Religious freedom


ACN Feature Story – A crucified people

06.04.2017 in ACN International, ACN KOREA, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, North Korea, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

In March, from the 23rd to the 27th, our colleagues from the French office of Aid to the Church in Need held an event called ‘Nuit des témoins’ (Night of Witnesses) held in Paris.  Here are the stories of some of these witnesses.  Here is the story of Philippe Blot, a missionary from the Foreign Missions of Paris dedicated to refugees from North Korea.


North Korea

A crucified people

As we know, for the past 60 years and more the « Land of the Morning Calm » has been cut in two, following a particularly bloody fratricidal war…

Earlier, I was able to travel to North Korea and, despite the constant surveillance by the police, I was able to verify the truth of various reports and hear numerous witness stories from North Korean refugees.

First of all in the hospitals: the situation is critical – no antibiotics, no dressings, not even any soap. To give you just one example, instead of bottles of serum for the transfusions, they use beer bottles filled with boiled sugar water!

I was able to visit some schools. They illustrate the chronic malnutrition of the entire population – with the exception of the apparatchiks of the regime of course! One needs to know that a North Korean child, aged seven, measures on average 20 cm less and weighs 10 kg less than a child in South Korea. The refugees were unanimous in telling me that in North Korea, « you have to bribe some member of the party or of the army in order to obtain basic necessities ». Hence corruption is the order of the day.

I was also surprised not to see any disabled people… The truth is that the North Korean regime, racist and eugenicist, is obsessed with the notion of racial purity in which those designated « abnormal » have no part. And, consequently, expelled from the major cities.

How to describe this communist regime in a few words? North Korea is a country so closed that no one can enter or move around without a visa… “Including God,” as the refugees, add with a touch of black humour. The two principal pillars of the repression are, on the one hand, total control over all the movements of the population and on the other, the ignorance of the outside world… So much so that the North Korean refugees who have succeeded in escaping discover to their astonishment a reality that is totally different from what they have been told ever since birth.

North Korea Monument to Party Founding

They describe all the unbridled Marxist propaganda inflicted on the people in order to make them zombies, submissive to the Communist Party. The dictator is presented as a veritable “god”, an idea unfailingly promoted in every speech, in all the teaching, all the information… The Kim dynasty – from grandfather to the grandson currently in power – is the object of a frenetic propaganda, with its 30,000 giant statues and portraits in every town and village and it slogans inscribed on vast billboards on every street and road… The North Koreans are taught to spy on their neighbours and colleagues and denounce one another for any failing in their duty towards the “Great Leader”. After the arrest of the transgressor, the whole neighbourhood and family are rounded up in order to criticize the transgressions of the supposed delinquent. Then, he is either deported, or everybody witnesses to his execution.

Speaking of the deportation camps, this gives me the opportunity to report on the Christian presence in the country. The gathering of witness statements and the observations of Western satellites enable us to estimate the number of persons detained in these veritable concentration camps – anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals. The brutality of the camp guards is the daily bread of these prisoners, who work 16 hours a day, suffer atrocious tortures, to say nothing of the public executions of those deemed to have been recalcitrant.

Among these “political prisoners”, those who suffer the worst treatment are the Christians, since they are regarded as spies, as “anti-revolutionaries of the first class.” According to the regime, there are around 13,000 of them, but according to humanitarian organizations, there are 20 to 40,000 – and they are singled out for the cruellest treatments of all – they are crucified, hanged from bridges or trees, drowned, or burned alive… Some witnesses describe tortures so horrible that decency prevents me from describing them to you…

For the rulers of North Korea every form of religion must be banished – in other words, both Christianity and Buddhism – since, as the Marxist “catechism” tells us, religion is the opium of the people. North Koreans do not know what a Bible is, nor consequently who God is. A few years ago, with great fanfare of propaganda, the government opened a Catholic church, a Protestant temple, and an Orthodox church in the capital – but of course, they are nothing but mere showpieces!

Yet despite all this, there is indeed an underground Church in North Korea, which is the object of continued persecution. When I asked North Korean refugees “ Have you heard mention of or have you seen a neighbour arrested for having been caught in the act of praying, either at home or in a secret place?”  many people answered in the affirmative. And, some information does manage to filter through; for example, two years ago, a pregnant woman aged 33 was arrested in possession of 20 Bibles. She was beaten severely, then hung by her feet in public. In May 2010, some 20 Christians were arrested; they were part of a clandestine Church. Three of them were immediately put to death and the rest were deported. It is thought that since 1995 at least 5,000 Christians have been executed, solely because they were praying secretly or distributing Bibles. Many North Koreans have become Christians thanks to the presence of foreign missionaries on the border. It is also known that some American and Canadian pastors of Korean origin are currently imprisoned in the political prisoners’ camps for having helped the refugees.

I met with some refugees in a country bordering on North Korea who, if arrested, risk being forcibly repatriated – which means prison, torture, the camps and death. If they are not repatriated, they risk falling into the hands of criminal organizations which traffic in human organs. Women and young girls risk being kidnapped by gangs and sold to peasants or, still worse, to brothel owners. A young Korean girl can be sold for $800-$1,2000…

For over 60 years, thousands of North Koreans have attempted to escape to a free country, but it is not so easy. They have to pass through China, which refuses to recognize the refugee status of those whom it persists in describing as « illegal immigrants ». Without papers, and therefore clandestine, there are numerous such people, who find work however they are able: ill paid, ill treated, without any rights and at the mercy of their employers…

Willing to extricate these refugees from this impossible situation are the people traffickers, who risk their lives but make sure they are well paid. They will smuggle people to South Korea if they wish it, or to Canada, or the United States and other countries, via Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand… To smuggle someone from North Korea to a third country, you need around 4,000 to 5,000 Euros for a false passport, transport, food; to pay the smuggler and the bribes to customs officials and police… And of course such “contracts” are entirely arbitrary, and it can happen that at the last moment the smuggler demands more money.

The longest Ways of the Cross in human history

In my meetings with North Korean refugees, I have heard stories that were so unbearable that tears of suffering and shame were pouring from my eyes… How is it possible for human beings to commit such atrocities? How can so many human lives be trampled underfoot in the midst of such total indifference?


And so, as a missionary and as a Catholic priest, I am speaking here on behalf of all those Koreans who for over 60 years have been living one of the longest Ways of the Cross in human history. I speak on behalf of those who have had an eye torn out, or another organ, without anaesthetic, so that they can be transplanted into rich Chinese, Japanese or others! I am speaking on behalf of all those North Koreans who are victims of the slave traders!

The attempts by these thousands of men, women and children to flee are a fact of major importance, and we need to emphasize the political and diplomatic aspects of it. Unfortunately, the countries closest to North Korea, and those further afield in Europe or America, are demanding no more than a few changes, in the name of “human rights,” without actually challenging the status quo – seemingly for the sake of “maintaining international relations,” they tell us – in reality to guarantee a “peace of compromise.” In effect they are postponing indefinitely the liberation of North Korea, and hence also the reunification of the country.

In conclusion, calculating things on a strictly geopolitical basis, the 21 million North Koreans risk having to wait a long time before seeing any radical improvement in their lot… Barring an intervention of God, that is, something we pray for ardently every day for this crucified people.


Merciful Lord Jesus,

I beg you to deliver our North Korean brothers and sisters from the chains that have held them captive now for over 70 years already.

Turn your loving gaze upon this suffering people …

Teach peace to the Korean nation, cut in half, north from south, by a fratricidal war. Help us to contribute to reconciliation and do not let us be carried away by despair.

Good Shepherd, reunite in your arms all our North Korean brothers and sisters, one by one. Envelop them in your tender saving love.

May Our Lady of Fatima bring down the wall of communism and help them to discover the freedom and joy of living as children of God.






ACN Press Release – Pope Francis prays for all persecuted Christians

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

March Prayer Intentions

Pope Francis prays for all persecuted Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Aid to the Church in Need

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

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


* About the Pope Video

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


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

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

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




ACN PROJECT OF THE WEEK IN INDIA : Rebuilding their church

01.03.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marie-Claude Lalonde, CONSTRUCTION, India, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

ACN Success Story 

An immense and fascinating country, the Indian sub-continent is home to over 16 million Catholics.  The great majority is poor and does not have the funds to support the development of their parishes.  Aid to the Church in Need is there to respond to the needs of bishops, community superiors and others who are tasked with Church responsibilities who ask us to help them to strengthen the faith of Indian Catholics.  Here are some stories of projects – successful ones – which have seen the light of day thanks to you!


In the district of Kandhalma, situated in the diocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar,

the Christians were particularly touched by the inter-confessional violence of 2008.  Villagers fro Bakingia were relegated to camps for the displaced for between 3 months to 2 years and not everyone returned.  For the sixty families who did return, houses needed to be rebuilt in the place of the destroyed ones.  Once that was done, they turned to Aid to the Church in Need to get help for the reconstruction of their Church which was also destroyed.  Thanks to donations from our many benefactors, the villagers can rejoice at having a church of their very own!


We have supported them with an amount of $26,775 – but their great joy is worth so much more!



Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!





18.11.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Religious freedom, World


ACN Report on Religious Freedom Rapport 2016 

“Hyper-extremism” : a threat to World Peace

"I cannot go on living here", laments the father of David, one of the boys killed by the Isis bomb in Qaraqosh. "This country is drenched with blood". The mother, a young woman clothed completely in mourning, buries her head in her hands, weeping. (This was the hardest moment in the trip, please pray for her and for the whole family)

Religious Fundamentalism – more lethal than ever seen before – is unleashing death, destruction, displacement and instability at unprecedented levels, according to a report out today.  This is at least what is concluded in the report published today – online in Canada – by the international pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need.

“The Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report, produced by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, warns of the global impact of “a new phenomenon of religiously-motivated violence,” which it terms “Islamist hyper-extremism.”

In defining this new ultra-extremism, the report highlights distinguishing features which are described as evidence of the radicals’ threat to world peace, stability and social harmony in the West.

Iraq, December 2014 A woman with a child at the “Werenfried” centre at the129 District of Ankawa. IRAQ / NATIONAL 14/00247, 150 PVC caravans in Ankawa district for use as emergency accommodation for IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples) forced from their homes by IS

In fact, key characteristics of “Islamist hyper-extremism” include systematic attempts to drive out all dissenting groups – including moderates, unprecedented levels of cruelty, global reach and the effective use of social media, often used to glamorize violence.

Adding its voice to calls for Daesh (ISIS) persecution to be recognized as genocide, the report’s authors warn of a widespread attempt to replace pluralism with a religious mono-culture.

Extremism threatens diversity

The report, which assesses the situation regarding religious freedom in each of the world’s 196 countries, concludes: “In parts of the Middle East including Iraq and Syria, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity and is threatening to do so in parts of African and the Asian Sub-Continent.”

(From left to right) Bishop Joseph Arshad, Father Emmanuel Pervez, footballer Salim Bad and Sumundri Football Club Manager Mohammed Shafiq.

Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

Father Mourad during the press conferece in Rome

This is echoed in the report’s foreword by Father Jacques Mourad, a Christian monk who was held by Daesh in Syria for five months before escaping in October 2015.

Fr Mourad writes: “Our world teeters on the brink of complete catastrophe as extremism threatens to wipe out all trace of diversity in society.”

This 13th biennial report, which draws on research by journalists, academics and clergy, records that in the two-year period under review from June 2014 to June 2016, attacks linked to “hyper-extremism” had taken place in one out of five countries worldwide (or 20%) – from Australia to Sweden as well as 17 African countries.

Countering the popular view that governments are mostly to blame for persecution, the report puts the blame on non-state militants in 12 of the 23 worst-offending countries. With refugee numbers at a new high of 65.3 million according to the United Nations, the report describes extremist Islamism as a “key driver” in the massive displacement of people fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.


Some slight improvement

Refugee centre for Yazidi families who had to leave their villages in Northern Iraq because of approaching ISIS fighters. Yazidis are located in several centres around Kurdistan, majority of them being in Zakhu and Dohuk regions.The Aid to the Church in Need report goes on to highlight the ‘domino effect’ on countries in the West whose socio-religious fabric is being destabilized by the arrival of unprecedented numbers of refugees.

Such problems are, according to the report, compounded by the West falling victim to a sudden increase in fundamentalist Islamist attacks.

According to the report, however, not all problems regarding religious freedom are to do with militant Islam – with a “renewed crackdown” on religious groups reported in China and Turkmenistan and an ongoing denial of human rights for people of faith in worst-offending North Korea and Eritrea where human-rights are practically non-existent.



Nor is the outlook universally bleak – looking at Bhutan, Egypt and Qatar, countries notorious for religious freedom violations, the report found that the situation had improved for faith minorities during the period under review.

This is the 13th edition of this report produced by Aid to the Church in Need. The charity provides emergency aid and help for persecuted and other suffering Christians in 140 countries around the world.

The ‘Religious Freedom in the World’ 2016 report’

is available at  www.acn-aed-ca.org/religious-freedom-report

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

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


Looks forward to the beatification of 38 martyrs

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

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

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

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


Thirty-eight stories, of hatred and of terror

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

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

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

Albania 2 ACN-20160106-34263

 “They are the pride of Albania”

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

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

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


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

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

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


The Church in need in Albania

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

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



Text by Mónica Zorita, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin



ACN Press – Syria: A Bishop’s plea

26.05.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By John Pontifex, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org, Religious freedom, Syria

Cover picture – Bishop Antioine Chbeir, Maronite Bishop in Syria with Head of Middle East Projects for ACN – Father Halemba


A Bishop’s plea as blasts cause carnage 

A diocese rallies in support of wounded and the grieving

Bishop warns of exodus following bomb blasts


In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, a Maronite Bishop in Syria has described the desperate efforts made to tend to the injured and the dying following multiple Daesh (ISIS) attacks in Tartous and Jableh, which left more than 200 dead and nearly 650 injured.


Bishop Antoine Chbeir stressed that Monday’s (May 23) attacks in his diocese were the first of their kind in an area where displaced Syrians had gathered in their hundreds of thousands, believing it to be one of the last remaining safe areas of the country.


Tartous_Maronite Cathedral_Maronite Bishop Geroges Chbier

Tartous_Maronite Cathedral_Maronite Bishop  Chbier


The Maronite Bishop of Latakia described the desperate efforts of clergy and others from the diocese helping the wounded and the dying, saying that Tuesday, (May 24) his priests had begun burying the dead.


Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need by telephone, Bishop Chbeir said: “We are trying to help the people and are taking care of the wounded. It is a very dramatic situation and when the disaster struck we wondered if we could cope.

“Right now, our priests and people are on the scene. They are visiting the people – many of them have broken legs and deep wounds, not to mention the psychological effects.”


Near to a another exodus?


In a government-controlled area which has escaped almost completely unscathed in spite of five years of war, the bishop warned that the attacks on the two coastal cities, said to be perpetrated by Daesh (ISIS), may prompt a surge in people fleeing Syria.  According to the bishop, there were five explosions in Jableh killing 110 people and wounding 340 while on the same day at around 9.30am in Tartous, four blasts went off leaving more than 100 dead and 300 injured.


1 Syria ChbeirThe bishop, who recalled hearing the attacks in Tartous which took place less than two miles from his home, said: “These attacks are the first we have had here during this time of war and they will have dramatic consequences. If you do not have safe areas in Syria, they will leave the country – probably for good… Many of them will go by sea.”The bishop spoke of the desperate need to rebuild hope. “Today, we are more determined than ever to stay in Syria. Every time we have a bombing, we will do whatever it takes to stay in the country where we are living.”


The bishop, who is a leading project partner for Aid to the Church in Need in the region, said that his response to the crisis builds on the foundations of existing ACN help for thousands of displaced people in the region, providing them with food, shelter and medicine. “First of all, we need physical and material help, just to help those affected to have something to eat and to help them take care of those who are suffering the most,” he emphasized.


Aid to the Church in Need Canada is continuing to accept donations for the displaced refugees in Syria. To make a donation: Please call: 514.932-0552, extension 221 or visit the website at secure.acn-aed-ca.org.


“We care for people not because of their particular religion but because they are human beings” adding that the people’s needs had increased because the Syrian economy was failing with food and other basic items in short supply.


“Tartous is in [a desperate state]. In the last two weeks, the Syrian currency has lost 40 percent of its value. The Syrian state has no income. It is always spending. The economic sanctions against Syria are really affecting the people,”the Bishop continued. “In this month of May, we are praying to Our Lady to help us. Thank you to Aid to the Church in Need for standing by us.”


Turning criminals into human beings


The bishop denounced the attack, confirming reports that it was perpetrated by Daesh (ISIS): “ISIS are barbaric people. The worst thing about it is that they are doing these awful things in the name of God. In the name of God, they are killing people everywhere.” But the bishop said retaliation was not the answer. “We must call for peace’” he said. “We must not kill these criminals. We must turn the criminal into a human being who cares for human life.”


Reports from the region state that Daesh’s apparent aim was to strike the Assad regime in its core stronghold, which is backed by the nearby Russian fleet.




By John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office



Press Release – Upcoming symposium in Montreal : “Are Christians in the world victims of genocide?”

19.04.2016 in ACN Canada, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, AED Canada, By Mario Bard, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom, Uncategorized, Voyager avec l’AED


Symposium on Christians victimized by genocide

With participation from Aid to the Church in Need Canada

Montreal, April 19 2016 – “ We estimate from our point of view that Christians in Syria and in Iraq are suffering a slow, but certain, genocide,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde the national director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) who will take part in a panel this weekend at the invitation of the organization ‘Solidarité International Trinitaire’. 



Also on the panel, Sami Aoun, a geopolitical specialist and Msgr Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Catholic Melkite Archbishop of Syria and Aleppo. The panel will be led by journalist, Pierre Maisonneuve.  The theme tabled for discussion: “Are Christians in the world victims of genocide?”

The panel, which will take place Saturday April 23 at 9am, will officially open the Symposium of the same name which will be held from the 22 to the 24th at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal, 2065 Sherbrooke West.

“The question is a broad,” considers the director who has held the position for 15 years.  “When we speak of genocide, we must be extremely cautious as to the type of situation we wish to qualify.  If we are talking about what is happening in Iraq or in Syria, it is clear the Islamic State (IS) is doing everything to eliminate the presence of Christians and other religious minorities.”

Partie de l'affiche annonçant le Colloque.

From the poster made by (S.I.T.)

Canada: Still in waiting

“When speaking about genocide, we always refer back to the definition given by international law,” says the director.  “In other words: as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.“ The Islamic State (IS) is guilty of genocide, according to the European Parliament and the American Secretary of State.

Now, the question remains: When will there be acknowledgement on the part of the Government of Canada?”

This past February, Mrs. Lalonde sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion, asking that the Canadian government recognize that what is happening in Syria and in Iraq is a genocide against Christians and other religious minorities.

Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity, has been working for over 60 years to bring awareness to the world of the fate of persecuted Christians and the situation of religious freedom throughout the world.  Every two years, a report called Persecuted and Forgotten? Addresses the situation of Christians throughout the world – whereas, also published every two years, the report on Religious Freedom in the world encompasses all religious traditions.

The Symposium: “Are Christians in the world victims of genocide?” will be held from Friday April 22 beginning at 4pm, through to Sunday April 24 at noon.  Simultaneous translations will be offered and voluntary contributions will be gratefully accepted.  The Grand Séminaire of Montreal is located at: 2065 Sherbrooke Street west, near Guy-Concordia Métro.


By Mario Bard, ACN Canada

Translated and adapted by, Amanda Bridget Griffin







ACN Feature – Prayer Campaign for Iraq & Syria

08.02.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Chaldean Catholic, Mgr Louis Sako, Patriarche Grégoire, Prayer, Religious freedom, Syria

Ash Wednesday

They have one desire – to remain in their “beloved homeland”



Mgr Louis Sako : « La guerre en Irak et en Syrie a pris une ampleur d'apocalypse ». (Crédit: EPP Press Service).

Msgr Louis Sako, here in 2014 before the European Parliament : “The war in Iraq and Syria is taking on apocalyptic dimensions.” (Photo: EPP Press Service).

In a dramatic appeal to “all who help us through Aid to the Church in Need”, Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Syria, and Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Christians in Iraq, are calling for a day of prayer and fasting so that God “may finally grant our country the long-awaited peace.”

In separate letters to the benefactors and friends of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the two church leaders in Syria and Iraq have called upon them to join them in praying and fasting for the Christians in Iraq and Syria on Ash Wednesday. They wrote that Ash Wednesday is to be a joint day of supplication to God.



War has “apocalyptic dimensions”, in the “cradle of Christianity” 

Both patriarchs thank the benefactors for their help, without which “many of us would be dead, have starved to death, frozen or already fled.” To quote Patriarch Sako, “We are all very thankful for this help. However, what is most needed is mercy. For this reason I would like to ask you at the beginning of this Lenten period and especially on Ash Wednesday: pray and fast for peace in our country! Pray and fast that God has mercy on us! Pray and fast that we may remain in our homelands, that the refugees may return to their villages and cities.”


According to Bishop Sako, “the war in Iraq and Syria is taking on apocalyptic dimensions.”

The human race is facing the largest humanitarian catastrophe since the end of World War II. Once thriving cities such as Mosul and the villages on the Nineveh plains have been reduced to rubble. “Those who could flee, did. Millions of children in refugee camps are waiting for their daily bread, but they thirst for a future, they want schools and a home. They want to return to their homelands, as do their parents and relatives.” In this situation, Aid to the Church in Need is “like a mother to us,” Patriarch Sako said. “I know that you are also doing this out of love for Christ. And that is the reason for my request: pray and fast that we may remain in our beloved homeland. So that we may also experience a resurrection from the rubble, an Easter in the Land of Abraham.”



S.B. Grégoire III Laham, patriarche de l’Église melkite grecque catholique en Syrie. « Cela fait cinq ans que nous traversons maintenant le désert ».

S.B. Gregorios III Laham, patriarch of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church on Syria. “For five years we have been journeying through the desert”

Patriarch Gregorios drew attention to the dramatic situation in Syria, the “cradle of Christianity”.

“Our faith is put to the test day after day. We see the suffering of the children, the pain of the parents, we are surrounded by hatred and death. We want to be able to live in peace once more in our beloved homeland.” For five years now, Patriarch Gregorios said, “we have been wandering through the desert. For us, your continuous help is like the manna that God gave to the Israelites to save them from starvation.”

The Christians in Syria “steadfastly believe that the Way of the Cross is necessary to achieve the glory of Resurrection.

However, even the Lord Himself had comforters and helpers at His side on the way to Golgotha: Simeon of Cyrene helped Christ carry the cross, Saint Veronica passed Him the veil, His Most Holy Mother and St. John the Apostle stood at the foot of the cross.” And so the Christians in Syria are hoping “for the comfort and aid of our brothers and sisters” and are now cordially asking people to join them on Ash Wednesday “for a day of fasting and prayer, a day on which we would like to entreat God together that He may finally grant our country the long-awaited peace.” Patriarch Gregorios concluded his letter with the words: “Your prayers, your encouragement and your support help us in our suffering. For this reason I would like to extend my invitation once more:

Please fast and pray with us! It is impossible that the Lord will not answer the combined prayers and sacrifices of His children. The most heartfelt thanks for everything!”

The international charity “Aid to the church in need” embraces the appeal of the patriarchs from Syria and Iraq. Under the slogan “Will you carry the cross for one day with them? Fast and pray on Ash Wednesday for Iraq and Syria,” ACN calls Christians from all over the world to fast and pray intensively on Ash Wednesday (February 10th). That way Christians can unite spiritually with their suffering brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq.


The campaign will be advertised in the social media with the hashtags 

#FastandPray, #CarrytheCross, #AshWednesday, #Lent2016.

Will you carry the message?


Since March of 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has granted aid money totaling 40,121,500 million Canadian dollars to Christians and members of other religions in Syria and Iraq. Last month, the aid organisation began 19 aid programs, and will add another 20 emergency aid programs in the coming months.


Holy Mass at St. Joseph chapel celebrating Immaculate conception


Press release: Christians of the Middle East: Genocide underway

03.02.2016 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, European Union, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Refugees, Religious freedom, Syria

Montreal, Canada

Christians of the Middle East: Genocide underway

Montreal, Wednesday February 3, 2016 – “Christians of Iraq were numbered 1.5 million in 2004 and are now only 250.000, those who remain are risking their lives each day,” writes Marie-Claude Lalonde National Director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in a letter sent today to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, as well as to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion and the Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett. In her letter, she did not hesitate to speak of ‘genocide’.


As the national director of the international Catholic charity’s Canadian office for 15 years, she also points out the terrible fate of Christians in Syria who saw their numbers drop from 1.1 million in early 2011, to no more than 250,000 today.


“ It is clear the Christians left because of the war, but especially because they knew that if the Islamic State crossed their path it would mean conversion to Islam by force, death, torture, or slavery (in the case of women and children).” The situation “has taken on an apocalyptic scope, “she considers using the same words used by Msgr Louis Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Christians in Iraq.

Syria, 2013: funerals following atrocities by Islamic State.

Syria, 2013: funerals following atrocities by Islamic State.


Marie-Claude Lalonde is inviting Canada to follow suit with the European Parliament (detailed below) and to “take position, publicly, to defend the rights of the minority Christians – and other religious minorities – of Iraq and of Syria. “ The Lithuanian Parliament already adopted a similar resolution last December speaking of genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle-East.

The recognition of genocide


Thursday, the European parliament will recognize that atrocities committed by ISIS (Daesh) against religious minorities in Syrian and Iraq are related not only to crimes of war or to crimes against humanity, but also to genocide. Resolution 2091 (2016) recognizes that “the individuals acting in the name of the terrorist organization which calls itself Daesh […] have perpetrated acts of genocide and other grave crimes punishable under international law.”


Under international law, the “crime of genocide” has a precise definition. It refers to crimes “committed with the intention of destroying, totally or partially a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Thus it is evident that the Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide. International law imposes on states and on the international community the obligation to prevent genocide, to defend those groups that are the object of genocide and to convict and punish those responsible.

Commiting, intending to commit, or complicity in the act of genocide; who incites genocide, must be punished by the law. Consequently, all persons or organizations, – which commits, intends to commit or is complicit in the act of genocide, or who incites to genocide, must be punished by the law.


Syria: an Icon destroyed by the Islamic State

Syria: an Icon destroyed by the Islamic State

According to ACN, recognition of the genocide is the first fundamental step for ensuring that the international community takes action. The use of the term genocide not only holds a powerful symbolic meaning, but in practice the international community must be ready to act when it faces an action that has formally been declared as genocide.


In 2015, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support of local churches in Iraq was greater than 15 million dollars, and rose to over 8 million dollars in Syria. This, notwithstanding the aid already given in countries where Christisna are in refugee situations such as in Lebanon, Jordan and also in Turkey.


Read the letter of Marie-Claude Lalonde, adressed to Prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, ministre of Foreign affair, Stéphane Dion, and freedom of religion Ambassador, Andrew Bennett.

Read Here

ACN Press Release – Destruction of an ancient monastery in Mosul

22.01.2016 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Persecution of Christians, Press Release, Religious freedom


“A symbol of our presence”

Christians in Iraq are distressed at the destruction of Iraq’s oldest monastery by ISIS

Since it was made known that Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery was destroyed by the terrorist militia “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” ISIS there has been widespread distress in Iraq.

“St. Elijah’s Monastery in Mosul was a symbol of the Christian presence in Iraq. The fact that it has been destroyed is terrible,” Father Dankha Issa told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Thursday. Father Dankha is an Iraqi monk belonging to the Antonian Order of Saint Ormizda of the Chaldeans, a religious community of the Chaldean Church which is in full communion with Rome.


The “sons of devils” relentlessly destroy

Before he was forced to flee ISIS in 2014, he lived in Saint George’s Monastery in Mosul. “St. Elijah’s Monastery was over 1,400 years old. It stood abandoned for a long time, but it meant a lot to us Christians. It was an expression of our extremely long history in Iraq.” Father Dankha said what had affected him most was that clearly; no-one was able to stop the jihadis. “It is the sons of the devil who do such work. We can only pray for them. God alone can help us.”

On Wednesday, the American news agency AP, announced that ISIS had razed St. Elijah’s Monastery to the ground. An analysis of satellite pictures of the sites conducted on behalf of the agency revealed that the monastery was actually destroyed somewhere between August and September 2014.


ISIS deliberate in its destruction of religious sites

Thousands of Christians lived in the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul in Northern Iraq right up to its conquest in June 2014, fleeing immediately following the jihadi conquest or leaving the city after receiving an ultimatum by the self-appointed ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014.

ISIS has deliberately destroyed a large number of sites of religious and cultural significance in Iraq and Syria. Worldwide concern had followed the destruction of the 1,600-year-old Mar Elian Monastery in the Syrian city of al-Qaryatayn in August of last year after the town was overtaken by ISIS. In a number of cases where ISIS has been involved, churches and church institutions were also put to different use, for instance turned into prisons.


More of the story in Mosul in the video below: 



By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada