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European Union

 

Feature Story – EU reps Skype with Syrian Children

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

Aid to the Church in Need

Initiative at the European Parliament with Syrian Children

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

 

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

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

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

 

Syrian children speak to Westerners

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

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

 

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

 

Baptized with blood

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Press Release – Syrian Children appeal for Peace

06.10.2016 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Children, European Union, PAIX, Peace, Syria, United Nations

 

 

Syria

More than one million children sign an appeal for peace

 

Damascus/Montreal Thursday, October 6,  2016 –These days, children at more than 2,000 schools all over Syria are drawing and writing messages to the political decision makers of the European Union and United Nations under the motto “Peace for Children.”

 

Initiative oecuménique et interreligieuse, la signature par les enfants syriens d'une pétition destinée à l'Union européenne et aux Nations-Unies est un appel au monde pour qu'advienne la paix en Syrie.

This appeal for peace is a joint campaign being carried out by Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Syria and members of all religious communities have been invited to take part.

 

Children of all Christian denominations in Damascus, Homs, Yabroud, Aleppo, Marmarita and Tartus are making October 6 a joint Action Day for Peace. They are expressing their desire for peace through songs, dance, theatrical performances, prayers and other activities. Several children in Aleppo will also share their personal experiences. Sister Annie Demerjian, one of the local organizers of the event, said, “When a child talks about losing his father, for example, we will follow it up by praying for all children in Syria who have lost parents or siblings.” The main ceremony will be held in Damascus on Friday October 7 and it will be attended by groups of 50-75 children from each of the country’s major centres.

 

“Give us our childhood!”

 

The Syrian Children’s Petition for Peace“I am extremely touched by the event to which numerous parishes of the local Church are participants, and happy that our organization can collaborate with them,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. “The children are the future of the country, and this action recalls that they do not wish to go overseas: they want to stay – as do their parents – to rebuild what these five years of incomprehensible war have created.  It is time that the international community listen to the cries from the hearts of the littlest!” insists Mrs Lalonde.  “I invite all Canadians to sign on the micro-website: https://acnmercy.org/syrian-children/,  the petition will be remitted to European and international bodies.”

 

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

 

Thousands of children in Syria have been killed during the war. According to data provided by the Oxford Research Group, more than 11,500 children died in the first two years of the conflict alone. Half of the 11.4 million Syrians who have fled inside or outside of the country are underage minors. More than 2.1 million Syrian children are unable to attend school because of the war. Many children are severely traumatized. Children are frequent victims, not only of direct acts of war, but of abductions, torture and sexual exploitation.

 

The children’s campaign for Peace arose from an initiative of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Since the conflict began in March of 2011, the international pastoral charity has been active in supporting the victims of the war and providing financial support, in particular for families who have lost their homes, have been forced to flee within the country or have been displaced. Aid is primarily granted to projects that secure the immediate survival of the people, and especially of children and babies. A sizable amount of the financial aid is used to procure accommodations for what are in general large families with many children, to supply essential foods and medicines as well as baby formula and diapers, warm winter clothing and heating oil and electricity. It is also being used to ensure that children can attend school. The aid is provided directly to the families in need, irrespective of their religious affiliation, through Catholic bishops and local church structures. Over the past five years, emergency aid amounting to approximately 19 million CAD has been granted.

*Sign-up to pray with them at https://acnmercy.org/syrian-children/

 

This can be done by simply entering your name and email address and clicking the ‘Pray‘ button below.  Thank you for supporting the voices of children in Syria for Peace.

 

 


 

ACN Press – The European Parliament recognizes the genocide against Christians

04.02.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, European Union, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

Montreal, Canada

The European Parliament recognizes the genocide against Christians – “It is a beginning – but it’s still not enough”

 

European-parliament-strasbourg-insideMontreal, Thursday February 4, 2016 – “MEPs urge the international community to take urgent action to counter the systematic mass murder of religious minorities by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh, in a resolution voted on Thursday,” states a Press Release by the European Parliament. “These violations amount to “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC),” they add. In the resolution passed today, the MEP’s are called on to take measures to protect all religious and minority groups against ISIS attacks.”

 

“This is excellent news,” reacts Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to the announcement. The international organization has been alerting the world for many years about this tragic phenomenon and no longer hesitates to speak of genocide when it is question of Christians in the Middle East, particularly in the case of the two countries affected by the resolution – Syria and Iraq.

 

“Thanks to ACN, numerous bishops in the Eastern World – led by Msgr Louis Sako, the leading Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq – were able to on many occasions meet with European deputies in order to sensitize them to the tragedy being lived by Christians and other religious minorities in this region, the cradle of Christianity.

 

I hope that the resolution adopted today will snowball in other countries in the West.”  She underlines that there are 28 countries under the European Parliament who now affirm that the present violence is beyond a shadow of a doubt – genocide.

 

“It is a beginning, but it still isn’t enough,” she considers. “In order for the international community to really move in favour of minorities, countries like Canada must recognize the scope of this tragedy. It is good to welcome refugees, but what are we doing for the thousands of people who cannot leave, who are threatened by death, torture and multiple acts of violence, simply for being from a different religion?”

 

Wednesday, Mrs Lalonde sent a letter in this vein to the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the minister of foreign affairs, Stéphane Dion and the ambassador of Canada for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett. “As an organization highly preoccupied with religious freedom and the persecution of Christians, we are calling on you to join Canada’s voice to that of Europeans and take position, publicly, to defend the rights of the minority Christians – and other religious minorities – of Iraq and of Syria.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support Christian communities where there is persecution as a result of their faith for over 50 years now.  Behind the Iron Curtain, its founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, helped Christians who could no longer practice their faith freely because of the communist regime.  “Today, the work continues in a different way, while it is especially religious extremist who create, in every way, exclusion leading to persecution,” concludes Marie-Claude Lalonde and then adding: “with 200 million Christians* in the world who cannot freely practice their faith, unfortunate, our work is far from being over.”

 

* Since 2009, the ACN report on religious freedom has remained consistent on this subject.

 


 

 

 

Press release: Christians of the Middle East: Genocide underway

03.02.2016 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, European Union, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Refugees, Religious freedom, Syria

Montreal, Canada

Christians of the Middle East: Genocide underway

Montreal, Wednesday February 3, 2016 – “Christians of Iraq were numbered 1.5 million in 2004 and are now only 250.000, those who remain are risking their lives each day,” writes Marie-Claude Lalonde National Director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in a letter sent today to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, as well as to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion and the Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett. In her letter, she did not hesitate to speak of ‘genocide’.

 

As the national director of the international Catholic charity’s Canadian office for 15 years, she also points out the terrible fate of Christians in Syria who saw their numbers drop from 1.1 million in early 2011, to no more than 250,000 today.

 

“ It is clear the Christians left because of the war, but especially because they knew that if the Islamic State crossed their path it would mean conversion to Islam by force, death, torture, or slavery (in the case of women and children).” The situation “has taken on an apocalyptic scope, “she considers using the same words used by Msgr Louis Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Christians in Iraq.

Syria, 2013: funerals following atrocities by Islamic State.

Syria, 2013: funerals following atrocities by Islamic State.

 

Marie-Claude Lalonde is inviting Canada to follow suit with the European Parliament (detailed below) and to “take position, publicly, to defend the rights of the minority Christians – and other religious minorities – of Iraq and of Syria. “ The Lithuanian Parliament already adopted a similar resolution last December speaking of genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle-East.

The recognition of genocide

 

Thursday, the European parliament will recognize that atrocities committed by ISIS (Daesh) against religious minorities in Syrian and Iraq are related not only to crimes of war or to crimes against humanity, but also to genocide. Resolution 2091 (2016) recognizes that “the individuals acting in the name of the terrorist organization which calls itself Daesh […] have perpetrated acts of genocide and other grave crimes punishable under international law.”

 

Under international law, the “crime of genocide” has a precise definition. It refers to crimes “committed with the intention of destroying, totally or partially a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Thus it is evident that the Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide. International law imposes on states and on the international community the obligation to prevent genocide, to defend those groups that are the object of genocide and to convict and punish those responsible.

Commiting, intending to commit, or complicity in the act of genocide; who incites genocide, must be punished by the law. Consequently, all persons or organizations, – which commits, intends to commit or is complicit in the act of genocide, or who incites to genocide, must be punished by the law.

 

Syria: an Icon destroyed by the Islamic State

Syria: an Icon destroyed by the Islamic State

According to ACN, recognition of the genocide is the first fundamental step for ensuring that the international community takes action. The use of the term genocide not only holds a powerful symbolic meaning, but in practice the international community must be ready to act when it faces an action that has formally been declared as genocide.

 

In 2015, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support of local churches in Iraq was greater than 15 million dollars, and rose to over 8 million dollars in Syria. This, notwithstanding the aid already given in countries where Christisna are in refugee situations such as in Lebanon, Jordan and also in Turkey.

 

Read the letter of Marie-Claude Lalonde, adressed to Prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, ministre of Foreign affair, Stéphane Dion, and freedom of religion Ambassador, Andrew Bennett.

Read Here


Project of the Week : Invitation to support this project

23.12.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Bulgaria, Catholic Religious Sisters, EU, European Union, Project of the Week, Sisters, SUBSISTENCE

Bulgaria

Support for the life and work of religious Sisters

 

Les Franciscaines missionnaires de Marie de Zitnitza et de Rakovski soutiennent les plus pauvres. Nous leur accordons 2175 dollars canadiens pour qu'elles continuent à aider.

Franciscan Sisters in Zitniza and Rakovski  support the poor.  We are providing them with  2,175 CAN dollars so they can continue to help, just as Sister Francoise as above with this elderly woman.

In the towns of Zitnitza and Rakovski, in the diocese of Plovdiv in the south of Bulgaria, there is a community of five Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Their congregation was founded in the 19th Century and is present today in 20 countries of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The Sisters preach the Gospel through their example of active service for the poor.

Catholics make up only a very small minority in the total population of Bulgaria of around 7.3 million souls. There are only about 80,000 Catholics living in this country. As a Catholic priest or religious you need to have a great deal of patience. Anyone who expects quick results here, has got it wrong. “We are working for the next generation,” the priests and Sisters agree.

In Zitnitza and Rakovski, the Sisters help the sick and the elderly and do home visits when the priest is unable to do so. They also give catechetical instruction and teach religious education in the schools.

Although Bulgaria is a member state of the European Union, around one fifth of the population nevertheless lives in poverty. So there is plenty of work for the sisters in their ministry to the poor and needy. But at the same time the sisters themselves are in need of help, since their living costs are rising relentlessly.

Each year, ACN has made an effort to help these Sisters make ends meet. This year is no exception: once again they have turned to us for help. Sister Francoise writes,

donate

This year, we are helping the Sisters with a contribution of $2,175 CAD.

Would you like to help us, help them?

 

Text: ACN International
English Canadian adaptation: Amanda Bridget Griffin

Ukraine – “For the first time in the history of contemporary Europe, in a European country, people are dying for the European flag, for European values”

20.03.2014 in ACN International, EU, European Union, Ukraine

By Mark von Riedemann, ACN International

Adapted AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Thursday, March  20, 2014 — “We believe that Ukraine is a breath of fresh air for Europe,”stated Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak and Professor Myroslav Marynovych, former Gulag political prisoner. “Ukraine is not a trouble spot, but a partner offering a vision – a reminder of the original European spirit: youth, dynamism, and a profound belief in the principles and values that found the European project. The Ukrainian youth carries this vision, and have been martyred for this same hope. What is Europe’s answer to them?”

© Council of the EU

© Council of the EU

Maidan, the space for political expression on Independence Square in Kiev, and replicated in scores of Ukrainian cities and communities worldwide is in fact an “Agora,” a place to discuss, exchange ideas, create consensus. “The Maidan movement, encompassing all levels of Ukrainian society and all religious traditions, said Myroslav Marynovych, is not ending. There is no going back. It is the voice of the people calling for profound change in Ukraine – not simply to rotate the faces in a quasi-Soviet political structure – but a movement to see true democratic structures in place as in the tradition of European democracy. The opportunity that Ukraine and the ongoing democratic processes present might also be an example to Russians as how to move towards democracy.”

Bishop Borys Gudziak concluded by saying: “We see a great historical shift, a deep movement within the Ukrainian society – a passage from fear to dignity. In fact this revolution is called the “Revolution of Dignity.” The resistance to the Yanukovych regime helped people claim their dignity; the invasion of Crimea is helping the people claim their sense of national identity.”

“In these days of heavy political decisions, we came to the EU to help them help us,” said Bishop Gudziak, “to let them know how young Ukrainians are the best guarantee for Europe’s peace and prosperity.”

Bishop Borys Gudziak, the Greek Catholic Eparch for France, Benelux and Switzerland, and Professor Myroslav Marynovych, a leading moral authority in Ukraine, are respectively President and vice-Rector of the Catholic University of Lviv. With the support of Aid to the Church in Need, they were in Brussels to update policy makers about the situation in Ukraine, the reality on the ground and the potential impact of Europe’s immediate and future policy decisions.

 

Egypt – Stop the terrorists

19.08.2013 in ACN Canada, egypt, EU, European Union, Persecution of Christians

Bishop hits out at West amid reports of nearly 80 church buildings attacked

By John Pontifex – ACN United-Kingdom
Adaptation – Marie-Claude Lalonde – ACN Canada

Damages following the fire, church of St. Teresa, Assiut

Damages following the fire, church of St. Teresa, Assiut

GOVERNMENTS in the West have come under fire from a leading Egyptian bishop who has called on them to work with the country’s new regime in defeating extremists responsible for a wave of terrorism directed against nearly 80 churches and other Coptic centres.

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut said that many Christians, especially in the worst affected area of Minya province, Upper Egypt, were now too afraid to leave their homes after last week’s 48-hour anti-Christian rampage by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

It comes as reports from Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria described how he was “saved” by police who stopped Islamists from setting fire to his home in Luxor during a spate of violence that has grounded the region’s Christian community – including the bishop, priests, Sisters and laity – and prevented them from leaving their homes.

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

Describing how, since Tuesday (13th August), almost 80 churches, convents, Church-run schools, clinics and other centres were hit, Bishop William criticised the West for failing to acknowledge the scale of unprovoked attacks on innocent communities by Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop William said: “The Western governments are speaking about human rights; yes, these groups have a right to demonstrate but not with arms. The Western governments do not see the reality of what is going on here. “A group of terrorists have used arms against us. [Western governments] should not be supporting this.”

Speaking from Assiut, Bishop William added: “The [Muslim Brothers] think that the Christians were the cause of Morsi being ousted. But the Christians were not alone – there were 35 million who went on the streets against Morsi. “Christians are being punished. We have been scape-goated.”

He stressed that, in spite of repeated efforts – including those by European Union governments – to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in dialogue, the Islamist movement had responded with violence.

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

His comments come as Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak of Alexandria issued a statement today (Monday, 19

August) in which he declared “our free, strong and conscious support for all state institutions, particularly the Armed Forces and the police for all their efforts in protecting our homeland.”

Both he and Bishop William stressed how many Muslims had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Christians in defending churches and other Coptic buildings from attack. Bishop William said: “Our people are close to normal Muslims, moderate Muslims. When the fundamentalists came for the Christians in [Assiut’s] Old Town, the Muslims sent them away using arms. “In other cities, Christians and Muslims came to protect churches and they stayed next to the churches all day.”

He said that many Muslims shared the Christians’ view that there should be a clear separation between religion and the state.

Many bishops underlined how the attacks of last week came as a surprise. Bishop William said: “We had expected some response [from the Muslim Brothers] but not to this degree of brutality”.

In Luxor, Bishop Joannes Zakaria told ACN how on Friday (16th August), an Islamic protest turned ugly when the extremists tried to break into the bishop’s house and set fire to it but armed forces intervened “and saved us, thanks be to God”. He said that all the churches were now closed, adding: “I, the bishop, the priests, the Sisters and the people cannot move [about]. We keep staying in our homes to be saved from any kind of violence.”

The bishop said that both in Luxor, and the villages outside, “some” churches and Christians’ homes were set on fire and that some Christian-run shops were destroyed. He added that in Dabbiah, a village close to Luxor, five Christians and one Muslim had been killed.

Fire at the Franciscan's school in Beni Suef

Fire at the Franciscan’s school in Beni Suef

All the bishops appealed for prayers.

In a message to the National Director of ACN in the United Kingdom, Bishop Zakaria said: “We are happy to be suffering and to be victims and to lose our churches and our homes and our livelihood to save Egypt for the Christians and the Muslims. We need the prayer of everybody to solve our problems. It is the future of our children that we are concerned about so that good Christians and Muslims can live alongside each other.”

Nigeria “The twin monsters of corruption and insecurity”

07.05.2013 in EU, European Union, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Nigeria

By ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, May 7, 2013 – “Growing corruption and religious violence jeopardise the West African country of Nigeria.” This stark warning by Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, was given during his recent presentation to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels. Cardinal Onaiyekan was accompanied by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto. Coordinated by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the two church leaders presented the most urgent challenges facing Nigeria to the European Union decision makers, to try and help them understand the realities on the ground in one of the three priority countries of the EU in sub-Saharan Africa. The two others being South Africa and Kenya.

A serious waste

In their discussions with the Committee and other Members of Parliament, as well as with the executive power of the EU (the European Commission) and the political representatives (the Council of the 27 Member States), Cardinal Onaiyekan and Bishop Kukah addressed two fundamental concerns, what they referred to as “the twin monsters of corruption and insecurity”. According to the Church leaders, with a GDP of 244 billion USD as well as a recipient of generous international aid Nigeria is not a poor country, but the corruption and mismanagement is such that precious little reaches the population. “This has generated extremely high levels of mistrust among the population, which feeds into the other daily menace: insecurity,” explained Cardinal Onaiyekan.

Where the government services fail, the Catholic Church steps in to provide relief services operating numerous schools, hospitals, legal aid centres and other basic services in Nigeria’s most impoverished regions. “The Catholic Church is concerned about the well-being of all Nigerians, not only those baptized in our churches. We are 170 million Nigerians, roughly half are Christians from different denominations and half are Muslims, also of different groups. Catholics are still the largest single-faith group in the country so we have considerable influence and responsibility,” stated Cardinal Onaiyekan.

Bishop Kukah of the Sokoto diocese (in north-western Nigeria) where the Catholics are a very small minority, said that the socio-economic indicators of health, education and income of Northern Nigeria are among the worst in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa. “The region has a Muslim majority in power. The way they spend federal funding follows their own priorities and the concept of education and public health is not the same as that of UNESCO. This is the region where the group Boko Haram was created.” Cardinal Onaiyekan added that the combination of poverty, mistrust and a huge inflow of arms from Libya have made the tension grow exponentially. “Very often the criminals are better armed than the Nigerian security forces.”