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Religious freedom

 

ACN Iview: Nigeria When prejudices lead to distortions

29.07.2019 in Nigeria, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

 

Nigeria

When prejudices lead to distortions; or the aggressor easily pegged as a victim

In Nigeria, biased and prejudiced official security reports is a major problem heightening tension as victims are blamed instead of the aggressors, because of the Nigerian “factor” of tribal or religious affiliation.

 

A typical example in Nigeria: A militant herdsman vanishes after deadly attacks on a village. The poor villagers try to protect or defend themselves. Often, the villagers end up apprehended, detained and tortured by security forces as was the case with the “Kona” youths.

By Grace Attu
Revised for Canadian office : Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published on line : Monday 29th of July, 2019

The Co-adjutor Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Jos Nigeria, Msgr. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama made this known in a message released and made available to Aid to the Church in Need regarding the conflict which started on the May 6, 2019 as a clash between a Fulani herdsman and Jukun Kona Farmer at Yawai Abbare in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State, Nigeria and lasted for more than a month. The conflict degenerated so badly that at in the end, 18 villages were attacked and burned, 65 persons were killed and 9000 displaced, 15 churches, two primary schools and a health care centre were also destroyed.

“It beats my imagination that in Nigeria when there is a misunderstanding, people tend to vent their anger and frustration on places of religious identity and worship, trying to give what is a social conflict a religious coloration. This is reprehensible. It is surprising too that those who claim to be “believers” would destroy places of worship and even take lives without the slightest compunction,” he said.

“As usual, what actually triggered the crisis will remain at the level of conjectures. The Fulani and the Kona are each telling their story in a manner that favours their ethnic group. This explains why, too often when a security authority adopts a particular narrative without factual, analytical and objective consideration of the stories peddled around, and comparing very well the narratives of the parties concerned, a distorted report could be made to the “oga at the top” or for the consumption of the public. In such cases the aggressor could easily become the victim while the victim becomes the aggressor!” he remarked. Msgr. Kaigama explained the reaction of security agents should have been prompt and devoid of what has sadly polarized Nigerians at all levels: religious and ethnic prejudices, but this was not the case.

Officers lack neutrality

According to him, the violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the attempted attack on Kofai on June 16 provoked the Kona youths who felt that they had been neglected. They set up road blocks and out of anger and frustration tried to antagonize the soldiers. They claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defense of their community against the marauding herdsmen. Kona women in their hundreds went on a peaceful demonstration to protest the killings and the harassment and detention of the Kona youths by the security agents while the real aggressors (gunmen) vanished after their deadly attacks.

Msgr Kaigama explained that when he heard about the helplessness of the people, he felt impelled to contact security personnel and top government officials for their intervention. He however expressed disappointment at the negative response he received from some.

“Of all the people I telephoned, it was the not so polite response, reaction and attitude of the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Taraba State in charge of operations that surprised me the most. In my nineteen years as the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, I have had a good working relationship with all the Police Commissioners, GOCs, SSS Directors, Civil Defence Commandants, Commanders of Operation Safe Havens posted to Plateau State, to the point that not too long ago after successfully working together to avert what would have been a great crisis and bloodshed in Jos, I invited them to my residence where we shared ideas, because of their commendable cooperation with the Church. Each time there was a new senior security officer in Jos they visited my office or we met at dialogue fora, such as the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre which I founded in Jos in 2011.”

“It becomes obvious in some cases that security officers become prejudiced about what happened during a crisis,” he said. He further commended the response of the Vice President of the Country, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who listened to him and promised to act.

“I believe that my asking the Vice President to intervene led to the pronouncement by President Buhari on the 20th of June that Kona land and its people should be protected. Through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President condemned the attacks on the Kona people and warned that attacks on innocent people, in the name of revenge, or whatever motives, would not be tolerated by government. By God’s grace, there was some measure of peace,” he said.

Seeking peace through truth and reconciliation

Nigeria-5

 

“Only guerilla attacks now take place as farmers who attempt farming their farmlands are killed,” he continued, “three persons were killed the morning of my visit of July 10th.”

According to the Archbishop, the big question is: After the return of peace, what next? The people are displaced, no homes to return to, no farming activity possible, etc. Again, there is the anxious fear that the attacks could erupt again.

The Archbishop recalled that this Fulani/Kona crisis seems to be a replication of the event of the 1890s between the Jukun Kona people and the Fulani in Jalingo. This he said, has unfortunately escalated and worsened the relationship between these two tribes.

Something must therefore be done urgently and fairly to bridge the gap and heal the historical wounds. Genuine justice and reconciliation must be pursued and there is need to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to get to the root of this matter, he suggested.

ACN Feature: Sowing hope for more Christian families in Iraq

03.07.2019 in ACN International, by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota, Iraq, Religious freedom

Iraq

Sowing hope for more Christian families in Iraq

by by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 3, 2019

As part of its reconstruction efforts in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has begun work to restore the homes of 41 Christian families in the town of Bartella. Approximately 220 additional people will benefit from this project, the latest in ACN’s program, which has already helped renovate more than 2,000 houses in the region.

 

Prior to Daesh’s (Islamic State) invasion in 2014, Bartella was a town of 3,500 Christian families (i.e., ca. 17,500 people, including around 12,300 Syriac Orthodox and 5,200 Syriac Catholics). When residents returned after the liberation of their town in 2016, they found their churches desecrated, with the black flag of Daesh draped over the walls. Their homes: burned, looted, and damaged in an attempt to prevent Christians from ever returning home. Other houses were destroyed by airstrikes during the liberation.

 

A ceremony marking the beginning of the work was held on June 5, 2019, beginning with Gospel readings and prayers chanted in Syriac, a neo-Aramaic dialect.  Fr Benham Lallo, representing the parish priest, Fr Benham Benoka, who could not make it to the event, led the proceedings and interpreted for Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s Middle East section head. The latter, in a message to the families, compared their mission to that of families in the Old Testament, who had to rebuild Jerusalem after its destruction. He also asked them to pray for ACN’s benefactors. The olive trees were then blessed and distributed to each family, symbolizing the hope that peace will return to the region, after many years of war – that these trees, planted in the gardens of these families, might bear fruit.

 

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil and elsewhere. After the expulsion of Daesh when the communities began returning home, the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.  ACN donors gave 63,933,318 million in aid to Iraq, from 2014 to May 2019.

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

17.06.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Engy Magdy, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

In January of last year, Adeeb Nakhla, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or condition. A relative of Nakla’s shares the story with Engy Magdy of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  Here is what they said:

Egypt 

‘We fear torture and savage death’

by Engy Magdy, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website June 17,2019

 

On January 17, 2019, around 9am, Nakhla, 55, was traveling from Ismailia to Al-Arish to visit relatives, when a militant Islamic group stopped the minibus he was riding in and checked the national identity cards of those on board. The cards state religious affiliation, and when the militants saw that Nakhla was a Christian, they asked him to get out of the vehicle. He was taken away.

 

A city under siege

 

Nakhla had fled Al-Arish two years ago, as did dozens of Christian families who moved to Ismailia after receiving death threats. A relative, who spoke to ACN on condition of anonymity, said that many Coptic Christians who chose to stay were slaughtered: “We left Al-Arish in 2017, after terrorists killed seven of our neighbours. Among the dead were a father and son; they burnt their bodies and their home, and the mother, Nabila, was forced to watch. She is severely traumatized.”

 

Last year, Nakhla’s family returned to Al-Arish, where family members work and own property; Nakhla stayed in Ismailia for his job. Nakhla’s relative said: “We had to return to our home and work. We were unemployed in Ismailia, and we lived on aid from the Church. Conditions in the city have improved thanks to the Egyptian army’s stepped-up campaign against terrorist groups, though it is still dangerous on the road.”

 

He continued: “Militants affiliated with ISIS have staged ambushes on the highways and launched attacks on civilians and security forces. The Muslim driver of the communal taxi Adeeb rode in said that militants stopped the vehicle and started to check national identity cards. When they saw that Adeeb was a Christian, they asked him to get out. Our biggest fear is that they may abuse, torture, and kill him, just as savagely as they have other Copts.”

 

Violence towards Coptic Christians in Egypt has increased since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Most attacks have occurred in northern Sinai, where, according to the Gospel, the Holy Family entered Egypt. In 2012, unknown assailants issued a handwritten statement demanding that all remaining Copts leave the border city of Rafah; since then, a number of local Copts have been kidnapped and killed by terrorist groups.

 

Egypt: A paradox

 

Terrorist groups are still very much present in Egypt.  However, the paradox finally revealing itself is good news, for since 2016, the authorities have regulated, restored or built 984 Christian places of worship.  (Source: Église dans le monde)

 

 

 

ACN Interview – ACN Head of section sheds light on the DRC, Africa

06.06.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Religious freedom

DRC: “What ACN offers, no other organization does”

On her return from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she visited the Catholic dioceses of the Kasai region, Christine du Coudray, ACN’s section head for this country, reported on the situation in the region and gave her impressions.

 Interview conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Published to web – June 6, 2019

 

Can you give us a description of the overall situation in the country?

This was the first time I had visited the Kasai region of this immense country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, four times the size of France in area. You’re walking on land rich in mineral wealth of every kind – diamonds, gold, minerals of all kinds, petroleum and so forth, yet the infrastructure is wrecked. This particular region, which I spent two weeks travelling, is particularly isolated, and some areas are isolated enclaves. In the country as a whole, the state of the roads, where they exist at all, is catastrophic, but I really found this particular region to be in a state of complete desolation. Historically, this was a privileged region during the time of King Leopold II, the King of the Belgians, who founded the Congo Free State in 1885. He made it his shop window and gave hundreds of hectares of land to the Catholic Church, which he wanted to see established in the country. The Scheutist Fathers (Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) in particular were there in numbers, and in every diocese one can still see today the remains of the buildings built by these missionaries. Later the tables were turned, and the region was punished after independence, under the regime of Mobutu and afterwards, suffering from under-investment and generally abandoned to its fate. The structures are falling apart. The Kivu region, on the frontier with Rwanda, which I know better, is suffering from still worse conflicts, but benefits from having more and better structures.

The situation you describe sounds pretty desperate. How were the people you met on the spot living?

What struck me was the situation of complete abandonment on the one hand, yet on the other hand the local people displayed incredible energy in coping with the situation. I’m thinking of the young people who set out, sometimes from Lake Tanganyika, in the extreme east of the DRC, pushing their bicycles with loads of up to 500 kg of goods piled on them which they plan to sell on the other side of the country. They walk for days and nights like this on the potholed roads, helping each other as they go. I met with one of these young men, who explained to me that he had managed to save up enough for a brand-new bicycle, so that he could also become a “bayanda” – that’s the name they give to these young human beasts of burden – and that he was going to have to make still more savings in order to be able to change his wheels, so that he could carry still heavier loads.

After years as leader of the country, Joseph Kabila finally decided not to stand for the presidential elections last December, partly under pressure from the strong opposition, particularly on the part of the Church. How was this change of decision received by the Catholic leadership in the DRC?

Within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference there was some fairly lively discussion, and this body, which had deployed thousands of observers in the polling stations around the country, finally published a communique stating that in its view the election of the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, had not been in accordance with the “truth of the ballot.” They made it clear that they were pleased to see the political transition, but at the same time considered that the candidate declared as the victor was not necessarily the person who had received the most votes according to their own observations. But the most important thing to be borne in mind was that this change in the head of state is a historical one and that the transition took place almost without any violence. In January everyone had expected that the announcement of the results by the electoral commission would trigger an explosion of violence, and observers continue to be surprised that there has not been. That said, Joseph Kabila is still very much a part of the political scene and the present “truce” is a fragile one.

What is the situation of the Catholic Church, both in the country and within this particular region?

In the Kasai region there are eight dioceses, but for the moment there are only seven bishops, because the diocese of Kabinda is in a state of transition. Of these eight dioceses three, in my view, are in a particularly bad way, namely Kabinda, Mweka and Kole. In addition to its own internal problems, the Church here has to make up for the deficiencies of the state and is at the forefront of all the civic activities – social, political, development and so forth. For example, the town of Kabinda suffers from a terrible problem of soil erosion – it is literally in danger of collapsing – and it is the diocese that is leading the efforts to try and resolve this problem.

What particularly impressed you during this trip?

On the one hand it was the fact that a region so rich in diamonds could be suffering such poverty, yet on the other hand it was the commitment of many of the priests, who are doing exceptional work. I’m thinking of Father Apollinaire Cibaka and his association, which he founded and which is doing wonderful work. They have built 62 schools, four orphanages and four health centres, one of which has its own operating theatre and the regular support of Spanish doctors; then the pastoral work with albino children, helping them to be recognized in their own right, the work with abandoned children or street children, with teenage mothers and the programs for the advancement of women. The construction of an enclosure wall around the local prison, so that the prisoners do not have to be locked up 24 hours a day in a dark, unlit building, the work for the protection of the environment, including the planting of 30,000 trees… We helped Abbé Apollinaire to complete his studies for a doctorate in Spain, and on his return we helped him to set up a radio station, which is an authoritative voice in the local society. So despite the isolation, despite the difficulties, the courage and energy of the people are impressive and admirable. That is why a visit like this one is so very important.

And what would you say was the most difficult moment?

I was horrified to learn that, just a few hours after our visit there, the philosophy seminary in Kabwe had been attacked and vandalized. This is an indication of the fragile situation of the local Church.

What kind of aid is ACN supplying to the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Given the many issues requiring assistance, we are liaising closely with the bishops in order to decide with them on their various projects and assess their priorities in light of our resources. The important thing is that, following our visit, we can provide our aid rapidly. We are concentrating our support on the spiritual formation of the priests and on their living conditions, and likewise on the formation of religious sisters and catechists and the implementation of the teachings of Pope St John Paul II in regard to the family.

What kind of aid is ACN giving to the priests and seminarians?

We want to do all we can so that the Church here can have holy priests. A bishop once said to me, “What ACN offers, is something no other organization offers.” The structures vary greatly from one seminary to another. For example, in the philosophy college in Kabwe there are no toilets, no showers, and the septic tank is blocked up. It is hard to leave them in conditions like that. The seminarians only eat meat once a term.

As to the formation of the future priests, which is truly one of the priorities of ACN, we think that this depends on the formation of the teaching staff in the seminaries. And so we are sending entire teams of trainers for a five-week training course in Rome each summer. Quite apart from the fact that they can in this way live the experience of the universal Church, together with other trainers from all over the world, they learn to live, work and pray together there. Their testimonies of the sense of satisfaction and spiritual renewal there make for moving reading.

As far as their living conditions are concerned, we are providing vehicles to enable the local Church to reach the furthest corners of their dioceses. And sometimes even just a moped will help priests to travel much further than they can ever do on foot. We are also helping the priests with Mass stipends and contributing to the renovation and improvement of their presbyteries, which are frequently in a shocking state and which they scarcely dare to show us.

But you have also mentioned the support for religious brothers and sisters. What form does this aid actually take?

We are also very responsive to the needs of the religious, and especially the contemplative religious, who play a major role in the growth of the Church, thanks to their presence and their prayer. I visited the communities of the contemplative Poor Clare sisters in Mbuji-Mayi and Kabinda. They are a French foundation, formerly supported by their mother house, but today totally dependent on their own resources. It is not easy to provide the daily necessities for 40 religious sisters, including the novices and the postulants. They have a vegetable garden, they rear pigs and poultry, they have a host baking workshop. And they also have a guest house, offering a place of silence and prayer that is open to all. Their convent is some way from the town of Mbujimayi, and sometimes the sisters need hospital care. And there is also necessary shopping to be done, for which they need a robust 4×4 vehicle which we are hoping to be able to help them with.

Does ACN have any projects linked to the various internal wars and conflicts within the country?

Ever since 2016 the Kasaï region has been the theatre of tribal violence of exceptional cruelty; even the ethnologists are puzzled by these outbreaks of brutality, which mingle political issues with fetishist pagan beliefs. It is thought that the Kamwina Nsapu movement alone may have claimed between 4,000 and 23,000 victims, leaving some 1.4 million people uprooted and homeless as a result. The conflict suddenly came to an end with the election of the new president in January 2019, who is a son of the region. But the consequences are enormous, whether visible or invisible.

The visible scars can be seen because, for example, the diocesan structures in Luebo became the target – with the Bishop’s house set on fire, the convent of the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the cathedral both burnt out after first being looted, the presbytery destroyed, the novice house and the propaedeutic seminary both burnt to ashes, official buildings ransacked and looted, many people with their throats cut… Since June 2017 the Bishop has had to take refuge in the parish of Ndeseka. We have promised to help rebuild his diocesan chancery and the convent of the sisters, whose role is so important in helping the traumatized population.

The invisible wounds are in people’s hearts, but they are going to need a long-term program of re-integration for people of all ages – some of the killers were children of seven years old, who after just having served Mass beheaded as the people coming out of the church, they were under the effect of drugs! In light of these events of such enormous and still “unexplained” violence, the Catholic Church now needs to reconsider its pastoral approach and work for an in-depth evangelization, so that Christ may truly reign in people’s hearts through the grace of a profound and personal encounter. ACN’s mission is to accompany the local Church in this new evangelization.

ACN News: The call of Chaldean Bishop Sako for the guarantee of minority rights in Iraq

27.05.2019 in Chaldean Catholic, Iraq, Middle East, Press Release, Religious freedom

Iraq

 ‘Constant discrimination, uncertainty’ are pushing Christians out of Iraq

 

The leader of the Chaldean Church has called on the Iraqi government to put in place and enforce laws “that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly.

 

Montreal, Friday – May 24, 2019: “The absence of serious steps” to protect the rights of minority faiths in the country, says Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako in a statement to Aid to the Church in Need, “will push the remaining Christians and minorities to choose emigration.”

 

Christians and minorities “have played a significant role in enriching Iraq’s cultural, social and economic diversity, making valuable contributions to education, health, public administration and social services,” said the Cardinal; without them, Iraq would become “a country with one homogeneous fabric [that] could be isolated from the world and [which] may generate a kind of radicalism, [and] ethnic and sectarian fanaticism.”

 

In his declaration, Patriarch Sako lists a number of factors that are pushing Christians and other minorities into leaving the country. These include the ongoing “fragility of the security situation” and Iraq’s “institutional weakness at the level of justice,” the state’s failure to protect non-Muslims from discrimination in the realms of “education, employment and social life,” as well as at the political level. Christians with outstanding professional qualifications, the cardinal charged, are denied positions only because of their faith. “Qualification and competence,” the cardinal insisted—and not an individual’s faith—should be the “measure for employment.”

 

Christians denied seats in Iraqi Parliament

Furthermore, the patriarch notes that Christians are denied their rightful quota of five seats in the Iraqi Parliament. He also calls for the application of “a civil law for all Iraqis,” rather than Christians and other religious minorities being “subjugated to [an] Islamic court, [with regard to] spiritual, religious matters, marriages, inheritance, etc.”

 

Patriarch Sako proposes a number of additional “practical measures” to fight the “injustice and discrimination” suffered by religious minorities. He calls on the Iraqi leadership and “political ‘powers’” to combat “religious extremism that uses violence” and to take measures toward “disarming militias; providing security and stability; combating extremism, discrimination, terrorism and corruption.”

 

The cardinal insists that the Iraqi political leadership should promote “citizenship values” that support the common good by drawing on “principles of freedom, dignity, democracy, social justice and true relationship among all Iraqi citizens regardless of their religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations.” Such policies will bring about harmonious “coexistence with Muslims” for Iraqi’s religious minorities.

 

Finally, the Patriarch calls for laws that help create “good conditions that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly; preserve their heritage, archaeological and historical monuments as an integral part of Iraqi civilization, in order to enable them to continue their lives with dignity.”

 

By Joop Koopman for ACN International
 And Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web Monday May 27, 2019

Pakistan – Interview – “The blasphemy law destroys lives”

01.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Aide à l’Église en détresse., Asia, By Mario Bard, By Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Mario Bard, Pakistan, Religious freedom, Voyager avec l’AED

Pakistan

“The blasphemy law destroys lives”

Dominican Father James Channan has been working to establish a dialogue between Christians and Muslims for years – in a country in which acts of violence against the infinitesimally small minority of Christians are a regular occurrence and any perceived criticism of Islam is subject to draconian punishments under the blasphemy law; Asia Bibi was not an isolated case. Father Channan is head of the Peace Center located in the city of Lahore in Pakistan.

During a visit to the headquarters of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Channan talked about the impact of the blasphemy laws, propitious developments in the Islamic world, and the future prospects of Asia Bibi in an interview with Tobias Lehner.

***

Tobias Lehner: The fate of Asia Bibi has given the world a face to associate with the perilous situation of many Christians in Pakistan. After years on death row, she was acquitted of blasphemy charges in late October 2018 and released from prison. What can you tell us about the current situation?

Father James Channan: The situation of the Christians in Pakistan is alarming. They live in fear and uncertainty. This situation has not changed since the 1970s, when legislation in Pakistan began to be based on Islamic Sharia law. Radical Muslims are misusing the controversial blasphemy law in particular to settle personal scores. Anytime, Christians are accused of supposed blasphemy, all Christians in the region are indicted with them. This often leads to acts of violence against Christians.

And this is exactly what happened in the case of Asia Bibi. She was on death row for nine years on charges of blasphemy. Even now, after her acquittal, she is anything but safe. Radical Islamists are trying to find her so that they can kill her. That is why she is currently under state protection. We hope that the Supreme Court will soon confirm her acquittal and refuse to grant permission to appeal. Then, hopefully, she will be able to leave the country and live in freedom.

Asia Bibi is not an isolated case. What can you tell us about the fate of Christians who are also facing charges of blasphemy?

According to a report of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, there are 224 other cases of Christians since 1984 facing charges of blasphemy, and currently 25. One of these is the case of the married couple Shafqat Masih and Shagufta Bibi. I visited them on death row. They have been accused of sending blasphemous text messages, which the couple denies. Their prospects are very bleak. Even should they be acquitted, they and their children will no longer be able to live in Pakistan. Fanatic Muslims will try to kill them. The blasphemy law destroys the lives of those who have been accused, even if they avoid being executed.

Following the acquittal of Asia Bibi we saw pictures of an angry mob that continued to call for her execution. In view of this, is there even a chance of religious freedom for Christians living in Pakistan?

It seemed as though at any moment, a group of militant Muslims would bring the entire country to a standstill. However, militant Islam does not hold the majority in Pakistan. The country has a fraction of about 10 to 15 per cent of radical Islamists who are provoking people to violence. The majority of Muslims do not follow these agitators. They are advocates for religious freedom, also for Christians. Both Christians and Muslims were greatly relieved when Pakistani security forces recently arrested more than 1000 Islamists. Cracking down on extremism was the right thing for the government to do. And I hope that this will continue.

Aid to the Church in Need has been working with you for many years. From a European standpoint, there is little one can do to change the situation. Does the aid actually make a difference for the Christians in Pakistan?

The support provided by ACN plays a crucial role in ensuring that the church in Pakistan can continue to proclaim the faith and promote a dialogue. The assistance has allowed us to build many bridges between Christians and Muslims. We want to demonstrate that the different religions have nothing to fear from one another. A large number of Muslim clerics, including the Grand Imam of the second largest mosque in Pakistan, are a fixed part of our programme at the Peace Center in Lahore and close friends. I am convinced that the foundation for a good and peaceful future can only be built by establishing a dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Amanda Griiffin and Mario Bard from ACN-Canada met Father James Channan last September.


 

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

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

 Press Release – Release of Asia Bibi

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

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

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

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

At least 224 others accused since 1984

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

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

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

Summary of the story

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

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

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

ACN NEWS: ASIA BIBI CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

30.11.2018 in ACN International, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pakistan, Religious freedom

Pakistan

ASIA BIBI IS CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

“WE ARE AFRAID!” SAYS JOSEPH NADEEM, THE MAN WHO IS SHELTERING HER FAMILY TELLS ACN: “IN THE LAST FEW DAYS THE ISLAMISTS HAVE SHOT AT THE GATEWAY OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE. WE HOPE TO BE ABLE TO FIND A PLACE OF SECURITY SOON, PERHAPS EVEN IN ROME FOR CHRISTMAS.”

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018
Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi)

“We are afraid. In the last few days they have shot at the gate outside the house where we were living. We face constant threats, and more than once I have been followed.” Such is the frightening situation being endured by the daughters of Asia Bibi, as reported to ACN by Joseph Nadeem, the man who has been sheltering her family ever since this Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Given that Asia and her husband are practically illiterate, it is Nadeem who has been helping them with legal support and accompanying her husband Asihiq and younger daughter Eisham in their travels abroad, giving testimony of their experiences.

Today Joseph Nadeem and his family are themselves in danger and living in hiding together with the daughters of Asia Bibi. “Just as soon as Asia was acquitted, we were forced to flee,” he recalls. “Asia and her husband are currently in a place of safety, protected by the government, but we could not remain with them,” he explains. Ever since then Joseph Nadeem and his family, together with the two daughters of Asia, have had to keep on the move, changing homes four times so far. “The Islamists keep hunting us down, and every time we find we are in danger, we have to move on immediately. We cannot go out openly to buy food. I only ever go out by night and with my face covered,” Joseph Nadeem tells ACN.

Daily talks on the phone

Asia is aware of their difficult situation. “I met her as soon as she was acquitted, and every day we speak on the telephone together. She is very concerned for the safety of her daughters.” The two girls, Esha and Eisham, have not even have the chance to embrace their mother since her acquittal, but finally, even if only by telephone, they have been able to spend a few minutes talking to her daily. “I will never forget their first telephone call,” Joseph recalls. “Esha and Eisham wept for hours for sheer joy and relief. Asia cannot wait to see them again, and I am still hoping we can all leave the country very soon, together with Asia and her husband.”

Pakistan: A man sits in a Christian quarter of Multan, the town where Asia Bibi was held prisoner.

Nevertheless, their nightmare is still far from over. Asia Bibi has shown extraordinary strength and courage. “She is a remarkable woman! She has retained an unshakable faith and infinite trust in the Lord. It may sound strange, but it is she who has supported us in these difficult moments. She urges us not to get discouraged and tells us that in comparison with what she has been through so far, this is only a brief moment that will pass.”

Nadeem and the two girls are well aware of the flood of information and interest that her mother’s case has aroused around the world, and they have been able to talk to Asia herself about it. “The international attention and solidarity are a source of comfort for us. Eisham was profoundly moved when she saw her video message projected on the buildings of Venice, illuminated in red light. All of us, Asia included, are grateful to all those who have raised their voices in protest about our situation.”

“We are hoping to be able to leave Pakistan soon and live in a safe place. ACN was the first organization to offer us hospitality. And we are hoping that our two families will be able to spend this Christmas in Rome, together with you all.”

 

ACN News: Aid to the Church in Need Religious Freedom Report 2018

22.11.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PRESS, Refugees, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

Aggressive nationalism is fueling religious hatred –
and the West is failing to act

Report says West is not doing enough to confront new crisis of oppressive nationalism

A surge in aggressive nationalism in key parts of the world is to blame for a rise in violence and other intimidation against religious minorities – and the West is failing to convert words of concern into action, according to a report just out.

Religious Freedom Report 2018

Religious Freedom Report 2018

Assessing all 196 countries around the globe, the Religious Freedom in the World 2018 Report concludes that “ultra-nationalism” by both government and non-state actors has caused a spike in hatred against faith minorities in countries including leading regional powers such as India, China and Burma (Myanmar). The full report is to be found on the following: www.religion-freedom-report.org. The Executive Summary is in PDF format on www.acn-canada.org.

The report, produced every two years by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, finds that religious illiteracy, including within the media, and the lack of political action in the West, has exacerbated the problem, concluding that many faith minority groups suffer behind a “curtain of indifference.”

“This is a situation that we believe is a real challenge for Canada,” considers Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) “Experience tells us the more people know about a situation, the more they can act on to change what at first may have seemed completely unchangeable. Freedom of religion must become an essential concern for Canadians if we want a real change in the numbers of countries where rampant discrimination and persecution are killing so many.”

Religious Freedom in the World 2018 criticizes governments stating: “Most Western governments have failed to provide urgently needed assistance to minority faith groups, especially displaced communities wanting to return home.”

The report says most governments failed to offer displaced minority faith groups the help they themselves have requested to enable their return to northern Iraq and elsewhere following the ousting of Daesh (ISIS) and other militant groups.

Photo: © Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications

Nigeria: Fulani herdsmen (Muslims), and farmers (Christians). What was mainly an economic conflict is becoming more religious as one group wants to dominate the other. (Photo: © Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications)

The investigation by the Catholic charity finds that media coverage about militant Islam has focused almost exclusively on the fight-back against Daesh and affiliate groups during the period under review – 2016-18 – and has largely ignored the relentless spread of militant Islamist movements in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

According to the report, a main driver behind the growth in extremism is the growing clash between Sunni and Shi’a, the main rival branches of Islam. The report states that in the 25-month review period the situation for minority faith groups deteriorated in almost half of the countries classed as having significant violations of religious freedom – 18 out of a total of 38 countries.

Worsening intolerance towards religious minorities meant that for the first time in the report’s 19-year history two new countries: Russia and Kyrgyzstan – were placed in the “discrimination” category.

The report adds that in a number of cases, such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the situation was already so bad that in the period under review it was virtually impossible for it to get any worse.

“This rapid deterioration of rights in critically classified countries, such as the right to practice one’s faith in freedom and security as stipulated in article 18 of the UN Charter of Human Rights should be of great concern for all people of all faiths,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, the National Director of ACN Canada.

 

Turning to the West

Turning to the West, the report highlights a surge in extremist attacks by militants against targets in the West. Such terrorism striking at the heart of liberal democracies means that the threat can be called “neighbourhood terrorism.” The report says the danger from such terrorists is “universal, imminent and ever-present.”

Religious Freedom in the World 2018 underlines in this context the growth of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the West as well.  Summarizing the report’s main findings, Editor-in-Chief John Pontifex said: “Aggressive ultra-nationalism – be it by hard-line governments or violent extremist groups – means many minority faith groups feel like aliens in their own country. They are easy targets in a new era of ignorance and intolerance.

“True, there are some like the Rohingya Muslims, whose plight has received due attention in the West, but so many others – such as Christians in Nigeria, Ahmadis in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran – feel abandoned by the West where religious freedom has slipped down the human rights priority rankings.”

Mme Lalonde, in Toronto on Wednesday November 21, for a Red Wednesday interfaith prayer vigil, an event organized by Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world said, “We must challenge this pervasive ignorance by informing, as we are doing with this rare global report on religious freedom, and challenge intolerance through acts of unity like we are doing today by praying together as brothers and sisters of many faiths.”

 

ACN News: 22.11. 2018 – International/Religious Freedom Report 2018 
by John Pontifex, Adapted by Amanda Griffin ACN Canada

Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Collins on Red Wednesday

22.11.2018 in ACN Canada, Homily, Red Wednesday, Religious freedom

 Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto

Toronto, Canada

Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Collins on

Red Wednesday

 

Since the crucifixion of Jesus, Christians have been called to follow their Lord along the path of Calvary to the glory of the resurrection. During his earthly ministry he challenged his disciples: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) They are called to follow in the footsteps of their master who is the Light “which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

The cathedral is illuminated in red this evening, as are churches and other buildings throughout the world, to remind us of the blood of martyrs which is the seed of the Church, blood which is shed more in these days than in any other time in history, by faithful disciples of Jesus who follow him through the Calvary of persecution.
It has ever been so, from the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr, recalled in the Acts of the Apostles. The Book of the Apocalypse describes the sufferings of those who were faithful to Jesus in the face of the alien power of the Roman Empire, who would say not “Caesar is Lord.” but “Jesus is Lord”. So many martyrs down through history, an inspiration for us, but also rebuke to us, who live too comfortably in this society in which brute persecution is replaced by more subtle suppression of Christian witness, and by mockery of faith.

The sacred scriptures read this evening guide us as we confront a world in which our brothers and sisters in Christ are being killed, or imprisoned, or forced to flee their beloved homelands, simply because they profess with heart and voice: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that his disciples must be prepared to experience what he experienced, if they are faithful to him in an alien and hostile world:

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you.
Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,
because they do not know the one who sent me.”

Saint Paul, who himself won the palm of martyrdom in Rome, reminds the Christians of that capital of empire that they will suffer, but that no earthly torments can separate them from the Lord in whom they have their life:

What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
As it is written:
For your sake we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Whether we experience persecution, as so many of our brothers and sisters do throughout the world, or whether we experience the milder suffering of social rejection and intimidation, as we do in our society, this is the path to Calvary on which we are strengthened by our faith. We need to allow suffering to burn off the bonds of self-sufficiency, and lead us to realize that in Christ is our strength, for he is Lord of all. Nothing will separate us from the “love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.” In a few days this reality will be celebrated in some of our churches in the Feast of Christ the King.

We have a wide perspective this evening, as we call to mind the persecution of Christians throughout the whole world: few realize that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, by far. But our faith calls us to an even wider perspective, one that encompasses not just this earthly valley of tears through which we are passing, but also the heavenly courts that lie ahead of us – when we will be at peace in the home of the Father, but also the realm that even now is the touchstone of reality. Both the Letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse, especially the Apocalypse, were written to give hope to persecuted Christians, who through those sacred pages could glimpse the divine realm, the heavenly city of Jerusalem, of which we are citizens even as we are temporarily stranded in Babylon the Great.

It has ever been so: the blood of martyrs has always been the seed of the Church. But in the last century, especially after the Armenian genocide, attacks on Christians have intensified. Yes, this is a time of massive persecution – especially in the Middle East where Christians are being driven from the places they have called home for two thousand years- but in also in Africa, and India, and China, and in many other places throughout the world. But in Canada it is as if this were not happening. A blanket of silence has descended, and the cries of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not heard.

This evening we call on our fellow citizens to acknowledge the cry of the martyrs, and we reach out to them in prayer and solidarity. When they must flee their homelands, we offer them refuge, but they should not be forced to flee their homelands. This evil of persecution must stop, and one small step towards that goal is for the light of truth to be shone upon their plight. Deeds of evil are done in darkness, and we must shed light upon this evil.
Beyond the public and political aspects of this, we need to send them material help, ad this is done especially through Aid to the Church in Need and through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. They deserve our financial support, and assistance in any way, as does the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto, and other similar agencies.

And most importantly, we are with our brothers and sisters in the solidarity of prayer. Through that we reach out in supplication to the Lord for them. And we are drawn closer to one another, as the divisions between Christians are healed by what Pope Francis calls the “ecumenism of blood”. In the last century some of the earliest steps towards healing the wound of Christian disunity were taken when Christians from different communities suffered equally under Hitler, and were drawn closer to God and to one another in that furnace of suffering.
This evening we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world, and we pray that we may be inspired by them to live with Christian integrity.

Watch the vigil: