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International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 

Central African Republic – The Church fears a massacre in Bangassou

25.01.2018 in ACN Chile, Africa, Aid to refugees, by Loreto Prado, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Prayer

Central African Republic –
The Church fears a massacre in Bangassou

 

From his place in hiding, together with other priests, Father Yovane Cox, a Chilean missionary in the Central African Republic, has contacted the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) with an urgent plea for our prayers. “The cathedral in Bangassou is being attacked”, he told us last Friday 19 January. “The situation is quite critical, because this attack had already been foretold, and yet the UN forces in charge of security here paid no attention to what people told them. It seems almost as though they want to see a massacre here in the cathedral, and in the area where the Muslims are being sheltered”, he told us.

 

Already in May 2017 some 2000 Muslims took refuge in the grounds of the diocesan minor seminary of the Catholic Church (around 200 metres from the cathedral), seeking protection. Today a little under 1000 are still sheltering there. “All around this place there are armed men on the prowl, hoping that one of the Muslims will emerge, so that they can kill him”, Father Yovane explained, at the same time speaking of the inhuman conditions in which they are living. “Some of the Muslims try to leave the site to go and look for firewood, while others do so in order to scavenge in the houses that have been abandoned around the area (in search of food they need to survive on)”, he explained. Yesterday, one of these Muslims was caught by the anti-balakas, (the anti-Muslim rebel gang) and murdered him on the spot. This caused great alarm among the Muslims who are still sheltering in the grounds of the Catholic Church. According to Father Yovane, if it had not been for the contingent of Cameroonian soldiers, who intervened, the situation would have been still more critical.

Central African Republic
Muslim refugees next to the Cathedral in Bangassou.

 

The priests in the Catholic mission are watching helplessly, expecting that at any moment the anti-balakas may invade the camp, intending to kill the Muslims who have taken refuge there. And with no one intervening to prevent them. “By the silence of the state authorities and the inaction of the UN forces in not wanting to move the few Muslims still left on this site, they are simply inviting a confrontation between the two groups and a resulting bloodbath. What we are sounding the alarm about and what we are asking them to do is to please relocate them from this site, because it is the only way of saving those still remaining here, who are for the most part women and children”, the Chilean priest told ACN.

 

United Nations: accused of inaction

 

Nine months have now passed since the truce between the antibalakas and the Muslims broke down. This country, already marked by a history of violence and warfare, is today living through one of its most difficult chapters. “We are in a situation in which nobody is in control – neither the government, nor the United Nations nor the local authorities, and still less we ourselves in the Catholic Church” Father Yovane explained, adding that the Church is the only organisation that has remained here to help. “There are no other organisations, most of them have left. The last to do so wasDoctors Without Borders.”

 

When we asked him about the situation of the Christians in the diocese, he explained that “the Christians are for the most part living in hiding in their villages or in the suburbs. They are too frightened to gather in the churches or in the cathedral. When we celebrate Holy Mass on Sundays those who attend number no more than 15 or so. We priests are limited in what we can do and our pastoral work is at a standstill. Some of the clergy are living in the capital and the rest are limited in our activities.” This is due to the deep gulf between the positions of the radical Muslims, who see the Catholic Church as complicit (with the anti-balakas), and the anti-balakas themselves, who see the Church as a traitor for protecting the Muslims and giving them shelter. “There is a mutual incomprehension, a very deep antagonism, and the Church finds herself caught in the middle between them, a perfect target for anybody who has lost control of the situation”, Father Yovane tells us unhappily.

Central African Republic
Father Yovane Cox, a Chilean missionary, before the start of the conflict.

 

Request for prayers

 

At the present time only two of the eight parishes in the diocese are still open and most of the priests are living at the cathedral in Bangassou for their own security. The violence in the region has forced them to close down all the schools of the diocese. “We cannot gather the children in the schools, knowing that it would be immensely difficult to assure their safety in the classrooms”, the Chilean priest explains. For him this has meant postponing his dream of opening a new school in his own parish of Bema, and educating 400 children.

Central African Republic
Father Yovane Cox, a Chilean missionary in the Central African Republic – now in Bangassou.

 

Above all he is calling on us to pray. “We know that our only security is that which comes to us from God and it is in Him that we place our entire lives and our trust”, he tells us. “We are conscious that the Church in the diocese of Bangassou is in the midst of a fight between men, trying to bring a little peace, though her voice is scarcely being heard.” Nevertheless, he still thanks ACN “for being the voice of those whom nobody listens to, the voice of those who have been forgotten…”

 

From 2014 to 2016 the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need supported the Catholic church
in the Central African Republic with 3,9 million dollars. 

Text: Loreto Prado, ACN-Chile
Adaptation: ACN-Canada.

Turkish offensive in northern Syria: Christians desperate for help

25.01.2018 in ACN International, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Karla Sponar, Middle East

Turkish offensive in northern Syria
Christians desperate for help

 

Just a few days after the attacks on north Syria began, Christians in Afrin have launched an urgent appeal for help. “The congregation of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Afrin is asking for immediate international protection for the believers in the city,” reads the appeal, which was forwarded to the international aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We call for an immediate stop to the Turkish bombardment.”

 

The appeal had been written by members of the local evangelical community during the shelling that began in northern Syria over the previous weekend.

“We are under serious attack,” states the desperate message from Christians in Afrin. Afrin is part of the Aleppo Governorate with around 36 000 inhabitants.

According to the appeal, the community is even under siege from two sides: for days, they have been subject to heavy Turkish shelling as well as attacks from Islamic troops that are also moving in on the zone from the periphery.

Damascus: Christians attacked

ACN’s partners on the ground have reported that in Damascus in southern Syria, attacks on Christian districts began last Monday. Several individuals were injured, with at least one fatality. Most of the victims are young, including a student According to the Maronite Archdiocese of Damascus 24 people were injured, including seven children who were hit while entering their school. The short message stated that there was fear and trepidation among the faithful and called for prayers for peace on January 25th, the feast of Saint Paul’s conversion, which is a key date in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

 

Last autumn the security situation had improved to the point where schools in Syria were able to reopen.  In 2017 the international charity ACN has contributed 6,9 millions dollars in emergency aid to Syria.

 

 


 

DRC – Attacks on the Catholic Church

19.01.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Africa, By Murcadha O'Flaherty and John Pontifex, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Julie Bourdeau

DRC :

security forces accused of killings in more than 130 Church attacks

 

Army and police in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stand accused of killing at least four people and injuring several others in attacks on more than 130 churches around the country. In the latest incident on Friday (January 12th), two people were injured when security forces reportedly fired tear gas at Kinshasa Cathedral after a mass for lay people killed by the military and the police.

 

Father Apollinaire Cikongo, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Kananga Province, which covers eight dioceses in central DRC, said: “There was a mass at Kinshasa Cathedral remembering at least four people killed on December 31st.”

In his statement given to the Catholic charity “Aid to the Church in Need,” he continued: “After this mass, the army and police again fired tear gas and two people were injured.”

Church leaders have blamed DRC’s security forces for attacks over the New Year which took place at 134 churches and chapels in the capital, and a number of provinces in the country.

This lady was shot in the head with a live bullet. They thought at the time that she was dead but she had survived. Soldiers and police are accused of firing live ammunition as the faithful were coming out of Mass at St Dominic’s Church, Limete. 

Soldiers and police are accused of firing live ammunition as the faithful were coming out from mass at St. Dominic’s Church, Limete.

Accusing the DRC’s police and army of an unprovoked attack in the grounds of the church, St. Dominic’s parochial vicar, Father Jean Nkongolo, said that when he asked them to stop shooting the parishioners, he was shot in the face by a rubber bullet and injured.

As well as rubber bullets, security forces fired ‘stun’ projectiles and tear gas at the religious procession in the grounds of the church, reportedly almost killing a woman.

Four other parishioners were injured by rubber bullets during the attack.

Father Nkongolo’s account was relayed through Father Cikongo, who said: “Every Sunday after mass, the parishioners go to the Grotto of Our Lady within the church grounds to pray the Salve Regina prayer and get a blessing. Father Nkongolo said that it was at this moment that the parishioners were attacked and shot with tear gas and rubber bullets by the security forces.”

 

Describing how Fr Nkongolo received his facial injury, Father Cikongo said: “Father Nkongolo went over to the police to tell them to stop because the people were innocent and had done nothing wrong. Father Nkongolo told me that it was at this moment that a policeman shot at him directly towards his eyes with a rubber bullet, but thanks be to God, Fr Nkongolo reacted quickly and moved his head away from the attack. Otherwise he would have been hit in the eyes, but he was shot on the side of his face

Father Cikongo said that after the attack, Father Nkongolo noticed the woman shot in the head, picked her up off the ground and carried her into the church.

Father Cikongo said: “This one lady was shot in the head with a live bullet. Fr Nkongolo said: ‘we thought at the time that she was dead, but she had survived.’”

 

The woman was taken to hospital, where the latest reports describe her condition as stable.

Father Cikongo said that after the mass, the parish had decided against taking part in a peaceful march organized by lay faithful after the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila reneged on a deal to stand down and not serve a third term.

But now, after the attack at Kinshasa Cathedral, Father Cikongo said the lay faithful – the Lay Coordination Committee – has called for a peaceful demonstration on Sunday (January 21st).

Blood stained Tiles on the church compound – St Dominic’s Church.

Pray for the People of DRC and pray for the Catholic Church and Her pacific work. 

ACN Project of the Week – DRC

11.01.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Africa, Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dominican Fathers, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, MOTORIZATION, Project of the Week, TRANSPORTATION

Success Story: Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

A minibus for the Dominican Fathers in Kinshasa

 

The Dominican Fathers in Kinshasa are delighted to have received their new minibus. Their old vehicle finally gave up the ghost, irrevocably, while travelling on the road, some 210 km (130 miles) away from their home monastery. From that time onward, they were forced to cope somehow or other without a vehicle. But thanks to the generosity of our benefactors who have given $33,000, they have at last been able to purchase a new minibus.

 

The Dominican Order, which celebrated its 800 years of existence in 2016, has been in existence since 1912 in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Long ago, at that time, it was Belgian priests who arrived as missionaries, but now it is the home-grown Congolese religious who are following in their footsteps. The order is represented in four dioceses of the country and has six houses, with a total of 42 priests. The Dominican Fathers are involved in chaplaincy work with the military and the police, and they also care for former child soldiers, for orphans, the crippled and disabled and for victims of sexual violence. They are also involved in the running of five local parishes.

 

A minibus translates into more study time

Blessing of the minibus offered by the benfactors of Aid to the Church in Need, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

There are many new vocations. Currently there are 17 students, six novices and eight pre-novices who are preparing to commit themselves one day fully to the order through their solemn vows. Two young men have already been ordained to the diaconate in fact, and are now looking forward to their ordination as priests.

The new minibus is very important to the Dominicans for the effective realization of their many different activities. However, its most important use is for the young men who are pursuing their studies. For one of the two universities where these students are training is around 10 miles (15 km) away from the Dominican monastery, and public transport in the 13 million-strong (new statistics show 17 million!) city of Kinshasa is inadequate and unreliable.

As a result, the students found it almost impossible to arrive punctually and reliably for their studies, and on top of this they were in a constant state of near exhaustion, having been forced to waste a great deal of time that they should have been able to devote to their studies and to their monastic life.

Father Albert Akora Kanika writes, “Thanks to the new vehicle, our students are exposed to fewer dangers on the roads; they are healthier and happier and can pursue their studies better and more regularly – and above all take part in the life of the monastery while looking to achieve better grades in their studies.”

If you are inspired by this project and wish to contribute to a similar one, please click the donate button!

 

 

 

 


 

Brussels : A call from the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholics to NGOs

30.11.2017 in ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Syria

His Beatitude Ignatius Younan III, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholics worldwide

“Please be our voice to your policy-makers and media!” A call from the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholics to European NGOs



His Beatitude Ignatius Younan III, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholics worldwide, addressed a group of 30 representatives of European NGOs gathered to hear about the situation of Christians in Syria and Iraq after the departure of Daesh.

Having closely followed the EU policy toward Syria, he expressed hope to soon see an end to the sanctions causing such suffering to the Syrian citizens who at the moment completely depend on Catholic charitable organizations for their every need.

Al Midan Syria Aleppo 2017 August

In the meeting co-hosted by Aid to the Church in Need and the Commission of European Bishops’ Conferences (COMECE), Patriarch Younan asked the participants, all witnesses to close to six years of war in Syria, to help his people “to be free of the three “Ps”: paternalism, pandering and profiteering” as he believes Syriac Catholics have been victimized for a long time by external forces. “We have been a loyal community serving the country where we were born, fully endowed citizens. We are the indigenous population,” said His Beatitude, “but because we do not have our own militias or territorial ambitions everyone thinks we agree with everything or we are easy to overrun. For us it is a matter of survival.  If it was not for the Church organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need we would be about to disappear.”

Patriarch Younan was accompanied by Archbishop Antoine Chahda of Aleppo, who described the situation in the city these days. “No more missiles, and it is quiet, but that does not mean the war is over. I mean that the signs of the destruction of the entire life of Aleppo are visible and painful, such as the empty factories where the rebels and their supporters stole all the machinery. We need the industrial leaders to come back and produce, to give a solid base to the reconstruction.”

Both Church leaders insisted for an end to the economic sanctions, and asked the help of the NGOs present to remind the EU authorities that the high-level politicians do not suffer the consequences, but the thousands of orphans and widows that this war has left do.

Young man walking between debris, streets and buildings destroyed after the escape of the rebels in Aleppo, Syria.

by Marcela Szymanski, ACN International

 

 

ACN Feature Story – Bulgaria

20.10.2017 in Bulgaria, CONSTRUCTION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Priests

Bulgaria

Supporting Romani Children

“If we don’t do anything, the fate of the Romani children will be sealed,” Salesian Father Martin Jilek from Stara Zagora in Central Bulgaria, 230 kilometers to the east of the capital of Sofia, said. “They are married off by their clan when they are fourteen.

Then they have children early on and live off of the child benefit, which is about 40 leva per month and child.” That is equivalent to about 29 dollars – the only source of income of many Romani families.

Around 28,000 Roma live in Stara Zagora, most of these children and adolescents. They live in shacks, run-down houses or in the shells of unfinished buildings. In Bulgaria, around a million people are said to belong to the Romani people (sometimes better known by the name ‘Gypsies’ in North America). No exact numbers are known for they live in a parallel society. Clan structures are opaque to those on the outside. The Romani people, in this country, are despised, hated and banned from public life.

The resentment is so great that even Bulgarians who have a slightly darker skin tone have a hard time getting jobs. The Roma generally only achieve a rudimentary level of education, if any at all. For this reason, many Roma fall into unemployment and a life of petty crime. This in turn strengthens the clichés and creates even more obstacles. The only source of income that remains is the child benefit.

Bulgaria, Stara Zagora 2012 – Summer activities for youth in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, an initiative taken by Salesians of Don Bosco: break dancing

Father Martin and his confrères are not content to leave things as they are. With the support of the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they have established a building for education right in the middle of the Romani district and want to offer them better opportunities.

Bulgaria, Stara Zagora 2012 Summer activities for youth in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, an initiative taken by Salesians of Don Bosco: Stations of the cross (cross way) – with Father Martin Jilek (center)

“For many it comes as a surprise when we address them by their names”

The Salesians have, for example, set up a kind of after school homework program – which offers so much more. The children come after school, eat together, play and learn. Unfortunately, many don’t get any attention at home from their parents. They roam the streets, are avoided by other pupils. “For many it already comes as a surprise when we address them by their names,” Father Martin said. “We take time for the children.”

Bulgaria, May 2017 – Salesian fathers at the building site in Stara Zagora (on the left: Father Martin Jilek)

In their monastery, Roma come and go at all hours. They come to attend Holy Mass, carry out small everyday tasks, seek advice or just pay a visit. The Salesians want to do a lot more. A food bank is also planned. “This will give us the opportunity to talk to the people.”

This is an example of the impact of one the projects supported by ACN: the construction of the church and the spiritual center of the Salesians in the Roma settlement in Stara Zagora.

 

*Leva or Lev, Bulgarian currency

 

By Florian Ripka, ACN-International
Adapted by: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada

 

 


 

 

ACN News – Iraqis return home to the Nineveh Plains

15.09.2017 in ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, John Pontifex, Journey with ACN, Middle East

Nineveh Plains

“…the land where we belong.”

Celebrations mark return of Iraqi Christians to Nineveh

About 500 Christian families – up to 2,500 people – celebrated their long-awaited homecoming to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains with ceremonies marking a fresh start in their old towns and villagesTrip to Iraq of Fr. Andrzej Halemba and John Pontifex September 2017 Families with olive trees outside St George’s Church, Bartela

In Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), the largest of Nineveh’s Christian towns, priests and people holding olive branches processed through the streets chanting hymns in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Protected by security personnel in armoured vehicles, the procession was headed by priests holding crucifixes aloft.

 

A service took place at the Immaculate Conception Syriac Catholic Church, in the town centre, a building desecrated and burnt by Daesh (ISIS) militants. During the ceremony, Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects’ coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba called on people to forgive those who had forced them out of their homes and attacked their towns and villages.

 

Father Halemba told the returnees: “Of course we cry when we see the violence that has been carried out but we should remove the anger in our hearts. There should be no hatred in our hearts. We should reconcile with our neighbour.”

Afterwards, Father Halemba, who organized the ceremonies in conjunction with local clergy distributed to each family olive trees symbolising the returnees’ return to their roots – the communities where they have lived for centuries.

Another olive tree distribution ceremony took place earlier that day (Sunday, September 10) at the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, Bartella, a largely Syriac Orthodox town, close to Qaraqosh.

At least 2,000 families – 10,000 people – are reported to have returned to Qaraqosh, with at least another 500 families – 2,500 people – expected by the end of the month (September).

ACN is repairing hundreds of homes in a number of Nineveh’s Christian-majority towns and villages, where widespread destruction was carried out during and after the Daesh (ISIS) occupation of the region from August 2014 to October 2016.

 

The charity is also committed to repairing churches in both towns as well as in Teleskuf, where restoration of St George’s Church is well under way.

 

Thanking the charity for organising the ceremonies and helping with the repair of homes, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timotheos Moussa Al Shamany of Bartella said: “This was a wonderful way to mark the start of our return to our homes – the land where we belong.”

 

More celebrations and processions are due to be held today (Thursday), the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, an especially important feast in the region.

 

 

Text by John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

 


 

Iraq – Back to School

29.08.2017 in ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, By Daniele Piccini, Children, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Middle East

Kids in school, essential to the survival of Christian villages

 

The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is working against time, together with the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC) to repair and rebuild as many family homes as possible, so that the Syriac Catholic families can return in time for the beginning of the school year. Already at least 600 families have returned to this town in the Nineveh plains. Father Georges Jahola, who is in charge of the Syriac Catholic team on the NRC, predicts confidently: “In 10 years time the city will be repopulated as it was before IS.”

 

The town of Baghdeda (or Qaraqosh) on the plains of Nineveh is engaged in a fight against time, a fight for life. In September, its schools will be reopening. The Syriac Catholic families, forced to flee the town three years ago to escape the violence of the fighters of the so-called Islamic State (IS), and who have spent the last three years as internal refugees in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, now want to return home finally – in time for their children to begin their school year… if possible.

In the center, Fr. Georges Jahola, syro-catholic priest from Qaraqosh, Iraq, last spring. Celebration of the olive tree ceremony to mark the begining of the reconstruction in the Nineveh Plain.

 

“The schools in Baghdeda have been repaired by various international agencies such as the UN”, explains Father Georges Jahola, a Syriac Catholic priest who is in charge of the Syriac Catholic team and a member of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, tasked with rebuilding the city. “Unfortunately, however, the houses of the Christian families who want to return have not yet been rebuilt. Before the arrival of IS there were around 5,000 Syriac Catholic families here, of whom around 60% have school-age children. If their homes are not yet ready for habitation by September, these families might well decide to go elsewhere, and this time for good. On the other hand, if we succeed, I am sure that within 10 years, Baghdeda will have been repopulated and there will be just as many Christians here as before.”

 

An inheritance of destruction

 

In this town, 2 ½ years of occupation by thousands of IS militants – who, Father Georges suggests, “probably had their operational base right here” – have left a “legacy” of some 6,327 homes needing to be rebuilt. The terrorists set fire to 2,269 homes, partially damaged 3,950 apartments and bombed another 108. In collaboration with other organizations, ACN is helping to rebuild these homes, starting with those that are least damaged. In fact, 47 are already rebuilt in Sector E of the city. “The families are responding to this signal of hope and are beginning to return,” Father Georges remarks. “In Baghdeda 600 families have already returned. And then we have around 120 workers who have already transferred here to work on their homes while their families are still waiting in Erbil to be able to rejoin them. The children especially are so happy to be able to return home”, he adds.

Last May in Qaraqosh. The inhabitants looked at what was done to their houses by ISIS. Though hope is back, there is still a lot to do.

 

In order to be able to bring life back to Baghdeda, the water and electricity networks are gradually being repaired. “The electricity supply is slowly returning. The government in Baghdad has repaired the old generators and purchased 15 new ones, which are still not enough, however. In fact, we would need at least another 150. The terrorists of the Islamic State also damaged the water supply network and in some areas of the town, there is still no water. The authorities really need some form of earthmoving equipment, which we have not got, however”, Father Jahola explains.

 

The real beating heart of the reconstruction effort in Baghdeda is precisely here, in the offices of the Syriac Catholic team, led by Father George. “Every day we receive phone calls from Christian families who want to return home. Our engineers go and check on the structural condition of their homes and record the damage. Then they return to the office here and register the data recorded in the survey. More and more families are asking us to provide a cost estimate for the repair of their homes – in fact on account of the many requests in the last few days we have even had to engage two more engineers.”

 

Other villages in line

 

Despite the difficulties, other Christian families are now slowly returning to other places too, including Bartella, a majority Syriac Orthodox town on the Nineveh plains. Of the 650 families who lived here before the invasion of IS, 24 have now already returned. In this town, which was occupied from 6 August 2014 until 20 October 2016, IS burnt down 69 homes belonging to Syriac Catholic families, damaged 274 and totally destroyed 19. Father Benham Benoka of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee is overseeing the reconstruction of these homes in Bartella. As in Baghdeda, a team of engineers visits the homes, surveys the structural damage and provides a cost estimate. “This is the home of Dhiya Behnam Nuna, and it was built on the ruins of old Bartella”, explains Father Benoka. “The terrorists smashed holes in the walls of the apartments, so they could move from house to house without being spotted by the American helicopters”, he explains, as we walk from house to house through these very same holes in the house walls.

Hope to return home is clear for the children or Mariana school. A dream that will become true only with the help of the Universal Church.

 

The ground is covered with all kinds of ruined items – holy pictures, items of clothing, mattresses and pieces of furniture. It seems impossible that anyone could come back to live here. Yet there is an engineer measuring the size of the holes in the walls. Before long, Mr Dhiya Behnam Nuna will have new windows in his house.

 

The challenges facing Christians in the Nineveh Plains are enormous.  Currently, the count of registered families who have fled from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains living in Erbil is 14,000 (approximately 90,000 people); nearly 13,000 homes require rebuilding; there are security concerns in the villages; there are Kurdish-Iraqi political manoeuvrings on the ground; infrastructure concerns (water, electricity, roads, schools and clinics)… At the top of the list of concerns is the transition period between the end of monthly rentals and food packages and the move of these families to the restored villages. Drawing from the most recent surveys updated by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee on July 14, 2017, 1228 families have already returned to Nineveh Plains and 423 properties are under renovation of which 157 have been restored through financial contributions by ACN.

 

Since the crisis began in the summer of 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has provided ongoing support to the Christian refugees in northern Iraq. To date, a total of 45 million dollars has been donated for emergency aid including food, education, housing, pastoral help and reconstruction.


 

ACN Project of the Week – Argentina

19.07.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Argentina, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Sisters, SUBSISTENCE

Argentina

 

Support for Sisters in the poorest diocese of the country

 

For Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), suffering and need were never an abstract problem. For him it was always about the individual, a person with a face and a name, a child of God.

 

It is very easy to dismiss any sense of personal involvement when it comes to a statistic, a mere number can mean very little to us. However, the fate of an individual person with a face and a name is not as easy to distance ourselves from, for it touches us inwardly; it is a direct appeal to us personally and to the heart.

 

On his many travels around the world, Father Werenfried encountered a great many people living in poverty and destitution, in whom he saw God himself as weeping. They had names – Anna, Pablo and John, Maria and Miguel. He had looked them in the eyes, and what he had seen was for him a cry for help. He asked himself – and all of us – the question: “How is it that we are so comfortably situated? These people live beneath the same sun and the same stars as we do. God also created them on the sixth day, to be kings of creation. Where then is their kingdom? This trampling of their human dignity is a mortal sin against nature, a crying injustice. In addition, we too will personally share in this injustice if we do not do everything in our power to banish it from the world – everything in our power!”

 

 

A human crisis

Very few people know there are regions in Argentina where people live in the direst poverty. One such region is a diocese with the long name of “San Roque de Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña.”  It is one of the poorest dioceses in the country and this, on paper, seemingly dry statistic is in reality a human crisis for those involved. Some of these people live in dirty, damp, unhealthy hovels or even under plastic sheeting. There are sick people barely being cared for, emaciated children, living off little more than a little flour moistened in water, gaunt-looking mothers…

 

The diocese covers a vast area of over 27,000 square miles (70,000 km²) in the north of the country, characterized mainly by savannah and dry forestland. It is home to the descendants of various indigenous tribes who in the past used to live as nomads. Many still live as hunter-gatherers. Now the large Agro industries, which are encroaching ever further on their traditional territories, are increasingly restricting their traditional lifestyle, grubbing up the forest and establishing vast soybean plantations. At the same time, the goats and cattle of settlers and small farmers are eating the forest bare.

Bringing home the truth

The Catholic Church is the only organization supporting these people. However, the distances are huge and there are only very few priests. Therefore, the support of the religious Sisters is vital. At present, there are 38 religious from various different congregations working in the diocese. They are supporting the people in many ways and bringing home to them the truth that they are indeed children of God. They visit the families in the villages, care for the sick and elderly, pray with the people and, while bringing them urgent and vital help, while at the same time managing to introduce a little light and laughter into their poverty-stricken homes.

 

We regularly help these sisters and this year once again we plan to support them in their modest lifestyle, for all the work that they do is offered entirely free of charge. We have promised a total of $24,800 to support their life and ministry – just $653 per Sister for an entire year. Thank you to our benefactors!

 


 

ACN Interview – Violence in Marawi, Philippines – Bishop’s speaks

02.06.2017 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Jonathan Luciano, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Philippines

Violence in the Philippines

Cathedral destroyed and interreligious dialogue in peril

 

“The general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.

 

Interview by Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines National Director, with Bishop Prelate of Marawi Edwin dela Peña (MSP) about the situation in the Prelature of Marawi in the Southern Philippines, where the terrorist Maute group attacked the city, killing Christians and burning down buildings. including the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. As of press time, 104 people have been killed and more than 12,500 families have been displaced. Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General, was abducted together along with several staff from the ca. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed the authenticity of the video now circulating on Facebook which had surfaced on Fr. Chito Suganob’s profile on Tuesday (30 May). 

 

How is the present situation now in the Prelature of Marawi?

We are still right in the midst of it, I don’t know how to describe it, our people are not there anymore, they have been evacuated.  Those who have been left behind, I don’t know what their situation is because there is a continuing operation to clean up the city, to flush out the terrorists plus there is aerial bombing.  I don’t know how they are surviving it.

Source: Wikimedia

 

Was the Cathedral totally destroyed?

Yes, I was told that the cathedral and the bishop’s house have been totally destroyed, first by the torching, it was set on fire, and then by the bombing as we are right there at the center of the fighting. I’m not so sure how soon we will be able to recover. It will be very difficult for all of us, not only for Christians, but for the Muslims as well.

 

How was the Muslim-Christian relations in Marawi before the incident happened?

Marawi is about 95% Muslims. We are a very tiny minority, we are a very small church in Marawi and the greater bulk of the Catholic population in the city in the area of the university where we have students coming from other provinces in Mindanao.

 

It was beautiful. We were engaged in interfaith dialogue and we have many partners. And in fact, Fr. Cito was in the thick of it because he was, his primary focus really is to connect, to link up with all the Muslim NGOs who have partnered with us in community development and education for interfaith dialogue. It was beautiful until this extremism emerged, the fighting, the presence of these extremist elements from the Middle East. Then the radicalization of our young people, unwittingly, unknowingly, some not oriented towards the current situation in the Middle East, still have become radicalized, especially here in Mindanao.

But generally, our relations with our partners have remained very positive and in fact, we learned from them that also disavow this influx of ISIS elements coming into Marawi, because they understand exactly what this would do to the culture of their people, to their way of life. The people of Marawi have always been very peaceful.

Marawi City on fire during the first day of the siege. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)

 

Is it correct to say that the general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.

Yes, yes, yes, that is correct. In fact, what is happening today, especially that we are on Ramadan, a very holy month for them, they are not able to celebrate it the way they would have wished. They feel a certain kind of anger toward these terrorist groups coming in to disturb this very holy remembrance of Ramadan. So if these extremist groups wanted to get the support of the people, they are going about it all wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on your knowledge of how ISIS operates in the Middle East, do you see any difference with what is happening in Syria and Iraq versus what is happening now in Marawi?

It is something like that. It may not be another Syria or Iraq, but the way the city looks now after the bombing and all, it doesn’t look like Marawi anymore. The remnants of the old city, everything that we see on the news feed about Marawi, is all ruined, there is destruction everywhere. That is the image we have in mind of Syria and Iraq.

 

Who are the Maute group who led these terror attacks in Marawi?

From my own discussion with some religious figures here in Marawi, Maute is made up of Maranaos who have had to fend for themselves since the ouster of their mayor.   The mayor, previous heir of Marawi, had supported their drug-trade business.  Because he’s no longer mayor, and now that the drug peddling has been controlled by the government, the people who were used to an easy life of free-flowing drug money are suddenly without. That was probably one factor that led them toward radicalization.

We were also informed that money was coming from the outside,  as well as individuals who are part of some training.  There are foreign elements training them inside the lairs of Lanao Sur.  All of which probably are driving them to this kind of life.

The Maranao Muslims of Marawi City preparing to evacuate their ancient hometown. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN))

 

The government has kept denying that there is ISIS presence in the Philippines. What can you say about that?

I’m not so sure about it. They can deny it for as long as they can, but some people…you know what?  I’m not the right person to speak about it. I’m just echoing what I know: that some of them have even been trained outside.  For instance, the Maute brothers studied in the Middle East. They come from very rich families here who have the means to send their children to school in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I have heard about this.

 

Is there a relationship between Maute and the infamous terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf? 

I think so, the fact that Hapilon is in Lanao, in fact they were about to serve him with an arrest warrant before all this happened. That was the trigger. Hapilon is Abu Sayyaf, so they have a tactical alliance with the Maute brothers in Lanao Sur aside from the fact that both are also sympathetic to ISIS, so they have this tactical alliance, and they probably have joined forces.

 

Do you have any updates about Fr. Chito and other kidnapped Christians?

I am aware of the video of Fr. Chito since yesterday. He is alive! I am happy about that, but sad also about the reactions of the DDS netizens (DDS stands for Digong Duterte Supporters- the supporters of the president), who castigated him for his message without any regard for his present situation as a hostage deprived of his freedom. We have lost our sense of humanity! How sad! I grieve for this country, and I am so sorry for the situation of Fr. Chito and company.

Father Teresito Suganob kidnapped Mai 2017 in Marawi. (Pictures taken from facebook page from Father Suganob) Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General was abducted together with other Cathedral Staff.

We did not have any contacts with the military until a few days ago when I was able to link up with a commanding officer of the Marines division who are now doing up the clean-up operations in Marawi.  He has promised that they will do their best to locate Fr. Chito and company. There are about 12 to15 people with him. Some of them were teachers from nearby Dansalan college and they just happened to be meeting together in one place where they are being held, but some of them were at the Cathedral at the time as they were preparing for the feast of Mary, Help of Christians the following day. So we had many people in the house and in the Church doing all sorts of things.

 

Do you consider this incident as an escalation of the various anti-Christian events that have happened in Mindanao?

Yes, I suppose it is.

 

Do you know of any personal stories of solidarity between Muslims and Christians these past few days?

Yes, personal knowledge concerning the family of my driver who were holed up in one of the rice mills in Marawi City.  Accompanying them was their barangay (village) chairman. who is Maranao.  He was the one who organized the group and gave them an orientation as to how they should respond if the Maute group intercepts them along the way. So they left the house together and went toward the bridge, where buses were waiting to take them out of Marawi. I would consider them heroes for leading this group of both Christians and Muslims, to flee the danger that awaited them.

But there were some people in the group who were trying to catch up, part of the crowd trying to cross the bridge, who were then accosted by this Maute group, this terrorist group. They were asked if they were Christians. Unfortunately, they responded “yes” because they were not there when the orientation was given.

One fellow, the husband of one of our adopted families living in the cathedral compound in Marawi, was pulled out of the group because he was wearing a sleeveless shirt and had a cross tattoo on his shoulder. So he was identified as a Christian and was pulled out.

Then, lately we have heard reports of men being killed and dropped into a ravine. They say they were also part of the group trying to catch up to join the convoy of evacuees.

You can also read in the papers many other stories of Muslims trying to protect Christians.

 

How would this incident affect Christian-Muslim relations in Marawi?

Even though people are familiar with what we have been doing here in Marawi and the relationship that we have built up through the years, the old biases that Christians have had against Muslims are bound to be stirred up because of the current situation. This is very frustrating.  Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process, and incidents like these can destroy the very foundation.

And there are some people fueling these anti-Muslim sentiments. It’s sad, because we’ve made such headway in improving relations between Muslims and Christians in Marawi. Without a doubt,  Muslim-Christian relations among the Maranaos is the best compared to others considering we have done in the 41 years since the establishment of the prelature.

Our schools, some of which were here before the prelature, have always been dear to our Muslim brothers and Christians because many of their parents studied there.  Professionals in the town have attended our schools and sent their children to our schools, because they have developed this kind of patronage and loyalty to our schools.

 

What is your message to the ACN community worldwide?

It is very unfortunate that our small prelature which is the smallest and poorest local church in the Philippines had to undergo this very difficult crisis. Our Cathedral, the Bishop’s house and our parish have been destroyed.  We will have to start from scratch to rebuild and to re-establish the Christian presence in this predominantly Muslim area of Central Mindanao. We must continue our mission of offering the hand of reconciliation and friendship to our Muslim brothers and sisters because this was the legacy of Pope Paul VI when he re-established the prelature of Marawi.

At the height of the crisis in the early 70s, the Pope, quoting Bishop Tutu, stated, “We Christians should be the first to offer the hand of reconciliation and brotherhood to our Muslim brothers and sisters. That is the way to establish peace that has been broken because of the war.” I think that the same holds true for our present situation today.

We cannot turn our backs away from what we have started, what the Prelature had begun in the middle 70’s: to continue the work of dialogue, continue working with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to establish, to rebuild the broken relationships, the broken dreams and hopes of so many people to live in peace. We just want to live in peace and we would like to ask you to help us to rebuild that peace with the kind of work that we do: working with and being in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

A group of 100-200 armed men of the Maute group, a terrorist group founded by a Muslim clan whose children studied in the Middle East. The Maute group has pledged its allegiance to ISIS. (photo:  Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)

 

 

 

What are the most urgent needs at the moment?

We are not so much concerned about our needs in the moment. Our focus is more trying to do what we can to respond to the humanitarian crisis that happening in Iligan right now.  We have so many evacuees from Marawi, and they need all the support that we can give.

This is what some of our dioceses and all the dioceses of the Phillipines, including Caritas Filipinas in Manila and the Archdiocese of Manila through Cardinal Chito Tagle have requested.  They have asked us how they can be of help, and where to send all their donations. So we have united with the Diocese of Iligan to put up command centers at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Iligan City to be able to receive donations, and have organized volunteers to do the repacking and the distribution.

We are also working with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are with us in dialogue.  It is a great opportunity for us to show our solidarity in responding together to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those in the evacuation centers. So this is what we are doing.   If there is anything you can do to help us, to bring the attention of the world to what is happening in Marawi right now, to our relief operations, we would appreciate it so much.

One of the evacuation centers for Marawi City refugees. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ ACN).

Interview: Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines
English adaptation: R.P.Delaney for ACN Canada