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Violence against Christians

 

COVID-19- Sri Lanka: Betrayal of the victims

01.05.2020 in ACN Intl, ACN NEWS, Sri Lanka, Violence against Christians

Sri Lanka: Victims Betrayed

 

On the first anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Easter day attacks, a priest who ministered to the wounded and dying that day has warned that more innocent people could be killed by suicide bombers – and that the government is to blame for not doing enough to bring the culprits to justice.

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web May 1, 2020

Speaking exactly 12 months on from the blasts, which killed more than 250 people and injured at least 500 others, Father Nishantha Cooray said Sri Lanka’s new government does not want to bring the culprits to trial for fear of upsetting Muslim politicians in the country.

 

About 135 people were arrested following the April 21, 2019 attacks, of which lslamist extremists were accused of bombing hotels and churches packed with people attending Easter services.

 

Father Cooray warned: “If the government does not take the necessary steps to find the persons responsible, there will be many more attacks in the future.” Questioning the state inquiry into the killings, he said: “Although we have completed one year [since the bombings], no acceptable step has been taken in arresting the persons involved in the crime.”

 

The Franciscan, who gave his testimony in London’s Houses of Parliament at last October’s launch of ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith, said: “As a priest who ministered at the funerals of victims of the attacks and who experienced the true agony of my people, I wait for them to have justice.”  Saying that the new government, elected in November, had been slow to act, like the previous administration, he added: “The newly elected government started the second chapter of the same book with the same writing style… They did not want to hurt the Muslim politicians.”

 

Father Cooray said the new government has broken an election promise made to the Church that it would arrest those suspected of involvement in the Easter Day blasts, a pledge, he said, that had garnered many votes. Now, we feel as if we are betrayed. Just to arouse the emotions of the people, the representatives of the government say something about the investigations [into the bombings]. It is only a good slogan for the next election.”

Aid to the Church in Need has provided support for bomb survivors and their families and Father Cooray said: “The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka helped the families of the victims in every possible way. The Buddhists extended their generosity tremendously as well. This was a wonderful time in which we experience religious harmony immensely.”

 

In spite of the COVID-19 curfew in Sri Lanka, the anniversary of the Easter blasts is being marked with the ringing of church bells, a two-minute silence and a lamp lit in memory of the dead.

 

Sri Lanka’s Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, used the occasion of his Easter Mass to say that Catholics in the country had forgiven those responsible for the blasts.

ACN Interview in Mozambique Cabo Delgado Province with Bishop of Pemba

20.02.2020 in By Paolo Aldo, Journey with ACN, Violence against Christians

 Mozambique

Cabo Delgado Province – continuing attacks “a tragedy” says Bishop of Pemba

By Paulo Aido & Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web February 20, 2020

The continuing attacks in northern Mozambique have already claimed over 500 lives and left thousands displaced, according to Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of the diocese of Pemba.

The wave of violence that has affected this northernmost province of Mozambique since October 2017 shows no signs of coming to an end. Bishop Lisboa confirmed that there were “six attacks” in the province of Cabo Delgado in the two days of 29 and 30 January this year, causing a general exodus of the population and leaving behind a broad swathe of destruction in the villages of the administrative centres of Bilibiza and Mahate, both of which belong to the district of Quissanga, approximately 75 miles (120 km) from the city of Pemba. The bishop described the attacks as “a tragedy.” One of them “targeted the agricultural school in Bilibiza; a teacher training school, which has over 500 students,” he added.

“I heard that the school was burned down, then they smashed up other shops and businesses nearby,” the bishop explained. “It is a very sad fact that the defense and security forces are unable to contain these attacks without international support. It has already been [going on for] two years and three months… If the government of Mozambique had done something to improve the conditions, then perhaps this problem would have been resolved – but instead many people are dying,” Bishop Lisboa told ACN.

In his interview with ACN, given during a visit to Portugal, Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa explained that although there are no official statistics of the number of people who have lost their lives, he is certain that the number of people killed must now be at least 500 since the violent attacks began near the end of 2017 on villages, administrative centres and army personnel. The killers have left decapitated bodies behind as a sign of the terror they are causing among for the population.

“There will be hunger…”

The present situation is causing direct repercussions on the daily lives of the people. “The villages are being left empty, and people are not planting their crops – which means that there will be hunger, and we will have thousands of internal refugees”, the bishop explained. According to the UN figures, there are approximately 60,000 internally displaced people as a result of the attacks on the villages in this region of northern Mozambique. However, Bishop Lisboa thinks the figures should also include other displaced people among the victims, for example those made homeless by Cyclone Kenneth. “I think the total number could be nearer to 100,000 internally displaced people,” he suggested.

A regional threat from Islamic fundamentalism

The region of Cabo Delgado, in northeast Mozambique, has suffered numerous attacks by armed groups. Bishop Fernando Luiz Lisboa recalls that at the beginning of the attacks in October 2017 local Muslim leaders had clearly distanced themselves from the attacks and condemned them. “When the attacks began, and it was being said that it was the work of a radical Islamist group, the Muslims distanced themselves from it and said, ‘They don’t belong to us, they are bandits.’ But we are concerned and saddened, because it does indeed seem that they are the work of a radical Islamist group.”

The intensification of the attacks might signal a threat to regional security, and there are signs that the authorities in neighbouring Tanzania are also on the alert. For in fact Tanzania is regarded by experts in the field of terrorism as something of a safe haven and place of recruitment for extremist militants, who can move easily across the border between the two countries.

If so, this would be “of grave concern” says the bishop of Pemba, since “if there is an international or transnational network involved it means that they are much stronger and it will be much more difficult to put a stop to them.”

 

“I am not afraid”

Nobody knows the real size of the terrorist groups operating in the North of Mozambique. The Christian community feels threatened, and the bishop himself knows that he might well be the target of one of these attacks. “I am aware that this could happen, but quite honestly, I am not afraid. I’m simply trying to fulfill my own role, which is to support the missionaries who are already there, in the direct line of fire, in the districts where the attacks are taking place. They are being extremely brave. I praise God and I thank them for the courage they are showing, because at all events they are the oasis that the people need, someone to whom they can turn to, cry out to, complain and tell their problems and seek some kind of help… None of them has abandoned their posts; they are still there, and so I have no right to be afraid. It is precisely so that I can support and help them to continue their mission that I am trying to do mine to the best of my ability.”

 

ACN International is helping

Speaking to ACN shortly before returning to Mozambique, Bishop Fernando Lisboa also expressed his gratitude to ACN International for the projects the charity is supporting in his diocese. “ACN has helped a great deal,” he said. “We have various different projects, such as vehicles for the missionaries, and for the formation and support of our seminarians. This help is important, because without the support of international organizations like ACN it would be very difficult for poor dioceses like our own, and like the majority of African dioceses and many Asian and Latin American ones, to fulfill our work.”

ACN News – “2019 was a year of martyrs”

10.01.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Thomas Heine-Geldern, Urgent need, Violence against Christians, World

ACN International

Initial assessment of the last year: “2019 was a year of martyrs”

by Maria Lozano & Jürgen Liminski, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Published on the web, January 10, 2019

Thomas Heine-Geldern, president of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), gives an initial assessment of the last year for Christians around the world: “2019 was a year of martyrs, one of the bloodiest for Christians in history culminating in the attacks on three churches in Sri Lanka that cost more than 250 people their lives. We are also very concerned about the situation in China and India.”

On a positive note, “politicians and opinion leaders in Western Europe are talking about religious freedom much more frequently now.” As a particularly encouraging example, Heine-Geldern mentioned the video message recorded by the British heir apparent, Prince Charles, for Aid to the Church in Need at Christmas. In this video, Prince Charles refers to the growing suffering and persecution of Christians all over the world and calls for solidarity.

In this context, Heine-Geldern again called upon multinational and international organizations – such as the European Union and the United Nations – to enable and protect religious freedom as a fundamental human right on all levels and in all countries. “More and more is being said about it, but still too little is being done. It is difficult to believe that in a country like France, attacks against Christian institutions far exceeded 230 in number past year. Also shocking were the events in Chile, where 40 churches have been desecrated and damaged since mid-October.”

 

 

Funeral of Fr Simeon Yampa and 5 faithful after the terrorist attack in the parish church of Dablo on 12 May 2019 (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Distress over Christmas executions

Looking towards Africa, the president of ACN expressed his deep concern for the situation of Christians in Nigeria, where Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram have been keeping the North and the area along the border to Cameroon in a state of fear. “On Christmas Eve, Kwarangulum, a village in the state of Borno that is inhabited by Christians, was attacked by jihadists. Seven people were shot dead, a young woman was kidnapped and the houses and the church were burned down. Only a day later, a faction of ISIS (Daesh) released a video that they claimed showed the execution of ten Christians and a Muslim in north-eastern Nigeria. We are deeply distressed by this. We are celebrating while others are in mourning and live in fear.”

According to Heine-Geldern, 2019 was also a disastrous year for Christians in Burkina Faso. He went on to describe how, little by little, Christians are being pushed out in some parts of the country. Schools and chapels have had to be closed. “Our sources have reported at least seven attacks on Catholic and Protestant communities that have led to the deaths of 34 Christians – among them two priests and two pastors. Our project partners talk about attempts to destabilize the country, foment religious conflict and stir up violence.”

 

A prayer vigil in Baghdeda, Iraq – 2019

“Many attacks on this community of Christians”

The situation of the Christians in the Middle East is always in his thoughts and prayers. In this context, Heine-Geldern quoted the words of the Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Matti Warda, which drew attention to the dangers and situation of the Christians in Iraq: the invasion of the terrorist Islamic State was only “one of many attacks on this community of Christians.” The bishop had further said that the invasion had been preceded by a number of other attacks in the history “and with every attack, the number of Christians in Iraq – and Syria – is reduced dramatically.” According to the bishop, the escalating crisis in Lebanon exacerbates the situation of the Christians in the country and at the same time has as a side effect the creation of many obstacles for providing aid to Syria.

Nevertheless, Heine-Geldern looks back at the year with gratitude. “The beauty of our work is that, in addition to the cross and the suffering, we can also experience at first hand the deep devotion and love of a large number of people. Take Syria as an example. A country that de facto is still at war and is suffering from the repercussions of war. Over the past few years, we have visited the country several times and it is awe-inspiring how everyone – dedicated lay people, religious sisters, priests and bishops, supported by the generosity of our benefactors – is doing everything possible and impossible to alleviate the spiritual and material hardships of the people.”

ACN Press Release: Red Wednesday 2019 – On November 20th, all across Canada Show your solidarity!

12.11.2019 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, RED WEDNESDAY, Violence against Christians

Red Wednesday 2019
On November 20th, all across Canada
Show your solidarity!

 

Montréal, November 12, 2019 – For the second year in a row, Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) is organizing and coordinating Red Wednesday – #RedWednesday – a day of action to raise awareness of the plight of more than 300 million Christians around the world who live in countries where religious persecution is rampant.  On November 20th, support them!

 

“I invite people organizing an activity as part of this day to contact us so that we can announce it on the ACN Canada website,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director. One of the proposed activities is to illuminate in red an emblematic building, whether religious or civil. “This year, there are new participants: the Grand Séminaire de Montréal – which will be partially illuminated – and the pro-cathedral of The Assumption in North Bay, where prayers will be said at the 12:05 Mass  in solidarity with persecuted Christians.” Along with the liturgies that will be celebrated at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal, the Grand Seminaire de Montréal and St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto will also be illuminated. Finally, in the Diocese of Calgary, activities should be announced shortly. In this diocese last year, more than 50 activities were scheduled. To learn more about the 2019 edition and find materials to participate: https://acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/ .

 

Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19: A deepening crisis

In Canada, November also marks the release of a biennial ACN report on religious freedom around the world. “This year’s report, which documents exclusively the situation of Christians, does not have anything good to say. In Persecuted and forgotten? 2017-19, we fear for the survival of the historic Christian communities of Syria, but even more so those of Iraq,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. Since 2003, the number of Christians has decreased by 90%, from 1.5 million to less than 150,000. The most pessimistic speak instead of 120,000.

 

“Despite the efforts of our organization to rebuild Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh plains, we fear that the Christian presence in Iraq will be a thing of the past in only a few years. We’ve been talking about it for years, but it seems like the international community is giving no concrete answer to this threat of extinction,” said Mrs. Lalonde.

 

She also pointed out that between 2017-19, the situation in South and East Asia deteriorated the most. “In India, attacks on Christians took place in 24 of the 29 states of the subcontinent, and there are anti-conversion laws in nine states. Hindutva – Hindu nationalism – is partly responsible for this. It advocates the return of a purely Hindu India where only religious traditions derived from it (Buddhism, Jain, Sikh) would be recognized. On the contrary, Christianity and Islam are seen by the promoters of Hindutva as foreign elements that cannot participate in the construction of the country. ”

Photo: Cross desecrated in the remains of a burned church (Egypt).

Finally, sub-Saharan Africa is more than ever under attack. “Christians and moderate Muslims are victims of groups claiming to be Islamic State (IS). In Nigeria, 19 people who attended Mass – including two priests – were killed by armed men and responsibility for the attack was claimed by Fulani Islamist shepherds,” said Lalonde.

She concluded, “In 2020 I will have been National Director for 20 years, and I have not seen a decrease in the persecution against Christians. It’s very difficult. However, events such as Red Wednesday, and the growing interest of more and more Christian communities in Canada to organize an event, give me hope. It does not solve anything right away, but it may be the beginning of a better knowledge that people will have about this global phenomenon.”

 

Nigeria: Already in 2015, the diocese of Maiduguri was targeted by Boko Haram. In this photo, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme visits a church that was burned by terrorists.

  

 

To read the report Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19, visit the ACN Canada website at https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/

 

 

*ACN’s articles and press releases are given freely for partial or full publication on condition that ©Aid to the Church in Need is mentioned as the source.

*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 contact details 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 139 countries. (our Annual Report).

ACN News: Fate of Christians tied to deadly Iraq protests 

04.11.2019 in Iraq, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Violence against Christians

Iraq

Fate of Christians tied to deadly Iraq protests


by Xavier Bisits, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted Monday November 4, 2019
  Although Iraqi Christians, concentrated in the north of the country, lie far from the epicentre of deadly protests in Baghdad, their fate may be tied to the outcome of what demonstrators in Iraq are calling a “revolution.”

While protesters in Baghdad have emphasized interfaith unity, protests have in fact been concentrated in Iraq’s nine Shiite provinces, with limited involvement from the Sunni Muslim and minority-dominated north.

Most Christians live close to Mosul, Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab city, where the streets have been quiet. Mosul residents told ACN that after three years of war, people are tired of violence and “do not want war anymore.” Protesting, they also said, might lead to accusations that they are ISIS sympathizers trying to bring down the Iran-backed regime—leading to an even more violent reaction from the militias and security services who control the city.

Christians, meanwhile, largely live in towns where, because of the fraught security situation, protesting is banned by security forces and the Nineveh Provincial Council. At most, some churches have held services calling for peace. At Sts. Behnam and Sarah Church in Baghdeda (Quaraqosh), the largest Christian city in Iraq, Catholics gathered to pray for peace in their country, with altar servers carrying Iraqi flags for the occasion.

Mgr.-Yohanna-Petros-Mouche

Christians and other minorities: victims of political strife

Many of the issues highlighted by protesters in Baghdad are the same ones faced by young Christians: unemployment, corruption, and a government motivated by Iranian interests. In the Nineveh Plains, many Christians live under the control of Iranian-backed militias, who have been accused of extorting the local population, interfering with the economy, and intimidating minorities.

These factors explain why some Christians, mostly young, in the Nineveh Plains, have expressed solidarity with the protesters, some of them apologizing on social media for not being able to come out on the streets. On October 27, a group of Christian activists launched a campaign of solidarity, with the slogan: “We are Christians of the Nineveh Plains, in solidarity with our fellow protests. We apologize for not being able to demonstrate because in our cities we are not allowed to demonstrate.”

Other Christians express skepticism about how much the protests will achieve and concerns about violence. Since the protests began on October 1, at least 200 protesters have been killed at the hands of the Iraqi police. If the situation deteriorates, it would not be the first time that Christians and other religious minorities became the victim in the political strife that has characterized Iraq since 2003. Between 2003 and 2017, at least 1,357 Christians were murdered by hostile sectarian militant groups, according to the Shlomo Organization for Documentation—bystanders in a civil war that disproportionately affected Iraq’s ancient religious minorities.

The Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche, told ACN: “It is just and appropriate that the oppressed and others deprived of their rights demonstrate—provided that they will be listened to and respected.

deadly-protests-in-Iraq

Expressing their peace

‘This is not the case in Iraq. There is no government, no respect for the human person, and people may use these circumstances to take revenge on others. Moreover, in the Nineveh Plains, we have had enough. “I hope that prayer will, in some way, play a role, accompanied by an intervention that will make things calmer and bring different ideas together. In the end, it’s the people who will be the victim.”

In a statement, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Raphael Sako, who on October 28 cancelled a planned trip to Hungary and visited wounded protesters in a hospital in Baghdad, called on the government to listen to protesters: “We appeal to the conscience of Iraqi Officials, who are in charge, to listen seriously to their people, who are complaining of the current miserable situation, the deterioration of services, and the spread of corruption, leading to such crisis.”

“This is the first time for the Iraqi people, since 2003, to express their peacefulness away from politicization, breaking sectarian barriers and emphasizing their Iraqi national identity.

ACN Feature Report: Christians as victims of global developments

06.05.2019 in Religious Freedom Report, Sri Lanka, United Nations, Venezuela, Violence against Christians, World

WORLD

2019 – One of the bloodiest years for Christians thus far 

The papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has voiced concern in the face of increasing attacks on Christians all over the world. “As the brutal bombings perpetrated against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday show, 2019 is already one of the bloodiest years for Christians,” declared the executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern.

The charity, which brings aid to poor and persecuted Christians in more than 140 countries, has become aware of and reported publicly on, among others, the following anti-religious attacks in the first four months of the year alone:
  • – Attacks by Islamist Séléka militia on a catholic mission station in Bangassou Diocese in the Central African Republic in which dozens were killed and around 20,000 people fled the violence at the first of January;

  • – The Islamist attack on the cathedral of Jolo in the southern Philippines which killed 20 people and injured around 90 at the end of January;

  • – Attacks by members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen tribe on Christian villagers in the Nigerian state of Kaduna in mid-March that left more than 130 dead; and,

  • – Attacks by extremist Hindu nationalists on a Catholic school in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu at the end of March, in which the nuns who worked there were categorically hunted down.

Jesus

Christians as victims of global developments

Heine-Geldern

“The atrocities in Sri Lanka mark the bloody climax of a trend that has endured for some years now: the persecution of Christians knows no bounds. It knows no let-up, especially on the holiest days of the Christian calendar. It knows no mercy on innocent people, who are often made scapegoats for global developments,” Heine-Geldern explains.

Following the attacks in Sri Lanka responsibility was claimed by the Islamic State terrorist militia. Security authorities harbour the assumption that the bombings may have been organized in retaliation for the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand where, in mid-March, a 28-year-old man killed 49 people in two mosques.

Aid to the Church in Need also points to the continuing Islamist threat in the Middle East, as well as the violence by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. “To say that IS has been beaten militarily and therefore no longer exists is a fallacy – the ideology lives on, as do its supporters; the contact channels appear to be working. Our project partners in the Middle East remain extremely concerned,” states Heine-Geldern.

Religion often used as a political weapon to plunge countries into chaos. Most recently additional concerns for the charity have arisen about the situation in countries on the American continent such as Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela, where bishops and priests have suffered repeated attacks as a result of political turmoil. “Here it is a mixture of political ideology and the accusation that the Church is meddling because it calls on people to resist authoritarian governments and corruption. This makes it a target for aggression and violence,” Heine-Geldern says.

 Religion: used as a weapon

In many parts of the world religion is used as a political weapon to destabilize countries and plunge them into chaos. This, Heine-Geldern continues, is what is happening again in Sri Lanka. There the Church is trying extremely hard to prevent outrage at the atrocities from spiralling into further violence. “Social stability is based to a large extent on the peaceful coexistence of the various faiths. This is something many of our project partners are working to achieve,” comments Heine-Geldern.

It is rare for anti-Christian attacks to attract public attention. Thus, the perilous situation in which the Christian minority in Pakistan finds itself first became internationally known through the fate of Asia Bibi, a mother who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy and acquitted by the court of last instance. Together with other organisations, Aid to the Church in Need had campaigned for her release. Notwithstanding this, Asia Bibi’s fate still remains uncertain.

Religious and political extremism: main causes of persecution

Extremist Islamism, excessive nationalism and authoritarian ideologies are still the main drivers of persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. This is also the conclusion of the Religious Freedom Report, the latest edition of which ACN presented in November 2018 and which illuminates the situation in 196 countries. “We note with great concern that, regrettably, none of these three trends has diminished – quite the contrary. This is currently evident among other places in African states such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin, where the hostilities on mission stations, priests and nuns have dramatically increased. People are becoming more and more frightened,” Heine-Geldern observes. According to Heine-Geldern, this distressing development must be challenged. “It is the duty of governments and the UN to bring about peace, to guarantee freedom of religion and to repel anti-religious attacks,” says Heine-Geldern. As for Church, Heine-Geldern says, their role is to stand by the persecuted Christians through prayer and active support and to give them a voice and a face. “ACN has been campaigning for this for more than 70 years. In view of the growing violence against Christians, it is a cause worthy of every support and every effort.”

The 2018 Report on Religious Freedom is available at : www.religious-freedom-report.org.  
For a quicker overview, please go to view our summary version for the report:  Religious Freedom Report 2018

ACN Feature Story – Bitter memories of time of terror for the priests in Zanzibar

08.03.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN Interview, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Priests, TANZANIA, Tanzania, Violence against Christians, Zanzibar

Father Damas Mfoi: “There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work.”

Father Damas Mfoi is a Catholic priest in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a small Christian population. Since 2010, Father Mfoi has been a parish priest on the main island of Unguja. In 2012, the otherwise peaceful island community witnessed a series of violent attacks on religious leaders. A Muslim cleric was burned with acid in the fall of that year; a Catholic priest suffered gunshot wounds on Christmas Day 2012, and another was shot to death the following February. At the time, leaflets were distributed to incite violence, some of which bore the stamp of the radical Islamist group Uamsho. However, responsibility for the attacks has yet to be claimed or officially assigned. Father Mfoi tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) of the time of terror.

Interview by Anne Kidmose

 

“It was Christmas 2012, and we had planned to go for supper until we heard that Father Ambrose had been shot. Church leaders were in a state of shock, and we could no longer have our shared meal. We were frightened. We rushed to the hospital, but cautiously, as it was announced via leaflets that Church leaders would be killed, and that churches would be destroyed.

 

When we arrived, Father Ambrose was still bleeding, and he couldn’t talk. The following day, he was flown to Dar es Salaam for further treatment. After that, it was our faith that kept us here. People on the mainland called us home, but as Christians committed to the Gospel, we knew from the very beginning that ours was a mission of suffering, and that our lives might be threatened. There was no running away.

 

More leaflets were distributed, saying that Muslims should not allow the sale of alcohol, or the presence of churches. They were published anonymously, but today we know who they are. We didn’t know what would happen, though some said that they were just idle threats. But less than three months later, Father Evaristus Mushi was struck, and tragedy befell us.

 

It was a Sunday morning at 7:15 A.M.; I was saying Mass in a small church. A non-Catholic neighbour came running in; he shouted, “Father Damas, I have something to tell you!” He told me that Father Mushi was dead, the victim of a shooting. Some man shot him that morning, when he was parked in front of his church. I drove to the other churches to say Mass; now that Father Mushi was dead, I had to carry out the mission of Christ alone.

 

News of Father Mushi’s death rippled throughout the community, but that wasn’t the end of it. After we buried him and paid our last respects, a group of women came to our gates, crying. I told them, ‘Don’t cry now. Father Mushi is in heaven.’ One replied, ‘Father, she is not crying over Father Mushi. She is crying because of you.’ The assailants targeted me because I had built too many churches.

 

Father Damas Mfoi at the grave of Father Evaristus Mushi

The next morning, I escaped to the mainland, and a month later, I returned. I thought to myself, ‘There is no abandoning our mission. Jesus wouldn’t want to see us fail. There are Christians still here—why should their leaders run?’

 

Upon my return, I found that the police had set up a command post within my compound, and over the next two years, they patrolled the area because of the tension that lingered. The government took good care of us, but we knew, above all, that God protected us. When I was offered a bodyguard, I refused, believing that the work of Jesus did not require a machine gun; He promised his people that he would be with us until the end of time.

 

Six or seven months passed, and for a while, we thought that the worst was over, though security was still tight. But come September, a priest had acid splashed on him as he was leaving his regular café. He survived the attack but sustained major injuries.

 

There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work. We talk to people in the community, and we tell them that we believe God created us all and gave us the freedom to believe in whatever way we were taught. Muslims are taught about Muhammad; Christians are taught about Jesus Christ. We should all do our best to respect that and avoid mixing politics with religion.”

 

In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Church in Tanzania with projects totaling more than 2,5 Million dollars.

 

On line: March 8, 2019


 

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’s Interview – Sever discrimination in the heart of Europe

26.04.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Bosnia Herzegovina, by Tobias Lehner, Discrimination, EU, Europe, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Violence against Christians

Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Open war against the Catholic Church”

 

The guns have been silent in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 23 years. However, according to Bishop Franjo Komarica, the country is like a powder keg. Head of the diocese of Banja Luka in the northern part of the country, the 72-year-old does not believe in beating about the bush, particularly when the discussion turns to the Catholic Croat minority. He believes that Catholic Croats are still being kept from returning and that they are disadvantaged economically, socially and religiously. He is making serious charges against the governments of Europe: they are turning a blind eye to the religious discrimination.

 

In an interview with Tobias Lehner during a visit to the headquarters of the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Germany, Bishop Komarica discusses why a growing number of Catholics are leaving the country, but how, in spite of everything, the church is living reconciliation.

Bishop Franjo Komarica, bishop of the diocese of Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina), in visit the Headquarter of Aid to the Church in Need, Germany. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tobias Lehner: Bishop Komarica, the Bosnian War officially came to an end in 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Accords. But how are things really?

Bishop Franjo Komarica: The guns may be silent, but the war continues in other arenas. “Controlled chaos” reigns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is my impression that neither the government nor the international community is interested in building up a constitutional state that guarantees equal rights to all ethnic groups and human rights also for minorities. Bosnia and Herzegovina are effectively still a semi-protectorate of the United Nations. A part of the state authority is exercised by a “High Commissioner” (since 2009, Austrian native Valentin Inzko; editor’s note). But he claims that his hands are tied in terms of the political developments in the country. The country remains divided into three ethnic groups: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. The smallest of the ethnic groups, the vast majority of Croats are Catholic. They lean more towards Europe. The Serbs, most of them Orthodox, are very much under the influence of Russia. And the Muslim Bosnians are turning more and more towards Turkey and the Islamic world. This gives rise to dangerous centrifugal forces. And that is not only damaging to the country, but also to Europe!

 

What do you mean by this?

The hostilities between the Serbian and Bosnian people are purposefully being kept alive by forces outside of the country. The country continues to be a powder keg! And the Croats are caught in between. Hundreds of thousands of them were displaced during the war, and today, more than twenty years after the fact, they still cannot return, even though the Dayton Accords guarantee them the right to return. The opposite has happened: many are still leaving for other countries. The Conference of Bishops has repeatedly asked for the Dayton Accords to be amended to give the Croat minority more security. They have yet to be accorded equality.

 

Why is the Catholic minority receiving unequal treatment?

The Croats are not being treated as a constitutive ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many foreign governments also recognize only two ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Serbs and the Bosnians. This has grave consequences, as is shown by the example of the Republika Srbska (the Republika Srbska was established by the Dayton Accords as the “second entity” of the federal state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is made up of extensive areas of land in the northern and eastern parts of the country; editor’s note). Only about five per cent of the Catholics who once lived in the 69 parishes that existed in this region before the war have returned. In other parts of the country, Catholics are still leaving. The Croats receive neither political, nor legal, nor financial support. It is almost impossible for them to rebuild their homes or find work. They are the subjects of systemic discrimination. This is badly damaging the entire country. The other religions agree, by the way. I recently talked with the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. He also says: “It is imperative that the Croats remain here!”

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Financial support for pastoral activities of the archiepiscopal youth ministry Ivan Pavao II in Sarajevo.

 

The highest-ranking Muslim in the country thus recognizes the problem. Do his brothers and sisters in faith do so as well? It is currently being reported that the Muslims are becoming radicalized in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well…

Yes, this development does exist. But the threat to our very existence is even worse than the religious discrimination. To be explicit: we can maintain our faith even during persecution – and we have done so. But when the Catholics have no right to their homeland and to their property, this is even more destructive. One example: the mayor of one town in my diocese said to me, “You may not build a church here.” Even though a Catholic parish had been located there before the war! He did not have the right to do so, because religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And so I lodged a protest. But it was turned down by the next highest authority as well. Finally, I went to the representative of OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, responsible for coordinating the reconstruction process; editor’s note). He said to me, “Bishop, I forbid you to build a church!” I showed him pictures of the old parish church as well as a picture of its priest who was murdered during the war. He neither apologized, nor approved the church-building project. This is an open war against the Catholic Church. I was repeatedly told, “You Catholics need to get out of this country!”

 

Outside of the country, little is known about the dire circumstances of the Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What are they asking the international community to do?

Politicians need to finally acknowledge what is happening and condemn the severe discrimination that is taking place right in the middle of Europe. This is particularly true for the Christians. I expect anyone who is serious about their faith to support the disenfranchised people of my homeland – in word and deed. Our appeals have not been heard up until this point. And there have been so many of them! Quo vadis, Europe? Quo vadis, Christianity in Europe? If we just look the other way and tolerate this kind of development on our own doorstep, how do we want to help other people understand our Christian values?

 

So much hate and discord has been sown in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In spite of all of this, what can the Catholic Church do to reunite the society?

We Catholics are the oldest community of faith in the country. We feel it is our duty to help our homeland restore a just and permanent peace! Most of our reconciliation work is carried out through our social services and education, particularly our Catholic schools. And that despite being punished politically for our commitment! That is why I am so grateful to Catholic charities such as Aid to the Church in Need, because they draw attention to our circumstances and support us. I will continue to give voice to the truth, even though I have already been physically assaulted because of it. Our opponents will win if we remain silent!

Bosnia and Herzegovina: diocese of Banja Luka. ACN supported this activity for young people in the diocese.

 

The worldwide pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has been helping Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina for more than three decades. Most of the aid it has provided has been used to rebuild churches, convents and monasteries that were destroyed during the war and renovate a seminary. ACN also provides funding for the acquisition of vehicles for pastoral care, the development of pastoral centres, the training of priests and religious and for subsistence aid for contemplative orders. Church youth and press work are also among the projects it supports.

 

 

 


 

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.