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Julie Bourbeau

 

The Philippines: The Church in Jolo fighting the “forces of evil” – ACN

11.02.2019 in ACN International, AED Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, The Philippines

The Philippines:

The Church in Jolo fighting the “forces of evil”

“We will not allow this tragedy to divide and isolate us from the rest of the country.”

Jolo, province of Sulu – A small city in a military lockdown, an all-out war in the adjacent municipality against violent extremists, families in mourning after burying their dead, injured patients recovering in various hospitals, and some having to be amputated. Amidst all this, a local Church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo is doing its best to provide hope for the Christian minority while their Muslim partners rally their members to show a force of unity amidst the fear and pain, which this impoverished city in the province of Sulu is suffering.

The ceiling of the cathedral was damaged by the explosion.

 

This was the scene when the Aid to the Church in Need delegation visited the capital of the island of Jolo to express its solidarity with the victims just nine days after the fatal double bomb attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 27th January. This attack caused the death of 23 people, leaving 112 injured.

Discouraging Situation

News of arrests and surrender of suspected perpetrators has failed to lift the spirit of the residents. Even with the assurance of tight security, a well-organized ‘Tribute to the Victims’ managed to draw only a fraction of the expected audience. Many opted to stay at home. A few of the families are seriously thinking of leaving Jolo for good. The bombing was the last straw, breaking their resilience in the face of years of threats, kidnapping, assassinations and harassment by what they call “the forces of evil.”

The “forces of evil” are the Muslim extremists, mostly Abu Sayyaf supporters, who have been terrorizing Christian minorities for years. Among their crimes are the killing of Bishop Benjamin (Ben) of Jesus in February 1997 in the Cathedral and two other priests, Claretian Father Roel Gallardo kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2002 and Father Rey Roda, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, in 2008. The victims of violence are not only Christians, because terrorists also kidnap Muslims with the intention of obtaining ransom to finance their actions.

Sources consulted by ACN name members of Ajang Ajang – a faction of Abu Sayyaf composed of drug traffickers and criminals, as the perpetrators of the latest attack at the headquarters of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo.

However, the messages from military, local government, traditional leaders, lay partners visited by ACN are constant: the persecution was not done by Muslims but a small minority of violent extremists.

A call to stay united

“No bullet or bomb can destroy the harmonious relationship between Muslims and Christians in Jolo,” states Fr. Romeo Saniel, OMI. He has lived on the island for 18 years and was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo just a few weeks ago. As the pastor of a small minority (one percent of the whole population of 120,000), he is revered and admired by the people for his commitment to provide quality education and opportunities to the younger generation of Tausug (Sulu’s indigenous ethnic group), as well as his courage and determination to reach out to the former fighters of the Moravian Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“The only way for peace to be lasting is for both Muslims and Christians to stand together. We will not allow this tragedy to divide us and isolate us from the rest of the country,” remarks Datu Sakul Tan. As the patriarch of a powerful political clan, he is considered the most influential man in the whole of Sulu, and he strongly believes in the relevance of quality education provided by the Catholic Church for the locals.

Fr. Saniel, Administrator Apostolic of Jolo and ACN-Philippines Diirector, Jonathan Luciano.

The needs are clearly articulated by the clergy and lay people. Even as the armed forces of the Philippines aim to eliminate the Abu Sayaf Group, everyone agrees that it doesn’t guarantee peace. Those who die will simply be replaced by the younger generation.

To Find Solutions Against Extremism

Fr. Saniel and Datu Sakul Tan both concur that a long-term need is to provide young people with programmes to prevent violent extremism through formal education, awareness campaigns, the creation of productive work for young people to provide them with livelihoods, and the development of sport.

On the other hand, Fr. Jeff Nadua, OMI, Rector of the Cathedral, points to the need to rebuild the Christian community first and then rehabilitate the cathedral. “We need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”

The National Director of ACN Philippines, Jonathan Luciano, paid a solidarity visit to the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo on 4 and 5 February 2019. He visited the seriously damaged Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and spoke with the Apostolic Administrator, Fr. Romeo Saniel, OMI, as well as some relatives of the victims. 

 


 

 

Release of Asia Bibi : “A Triumph of Human Rights”

30.01.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN NEWS, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, Asia, By Mario Bard, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pakistan, Press Release, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

 Press Release – Release of Asia Bibi

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is relieved by the definitive release of Asia Bibi.

Montréal, Tuesday, January 30, 2019 – “This is a great day for the respect of human rights, for religious freedom and for justice. The Pakistani government didn’t allow the extremists who took to the streets with violence to influence them,” declared Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN).

The international Catholic charitable organization, which regularly provides information on the issue of religious freedom in the world, and particularly on the issue of Christians persecuted because of their faith, is celebrating today. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “Today’s decision is a triumph of human rights over religious intolerance, a victory of the law over the hatred of fanatics – and above all, personal happiness and great joy for Asia Bibi and her family”.

“Now, I would like the family to spend beautiful moments together and to savour the newfound freedom,” indicated Ms. Lalonde. She reminds us that, throughout the nine years of detention, many ACN benefactors prayed for her release. “Many prayed for her and this shows that faith really can move mountains,” she added, very moved by the events. “What’s most important is that Ms. Bibi is free, and that she can at last be reunited with her loved ones.”

At least 224 others accused since 1984

If Asia Bibi is free at last, there are 25 Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy who are still in prison, some of whom are awaiting execution. Philipp Ozores, Secretary General of ACN-International added, “ACN will continue to pray and work for them with other organizations and project partners in Pakistan. We can only hope that the court’s decision will at least cause the government to rethink its position and that the blasphemy laws will be relaxed or better respected.”

Marie-Claude Lalonde is sad to say that, “in Pakistan, the blasphemy law can be invoked to accuse one’s neighbour in order to resolve an unrelated dispute. We hope that the signal given with the decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court is a step in the right direction.”

Pakistan is part of the sad list of 38 countries identified in ACN’s 2018 Abridged Report on Religious Freedom as a country where violations of religious rights are significant. The situation has even worsened for religious minorities in 2018, with the country’s President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops describing “an alarming increase in violence, intolerance and extremism.” *

Summary of the story

Asia Bibi is a Catholic woman who is now 51 years old. In the fall of 2009, she was in the fields with other women, harvesting the crops. During a break, she drank from the same well as the other women, but these women considered that Asia had just contaminated it since she is not Muslim.  Asia replied, the situation escalated and her colleagues accused her of blasphemy. After a hearing, she was found guilty of blasphemy according to the laws in effect in Pakistan. In 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Thanks to the persistence of the country’s Christian community, her lawyers and international organizations denouncing this situation, Asia Bibi was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31, 2018. A fundamentalist group wanted to appeal this decision, which forced Asia Bibi to remain in the country, in hiding, for her protection. Finally, on January 29, 2019, the Supreme Court definitively rejected the request to appeal and Asia Bibi is finally free.  

In Pakistan, only 2% of the population is Christian, with a population of more than 192 million inhabitants, which is in majority Muslim.

*Page 38, Abridged Report on Religious Freedom in the World, available at the address https://files.acn-canada.org/2018/11/ACN-Religious-Freedom-Report-2018_CanENGL_WEB-1.pdf

Central Africa Tuesday’s attack: The number of deaths increase

04.05.2018 in ACN France, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Africa, Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), Emergency Aid, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

Photo: Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba

Central Africa Tuesday’s attack:

Number of dead increased

The attack on the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Bangui, the capital of Central Africa, on Tuesday, May 1, reportedly killed more than 20 people, including Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba. Initially, it was already known that 15 parishioners and Father Albert had been killed. Father Albert, who we met during an ACN delegation (it says AED) trip to Central African Republic , asked us for our continual prayers for peace in his country.

 

On May 1st, violence broke out once more in the Central African Republic. In the capital of Bangui, a group of armed men attacked the parish church of Our Lady of Fatima. Sixteen people were killed during the attack, including Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba, and around one hundred people were injured. The fighting continued in the afternoon, costing two more Central Africans their lives and resulting in a fire that burned down a mosque.

Central African Republic, November/December 2015: Father Albert Tongoumalé-Baba, St Joseph Mukasa parish priest (on the left) with HE Mons Nzapalainga.

The archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, rushed to return to the Central African Republic today to make a statement about the attack. The people are still suffering from the aftermath of years of conflict and are now afraid that this will bring about another bout of violence.

In a statement released by MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) on May 1st, the member states of the G5 (United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of Central African States, European Union, France and the United States) condemned “without reservation the attacks on the Church of Our Lady of Fatima and the mosque of Lakounga,” pointing out that “the manipulation of religion to serve the interests of criminal groups is not acceptable.” They called upon Central Africans to “resist this manipulation, the goal of which is to drive the country back into the trap of violence and vengeance.”

 

Honouring Father Albert, “a man of peace”

ACN would like to honour the life’s work of Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba, the priest of the St. Joseph Mukasa parish in Bangui. Father Albert worked tirelessly for peace in his country and gave shelter to thousands of refugees in his parish. In a short video from an interview ACN held with him in 2016, he says, “Our country has been a country bruised, in distress, since December 2012. Weapons have not yet managed to stop the war, but continue to be heard. … No one has been able to bring peace back to the country. Pray, pray unceasingly for us, as Jesus taught us. Do not despair. May this message be heard by all who love peace.”

Text and Informations: ACN-France

 

EMERGENCY AID:
Aid to the Church in Need will give over 37,000 dollars for the victims of Tuesday’s attack.
Thank you for donating by clicking the button below.
Thank you!

 


 

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

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

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

Egypt

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Candles in a coptic orthodox Church in Cairo

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Syria – young volunteers coordinate aid for 2000 displaced families

02.05.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Josué Villalón, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Julie Bourdeau, Middle East, Syria, Urgent need

Syria

Young volunteers coordinate aid for 2000 diplaced families

Several of the volunteers are themselves displaced persons, but do not hesitate to help others: “What motivates us is Jesus”

ACN (Josué Villalón, Marmarita). Eleven young people make up the team of volunteers of the parish centre of St. Peter, the Greek Catholic Church in Marmarita, which is located in the heart of the Valley of Christians, a region in Syria close to the Lebanese border. Many of the people in this region were displaced by the war and came here from all over Syria: Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, etc. This team of volunteer workers coordinates the distribution of the aid that is donated to about 2,000 families each month by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). They are the messengers, but also the message.

“What motivates us is Jesus. It moves us deeply to be able to help people in need. For me personally, it is also the reason to remain in Syria,” comments Elías Jahloum, coordinator of the parish centre, whom everyone calls “Ili.” His mobile never stops ringing the entire time he is speaking with a delegation from ACN. “The families trust me implicitly; many of them see me as part of the family. I take them to the hospital when they are sick and later visit them at home.”

The financial aid that the pastoral charity, ACN, provides through the local Church is primarily intended for two purposes: the first involves rent payments. “The displaced families have long since used up all of their savings to pay for a place to stay. The few who were able to find work can hardly survive on what they earn,” comments Majd Jallhoum, Ili’s sister and secretary of the parish centre. “The second big project focuses on paying for health care and medicine. There isn’t even one public hospital in the entire Valley of Christians. Treatment is very expensive, as are medicines.”

ACN donates 422,800 dollars for these two projects every six months. “We are supporting 340 families with rent subsidies. Each family unit receives a monthly subsidy of about 25,000 Syrian pounds (75,50 dollars). You have to realize that the median income in Syria is currently just under 96,60 dollars.” The average rent in the Valley of Christians is 226,50 dollars a month. The rents increase in the summer months because the region is considered a “tourist” area due to its cooler climate.

Syria March 2018: From right to left, Raja Mallouhi and Issam Ahwesh, volunteers in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians.

None of the young volunteers is paid for the work they do. However, several of them are themselves displaced persons and receive aid to meet their own needs. “I, for example, receive financial aid to travel to the university and back. The university is in Homs, which is about an hour away by car. Thanks to the help I receive from ACN, I did not have to give up my studies because of the war,” explains Issam Ahwesh, who is 22 years old and is studying computer engineering. He will finish his degree this year. “My mother would be very happy if she could see how I am helping here and that I will finally be able to complete my degree. Unfortunately, she died several years before the war started.”

 

An ecumenical team

The eleven young volunteers at the parish centre of Marmarita are members of various Churches that celebrate different rites. “Some of us are Greek Catholic, others Syriac Catholic and still others, Orthodox. We do not discriminate; all of us help wherever we can and assist Father Walid.” Walid Iskandafy is a Greek Catholic priest and currently the parish priest of the church of Saint Peter.

After finishing their work, the volunteers stay to play football. Raja Mallouhi, who is studying economics in Homs, talks about how he used to play on a football team in his city. “My favourite club here is Al-Karama, the best football club in the country before the war. Outside of Syria, I am a fan of Atlético Madrid.”

They laugh when Father Iskandafy compares the eleven of them with the team of Real Madrid. “They are the players and I am their coach, Zinedine Zidane.” They are a very good team. The priest is proud of how they always discuss any new request for help or problems with one of the families with each other and try to find a solution together.

 

Inspired by the Pope

Lama Jomia has just completed his degree in tourism and currently spends his time visiting displaced families. “Several years ago, Pope Francis told us young people to have the courage to swim against the tide and be faithful to Jesus. These words encouraged us to continue our work, even though war and hate prevail in our country.”

For the volunteers, faith is the most important reason to stay in Marmarita and help those who are most in need. Another young volunteer of the group, Rafic Assi, says at the end, “I would like to tell young people in Europe and all over the world that material things are not what is most important, that they should do something with their lives and be grateful that they are able to live in peace. We also did not imagine that our lives would turn out like this, but we have not completely given up hope!”

Syria March 2018: Majd, left, with a family in need in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians.                                         


 

ACN-News – Pakistan – Archbishop appeals for prayers after attacks on Christians

26.04.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Asia, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, Prayer

Picture: In 2017, interreligious prayer in Lahore with the Mufti of Lahore and Archbishop Shaw. 

Pakistan

Archbishop appeals for prayers after attacks on Christians

A leading Pakistani bishop has appealed for prayer after Christians in Quetta suffered their third attack in five months.

Two Christian men – identified as Rashid Khalid and Azhar Iqbal – and three others were injured after four attackers on motorbikes started shooting at people near a church in Quetta’s Essa Nagri Christian neighbourhood.

The attack, Sunday April 15th, came nearly two weeks after a family of four Catholics from Lahore was gunned down outside a relative’s house during an Easter visit to the city.

The dead – identified as Parvaiz, Kamran, Tariq and Fordous – had reportedly just stepped outside to buy ice cream when they were targeted.

According to a missionary group in Pakistan, the attackers left a pamphlet at the scene of the crime describing the killing as “the first episode of genocide against Christians”.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw: “When we are tempted to lose hope, we are reminded that, through your compassion and prayers, you are with us, by our side.”

 

Daesh (ISIS) claimed responsibility for both attacks.

 

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said, “The faithful in Quetta are deeply concerned and worried.

“All these sufferings and pain can be overcome by faith, so through ACN I call on everyone to pray for peace and harmony so that people of all religions may live in Pakistan in peace and harmony.”

The Archbishop, who gave the interview during a visit to ACN’s international headquarters in Königstein, Germany, said: “When we see these atrocities happening one after another, we very much depend on the spiritual communion that we have with friends and benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need.”

He added: “When we are tempted to lose hope, we are reminded that, through your compassion and prayers, you are with us, by our side.”

The Archbishop called for increased police protection. He said: “The government should provide better security so that all the people can live side by side, safe and secure.”

Quetta’s Christians were targeted again in December when two suicide bombers stormed a packed nativity service held in the city’s Bethel Methodist Church, leaving 11 dead and injuring more than 50 others.

Last October, militants hurled a grenade at a Protestant church in Quetta’s Arbab Karam Khan Road area, but nobody was hurt as worshippers had already left the building.

That same month, Pakistan was identified as a country with worsening persecution in ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith, a report produced every two years by the charity, examining parts of the world of particular concern for the faithful under threat from religious freedom violations.

 

Pakistan is a priority country for ACN,
which works in more than 140 countries around the world.
You can give for projects in Pakistan via our website:

THANK YOU 


 

ACN’s Interview – Sever discrimination in the heart of Europe

26.04.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Bosnia Herzegovina, by Tobias Lehner, Discrimination, EU, Europe, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Violence against Christians

Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Open war against the Catholic Church”

 

The guns have been silent in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 23 years. However, according to Bishop Franjo Komarica, the country is like a powder keg. Head of the diocese of Banja Luka in the northern part of the country, the 72-year-old does not believe in beating about the bush, particularly when the discussion turns to the Catholic Croat minority. He believes that Catholic Croats are still being kept from returning and that they are disadvantaged economically, socially and religiously. He is making serious charges against the governments of Europe: they are turning a blind eye to the religious discrimination.

 

In an interview with Tobias Lehner during a visit to the headquarters of the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Germany, Bishop Komarica discusses why a growing number of Catholics are leaving the country, but how, in spite of everything, the church is living reconciliation.

Bishop Franjo Komarica, bishop of the diocese of Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina), in visit the Headquarter of Aid to the Church in Need, Germany. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tobias Lehner: Bishop Komarica, the Bosnian War officially came to an end in 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Accords. But how are things really?

Bishop Franjo Komarica: The guns may be silent, but the war continues in other arenas. “Controlled chaos” reigns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is my impression that neither the government nor the international community is interested in building up a constitutional state that guarantees equal rights to all ethnic groups and human rights also for minorities. Bosnia and Herzegovina are effectively still a semi-protectorate of the United Nations. A part of the state authority is exercised by a “High Commissioner” (since 2009, Austrian native Valentin Inzko; editor’s note). But he claims that his hands are tied in terms of the political developments in the country. The country remains divided into three ethnic groups: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. The smallest of the ethnic groups, the vast majority of Croats are Catholic. They lean more towards Europe. The Serbs, most of them Orthodox, are very much under the influence of Russia. And the Muslim Bosnians are turning more and more towards Turkey and the Islamic world. This gives rise to dangerous centrifugal forces. And that is not only damaging to the country, but also to Europe!

 

What do you mean by this?

The hostilities between the Serbian and Bosnian people are purposefully being kept alive by forces outside of the country. The country continues to be a powder keg! And the Croats are caught in between. Hundreds of thousands of them were displaced during the war, and today, more than twenty years after the fact, they still cannot return, even though the Dayton Accords guarantee them the right to return. The opposite has happened: many are still leaving for other countries. The Conference of Bishops has repeatedly asked for the Dayton Accords to be amended to give the Croat minority more security. They have yet to be accorded equality.

 

Why is the Catholic minority receiving unequal treatment?

The Croats are not being treated as a constitutive ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many foreign governments also recognize only two ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Serbs and the Bosnians. This has grave consequences, as is shown by the example of the Republika Srbska (the Republika Srbska was established by the Dayton Accords as the “second entity” of the federal state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is made up of extensive areas of land in the northern and eastern parts of the country; editor’s note). Only about five per cent of the Catholics who once lived in the 69 parishes that existed in this region before the war have returned. In other parts of the country, Catholics are still leaving. The Croats receive neither political, nor legal, nor financial support. It is almost impossible for them to rebuild their homes or find work. They are the subjects of systemic discrimination. This is badly damaging the entire country. The other religions agree, by the way. I recently talked with the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. He also says: “It is imperative that the Croats remain here!”

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Financial support for pastoral activities of the archiepiscopal youth ministry Ivan Pavao II in Sarajevo.

 

The highest-ranking Muslim in the country thus recognizes the problem. Do his brothers and sisters in faith do so as well? It is currently being reported that the Muslims are becoming radicalized in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well…

Yes, this development does exist. But the threat to our very existence is even worse than the religious discrimination. To be explicit: we can maintain our faith even during persecution – and we have done so. But when the Catholics have no right to their homeland and to their property, this is even more destructive. One example: the mayor of one town in my diocese said to me, “You may not build a church here.” Even though a Catholic parish had been located there before the war! He did not have the right to do so, because religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And so I lodged a protest. But it was turned down by the next highest authority as well. Finally, I went to the representative of OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, responsible for coordinating the reconstruction process; editor’s note). He said to me, “Bishop, I forbid you to build a church!” I showed him pictures of the old parish church as well as a picture of its priest who was murdered during the war. He neither apologized, nor approved the church-building project. This is an open war against the Catholic Church. I was repeatedly told, “You Catholics need to get out of this country!”

 

Outside of the country, little is known about the dire circumstances of the Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What are they asking the international community to do?

Politicians need to finally acknowledge what is happening and condemn the severe discrimination that is taking place right in the middle of Europe. This is particularly true for the Christians. I expect anyone who is serious about their faith to support the disenfranchised people of my homeland – in word and deed. Our appeals have not been heard up until this point. And there have been so many of them! Quo vadis, Europe? Quo vadis, Christianity in Europe? If we just look the other way and tolerate this kind of development on our own doorstep, how do we want to help other people understand our Christian values?

 

So much hate and discord has been sown in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In spite of all of this, what can the Catholic Church do to reunite the society?

We Catholics are the oldest community of faith in the country. We feel it is our duty to help our homeland restore a just and permanent peace! Most of our reconciliation work is carried out through our social services and education, particularly our Catholic schools. And that despite being punished politically for our commitment! That is why I am so grateful to Catholic charities such as Aid to the Church in Need, because they draw attention to our circumstances and support us. I will continue to give voice to the truth, even though I have already been physically assaulted because of it. Our opponents will win if we remain silent!

Bosnia and Herzegovina: diocese of Banja Luka. ACN supported this activity for young people in the diocese.

 

The worldwide pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has been helping Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina for more than three decades. Most of the aid it has provided has been used to rebuild churches, convents and monasteries that were destroyed during the war and renovate a seminary. ACN also provides funding for the acquisition of vehicles for pastoral care, the development of pastoral centres, the training of priests and religious and for subsistence aid for contemplative orders. Church youth and press work are also among the projects it supports.

 

 

 


 

ACN Interview – “In India, the Church serves all, fighting discrimination on all fronts”

20.04.2018 in ACN Interview, ACN USA, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Joop Koopman, Dalits, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

India

“The Church serves all, fighting discrimination on all fronts”

 

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur was recently appointed Chairman of the Commission for Scheduled Castes (SCs)/other Backward Castes (BCs) by the Catholic Conference of Bishops of India (CBCI). An important part of the Commission’s task is to shape the Church’s policies with regard to the country’s dalits—the lowest caste in the Hindu hierarchy, formerly known as ‘untouchables’—who suffer severe discrimination in Indian society. Dalits comprise 65 percent of India’s Catholic population of close to 20 million. A native of Kandhamal, Odisha State, where some 100 Christians were murdered by a Hindu mob in 2008, Bishop Nayak is one of only 12 dalit bishops, out of a total 224. Aid to the Church in Need met him. 

 

Why are Christian (and Muslim) dalits still denied affirmative action, even though the Indian Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens?

After independence from England in 1947, the Indian Constitution went into effect in January 1950. It guaranteed equal fundamental rights for all of its citizens, irrespective of caste and creed. On Aug. 10, 1950, a Presidential Order went into effect to grant Hindu tribal people and dalits affirmative action benefits to compensate for their low socio-economic status after centuries of neglect and discrimination. Dalits belonging to other religions, however, were not included. Eventually, Buddhist and Sikh dalits were granted the so-called ‘Scheduled Castes’ status along with the benefits. However, Muslim and Christian dalits remain deprived of these rights to this day, despite continuous protests and appeals to the government for the past 60 years.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur diocese in India. The motto’s Bishop is “to be a happy servant”. 

Previous governments, mostly run by the Congress Party, did not have the political will to amend the Constitution, even when they had the absolute majority in Parliament. The present BJP government, with its Hindu nationalist ideology, is openly against extending the Constitution’s affirmative action provision to Muslim and Christian dalits.

 

Is the Church in a position to change the situation? What is the Church’s strategy on this front?

Christians comprise only 2.5 percent of the total population, so politically, the Church has not been able to do much to challenge the constitutional validity of the 1950 Presidential Order. It must be challenged, as it discriminates purely on the basis of religion, which runs against the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution that hold that all citizens must be treated equally—irrespective of caste, creed, gender or religion. The Church’s sustained peaceful protests have not succeeded thus far, though news coverage has brought the issue to the attention of the general public.

As a strategy, the Church is trying to fight it out alongside Muslims and people of goodwill from other faiths and various political ideologies. The Church is also trying to unite all dalits on this issue; unfortunately, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh dalits are concerned that the extension of benefits to Muslims and Christians might reduce their benefits. Finally, the Church approaches the issue from a human rights perspective. The deprivation of dalit Christians is a violation of human rights, a violation by international standards.

 

Some believe that if Christian dalits were granted government benefits many Hindu dalits would convert to Christianity. What are the aspects of the Christian life that are attractive to lower-caste Hindus?

The fear of mass conversions to Christianity seems unfounded; it is also another form of degrading dalits to presume they would change their religion to gain material benefits. This has been the strategy of the Hindu mind-set, irrespective of political ideologies: to instil fear of a mass exodus in the Hindu majority. Facts prove that the opposite is true: even though dalit Christians are deprived of government benefits, and even, in some states, suffer discrimination, they still remain faithful to their faith—even to the point of suffering martyrdom. What’s more, when the affirmative action provisions were extended to Buddhists and Sikhs, Muslim and Christian dalits or Hindu dalits did not join those faiths.

 

It is true, however, that Christians are known for their peace-loving, service-minded way of life that respects all people and that is dedicated to mission work. Hindu fundamentalists try to prevent or put obstacles in the way of Christian services such as those in the fields of education, health care or social services, lest people become attracted and embrace Christianity. Six states have anti-conversion laws in place to prevent any conversions. It is often said and accepted as fact that, though they only account for 2.5 percent of the population, Christians provide 20 percent of national services in various fields—yet, the size of the Christian community has not grown much in India.

 

Can you explain why Hindu nationalists are so hostile to Christianity?

In February 2016: Visit to a Hindu Temple.

First of all, they associate colonial British rule with Christianity. Relatively few British came to India, and yet they ruled it for more than 200 years; the Hindu nationalists fear that if there are more Christians in India, they will rule India again. Christianity is seen as a foreign religion. Secondly, Christianity challenges various tenets and practices of the Hindu religion and Hindus fear losing their influence.

For example, the Christian faith challenged the age-old practice of sati pratha, by which a widow was burned alive together with the dead body of the husband; the Hindu religion held that women have no independent existence apart from men—that widows have no right to exist, to own property or to remarry. That practice is almost fully eradicated today. Secondly, there is the jati pratha (the Caste System), which classifies people according to their birth and treats them as low or high. There are no social relationships allowed among the various castes.

Dalits are considered outcasts or untouchables—even coming under their shadow is considered to make someone impure. The caste system does not allow a person to take up a profession other than the job of the caste or family one is born into. The Church strives to eradicate casteism. It promotes and upholds the equal dignity and rights of every citizen.

The hindutwa ideology espoused by Hindu nationalists is trying to impose cultural nationalism, which calls for one culture, one language and one religion. While faithful to the teachings of Christ, the Church recognizes, respects and promotes the pluralism of cultures and language.

Finally, Hinduism is steeped in many dark beliefs, including the practice of black magic, sorcery, etc., which are used to exploit, torture and blackmail people. The Church, through education and awareness-raising, especially among dalits and tribal people, liberates people from these evil forces.

 

What are the bishops doing to combat discrimination against Catholic dalits within the Church itself?

At many national meetings, the bishops of India have issued statements calling for the end of the discrimination against dalits and of casteism, not only in the Church but also in society at large. However, casteism appears to be deeply rooted in the psyche of many Indians, including Christians. The “tail” of casteism survives even after Baptism. Now, by formally adopting the dalit policy in the Church, the Indian bishops have committed to a campaign to empower the dalits and educate all the faithful, reaffirming the equality of all people, and stressing the fact that dalits must be given equal opportunity in various professional and social fields.

 

How does the tension play out between deep-rooted Hindu notions of purity and the Gospel’s message that all men and women are equally worthy in the eyes of God?

Casteism in India is not only part of the Hindu religion—it is part of the Indian culture. Even though the Constitution of India forbids the practice of casteism, it still exists; and, sadly, it still exists even among Christians. In the past, as part of a missionary strategy for evangelization, casteism was tolerated by some missionaries, and some of that attitude persists today. Christianity is believed to first have been brought to Kerala and some parts of Tamilnadu by St. Thomas; local higher-caste Christians for centuries claimed a direct bloodline to the apostle; because of this caste mentality, the faith remained confined to that region and did not spread to other parts of the country for more than 1,500 years. It is only when St. Francis Xavier came to India that Christianity spread.

India, February 2018:  Holy Eucharist in a village – dalit community

 

You are a dalit yourself; what has been your experience pursuing your vocation in the Church?

I personally did not experience any discrimination in my childhood and even during my seminary formation. Discriminating against people according to caste is not only un-Christian; it is also inhuman. I am happy to be a priest and consider my priesthood to be the greatest gift God has given me for the good of His people. The episcopacy is an added responsibility and I try “to be a happy servant,” which is the motto of my episcopate. Being a dalit, it may be easier for me than for others to understand the concept of a being servant; and as a first generation Christian in my family, my faith in Christ brings me great happiness—as it is still new and still uncontaminated.

 


 

Syria – “We want and we need peace. Please pray for us!”

20.04.2018 in ACN Canada, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Syria, Syria

Syria 

“We want and we need peace. Please pray for us!”

an appeal from Syria by Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach.

 

The Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Homs, Mons. Jean-Arbach, has issued a message tinged with weariness and sadness at the current situation in Syria, after seven years of war and the most recent events. “People cannot take any more,” he says. “They simply want to live an ordinary life, to sleep peacefully in their beds and wake and go to work, and not to the sound of falling bombs. It is enough, it is too much.”

 

Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he asked the charity to pray
for them. “We need prayers, prayers and more prayers. It is the only thing that can bring us unity in this country,” he repeated, recalling that Pope Francis has also called for us to pray for the situation in Syria which – as he himself explained – is not simply about this country, but has now crossed international frontiers, so that the whole world needs peace. “What was the point of this war?” he asked. Everything has been destroyed, there are millions of refugees… If only the politicians of the world would work for peace and not for war,” he repeated despairingly.

This picture was taken in Syria, January 2016, in Yabroud Our Lady of Peace church with destroyed abnd damaged icons and frescoes. Since then, they were replaced. 

 

Yet despite this terrible situation, the Syrian people have not lost courage or the belief that their country can rise again from the ashes. ACN is helping with a number of different projects in the region of Homs, including study grants for 4,000 students, basic foodstuffs, medicines and the rebuilding of people’s homes and of Church properties. 80% of churches and catechetical centres have already been repaired, Mons. Jean-Arbach pointed out.

 

Patriarchs denounce “a brutal aggression”

 

For their part, the patriarchs of the three main churches in Syria – Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X, of Antioch and all the East, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and all the East, and Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch Joseph Absi of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem have issued a statement, sent to ACN, in which they “condemn and denounce the brutal aggression … by the USA, France and the UK“ in response to a supposed chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on the city of Duma. They denounce this terrible situation which they describe as “a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter,” and describe it as “unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.”

 

They insist that this is “a brutal aggression that destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications,” and say that it “encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue in their terrorism.” In their statement, the patriarchs call on “all Churches in the countries that participated in the aggression to fulfill their Christian duties according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and to call on their governments to commit to the protection of international peace.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need continues its support in Syria. 
Thank you to help our partners. To give, click on the button just below. 

Destroyed city in Syria. In March, it was 7 years.                                                                                        


 

ACN Feature Syria: The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

19.04.2018 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Construction, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Syria

Syria

The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

Father George Maamary, parish priest of the Church of the Assumption, which is close to the fortress, is asking our help to rebuild their church so that the families can return there soon

ACN (Josué Villalón, Qalat’al Hosn).- Qalat’al Hosn is a village in western Syria in a region known as the Valley of the Christians, best known for the imposing fortress, Krak des Chevaliers, which dominates the area. The castle is a World Heritage Site, one of the historic jewels of Syria and a place which, before the war, attracted tourists from all over the world.

 

“A group of Salafists and Muslim extremists arrived here, many of them from Lebanon, crossing over the border which is only about 30 km (20 miles) away. They seized control of the fortress and the village,” explains Father George Maamary, parish priest of the local Catholic community. “As soon as they arrived, they came to the church where I was living, forced their way in and abducted me. They beat me, so that afterwards I had to have an operation on my shoulder. Thanks be to God, my imprisonment did not last long; they exchanged me for a jihadist fighter who had been captured by the government.”

Syria: Father George Maamary, Parish priest of Al Hosn, town next to the fort. The Church was destroyed by jihadists who took the town and the fort. It was released in 2014. 

At that time the village had around 25,000 inhabitants of various religions, most of them Sunni and Shia Muslims. There were also around 300 Christians, living around the only Christian church, Our Lady of the Assumption, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Church.

As soon as news of the abduction of Father Maamary came to the ears of his Christian neighbours, they all abandoned their homes for fear of suffering the same fate. “It was a warning. Since then, not one Christian family has returned to live here.” That was six years ago.

The rebel groups had wanted to turn the fortress into a second Palmyra – a world-renowned historic site, and also one of great strategic and sentimental importance for the Syrian people. The fortress was damaged by the rebel groups and by the fighting to recover it, along with a considerable part of the village itself. In 2014, the castle and the village were reconquered by the Syrian army. This was the only place in the Valley of the Christians where there was fighting. As for the rest, this region has become a place where many refugees now live, since it is one of the more peaceful parts of the country.

But before this there was looting, and among the places that were looted were the church and the homes of the Christians. “The life of the community used to revolve around the church,” Father George explains to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We had a basketball pitch and rooms for catechesis and other gatherings. You can see how everything is now,” he adds. The church is also linked to various other buildings, and there was formerly a hotel named after John Paul II, which welcomed tourists who had come to visit the fortress. They also had other centres, with up to 17 shops, a restaurant, a café, and various souvenir and gift shops.

The war has left a terrible wound

After the fighting, the conflict continued. The vengeance against the Sunnis was terrible on the part of the government troops, linked to the Assad government and pro-Shiite. Father George had to hasten back and mark the houses of the Christians with black crosses, so that the soldiers did not burn them down also.

“Before the fighting, life between Christians and Muslims was good,” said Father George. Now the war has left a terrible wound that will take years to heal. “It is safe again now in this region, but there is still no electricity or water,” he adds. As a result, the Christians have been unable to return despite the fact that the village was liberated all of four years ago. “The sense of helplessness of these families is very great; they are still uprooted and living in other villages of the Valley of the Christians, such as Marmarita and Kafra, only 10 km away from here, and yet they still cannot return.”

Syria, March 2018: Fr. George Maamary, Samir Bashur (christian neighbor), and Fr. Bassam Maamary, cousin of Father George who is reapering his family house.

Around the Church of the Assumption, there are a few houses that people have begun to rebuild. One of them belongs to the family of Bassam Maamary, a cousin of Father George and himself a priest. “I have begun to rebuild the house with my own money, in order to show my neighbours that it is possible to return, that there is still hope,” he says.

He is being helped with the electric wiring by a young man named Wagdi Yazzi. He too is from the village of Al Hosn. “It won’t take much for us to return; but first we need the government to reconnect the water and electricity,” he says, adding, “Life here was very pleasant and peaceful. We had contact with people from all over the world and we were a very open village.”

Another neighbour appears, walking up an alleyway. He is Samir Bashur and he explains that he is also working on his house and that he comes here from time to time, little by little repairing the damage. He thinks that if people are to return here permanently, they will first have to rebuild the church. “It is a place that is very important to us, where we celebrate the most important feasts together, where we meet and pray together, along with our parish priest.”

Father George assures that he has not lost contact with the other families. “We are doing the impossible to help them on a daily basis, and so that they will be able to return to their homes.” He thanks ACN for the aid provided for the care of these refugees, and he is also hoping to be able to begin soon on the rebuilding of their church.

Father George Maamary, Parish priest of Al Hosn, town next to the fort shows the destruction made by djihadits.

“We are praying for peace in our country. And also for all the people who are helping us from other countries. You are all very welcome to come here. We need the people and the tourists to return.”

 

And finally, Father Maamary expresses his gratitude for the support of Pope Francis, who has sent aid directly each year for the families and the priests. “He is a humble man, he is doing great things for Syria, including through his prayer and his messages of peace.”