayed several times for us. So, I want all these efforts to work like a trigger for a ‘self-priming pump’ for peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

“When the groundwork is done, the Pope can go”, Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, another Korean bishop close to the Holy Father is quoted. The Holy Father’s visit would be a “gigantic step, a qualitative step for the Korean peninsula, for its pacification,” he said.

Catholics, regardless of their political views, should always trust that Our Lord will also watch carefully over these developments. Let us pray that – should Pope Francis make a historic journey to Pyongyang – will hold not only bilateral talks with Kim Jong-un but a trilateral summit led by the Holy Spirit. And that the Holy Spirit will guide the way to peace and stability in Korea and beyond.

ACN Project of the Week: Help for training young religious women in India

17.10.2018 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, Catholic Religious Sisters, India

India

Help for training young religious women

In Northeast India, the Catholic Church is still, relatively, young. In 2016, she celebrated 120 years of ministry in the country. However, in many parts of this region Catholic missionaries were only able to enter the region during the second half of the 20th century.

An isolated and underdeveloped region, marked by political unrest and conflicts, deep poverty and many other problems. However, the Church here is very much alive and vital. By now, there are almost 2 million Catholics inhabiting the region and the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is growing.

Junior Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod of North-East Delegation, Guwahati (2015 – 2017 )

 

The Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod have been working in Northeast India for 37 years and recently established a new regional province for the congregation in the city of Guwahati, in the state of Assam. The congregation has 18 convents housing 96 professed Sisters who care in particular for physically and mentally disabled children and for the sick. They also help young girls from poor family backgrounds who are unable to stay in school, teaching them useful practical skills such as needlework, sewing and darning, or making handmade decorations, that may help them later on to support themselves financially.

Nursing Student Sisters. Borgaon, district in Assam.

 

They help families and women, giving encouragement, counselling – striving to convey the love of God for all through their lives. Because the Church in this region is still relatively young, there is a great deal still to be done.

At present, there are 28 religious Sisters still in formation. Like most of the Catholics in this region, they also come from poor families and from the ethnic minorities. This congregation needs financial help in order to be able to provide them with a solid spiritual and vocational formation. Some will even pursue university studies to help them better confront the many challenges they face.

ACN is proposing a contribution of $25,368 to help them plant the seeds of faith that they become deeply rooted in people’s hearts and souls.

Are you in inspired by this projects supporting religious Sisters? If you would like to help create more projects such as this, simply click to donate and select ‘Project of the Week’.