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Peace

 

ACN Interview: ISIS invasion of Iraq, five years on

06.08.2019 in ACN, Iraq, Middle East, Peace, Persecution of Christians

The final struggle:

What remains of Christianity in Iraq five years after the ISIS invasion?

On August 6, 2014, IS (Islamic State) units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul. Some 120,000 Christians had to flee overnight. Many of them found refuge around the Kurdish city of Erbil. For the following three years, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Msgr. Bashar Matti Warda, was one of the pillars in the maintenance and support of the community. In October 2016, Iraqi forces and their allies were able to recover the territories and tens of thousands of displaced Christians returned to the ruins of their home cities. Others decided to stay in Erbil or emigrate out of the country. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) together with the local churches provides significant support to the reconstruction effort.

 

Five years after the invasion of the Nineveh Plains, ACN interviews Msgr. Bashar Matti Warda – an eye-witness of all these events – about the consequences for Christians in Iraq, as well as for the entire Middle East and Western countries.

The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, August 6, 2019

 


It has been five years of Calvary. Looking back what lesson have you learned?
When a people have nothing left to lose, in some sense it is very liberating, and from this position of clarity and new-found courage I can speak on behalf of my people and tell you the truth. But I would like to remark that we are a people who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years confronting an existential struggle, our final struggle in Iraq. The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and rendered us, in a single night, without shelter and refuge, without work or properties, without churches and monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the normal things of life that give dignity; family visits, celebration of weddings and births, sharing of sorrows. Our tormentors confiscated our present while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future. This was an exceptional situation, but not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over 1,400 years.

So in fact, the ISIS invasion was just the “tip of the iceberg”?

With each successive cycle the number of Christians falls away and today we are at the point of extinction. Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say? That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and we were taken by surprise?  –That is what the media will say. Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for regular and recurring cycles of violence against us – like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922.

But during these 1,400 years of Christian oppression, were there periods of Muslim tolerance as an alternative to violence and persecution?

One cannot deny the existence of times of relative tolerance. Under al Rashid, the House of Wisdom, the great library, was founded in Baghdad. There was a time of relative prosperity while Christian and Jewish scholarship was valued, and a flowering of science, mathematics and medicine was made possible by Nestorian Christian scholars who translated Greek texts, already ancient in the ninth century. Our Christian ancestors shared with Muslim Arabs a deep tradition of thought and philosophy and engaged with them in respectful dialogue from the 8th century onwards. The Arab Golden Age, as historian Philip Jenkins has noted, was built on Chaldean and Syriac scholarship. Christian scholarship. The imposition of Shari’a law saw the decline of great learning, and the end of the “Golden Age” of Arab culture. A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and which could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.

 

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So, would you say that peaceful coexistence is possible and tolerance is the key to the development of peoples?

Exactly. But these moments of toleration have been a one-way experience: Islamic rulers decide, according to their own judgment and whim, whether Christians and other non-Muslims are to be tolerated and to what degree. It is not, and has never, ever, been a question of equality.  Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal. We are not to be treated as equal; we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing Jihadi spirit.  Yes; the root of all of this is the teachings of Jihad, the justification for acts of violence.

Iraqi Christians are going back to their villages again. Is the situation improving? How is life for Christians and other minorities?

There are still extremist groups, growing in number, asserting that killing Christians and Yazidis helps spread Islam. By strictly adhering to Koranic teaching they prescribe Dhimmi status (second class citizenship) to minorities, allowing confiscation of property and enforcement of jizya Islamic tax. But it is not just this. If you were a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, you would never accept for one moment the shadow under which we Iraqis live – and under which we have lived for centuries. By my country’s constitution we are lesser citizens, we live at the discretion of our self-appointed superiors. Our humanity gives us no rights.

In Western countries you stand equal under the law. This basic principle of European and American life is a foundation of Christian civic order, in which we are all children under a loving God, created in His image and likeness, which gives us all dignity, and urges on us mutual respect. Civic security grows out of a worldview that values every individual human not for their position or role, but simply because they are human. This view has been the great gift of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Rebuilding civil society means rebuilding it for everybody. Everyone has a place, and everyone has a chance to thrive.

The truth is, there is a foundational crisis within Islam itself, and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for civil society in the Middle East, or indeed anywhere where Islam brings itself to bare upon a host nation.

 

Some voices said that the brutality and the violence of ISIS have changed the Islamic world, too. What do you think?

Clearly, ISIS shocked the conscience of the world, and has shocked the conscience of the Islamic-majority world as well. The question now is whether or not Islam will continue on a political trajectory, in which Shari’a is the basis for civil law and nearly every aspect of life is circumscribed by religion, or whether a more civil, tolerant movement will develop.

The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate. This has re-awoken and is now firmly implanted in minds throughout the Muslim world.  And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims. I speak here not only of Iraq. We see leaders in other countries in the Middle East who are clearly acting in a way consistent with the re-establishment of the Caliphate.

How do you think that the West will react to this?

This is a crucial question and the religious minorities of the Middle East want to know the answer. Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organized persecution against us? When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, “we are all Christians”? And yes I do say, the “next wave of violence”, for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality, and justifies persecution. The equation is not complicated.  One group is taught that they are superior and legally entitled to treat others as inferior human beings on the sole basis of their faith and religious practices. This teaching inevitably leads to violence against any “inferiors” who refuse to change their faith. And there you have it – the history of Christians in the Middle East for the last 1,400 years.

But what would the solution be? How are we to build a better future?

This change must come about as the conscious work of the Muslim world itself. We see the small beginnings, perhaps, of this recognition in Egypt, in Jordan, in Asia, even in Saudi Arabia. Certainly much remains to be seen as to whether there is actual sincerity in this.

 

Does Christianity in Middle East have a prophetic mission?

Mine is a missionary role: to give daily witness to the teachings of Christ, to show the truth of Christ and to provide a living example to our Muslim neighbours of a path to a world of forgiveness, of humility, of love, of peace. Lest there be any confusion here I am not speaking of conversion. Rather, I am speaking of the fundamental truth of forgiveness which we Christians of Iraq can share, and share from a position of historically unique moral clarity. We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them. In the name of Christ, we forgive them. And so we say to our Muslim neighbours, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours. We know this. We pray for your healing.  Let us heal our wounded and tortured country together.

And what about our Western secular society, according to your opinion, what would our task be?

We ask that you consider our situation truthfully, as it actually exists, and not in stretched attempts at historical relativism, which diminishes, or more honestly, insults, the reality of our suffering, and thereby robs us even of the dignity of our continued faith. The heart of the struggle is to understand the nature of the battle. You will have to ask yourselves, how long can a moderate and decent society survive without the influence of Christian institutions? How long can the tradition exist after the faith has died?  What will flow into the vacuum?  The role Christian communities play, or have played, in Islamic societies has been overlooked. It is an important part of the formation of civil society in most of the world. It needs highlighting because the situation in Iraq has been woefully misread by Western decision makers. There is no reason to believe they will not misread the same signs and portents in their own countries. You think you are a long way from the chaos of Iraq? Let me assure you; it is only six hours away.

Speaking about decision makers, what would be the role of politicians?

We ask them to support efforts to ensure equal treatment for all minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. We pray that policy makers can find in themselves the humility to recognize that their theories, which over the past decades have become our horrific reality, have been almost universally wrong, based on fundamentally flawed assessments of the Iraqi people and situation. And in these mistaken policies, designed in comfort and safety from afar, argued over in the media as partisan intellectual talking points, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died.  An entire country has been ripped apart and left to the jackals. This horror all began with policy, and we beg those of you who continue to have access in shaping policy for your country, to daily remember that your policy assessments and those of your allies have life or death consequences. Please, walk humbly and make sure that you truly understand the people on whom you are passing sentence. Understanding what has happened in Iraq means being truthful about the nature and purpose of Christian civil order. It means being truthful about the nature and purpose of the laws of Islam. It means being truthful about what happens when these two come together in one place. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable subject to discuss in the comfort of a peaceful country. But for Iraqi Christians this is no abstract matter.

 

final-struggle-bishop

 

The most painful question: Are we facing the end of Christianity in Iraq?

It could be. We acknowledge this. Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, is perilously close to extinction. In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as one-and-a-half million: six percent of Iraq’s population. Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left.  Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.

In the end, the entire world faces a moment of truth. Will a peaceful and innocent people be allowed to be persecuted and eliminated because of their faith? And, for the sake of not wanting to speak the truth to the persecutors, will the world be complicit in our elimination? The world should understand, in our path to extinction we will not go quietly any further. From this point we will speak the truth, and live out the truth, in full embrace of our Christian witness and mission, so that if someday we are gone no one will be able to say:  how did this happen? We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth. Our hope to remain in our ancient homeland now rests on the ability of ourselves, our oppressors, and the world to acknowledge these truths. Violence and discrimination against the innocents must end. Those who teach it must stop.  We Christians of Iraq, who have faced 1,400 years of persecution, violence and genocide, are prepared to speak out and bear witness to our oppressors and to the world, whatever the consequence.

ACN News – Aid to the Church in Need International receives Path to Peace Award

24.05.2019 in ACN, Peace, Persecution of Christians, Press Release

United Nations-New York

 

 

Aid to the Church in Need, ‘leading organization’ in the world and ‘voice’ for persecuted Christians

 

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and president of the Path to Peace Foundation, has praised Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)—the recipient of the 2019 Path to Peace Award—as “the leading organization in the world putting words to the persecution Christians are suffering in certain places and, even more importantly, responding with action.”

 
 
by Joop Koopman, ACN USA
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, May 24, 2019

New-York/Montreal, May 23, 2019 – Speaking May 22, 2019 at the Path to Peace Foundation’s annual Award Gala at the Pierre Hotel in New York, Archbishop Auza said that the foundation sought to honor ACN “as a voice crying in the wilderness, echoing the voices of Christians crying out for help.” The archbishop cited ACN’s biennial reports—“Persecuted and Forgotten?” and “Religious Freedom in the World”—as “the best reports that exist detailing, respectively, the ravages of Christianophobia” as well as the state of religious freedom in 196 countries.

“The importance of the information these reports provide cannot be overstated,” said the archbishop, even as ACN “has done even a greater service by all their work on the ground.” Archbishop Auza—who, as a young priest, received a scholarship from ACN that allowed him to study in Rome—noted in particular ACN’s work on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, where the organization “is leading a what has been boldly called a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the rebuilding of houses, institutions, churches and lives in response to ISIS destruction.”

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December 2014, Erbil, Iraq:  Thanks to ACN, these children and their families displaced by the barbaric Islamic State, return to a stable life.  You can see it in their smiles!

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Early 2017 Iraq: Christians of the Nineveh Plains recover their churches along with many profaned sacred objects.  In this picture, a statue of Our Lady of Peace whose head has been cut off and shot right where the heart is positioned: signs of hatred of Christians.

Able to be a voice, thanks to benefactors

Accepting the award, Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, president of ACN International, said that the honour belongs to “those Christians who, just because of their faith, are persecuted, oppressed, discriminated or silenced. Tonight, in lending them my voice, my hope is that their martyrdom is a little less silent.”

He continued: “Our work would not be possible without the unflagging support of our benefactors worldwide. We exist because of their extraordinary moral and financial support and we should keep in mind that it is often the mite of the widow which helps us. Our donors are the foundation on which we build bridges of faith, hope and charity in support of the persecuted Church.”

ACN was founded in 1947 by a young Dutch Norbertine priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten (1913 -2003), to help meet the needs of refugees and displaced people in post-World War II Germany. Today, ACN is a papal charity that supports persecuted and suffering faithful with more than 5,000 projects around the world each year.

Projects include the construction of churches and chapels; support for the training of seminarians, men and women religious as well as lay catechists; emergency aid; and transportation for clergy and religious.

Last year, ACN donors gave more than $150 million in aid. Since 2011, ACN has provided more than $105 million to support Syrian and Iraqi Christians threatened by ISIS and other Islamist groups, ensuring the survival of Christianity in the region.

Persecution of Christians: brought to the UN thanks to ACN

“Religious freedom,” said Dr. Heine-Geldern, “is a fundamental human right. It is the responsibility of all nations and international NGOs to protect every individual’s right to religious freedom. We must not give up the fight for the full implementation of this basic human right, which is inseparably linked to the dignity of every human being.”

Concluding his remarks, he said that “we all have an obligation to respond and show our solidarity with Christian communities suffering persecution, though in the end, the hardest job is not ours.

“Standing with the faithful on the frontlines, confronting persecution, hate and violence, are courageous men and women—bishops, priests, women religious and lay volunteers. The ultimate servants of peace, they remain with their people. I also dedicate the 2019 Path to Peace Award to them.”

The Path to Peace Foundation supports various aspects of the work of the Holy See Mission to the UN. The Foundation also funds humanitarian projects in developing countries. Previous recipients of the Path to Peace Award include: Cardinal Mario Zenari, papal nuncio to Syria; Prince Henri of Luxembourg; and Queen Sofia of Spain.

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Auza said that “the Holy See Mission would not be able to do what we have tried to do in defense of Christians at the United Nations were it not for ACNUSA’s steady and superlative collaboration.”

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Msgr Bernadito Auza and Mr Thomas Heine-Geldern at an evening gala on May 22nd in New York City.

Aid to the Church in Need in Canada

Aid to the Church in Need has had an office in Canada for 30 years.  It sensitizes the population, raises funds and organizes various activities such as over the last 5 years in Montreal, a Mass celebrated on behalf of persecuted Christians in the world, presided over by Archbishop Msgr.  Christian Lépine.  And, for a second consecutive year, the national Canadian office has coordinated the Red Wednesday event.  The next one is planned for November 20th of this year with confirmed events in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and other interested cities.  For more information, or to participate, please contact ACN at 1-800-585-6333, ext 226.

ACN Interview: Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference

18.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN PRESS, By Maria Lozano, Dalits, India, Peace, Persecution of Christians

INDIA

Rise in violent attacks against Christian minorities

 

India has just begun its electoral process, which will take place in seven separate stages between April 11 and 19 May this year. Fears that this, the most populous democracy in the world, might end up becoming a theocratic Hindu nation have strengthened recently, in light of the fact that the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) and its president Narendra Modi are seeking a second mandate. During its present term in office there has been an increase in interreligious violence, according to the report on Religious Freedom Worldwide by the international Catholic Pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The figures speak for themselves: in 2016 a total of 86 people were killed and 2371 injured in 703 separate incidents of sectarian (Hindu fundamentalist) violence; in 2017 the figures were 111 killed and 2384 wounded in 822 separate reported incidents.

 

The most recent attack –  March 26 – took place in Tamil Nadu against a Catholic school, the Little Flower Higher Secondary School in Chinnasalem, when a crowd of Hindu fundamentalists smashed up the school and even attempted to strangle the religious sisters who were running the school. ACN journalist Maria Lozano interviewed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference and asked him about the elections and the gravity of this recent incident.

 

Interview with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, 12.04.2019
by Maria Lozano
Published by ACN Canada April 18, 2019

ACN: We have heard of the increase in attacks by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities in other parts of India, especially in the north of the country, but the brutal violence of this recent incident has shocked us. Was there any particular reason for the attack?

Over the last year or so there has been a rise in fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu. Above all it has been the evangelical or Protestant so-called “house churches” that have complained of these attacks. There is an activist, who publishes on the web stories of groups of Christians being beaten up while praying in their house churches or some little church structure destroyed. But as the Catholic Church we have not had this type of open attack until this time, at least not such a big one, we have had small, small things. Two years ago there was a Good Friday incident; a mob did not allow us to worship in one place.  So we have had incidents here and there. But the Protestant churches or Protestant groups or these smaller denominations have had a lot of problems over the last two years. So it did not come to me as a surprise that eventually we would be attacked. But that it took place on such a large scale is really frightening.

 

ACN: It must also have been an enormous shock for the sisters of the Franciscan Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have been running the school for 74 years now. What is the present situation in Chinnasalem? And how are the sisters faring?

 

It is a small town. And the sisters have been doing a lot of this work for very, very poor children. And in fact the hostel, the boarding school can take girls who come from very poor areas and poor families.

 

I spoke to the Sisters a few days ago and I spoke to the Archbishop also, and they say for the moment that some people have been arrested and we are waiting for some more people to be arrested. But for me it is not what happens after the incident. For me the whole thing we have to question is how such incidents can even come about in a civilized society.

 

ACN: But apart from the incident itself and notwithstanding the gravity of it, are you concerned about the social dimension that this kind of attack implies?

How is so much hatred being spread in society and how can we stop this hatred being propagated – that is exactly the question. There are groups that are promoting hatred and these groups are not being stopped, neither in social media nor in actual life, and they seem to be getting political privilege, patronage, and that is my worry, even political authorization, and that is my problem. It is not that these small groups make demands against us or make charges against us or accuse us. The problem is that political leaders are actually encouraging them.

 

ACN: Do you think this increase in incidents in the last year is also related to the elections?

It might be related to the elections but I think it is going long-term now. I have a very simple philosophy on this. Once you plant the seed of hatred, once you bring the beast, the animal of anger, hatred, violence, that animal cannot be controlled. And this is my worry. All those who are spreading this hatred must know what harm they are doing to society and that it will become difficult to bring back things under control; and if it cannot be brought back under control we will have a problem.

 

ACN: But this problem is already damaging especially to the minorities in India…

Yes, it is the minorities, but today I was just thinking of that beautiful poem attributed to a German Lutheran pastor: ‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’ So we use this now today because first you start with one minority and then the second. the Muslims are under attack, the dalits are under attack and we are under attack, we don’t know who next.

 

ACN: Does that mean then that in the end this nationalist fundamentalism which the political leaders are promoting will actually damage the whole country?

We must say one thing in all fairness. A large Hindu majority, and a large Indian majority of whatever religion we belong to, we are tolerant, we accept each other, and we live with each other, we have been living for thousands of years together, this is a multi-cultural, multi-religious diverse society, and we’ve been living with each other and enriching each other. Now we suddenly come to a situation where certain groups are getting strong and spreading this hatred around and that is not acceptable, because eventually it is the nation that is going to suffer from this. Not just the minorities.

 

ACN: Is India heading towards becoming a theocratic nation like Pakistan?

In 1947 two countries were born, Pakistan and India. Pakistan decided that it would be a country founded on a religion, Islam; our founding fathers in India decided we would not be based on any religion or any one culture but we would be multi-cultural, pluri-religious and with diverse languages and regions. And the country has lived peacefully after that.

 

ACN: But who are these new people who want to change what the founding fathers decided, and why? 

These are certain fundamentalist groups which come up in every society and fundamentalist groups always damage society. But when they start getting overt or covert support from the others then they become dangerous.

ACN: What has been the reaction of the Christian community on hearing this news? Surely these incidents must make them feel very frightened?

We as Christians, we trust in the Lord, we are not afraid. When I asked the Sisters ‘Are you afraid?’ they said ‘No, we shall continue our work.’ I think that is our spirit, we shall continue our work, we will not be afraid of anyone. We think of Jesus who told us ‘Be afraid of the one who can take care of your soul rather than those who can destroy your body.’ So that is our basic principle. I don’t think anyone is frightened and we will go ahead with our work, we will continue serving the poorest of the poor. We know that this will bring us difficulties, this will bring us persecution, and this will bring us even hardships, but we will continue doing our work for the poor, for God and for Jesus.

 

ACN: One last question: do you believe that it is precisely the fact that you are working with the poorest and most socially discriminated against is one of the reason why some people don’t seem to like the work of the Church?

We have a saying in my own local language Konkani: ‘Stones are thrown only at a tree that bears fruit’. You don’t throw stones at a useless tree, only at a tree that bears fruit. So I think that one of the reasons we are under attack is that we are serving the poor, somebody does not like that we are serving the poor and this I believe is the real reason why the fundamentalists do not like us.

 

 

 

 

ACN In-Depth Story – Forgiveness without limits in Columbia

10.08.2018 in by Martha Suárez, Peace, Prayer, Reconciliation, Reconstruction

An In-depth Story from Columbia

A story of forgiveness without limits

 

Pastora Mira García from Colombia.
Through acts of Christian love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence, she has become one of Colombia’s best-known women of faith as her nation is still grappling with the aftermath of decades of unrelenting violence.

PASTORA MIRA GARCÍA, through acts of Christian love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence, has become one of Colombia’s best-known women of faith as her nation is still grappling with the aftermath of decades of unrelenting violence. The past 60 years saw an armed struggle involving Marxist guerillas, government troops and extreme right-wing militias. By the time a controversial peace deal was struck with the largest guerilla group in 2016, by some estimates as many as 900,000 people had died in the conflict and seven million Colombians were displaced.

In September 2017, when Pope Francis visited the country, Pastora was chosen to address the Pope and the nation at large to give a testimony of her commitment to Christ’s commandment to “love one another”. She tells her story in an interview with the Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need. From the beginning, it has been the charism of the charity to promote reconciliation and forgiveness.

 

Colombia, Medellin 2017 – Meeting with Priests, Religious, Seminarians and their families at the Macarena Event Center in Medellín regarding to the Pope Francis visit to Colombia in September 2017

Learning to live again

“On April 4, 1960, my father, Francisco Mira, was killed by political rivals. I was 4-years-old when his nine children were forced to see his murder. Pushing my mother aside, they shot him and then beheaded him in front of us.

“In 1999, my mother suffered a heart attack and died when militants of one of the country’s warring factions knocked down the neighbours’ front door.

“Although not everyone goes to college, we are all attending the ‘University of Life.’”

“In 2001, my daughter Paola took her 5-year-old daughter along when she went to work at a rural school; they were captured by militants; two days later, they returned the girl, that is, my granddaughter. The family entered a very dark night, wondering what had become of Paola. We managed to recover her body after more than seven years of walking through fields and up and down mountains. I had insisted that de-mining equipment was brought in so that we could conduct our search safely.

“My younger brother was also seized on a highway and neither he nor the people who traveled with him have ever reappeared.  On May 4, 2005, an illegal armed group took my 18-year-old son into captivity for 15 days. Then they murdered him and left him lying in the road. At that time, I said: ‘Lord, I am giving him back to you.’ Although not everyone goes to college, we are all attending the ‘University of Life.’

“Before my mother’s death, I went to work in a village where I heard the name of my father’s murderer and asked my mother if he was the man who killed dad, and she replied: ‘Yes, my daughter, but we have no right to do anything about it, nor to hurt him.’ It took me some time to investigate and when at last I came to that house far away, I did not meet a man, but a wreck of a human being.

“I understood that guilt is worse than pain.”

“It would have been very easy, given the circumstances in which he lived, to poison his food or use some other method to end his life—but fortunately I had received that message from my mother. I sat crying on the way back and made the decision to frequently visit him, along with some people who visited the sick; to help him heal, to bring him food and clothes. We did so for a long time.

“I had learned a very important lesson; when the mother of my father’s murderer asked her son one day, ‘Do you know who that person is who has been taking care of you? She is one of the many orphans you have left behind. She is the daughter of Pacho Mira.’ He never looked me in the eye again. I understood that guilt is worse than pain.

COLOMBIA / SONSON-RIONEGRO 2016.

“On May 19, 2005, attending to my son’s vault in a mausoleum I felt a need to look up, and I saw a sculpture depicting of the Pietà. I said to the Virgin: ‘Madrecita (dear Mother), forgive me for crying for my son, when I should stay calm because I had the blessing of being a mother.’

“I begged my dear God that it not be with a mother’s heart that I would be feeling, nor be listening to the boy with a mother’s ears—that He help me.”

‘Three days later, on my way home, I saw a young man who belonged to one of the illegal armed groups. He was hurt and crying out in pain. We brought him home. He was hungry; I gave him some food and coffee, plus a pair of shorts and a shirt that had belonged to my son. A friend who was a nurse came and we washed his wound.

 

“This young man lay down on my son’s bed and, seeing his pictures on the wall, asked: ‘Why are there photos of that dude we killed few days ago?’ We were all shocked, my daughters and I, and the boy started crying and talking. I begged my dear God that it not be with a mother’s heart that I would be feeling, nor be listening to the boy with a mother’s ears—that He help me.

 

Love One Another

“In the end, I told the young man: ‘This is your bed and this is your bedroom.’ The boy cried and talked— it was as if we were giving him a beating. I passed him the phone and told him: ‘There is a mom worried about you somewhere, please call her.’

I went to talk to my daughters, who said: ‘Mom he cannot get out of here alive!’ I answered them: ‘Tell me what you want me to do, but the only thing I ask of you in return is that, when I finish being a murderer like him, you guarantee that my child is going to be sitting here with us.’ They understood that it should not be an eye for an eye, nor a tooth for a tooth.

“Lord, to the one who has hurt me, forgive him; heal me”

“I went back to the boy: ‘Look, you cannot stay here anymore, go to a hospital.’ He left and returned that same year in August, now demobilized and disarmed. When he used to meet me, he greeted me saying, ‘Mom.’ That December he died in a drug-related incident.

“His mother came to collect the body and I had the opportunity of helping her take the body back to her municipality. There is a fundamental principle: ‘Love one another.’ Lord, to the one who has hurt me, forgive him; heal me and make it so that, through your forgiveness, I can look him in the eye as a human being with the right to make mistakes—and to know that in his mistakes it was he who has failed.’”

COLOMBIA / GRANADA Construction of the church Santuario a la Memoria de las Víctimas, parish San Antonio María Claret

Today, Pastora is dedicated to CARE, the Spanish acronym loosely translated as the ‘Center for Getting Close to Reconciliation.’ She founded it 13 years ago to discover different ways to promote the reconciliation of victims and perpetrators. Pastora is convinced that the way to bring reintegration is to fully understand what has happened; that is the foundation for genuine emotional and spiritual healing.

ACN supports reconciliation projects in different parts of the world. In Colombia, ACN has just approved a project to rebuild a church in Aquitania. In this village, both the church and the rectory were destroyed by the guerrillas. Because of the location and the surrounding forests, the fighting had been very intense there. Many people died in the fighting or by stepping on mines left by the insurgents. Finally, the village was abandoned. People gradually returned after the government regained control and the area was de-mined. The people found only ruins and a church in very bad condition.

In order for Aquitania to come to life again, the parish priest has asked for help to rebuild the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. ACN is providing $30,000 for this project.

 

Invitation: 3rd Mass in Montreal for Persecuted Christians

27.10.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Peace, Prayer

Aid to the Church in Need Canada

3rd Mass for Persecuted Christians

 

On November 4th of this year, the Archbishop of Montreal, Msgr. Christian Lépine, will preside over a Mass dedicated to persecuted Christians for the 3rd consecutive year, which will be celebrated at 7:30 pm at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal. In collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need Canada, this event represents a moment of spiritual solidarity with those who, day after day, suffer persecution because of their religious beliefs.

 

 

 

Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral

 located at:
1085 rue de la Cathédrale,
métro Bonaventure.

For more information, call 514-932-0552,
or toll free: 1-800-585-6333.

Thank you for sharing this information within your networks!

 


 

Press Release – Syrian Children appeal for Peace

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

 

 

Syria

More than one million children sign an appeal for peace

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

“Give us our childhood!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 


 

International Prayer! 1 Million Children Praying the Rosary

05.10.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Children, Children, Pastoral work, Peace, Prayer, Press Release

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

 

Children Praying the Rosary

More than ever: Pray for Peace and Unity

Montreal, Wednesday October 5 – Again this year, Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the One Million Children Pray the Rosary* campaign, an international event with participation also across Canada taking place Tuesday, October 18.


Since the inception of this initiative born in Venezuela in 2005, the international organization has been attracted to the idea of uniting children together to pray for peace in the world.  In Canada, several pastoral services, dioceses and parishes, will participate in the nearing event.  “We want to share this initiative which represents our mission so well, year after year,” explains Marie-Claude Lalonde, the pontifical charities’ national director. “Even more so given what is happening in Syria at the moment, in Iraq and in the Democratic Republic of Congo making praying for peace and for unity in the world an essential part of Christian life.”

 

Christians also have a few more reasons to be touched by this call to prayer, particularly because it is a question of religious persecution, as the upcoming Report on Religious Freedom will demonstrate when it is launched this November. “In many countries, Christians are a minority and experience persecution.  It is our duty to do what we can to help them, if only to pray for them,” explains Mrs Lalonde.

 

This prayer initiative connects to one of the goals Aid to the Church in Need has – which is to pray for Christians who are poor, isolated and persecuted throughout the world, as well as to stay informed about their situation and act on their behalf.

 

Material available!

In order to support our parishes, schools and Catholic spiritual centres, or other organizations who wish to participate in this pastoral initiative; the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need has material made for children and their guides: a leaflet and a letter for children, a poster and decade Rosaries among others.

We invite anyone interested to contact us, at 1 (800) 585- 6333 or (514) 932-0552 or send an email to info@acn-aed-ca.org to request the free material.

 

*Witnessing children praying the Rosary before the Virgin Mary in Caracas (the capital of Venezuela) a few women felt the strong presence of the Holy Mother and became aware of the power of the children’s prayer.  What followed was the launch of this great prayer initiative.

 

1er Juin: les enfants réunis dans les ruines de la cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix à Homs, prient pour la paix en Syrie.

June 1st, 2016:  Children at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Homs, Syria – Praying together for Peace. 

 

By Mario Bard, Aid to the Church in Need Canada

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

 

 


 

 

Azerbaijan: A tiny community will be visited

15.09.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Azerbaijan, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Peace, Pope, Pope Francis

 Azerbaijan 

Pope Francis brings peace

 

Fourteen years after the visit of John Paul II, Azerbaijan is once again preparing for a pontifical visit. The pope will not only travel to the tiny Catholic community, but will also work towards peace in this long suffering region.  

Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Baku is a very beautiful city if you ignore the large blocks of Soviet high rises grouped together at its edges. With its mix of the Orient, the capital city offers a collection from several historical periods, beginning with the old city with its narrow alleys, classical buildings and old mosques, to the Baroque city from the time of the first oil boom in the early twentieth century, all the way to the ultramodern city of the new oil boom; here, the boldest architects on Earth have given their best.

Azerbaïjan 2016: market in Baku

Azerbaïjan 2016: market in Baku

 

 

The country is rich, very rich as a matter of fact, thanks to the oil that has made it possible to shift the focus to major projects.
The “Dubai of the Caspian See” was even planning to create artificial islands, as is common practice among the rich Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula. Ninety-five per cent of its resources stem from this energy source, which means that the country has not been left unscathed by the current drop in oil prices. Large-scale projects such as the extension of the subway have been suspended while the one or other budget problem has come to light.

 

 

When the Sisters of Mother Teresa arrived in the country in 2006 to serve the poor, they were told that there were no poor in Azerbaijan! However, there are those whom the system has forgotten; these are the ones who mourn Soviet times when everyone received a subsistence wage.

 

Baku, «the Dubai of the Caspien Sea», where the ultrmodern and traditionnal architecture meet.

Baku, «the Dubai of the Caspien Sea», where the ultrmodern and traditionnal architecture meet.

 

Sunnis make up a minority in Azerbaijan with an estimated 15% to 30%. The government keeps a very close watch on any attempts at radicalization. It has probably not only remained suspicious of religion as such, but is also aware of the dangers of its expansion in view of the current situation in the Middle East.  Even though it barely makes up more than 2% of the population (9.7 millions), the second most important religion is the Orthodox faith. In the past, its followers counted barely half a million, but their numbers shrank to 200,000 when half of the Russians left the country after independence. The Orthodox Church has an eparchy with approximately fifteen parishes and maintains good relations with the Catholic Church.

 

 

A tiny minority Church

 

A Catholic church was built in 1912 during the time of the first oil boom, but was closed again with the arrival of the Bolsheviks in 1920 a

nd then destroyed in the early 1930s. When the Catholic Church returned in 1992, only a dozen aged followers remained of what had once been 10,000 Catholics. Today, the community has 300 native-born members (often mixed marriages) and 1,000 foreign members including 300 Filipinos: when considered in relation to the entire country, an almost symbolic presence. On average, about 500 people come together each week.

Azerbaïdjan: 95% of the inhabitants are Muslims, but the religious practice is discreet.

Azerbaïdjan: 95% of the inhabitants are Muslims, but the way to practice the religion is discreet.

 

 

Since it was initially seen as an evangelizing sect, John Paul II’s visit did wonders for the Church. For example in response to the visit, the president gave a piece of land to the Church, which is now dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. A large statue of the Virgin Mary stands directly in front of the parish and draws many people, including many Muslims and particularly women. (picture of of the top)

 

The Catholic Church in Azerbaijan has only a single parish with a church and a chapel that is served by six priests. This small community also includes five Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity and two Salesian nuns who are under the direction of the apostolic prefect, Msgr. Vladimir Fekete, a Salesian from Slovenia.

 

On May 29, 2016, the future first Azerbaijani priest was ordained to the diaconate in Saint Petersburg: this is very good news for the Church in Azerbaijan. These can probably be considered the first buds of this discreet, but truly missionary presence.   

 

Children holding the ACN's Bible for children. We are there to help this tiny but active community.

Children holding ACN’s Bible for children. As organization, We are there to help this tiny but active community.

Trip to Azerbaijan of ACN France in 2016

Ultramodern towers in Baku. Pope Francis is visiting Azerbaidjan between September 30 and October 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Picture at the top: Catholic church in Baku, the statue of the Virgin Mary 

By Marc Fromager, ACN France
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada


 

A call to prayer on International Children’s Day

30.05.2016 in ACN Canada, Children, Children, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Peace, Persecution of Christians, Prayer, Syria

International Children’s Day 

Pope Francis invites children all over the world to join peace prayer for Syria

Several hundred children will gather in each of the cities Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs, Tartus, Marmarita and Aleppo to pray together, for peace.

In Rome, during the Angelus prayer on Sunday ( May 29) in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis drew attention to the children in Syria who will be holding a prayer day for peace in Syria on June 1 – “International Children’s Day.” The Holy Father invited the world’s children to take part in this global prayer campaign saying:  “Syrian children invite the children of the world to join their prayer for peace.”

In a joint message, the Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of the country took up the initiative of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to observe this day as a children’s day of prayer for peace. Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need, said, “Children are the most pitiful victims of this war, but they’re also the ones who are closer to God, their appeal will be heard by God, and hopefully it will move the hearts of those waging this war.”

 

IRAQ / NATIONAL 15/00296 Financial aid to rent houses during six months for IDP Christian families living in the province of Erbil (04/ 2016 - 06/ 2016) IRAQ / NATIONAL 15/00292 PrID 1506280 Financial aid to rent houses during six months for IDP Christian families living in the province of Erbil (01/ 2016 - 03/ 2016) Father Andrzej Halemba (project officer for Middle East at ACN) and Mr Aimery de Verac ( working as a kind of freelance auditor for ACN´s major projects in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) visiting the IPD Christian families in the village of Ozal, 30.10.2015: Little displaced boy in one of the houses rent with the help of ACN

“Several hundred children will gather in each of the cities Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs, Tartus, Marmarita and Aleppo to pray together for peace. Throughout the day, various events and joint prayers will be held, including processions for peace, during which the children will carry pictures and statues of the Christ child dressed as a king, bearing a globe in His left hand and blessing the world with the right.” The patriarchs have chosen the Christ child to be the “patron” of this day of prayer for peace because He “came to bring peace” and was heralded by the Prophet Isaiah as the “Prince of Peace”. They said that children all over the world – especially in schools and parishes – should participate in this campaign.

 

Aid to the Church in Need has a joint letter written to Pope Francis by Bishop Abdo Arbach, the Melkite Catholic bishop of Homs, and the Orthodox Bishop Selvanos of Homs in the name of all of the city’s children. In this letter, the children thank the pope for his efforts for peace in Syria and ask for his prayers and “to save them from the maelstrom of hate, from the behemoths of wrath and from those who deal with human organs,” because they, the children, are “the first victims of these crimes.” They also wrote, “We would like to see our country once again become the country of happiness and love it used to be, in which we will plant olive trees and sow wheat, and in which there is no burnt soil on which the canons and rocket launchers of hate stand.”

 

ACN-20160401-38805 (1)Jesus our Lord, bless the children 

Hold them to your heart

You who have promised them the Kingdom of Heaven

To those who would be as they are.

– Christian Patriarchs of Syria-

 

By Eva Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need  Canada


 

ACN Feature Story:Al Qaryatayn, Syria

11.04.2016 in Construction, Peace, Persecution of Christians, Syria
Help for the construction of the convent Deir Mar Elian ( near Qaryatayn)

Syria

“The people are afraid that IS will return”

Though IS has been ousted from Al Qaryatayn, it is unlikely Christians will return quickly

ACN-20150920-29952 (3)

Fr. Jihad Youssed from the Community of al-Khalil, Der Mar Musa al-Habashi Jihad Youssef is a monk of al-Khalil monastic community, Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi, Syria, a community dedicated to the love of Jesus for Islam and Muslims. He works on the dialogue between the two religions to build harmony and friendship..

After jihadist terror militia “Islamic State” (IS) was ousted from the Syrian city of Al Qaryatayn, a member of the local Catholic religious order was skeptical that Christians from the city would return quickly. “The residents, who have fled, both Christians and Muslims, are afraid. They fear that IS may come back again,” Father Jihad Yousef of the Syrian-Catholic religious order of Mar Musa said  in an interview with the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

 

“The swift return of the people is also dependent upon how long the city will remain a military zone. Further, infrastructure such as water and electricity has largely been destroyed. And besides, many residents no longer even live in Syria, but have fled to other countries.”

 

The Syrian army was able to recapture the city early this week after it had been occupied by the terror militia since the beginning of last August. Many of the city’s residents fled. In addition to Father Jacques Mourad, a monk, and a companion who were already kidnapped in May and released in October, at times large numbers of Christians from Al Qaryatayn were being held hostage by IS. Parts of the local Mar Elian monastery of the community of Mar Musa were destroyed immediately after the city was seized. Photographs released by IS showed bulldozers levelling the complex, sections of which dated back to the 5th century.

 

20100308_003

“The archaeological part has been razed. Fortunately, however, the complex of buildings was not destroyed in its entirety” Father Jihad told Aid to the Church in Need. “The walls of the church are still standing, even though the roof is no longer there. The altar, unfortunately, was destroyed. They also smashed the sarcophagus of St. Elian.” However, it is a sign from God and a source of great consolation for the community, Father Jihad said, that the remains were not destroyed or stolen, but can still be found scattered there. “St. Elian is greatly revered by the Christians. Muslims also used to go on pilgrimage to his grave. We want to gather the holy relics and give them a worthy place again.”

 

The reconciliation of hearts

 

ACN-20140129-04689

The town of Nebek, which is some 17km from the monastery of Mar Musa was bombed (for) three weeks. The Christian quarter was severely damaged. There are two parishes with a total of some 500 people, who hid in the underground for the period since the bombing. 

Father Jihad is confident that it will be possible to restore the smashed marble sarcophagus of the saint. “Until the possible restoration of the monastery, the remains could be taken to another place,” said Father Jihad.
However, more important for the monk is spiritual renewal. “Of course we are attached to the monastery. We invested a great deal of effort to make it into a place of prayer and dialogue. In this, Aid to the Church in Need was vital in its support. But we are not attached to stones. Our Jerusalem is in heaven. And you don’t lose anything with God. Matter can be restored. A great deal more vital than the restoration of the stones and the recovery of the monastery is the reconciliation of hearts,” said Father Jihad whose community has made the dialogue between Christians and Muslims an integral part of its focus.

 

The Deir Mar Elian convent ( near Qaryatayn)

The Deir Mar Elian convent
( near Qaryatayn)

“Several years ago,” he continued, “we were grateful to the benefactors and those who help with prayers at Aid to the Church in Need for their help in building the monastery. Unfortunately, it is now very heavily damaged,” he emphasized. “We are therefore now asking those who pray to add Syria to their prayers. May hatred vanish from the hearts.”