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Religious freedom

 

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:

ACN Press Release: #RedWednesday A first in Canada

19.11.2018 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians, World

 

Press Release

#RedWednesday
A first in Canada

Montreal, Friday November 16 – Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Rimouski, Hearst, and Quebec and more: Wednesday November 21st, close to 50 activities planned, each one connected to Red Wednesday (#RedWednesday) will take place in dioceses across Canada.  Initiated a few years ago by the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), this event helps to sensitize and inform people about the situation of 200 million Christians who regularly live situations of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, and in a particularly acute way in at least 30 countries.

 

This is the fifth Mass for persecuted Christians to be held in Montreal where the event saw it’s beginning in Canada.  Msgr Christian Lépine will preside over the liturgy which will begin at 7:30pm and will be preceded by a 5 à 7 gathering around the subject of religious freedom – created for youth 18-35 years old, to be held in the basement of the Cathedral.

 

In Toronto, Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Collins will preside over the interfaith prayer vigil beginning at 6:30pm.  In Alberta’s metropolis, Calgary and greater area throughout the diocese many events have been planned including a Rosary Prayer followed by a Mass at Saint Mary’s University.  In Versant la Noel, at Robert Lebel’s, composer of the theme song for World Youth Days in Toronto in 2002 (doors open at 6:15).

 

“This is a first experience for us which is starting on a very positive note!” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director at the ACN Canada.  “We are very happy that so many people are willing to take part in the event and willing to share with us in this deep concern with regard to the situation of persecuted Christians and victims of discrimination in the world.  It is also a way to demonstrate one’s solidarity with those who are suffering.”

 

Some elements that will be present in various buildings across the country – the doorways to the Cathedrals in Montreal and Toronto for example, as well as the interior of the Saint Michael’s Toronto cathedral, will be lit with red lights, the colour of the blood of the martyrs.  The ecumenical pavilion at Versant-la-Noel will be robed in red as well.

 

Many nations deprived of a fundamental right

In his letter inviting the faithful of his diocese to participate in the event, the Archbishop of Calgary, Msgr William T. McGrattan, underlined, “while it is true that Canadian Christians are facing increasing challenges in the practice of our faith, we must also continue to express gratitude for the many liberties which our country provides. Sadly, many nations across the globe continue to deprive their citizens of even the most basic religious freedoms.

Currently, over 30 events have been organized in his diocese, generally masses and moments of prayer prepared as acts of solidarity with persecuted Christians suffering from severe forms of discrimination.

 

ACN’s 2018 report on Religious Freedom launch date: November 22

“This Red Wednesday is also in accord with the publication of our Religious Freedom in the World Report 2016-2018 which will be launched the following day, Thursday November 22, at the Vatican,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde for whom this event represents a shift in the understanding Catholics here have of religious persecution lived by Christians.  “I think that people are beginning to grasp the scope of the problem and realize that article 18 of the Universal Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that should ensure the right to religious freedom in all signatory countries, is far from being respected.”

This will be the fourteenth edition of the ACN report on Religious Freedom in the World. It examines the situation in over 190 different countries and documents not only the current legal situation but also the abuses against the right to religious freedom over the time period 2016–2018. The report also details developments and changes in the situation in a number of the most critically threatened countries documented in the previous report of 2014-2016.

Nigeria: Fulani Herdsmen – mostly Muslim – threaten farmers – mostly Christians. Economic or religious conflict? Answer November 22nd
(Photo: © Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications)

 

The report will only be available online in Canada, in French and in English at the following website : www.religion-freedom-report.org. An executive summary will be available on ACN Canada’s website: www.aed-canada.org.

For more information:

http://bit.ly/RWednesday-Canada
1-800-585-6333 or,
info@acn-canada.org


Source: Mario Bard, Information, Aid to the Church in Need Canada
Amanda Griffin, English Information, ext. 221 or toll free at 1-800-585-6333
com@acn-canada.org
Website: acn-canada.org Cell. Phone: 514-967-8340

*ACN’s articles are given freely for partial or full publication on condition that ©Aid to the Church in Need is mentioned as the source.  If you would like to use an original photo, or for an interview with the National Director, Marie-Claude Lalonde, please contact us at the coordinates above.Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, is a Pontifical Charity which has as Mission to provide assistance to Catholics wherever the Church suffers from poverty or persecution. The international charity operates offices in 23 countries including Canada, who together support projects in over 145 countries.

 

 

 

ACN News: Attacks by Fulani Herdsmen – The Bishops of Nigeria’s Middle Belt appeal to ACN

05.07.2018 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Nigeria, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

Nigeria, May 22, 2018
Christians demonstrating peacefully against the bloodshed in Nigeria – after the murder of two Priests and their parishioners during the celebration of the Holy Mass, in Mbalom, Benue State on 24.04.2018

Nigeria

 “DO NOT WAIT FOR A GENOCIDE TO HAPPEN TO INTERVENE!

Do not let this become another Rwanda

 “Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda. It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended.” These are the words of Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko, in the majority Christian Benue State. He was speaking to ACN. He is only the latest of the bishops of Nigeria’s Middle Belt to have raised his voice to denounce what is an increasingly worrying phenomenon – the attacks by Islamist Fulani Herdsmen on Christians in the region. In the last few days there have been new attacks in the area of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, killing over 100 people.

 

Peaceful protest, May 22, 2018

The Fulani Herdsmen have herded their flocks in parts of Nigeria’s Middle Belt for centuries and there have always been occasional clashes with local peasant farmers, the majority of whom are Christians today, and whose crops were frequently trampled and even destroyed by their flocks. But whereas in the past these conflicts were generally either tribal in nature or economically driven, today they appear to have become increasingly religion-based in character. According to official data, there have been 492 victims since the beginning of the year in Benue State alone. “They are criminals and terrorists, but they do not do the same things in the majority Muslim areas,” Bishop Avenya adds. “We are convinced

that what is happening is an ethnic cleansing of Christians.”

Bishop Peter Iornzuul Adoboh of Katsina Ala diocese (Benue State) and Bishop Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia diocese (Nassarawa State) believe that there is a “clear agenda of Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt,” a plan that is making use of the Fulani Herdsmen.

Italy, 11.05.2018
Bishop William Amove Avenya from Gboko Diocese in Nigeria during his visit at the Italian National Office of ACN in Rome

“Their aim is to strike at the Christians,”explains Bishop Audu, “and the government is doing nothing to stop them, because president Buhari himself is also a member of the Fulani tribe.” Adding to the suspicions of complicity on the part of the government is not merely the inactivity of the federal police but also the fact that these Fulani Herdsmen are being armed with ever more sophisticated weaponry.

 

492 people killed in the span of two months

“At one time they were armed only with sticks,” Bishop Avenya explains. “But now they are armed with AK-47 rifles – expensive weapons that they could not possibly afford. So who is supplying them? And besides, in these areas there are checkpoints every 2 km. Is it possible that armed men followed by their flocks of cattle could have somehow become invisible?”

Nigeria, May 22, 2018
Christians demonstrating peaceful against the bloodshed in Nigeria –

On May 22, all the dioceses of Nigeria took part in a protest march, calling on the government to protect the Christians. “Our faithful are being murdered or forced to live as refugees as a result of the violence,” the bishops tell us. “And the West continues to view the matter of the Fulani as merely an internal problem. Don’t do as you did in Rwanda; don’t wait for the genocide to happen before intervening!”

ACN Interview – “It is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today.”

08.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Asia, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians

“It is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today.”

Dimensions of the community of faith: sources of friction and inspiration from India

 

Interview with Veronique Vogel, head of the Indian section of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on the situation of Christians in India. The interview was conducted by Karla Sponar.

 

What is the situation of Christians in India today?

Alarming. Anti-Christian attacks almost doubled in 2017, with 740 more incidents than in the previous year. Most of them occurred in northern India. It is important to know that the nationalist party that is currently ruling India at the federal level is also governing 19 of the 29 federal states of India. Not only has the number of attacks grown, but what is striking is the kind of attacks: they are characterized by even more hate. The consequences for Catholics are more severe. The attacks used to be more verbal in nature, such as against the directors of Catholic schools. Now, for example in Madhya Pradesh, groups of extremists enter schools, disrupt classes, and try to impose an extreme nationalism in schools. This is new. Priests were attacked and detained by police, even though they were only heading out to visit a village community to sing Advent carols. There is also a tendency to accuse Christians of blasphemy – as has happened in Pakistan. Christians are portrayed as a danger to national unity. This trend has developed since the last elections in 2014.

India, February 2018 : Veronique Vogel (ACN) with Bishop William D’Souza (Archbishop of Patna diocese) next to the foundation stone for the new Archdiocesan Spirituality Centre at Jyoti Bhavan, Mokama.

 

What is the press reporting with regard to this?

We read – in particular in the Catholic media, but also in other reliable sources – that the number of attacks and their severity has risen.

 

Who is responding critically to this?

At the close of their meeting at the end of February, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reinforced that Christians are to be treated as one hundred per cent Indian, and at the same time to be considered one hundred per cent Catholic. The false argument of having an anti-national stance has no place in Christian thought.

 

What message does Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) have for the Christians in India?

In this atmosphere of persecution in which Christians are pressured by harassment on a daily basis and also made to fear for their lives, ACN is, first of all, helping bishops in their pastoral work so that they can, in turn, support their brothers and sisters in faith and encourage them to grow in their Christian faith. In concrete terms, ACN is supporting the Indian church, for example in its work with adolescents, with women and with families. We are in close contact with them, we show our solidarity with them in prayer, demonstrate our understanding of their situation, and report on it.

Because it is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today. The bishops are maintaining interdenominational connections. We support Catholics in India so that they can continue to be an example of Christian coexistence in love and compassion for everyone.

India, February 2017: Offertory during the Mass on the Feast of Christ the King in Bihar State.

 

Of the total of 5,384 projects that were approved by ACN in 2017, the greatest share, i.e. 584 projects, involved aid for India. Besides Then there is the fact that its approx. 1.3 billion inhabitants make India the second most populous country in the world after China – is there another reason for this?

Pope Francis correctly said: that “the church of the future will be the church in Asia.” India has an important Christian community of faith. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that Indians generally have a deep and strong spirituality, no matter what religion they belong to. Eighty-four per cent of the population is Hindu. Apart from the extremists, who want to foment unrest among people with different religious affiliations, Hindus are very hospitable, pacifist, and consider cultural and religious diversity to be a gift from God and allow every religion to have a place in society. This special way of greeting each day and each moment of each day in community with God is one way of remaining connected to the divine. To pray. Accepting one’s own inferiority faced with the magnificence of God. I frequently come across this humility and simultaneous joy in Hindus.

However, it is an individual religion. This is why Hindus are interested in how Christians are organized, with their priests, religious and communities that all come together to pray. They consider this dimension of community to hold new meaning for their Hindu spirituality. This is why Hindus generally view Christianity favourably and are willing to give it a place in their society.

India, February 2017: Participating in the Hostel Children’s Bible Sharing Prayer Service in Bihar State.


 

ACN News – Myanmar Cardinal’s statement on healing the country

30.09.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Journey with ACN, Myanmar, Religious freedom

Myanmar

Healing the country, moving forward in peace, justice and reconciliation

 

The Myanmar military is accused of violence against minority populations, including the Rohingyas and Rakhine.  Close to 500,000 people found refuge in Bangladesh.  This is a major crisis where the government has been accused of allowing a genocide.  The archbishop of Rangoun, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, updates us on the situation.

 

A Statement By Cardinal Charles Maung Bo., DD, SDB

 

Dear Fellow Citizens and International Community,

Greetings.

The recent sad tragic events in our country affecting thousands of  Muslims, Rakhines and Hindus and others have brought the concerned attention of the world.  The trigger to violence and the aggressive response are lamentable  We feel with great compassion at  the flight of thousands of Muslims, Hindu, Rakhine, Mro and many others were also scattered  especially children, This is a tragedy that should not have happened.

 

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her concern over all forms  violence in her recent speech, we strongly advocate that aggressive responses without any embedded long term peaceful policies would be counterproductive.

 

Much has been said by the western media on the role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Many feel that the sentiments and principles she expressed so strongly in  her latest  address should have come earlier.    But to lay all blame on her, stigmatizing her response is a very counterproductive measure.   The circumstances under which her government took over, the multiple humanitarian challenges her government had to face during the short time, the continued role of military constitutionally imposed lack of  leverage in security issues and scores of other challenges make her role a daunting one.

 

Her assurance in her speech about rights in Rakhine state, the return of refugees and development of the state is to be welcomed.  Those who  have  lived in this country for a long time, need justice and the Kofi Annan Commission took the right direction in suggesting constructive measures. She has formed a working committee to implement recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission.These are positive initiatives that need the appreciation and collaboration of all stakeholders and the international community.
All of us need to move from a wounded past towards a healing future. Let the lessons of the past enlighten our future.

 

Peace based on justice  is possible, peace is the only way.

Sincerely yours,

 

+Charles Cardinal Maung Bo
Archbishop of  Yangon


 

ACN Press – Aid to the Church in Need Canada : A busy fall program!

08.09.2017 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, Nigeria, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

Aid to the Church in Need Canada

A busy fall program!

“This is by far one of the busiest and fall seasons in our history!” declares Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) with regard to the upcoming fall program for the organization which will be marked by four major events.

They are:  the arrival of Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of the diocese of Jos in Nigeria and the president of his Episcopal Conference; a campaign to support reconstruction for Christians on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains; a Mass for persecuted

Christians in the Archdiocese of Montreal; the launch of the biennial 2015-2017 Persecuted and Forgotten? Report on persecution of Christians around the world.

 

“Keeping people informed is part of our mission,” Mrs. Lalonde emphasizes. “To remain faithful to it, nothing could be better than a witness who agrees to meet with us.  The archbishop of Jos and president of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria, Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama, will be in Canada from October 31 to November 4.  We can confirm that there will be events in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and possibly in Ottawa.  Nigeria is especially touched by the violent terrorism of the Boko Haram extremist group, and Msgr. Kaigama will be able to help us grasp the point to which – and that despite some progress – the situation remains a worrying one for the population.”

 

Monsignor Kaigama will participate in celebrating Mass for persecuted Christians, presided over for a fourth consecutive time by the archbishop of Montreal, Msgr. Christian Lépine and celebrated on Friday, November 3rd at the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral (in Montreal).  “It will be a unique opportunity to gather for these millions of Christians, who, every day, live with discrimination and persecution as a result of their faith,” recalls Mrs. Lalonde.  Robert Lebel, a popular Québec French language singer of religious songs – a priest himself and a good friend of ACN – as well as the choir from the Centre étudiant Benoit-Lacroix, will assure a wonderful quality musical presence for the liturgy.

 

A campaign and liturgy

Among the four elements to watch for, there will be the launch of a report and of a fundraising and information campaign highlighting the situation of Christians of the Nineveh Plains in Iraq.  “Little by little, Christians who fled the Islamic State in summer 2014 are starting to return,” explains Mrs. Lalonde.  “Aid to the Church in Need is supporting this process.  We have begun the construction and repairs of a hundred or so houses in Christian neighbourhoods in this region.  But this is only a beginning. Our campaign aims not only to raise money, but it is also a part of our mission to inform the public about the importance of rebuilding to maintain a Christian presence in Iraq.”  Since the second war in Iraq in 2003, their very presence has been threatened by terrorist groups, such as the ‘so-called’ Islamic State.  “ We have denounced this genocide they are guilty of perpetrating. Now, and despite the continued fighting in some sectors, we wish to ensure that Iraqi Christians, whose presence has been held by this land for two millenniums, get to go home.”  She insists, “This position is not an ideological one. We are talking about their ancestral land.  It is where they were born, and their parents and their grandparents were born! Leaving is the last solution and Aid to the Church in Need will do everything it can to help them return to their lands and live there again,” she explains.  Videos, calls on social media, and a micro-website dedicated to the task will be the tools used to support the information aspect of the fundraising campaign.

Photo: Persecuted and forgotten: Christians under attacks just because of their faith…

Finally, the Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017 Report is due to be published in early October.  Every two years, Aid to the Church in Need takes an inventory and alerts us to the situation of Christians in countries where persecution against them is most pronounced.  The report provides information on the lack of religious freedom lived by an impressive number of Christians.  “A sad reality that this international report highlights more than every today,” she underlines and finally adding, “The people of the Laurentians will also we gathering for a second vigil on November 8 organized in this region by the Groupe L’Étincelle.  This year, Christians in Africa will be honored.

Follow updates from ACN Canada on social networks – Facebook, Twitter, and Google +. Regular updates are also posted to the ACN Canada website: www.acn-aed-ca.org.