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Religious freedom

 

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

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

 

India

Christian released on bail after 11 years in jail

Accusations were false

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

 

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

 

Bhaskar and son, Daud

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

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

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

 

Prayer, the only comfort

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

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

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

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

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

 

Finally free and happy!

A long road woven by acts of solidarity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking News – Acquittal of 40 Christians falsely accused in lynching case

30.01.2020 in Pakistan, press@acn-intl.org, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

Justice and freedom at last

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web January 30, 2020

 

Christians across Pakistan are rejoicing after a court yesterday (Wednesday, 29th January) acquitted 40 men jailed for alleged involvement in the lynching of two people in a district outside Lahore.

 

The 40 individuals, almost all of them Christians, shouted “Alleluia, Praise God” as the anti-terrorism court in Lahore ordered their release after nearly five years in custody.

More than 40 others, on bail after being accused of lesser offences that took place at about the same time in Youhanabad district, were also acquitted.

 

 

A look back at the arrests of these Christians in 2015

They had all been arrested as police responded to riots in Youhanabad sparked by suicide bomb attacks on two churches one Sunday morning in March 2015, in which at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 were injured.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) just hours after the acquittal verdict, Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf described how emotion swept through the court as the accused began to absorb the court’s decision, citing insufficient evidence to prove the men’s guilt.

Reporting that the accused were now back home with their families, Father Yousaf said: “What we have seen today is wonderful news for Pakistan.”

“Throughout Pakistan, people had been praying, every day praying that the court would rule in their favour. It is a big day for us all.  “The accused have been through a big, big trauma and now, thank God, come out the other side.”

Father Yousaf, National Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), went on to thank ACN for providing legal and paralegal aid, which, he said, had been crucial to the successful outcome of the case. As well as funding legal fees, the charity sponsored schooling for the families of the accused and gifts at Easter and Christmas.

“First of all, we are very grateful to ACN. With the charity’s support and prayers, all the accused are now free. Thanks to ACN, they are now able to restart their lives,” expressed Father Yousaf. He also added that two of the accused had died in jail; that there had been reports of physical maltreatment and pressure to convert to Islam were.

ACN to continue providing help

ACN has pledged to continue helping the families of the accused, especially over the coming year. Father Yousaf explained how the families of the accused had struggled to cover basic costs as the men behind bars had been “the major bread winners.”

He said that starting again back home would be difficult for a number of the men who had suffered multiple bereavements of close family members during their incarceration.

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

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

India

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

by Anto Akkara, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Posted to the web January 15, 2020

 

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

 

Courage alongside trauma

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Strength born of suffering and God’s blessings

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

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

 

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

“He has empowered me to serve others”

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

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

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

 


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

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

ACN Interview: Mark von Reidemann on Religious Persecution

21.10.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN USA, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

ACN International

A look at the question of denominational organization and humanitarian support

 
Interview conducted by Maria Lozano of ACN International,
Text adapted by ACN Canada
  • EU Ambassador announces new European Union initiative aimed at reducing religious ignorance or religious “illiteracy” worldwide
  • Cardinal Parolin: Governments should avoid “ideological or cultural colonization”
  • 20th anniversary of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Religious Freedom Report

 

Mark von Riedemann, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom for the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, was invited to moderate a panel on humanitarian aid at a recent USA – Holy See symposium titled: “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations.” Maria Lozano, head of information at ACN International interviews him about his impressions.

 

ACN: The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the Holy See co-sponsored recently a symposium featuring presentations from the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, as well as Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, about how governments can partner with faith-based organizations to better defend religious freedom. What prompted this symposium?

 Mark von Riedemann: The symposium marked 35 years of positive cooperation between the US government and the Holy See, reflecting on the work of St. Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and their combined efforts to bring about the end of Communism in the former Soviet Union.

 

The intent was to communicate new initiatives taken by the US government to work directly with Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) on the ground. As Ambassador Gingrinch observed in her opening speech governments alone can only do so much. Even if the United States is one of the main providers of humanitarian aid worldwide, she noted, delivering that support efficiently requires partnerships with organizations on the ground. Catholic agencies and other FBO’s can help to make an impact in places where governments have neither the experience nor the network to do so.

The large diplomatic participation in this occasion also prompted the representative of the European Union to the Holy See, Ambassador Jan Tombinski, to announce the creation of an EU initiative called the “Global Exchange on Religion in Society”, supporting projects aimed at reducing religious ignorance or “illiteracy” in the EU and worldwide. The objective of such initiative is to acknowledge the importance of faith in everyday life. This is an absolute first for Europe, which to date prided itself of being “religion-blind.”

Cardinal Parolin praised the new initiatives. In his speech, however, he cautioned against the temptation by donor nations to impose certain cultural values or worldviews as a precondition for recipient nations to receive aid.

Yes, he requested firmly that governments avoid, when sponsoring faith-based organizations, what Pope Francis has called an “ideological or cultural colonization,” which consists in “imposing a different worldview or set of values on poorer societies, often by making the adoption of those values a prerequisite to receiving humanitarian or development aid.” Although Aid to the Church in Need has never been impacted by this as we rely solely on support from private donors, I was glad that he made mention of this as, through our project partners, we have heard time and again testimony of this kind of abuse. And it is abuse. Making food aid contingent upon the acceptance programs promoting contraception and abortion is well documented.

This symposium marks a string of actions over the last months with regard to religious freedom and attention to the issue of Christian persecution. What trend have you noted?

 Increasingly religious freedom is being recognized as a foundational right, that two thirds of the world’s population reside in countries with restrictions on religious freedom, and that Christians represent the largest faith group experiencing religious persecution.

This conference follows closely on the heels of a September 23, 2019 “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom,” the first-ever UN event on religious freedom hosted by a US president, and the May 28, 2019 UN resolution marking August 22 as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief.’ Over the last two years there has been a flurry of initiatives including the creation of a State Secretariat for Christian Persecution in Hungary, the US initiated International Religious Freedom Alliance and perhaps of greatest note, the growing number of nations instituting or reactivating Ambassadors for Religious Freedom and Belief in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, the USA, Norway, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom among others.

2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the ACN Religious Freedom Report. Has ACN been like a prophetic voice in the wilderness calling for religious freedom and an end to Christian persecution?

 The report has indeed been prophetic. In 1999, religious freedom was not a major topic on most government radars, yet ACN, from our project partners on the ground, received increasing testimonies of Christian persecution. For example, religious tensions in Nigeria developed with the imposition of Shari’ah law in a dozen Muslim-majority states in 1999 resulting in significant sectarian violence still ongoing today.

Since that time we have witnessed dramatic world events in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia, and the consequent suffering of untold millions have demanded greater attention and response. A pivotal moment was in 2016 when the European Union and the US passed resolutions labelling the ISIS atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq a Genocide. Is Christian persecution a surprise? No, it has grown over the centuries from the roots of intolerance, to discrimination, to persecution, and finally the world awakens to the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Symptomatic of this is the reduction of the Christian presence in the Middle East: in 1910, Christians represented 13.6% of the population, by 2010 that number had declined to 4.2%. The call from the US government for a new partnership between government and FBO’s is a further sign of Western countries waking up to these realities and as such are important steps in the right direction.

  1. With regard to the expression or religious “illiteracy”, Please see the abridged version of the report :  Persecuted and Forgotten 2018 

ACN News: Religious Freedom in India

04.10.2019 in ACN Canada, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious freedom

Religious Freedom in India

“We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity”

by Matthias Böhnke, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada

 

“The circumstances are difficult for the Christians in our diocese – we often come up against restrictions in the practice of our faith,” Dr Stephen Antony explained. The 67-year-old bishop of the diocese of Tuticorin in southern India and 53 other Indian bishops recently met with Pope Francis during an ad limina visit to Rome.

According to the bishop, the Indian government is working to transform this immense, primarily Hindu, country into a homogenous country with one language and one set of policies. A difficult to impossible undertaking in a heterogeneous country with 29 federal states and the second most populous country in the world at 1.37 billion inhabitants. Some forecasts even predict that India may already overtake top-ranking China next year.

 

Policies favouring the wealthy

The situation has worsened after this year’s parliamentary elections, which the nationalist governing party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi won with a surprising majority. “Our situation at the moment isn’t very encouraging. The government makes a lot of rash decisions, which makes things unpredictable. Politics only benefits the wealthy part of the population. The poor are left with nothing,” Bishop Antony deplored.

 

Project supported by ACN – Transportation for pastoral & social work, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at St. Charles Convent, Vilathikulam, Tutcorin Dist. – Eastern Province.

The bishop explained that about 450,000 Catholics live in the diocese of Tuticorin, which is equivalent to about 17 per cent of the population. Besides the attacks targeting the faithful and groups of pilgrims, he reported that the circumstances were becoming more and more difficult in his diocese, particularly for the hospitals and the more than 200 schools operated by the church. According to the bishop, high unemployment is a problem not only affecting teachers, but the lack of support from the government has led many of the small farmers and factory workers to feel its effects as well. In fact, Bishop Antony said, many people in the region were so desperate that they felt that suicide was the only option left open to them.

 

However, he does believe that there are signs of hope, one of which being the visit to Pope Francis in Rome. “We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity,” said Stephen Antony. “We hope that Hindus and Christians will soon become more tolerant of each other and that the readiness to use violence will decline throughout the country. I am deeply grateful to ACN and all the benefactors who help us meet our needs in all areas of pastoral care and accompany us in their prayers.”

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