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International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 

Press Release  – #RedWednesday, November 20, 2019 – Stones and Prayers

18.11.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Press Release, RED WEDNESDAY

Press Release  – For Immediate Release

 

#RedWednesday, November 20, 2019

Stones and Prayers

A show of solidarity with persecuted Christians!

 

The face of at least five monuments will be illuminated in red this year across Canada.  Of them: Mary-Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal and Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto.

 

Montréal, November 18, 2019 – This Wednesday, November 20, Aid to the Church in Need Canada is inviting all Canadians to participate in Red Wednesday events (#RedWednesday).  For the occasion, five stone monuments will be lit up in red:  Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, the entrance of the Grand Seminaire de Montreal and the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa located in the historic Chateau Birkett building. 

 

In the diocese of Calgary, more than 80 activities are already planned. “I believe that more and more Canadians are aware of the problems connected to the lack of religious freedom in the world, and in particular, of the situation of over 327 million Christians living in  persecution stricken countries,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada.

 

 

A Great International Movement

 

The events planned in Canada open an entire week of events taking place across the world until November 27.  In at least 15 countries, moments of prayer and information sessions have been organized along with monuments and buildings to be lit in red. To date it has been announced that there will be over 2,000 in Philippines and 120 in the United Kingdom in order to bring awareness to questions related to religious freedom and the persecution of Christians.

 

In Canada, there are several ways to offer a show of solidarity:

  • Participate in one of the planned events listed at this address acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/ or call : 1 (800)585-6333 or by email at info@acn-canada.org.
  • Find out more about the situation of Christians through the Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19 Report https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/
  • Share the information on social media using the hashtag: #RedWednesday
  • Wear red on November 20th
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world in small or large groups and for all who suffer because of a lack of religious freedom.

 

Among the many scheduled activities taking place Canada-wide we would like to highlight a few:

  • Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 pm at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal,
  • An ecumenical prayer vigil will be held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, also scheduled for 7:30 pm.
  • Mass will be celebrated at Saint Mary’s Parish in Banff, Alberta at 6:30pm.


 

 Aid to the Church in Need in History: The miracle of political change

12.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Father Werenfried van Straaten, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 Aid to the Church in Need – in History

The miracle of political change

By Tobias Lehner & Volker Niggewöhner, ACN-International
Revision: Amanda  Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A crucial milestone in the events leading up to the collapse of Communism in Europe. It was a dream come true for a great many people, not only those in East Germany. Dedicated Christians of all denominations and many organizations had worked tirelessly for decades to achieve this political change. One of these was the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and its founder, the Dutch Premonstratensian priest Father Werenfried van Straaten (1913–2003).

42 years of waiting—and working for—political change

For the pastoral charity, the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall did not come as a surprise. ACN had worked towards this end from the very beginning. “After waiting 42 years for this change to happen, our credibility will be at stake if we are not twice as willing now to make sacrifices to help the persecuted Church. Even in those places where the Church has been freed from its chains, it stands bereft of all means of survival. Its liberation will have been for naught if there are no priests, broadcasting programs and [distributing] books,” Father Werenfried wrote to the benefactors of ACN. The challenges that the charity now had to overcome were reminiscent of those that faced the pioneers in their day.

Looking back in time: in 1947, in response to an initiative of Pope Pius XII, Father Werenfried van Straaten launched a relief campaign for Germans who had been displaced and expelled from the East. After receiving reports of human rights violations and the persecution of the Church in those countries newly under Communist rule, he extended the relief efforts to these regions in 1952. For this reason, the name of his charity was, for the first few years, “Aid to the Eastern Priests,” before being renamed “Aid to the Church in Need” in 1969.

Very different conditions prevailed in the countries behind the Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union itself was considered inaccessible territory. It was only possible to spread the Good News there via radio broadcasts from outside the country—or by smuggling. More aid could be provided to other countries, particularly to Poland and Yugoslavia.

Another important activity of the charity was the dissemination of information. Father Werenfried believed that the Western world needed to know about what was happening in the East. He therefore preached hundreds of sermons in which he talked about the situation of the persecuted Church in Eastern Europe, giving a voice to those who were repressed and without one.

 

“Armed” for Peace

Beginning in the 1960s, ACN extended its aid efforts to other regions throughout the world such as Latin America and Africa; however, relief for Eastern Europe remained one of its most fervent concerns. Its efforts were inspired by the words of Pope Pius XII, who once said to Father Werenfried, “Everyone is currently taking up arms for war, but hardly anyone remembers to get ready for peace, should this suddenly come upon us.” And that became Father Werenfried’s goal, to have everything in readiness when that day came.

In response to Mikhail Gorbachev’s political reforms in the Soviet Union, ACN increased its aid for the republics of the Soviet Union from less than one million US dollars to 3.5 million US dollars between 1987 and 1988. Father Werenfried also began to collect money for the recruitment of priests in the Eastern bloc states. Both of these initiatives proved to be extremely helpful as events unfolded.

Behind the Iron Curtain in Poland Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Saint John-Paul II, visits the building site of Nowa Huta (1977). The communist regime wanted a new city without God: the people decided otherwise. 

The day ACN was waiting for finally arrived with the fall of the Berlin Wall and other revolutionary events. Whereas up until this point, the aid had always been distributed in secret, it could now be granted openly—in some cases it was even requested by the government. In all cases, it was absolutely essential. As of 1990, the aid for Eastern Europe increased to more than 22 million US dollars and would reach almost 30 million dollars by 1994/95. This was equivalent to more than 40 percent of all aid granted by ACN worldwide. The amount remained constant until the turn of the millennium.

Humanitarian and Spiritual Aid

To highlight a few particularly remarkable relief projects carried out in the years following the fall of Communism: during the Romanian Revolution, in December 1989, Father Werenfried travelled to Bucharest one day after the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife. Prior to this, he had been one of the first to organize deliveries of relief supplies for the suffering Romanian people.

ACN had a special relationship with the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. When the leader of the Church, Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, returned to his native Ukraine from exile in Rome on March 30, 1991, he was accompanied by Father Werenfried. While celebrating Holy Mass in Lviv, Father Werenfried made a solemn promise: “In the name of our benefactors, I promise that everything humanly possible will be done to help you, the bishops, the priests and religious sisters, the seminarians and all of the faithful, in the re-evangelization of Ukraine.”

ACN again kept its promise. The construction of a large seminary in Lviv became one of the greatest projects undertaken by the charity. Today, with around 200 students, the seminary in Lviv is one of the largest in the world.

A focus on priestly formation, convents and monasteries, spreading the Good News

Funding for the formation of young priests was a primary concern in other Eastern European countries as well. The contemplative orders were another issue, many of which had survived the years of Communism under inhumane conditions or were now being newly founded. In many countries, the Church was on the brink of ruin, having had all of its buildings expropriated under Communist rule and lacking an organizational structure. ACN granted aid here as well, particularly to smaller local Churches, such as those in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania or Kazakhstan. In these countries, the Catholics are in the minority and have hardly any advocates in society.

The first chapel boat navigating on the Volga was inaugurated on May 22nd 1998

Lived Ecumenism

A special assignment for the spiritual rehabilitation of Eastern Europe came from the highest authority: Pope John Paul II first mentioned the idea of initiating a more intensive dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church to ACN in 1991. And with Father Werenfried, this seed fell on fertile ground. He travelled with a delegation to Russia for the first time in October 1992. There, he met with Patriarch Alexy II and other Orthodox dignitaries. After Father Werenfried personally delivered his report to the Pope in early 1993, the charity not only distributed aid to Catholic communities, but also extended its efforts to projects supporting the Russian Orthodox Church. The best known of these projects were the so-called “chapel ships”—converted boats used by priests to visit communities that no longer had a church. Father Werenfried was convinced that “the vital task of re-evangelizing Russia was the mission of our Orthodox Sister Church.” In his opinion, the Orthodox Church was also in need of assistance after suffering persecution during Communism and having to start again from zero.

 

Regina Lynch, Director of Projects at the opening of an ACN national office in Slovakia

From Aid Recipients to Helpers

Since 1990, ACN has granted more than 750 million dollars in aid to the Church in Eastern Europe. Although the focus of its relief efforts today has shifted to the Near East and Africa, the organization has not forgotten the Christians in Eastern Europe. The small, poverty-stricken Church in Ukraine is therefore ranked fourth among the countries that receive aid from ACN.

However, the communities in the former Communist countries were never just aid recipients. Soon after the Iron Curtain collapsed, solidarity campaigns developed among the Catholics in different countries who had recently been the victims of persecution themselves. Poland played and still plays a major role in this. One of the national offices of Aid to the Church in Need is now located there—another in Slovakia. The miracle of political change is also at work here.

 

 

ACN Interview: The Synod for Amazonia – “The indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time”

11.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Brazil, ACN International, Amazonia, by Rodrigo Arantes, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Vatican, World

The Synod for Amazonia

“The indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time”

Interview conducted by Rodrigo Arantes for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

The Synod for Amazonia has been underway since October 6, and will continue through to October 27, at the Vatican. It is a synod that has caught the attention, not only of Catholics but of the entire world.  Msgr. Neri José Tondello is Bishop of the diocese of Juína, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, and one of the 18 members of the pre-synodal Council. In this interview with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he relates the recent history of the Church in relation to Amazonia and speaks of the experience of the Gospel among the indigenous peoples. He also explains the consultative character of the synod.


 

You have been part of the pre-synodal Council. This synod has caught the attention not only of people within the Church, but also of all the major media. To what do you attribute the great interest in this particular synod? 

Bishop Neri: The Synod for Amazonia has a long history. It is evident that it has awakened great interest, because it is tackling the theme of an integral ecology. This includes not only the original inhabitants living there, especially the indigenous peoples, who are the first and legitimate proprietors of the Amazon region. It also includes the communities living on the riverbanks, the quilombolas (descendants of former African slaves), the colonists and so many other people who are now living in the region in search of a better life.

 

Bishop Dom Neri Tondello celebrating Mass at a poor straw-chapel

The aim of an integral ecology is to seek to consider our “common home” in all its complexity, and Pan-Amazonia is a region which serves the whole planet with its benefits. This region, within this context of being a common home, is currently affected by problems that are having a grave and far-reaching impact. To this, one can now add the forest fires that have been started; this is also a serious problem and a threat. Previously people did not pay much attention to the impact of these fires, but they lead to deforestation and illegal logging, agribusiness, poisoning of the rivers, and consequently to the killing of the fish within them. The hydroelectric dams and the mining industry – with its toxic byproducts such as mercury – are likewise killing off the fish stocks. We are speaking of the basic food supply for our indigenous peoples. All these things end up by gravely harming the Pan-Amazonian region in all its biodiversity.

 

This then is the general context, which in consequence is not restricted solely to the internal debate within the Church but which in fact involves the whole world, because Amazonia is not a separate issue – everything is interconnected, everything is interrelated, and that is why the region is of crucial importance for the world. Pope Francis is also posing the question as to what the world can do to save Amazonia.

 

What does the Amazon synod mean to you?

I would say that the synod is a Kairós 1. I know that there has been much talk about the subject around the world and that the synod has met with widespread publicity. Even though there are some who speak ill of it, who condemn it and say ugly things about the synod, the great majority take a positive view of this special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian region and for the whole Church. As someone involved in the preparation process, one is very aware of this. There are those who don’t like it, who criticize it, but in general the synod is a Kairós for the Church. We are going to have to ask for many prayers so that we can have the gift of discernment.

We have listened to the reality of the situation in Amazonia and to the clamour of its peoples, who are expressing their unhappiness. During the course of the synod we will be listening to the scientists, and above all we will be listening to what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to the Churches in the Amazon region.

It is important to remind ourselves that the synod is not a deliberative body; according to its guidelines it is a consultative organ. But let us nonetheless not be lacking in courage to propose new ways for the Church and for an integral ecology. May this great event help Pope Francis to take the necessary decisions and give us sure guidance that will be appropriate to this blessed place that is our beloved Amazonia.

 

Project supported by ACN: Purchase of 2 solar energy generator systems for the “Itinerant” boat: Father Gino Alberati

What is needed if the Church is not to be solely a “visiting Church” throughout Amazonia?

Evangelization was brought to us by men and women who came from abroad, who gave their lives, many of whom are martyrs of Amazonia. But many of the things that were imported were not always the best; they were often schemes of colonization, of domination, which disregarded the potential already existing there. In other words, they did not take account of the true face of the Amazon, a face that had the capacity to become the protagonist of its own form of evangelization, through the inculturation of the Gospel, incarnated in the reality of the “seeds of the word” already present among the indigenous peoples, the riverside dwellers, the settlers and all the other people who inhabit this region. And consequently, in order to achieve a more permanent Church, more effective and more present, and closer to the people themselves, their communities and their groups, there is a need both in religious formation and also in the organization of the community, to draw more deeply on these gifts, these charisms, ministries and individuals. Of course we have to acknowledge baptism as the starting point for everything, a baptismal and collegial Church, different from a clerical Church. In saying this I want to make it clear that our document, the Instrumentum laboris, (working document) presents the Pope with an opening to this call.

 

Celibacy will never disappear, because it will always be a gift for the Church. But I also believe that the Church can reflect, from the point of view of the theology of spirituality and pastoral considerations, on the need for other new forms that will help to assure a more continuing presence alongside the People of God that will go beyond this idea of a “visiting Church.” We need to be closer, more present, and for this reason we need to explore the ideas on which people have been working for so long – for example the idea of a community priest, someone with a community face, an Amazonian face, someone who lives on the spot and knows all the members of the community and can help to make the process of evangelization much more effective.

Brazil, August 2019: a burned field in the Amazon forest.

 

Colniza is one of the towns in your diocese and at the same time one of the towns in the country that is suffering most from the forest fires. What is the situation like there at the moment?

The fires have been terrible. They have always happened, but this year they were excessive. The region of Colniza and Guariba are among the towns that have statistically seen the most fires during this year. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this culture of using fire to clear the pastures. It seems to me that we cannot admit that the use of fire is becoming something cultural, because it is far more destructive than it is beneficial. I have been in the Mato Grosso region for 17 years and I have been able to see that this year the fires have been worse than in other years, by a wide margin.

Some of the burnings are even criminal, whereas others were accidental, but they have caused great damage in the region. There is even a “day of fire” organized by one particular group of delinquents. Now the region is fearing reprisals in its international commercial relationships. We are trying to develop a sense of awareness, in collaboration with the members of IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute for the environment and renewable natural resources (Instituto Brasileño de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales Renovables), with the members of the forestry workers’ union, and with the firefighting agency, which is always organizing campaigns to guide and warn people. We are joining forces with them and we are also using our powers of evangelization in order to draw attention to people’s responsibility in the face of this grave risk, involving the destruction of nature by means of fire.

 

ACN supports the use of green energy alternatives

ACN has been supporting pastoral projects in Amazonia for over 40 years now. Your diocese of Juína is also one of those that have received our help. What kind of benefits have you seen from these projects for your people?

Our diocese has benefited enormously from the projects in which ACN has been involved. Whether in catechetical formation, the family apostolate, youth apostolate and children’s apostolate, the 2,000 Bibles supplied in your Bible distribution campaign, the evangelization materials, the children’s rosaries or the help for our solar energy project. After all, in the Amazon synod we cannot think only about the destruction of the forest and the construction of hydroelectric dams to obtain energy. No, we need to create alternatives, and solar energy is one of these. ACN has helped us greatly in this respect.

Brazil, August 2019: a burned field in the Amazon forest.

 

As to the importance of formation, we recently held some ethics classes with the group from the training school, with the idea of establishing permanent deacons in the near future. We already have 10 deacons exercising this ministry. It is a mixed school, ethnically. We have over 20 indigenous students and 15 non-indigenous. Within this formation school we have people with close links to the riverside villages who are leaders in our communities. Thanks to the aid of ACN we feel very much a part of this Amazonian reality and really appreciate this support, amplified by your help with evangelization projects and at the same time with projects which aim to build up and train individuals for the work of evangelization within the region.


  1. Kairos: definition according to Myriam-Webster dictionary: is – a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment.

 

ACN News: Religious Freedom in India

04.10.2019 in ACN Canada, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious freedom

Religious Freedom in India

“We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity”

by Matthias Böhnke, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada

 

“The circumstances are difficult for the Christians in our diocese – we often come up against restrictions in the practice of our faith,” Dr Stephen Antony explained. The 67-year-old bishop of the diocese of Tuticorin in southern India and 53 other Indian bishops recently met with Pope Francis during an ad limina visit to Rome.

According to the bishop, the Indian government is working to transform this immense, primarily Hindu, country into a homogenous country with one language and one set of policies. A difficult to impossible undertaking in a heterogeneous country with 29 federal states and the second most populous country in the world at 1.37 billion inhabitants. Some forecasts even predict that India may already overtake top-ranking China next year.

 

Policies favouring the wealthy

The situation has worsened after this year’s parliamentary elections, which the nationalist governing party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi won with a surprising majority. “Our situation at the moment isn’t very encouraging. The government makes a lot of rash decisions, which makes things unpredictable. Politics only benefits the wealthy part of the population. The poor are left with nothing,” Bishop Antony deplored.

 

Project supported by ACN – Transportation for pastoral & social work, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at St. Charles Convent, Vilathikulam, Tutcorin Dist. – Eastern Province.

The bishop explained that about 450,000 Catholics live in the diocese of Tuticorin, which is equivalent to about 17 per cent of the population. Besides the attacks targeting the faithful and groups of pilgrims, he reported that the circumstances were becoming more and more difficult in his diocese, particularly for the hospitals and the more than 200 schools operated by the church. According to the bishop, high unemployment is a problem not only affecting teachers, but the lack of support from the government has led many of the small farmers and factory workers to feel its effects as well. In fact, Bishop Antony said, many people in the region were so desperate that they felt that suicide was the only option left open to them.

 

However, he does believe that there are signs of hope, one of which being the visit to Pope Francis in Rome. “We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity,” said Stephen Antony. “We hope that Hindus and Christians will soon become more tolerant of each other and that the readiness to use violence will decline throughout the country. I am deeply grateful to ACN and all the benefactors who help us meet our needs in all areas of pastoral care and accompany us in their prayers.”

ACN Success Story – Belarus

25.09.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN Success story – in Belarus

Getting around – an essential for a priest!  

This week, our story unfolds in Belarus.  First of all, we learn in this country of close to 10 million people, the percentage of Catholics is a little less than 8%, whereas the Orthodox are close to 50%.

Given the context, it is interesting to observe that new Catholic parishes continue to see the light of day.  One of them was founded in 2017 on the outskirts of Grodno a village of 370,000 inhabitants. The parish is dedicated to Saint John Paul II and serves many young families and their children to serve the many young people who are moving into the towns because there is work there and they can guarantee their children a better education than they can in the countryside. The result is the number of the Catholic faithful in the towns is growing. Though most everything in the parish is still under construction, all the catechetical instruction is given in the houses and homes of the faithful. Holy Mass is currently celebrated out in the open, on the site where the Church will eventually stand. Swindled! Parish priest, Father Henryk Jablonski, is still living in a one room flat 10 km from the site. He is constantly on the road between the building site, the homes and dwellings where the catechetical instruction is given and to the hospital where he regularly visits the sick. The priest urgently needs a car for his work. Previously, he managed to purchase a secondhand vehicle, but it was confiscated by authorities since the previous owner had forged documents related to it. So he lost not only his money, but the vehicle as well.

Our kind benefactors have provided $ 15,000 to help Father Jablonski buy a new car for his work. He is delighted, and immensely grateful, and asks us to thank all of you who have made it possible!


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

ACN Project of the Week – Training of future catechists in Pakistan

11.09.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Catechist, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Pastoral care

Pakistan—Success Story: Help for the formation of 42 catechists

The work of catechists is of immense importance for the life of the Church in Pakistan. The parishes here are often vast and with numerous outlying settlements, and consequently the catechists are an indispensable support for the priests playing a major role in passing on the Catholic faith. In many cases the life of the parishes would virtually come to a halt without them.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Khushpur’s national catechists’ training centre, in the diocese of Faisalabad, which has existed since 1965, has now become the “beating heart” of the Church’s pastoral outreach in Pakistan. In this country where men dominate the social stage, these lay people from all over the country come here to train in order to bring this vital ministry back to their own home dioceses.

 

Those candidates who are already married and have families are provided with accommodation for the duration of their training. At the same time their wives also attend a range of courses, including healthcare, needlework, and a foundational knowledge or basic Scripture. It is the norm in Pakistan for the worlds of men and women to be segregated. Consequently, the catechists’ wives will also have a vital role to play in ministering to the women in their own communities. Meanwhile, any children they have will at the same time attend kindergarten or school for the duration of the course.

Great emphasis is placed on practical activities. So the catechists in training will also visit the local parishioners to talk and pray with them. They will also accompany the fully trained catechists in their work for a week or so as to acquire a feeling for their own future apostolate.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has long supported the training of these catechists. Last year 42 trainees were able to put $12,600 provided by ACN benefactors, toward the cost of their training.

To all our generous benefactors who provided this help, we pass on their grateful thanks!

ACN Interview – Archbishop reports on the current situation in the Holy Land

11.09.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Tobias Lehner, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN Iview – Holy Land

“Religious fundamentalism places Christians on the fringes of society”

by Daniele Piccini & Tobias Lehner, ACN International

Pierbattista Pizzaballa has already spent more than three decades of his life in the Holy Land. In 2016, the Franciscan was made Archbishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In an interview with Daniele Piccini while visiting ACN Germany, the archbishop recently explained why current international political decisions exacerbate the conflict in the Holy Land and why the Church is relying on the power of small steps.


 

ACN: Your Grace, what is the current situation of the Christians in the Holy Land?

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa: It is often said that three groups of people live in the region that is considered the Holy Land proper: Israelis, Palestinians and Christians. But the Christians are not a “third people”. The Christians belong to the people among whom they live. As Christians we don’t have any territorial claims. Meeting a Christian does not represent a danger to Jews or Muslims. However, life is not easy for the Christians: it is more difficult for Christians to find work or a flat. The living conditions are much more difficult.

 

 

Does this mean that the religious freedom of the Christians is very restricted in the Holy Land?
It is necessary to make distinctions here. The freedom to practice religion is one thing, the freedom of conscience is another. The freedom to practice religion exists: the Christians can celebrate their divine services and develop their community life. Freedom of conscience means that all church members can express themselves freely and should members of other religions wish to become Christians, they have the right to do so. That is a lot more complicated.

Politics always plays a major role in the Holy Land. Even wanting to visit a certain place can quickly evolve into a political issue. For example: Christians from Bethlehem would like to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to pray. However, this is often not possible because they need a permit to do so. Therefore, is this an issue of religious freedom or is it just politics and they are not being granted permission to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because they are Palestinians? It is all interconnected.

 

“The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians.”

 

The U.S. government recently moved its Embassy to Jerusalem. How perceptible are the effects of political measures of this kind?
For the time being, this has not had much of an effect on everyday life. However, politically, relocating the U.S. Embassy is a dead end. All issues relating to Jerusalem that do not take account of both sides – Israelis and Palestinians – lead to a deep fracture on a political level. And that is exactly what happened. After the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, the Palestinians broke off all relations with the U.S. government, bringing the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian regions, which were moving sluggishly anyway, to a complete standstill.

The old City of Jerusalem

The latest escalations have led to the radicalization of a growing number of young people, particularly among the Palestinians. Does this also have repercussions for the Christians?
There are Palestinians who belong to fundamentalist movements. But there are also many who oppose violence. The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians. Therefore, they live under the same conditions as the Palestinian Muslims. Religious fundamentalism places Christians clearly on the fringes of society. We experience both cooperation and solidarity, but also exclusion and discrimination.

 

Another problem is the growing emigration of Christians …
Emigration is not a mass phenomenon, or the Christians would have long since disappeared from the Holy Land. It is a constant trickle. Each year when I visit the parishes, the priests tell me, “This year we lost two, three families.”

Holy Land, May 2011: The wall separating Palestine and Israel

 

Is there something the Church can do in this dead-end political situation?
Christians make up about one per cent of the population. We therefore cannot expect to carry the same political weight as other groups. But of course the Church has strong connections worldwide. And then there are the millions of Christian pilgrims from all over the world. It is our job to communicate to the people: there is a Christian way of living in this country. There is a Christian way of living with this conflict. This is not the time for big gestures. The Church has to try to establish small connections, to build small bridges.

 

Holy Land/Jerusalem, January 19, 2016. The Abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem was targeted by vandals for a second time.

Pope Francis visited the country in 2014. Did this have an effect on the political situation, but also on the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians?
The visits of the Pope are important stepping stones on the way to peace, even though they will not bring about a major change. However, the opposite is true when it comes to ecumenism: with his visit, Pope Francis built on the historic meeting that took place between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964. Keeping this in mind, the visit of Pope Francis, in particular the ecumenical prayer in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was a decisive and perceptible turning point in the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

 

Financial aid for the implementation of the course “Healing Hatred: Spiritual Counseling in Situation of Conflict” (Sept. 2018 – Aug. 2019)

Aid to the Church in Need has been close to the Christians in the Holy Land for many years. In Jerusalem, for example, the pastoral charity funds an interreligious seminar entitled “Develop Forgiveness, Overcome Hatred” which is attended by hundreds of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Could you tell us  something about this initiative?
First and foremost, I would like to thank ACN because the pastoral charity does a great deal in the Holy Land. It supports many projects, including this seminar, which is organised by the Rossing Center. Daniel Rossing was a Jew who felt that Jerusalem in particular needed to be a place where all religions felt at home. Many young people who participate in these classes apply what they learn in their professional lives. Which makes religion, which is often an element of division in the Holy Land, an element of unity.

ACN NEWS: Pope Francis Calls on Catholics to Pray for Syrian Families

16.08.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Syria

POPE FRANCIS AND ACN – AN ACN EVENT SUPPORTING SYRIANS

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to pray for Syrian families

By Amanda Griffin and Maria Lozano, ACN International
Published on the web, Friday August 16, 2019

Rome/Montreal, Thursday August 15, 2019 – This Thursday, August 15th, Pope Francis welcomed a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and blessed 6,000 Rosaries which will be offered to the families of the war victims in Syria.

Committed to helping the suffering Christians in Syria ACN has, since 2011, supported approximately 850 projects with a budget of 52.5 million dollars. But it is clear that money is simply not enough. Spiritual support is necessary to heal the wounds and scars left by a long war.

“The Rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, shall be a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria, especially those who have lost a loved one. We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and in the whole world.” The words of Pope Francis came during the Angelus prayers at the Vatican audience with the pontiff attended by ACN President, Thomas Heine-Geldern, as Pope Francis’ personal commitment to praying for peace in solidarity with the Syrian people.

 

Consoling my people – September 15th

Considering the profound need for Christians, and indeed for the whole of Syrian society, for solidarity, consolation as well for forgiveness, reconciliation and purification of memory at both the personal and communal levels –the benediction of the Rosaries will be followed-up with a special celebration of prayers for peace in Syria, on Sunday, September 15, led by the Holy Father (In Rome).  The local Christian leaders with the support of the international pontifical charity are organizing a celebration in Syria on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Prayers for the families of victims of war (killed and kidnapped alike). Pope Francis will bless the icon of “Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians” written by a Greek-Orthodox priest in Homs.

On the same date many celebrations will unfold in all Syrian parishes where pastoral gifts will be given to families in mourning, with a special Vespers and a Procession titled: Console my people (cf. Is 40:1). With the Console my people celebration, ACN hopes to provide a much needed spiritual consolation and moral support to Syrian families and communities recovering from profound losses of members who were killed or kidnapped, to console families who mourn the loss of their dearest ones and commemorate the victims of war.

 

ACN Drop of Milk campaign for the children of Homs

Aid to the Church in Need Canada has launched a campaign to help the children in the city of Homs, Syria. The goal is to give milk daily to children of 0 to 10 years old, for a period of six months.  The objective is to raise 378,000 dollars.

Information: DropofMilk2019 or 1-800-585-6333.

 

 

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 – Bosnia-Herzegovina – Construction

05.06.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Bosnia Herzegovina, Eastern Europe, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

 ACN Project of the Week – Bosnia-Herzegovina – Construction

By ACN International
Published on-line, June 5, 2019

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The St John Paul II Youth Pastoral Center: a tremendous success!

In 2015, the Pope John Paul II Youth Pastoral Centre was first established in Sarajevo, the capital of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is open to all young people, without distinction as to faith or ethnic origin. It was formally blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II, for whom young people were especially important and who introduced many lasting initiatives for the young, most notably of course, the World Youth Days.


The centre has been a great success. Every year around 10,000 young people aged 10 and over have taken part in the pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities held there. The slogan of the centre is “Encounter and Reconciliation – Shaping Peace and a Future Together.” The centre has 20 full-time staff, working together with around 300 volunteers on the many pastoral activities offered. The foundation of the centre was supported by ACN with a contribution of 750,000 dollars.

A fragile Church

The young people who become involved with the Saint John Paul II centre are often also very active in their own home parishes, further proof that it is possible to live together peaceably in this country, to find work, establish a family and build up a happy life. Part of the goal is also to promote interaction and cooperation among all the different ethnic groups and religions in the country, thereby building bridges for a peaceful future. Such youth work is especially important, not only for a better future but also for the survival of the Church herself.

For as a result of the war in Bosnia (from 1992 to 1995) around half of all the 500,000 Catholic Croats living there were either expelled or voluntarily emigrated. Even today, around 10,000 people are leaving the country each year, among them many Catholics, because they find themselves discriminated against in the workplace, the schools and social life generally and can therefore see little future for themselves. But those young people who are deeply involved in their parish life tend to stay on and have faith in the future.

Now, however, the capacity of the centre in Sarajevo is not enough to cope with the high demand, and so a new centre has been opened in northern Bosnia, as a sort of branch centre. It can offer overnight accommodation to up to 10 people and likewise offers a wide range of activities, including such things as seminars for youth group leaders, interfaith and ecumenical initiatives and many more things besides. The grounds of the centre also have a farm, with animals and an orchard where the young people can work. The centre is already up and running, but there are still a number of finishing touches remaining to be done, especially in the bathrooms and toilet blocks.

Additionally, there is a plan to set up a sort of outdoor stage, with seating for open-air performances and the like. ACN is proposing to help with a contribution of $30,000, so that the work on the centre can be quickly completed.

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