Interreligious Dialogue


“The seed has been sown” – Abu Dhabi interreligious dialogue conference

11.02.2019 in Abu Dhabi, ACN Canada, ACN NEWS, By Oliver Maksan, Interreligious Dialogue, Journey with ACN

Pope Francis

“The seed has been sown”

Eastern Church leaders hope historic papal visit in Abu Dhabi will be a source of lasting momentum

Catholic Church leaders from the Near East have emphasised the significance of Pope Francis’s visit to the United Arab Emirates. “I believe that this is a very positive sign for the relationship between Islam and Christianity in the region,” Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, head of the Coptic Catholic Church, commented. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Monday in Abu Dhabi, he said, “We Christians in Egypt may harbour renewed hope. The fruits will not become apparent immediately, but the message of tolerance and fraternity has been sown.”

The importance of the meeting taking place on Monday in Abu Dhabi between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University of Cairo, Ahmed al-Tayeb, one of the highest Sunni authorities, cannot be stressed enough, the Church leader explained. “This visit will help to correct the false image that many Muslims have of Christianity,” said the Patriarch, which Church is united with Rome. “Conversely, many Christians will realise that the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. The Islamic authorities want to show that they have nothing to do with terrorism.”

In the Holy Land as well, there is hope that the papal visit will be a source of momentum. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need on Monday in Abu Dhabi, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said, “The message of fraternity and dialogue that the Pope has brought to the Arab Peninsula is hopefully a seed that will also take root in the Holy Land.” The Apostolic Administrator of the

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  “The message of fraternity and dialogue that the Pope has brought to the Arab Peninsula is hopefully a seed that will also take root in the Holy Land.” 

Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stayed in the Gulf State during the visit of Pope Francis. This is the first time in history that a pope has visited the Arab Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

Archbishop Pizzaballa continued, “We cannot expect this visit to bring a concrete solution. Only general statements can be made. However, the meeting itself is momentous because it gathers together religious leaders in a region that is the cradle of the monotheistic religions, but also one that is shaken by religious conflict. A meeting between the Pope and the Grand Imam is thus an important sign.” According to Archbishop Pizzaballa, the Christian-Islamic dialogue has entered a new phase. “There is a before and after ISIS,” the Italian Franciscan said. “The Islamic-Christian dialogue began a long time ago. But it was very formal and general. With the appearance of ISIS, the dialogue became more concrete and more realistic. For all involved, it is about stopping aberrant behaviour as well as killing and massacre in the name of religion.” As religions in the Near and Middle East also have a political and social dimension, the archbishop continued, the issue has now become how to develop positive relationships with each other in everyday life.

Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, head of the Coptic Catholic Church and Bishop Camillo Ballin, Apostolic Vicar of North Arabia, discuss during the intereligous conference of Abu Dhabi. 

On Monday, Pope Francis attended an interfaith meeting in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The meeting with the grand imam of Cairo on Monday and the celebration of Holy Mass with 130 000 Christians on Tuesday were the highlights of the three-day trip. Pope Francis returned to Rome on Tuesday.

The Pope’s next trip to a Muslim country will take place on March 30 and 31 when François visits Morocco. This year marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s visit to the Grand Sultan of Egypt and the Pope’s travels are a way of celebrating this anniversary.


ACN Press – A courageous witness for interfaith dialogue

22.06.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Journey with ACN, Nigeria, Persecution of Christians, Services de Traduction Julie Bourbeau

A courageous witness of dialogue

Montréal, Friday, June 22nd From June 8th to 14th, Aid to the Church in Need Canada had the good luck and pleasure to welcome a direct witness to the persecution against Christians, who, for close to twenty years, has been a passionate advocate of interreligious and interethnic dialogue, Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama.

Msgr Kaigama after Mass in Toronto


“This man is endowed with incredible strength,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, ACN National Director. “Despite all of the reasons he has to be angry, he preaches peace with his words and his life choice. He chose the nonviolent option, which was not obvious given his personal story.”


Msgr Kaigama gives a Homily at Saint Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal

In fact, during meetings held in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Gatineau and Montréal, Mgr. Kaigama revealed that his tribe was affected by a previous jihad in 1804. Later on, in 1892, several members of his tribe were assassinated or enslaved, historic events not well known in the West. ” It was Fulani shepherds – Muslims – who attacked the stronghold where my tribe had sought refuge,” recounted Mgr. Kaigama. “I would have every reason to be angry.” In addition to his family story, the archbishop found himself at the heart of an episode of rare violence, right after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.


Marie-Claude Lalonde, Msgr Kaigama and Mgr Lépine, Archbishop of Montreal

Creating dialogue

When he was named Archbishop of the Diocese of Jos in April 2000, Mgr. Kaigama thought that he would be able to catch his breath. “I thought I would be able to rest,” he told us. The fact is, since February 3, 1995, he had spent a lot of energy in creating a new diocese, Jalingo. But in September 2001, this town of the Middle Belt caught fire, even though it has the reputation of being in a moderate environment, in a Nigeria that is split in two: the Muslim North and the Christian South.

Following the September 11 tragedy, the town of Jos caught fire. In 10 days, more than 1,000 people were killed. “My people were killed, my church burnt, my house destroyed, the vehicles we were using to go to remote and difficult places were all burnt. I always tell people that no one should be angrier than I! When my church was attacked, 14 people were killed; I saw their bodies at my feet. I should be the angriest person,” he repeats. But I said to myself: ‘When you are angry, you are hurting yourself most of all. Let’s find a way to talk.’ And that’s how I got into the dialogue, calling on reasonable Muslims and leaders [from all walks of life] to sit together and find solutions for every situation: what can we do to avoid crises? How can we get our people to embark on constructive dialogue when there is a problem so they don’t get into hostile confrontation?”


Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa with Archbishop Kaigama of Jos

Being a credible witness

Msgr Kaigama continues to be misunderstood by several of his compatriots and co-religionists. After all, not many Christians would dare to sleep at an Imam’s or pray at a mosque with Muslims or even attend a wedding. Some find it too weak, others, naive and a waste of time in a fight they consider already lost.


“In Africa [for the last few years], the seeds of discord and distrust have been sown, especially in Nigeria … where the Sharia was implemented in nine States,” he stated. “However, as a Christian, my duty is to do what Jesus asked me to do: He is the Light, the Truth and the Life. If I cannot follow his path, I have no reason to be what I am. I always tell my people: ‘Let’s get back to the origins [of our faith]. Following violence, the young people come to us, especially the religious leaders. They say: ‘Buy weapons for us!’ So I say: ‘If I have to fight with weapons, what does the Word ‘I give you my peace, I leave you my peace’ mean. I tell them that it’s not my mission. Even if it’s difficult – [especially] when someone has lost their father, their mother, their whole family – we try to pacify them and call on the government to do something about it.”


Msgr Kaigama with Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto

Msgr. Kaigama continues his work in favour of dialogue in Nigeria. He is one of the founders and promoters of the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre, located in Jos. In October 2017, he organized an interreligious prayer for peace with other religious leaders.

“We are keeping Msgr. Kaigama in our hearts and pray that his work bears fruit!” says Ms. Lalonde. “I invite our benefactors to pray for him and his mission, trusting that God can bring peace to even the most hardened of hearts. For Mgr. Kaigama, the words of the Gospel ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ make sense.”


Archbishop Kaigama with the ACN Team in Montreal, including volunteers!

ACN News: Nigerian Archbishop to visit Canada

29.05.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Mario Bard, Faith, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Nigeria, Nigeria, Translated by Amanda Griffin


A visit from Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama to Canada
A word of hope amidst violence and persecution

Montreal, Tuesday May 29, 2018 – Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) will welcome Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama this coming June 8 through to June 14 to Canada.   The archbishop of Jos in Nigeria, capital of the Plateau State and city situated at the very heart of the area regularly suffering the effects of violence that is being described now, less as a struggle over territory and more as the desire to Islamicize regions that are mainly Christian.

What we are observing in certain regions of Nigeria is alarming,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada, situated in Montreal.

“I am anxious to hear Msgr. Kaigama, a long time partner of ours, speak to us about the complex and difficult situation lived by the people in this region, the Christians in particular.”  This region – called the ‘Middle Belt’ because it is situated directly in the middle of the country – divides Nigeria in half: the southern half holding a Christian majority, and to the north, a Muslim majority.

“Some recent reports lead us to believe that there may be an attempt at Islamization of the majority Christian regions situated in this belt.  The coups, the massacres, the displacements and the theft of land leave thousands of people, many of who are Christians, without any resources.”

The city of Jos where Msgr. Kaigama has had a seat since 2000 was the theater of similar affronts in 2004.  Since, this man who currently presides over the country’s Catholic Bishops Conference has become an ardent defender of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  If religious fundamentalism is one of the main reasons for violence, the Archbishop has no trouble speaking out regularly against a lack of means to fight efficiently against a mounting extremism. There is no educational system worthy of claiming an effective defense of minorities. Moreover, the welfare situation is endemic at over 14%.

Msgr. Kaigama in the Sanctuary of “Lourdes Grotto” Santiago, Chile 2016. Praying for peace in Nigeria

A first visit to Canada

Msgr. Kaigama has expressed that he is “very happy about this first visit to Canada.” And despite some very serious problems in his country, the archbishop also has a great desire to convey “a note of hope” to all the people who will be coming out to hear him speak.  “A Christian must always live in hope, while continuing all the while to live and struggle so that the world becomes a just and human place.”

This recipient of the Golden Dove in 2012 for his work in promoting peace and interreligious harmony will be visiting Vancouver on June 8 where he will have a public engagement at 7:30 at Karol Wojtyla Hall.  June 9, he will be in Toronto where he will preside at Mass held at 5:00pm at Saint Michael’s Cathedral.

The following day, June 12, he will be visiting Saint Clare’s parish at 11:00am, will preside over the Mass, and will be available to meet with people directly afterwards.  On June 11 and 12, he will be in the country’s capital and will celebrate Mass at Ottawa’s Notre-Dame Cathedral.  Once again, the following day, the public is invited to meet him at the Diocesan Centre in Gatineau.

Finally, on June 13 and 14, he will end his visit in Montreal where he will celebrate Mass at at Saint Patrick’s Basilica on June 13 at 5:15pm. The following day, he is inviting the public to come and meet him at the Atwater Library for a conference beginning at 7:30pm.

For more information and for the addresses of the meeting places and parishes, please visit ACN’s website acn-canada.org/kaigama/

Or call:  1-800-585-6333.

*Given by the Italian organization named Istituto di richerche internazionali Archivio disarm.


ACN Project of the Week – Ethiopia

13.07.2017 in ACN PROJECTS, Ethiopia, Interreligious Dialogue, Spiritans


Supporting pastoral work in all its various aspects

The Borana people live in the far south of Ethiopia in a region bordering on Kenya. In many ways, the Catholic Church is in her infancy here, since Catholic missionaries only arrived in the region about 45 years ago.


The Holy Spirit Fathers (Spiritans) who work in this area have now established three parishes and several schools. The missionaries sank boreholes and made wells for the local Borana people encouraging some to settle nearby.


They are a nomadic people, and while some have recently become more permanently settled, many continue to live their traditional nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place with their flocks of cattle in search of grazing lands. As this is a very arid region, access to water is a matter of life or death. The Borana occasionally come into conflict with members of other tribes when the water supply dwindles and grazing become scarce, or where one tribe drives its herds onto the territory of another. But the presence of the Catholic Church in the region has made for fewer conflicts. In the past, an unwritten law existed whereby the men had to show courage by fighting—If one’s opponent drew his weapon, then he too had to be ready to fight. Things have now changed to some extent, because the tribesmen who have embraced the values of Christianity, are now immediately ready to make peace instead.


The presence of the Church has also improved the lives of some women. In the Borana tradition, a girl never “marries” but “is married.” She is never asked for her consent to the marriage, in the past the dignity of a woman was not considered. If a girl should fall pregnant before the marriage, she would be sold off to an enemy tribe. But now, the Catholic Church is presenting the people with a different concept and understanding of marriage teaching that both man and woman have an equal dignity in the sight of God. There is also growing interest in education among the people. The Church is encouraging parents to realize that a school education is just as important for girls as for boys. The Holy Spirit Fathers have accordingly opened several schools in this region. Initially, the people did not trust them, but gradually they have come to understand that education can help to improve their lives and better understand their own rights and dignity. Moreover, they can deepen their understanding of their newfound faith by reading the Bible and other religious writings.

Able to visit faraway regions

There is great interest in Christianity among the people, and especially among the children and young people. The Holy Spirit Fathers want to intensify their work, especially with the young. Therefore, they organize meetings with young people from other tribes.


It is usually very rare for young people to have an opportunity to meet and talk with young people from other tribal groups in this remote and underdeveloped region. But Ethiopia has such a vast ethnic and cultural diversity with over 80 different ethnic groups rub shoulders and speaking as many languages. In many cases, often belonging to different religious groups as well. Therefore meeting others becomes a crucially important experience, particularly for young people who may have a tendency to wander away from their own isolated homes to travel into other areas, towns and cities, where they then may face major problems in coming to terms with what is to them, a completely alien environment.


It is also important for the adults to be carefully accompanied on their path of faith. Many of those who are baptized are already married according to traditional tribal customs. When they embrace Christianity, they are also helped to prepare for a Christian marriage in church, so that they can then live their lives in a fully Christian spirit. It is clearly seen that the number of the Catholic faithful who attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion increases considerably because of these marriage preparation programs. The priests also try as often as possible to visit and accompany the sick and the disabled, who cannot get to church, providing them the opportunity to receive Holy Communion and, where appropriate, the Anointing of the Sick.


The Holy Spirit Fathers are also working to improve the training of lay catechists who visit the people in their villages and help teach them the Faith. It is clearly important for them to have a sound understanding of the Holy Scriptures and Church teaching, to serve as guides for others and help them deepen their spiritual life.


We have promised $6,960 to reinforce and support their pastoral outreach of the Spiritans in this region.

Thank you for supporting us in this work!



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

ACN Interview – Meeting between the Pope and Grand Imam

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


The ice has been broken

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


It concerns all Christians 


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


The situation is really improving for Christians! 


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


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


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


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


Project trip of Agnieszka Dzieduszycka and Ilona Budzbon


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







Syria/Russia Syria trip of Catholic and Orthodox delegation

14.04.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Feature Story, Interreligious Dialogue, Lebanon, Orthodox Church, Russia, Syria

Syria 08 April 2016
The street in Al-Qaryatayn few days after liberated from ISIS.


Syria trip of Catholic and Orthodox delegation – a “tangible reaction to the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow”

ACN Middle East specialist, Father Halemba in front of St Elian Church (Syriac Orthodox) in Ql-Qaryateyn

ACN Middle East specialist, Father Halemba in front of St Elian Church (Syriac Orthodox) in Ql-Qaryateyn


Last week, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation, Archpriest Stefan (Igumnov), secretary for inter-Christian dialogue of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Father Dr. Andrzej Halemba, Middle East expert for Aid to the Church in Need, as well as Peter Humeniuk, Russia expert for Aid to the Church in Need, met there with representatives of the various Christian denominations to show “a sign of solidarity” and “to explore the possibilities for joint relief efforts,” Mr. Humeniuk said. He called the joint trip of an Orthodox and Catholic delegation to Lebanon and Syria a “tangible reaction” to the common declaration of Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.


When asked about what had prompted the trip, Mr. Humeniuk said, “In their declaration both Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill were united in denouncing the persecution of Christians and the dramatic situation of the Christians in the Middle East. This was one of the reasons for their historic meeting this past February. The Catholic and the Russian Orthodox church in Russia have acted on the message of their leaders by taking steps to respond together to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.” He also said the reaction to the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow had been “very positive” in the Middle East and had “drawn a great deal of attention.”


“Plans are already being made for the future”

In the Middle East, the meeting of the two church leaders was “understood as being a strong signal that the Christian denominations needed to stand united to face the situation of suffering, war and persecution.” During the trip it was decided that concrete areas of cooperation between the various Christian churches in the Middle East would be the documentation of the holy sites in Syria that were destroyed during the war, in order to record the damage, as well as the collection of testimonies of the martyrdom of Syrian Christians to preserve them for posterity. A joint campaign on behalf of children was also considered. Mr. Humeniuk described the trip of the Catholic and Orthodox delegation as a first step that would be “followed by others.”


Mr. Humeniuk emphasized: “During the trip, time and again we were told that what is most important for many Christians in the Middle East is having their bishops stay with them and that they are more interested in the restoration of the destroyed church buildings, where parish life took place, than in the rebuilding of their own homes. The flock wants to gather around its shepherd. That impressed me deeply. It is clear that so many resources are necessary to rebuild the buildings that it will be impossible to procure them at short notice. However, plans are already being made for the future.”


Russia Syria 1


Aid to the Church in Need organized this trip because the international Catholic pastoral charity is very active in the Middle East and has also been working for 25 years to establish a dialogue between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.


Besides Beirut and Damascus, the delegation visited the Bekaa Valley at the border between Syria and Lebanon where a large number of Syrian refugees have found shelter. Several refugee families in Zahlé described their fate to the delegation. Maronite Patriarch Béchara Rai and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Gabriele Caccia were among the church representatives with whom the delegation met in Lebanon. In Syria, since both patriarchs were currently travelling, the delegation met with one representative each of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. They further met Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and All the East, the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, as well as numerous other bishops.





ACN Interview – Interreligious dialogue in Pakistan

07.12.2015 in ACN Canada, ACN Intl, ACN PRESS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Interreligious Dialogue, Pakistan


Grand Imam and Dominican Unite Against Christian Persecution in Pakistan

With persecution against Christians rife as the result of radicals and militants,  the Grand Imam of Pakistan’s second largest mosque, Badshahi Mosque in Lahore,  Imam Syed Muhammad  Abdul Khabir Azad, and a Dominican priest, Father James Channan OP, are working together to protect the country’s embattled Christian minority. Father Channan is the Director of Peace Center, Lahore, whereas, Imam Abdul Khabir Azad serves as a board member and close collaborator of Peace Center.

In an exclusive joint interview with Aid to the Church in Need,  Imam Abdul Khabir Azad and Father Channan described the conditions in Pakistan and their work together.

Imam Abdul Khabir Azad and Father Channan act swiftly when outbreaks of persecution occur, seeking to bring healing to those affected and minimize retaliatory attacks.

For example, on 15th of  March 2015, two suicide bombers approached churches; St Joseph’s Church of Catholics and Christ Church of the Protestants/ Church of Pakistan,  in Youhanabad, Lahore, which is  one of Asia’s largest Christian colonies.   At the cost of their own lives, security guards intercepted the bombers at the church gates. Still, the detonations killed 22, Christians and Muslims,  and wounded another 70.

En 2014, à la suite de la mise à mort du couple chrétien Masih selon la loi sur le blasphème, une rencontre interreligieuse afin de dénoncer cet événement.

In 2014, following the execution of a Christian couple who were victim to the Pakistani Blasphemy law, a meeting of an inter-religious nature was called in order to denounce the event.

The great majority opposed to terrorists

In close consultation with Father Channan, Imam Abdul Khabir Azad went to the Youhanabad community the next day as a public witness of Muslim solidarity with Christians.

The next week Imam Abdul Khabir Azad organized a march in front of his Badshai Mosque—a vast facility that can accommodate as many as 100,000 worshippers—to demonstrate mainstream Muslim opposition to terrorism and call  for peace and harmony.

Father Channan’s Peace Center also conducts ongoing efforts of reconciliation through publishing a journal, Umang, and holding Christian-Muslim and ecumenical conference and  workshops throughout the year. Imam Abdul Khabir Azad´s focuses on rural Islamic clerics, who are often the instigators of religious violence. He is very much committed to bring a positive change among these clerics so they do not make announcements in the mosques against the Christians.  In 2004  Imam Abdul Khabir Azad organized an interfaith conference inside the Badshahi mosque, the first time Christians had been invited to speak in the mosque in its 350 year history. Fr James Channan was invited to give first ever speech in this mosque on the significance of Christian-Muslim  relations and dialogue.

Since the atrocities of 9/11 in the United States more than 60,000 Pakistanis—most of them Muslims—have been killed by the  terrorists. While slow to recognize the internal threat, the Pakistani government now pursues a vigorous policy against terrorism under the able command of Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif. Imam Abdul Khabir Azad estimated that the armed forces have successfully eliminated 80% of Pakistan´s terrorists.

Laws that are misused

Many problems remain  however, especially in regard to the abuse of Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws, according to both Father Channan and Imam Abdul Khabir Azad. There is a grave to work on this issues both by the Christians and Muslim so that blasphemy laws are not misused and those who misuse these laws are brought to justice and given exemplary punished so that no one dares to use these laws to settle personal scores.

For example, on March 2, 2011 Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the first as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated by members of the Taliban for his opposition to this law and its provisions. The former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated, by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, after criticizing the blasphemy provisions as “black law.”[i]

L'un des membres de la famille Masih, consoler par les membres du Peace center de Lahore.

A family member or the murdered Masih couple, consoled by the members of the Peace Centre in Lahore.

Father Channan cited a case that illustrates just how bad anti-Christian feelings and  persecution can be. On November 4, 2014, a Christian couple,  Mrs. Shama Masih wife of Shahzad Masih was accused of desecrating the Quran in the village of Kot Rodha Kishan.  Shamah Masih was a 24 year-old mother of four and pregnant at the time. Shama along with her husband  were seized by an angry mob, tortured, and then burned alive in a brick kiln. It was a crime against humanity, says Fr James Channan.  The Imam also condemned this barbaric act in the strongest words.

It is dangerous to speak out against such abuses, but Imam Khabir Azad does so regularly.  “I have received threats from the work that I am doing, but I am not going to give up. It is the need of the hour, and it is my mission.” The Imam takes inspiration from Jesus as the Prince of Peace, his favorite image of Christ.

We must find as much common ground as we can, Fr. Channan says, in order to build a better society for everyone. This can bring about a “conversion of heart” in terms of having Muslims and people from other faiths recognize Christians as worthy fellow citizens.

Constructing a better society

Father Channan calls evangelization and inter-religious dialogue the “two tracks on which the train of Catholicism runs.” Through evangelization Christ’s followers, in obedience to his command, offer all people the opportunity to be reconciled to God through his death and resurrection and thus be baptized. Whereas, the aim  of inter-religious dialogue is not to convert the other, rather seek those things which are common if different religions and thus work jointly for the better of humanity and promoter peaceful co-existence and respect for the religion of the others.

At the same time, inter-religious dialogue has a role to play as well—one with a civic as much as an eternal character. We must find as much common ground as we can, Fr. Channan says, in order to build a better society for everyone. This can bring about a “conversion of heart” in terms of having Muslims and people from other faiths recognize Christians as worthy fellow citizens.

The importance of inter-religious dialogue in countries like Pakistan can hardly be overstated. For this reason Father Channan was appointed as  Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1985 -1995), and also served  as a Consultor  to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (1999-2004).  Father Channan has been regularly consulted on religious issues by Pakistan’s government and travels internationally lecturing on the importance of peace building through dialogue.

Fr. Channan has seen many Islamic leaders in Pakistan move from a position in which they would not even share a meal with Christians to one of real friendship—the kind of friendship that is so well exemplified by  Imam Abdul Khabir Azad and Father Channan.

[i] Mumtaz Qadri was given death sentence by the Sessions Court and this verdict is upheld by the High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan. It was shocking for some that for the militants Qardi is seen as a hero who has done right thing by killing Salman Taseer. However, such a claim is rejected by all law enforcing agencies.