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Persecution of Christians

 

ACN News – The case of an abducted girl in Pakistan

22.06.2020 in ACN United Kingdom, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, RED WEDNESDAY, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

The case of an abducted girl, 14, taken to High Court by her Christian family

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

A Christian family in Pakistan has gone to the High Court in their fight to win back their 14-year-old daughter. The man, they claim abducted her and then forced the girl to marry him, demanding she abandon her faith.

 

On June 2, Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu confirmed to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) his submission of a petition to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan for the appeal in the case of Maira Shahbaz.

 

The family wants to overturn the ruling of Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court declaring on May 5 the Catholic girl Maira now being 19 and, as such, is validly wedded to the Muslim man—Mohamad Nakash—who is already married and with two young children.

 

Abducted at gun point

Witnesses described how on April 28 Maira was walking close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, when Mr. Nakash and two armed accomplices drew up in a car, abducted her and fired guns into the air as they made off at speed.

 

Mr. Sandhu told ACN: “I am trying my very best for the case. Maira’s mother [Nighat Shahbaz] is so very sad—in fact she is a picture of sadness. You cannot imagine the shock of losing your daughter and losing all contact with her.” He said that when Nighat Shahbaz saw her daughter at last month’s magistrates’ court hearing, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. She is making a slow recovery.

 

A very strong case

Mr. Sandhu added: “The case for Maira being a minor is very strong. There are so many gaps and weaknesses in the opponent’s argument.” He cites a birth certificate and other official documentation from her local church and school to prove that Maira is 14. Mr. Sandhu claims a marriage certificate Mr. Nakash produced in court is a fake. The document purports to show he wed the girl last October.

 

The systematic abuse of young innocent girls

Mr. Nakash argues that, in spite of law, which forbids marriage to minors, marrying Maira is sanctioned by Islamic custom which, he claims, says it is valid, provided the girl has had her first period.

 

Mr. Sandhu said: “In cases like this what we so often see is that, after two or three years, the people send back the girl to the family by which time they have satisfied their lust and have had enough of her.”

 

Motivated by faith

Mr. Sandhu, former Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, pledged to raise Maira’s case in the Punjab Assembly. A one-time university roommate of fellow Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in 2011 while serving as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Mr. Sandhu said: “What motivates me is my faith in Jesus and I am reminded of the Gospel passage where Christ reveals how he has been sent to set the captives free.”

 

 

As a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, ACN supports the National Commission for Justice and Peace and other organizations in Pakistan which provide legal and paralegal aid for minorities and help for those forced into hiding.

 

 

Burkina Faso: No stop to terrorism during this pandemic

19.05.2020 in ACN Feature, Africa, Burkina Faso, By Maria Lozano, Persecution of Christians

Burkina Faso

No stop to terrorism during this pandemic

by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published to the web May 19, 2020

The terrorist threat, which has affected five regions of northern and eastern Burkina Faso in particular, has been “eclipsed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to a number of different local sources consulted by the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). For those directly affected by the terrorist attacks, the coronavirus is “a disaster within a disaster” sources told ACN. All those spoken to by the charity, in the three Catholic dioceses of Dori, Kaya and Fada N’Gourma – all of which have been gravely impacted by the consequences of the terrorism – were in agreement that “the gravity of the situation is unchanged, and indeed in some places even worse” than before the pandemic, with almost a million people left homeless and a total absence of any effective response from either the national or the international authorities.

Sheltering thousands of refugees while under daily attacks

In the department of Bourzanga (Central northern region) and Djibo (Sahel region), the attacks are continuing on a daily basis. Entire regions have been cut off – not because of the lockdown resulting from the pandemic, but because of the total insecurity in which they are forced to live. The few still inhabited towns and villages are now sheltering thousands of homeless refugees, yet at the same time they are finding themselves increasingly cut off from the rest of the country.

This is particularly true of the town of Djibo, which has been cut off by the terrorists since mid-January this year (2020). According to ACN’s sources, “there is no transport, no food supplies, no possibility of entering or leaving the town. There is a shortage of water, vehicle fuel and food, frequent electricity cuts and so forth.”

According to the national emergency relief and rehabilitation agency CONASUR (Conseil National de Secours d’Urgence et de Réhabilitation), there are close on 150,000 internally displaced people now living in the provincial capital Djibo, while the town of Arbinda, which is similarly blockaded, is sheltering around 60,000 internally displaced people. These two towns are the last remaining enclaves of life in the province, and the last remaining protective barrier for thousands of people in the face of the terrorist occupation.

 

Water.

One displaced priest, forced from his parish in the diocese of Kaya in the central-northern region, told ACN of a similar situation. “The villages are almost completely deserted. Their entire rhythm of life has been disrupted, although there are still some signs of hope. In my parish, where many people have sought refuge, there are problems in obtaining basic necessities. The crucial problem is always water. It is very difficult to obtain this precious liquid, and this means that the women are forced to return to the neighbouring abandoned villages, with all the risks that implies, since they are under constant threat from the terrorists, in order to try and obtain water and transport it back on their tricycles.”

Again in Kaya region, there are important villages, such as Namisgma and Dablo, which are cut off from the towns which supplied them until now. And after repeated attacks, the terrorists have now established themselves in the large village of Pensa, leaving this small town effectively cut off from the rest of the territory.

A fervent plea for authorities to react

Those involved acknowledge that local and national authorities are fully aware of the crisis suffered by the people. But most of the time their efforts are quickly brought to nothing by a lack of adequate resources. Many people are disappointed that the sheer scale of the tragedy is not understood outside the country itself. “Out of the 75 villages in my parish, there are no more than 10 that are still inhabited. Everyone else has fled. And given that certain key villages have been abandoned, a large part of the territory is now in the hands of the terrorists, outside the control of the state,” explains another priest from the diocese of Kaya, who has also been forced to flee because of the threats made against him in his parish.

Although there are foreign troops present, principally French, many people in Burkina are skeptical and complain that they have seen no resulting response. They also criticize the fact that if their own national army had the same level of equipment and weaponry as the foreign troops, it would be able to respond more effectively.

Both dangers are real

Generally speaking, most people feel helpless in the face of this evil, and “all the more so at this time when all the emphasis is on the coronavirus pandemic, forgetting that this terrorism is causing as many and indeed more victims than Covid-19,” the priest explains.

There are many voices appealing to the authorities to show the same determination and seriousness in doing something to improve the situation of the refugees within its own borders and to fight against terrorism, as it is in conducting the fight against the pandemic. “Both dangers are real. And we are trapped in the middle. It is very difficult to know which is worse. At all events, the consequences are the same; both situations lead to death,” says one of ACN’s project partners in the Fada N’Gourma region who has just been given help to build a security wall around his parish centre after having suffered a number of violent attacks.

For almost 5 years now, Burkina Faso has been struggling with this unprecedented wave of terrorism. In February 2020 a delegation from ACN visited the country to see for itself the problems faced by Christians in the north of the country and to reaffirm the solidarity of the universal Church with its people.

According to the information obtained by ACN during this visit, the number of internally displaced people has reached almost a million. Since last year over 1,000 people have been killed – including Christians, members of traditional African religions, Muslims and members of the Armed Forces. Thirteen priests and 193 community leaders, or pastoral coordinators, have been forced to leave their parishes and take refuge in other parishes that are still safe for the time being. It should be said, finally, that at least eight parishes have had to be closed and seven religious communities belonging to different congregations have had to flee to safer places.

 

 

ACN News – India – Christian released on bail after 11 years in jail

02.03.2020 in Aid to the Church in Need Canada, India, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

 

India

Christian released on bail after 11 years in jail

Accusations were false

by Anto Akkara, for ACN USA
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published online March 2, 2020

 

BHASKAR SUNAMAJHI (43) is one of seven Christians falsely accused and convicted of the August 2008 murder of a Hindu leader in the Kandhamal district of India’s Odisha State. The killing triggered the worst eruption of Christian persecution in modern Indian history. Almost 100 Christians were killed, while 300 churches and 6,000 homes were destroyed. In December 2019, after 11 years in jail, Bhaskar, along with six fellow Christian defendants, was released on bail.

 

Bhaskar and son, Daud

Bhaskar, who belongs to a Pentecostal Church, gave this account to Aid to the Church in Need:

“I was playing cards with my friends in Kutiguda village when the police came to my mud-thatched house around noontime on December 13, 2008. I was not surprised. Being a gram rakhi (village protector), I was used to police dropping in even at odd hours to fetch me to accompany them for crime investigation and sundry works.

“Come now. You can return tomorrow,” police told me. Without any hesitation, I got ready. However, I was surprised when they told me to take money for my expenses. That was 11 years ago. Today I am happy and thrilled to be back home.

 

Prayer, the only comfort

In the beginning, I had no idea why I was put in jail. It was like complete darkness surrounded me. Gradually, I came to know the six other Christians who had been arrested like me. We decided to pray together, trusting in the Lord as we had done no wrong.

“Initially, other (Hindu) prisoners treated us as murderers and they were hostile toward us. It was a hopeless situation. When the mind was so distressed, prayer was the only solace for us. Besides our common prayers, I would start every day in prayer and end with prayer.

“Some nights I was so distraught and tearful. Then I kept on praying late into the night until I fell asleep. But for the prayers, I would have been a mental wreck.

“The one positive thing that happened to me while in the jail was that I learned to write properly. I had never been to school—like most people in our remote area, I used the spare time in jail to learn to write.

“Besides reading the Bible, I used to write down hymns we used during prayers in a notebook. I would write each stanza of the hymns prayerfully in different colors.

 

Finally free and happy!

A long road woven by acts of solidarity

“My big relief was when my wife Debaki would visit me every month. She had to travel the whole day from our village to reach the jail in Phulbani, a 100 miles from home, changing several buses on the way. She would reach the jail gate in the morning and would wait for ‘visiting time’ , often in the afternoon.

“When our only son Daud was four years old, Debaki decided to leave him with a pastor in Phulbani who was sheltering several other children. As there was no school anywhere near our village, we did not want our son to be illiterate like us. Sometimes, she would bring Daud along to jail. I was thrilled on those days. Daud was only six months old when I was put behind bars.

“During the visits, Debaki often broke down in tears, as she was lonely and depressed. As years passed, she started telling me how good Samaritans were extending help to our families. From 2014 onward, she began to sound more hopeful. She recounted enthusiastically about social workers and others visiting our villages and documenting testimonies of even Hindu neighbours.

“In 2015, I was thrilled when some of these people dedicated to helping me visited me in jail. I was very happy and started earnestly praying for those who were working for our release.

“Months later, Debaki came with the good news that she was going to New Delhi in March 2016, along with the wives of the six others, for the launch of the online campaign demanding our release.

“All of us became excited and very hopeful. We intensified our prayers and were waiting for the big day. We knew freedom was on its way. But we had to wait for three more years.

“When Gornath Chalenseth was released in May 2019, we were thrilled. We knew God was working for us. Finally, on December 5, I walked out to freedom on bail—granted by the Supreme Court of India.

“I felt thrilled when all seven of us stood together in freedom, holding the Bible, on Christmas Eve in our native village of Kotagarh. Equally thrilling for me was that my son had become taller than me in 11 years.  I am happy to be back with my wife Debaki, relatives and village people. I thank God for my freedom.

“I urge everyone to pray for us seven. We are only out on bail. We still stand convicted of a murder we did not commit. We pray that the Odisha High Court will quash the conviction verdict so that we can live in peace.”

ACN News – Asia Bibi: An encounter with an icon

28.02.2020 in ACN, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

Asia Bibi in France

An encounter with an icon

 By Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online February 28, 2020

 

Asia Bibi has requested political asylum while in France. This Pakistani Christian woman, whose fate ACN has followed closely since she was first sentenced in 2010, recently gave an interview to ACN France, Aid to the Church in Need’s national office in France.

Asia Bibi is visibly tired. Interviews and official meetings have taken up the few days she has spent in France. Nonetheless, she manages to smile for the photographers with their constantly clicking cameras and valiantly gives her consent for a the long succession of interview requests. “It is thanks to the media that I am still alive,” she insists.

Victim of an absurd law

In fact, she owes the end of her personal Calvary to one French journalist in particular, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, whom she calls “her sister” and who has helped her with the publication of the book Enfin libre! (Free at last! French edition published by éditions du Rocher – due to be published in Canada in April or May, in French). This autobiography relates how this Pakistani Catholic peasant woman has come to be a world icon of resistance to Islamic fundamentalism.

 

Asia Bibi with French journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet

Accused of blasphemy by her Muslim neighbours, Asia Bibi spent nine years in prison on    death row, faced with the constant threat of execution. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are frequently invoked simply as a means of settling scores between neighbours, and may result in the direst consequences. Often those accused have been lynched by enraged crowds or else “disappear” or commit “suicide” in prison. The media attention given to the case of Asia Bibi undoubtedly helped save her from such a fate.

 

Finally acquitted on appeal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on  October 31, 2018,  Ms Bibi was at last able – thanks to international pressure and numerous different twists and turns in her case – to escape the country which held her prisoner for many long years – to find her freedom in Canada on May 8, 2019. Now, a landmark legal precedent has been set, a so-called “Asia Bibi Law” which enables those accused of blasphemy to fight back against their accusers. The anti-blasphemy laws still exist unchanged in Pakistan, but at least now exists a greater risk in using them to unjustly accuse an individual.

 

 

“We have been Christians there for over a thousand years”

“I could never have imagined ever being famous,” Asia Bibi insists in her quiet, gentle voice. She tells of a happy childhood in her native Pakistan: “I used to play together with my Muslim neighbours; there was never any separation,” she recalls nostalgically. Baptized at the age of eight, she never faced any difficulties in living her faith. Speaking of her religious heritage, she recalls the ancient roots of Christianity in Pakistan: “We have been Christians there for over 1,000 years.” However, as she grew up, she became aware of differences separating Christians and Muslims in her country. She heard people speak of attacks against Christians, some victims lynched by enraged crowds. There were also cases of Muslim men in search of a bride who might simply abduct a young Christian woman and forcibly “convert” her in order to marry her.

“There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.”

 

Christians seen as “unclean”

She also discovered that Muslims regarded Christians as “unclean.” It was on account of this belief in fact that her life abruptly changed on one extremely hot day, June 14, 2009. She was working with some Muslim neighbours when they told her to go and fetch some water. She obeyed, drawing up the water, and then drank a cup of water before taking it to the person who had asked for it. One of the women refused to drink from it, because she maintained that Asia had rendered the water “unclean.”  Asia Bibi defended herself, saying that she did not think that the Prophet Muhammad would agree. To which the woman replied that she had just committed a blasphemy! The consequence was prison, her family forced to flee on account of threats by fundamentalists, and a sentence of death by hanging… It was a judicial saga that only reached its final, but happy, conclusion in 2019. There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.

 

Not the only one

But Asia also knows that she is by no means the only person to have been placed in this situation, and she wants to use the microphone that is held out to her to speak out on behalf of those who are still suffering from accusations of blasphemy in her home country. She becomes more animated as she speaks, and her previously quiet voice becomes more confident and assured: “Throughout my imprisonment I held the hand of Christ. It is thanks to him that I managed to stay strong. So don’t be afraid!” Seeing this new force and conviction, one can certainly see the strength of this woman who has remained undefeated after ten years of terrible trials. This is the woman who stubbornly refused to leave her family or deny her faith, as she was asked to do after her arrest, in order to escape  conviction.

She has been forced to leave her country and yet she still retains the hope of being able to return again one day. “It is the country of my birth, I love Pakistan with all my heart!”she insists. Meanwhile, Asia Bibi hopes to be able to seek refuge in France. “I’ve been met with a great deal of love here, and I think I will be happy with you,” she says.

 

 

Below, a brief video testimonial with subtitles in French

ACN Feature Story: Egypt – Five years on

14.02.2020 in egypt, Persecution of Christians

Egypt – Five years on

 

Shrine honours 21 Coptic martyrs

 

Special collaboration –  Engy Magdy
Adapted by ACN Canada  
Published on the web February 14, 2020

 

The shrine to the 21 Christian men beheaded by ISIS on a Libyan beach in February 2015, will hold an exhibition on Feb. 15 honouring the men and marking the fifth anniversary of their death. Twenty of the men were Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt. The 21st victim was a Christian from Ghana. They have been declared martyrs by the Coptic Orthodox Church.


The exhibition documents the men’s story, from the time of their abduction to the return of their bodies to the village of Al Our, in Egypt’s Minya province, where the shrine is located. Visitors will be shown the orange jump suits the men wore when they were beheaded, tools with which they were caught, some sand on which their blood was spilled, and the specially made coffins that hold their remains.

Mother of two brothers, Samuel and Beshoy, 22 and 24-years-old, who were among the 21 martyrs.

In an interview with pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, the mother of two brothers, Samuel and Beshoy, 22 and 24-years-old, who were among the 21 martyrs, said: “I’m the mother of martyrs, I’m proud of them. They intercede for me and their father in heaven.” She said she is praying for ISIS followers, calling on “God to give them the light and open their eyes to the truth and the good.”

 

In Egypt 2020, martyrs shrine honors 21 victims of ISIS on fifth anniversary of their death. An exhibition documents the men’s story, from the time of their abduction to the return of their bodies to the village of Al Our, in Egypts Minya province, where the shrine is located.

“Our martyrs were praying before they died.”

 

Before the release of the ISIS video “that showed the killing of my brothers and their colleagues, our family and the church in our village of Al Our had spent 45 days praying for them, as we knew of their kidnapping,” said Basheer, the brother of Samuel and Beshoy. He added that “God talked through their cries of ‘oh Jesus,’” as recorded in the video.

 

“Our martyrs were praying before they died; it was obvious that they were calling on Jesus. That gave us comfort and made us proud. Those 21 were fortunate to be martyrs for Christ and our community is honoured” to have custody of their bodies, Basheer said.

 

He continued: “My father and mother felt relief when they became sure that their sons had kept their faith in Jesus Christ, who gave us much relief and comfort. My brothers have given us courage in the face of persecution; we are never afraid and never worry anymore.”

 

Miracles that have been attributed to martyrs

 

“The Coptic Church has a long history of martyrdom and has gone through many ages of persecution throughout its history.” Said Father Abu Fanus Unan, who serves at the shrine, which is housed in the newly built Church of Faith and the Homeland. He told ACN: “We are proud of the blood of these martyrs who refused to recant their Christian Faith.”

 

The Coptic Church honours many martyrs who died in centuries past, but the priest testified to the powerful impact of the witness of “contemporary martyrs who refused to recant the name of Jesus Christ. Their example strengthens our faith.”

 

The shrine is preparing to publish a book documenting miracles that are attributed to the martyrs’ intercession. “There are many miracles in the village attributed to them. A woman with cancer was cured after her prayer at their shrine,” reported Father Abu Fanus, who added that many people were baptized and became Christians because of the example of the 21 martyrs. “The Coptic Church survives thanks to the blood of her children,” the priest said.

 

The remains of Matthew Ayariga from Ghana are still in Libya. The Libyan ambassador to Egypt has promised the body will be transferred to Egypt once the political situation in Libya stabilizes.

Coptic Cross on Bishop Bishay’s house, Luxor, Egypt

ACN Feature Story: Religious Sister and sexual assault survivor rebounds to ‘bring her people hope’

15.01.2020 in ACN Canada, ACN International, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom, Sisters

India

Religious Sister and sexual assault survivor rebounds to ‘bring her people hope’

by Anto Akkara, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Posted to the web January 15, 2020

 

In August 2008, the Odisha state’s Kandhamal district witnessed the worst eruption of Christian persecution in modern Indian history. It was sparked by the murder of a local Hindu leader. Hindu radicals labeled the killing “an international Christian conspiracy,” blaming the Pope, Europe, and the United States. They called for revenge on Christians, which led to the deaths of 100 people and the destruction of 300 churches and 6,000 homes. Seven Christians, falsely accused of the murder of the *Swami, spent 9 years in jail. In early December, the remaining five Christians were finally released on bail.

 

Courage alongside trauma

Kandhamal district in Odisha where in 2008 riots by radical Hindus took place against Christians.

During the wave of violence that swept through the Kandhamal district, Sister Meena Barwa was raped and paraded half-naked through the streets. After years of trauma and legal proceedings—which are still ongoing—Sister Barwa decided to enroll in law school and work on behalf of the marginalized. She recently spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

“The trauma was nearly unbearable, and I moved several times for my own safety, sometimes to places where I could not speak the language. I even wore disguises. For years, I was separated from my family. And the nights were especially bad. I dreamt of the assault often. The knowledge that Kandhamal’s Christians were suffering only added to my pain.

“From time to time, I returned to Odisha for court proceedings. The first trial traumatized me all over again. I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards; I was humiliated, offended, and mentally tortured. I developed a serious aversion to India’s legal system.

“But this did not keep me down. I decided to act on behalf of the people who suffered with me, to pursue justice for them. In 2009, I anonymously enrolled in a college outside of Odisha; I was just one of the girls living in a convent hostel. In 2015, I began a three-year law program, while continuing to attend to my duties as a nun.

 

 

Strength born of suffering and God’s blessings

“Many things have changed in the last decade. Today I lead a normal life, and I have become much stronger. The people I’ve met have helped me forget my pain; I consider them blessings from God. They were angels sent to guide me, so that I did not wallow in misery. Instead, I rose from my trauma and found a way to bring my people hope. I’ve become more humble, more patient, and more human.

“I pray the Lord’s prayer every day. The prayer is only meaningful when I forgive. How can I pray Our Lord’s Prayer if I do not forgive? By forgiving my attackers I have become free of my trauma, fear, shame, humiliation and anger. I feel I am living normal life and am happy because I forgave them. Otherwise, I would have gone mad. I have no ill feeling towards my attackers. I only wish that they become good people.

 

Tribal Catholics in Kandhamal district in Odisha where in 2008 riots by radical Hindus took place against Christians. These villagers have been expelled from their lands, losing all their goods, and have been resettled, often after living for months in the forest or in refugee camps, in another part of the district.

“He has empowered me to serve others”

“I am grateful for my life, my strength, and my sense of purpose, all of which were given to me by God. He is my strength, even as my trial drags on. And He has empowered me to serve others.

“The people of Kandhamal have suffered so much, but they are putting all their trust in the Lord. Suffering in itself is a grace. I see it as a challenge to grow out of it. The Christian community’s attitude towards what happened in Kandhamal in 2008 is not negative. They are hopeful and have a deeper faith. The tragedy has made them stronger. He words of St. Paul come to mind: ‘Who can separate us from the Love of Christ?’ The people of Kandhamal are living this.

* Meaning of ‘Swami’ – a teacher – in Sanskrit language: “One who knows.”

 


Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) published a book called ‘God’s Initiative’ co-authored by Marie-Claude Lalonde and Robert Lalonde, made-up of interviews conducted in 2015 of religious Sisters around the world.  Among them can be found Sister Meena’s story.

Please contact ACN Canada if you would like a copy: suggested donation is $20.  Please call (514) 659-4041 x227 or write to info@acn-canada.org.  All proceeds go to supporting pastoral projects supported by ACN in 140 countries around the world.

ACN News: Egypt, Situation of Christians seeing improvement

02.12.2019 in egypt, Persecution of Christians

Egypt

 

Situation of Christians seeing improvement

by Fionn Shiner, ACN International,
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted online, December 2, 2019

 

After decades of persecution ‘things are getting better’ for Egypt’s Christians. Despite the ongoing threat of extremist attacks in Egypt, the situation is improving for the country’s Christians according to Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, who expressed his hopes to Aid to the Church in Need for Egypt’s Christians.

 

“We thank God that the situation is getting better. The president [el-Sisi] has goodwill towards the Christians. He is a president for all Egyptians,” said the bishop. But the threat of extremist attacks continues, with Islamists wanting to make Christians fearful of losing their place in Egyptian society.

“Attacks happen from time-to-time perpetrated by Islamists. The goal is not only to attack Christians but also the Egyptian government,“ he emphasized. “They want to say to Christians, ‘the government cannot protect you. You should leave Egypt.’”

“They [the extremists] would like to establish an Islamic State but in Egypt it will never materialize. Egyptians are close – Christians and Muslims are too united for the extremists to cause problems.”

 

Building churches more accessible, but abductions still happening

 

“There has been a mentality since 1952 that treats Christians as second-class citizens. Now, some change has happened and things are getting better,” added the bishop. “Building Churches is easier than before. We don’t have to wait years to get a church built.”

 

According to Bishop William, this is a marked change – for more than 160 years, Christians had to get permission from Egypt’s head of state for new church buildings.

 

Coptic Christian girls are still abducted with some reports suggesting the police facilitate the kidnappings. “In areas where the Islamic organizations are strong they are happening but in our area it is not much of a problem.”

 

World Watch Monitor interviewed a former member of an Islamist network who actively targeted Coptic girls before he left Islam. The kidnapper said: “A group of kidnappers meets in a mosque to discuss potential victims. They keep a close eye on Christian houses and monitor everything that’s going on. “On that basis, they weave a spider’s web around the girls.”

 

Thank you to ACN!

Bishop William expressed gratitude for ACN and its benefactors, which provides Mass Offerings, training of seminarians, church restoration, and more to Egypt.

 

“We appreciate very much what ACN is doing in many countries to keep Christians in their homelands,” said Bishop Kyrillos. “We thank all benefactors for their help and donations to ACN so we can realize our dream of keeping Christians in the Middle East.”

ACN Feature Story – The kidnappings of under-age Christian girls in Pakistan

25.11.2019 in ACN Canada, Asia, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, Violence against Women and Girls

 

Pakistan

Two kidnappings of under-age Christian girls

 

by Tabassum Yousef, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada

 

Samra Munir was 13 when she was kidnapped.

This is the story of Samra Munir (13 years) and Neha Pervaiz (14 years). Both Catholic girls were kidnapped from their homes by Muslims. Samra was forced to marry and convert to Islam; her family has not seen her since her abduction. Nehah got away from her captor, though she suffered sexual assault. These are but two examples of kidnapping of under-age Christian girls in Pakistan and the practice of forced marriage and conversion to Islam. The number of such incidents is sharply on the rise.

Samra loves her family and understands that she must help them; she enjoys cooking and assisting with household chores. She has only completed three years of primary school; the family lives on daily wages and her parents cannot afford school fees.

On September 16, 2019, Samra was abducted.  She was home alone. Her parents were at work and her siblings were at the market. It was then that she was kidnapped; she was forcibly thrown into a car and taken away. Samra’s brother Shahzad saw the car drive away. He ran after it but could not keep up. Samra’s parents repeatedly reported the kidnapping, but local police insisted that she was not taken. Police said she ran away from home. Her parents were even told not to create a scene.

 

Forced into marriage: the authorities do nothing

Some time passed before the family received any news.  They learned that Samra had married and converted to Islam. Her marriage certificate listed her age as 19. The police ordered her parents not to come again and also threatened that their other daughter, Arooj, would suffer a similar fate.

Still, the family persisted. They took out a 40,000 rupee loan (about $260) so they’d have money to give to officers each time they went to the police station, in the hope that the money would prompt the police to act; they sold their sewing machine and phones, too. Every dollar they made went toward the search for Samra, but nothing has come of their efforts so far. Arooj said: “My life is not easy. We miss Samra; we don’t eat or sleep properly. I don’t go to school because we can’t afford the fees. Still, I know that God hasn’t forsaken us. Jesus is with me. I carry a Rosary with me at all times, and I pray that Mother Mary continues to protect us.

This area isn’t safe for us. My Muslim friends treat me well, but their mothers don’t like me. They think that I’m impure; I can only use certain plates and glasses. I love my country, but I want to live where we are all respected. I humbly ask that world leaders work on behalf of our safety and peace. People forget to be kind.”

 

Neha Pervaiz was held for seven days 

Neha Pervaiz (14), Catholic girl, was kidnapped from her home by Muslims. She got away from her captor and she suffered sexual assault.

And now, here is the story of Neha Pervaiz.  Contrary to Samra, she was able to tell her own story because she was able to escape the claws of her abductors.  Here is what she said to the Aid to the Church in Need:

“ In many ways, I am a normal girl. I love to draw, sketch, and race; I love to play with my best friend Madiha and my three younger siblings. But I am also Christian, and I have suffered greatly for it.

“My aunt, whose children I’ve cared for and bathed, allowed my rape and abduction. While in her home, my brother and I were locked in separate rooms and beaten. A man named Imran raped me and forced me to recite the Koran; I initially refused, but they beat my brother harder because of it. I relented to keep him safe.

“God protected me and I escaped. I proudly carry the cross wherever I go.”

 

“Then, for seven days, I was held captive in Imran’s home, until one of his daughters spared me. One of my aunt’s children took me in and managed to keep me hidden. She lent me a burka and 500 rupees (about $3.50) so I could safely return to my family. But my parents did not believe me when I told them what had happened.

“I now live under the protection of the Church. But I am not safe. I cannot go anywhere alone, for I might be attacked again, and I cannot worship freely. I have no security or legal protection. Still, I do not want to leave my country. This is my home. I want to study law so I can protect other girls from similar crimes. I also hope that world leaders support legislation that ensures the safety of women and prevents forced conversion and marriage. “God protected me and I escaped. I proudly carry the cross wherever I go.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need publishes a report every second year called Persecuted and Forgotten?  Which reveals the situation of religious persecution around the world of which Christians are often victims of.  The PDF version may be accessed through the following link: https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/

 

 

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

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

Press Release  – For Immediate Release

 

#RedWednesday, November 20, 2019

Stones and Prayers

A show of solidarity with persecuted Christians!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

A Great International Movement

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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


 

ACN PRESS: Red Wednesday – 2019 A Second Edition in Canada

24.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, Persecution of Christians, RED WEDNESDAY

Red Wednesday 2019

A Second Edition in Canada
Will you participate?

 

Montréal, October 23, 2019 – As the results of the latest Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International Report on the persecution of Christians 2017-19 are coming out around the world today, the Canadian announces that the 2nd edition of Red Wednesday, an event to raise awareness and educate about the persecution of Christians around the world and the importance of religious freedom, will be held on Wednesday, November 20. Red Wednesday is also a moment to demonstrate in solidarity with persecuted Christians.

As was done last year, a Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 pm at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal, while an ecumenical prayer vigil will be held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, also scheduled for 7:30 pm. Both events will be presided over by the archbishops of these two dioceses, Msgr. Christian Lépine and Cardinal Thomas Collins, respectively.

Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada, is delighted by the attention given to the event this year by the Chancellor of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal, Mr. Guy Guindon, Sulpician. “The historic building of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal will be lit up in red and the seminarians will hold a vigil on Thursday, November 21, at the historic chapel,” she said before adding: “We are also waiting for news from the Diocese of Calgary. Last year, more than 50 activities were organized there.” The Red Wednesday tradition began in the United Kingdom a few years ago and has been taken up by several national ACN offices around the world, including France, Italy and the Philippines.

Those interested in recognizing this day can now visit the micropage created by the Canadian office at acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/. Whether preparing a time of prayer in a parish, a Mass, or by illuminating any emblematic building in their part of the country – church, diocesan centre, cathedral, basilica, etc. – they are invited to join us so that we can spread the word of this gesture of solidarity to all Canadians. At 1 (800)585-6333 or by email at info@acn-canada.org.

Iraq: 90% less than in 2003 

Furthermore, ACN announces the release of its new report devoted exclusively to the persecution of Christians around the world. Among the major issues addressed in this report, including the situation in Nigeria and that in south and southeast Asia, that of the Christian communities in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, is simply alarming.

A map showing the countries overview in the new Report Persecuted and Forgotten 2017-19, availalble next week in PDF Format on the web site of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. (© ACN)

“They are more than ever in danger of disappearing,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde. In 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians. “In little more than a generation, their numbers have tragically decreased by 90% to 150,000! Unfortunately, we believe that the international community has failed to take concrete action on the very strong concerns it expressed in 2016 when some governments recognized the genocide of Christians by the Islamic State group (Daesh/ISIS). According to our partners in the field, if these terrorists were to come back in force and reattack the Nineveh Plain, an ancestral site of Iraqi Christians, it would practically be the death of Christianity in Iraq, even though it is more than 1,900 years old! “Mrs. Lalonde said sadly.

 

 

The full findings of the report will be available in PDF format on the Canadian office’s website the week of October 28th.


For more information on Red Wednesday and Aid to the Church in Need, visit the website: acn-canada.org/red-Wednesday.