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By Maria Lozano

 

ACN Interview: Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa, Nicaragua

09.08.2019 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Nicaragua

NICARAGUA

“The unity of the Church is the greatest strength that we bishops have”

Nicaragua is still shaken by the crisis that began 14 months ago. The country continues to make headlines as it did in mid-June with the pardoning of almost one hundred people who were still imprisoned for protesting against the government the year before.

This matter was also addressed at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States held in Medellín from June 26 to 28. The situation in the Central American country is critical, with a great degree of polarization and a lot of confrontation. Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa talked about it during his visit to the international headquarters of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Published on the web, Friday August 9, 2019

 

ACN: What is the situation in Nicaragua after more than 14 months of crisis?
We are living in a situation that is critical both socio-politically and economically. There is a great degree of polarization in Nicaragua, a lot of confrontation. We as a Church bring the people a word of hope to create the bedrock and foundation for our own narrative. It is about the hope for a better future in a country where the next generations can live in peace, justice and progress within the framework of institutionalized democracy, of course one that has a social orientation for the poor, as the Latin American bishops declared in Puebla in the 1970s.

The bishops played an important role in the entire process during the severe crisis in 2018: is the Church now less involved than it was then?
The Nicaraguan Church is directly committed to the narrative of its country. It feels and sees itself as a people, a nomadic and a pilgrim people, as a working people, who believe in themselves and are of course directed by the hand of God. I believe that we Nicaraguans have the potential to develop this as our future.

As regards the future of the country, those most affected by the crisis were the many young people who had tried to give voice to their protests. Doubtless, youth is one of the groups that suffered the most under the crisis. Would you agree?
Pope Francis says that young people are the now of God. Which is why young people in Nicaragua are writing history. They are developing their own narrative. That is why all of living society, both young people and adults, has to overcome transitory things and focus its thoughts and energy on ensuring that future generations will inherit a better country.

nicaragua-bishop

A number of media sources and social networks reported that there was a certain degree of disharmony in the Nicaraguan Church and different fractions in the Church. Is this statement true?
With all due respect: I see this as the complete and utter opposite of our reality and even anachronistic, obsolete, because the Church in Nicaragua may have been fragmented in the 1980s, when the famous “Church of the People” emerged all over Latin America with its so-called “Theology of Liberation”. A number of theologians have presented several aspects of this incorrectly, because any genuine theology is liberating.

Our Church is more unified than ever. This is made very clear by the fact that we have been able to achieve a very prophetic work with the help of the Holy Ghost. This includes the proclamation of hope: to keep your eyes open to the reality we live in today, but aspire to a better future and speak out against every injustice. If the Church in Nicaragua were not united, then it would not be able to realise this prophetic work, this prophetic mission. This would quite simply be impossible. I can also confirm that the unity of the Church, the unity of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, is currently the greatest strength that we bishops have in our country.

 

What is the next challenge that you will have to face? What is the next step that you as a Church will have to take?
We Nicaraguans are responsible for our now. We have to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to be able to develop a better future. Shared responsibility means knowing and feeling that each of us is responsible for his own narrative, for our narrative and that we can and must change the narrative for the better. We can look back on more than 190 years of history, a history which found us very fragmented and divided and embroiled in confrontation. This made it difficult to build up a solid and stable country. I think that it is the duty of the Church not to neglect this responsibility in its prophetic mission and to play a role in the transition that the narrative of Nicaragua is currently making. A transition that can be achieved by all of us sitting together at the table, each at his or her place, without excluding anyone, and breaking bread together in dignity.

And of course we must continue to proclaim hope in the viability of our country. We must not lose hope – I believe that this is vital and a challenge for the Nicaraguan Church.

One last question: What would you like to say to benefactors of ACN throughout the world? What can we do for your country?
I really like the name of the charity – Aid to the Church in Need – because the Church truly is in need. It needs prayer and hope in order to be able to continue to work prophetically. The Church must continue to become the people and open its doors to all without discrimination. We are all the poor widow: not only those who have a lot of money, but also those who have very little.

The secret is in the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “to give until it hurts.” That is why I say to the benefactors of ACN: “Continue to do what you have done in the past without fear, until it hurts, by giving a part of that which you have to live on. Because by doing so you are giving us life.”

ACN News – Lies which “create a psychosis of war”

03.08.2018 in ACN NEWS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Nicaragua

Nicaragua

Lies which “create a psychosis of war”

Sources close to the Catholic Church in Nicaragua are accusing the media in the country of a lack of neutrality. News reports about the grave crisis the country has been going through in recent months should be treated with caution. This applies especially with regard to the stories being posted on social media, many of which are false – for example the fake news spread last week about the murder of Bishop Abelardo Mata of the diocese of Estelí.

“The war that we are currently living through in our country is also a media war, where the major part of this conflict is being played out,” the same source, which prefers to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). At the same time, stating that “the lies, the confusion, the obscurantism that we are facing right now are almost as dangerous as the bullets being fired, because they are creating a psychosis of war, a psychosis of fear.”

A lack of impartiality is to be found on both sides of the conflict in the Central American country. “The state media don’t report when there has been a police or paramilitary shooting, and if they do they blame it on the Maras,” (organized criminal gangs). Media that oppose the Government invent unfounded rumours. “They don’t report if police or people aligned with the regime are killed, or if the offices of the local Town Hall are set on fire.” An example of this was “the killing of three peasant farmers last Sunday for being closely linked to the Sandinista front. But this news was ignored by media not belonging to the Sandinista front.”

Our source also explained one of the most serious concerns is the radicalization of both sides that has taken place since the conflict began. On April 18 of this year, a call went out to people on social networks to protest against reforms of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, which included an increase in taxes paid by Nicaraguan workers and at the same time cuts in pensions and social security payments.
The confrontations erupted when supporters of President Daniel Ortega also came out on the streets in support of the reforms. Since then the repression and violence by pro-government paramilitary forces against the protesters has grown worse.

“It is important to remember that 30 years ago there was a civil war in Nicaragua. Now the wounds have reopened, and indeed even deepened. It is hatred.” For this reason, the most urgent thing at present is to establish “a process of reconciliation. The true apostles are those who speak of pardon, pardon, pardon.”
For his part Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the international president of ACN, has responded to the call by the Nicaraguan bishops in their last press release on July 14 and re-emphasized the importance of the prayer campaigns for Nicaragua that have been initiated in various different countries by the pontifical charity ACN.

 

Nicaragua, diocese of Managua, diocese of Yangon 

“In difficult times, such as the one Nicaragua is living through at the moment, the people see the Church as a great source of moral support. For this reason, it is essential to support the Church in its difficult task. The central mission of ACN is to combine its pastoral aid program with information, in order to draw the attention of the entire Christian community and indeed the whole world to this painful and violent crisis. For prayer is the motor and driving force of all change,” Cardinal Piacenza added.

 

ACN Interview – South Sudan

20.01.2017 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Journey with ACN, South Sudan

Photo: Displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan, January 2017

South Sudan

Daily conflict for ordinary citizens

South Sudan, located in the heart of Africa, is the youngest nation in the world; it gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. Two years later, a civil war broke out, pitting the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) against the opposition; the conflict has since become a brutal tribal war.

The “Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,” signed by both factions in August 2015, brought but temporary peace, with fighting flaring up again since last summer. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens of South Sudan are suffering from hunger and are caught in the midst of the fighting. The UN estimates that there are 1.7 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the country, 75 percent of whom are struggling to survive in the three states hardest-hit by conflict: Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei.

Maria Lozano of Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity, recently spoke with a pastoral worker in South Sudan who, preferring to remain anonymous, explains the roots of the crisis and describes the plight of the people.  

Displaced People in Riimenze, South Sudan

 

 

ACN: Can you describe the political situation in South Sudan? 

The president part SPLA has won the battle against the former vice-president; he represents one main tribe in South Sudan. The situation is very complex, as various tribes have been caught up in the fighting and several tribes are being brutally suppressed by the army, which considers them to be “rebels.” The army is responsible for the killing of innocent civilians and the destruction of homes. The region has a complex history, marked by many wars. South Sudan, which is mostly Christian, broke away from Sudan, which is mostly Islamic. Also, the local traditional tribal culture has not yet had the benefit of economic, social and political development.

ACN: What role does tribal culture play in the conflict?

There is the mentality that holds that the tribe is the most important social unit, and that individual lives have to serve the tribes, as directed by councils of elders, even today. Many tribes coexist in South Sudan, fighting for cows as symbols of power and wealth. Conflict has never been rooted in hate or genocide; the pursuit of wealth was the cause of any fighting. In short, the people of South Sudan lack a sense of national identity. Their allegiance to their tribe comes first—and that often leads to conflict.

Displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan, January 2017

What is happening today, however, is that the leaders of different tribes fight, not for cows, but for political power and money (e.g. oil, timber, minerals). These elites care more for their own advantage than for the well-being of the people, many of whom are starving; inflation in the country has hit 800 percent!

Perhaps the worst aspect of the conflict is that tribal leaders present their struggle for political and economic power as an ethnic conflict— which it is definitely not. The members of different tribes do not hate each other; they are traumatized by endless wars and conflict; they want a peaceful society, but the ambition of their leaders is obstacles to peace.

 

ACN: What is the impact of the conflict on ordinary citizens?

Ordinary people are suffering in many ways: first, they have to leave their lands when conflict erupts; they lose all their possessions—cattle, homes, land. They become IDPs or they flee the country to become refugees. In either case, they are forced to live in camps where there is lack of food and water; where there are no schools—where, in short, there is no future. Ordinary life cannot proceed—the people are in survival mode. Most of the families have lost loved ones in the fighting; some have been recruited by force, even children; women suffer rape and violence, and then are stigmatized because of being violated. The inflation is so high that people almost cannot buy anything, making them completely dependent on international aid, which is not sufficient. There is a grave shortage of medical care, in particular, and there are growing number of deaths among the elderly, women and children.

ACN: Some have used the term “ethnic cleansing.” Is that appropriate?

Again, there is no ethnic hate among the people of different tribes; but animosity is caused by the actions of the leaders of the country, or, sometimes, by the desire for revenge after so much suffering. A local tribe that suffers attacks by the army—with most soldiers belonging to a different tribe—will naturally react and enter into what then appears to be an ethnic conflict.

Children in camps for displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan

ACN: Could you mention particular incidents you are particularly moved by?

Two workers at one of our projects—targeted as alleged rebels because they didn’t want to join the army by force, nor surrender—were tortured and burned alive inside their small “tukuls” (houses). This happened a few weeks ago. With a local church as a base, we are assisting more than 3000 people who have escaped their homes fearing the same fate. In another community, only the houses of the people belonging to a particular tribe—other than the tribe to which local leaders belong—were looted and destroyed; their owners lost all they had. Burned out homes and dead bodies are common sights in South Sudan.

 

ACN : Can you describe the work you are doing in the country?

We are in South Sudan to empower people, enabling them to build a more just and peaceful society. We work with the local Catholic Church—training teachers, nurses, midwives, and agricultural workers. We are also training pastoral agents, to prepare them for the work of evangelization, as well as peace-building and reconciliation efforts.

We also operate student centers. They come from different tribes and they live and study together peacefully—building a mentality of unity among themselves as a bulwark against ethnic hatred. These students become part of international communities, which include men and women religious, people from a variety of cultures. The result is a living witness that unity and fraternity are possible in South Sudan. We provide the students not only with an academic and professional formation, but also with a human and spiritual formation that can help bring real change to the country.

Displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan, January 2017

ACN : How has the conflict affected your work?

The conflict has affected us in different ways: we all are experiencing a great deal of stress because of the situation of insecurity. Our own community has suffered attacks from different factions; there even has been a case of rape. We have been robbed and were forced to shut down one of our mission stations. It is very difficult to find food and to get cash to pay for goods, which, again,  have gotten so very expensive. We have to increase security measures by installing permanent lighting and the building of walls and to organized the students’ formation programs in such a way that students go home only once, to avoid dangers on the open road and the high cost of travelling. It is proving harder to replace members of our communities who leave because of all the danger. But we remain committed to serve the people of South Sudan to the best of our abilities because it is our mission and vocation.

 

Interview by  Maria Lozano, Aid to the Church in Need 
Adapted by: Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office

 

Since its independence, ACN has supported projects in South Sudan with close to 6 million dollars.  The help went to supporting pastoral aid, Mass Offerings, the building of Church infrastructure, urgent help and subsistence aid.

 


 

Feature story – ACN rebuilds in Cameroon

27.11.2015 in Adaptation Mario Bard, AFRIQUE, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Maria Lozano, Cameroon, Nigeria, Voyager avec l’AED

Cameroon/Nigeria

ACN rebuilds following the destruction of Boko Haram

In 2014 the Jihadist group, Boko Haram, came to worldwide attention when it kidnapped 276 female students, aged 16 to 18, in Nigeria. The hashtag trended globally, with 2.3 million tweets, including postings by leaders like First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

The kidnapping, as terrible as it was, was only one incident in Boko Haram’s long reign of terror. In the past six years Boko Haram’s raids on villages in Nigeria and neighbouring countries have displaced 2.1 million people from their homes; 1.4 million of these were children, according to UNICEF.  Many have fled from the northern Nigerian territories once controlled by Boko Haram into the interior of Cameroon.  Vast numbers of Cameroon’s own citizens, especially those along its frontier with Nigeria, have been displaced as well.

The group’s name, Boko Haram, means loosely “Western education is sinful.” The group’s targeting of schools, as in the case of the #BringBackOurGirls kidnapping, has been particularly devastating to Cameroon’s efforts to educate its children. Many schools in areas preyed upon by Boko Haram have simply been abandoned. In September of 2014, when students would normally be returning to school, 173 primary and secondary schools did not open their doors, leaving 25,000 students without a place to be educated.

Many of those students have moved into the Maroua-Mokolo diocese. This has created an enormous need for additional resources to be devoted to education.

 

Maroua Mokolo: Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo (Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo ) and Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme (from the diocese of Maiduguri in Nigeria) at a camp for refugees and displaced people

Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo (Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo ) and Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme (from the diocese of Maiduguri in Nigeria) at a camp for refugees and displaced people

Education is an expression of Christ’s love

Under the leadership of Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo, and his Vicar General, Monsignor Gilbert Damba, the Maroua-Mokolo diocese is responding. With support from the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), this year the Maroua-Mokolo diocese will pay school fees and provide school supplies for 1,000 displaced children. These children are being selected from among those in greatest need. Half of these scholarship students will be girls.

Other support will be extended as well, including the establishment for the children of official documents like birth certificates. Psychological counseling will be provided for those who have been most traumatized. These diocesan scholarship students will be spread over about fifty elementary and secondary schools, with each student attending the school closest to him or her.

The Maroua-Mokolo diocese will be enlarging facilities at its Catholic schools as well, building five new classrooms.  The displaced children’s program of the Maroua-Mokolo diocese is demonstrating that education is an expression of Christ’s love for each child, each person.  ACN has given $108,000 to help with the realization for this love.

 

By Harold Fickett / Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

ACN FEATURE: South Sudan – And the indescribable suffering of its people

09.07.2015 in ACN International, By Maria Lozano, Refugees, Sudan

South Sudan

 And the indescribable suffering of its people                    

Representatives of the international pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) travelled to South Sudan recently, where they were told first-hand about the terrible situation of the refugees and internally displaced peoples uprooted by the current conflict in the states of Upper Nile and Unity in this new Republic. On July 9, it will be four years since independence was gained by this, the youngest country in the world, which has subsequently been torn apart by internal rivalries and tribal struggles, ever since the eruption of a “political crisis” in December 2013 – as the South Sudanese describe the bitter conflict in the north of the country.

850,000 refugees from South Sudan

This fierce armed conflict between the forces loyal to the government of President Salva Kiir and the rebels allied to the former vice president Riek Machar has forced more than 2 million people from their homes, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the information published on July 3 by this organization, there are currently over 850,000 refugees from South Sudan now living in Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan and Kenya, while there are around 1 ½ million people internally displaced within South Sudan[1].

Beneficiaries from Khorfilus, Jonglei

“The suffering of the people in Upper Nile is inexplicable. They are left on their own,” local sources told ACN. “We have lived through situations of war in the past, but the brutality and violence of the struggles this time is indescribable. Especially the attacks on women and children, and also on people who are entirely external to the conflict between the two gangs. Up until a few weeks ago the women from the refugee camps in Upper Nile State used to leave the refugee camp to collect grass and berries to eat, since there is immense hunger there. But there were a number of cases of rape and physical violence, and some of the women never returned to the camp. It is like being in a prison inside your own country, and yet at the same time it is the only place people feel safe”, ACN staff were told by one of the nearly 20,000 registered civilians seeking protection in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) “Protection of Civilians” site in Malakal.

“Nevertheless, even inside the camp we have to be careful. There has been deliberately targeted shooting from the trees, into the interior of the camp, above all into the part of the camp where the refugees of the Shilluk tribe are concentrated”, the refugees report. This information was also confirmed by the UNMISS[2]. The people of the Shilluk tribe, the third largest numerically within the country, live on both banks of the River Nile, close to the town of Malakal, and have been among the most seriously affected, collaterally, by the conflict between the Dinka and the Nuer tribes.

When the Republic of South Sudan was created in 2011, a balance between the largest and most powerful ethnic groups in the country was aimed for: by naming Salva Kiir, a dinka, president and Riek Machar, a nuer, vice-president. What started as a political power crisis between the two in December 2013, has quickly become a deeper conflict of vast antagonism between the two ethnic groups. A number of local sources – corroborated by the humanitarian organisations – have accused both parties in the conflict of acts of “genocide” and extreme tribalism. There have been numerous cases of violence, rape, pillaging, vandalism and even murder of civilians unconnected either with the rebels or with the army, simply on account of their belonging to a particular ethnic group. At the same time there is serious but deliberate and underhand failure to cooperate and even obstruction by both sides, effectively preventing access to the aid and food supplies for the refugees and displaced peoples in the UNHCR refugee camps.

Basic pleas of refugees

20 tonnen Hirse (220 sacks), Malut nach Tonga to help 8 villages

This drastic situation has meant that the number of South Sudanese seeking refuge in the northern neighbour Sudan has been increasing every day. According to information from UNHCR, just since May 2015 almost 30,000 people have crossed the border from the South to take refuge in the camps that have opened in the North. Altogether there are estimated to be more than 90,000 refugees here, above all in the refugee camps of White Nile State – South from Kosti – but also in Kordofan, Blue Nile State and around Khartoum. Although their situation is undoubtedly better than that of the refugees in their own country, their living conditions are far from ideal.

One of the basic pleas of the refugees who have ended up in these camps in the northern state of Sudan is for an end to the ban on UN agencies gaining access to the camps, since at present only Sudanese government organisations are permitted to enter them. ACNUR is able to provide basic services only via the Sudanese government channels, since they are not permitted to enter directly into the refugee camps. Moreover, the security situation in these camps leaves much to be desired, since there is no proper control on those entering and leaving the camps in order to protect the safety of the refugees. There have been local reports of attacks, robberies and abuse of the women refugees by persons from outside the camps. In such cases the refugees have no one to turn to for help.

Another major problem is the refusal by Sudan to officially grant refugee status to the people coming from South Sudan. The government of Sudan, from which South Sudan broke away to become independent four years ago, continues to treat them as “brothers and sisters” who are returning to their own country. There is no process of registration and no formal process whereby these people can acquire refugee status. Yet despite the official claims by the Sudanese government that it is treating refugees from the South as citizens of Sudan, “the treatment of the citizens from this newly independent country is by no means equal, even when they possess an identity card. For example many of the women work as domestic servants in Khartoum, in order to survive. There are many complaints of ill-treatment and abuse.

Women, children, who fled Malakal and are hiding in the bush sin

The same is true of the men who seek work, and who are paid low wages for long hours of work, since they do not possess any legal papers,” ACN representatives were told by sources close to those affected. The UN conventions on the status of refugees grant formal recognition to their refugee status and would thereby allow these refugees to obtain work permits and enjoy legal protection.

 

 

 

[1]  http://data.unhcr.org/SouthSudan/download.php?id=2122

[2]   http://www.unmiss.unmissions.org/Portals/unmiss/%20Press%20Releases/2015/July%202015/Press%20release%20on%20shooting%20of%20civilians%20at%20protection%20site%20in%20Malakal%20–%201%20July%202015.pdf