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ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

17.06.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Engy Magdy, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

In January of last year, Adeeb Nakhla, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or condition. A relative of Nakla’s shares the story with Engy Magdy of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  Here is what they said:

Egypt 

‘We fear torture and savage death’

by Engy Magdy, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website June 17,2019

 

On January 17, 2019, around 9am, Nakhla, 55, was traveling from Ismailia to Al-Arish to visit relatives, when a militant Islamic group stopped the minibus he was riding in and checked the national identity cards of those on board. The cards state religious affiliation, and when the militants saw that Nakhla was a Christian, they asked him to get out of the vehicle. He was taken away.

 

A city under siege

 

Nakhla had fled Al-Arish two years ago, as did dozens of Christian families who moved to Ismailia after receiving death threats. A relative, who spoke to ACN on condition of anonymity, said that many Coptic Christians who chose to stay were slaughtered: “We left Al-Arish in 2017, after terrorists killed seven of our neighbours. Among the dead were a father and son; they burnt their bodies and their home, and the mother, Nabila, was forced to watch. She is severely traumatized.”

 

Last year, Nakhla’s family returned to Al-Arish, where family members work and own property; Nakhla stayed in Ismailia for his job. Nakhla’s relative said: “We had to return to our home and work. We were unemployed in Ismailia, and we lived on aid from the Church. Conditions in the city have improved thanks to the Egyptian army’s stepped-up campaign against terrorist groups, though it is still dangerous on the road.”

 

He continued: “Militants affiliated with ISIS have staged ambushes on the highways and launched attacks on civilians and security forces. The Muslim driver of the communal taxi Adeeb rode in said that militants stopped the vehicle and started to check national identity cards. When they saw that Adeeb was a Christian, they asked him to get out. Our biggest fear is that they may abuse, torture, and kill him, just as savagely as they have other Copts.”

 

Violence towards Coptic Christians in Egypt has increased since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Most attacks have occurred in northern Sinai, where, according to the Gospel, the Holy Family entered Egypt. In 2012, unknown assailants issued a handwritten statement demanding that all remaining Copts leave the border city of Rafah; since then, a number of local Copts have been kidnapped and killed by terrorist groups.

 

Egypt: A paradox

 

Terrorist groups are still very much present in Egypt.  However, the paradox finally revealing itself is good news, for since 2016, the authorities have regulated, restored or built 984 Christian places of worship.  (Source: Église dans le monde)

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – A library for a Catholic centre in Egypt

16.08.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, egypt, Project of the Week

Egypt

Equipping the library in the Diakonia Development Center 

Sheraton-Heliopolis is the name of one of the newer suburbs of Cairo that did not even exist a few decades ago. Named after the original Sheraton hotel, close to the international airport, which was at first the only existing building there at the time, it is now a busy suburb of over 400,000 people.

 

The Catholic Church has established a pastoral centre here, named the Diakonia Development Center, to serve the various pastoral and social needs of the Catholic parish community. It is here that the children and young people of the Good Samaritan group also meet.

The plan is to establish a small library in the centre for the 150 or so children and young people who regularly come here, mainly to help them become more familiar with the Holy Scriptures. For it is especially important for them, as a religious minority, to have a sound knowledge of the Bible, since they are often asked questions and need to be able to respond in a coherent and clear way.

Sometimes the questions are put to them in a deliberately provocative or manipulative way, making it very important for these Christian children to deepen and extend their knowledge of the Scriptures from an early age, and especially to cultivate a good understanding of those passages in the Bible that are often used or abused by non-Christians to attack their faith.

 

Finally, it is very important for these young people and for their own personal development to be able to understand how God leads them and guides them by his Providence. In this way, they come to know Jesus Christ better and believe more deeply in his love. For as Saint Jerome wrote, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

 

ACN has promised $5,285 to furnish this library!

 

https://secure.acn-canada.org/donate/donation/#utm_source=MAIN_WEBSITE&utm_medium=DONATE_BUTTON&utm_campaign=REDIRECTS

Are you in inspired by this projects supporting seminarians? If you would like to help create more projects such as this, simply click to donate.

 

Egypt – “My mother was killed by a terrorist while she was helping him”

03.05.2018 in ACN Feature, egypt, Engy Magdy, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Julie Bourdeau, Middle East

Picture: Bullet hole in portrait of late Pope Kyrillos VI, in corridor of St. Mina Church in Cairo

Egypt

“My mother was killed by a terrorist while she was helping him”

Testimony of the daughter of one of the victims of the attacks in Cairo last December.

 

Gunmen attacked worshippers leaving a Coptic Orthodox church on the southern outskirts of Cairo on Dec. 29, 2017. ISIS subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place some 10 minutes after the conclusion of Mass at St. Mina Church and killed nine people. One of the victims was a young mother, Nermeen Sadiq. Her 13-year-old daughter Nesma Wael was at her side when she was shot. Nesma gave the following account of the ordeal to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“After Mass ended, I left the church with my cousin and my mother. My mom wore a cross around her neck, and all three of us were not wearing veils. In poorer neighbourhoods, Muslim women often wear veils so they are distinguished from Christian women.

“As we turned into a side street, we saw someone on a motorcycle heading toward the church. The next thing we knew, the man crashed his bike after hitting a pothole. My mother ran up to him to help, reassuring him, as she said: “In the name of Jesus Christ, are you okay?” He got up quickly and in the blink of an eye he opened fire on us with an automatic weapon he pulled out from under his vest.

Egypt, Cairo 2018: Nesma (13) and her sister Karen (8). They lost her mother during an attack in December 2017. “This is my message to all the persecuted people around the world: ‘Do not be afraid! Our lives are in God’s hands and we have to adhere to our faith.’”

 

“As soon as my cousin and I saw the weapon, we hid behind Mom, who shouted at us to run away; the terrorist first shot her in the arm, while she was trying to protect us; as we ran away, she fell down and could not escape with us. The distance between us and the terrorist when he first took out his machine gun was no more
than a few feet. My cousin and I ran into a small supermarket, where the sales girl hid us behind the refrigerator; from our hiding spot, we watched the attacker looking for us. When he couldn’t find us, he turned to Mom again and fired more shots at her.

“All this happened in a few minutes. After the gunman left, we ran to my mother. Many people had gathered, but they all refused to touch my mom, to turn her over, even though she was still alive. I kept screaming for someone to help me, but no one did. I reached my uncle, who came right away.

“An ambulance pulled up, but the emergency workers refused to move Mama into the ambulance until they got permission from the security officials who were out in the streets, hunting for the terrorist, as well as another shooter who had attacked people in front of the church.

“A gun battle erupted, and people fled. My cousin, my uncle and I stayed with my mother. She looked at me, saying: “Do not be afraid, I’m with you. Obey your father and take care of your sister.”

“My mother remained lying in the street for about an hour. After the shooting stopped, I went back to the church to fetch my younger sister Karen, who is eight, and had remained in church because the service for children had not finished yet—I saw three people I knew lying in pools of blood in front of the church; I knew they had been killed.

Candles in a coptic orthodox Church in Cairo

“By the time mom was taken into the ambulance she had died.

“Today, I do not walk the streets alone anymore. My father always goes with me anywhere. Despite the pain inside my heart—I miss my mother desperately—I am happy because she is a martyr and I don’t feel afraid of the terrorists anymore. I was with her at the time of the attack and did not even get injured: it was God’s will to specifically choose her to go to heaven.

“I do not want to leave my country, but I certainly want to find a better chance to live and study, especially since our financial situation isn’t good. My dad, who is 35, works as a driver, but he has no regular work; my mother provided the main source of income for our family; she was a nurse at the Cairo Kidney Center. I hope to become a doctor of nephrology; that was my mom’s dream for me.

 

“This is my message to all the persecuted people around the world: ‘Do not be afraid! Our lives are in God’s hands and we have to adhere to our faith.’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Egypt: “Help our faithful to stay”, asks Coptic Pope

29.03.2018 in ACN Interview, By John Pontifex, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Persecution of Christians

Coptic Pope: ‘Help our faithful to stay’

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church has called on a Catholic charity to redouble its efforts to help Christians stay in the Middle East. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II made the plea at a meeting with Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), during a visit to Egypt. Pope Tawadros said: “I would ask you please to support the presence of Christians in this land and in the Middle East.

“Christians are a vital presence – and a buffer in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shi‘as. “Please do not help the Christians to leave, but help them to stay.

Egypt, 22. March 2018
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (© Aid to the Church in Need), during a visit to Egypt.

“Everyone needs the stability which comes with the presence of Christians.” Aid to the Church in Need is supporting projects in Egypt, including repair of churches and convents – particularly those destroyed by extremist violence in 2013 after the fall of President Morsi –, assistance for youth work, and Mass stipends for priests. ACN is also helping Christians to stay in Iraq by rebuilding towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains destroyed by the extremist group Daesh (ISIS).

At the meeting with Mr. Kyrke-Smith on Tuesday evening (20th March), Pope Tawadros said the attacks by Daesh and other extremist groups on Egypt’s Christians were intended to destroy the good relations between different groups within Egyptian society. He said: “The situation in Egypt has improved and is more stable…

“The attacks in recent years were not so much attacks against Christians, Muslims or security forces, but attacks against national unity. “The attackers wanted to destroy unity – but we stand and we pray … trying to give an example like Jesus Christ with an open heart and open arms for all.” Pope Tawadros also stressed the importance of building bridges not only with other Christians, but with other faiths, stating that the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, was of “great significance”. He said the April 2017 meeting with Pope Francis was important for both Churches.

He went on: “It was very good to pray together with the heads of the Churches in Egypt in the chapel of St. Peter at St. Mark’s Cathedral.” Pope Tawadros added how welcome he had felt when he visited Rome in 2013 and first met Pope Francis. Mr. Kyrke-Smith also met with the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak, who also said that there were signs of change for the better. Patriarch Sidrak said: “Recent developments including the visit of Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Pope’s meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the visit of Pope Francis are important steps of hope for all Egyptians.

“Pope Francis gave us a lot of encouragement – the prayer service involving Pope Tawadros in the chapel of St. Peter at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria was very significant, as was the Mass held at the sports stadium in New Cairo.”

 


 

ACN Press Release – Pope Francis in Egypt

27.04.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN Interview, ACN PRESS, Africa, By Mario Bard, egypt, Jesuits, Journey with ACN, Pope Francis

Pope Francis in Egypt

“Re-knitting ties with Islam”

 

Montreal, April 27, 2017 – Father Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and specialist in Islam, and a professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome, visited the Canadian national office of Aid to the Church in Need last Thursday (20 April 2017). An Egyptian himself, born in Cairo, he gave us this interview in light of the forthcoming visit of the Pope to Egypt. We asked his views on the papal visit, on the importance of dialogue between Islam and Christianity and the fear of seeing the Middle East emptied of Christians. Here are some extracts from the interview.

Father Samir: Pope Francis wants to ”Reknit the ties with Islam”.

 

He spoke to Mario Bard of ACN Canada.

 

ACN: What would you say to Pope Francis in regard to his approaching visit to Egypt? Would you tell him to stay in Rome or to go ahead with his visit?

Father Samir: Being the man he is, I think he must go. He is not someone who is afraid. At the same time, considering the possibility of an assassination attempt, I believe that Egypt will do the impossible to protect him and ensure that there are no dangerous elements around – if only for their own sense of honour. Looking at it this way, I think that everything should go ahead normally.

And besides, there is the character of Pope Francis himself, who might well say, “I’m not afraid of anything and I am in the midst of the people. And if I should die, well, I am like anyone else, simply because I happen to be in this place [where there is an attack].” So that might explain why he has decided to go ahead with his visit.

Moreover, for a long time now he has wanted to reknit the ties between the Vatican and Islam. And this is what he told me personally when I had a half-hour conversation with him a few months ago. He told me, “Why is it that I insist on the fact that Islam is a religion of peace? Because we need, first of all, to rekindle our friendship with the Muslims and with Al Azhar.”

 

Why is it necessary to “re-knit our ties.” What has happened?

Let me recall the context: there was the attack in Alexandria on the Coptic Church at Christmas, six years ago. Someone blew himself up and there were dozens of deaths. A few days later Pope Benedict XVI, in a meeting with the ambassadors of the Holy See, said: “I call on the president of the Egyptian Republic to protect the Christians.” In response Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, the rector of the Al Azhar University, declared that it was unacceptable for the Pope to interfere in Egyptian politics and broke off relations with Rome. Today, after a number of fruitless attempts, relations have resumed. And it was the principal aim of Pope Francis to re-establish relations with Islam and with the Al Azhar University in particular, which represents the majority of Muslims in the world – 80% or so. It represents an unassailable moral and intellectual authority for them.

 

Father Samir, why is it important to maintain an interreligious dialogue with Islam?

First of all, because Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with over 1.5 billion Muslims scattered in almost every country of the world. We cannot ignore it. Second, because Islam is a monotheistic religion, alongside Judaism and Christianity. And hence we have to be able to engage in dialogue with them. That is the essential aspect, I think. It is not a question of a political goal. It boils down to saying: let us endeavour to understand one another. In just the same way as we maintain a dialogue with the Jews.

 

People are saying that the Middle East is in the process of being emptied of Christians. What can be done to change the way this pattern? Even many Muslims do not want this situation to come about.

Most Muslims say, “We need the Christians.” Recently there was a radio broadcast in Egypt which impressed everyone. The theme of the eight-minute programme was the Christian schools which educated the intelligentsia of Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries.

People can also see Lebanon, which is the only country in the Arab world with a certain degree of parity, precisely because it was the Christians who built it – even though today they represent no more than 35% of the population. In the Parliament the Muslims want to retain the balance of 64 Muslims and 64 Christians, because they maintain that this is essential. It is recognized by all Muslims who think about it.

Besides, as to the disappearance of Christians in the Middle East, in Egypt it is they who are, so to speak, the indigenous ones! People are aware that if they wish to maintain the national conscience, they cannot eliminate the Christians. Unfortunately, for reasons that are political, economic and religious, the Christians are leaving, more and more. And what is happening at the moment is what is wanted by ISIS/Islamic state/Daesh. But they are fanatics. Globally speaking, the Muslims are not fanatics. They lack the courage to say that these people should be arrested. Instead of that they say: ‘it has nothing to do with Islam’, which resolves nothing. But in their heart of hearts, the majority of Muslims say, “no, it is shameful!”

What we must do now, if they are to stay, is to help them so that they can stay in their own homes. In Egypt that is not a major problem, owing to the large number of Christians (almost 10 million). But in Iraq and Syria, where the homes of the Christians have been destroyed, it takes enormous courage to stay on in the country. That is what the patriarchs are doing, including Patriarch Sako of the Chaldeans, of Babylon. He is fighting with all his strength to prevent the Christians from emigrating, to encourage them to remain, to save the local Church. And it is the same thing in Syria.

We have to help them to stay on. To help them financially as far as we are able, but also to help them morally by supporting them and attempting to put a stop to this crime which is ISIS.”

Aid to the Church in Need is helping 3000 young people from all over Egypt who will travel on pilgrimage to Cairo to be present for the visit of Pope Francis on 28 and 29 April. Their visit began on Tuesday 25 April and includes liturgical celebrations in various shrines on the road to Cairo, celebration of Holy Mass, confessions and a visit to the hospitals in Cairo the day before the arrival of the Pope. The group will include 250 representatives from every Catholic diocese in Egypt, in addition to the 1,000 participants from the capital itself.

 


 

Egypt – Pray for the affected families!

11.04.2017 in By Eva-Maria Kolmann, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II led the funeral for the victims of a bomb that exploded on 11.12.2016 during Sunday Mass
in a chapel at Cairo’s main Coptic Cathedral.

Egypt 

“Pray for the affected families!”

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut has called on the Christian faithful throughout the world to pray for the victims and families of the suicide bomb attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday yesterday (9 April), which claimed the lives of at least 44 people and have left a further 120 or more wounded.

He added that he himself has received numerous messages from all over the world, following the attacks, promising prayers and sympathy for him and for all the Christians of Egypt. “Prayer is the most important thing we can ask for at this time,” he told the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Essentially, it had not been altogether unexpected that there would be further attacks, he added. The attack in December 2016 on the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Cairo, in which nearly 30 people were killed, had been widely seen as a harbinger of things to come. “Our sense of security was not very strong,” Bishop Kyrillos explained. Nonetheless everybody had still been “surprised” by the attacks on Palm Sunday, since it was never possible to predict when and where such attacks would occur.

The bishop emphasized that both on the part of the state and on the part of the Church there is the intention to strengthen collaboration in order to be able to better protect the Christian churches. “I was visited by a security official who asked me what we need now. He made the suggestion that we could train young people and adults, so that all resources could be pooled in order to increase security. Here in Assiut there are 550 Christian churches. Thank God, nothing has happened here so far, but we are too little prepared for such events,” Bishop William acknowledged.

Images from St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo/Egypt on Sunday, April 7, 2013: Funeral ceremony for the victims of violence.

Asked about the danger of an exodus of Christians like that in Iraq or in Syria, Bishop Kyrillos expressed the conviction that these attacks would not create any large-scale exodus of Christians as a consequence. “In Egypt the people feel a close bond with their country and all of them see themselves as Egyptians – whether they are Christians or Muslims. There is a stronger sense of solidarity among the population here than elsewhere,” he added. However, he believes that the intention of the terrorists is to destroy this solidarity.

Asked about the planned visit of Pope Francis to Egypt, scheduled for 28th and 29th of April, Bishop William described this as “more important now than ever.” He is convinced that the trip will not be called off, since the Pope has  “shown the courage, precisely in such situations, to come and strengthen the people.” He is confident that the Pope will send out a clear message of peace.

 

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International
Adapted by: Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada


 

 

ACN Interview – Meeting between the Pope and Grand Imam

07.06.2016 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Journey with ACN, Pope, Pope Francis

Egypt

The ice has been broken

The meeting between Pope and Grand Imam received very positively in Egypt

 

Following the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of the Sunni al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayeb, on May 23 at the Vatican, hope soared in Egypt that the meeting would bring Christians and Muslims closer together.

 

“It was the first time that the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University visited the pope. It was clearly a very cordial meeting. You could see that from the body language and the familiarity between the Pope and the Grand Imam.

“We believe that this has broken the ice in the relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar University,” Father Rafic Greiche, the chief spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, said Wednesday, June 1, in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “The resumption of official dialogue, which was suspended by al-Azhar University in 2011, may not have been explicitly announced yet, but that is just a formality. I am firmly convinced that talks will resume.”

Father (Antoine) Rafic Greiche, a Greek Catholic priest and the press spokesman for the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Egypt. The departure of President Morsi has been seen as ''God's miracle''.

Father (Antoine) Rafic Greiche, a Greek Catholic priest and the press spokesman for the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Egypt. The departure of President Morsi has been seen by Christians as ” a God’s miracle”.

 

The most important Islamic institution of Egypt, which is highly respected throughout the Sunni world, had unilaterally suspended bilateral talks with the Holy See in 2011. The reason given for this was Pope Benedict XVI’s public admonition to better protect religious freedom in Egypt. Al-Azhar University considered this to be an inadmissible interference in the internal matters of Egypt. The former Pope made the statement in response to the bloody attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day in 2011 where 21 were left dead and more than 70 were wounded.

 

It concerns all Christians 

 

Father Rafic talked about the positive response to the meeting on the part of Egyptian media. “The meeting was headline news both on television as well as in the newspapers. In general, the comments were very positive.” Father Rafic then said that the encounter not only has an interreligious dimension, but also an ecumenical one. “The head of the Coptic Orthodox church, Pope Tawadros, had encouraged the Grand Imam to begin a dialogue with the Catholic Church on numerous occasions. A meeting like this and the resumption of talks naturally not only has an effect on the relationship between Muslims and Catholics, but also all Christians.”

 

The situation is really improving for Christians! 

 

Father Rafic emphasized that under the leadership of Grand Imam al-Tayeb, al-Azhar University is making an effort to reform the schoolbooks and textbooks used at the schools and institutions of higher education it oversees. “They are trying to use a new language with respect to us Christians. But there is still a lot left to be done. This is a process that will take years. However, it would be more critical to change the mindset of the imams than to change the books,” Father Rafic said.

 

Project trip of Agnieszka Dzieduszycka and Ilona BudzbonFather Rafic emphasized that the situation of the Christians in Egypt has vastly improved since Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted in July of 2013. “There is no comparison between the situation today and that during the government of the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, we have very good relations between church leaders and government agencies. However, there are still many problems, of course. But it is my impression that Muslims are growing more aware of our situation,” the Greek Catholic priest said. “Of course, the most pressing matter for us is the question of church building projects. This has been subject to massive restrictions up until this point. Five churches have now submitted draft legislation to parliament. President Sisi asked us to prepare a draft law. We hope that this parliamentary session will still deliberate upon and pass the draft legislation by October.

 

After all, we have never had as many Christian members of parliament and so many Muslims on our side. It will of course be opposed by the Salafist members. But there are not many of them. And so I am confident.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting the Catholic Church in Egypt for many years. In addition to numerous pastoral projects, it also promotes the building of churches.

 

Project trip of Agnieszka Dzieduszycka and Ilona Budzbon

 

By Oliver Maksan, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office

 

 

 

 


 

 

ACN Feature – Catholics in the Arab World

27.12.2015 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Brazil, By Oliver Maksan, egypt, Feature Story, Gaza, Lebanon, Middle East

Catholics in the Arab World

“We will pray for Daesh [the Islamic State] ”

The Holy Year of Mercy is hailed with joy from Iraq to Morocco – Catholic voices are heard throughout the Arab world 

The Holy Year of Mercy that was solemnly inaugurated by Pope Francis on December 8 in Rome is being hailed with joy by Catholics throughout the Arab world – from Morocco all the way to Iraq and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has gathered these impressions from across the Middle East.

Father Dankha Issa is a monk of the Alqosh Chaldean order. Last summer, hundreds of Christian refugees found refuge in the city after their villages were seized by jihadists. The ancient, exclusively Christian city is situated in the northern part of Iraq. As the crow flies, only about 15 kilometers separate the monastery of the Virgin in the Corn Field from the front line of the Islamic State. At night you can see the lights of the Islamic State from the mountains of Alqosh.

Au centre, le père Issa, qui a dû fuir la violence de l'ÉI en 2014. « Ce jubilé nous redonne espoir. Espérons donc que cette année éteindra le feu de la haine et apportera la paix. »

At the centre, Father Issa who fled the violence of IS in 2014 with an ACN delegation from several world offices.

“We are very thankful to Our Holy Father that he has proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. It is a time of grace for us,” the priest told ACN. He himself had been forced to flee IS from Mosul last June. “This Jubilee gives us new hope. Let us hope that this year will extinguish the fires of hate and bring peace.”

It is important for Father Dankha that the Christians of Alqosh experience the goodness of God that delivers us from sin. “In this year our attention is particularly drawn to how merciful God is with us sinners. God forgives us. But this also means that we have to forgive each other. Even the people of Daesh (IS), who have done so many evil things to us. After all, as a Christian you also have to love your enemies.” Father Dankha knows that this is anything but easy. “This is almost humanly impossible. But it is easier through faith. God is capable of everything.” Father Dankha’s particular wish is that the jihadists will change their ways. “Of course we hope that God will open and soften the hearts of the people of Daesh so that they cease their murderous doings. Let us pray that he will dispel the hate and violence in their hearts and let love take hold.”

His monastery wants to make it possible for the refugees to experience the mercy of God over the course of the year. “We will continue to support them with food and the like. However, we especially want to pray together, above all the rosary. This is what makes it possible for us suffering limbs of the Body of Christ to become one with the universal church and the Pope.”

To love as Jesus did

In Lebanon, Father Raymond Abdo wants to use the Holy Year as an opportunity to give a Christian response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. “The people who persecute Christians have to come into contact with Jesus Christ. Mercy thus means not allowing ourselves to hate these people,” the Carmelite from the northern city of Tripoli said. “We need the courage to pray for them and to love them. Because when they persecute Christians, they do not know what they are doing. This is what Jesus did on the cross.”

Le père Raymond Abdo, supérieur des carmes du Liban, en compagnie d'une religieuse. « La Miséricorde signifie donc de ne pas accepter de haïr ces gens »

Order of the discalced Carmelites in the Semi-Province of Lebanon: Rev. Fr. Raymond Abdo OCD (superior of the Carmelites in Lebanon)  in the company  of  a Sister

According to Father Raymond, what is decisive in this Year of Mercy is to love, as Jesus loved, people of other religions as well. “The church in the Middle East plays a role in many institutions that are visited by non-Christians. We have to love these people and show the mercy of the Gospels to them by example. Jesus did this with the Gentiles.” In the school in which he teaches, 65 per cent of the students are Muslim. “Respecting the Muslim students the same as the Christian ones: this is what mercy means to me.”

The Year of Mercy is also receiving attention in Gaza. Over the past years, the narrow Palestinian strip along the Mediterranean has experienced several Israeli-Palestinian wars leaving hundreds dead, thousands injured and tens of thousands homeless. Nowhere else is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as brutal as it is here.

More than 1.8 million people live in the densely populated area. There are only about 1,300 Christians. The number of Catholics is hardly higher than 160. Father Mario da Silva is the priest of the Catholic parish of the Holy Family, who are said to have passed through today’s Gaza Strip on their way to Egypt.

Bringing his assistance to the conversion of hearts

The Brazilian from the Argentine Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) has been living in Gaza City for several years. During this time he has witnessed several wars. “This Holy Year is a big chance,” he told the charity. “TWe Christians can re-learn what the mercy of God means. This includes re-thinking the reality of sin. We are dependent upon the forgiveness of God. This is an opportunity to find out something new about the sacrament of penance.” his is why Father Mario wants to offer retreats in the summer that will address the mercy of God. The Sunday Sermons this year will also repeatedly focus on the subject of forgiveness.

Le père Mario da Silva. Cette photo fût prise durant un cessez-le-feu dans la Bande da Gaza, en août 2014. « Cette Année sainte représente une grande chance ».

Gaza City, during the ceasefire that lasted between August 5h and 8th: Father Mario da Silva. The Brazilian cleric works in the Catholic “Holy Family” parish in Gaza City. He belongs to the order “Institute of the Word Incarnate IVE”, which originated in Argentina.

Father Mario believes that interpersonal forgiveness grows out of God’s mercy for humans. “From the first moment I arrived in Gaza, of course I felt the hatred that the people harbour because of Israeli politics. This hatred is rooted in the injustice the people here experience every day. It may be less pronounced among the Christians because forgiveness belongs to our faith. But of course they also know this feeling. That is only human,” Father Mario said. “The wars, the destruction, the high unemployment rate that also affects the Christians: all this eats away at the people. However, as a priest I do not feel it is my first priority to change the political situation. That is not in our hands, even though the church of course draws attention to injustice as such. However, what we can do is to help convert our hearts.”

Reintroducing a culture of forgiveness

In Egypt as well, which borders on the Gaza Strip, the focus is on the conversion of hearts. For several months now, Father Beshoi has been the priest in Azareia, a Christian town in Upper Egypt near Asyut. The Coptic Catholic cleric wants to make the sacrament of penance more accessible to his parishioners again. “We need the forgiveness of God. Here, there are a lot of cases of revenge because of insults to family honour. These are often caused by something trivial. But the situations escalate until there are casualties. And that, even though only Christians live in our town. But they have assimilated to the Islamic culture that surrounds us. In Islam, God is only seen as a lawmaker who metes out punishment when His commandments are not heeded. However, I want to change this mentality. I want to show God to my brothers and sisters as a merciful Father who forgives us. However, this is also why we have to forgive each other. Thus, the Year of Mercy has come at just the right moment for me.”

There are many problems especially among the adolescents in the town. “Many take drugs because they feel unloved or misunderstood. I want to show them that God loves them and is waiting for them with open arms. I know that God can work miracles in the souls. Just recently, an almost 60-year-old man came to me for confession: for the first time in his life! I hope that I will see many such small miracles over the course of this year!”

The Holy Year is also being celebrated at the outermost Western edge of the Arab world. Admittedly, there are hardly any Catholics living in Morocco and the vast majority of these are foreigners. However, the few Catholics who are there take an active role in the life of the world Church. Such as the Sisters of the Carmelite convent of Tanger. “We embrace the Holy Year with pleasure and gratitude. It is a great grace that we want to experience together with the entire church. With all of our poverty and weakness and in recognising our sinfulness, we are on our way to the Father, whose embrace we have need of,” Sister Maria Virtudes said to ACN.

The Spaniard is the prioress of the community of Sisters who began the Jubilee with a prayer vigil. “We prayed to the Lord who is present in the Eucharist. In doing so, we took turns in singing the hymn that was composed for the Holy Year and held long moments of silent worship. As we did this, we were, together with the Immaculate Virgin, in communion with the entire Church.”

Des religieuses au Couvent des Carmélites de Tanger, au Maroc.

Carmelite Sisters of Tanger in Morocco.

By Oliver Maksan: ACN International
Adapted by : Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN News – Egypt “They are true martyrs”

24.03.2015 in egypt, Persecution of Christians

Egypt

“They are true martyrs”

Egypt, following the murder of the Coptic Christians: a mixture of sadness and optimism among the Christians on the Nile

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

In february 2015 an ACN Delegation with Fr. Halemba visited theThe whole of Egypt was shocked when, in mid-February, news emerged of the murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt by the terrorists of the Islamic State in Libya.

The image of the Christians, in orange suits, kneeling before their black-hooded executioners, the blood from the bestial beheadings, which later mingled with the waves of the Mediterranean – all this has left a deep imprint on the collective memory of this country on the Nile.

The Coptic Orthodox Church has already recognized these 21 murdered Christians as martyrs and included them in their calendar of the Saints. Do Catholics also regard them as martyrs? “Yes, undoubtedly,” says Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut in Upper Egypt. “Pope Francis himself said that, after their murder. He recognized them as martyrs. They were killed because they were Christians. Their killers were hunting for Christians in order to abduct them. The victims were full of faith right up to the end. They remained faithful to Jesus. Their last words were words like: ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy!’ And so they are true martyrs – for us Catholics as well.”

 

In february 2015 an ACN Delegation with Fr. Halemba visited theBeautiful gestures of solidarity

A mixture of sadness and anger immediately followed the atrocity, recalls Bishop Kirillos. “But the decisive reaction by our president and the air attacks on IS positions in Libya brought a measure of reassurance for the people. We Christians were particularly moved by the president‘s visit to the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros to express his condolences.” In fact there were many beautiful gestures of solidarity, the bishop goes on to explain. “The governor of the province from which most of the martyrs originated authorised the construction of a large church in their memory, at the state‘s expense. Additionally, their home village was renamed in their honour and is now called the Village of the Martyrs. The Prime Minister himself visited the town, and the grieving families were promised a sum of money. This has comforted people. Egypt is on the path of renewal.”

According to the bishop, many Christians have reported expressions of sympathy from Muslims over the murders. Yet, there have also been some hateful reactions. One Salafi Sheikh actually expressed his approval of the murders, while in some Egyptian newspapers there are comments to the effect that the Islamic State had acted rightly in slaughtering the “Christian sheep.”

We are all of us Egyptians

In February 2015 an ACN Delegation with Fr. Halemba visited theHowever, Bishop Kirillos believes such comments are not representative of the community. “I would say that the murders have brought Muslims and Christians closer together. The prevailing sentiment is that Egyptians have been attacked. That is important. It shows that we are all Egyptians, regardless of our religion.” This was also the note struck by Egyptian President Sisi when he made his surprise visit to the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo to mark the Orthodox feast of Christmas. “Many people had hoped for this, but no one had seriously expected that the Egyptian head of state would actually visit the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo at Christmas time. President Sisi did this. He spoke from the heart, and his message was: We are all of us Egyptians, both Christians and Muslims. Period. He strongly emphasized the idea of our common nationality.

The people were delighted. His visit was a powerful symbol. You have to understand the background against which it took place. For in fact there are many radical Muslims who say that Muslims should not congratulate Christians on their feasts; that this is un-Islamic. The Christmas visit by the president was the answer to these ideas. I would say that this is a turning point in the history of the Christians in Egypt.” And yet, just a short time ago it did not look that way, the bishop reflects. “During the presidency of Mursi, the radicals thought they had a green light to go after us Christians. Many Christians felt like strangers in their own country. The radicals were saying that we should leave. We all had Western visas, they claimed, and should therefore emigrate to Australia or Canada.”

 

A positive outlook on the future

The climax of these anti-Christian outrages came in August 2013. In bishop Kirillos’ own diocese too, Muslim extremists set fire to Christian churches and Christian businesses. The Muslim Brotherhood were trying to avenge themselves on the Christians, and attempted to place blame for the dismissal of President Mohammed Mursi, one of their own who came from ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In February 2015 an ACN Delegation with Fr. Halemba visited the

“Today there is a feeling that this threat has lifted. We are now looking forward positively to the future, with President Sisi.” Nor is Bishop Kirillos too concerned about the possibility of the Islamists gaining new strength with the coming parliamentary elections.” I believe that Egyptians saw very well during the dominance of the Muslim Brothers, what way and in what direction they were taking the country. The Muslim Brothers put their own interests above those of our country. Many Muslims also see it that way, [even] people who previously voted for the Muslim Brothers. The Egyptians don‘t want that to happen again. People know who they want to elect and who they don‘t.”

This is also the view of Yusef, a young Catholic student from Sohag, one of the cities of Upper Egypt. “With President Sisi things are going in the right direction. We have confidence in him. He has called on Islam to reform itself. That is a good sign. But of course one man alone cannot change the mentality of an entire country overnight, so I‘m not jumping to any conclusions. We must be patient.”

 

Egypt – The first Catholic church in Sinai

20.02.2015 in ACN Canada, CONSTRUCTION, egypt, English

“I remember, during one of my visits to Egypt, speaking to a bishop who dreamt of a church precisely in this spot.  It was difficult to imagine then that such a dream could one day come true in this environment where there was nothing around but desert and a few fruit trees.  Add to this all the administrative difficulties to obtain a building permit and all the obstacles to clear to build it once the building permit was obtained.  I understand well how happy the Catholics must have been when this church was inaugurated.”  – Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada.

Egypt

The first Catholic church in Sinai

Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Up until the very last minute, work was still in progress on the interior decorations, the molding was being fitted and the marble polished. However, by Sunday morning (February 15) it was finished: the first Catholic church in Sinai. “This is a great day of joy for Catholics in Egypt,” Coptic Catholic Bishop Makarios of Ismailia, to whose diocese Sharm El-Sheikh belongs, said at the consecration ceremony.

Hundreds of hotels line the coast of the famous tourist destination known for its spectacular coral reefs. “We have a number of places of worship in Sinai,” Bishop Makarios added, “but these are chapels or even just rooms in normal houses. The church of Our Lady of Peace is the first proper church building that was built for the sole purpose of worshiping God.”

 

 

February 15th 2015 the first Catholic church on Sinai peninsulaThree Masses every Sunday

The building application for the church was submitted in 2003. The foundation stone was laid in 2005. After that, things only moved forward haltingly: in Egypt, the construction of a church is a political issue. There are always a large number of hurdles to overcome. “At one point, after everything had ground to a halt, we went to the wife of then President Mubarak. Susanne Mubarak went to school with nuns. She helped us. After that, there was nothing the governor could object to,” Bishop Makarios remembered. “Madame Mubarak also gave the church its name. We actually wanted a different one, Maria Stella Maris, Star of the Sea. But she suggested making ‘Our Lady of Peace’ its patron saint. We were happy to do so.”

Father Bolos Garas has been priest in Sharm since 2010. “When I came here, there was no church, only the foundations of a cellar. So we put up tarps and celebrated Mass. This is why it is so deeply moving to finally see the church completed, and not only for me. A member of our congregation, an elderly Italian, recently came up to me and said that he could now die in peace because he had heard the bells ring in the tower.” In the future, Father Bolos will celebrate three services in the church every Sunday. “I am a Coptic Catholic priest. However, there are only very few Coptic Catholics here, a handful of families. Most of our faithful are tourists or foreign workers. For this reason I not only celebrate Sunday Mass according to my rites, but also according to the Roman rites, in Italian and in English.”

A place with a real heart

The English-language service is attended by foreign workers from the Philippines who work in the hotels in Sharm. “The church is our home. Even though we are so far away from our native country, we immediately felt at home in the Catholic church. We are very happy that our beautiful church has now been finished,” Mary, a Filipina who works at a hotel, said. The Italian-language service, on the other hand, is primarily attended by Italian seniors who spend the winter in Sharm because of its mild climate. “We are so happy. Sharm has always been beautiful. But for us, this place has a real heart now,” Giovanni, a retiree from the northern Italian city of Veneto, said. Members of the Italian community of retirees have even formed a church choir. They also sang during the consecration ceremony on Sunday.

Patriarch Ibrahim I. Sidrak, the head of the around 200,000-member strong Egyptian Coptic Catholic Church, presided over the hours-long ceremony that was celebrated according to Coptic rites. The governor of the region also attended the consecration. In his welcoming address, he said how important it was that the Christians have a place of worship. “It is a place to offer prayers for peace,” he called out to the faithful.

The construction of the church was financially supported by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Father Andrzej Halemba, in charge of Middle Eastern projects, explained why. “Up until now, many Catholics did not have a real place to go to in Sharm. This has now changed. And there is no better fitting name for this church than ‘Our Lady of Peace’. Egypt and the region need peace. The Coptic Orthodox bishop also emphasized this in his welcoming address.” Bishop Makarios added, “May God bless the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their generosity. Catholics from all over the world supporting a church which in turn serves Catholics from all over the world proves that we are one in the Mystical Body of Christ.”