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Pope Francis

 

ACN Press: A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria

16.09.2019 in ACN, Pope Francis, Prayer, Press Release, Syria

A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria
Marie-Claude Lalonde among ACN delegates to Vatican

By Mario Bard, ACN Canada
Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Monday, September 16, 2019 — The national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN), Marie-Claude Lalonde, attended this past Sunday, September 15, the blessing of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People by Pope Francis. 

The ceremony took place at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican. The icon will be carried through 34 dioceses in Syria—as a sort of pilgrimage—offered for the veneration of the faithful along its path intended to finish in Damascus, in May 2020.

“It is a great joy for me to have participated in this event which took place just before the Sunday Angelus,” said a joyful Marie-Claude Lalonde on the other end of the line. “This blessing is a pure joy as we are at the very heart of ACN’s mission: providing pastoral support to Christians who are in need.” And she adds: “This initiative touches on every one of the calls for peace that Pope Francis has launched to put a stop to the abominable conflict that has caused so much suffering for Syrian civilians. With this gesture he has reaffirmed with strength his support of the Syria population broken by war.”

 

Pilgrimage of the icon: For the healing of hearts

This icon of Our Lady of Sorrows was written last August by Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs and will be presented for the veneration of the faithful in 34 dioceses of Syria, likely until May 31, 2020.

I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde

“The blessing of an icon can seem inconsequential to secularized societies like our own,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. “But in Syria, religious traditions are still present in public and social society and these gestures—such as to write an icon, bless it and offer it for veneration by the faithful for a period of nine months is a veritable balm, immense and almost essential for all Christians who are wounded by this filthy war, they who have survived through over eight years of fratricidal conflict.”

“Finally, I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde in closing.

The Pope’s message to the families who will accompany the icon is: “You are not alone; we are with you.”

Meanwhile in Syria, the 6,000 rosaries blessed by Pope Francis one month ago were distributed throughout Syrian parishes as part of a larger prayer campaign for and with the Syrian people called Console my People, an initiative promoted by Aid to the Church in Need and the Syrian Churches.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 : Pope Francis,  blessing the Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People. Next to the Icon, Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs, the writer of the icon. (© ACN/AED)

A Drop of Milk in Homs, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need Canada continues to promote its fundraising campaign to raise over $378,000, for the provision of daily milk, for over 6,000 children aged 0 to 10 in the city of Homs for a period of six months.

There are three easy and secure ways to give for these children:

  • Give through our secure site: http://bit.ly/DropofMilk2019
  • By telephone: 1(800) 585-6333, Ext 222
  • By mail Aid to the Church in Need Canada
    PO. Box 670, Station H
    Montréal (Québec) H3G 2M6

 

Visit in the United Arab Emirates – “A historic visit” – a first for a pope

04.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Adaptation Mario Bard, By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Middle East, Pope Francis, United Arab Emirates

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”

 

Pope Francis is visiting Abu Dhabi until tomorrow. The country is more tolerant to Christians than other countries in the area. However, full religious freedom does not exist in the United Arab Emirates.

Bishop Hinder: “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Shortly before the visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, the local church talked about the support it has received from Muslims. In an interview with ACN International, Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of southern Arabia, spoke of a “historic” visit and declared, “It will be the first time that the Eucharist will be celebrated on public property that the government has placed at our disposal for this purpose.”

Bishop Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin monk, is expecting around 130 000 faithful, who will gather together on 5 February to participate in the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Francis will be visiting the Islamic country from 3 to 5 February. This will be the first time that a pope has ever visited the Arab Peninsula. “A number of Muslims have contacted me to ask how they can help prepare for the visit. Many have expressed an interest in attending the Mass. The government is also doing everything in its power to ensure that as many of our faithful as possible will be able to see the Pope,” Bishop Hinder continued.

The United Arab Emirates is considered relatively open and tolerant towards non-Muslims. Thus, according to ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi had the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Mosque renamed Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque in June 2017. According to the crown prince, this decision was taken to strengthen the human ties between the followers of different religions. “I have been living in Abu Dhabi for the last 15 years and have never experienced any animosity,” explained Bishop Hinder. “Of course we know that in all Islamic countries, non-Muslims – not only Christians – have to comply with the social laws of Islam. On the other hand, I see a deep respect for Christians, also among the local population. This is even more apparent now in the run-up to the papal visit.” According to the bishop, while in Saudi Arabia divine services are only tolerated when held in private in relatively small groups, in the United Arab Emirates there are churches where thousands of worshippers gather regularly to celebrate mass. Almost one million Catholics of different rites live in the United Arab Emirates. Practically all of them are foreign workers who stay in the country for a limited period of time. Many come from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They are taken care of by nine parishes. For this reason, Bishop Hinder is hoping that more churches will be built. “More churches would be desirable, as the number of our parishes is still not commensurate with the number of believers.”

The visit of the pope: to answer The Spirit of the Gospel

Last year ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report stated that Islam is the state religion of the emirates. Islamic sharia law is one of the primary sources of legislation. The report stated that “while Muslims may proselytize, penalties are in place for non-Muslims proselytizing among Muslims. If caught, non-citizens may have their residency revoked and face deportation.” According to the report, Christian churches may not be adorned with bell towers or have Crosses in them. Muslims do not have the right to convert to Christianity. Bishop Hinder explained, “I am not aware of any Muslim country that allows full religious freedom. Even in those where converting a Muslim to another religion is not punishable by law, at the very least the person’s social circle, in particular his or her family, will react with ostracism or even physical violence. Freedom of religion is greater or less depending upon the country.”

Bishop Hinder mainly hopes that the papal visit will have an effect on the general mood. “I hope that the visit of the pope will be able to change the overall mood for the better. However, it would be a mistake to expect too many miracles from this kind of visit,” the Apostolic Vicar said. “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Father Andrzej Halemba, who is responsible for this region at ACN, agrees with Bishop Hinder. “The visit of the Holy Father is a great encouragement for the Christians working on the Gulf. They will experience the solidarity of the world Church.” Father Halemba emphasized the great importance of today’s interfaith meeting between the Pope and representatives of Islam. “By reaching out to Muslims, the Pope is fulfilling the mandate of the Gospel. This is a dialogue of God with humanity, which is continued as a dialogue from person to person.”

 


 

ACN News: Rome – Pope Francis Lights a Candle for Syria

03.12.2018 in ACN International, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pope, Pope Francis, Prayer, Syria

An ACN Initiative

50,000 Candles for Peace in Syria

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is launching this Christmas a campaign of prayer, aid and solidarity for the people of Syria entitled Candles for Peace in Syria. The campaign formally begins on the first Sunday of Advent, 2nd December, with the symbolic lighting of a candle by the Holy Father following the recitation of the Angelus prayer.

In the last few days the initiative has involved over 50,000 children, of different religions, from several of the Syrian cities most severely affected by the war, including Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Hassaké, Tartus and Latakia. The children have prayed and decorated candles with symbols of peace– crosses, doves and messages of hope – to convey to the world their longing for peace. For all too often the primary victims of this still ongoing conflict, have been these little Syrian children.

ACN International is calling on people of goodwill all over the world to respond to this cry of peace from the children of Syria, among other things by lighting a candle, as the Holy Father did on Sunday, in order to amplify the resonance of this clarion call for peace from the children of Syria and send out a strong message of hope during the season of Advent.

 

The candle which the Holy Father lit was decorated by a local craftsman from the Bab Touma quarter of the Old City of Damascus and also bears the photos of some 40 children, most of them from Aleppo, together with the logo of the campaign – a dove with outstretched wings in the shape of a child’s hand and the message “Peace for the Children of Syria 2018” – plus the regular logo of ACN International.

This is not the first time that ACN has spoken out for the children of Syria. Back in 2016 the charity made an appeal to the European Parliament, conveying to it pictures drawn by the children, expressing their longing for peace.

Canada: A Prayerful Response and Little Acts of Solidarity

“In Canada, the benefactors who receive the Mirror will be able to direct their donation as a Christmas Gift for Syria,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN.  “ We invite them to pray especially that the families of Syria may fully taste the joy of a peaceful Christmas.  We hope that the Christmases to come will be experienced in peace.”  Aid to the Church in Need has already sent 22.5 million dollars for the reconstruction in Syria which adds to the already 44 million already given since the conflict began in 2011.

Over one million dollars gained in the auction of the Lamborghini donated to Pope Francis  

14.05.2018 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Iraq, Pope Francis, Urgent need

Pope Francis and ACN

The gesture of the Holy Father fortifies the hope of the Christians of Iraq

Over  one million dollars  gained in the auction of the Lamborghini donated to Pope Francis  

The Lamborghini, donated last November by the car company to Pope Francis, was sold at auction in Sotheby’s, Monaco, for over one million dollars  last Saturday. The proceeds from the sale will be directly handed over to the Holy Father who has decided to set it aside for four charities.

In accepting the gift at the time, the Holy Father wanted all the proceeds of the auction to go to various charities. Pope Francis has designated a part of the income to alleviate the needs of the Christian communities in Iraq. Especially of those who, after the military defeat of Daesh in 2016, wish to return to their villages of the Nineveh plains from which they were expelled back in August 2014. The military ousting of Daesh has allowed for the reconstruction of Christian towns and villages, an operation that Aid to the Church in Need has been largely involved in since its conception in spring 2017.

At least 50% of the proceeds from the auction will go towards rebuilding homes, public structures and places of worship in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq in order to guarantee the Christians’ return. The so called “Marshall Plan” is coordinated by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee with the support of the pontifical foundation ACN and involves all the different Christian denominations in Iraq. The Iraqi community feels comforted by Pope Francisco’s generosity. Up to now, the committee has estimated that about 44% of Christian families have returned to the Nineveh Plains.

 

Special day of prayer and fasting for peace: “God hears the tears of his people.”

23.02.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Pope Francis, Prayer, South Sudan

African bishops welcome the Pope’s call to pray for peace:

“God hears the tears of his people.”

Faced with the tragic situations of conflict in various parts of the world, the Holy Father Pope Francis has called upon faithful Catholics to join in a special day of prayer and fasting for peace, today, Friday, February 23, Friday of the first week of Lent. The Pope has also invited non-Catholics and non-Christians to join together with this initiative in whatever manner they deem most appropriate.

In his appeal, the Holy Father underlined in particular his concern for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and for South Sudan. Two African bishops, Bishop Timothy Bodika Mansiyai of Kikwit in the DRC, and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of the Archdiocese of Khartoum in Sudan, spoke recently to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the crisis their people are suffering.

“The Holy Father knows well the tragic situation that both countries are going through,” the Congolese bishop remarked. “The Pope has a great desire to visit both places,” stated Bishop Bodika, “but he was forced to cancel both trips”. But “although he was unable to be physically present in our countries, he nonetheless accompanies us spiritually.”

Bishop Timothée Bodika Mansiyai, from Kikwit diocese in Democratic Repupblic of Congo. “The people of Congo were “crying out in pain”, said the bishop, yet “It is a cry that the international community is not hearing”.

During his visit to ACN’s international headquarters, Bishop Bodika expressed great gratitude towards Pope Francis, “who continues to closely follow the tense situation that the DRC is undergoing and the repression and abuses of which the priests, religious and lay Catholic Christians are victims. God hears the tears of his people.”

And indeed, the DR Congo is wracked by different conflicts. The struggle for the country’s mineral wealth for more than a decade has sparked a ruthless war in eastern Congo, to which the conflict in the central Kasai region has been added since 2016. And as if this were not bad enough, the country is also afflicted by “the general crisis due to the political tensions in relation to the general elections.”

In recent months the situation has further escalated, with peaceful demonstrations violently repressed by government armed forces, resulting in deaths and numerous injuries. Some of these protests were initiated by the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC) of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and were simply calling for the accords of December 31, 2016 (the so-called Saint Sylvester Accords) to be respected and for the constitutional rotation of offices in the political institutions of the state.

Prayer and fasting for conversion of hearts
“The special day of prayer and fasting is a call for the conversion of hearts, of all our hearts, but also those of our politicians and leaders”, said Bishop Bodika. “They have forgotten that their duty should be to be at the service of the nation, not merely of a handful of people, while the rest of the community remains in poverty.” The people of Congo were “crying out in pain”, said the bishop, yet “It is a cry that the international community is not hearing”. In his own diocese of Kikwit alone, the number of uprooted people now in need of care, with food, accommodation, healthcare and schooling, has already reached 30,000. “The diocese of Kikwit does not have the financial means to cope with this humanitarian emergency. And so far, our petitions to the authorities and political organizations to help manage this crisis have not met with success,” Bishop Bodika complained.

Terror reigns in South Sudan
For his part, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum in Sudan, emphasized to ACN the terrible situation in South Sudan. “The war there has created mass displacements in many parts of the land and destruction in relation to the community and the family, with loss of respect for human dignity.”

Explaining the situation in the country, Bishop Adwok deplored the fact that “Terror reigns in South Sudan, with warriors, government and politicians grappling for power, positions and not minding the fate of the ordinary Southern Sudanese. The fact that until today no one knows – the government itself does not know – how many people have died in South Sudan since the start of the war in December 2013 is indicative of how the value of the human person has become of no worth in South Sudan.”

 

Mgr. Daniel Adwok Kur, Auxiliary Bishop of Khartoum in Sudan. “I know of some elderly people who could not physically run away from their homes, but still met their death in the same home killed by people carrying arms.”

“No one keeps count and it looks as if those who died of violence, some of hunger and other mistreatments were ‘unfortunate’ – [as if] they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Referring to attackers targeting vulnerable groups in society, he said: “I know of some elderly people who could not physically run away from their homes, but still met their death in the same home killed by people carrying arms.”

In addition to calling for a cessation of hostilities in South Sudan and for the blessing of peace, Bishop Adwok requested that during the day of prayer and fasting on February 23rd people should also pray for the refugees and displaced, and especially for the young.

“Most of them are jobless and cannot continue with their education, and at the same time they are left alone to fend for themselves, and in many cases to take care of their young siblings and relatives as well. The numerous challenges they face leave them feeling lonely, seeking cheap consolations and in many cases being drawn into groups linked to violence”, he explained.

31 wars and armed conflicts in 2017
The Holy Father’s appeal to pray for peace is a concrete response to the silent cry of so many victims all over the world. There were a total of 31 wars and armed conflicts during 2017, according to research conducted by the Group for the Investigation into the Causes of War based at the University of Hamburg in Germany.

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, which supported the African continent in the shape of almost 2,000 projects and a total of over 36 million dollars during 2017, is inviting all its benefactors and co-workers to join together in the day of prayer and fasting today, February 23,  2018.

Actually in the world, more than 65 million people are displaced because of war and internal conflicts. This tragedy cannot be ignored. 

 


 

Feature Story – Pope Francis visits Columbia

08.09.2017 in ACN International, By Maria Lozano, Columbia, Pope Francis

Columbia

Pope Francis visits Colombia at a crucial moment for this country

In the words of the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Ettore Balestrero peace, reconciliation and social justice will be important themes during the Holy Father’s visit to Colombia. “It is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Colombia. Everything is open. The Colombians will be the authors of this new chapter. They will write it with the decisions they take.”

 

In an interview with the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) the Apostolic Nuncio asked for a prayer to be said: “I want to encourage you to ask God for the Holy Father’s enlightenment. Pray for the Pope to open the hearts of all the people so that the Lord will find them ready to receive his message and to renew their lives after the visit.”

 

The Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia, Msgr. Ettore Balestrero

Talking to ACN the Apostolic Nuncio in Colombia described the imminent visit of Pope Francis to this Latin American country as the “visit from a friend.” Archbishop Ettore Balestrero emphasized that the Pope “like all friends of the Colombians will ask some searching questions: What are you doing with your life? Are you really happy? What is the meaning of what you do?”  Regarding earlier Papal trips to Colombia he said: “The journey made by John Paul II 31 years ago was the visit of a father. The journey of Paul VI in 1968 was somewhat like the visit of a teacher from afar. These were among the very first Papal journeys. The journey of Pope Francis from 6 to 10 September is taking the form of a visit by a friend – a friend who is, of course, a father and a teacher, but first and foremost a friend. Since he is from Latin America himself, he knows Colombia. He understands the Colombian way.”

Pope Francis in Colombia: visiting as a friend!

The towns Francis will visit include not only the internationally famous ones – Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena – but also Villavicencio on the eastern plain. No Pope has ever been there. The town is located in an area which was the scene of many armed conflicts between FARC guerrillas and paramilitary units. In view of the peace process currently underway in the country, the Archbishop stressed the significance of the Papal visit at a historically crucial time: “Although a number of legal and social aspects still have to be definitively dealt with, Colombia is in the process of closing a chapter of its history. At the same time a new chapter is beginning in which everything is open. The Colombians will themselves be the authors of this new chapter. They will write it with the decisions they take. Colombia can adopt the positive sides of western culture and modern societies. But it can also fall prey to the contradictions and weaknesses of these societies.” In the words of Archbishop Balestreros the Holy Father is coming as a “pilgrim of faith, hope and reconciliation to a country which is passing through a transitional stage in many respects, and not only on account of the peace process”. It’s of crucial importance “to rebuild a reconciled country where the citizens love and respect one another, and where they show respect of God and other people.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need has supported the Church serving Columbia for years. Here we see a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary surrounded by children.

In the interview the Archbishop described the Colombian people as “very warm, enterprising and diligent.” He also talked about the major social rift in Colombia. “There are people starving while others throw away food.” In this context he talked about the contrasts between highly developed cities – such as

Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla – and other regions in the country where people live who own practically nothing. “The Holy Father,” the Archbishop explained, “is the father of the rich and the poor. But he is coming here to remind us that Colombia needs the contribution of all. In his language and what he proclaims the Pope plays special emphasis on those who suffer. We cannot live under the same heaven and fail to recognize the other reality as through it didn’t exist.” With this in mind the Apostolic Nuncio used the interview to “thank ACN for its help in enlightening Colombians, in opening their eyes to suffering and to the other Colombia” as well as “for its efforts in ensuring that the Pope’s message reaches the whole country, and especially the marginal areas.”

Finally the Italian Archbishop issued an invitation “to join in the prayers and to sacrifice to God something we find difficult to do without, thus ensuring the success of the Pope’s visit.” After all, its success depends on God, as does everything in the Church. “I want to encourage you to ask God for the Holy Father’s enlightenment. Pray for the Pope to open the hearts of all the people so that the Lord will find them ready to receive his message and to renew their lives after the visit.”

A Carmelite is praying in the chapel of the monastery of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Let us pray together for reconciliation and peace in Colombia!

Thanks to the generosity of its benefactors the foundation ACN was able to support more than 64 projects in Colombia to the tune of over 1 million dollars in 2016. They are concerned primarily with training 667 seminarians from eleven dioceses and with securing the subsistence of nuns and priests. The regions which have benefited from this support include the apostolic vicariates of Guapi, Puerto Gaitán and Puerto Leguízamo-Solano and the needy dioceses of, among others, Quibdó, Istmina-Tadó, Mocoa-Sibundoy and Málaga-Soatá.

 


 

 

ACN Press Release – Pope Francis in Egypt

27.04.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN Interview, ACN PRESS, Africa, By Mario Bard, egypt, Jesuits, Journey with ACN, Pope Francis

Pope Francis in Egypt

“Re-knitting ties with Islam”

 

Montreal, April 27, 2017 – Father Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and specialist in Islam, and a professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome, visited the Canadian national office of Aid to the Church in Need last Thursday (20 April 2017). An Egyptian himself, born in Cairo, he gave us this interview in light of the forthcoming visit of the Pope to Egypt. We asked his views on the papal visit, on the importance of dialogue between Islam and Christianity and the fear of seeing the Middle East emptied of Christians. Here are some extracts from the interview.

Father Samir: Pope Francis wants to ”Reknit the ties with Islam”.

 

He spoke to Mario Bard of ACN Canada.

 

ACN: What would you say to Pope Francis in regard to his approaching visit to Egypt? Would you tell him to stay in Rome or to go ahead with his visit?

Father Samir: Being the man he is, I think he must go. He is not someone who is afraid. At the same time, considering the possibility of an assassination attempt, I believe that Egypt will do the impossible to protect him and ensure that there are no dangerous elements around – if only for their own sense of honour. Looking at it this way, I think that everything should go ahead normally.

And besides, there is the character of Pope Francis himself, who might well say, “I’m not afraid of anything and I am in the midst of the people. And if I should die, well, I am like anyone else, simply because I happen to be in this place [where there is an attack].” So that might explain why he has decided to go ahead with his visit.

Moreover, for a long time now he has wanted to reknit the ties between the Vatican and Islam. And this is what he told me personally when I had a half-hour conversation with him a few months ago. He told me, “Why is it that I insist on the fact that Islam is a religion of peace? Because we need, first of all, to rekindle our friendship with the Muslims and with Al Azhar.”

 

Why is it necessary to “re-knit our ties.” What has happened?

Let me recall the context: there was the attack in Alexandria on the Coptic Church at Christmas, six years ago. Someone blew himself up and there were dozens of deaths. A few days later Pope Benedict XVI, in a meeting with the ambassadors of the Holy See, said: “I call on the president of the Egyptian Republic to protect the Christians.” In response Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, the rector of the Al Azhar University, declared that it was unacceptable for the Pope to interfere in Egyptian politics and broke off relations with Rome. Today, after a number of fruitless attempts, relations have resumed. And it was the principal aim of Pope Francis to re-establish relations with Islam and with the Al Azhar University in particular, which represents the majority of Muslims in the world – 80% or so. It represents an unassailable moral and intellectual authority for them.

 

Father Samir, why is it important to maintain an interreligious dialogue with Islam?

First of all, because Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with over 1.5 billion Muslims scattered in almost every country of the world. We cannot ignore it. Second, because Islam is a monotheistic religion, alongside Judaism and Christianity. And hence we have to be able to engage in dialogue with them. That is the essential aspect, I think. It is not a question of a political goal. It boils down to saying: let us endeavour to understand one another. In just the same way as we maintain a dialogue with the Jews.

 

People are saying that the Middle East is in the process of being emptied of Christians. What can be done to change the way this pattern? Even many Muslims do not want this situation to come about.

Most Muslims say, “We need the Christians.” Recently there was a radio broadcast in Egypt which impressed everyone. The theme of the eight-minute programme was the Christian schools which educated the intelligentsia of Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries.

People can also see Lebanon, which is the only country in the Arab world with a certain degree of parity, precisely because it was the Christians who built it – even though today they represent no more than 35% of the population. In the Parliament the Muslims want to retain the balance of 64 Muslims and 64 Christians, because they maintain that this is essential. It is recognized by all Muslims who think about it.

Besides, as to the disappearance of Christians in the Middle East, in Egypt it is they who are, so to speak, the indigenous ones! People are aware that if they wish to maintain the national conscience, they cannot eliminate the Christians. Unfortunately, for reasons that are political, economic and religious, the Christians are leaving, more and more. And what is happening at the moment is what is wanted by ISIS/Islamic state/Daesh. But they are fanatics. Globally speaking, the Muslims are not fanatics. They lack the courage to say that these people should be arrested. Instead of that they say: ‘it has nothing to do with Islam’, which resolves nothing. But in their heart of hearts, the majority of Muslims say, “no, it is shameful!”

What we must do now, if they are to stay, is to help them so that they can stay in their own homes. In Egypt that is not a major problem, owing to the large number of Christians (almost 10 million). But in Iraq and Syria, where the homes of the Christians have been destroyed, it takes enormous courage to stay on in the country. That is what the patriarchs are doing, including Patriarch Sako of the Chaldeans, of Babylon. He is fighting with all his strength to prevent the Christians from emigrating, to encourage them to remain, to save the local Church. And it is the same thing in Syria.

We have to help them to stay on. To help them financially as far as we are able, but also to help them morally by supporting them and attempting to put a stop to this crime which is ISIS.”

Aid to the Church in Need is helping 3000 young people from all over Egypt who will travel on pilgrimage to Cairo to be present for the visit of Pope Francis on 28 and 29 April. Their visit began on Tuesday 25 April and includes liturgical celebrations in various shrines on the road to Cairo, celebration of Holy Mass, confessions and a visit to the hospitals in Cairo the day before the arrival of the Pope. The group will include 250 representatives from every Catholic diocese in Egypt, in addition to the 1,000 participants from the capital itself.

 


 

ACN Press Release – Pope Francis prays for all persecuted Christians

02.03.2017 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Persecution of Christians, Pope, Pope Francis, Religious freedom

March Prayer Intentions

Pope Francis prays for all persecuted Christians

The March edition of The Pope Video*, produced by The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and supported by ACN (Aid to the Church in Need), concerns the situation of Christians persecuted and discriminated because of their faith around the world without distinction of rites or confession.

As Pope Francis has consistently reminded us at different times: “How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!” Solidarity with our brothers and sisters suffering discrimination, violence or persecutions for their faith, must be demonstrated.

Read the abridged Religious Freedom report here: http://bit.ly/WorldReligiousFreedom

According to the last report produced last November by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need addressing the situation of Religious Freedom in the World, Christians are the most highly persecuted religious group on earth. This fundamental human right – Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – is under serious threat in 38 countries and in 23 of these, the threat classifies as persecution.

In his prayer intention, the Holy Father calls for prayers for them: “I ask you: how many of you pray for persecuted Christians? Do it with me, that they may be supported by the prayers and material help of all the Churches and communities.”

“We thank the Holy Father for his constant concern for persecuted Christians. Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the suffering church since the beginning of its history. Unfortunately, the situation in the world has not improved over the years, the scenarios change but the suffering continues: once it was communism, today it is mainly Islamic fundamentalism. This call is more current than ever,” says Johannes Heereman, Aid to the Church in Need’s Executive President.

THE POPE’S PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR March 2017: “That persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.”

 

About Aid to the Church in Need

Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical charity directly under the direction by the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action. Founded in 1947 by Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.

Undertaking thousands of projects each year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelization projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.

 

* About the Pope Video

The Pope Video is a global initiative developed by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) to disseminate the monthly intentions of the Holy Father concerning the challenges facing humanity. The videos, created by La Machi Communication for Good Causes, seek to unite people in praying with Pope Francis for those challenges. The Project has the support of the Vatican Television Center (CTV).

 

About the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer)

For over a century, the Apostleship of Prayer has been disseminating to the world the prayer intentions entrusted to them by the pope of the times. Now, in its process of recreation, the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network emphasizes its role of communicating these prayer intentions and leveraging new media and tools. Its mission is to unite people in prayer and service in response to the challenges facing humanity expressed by the Holy Father in his monthly intentions.

Those who participate in this network are encouraged to become apostles in daily life through a spiritual path called the “Way of the Heart,” transforming those who take that path in the service of the mission of Jesus Christ. The Apostleship of Prayer, founded in 1844, is now present in 98 countries uniting together more than 35 million people including its youth branch, the Eucharistic Youth Movement. For more information: http://www.popesprayer.net/.

 


 

 

ACN Feature Story – Albania looks forward to the beatification of its martyrs

28.10.2016 in ACN International, Albania, Pope Francis, Prayer, Religious freedom

Albania

Looks forward to the beatification of 38 martyrs

 “They were tortured to death. They remained loyal to Christ and the Church,” Bishop Massafra of Shkodër

During the 40 years of communist dictatorship in Albania, praying, making the sign of the cross, or simply wearing a cross around one’s neck – just believing – were all acts punishable by law. In 1967, the Balkan country officially proclaimed itself to be the first atheist country in the world.

Churches, mosques and other places of worship were used as shopping centres, sports halls or theaters; as was the Cathedral of Shkodër was used as a municipal sports arena.  On November 5th, 38 martyrs will be beatified in this place which is very special to Albanian Catholics, for after the fall of communism, the first Holy Mass was celebrated in this very Cathedral.

On the cathedral square dedicated to Saint Stephan, a monument has been erected in memory of the martyrs murdered over the course of history out of hatred to religion. Bishop Vicenz Prennushi, Bishop Frano Gjini, Bishop Jul Bonati, Don Alfons Tracki, Don Anton Muzaj, Ms María Tuci … and more, counting to 38 of the faithful.  “Before they were tortured and executed by shooting, they all said, ‘Long live Christ the King, long live Albania. We forgive those who kill us,’” Bishop Massafra of Shkodër, chair of the Albanian Bishops’ Conference, said to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

 

Thirty-eight stories, of hatred and of terror

María Tuci is the only woman among the Albanian martyrs. She attended the school of the Stigmatines, the Poor Sisters of Saint Francis in Shkodër, and later became a teacher. Her crime was reminding her students of the presence of Christ during the time of the dictatorship. She was arrested and tortured countless times. She was finally put in a bag with a cat. The torturers repeatedly hit the cat with a stick and María later died of the injuries that the terrified animal had inflicted upon her.

Lazer Shantoja, a well-read priest with a special interest in literature and art, was tortured so severely in the environs of Tirana that his own mother begged the murderers to shoot him to finally put an end to his suffering. The priest, writer and deeply patriotic Lek Sirdani was tortured and drowned in sewage.

Ndre Zadeja was the first of those who were executed by shooting. Thus he became the first martyr of the Albanian communist dictatorship. He died in Shkodër. In the interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Massafra said that all who were murdered in that city were forced to go along a particular route that ended at the cemetery wall. There they were “tortured, spat upon, and finally executed by shooting.” The route led them past the cathedral. “This was done on purpose. It was to remind them that they were suffering because of their love for Christ.”

Albania 2 ACN-20160106-34263

 “They are the pride of Albania”

The land with the eagle coat of arms is filled with a pride that transcends borders. It becomes tangible in the thousands of Albanians who were forced to leave their country, especially in the 1990s, in order to have a chance at life. “The beatification ceremony is a joyous festival. Thousands of Albanians all over the world will be following it,” the chair of the National Bishops’ Conference explained. “This small, but great church has given the world church countless martyrs. These were people who had a great loyalty to Christ and the church.”

On the diocesan level, the beatification process of the 38 martyrs of the communist dictatorship began in November 2002 and ended in December 2010. Last April, Pope Francis signed the Decree of Beatification, ensuring the 38 martyrs would be beatified on November 5, 2016.

Despite five hundred years of occupation through the Ottoman Empire, countless raids and the reticence of the communist dictatorship, “Catholicism continued on in Albania. This is thanks to the martyr church,” Bishop Massafra said. Thousands of people lived in concentration camps or in prisons because they believed in God “or in Allah”, the Albanian bishop emphasized. After all, about 60% of the Albanian population was Muslim.

 

Albania 1-20160106-34256Pope Francis: “powerful testimony”

Many died, but others survived the torture.  For example, Sister Marije Kaleta and the priest Ernest Simoni, who will join the College of Cardinals on November 19, gave their testimony during the papal visit to Albania in September 2014, to which Pope Francis was visibly moved: “To listen to a martyr speak about his own martyrdom is powerful indeed!” Pope Francis said at the press conference held during the return flight from the Balkan country.

Francis embraced the two survivors and emphasized that God had “held” them and helped them survive the torture as well as the uncertainty of whether they “would be shot dead or not.” These martyrs played a very important role in the concentration camps and in the prisons because they were the “secret consolers of the other prisoners,” Bishop Massafra explained. They could secretly celebrate Holy Mass and distribute communion, as Ernest Simoni described in his speech before Pope Francis.

 

The Church in need in Albania

Since the collapse of the dictatorship in 1991, the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need has carried out more than 125 projects in Albania, including the building of churches, spiritual centres and a seminary for diocesan priests. Furthermore, it has distributed copies of the Youcat, a catechism of the Catholic church that was written for young people. In addition, help is also being provided here and there, one example being a van that was bought for the Franciscans so that they can drive children from rural areas to catechesis. There is an enormous sign on the back of the van that reads, “Jesus lives.” The convent of Discalced Carmelites in Nënshat is also receiving support; this is another way in which aid is being given.

In the Land of the Eagles, the Catholic Church is a great help to the population because aid is provided to everyone, irrespective of their religion. In Albania, 70% of the population is Muslim, 20% Orthodox Christian and 10% Catholic.

 

 

Text by Mónica Zorita, ACN International

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