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Violence against Christians

 

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.


 

ACN Feature Story – Nepal: Fear looms after attack

05.05.2017 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, Nepal, Persecution of Christians, Violence against Christians
Two days after Easter celebrations – a criminal fire was set damaging parts of the Church of the Assumption – Photo of debris in the garage area.  Credit: Kashish Das Shrestha and Sudhir Bhandari

Nepal

Fear looms after attack

A tiny Catholic community unsettled and fearful after the unexpected attack on the Cathedral of the Assumption

The attack took place at 3 a.m. on 18 April. In the early hours of that Tuesday morning, a deliberate arson attack caused some damage to a rectory attached to the Church of the Assumption, the cathedral of the apostolic vicariate of Nepal, on the outskirts of the capital, Kathmandu. No one was injured,  the damage was solely material.

In this picture – the location of the arson unexpected attack on Dhobighat Catholic Church – Kathmandu, Assumption Church, two days after the Easter Vigil.

Nevertheless, according to the vicar general, Father Silas Bogati, the attack “has harmed the tiny Catholic community, which is now afraid. We are trusting in God, but what has happened is a call to be vigilant.”

The attack took place within the context of a very delicate political situation in the country, which is preparing for its forthcoming local elections on May 14 – the first to be held in Nepal for almost 20 years – and which are expected to be followed by Parliamentary elections in January 2018.

Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Silas described the circumstances of that early morning attack.  He said at least three individuals entered the compound and used gas to set fire to 2 motorcycles and a car parked in the yard. They also poured gas on the walls and the door of the church, badly damaging them. Within the compound is the rectory where 10 people were staying at the time. “Thank God the vehicle they set on fire did not explode while the people were being evacuated, but it could well have been a tragedy. The building itself was extensively damaged by the fire, but no one was injured.”

A vehicle damaged in the attacks. Credit: Kashish Das Shrestha and Sudhir Bhandari

Unclear motives

Asked about the motives for the attack and the perpetrators behind it, Father Silas was very cautious: “We still don’t know who was behind it, nor the motives for the attack. The police are investigating the event and attempting to identify the three people seen on the security cameras at the time of the attack. Once we know more about the perpetrators, we will be clearer about their motives. For now everything would be speculation.” The Nepalese priest did however acknowledge that “from time to time we Catholics here feel discriminated against, and even though we are Nepalese citizens, we are treated like foreigners, based on the mere fact of being Christians. Unfortunately, in some sectors of society there are feelings of hostility towards the Christian communities.” Nonetheless, he also emphasized that in general “we get on very well with our neighbours, most of whom are very open and considerate towards us. In fact they were the first to help us and to call the police. Those who behave otherwise are a minority.”

The rectory damaged in the attacks. Credit: Kashish Das Shrestha and Sudhir Bhandari

This is not the first time that the tiny Catholic community in Nepal has been the victim of attacks. In May 2009 a bomb exploded in the cathedral just as Father Silas was celebrating Holy Mass, killing three people and causing over a dozen injuries. “It was the saddest moment in my life. We never thought that anyone could possibly attack a sacred place of prayer. I was very traumatized after the event.” Responsibility for the attack at that time was claimed by a Hindu fundamentalist group calling itself the Nepal Defence Army.

“Since that incident in 2009 we have had several years of peace, but this recent aggression is a call to be very vigilant. Of course, in the end the ultimate security comes from God, but we need to reconsider how to improve our security measures and improve the protection of our community,” the vicar general told ACN during the telephone conversation.

An active Church

The Catholic Church in Nepal is a tiny minority but very active in the area of social help and development, Father Silas explained. “Just in the last few days we were remembering and praying for the victims of the violent 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal exactly 2 years ago, on April 25, 2015.

The Catholic Church is engaged in a major reconstruction project in the local area, with the rebuilding of 5,000 homes for those affected, the supply of clean drinking water and other neighbourhood development programs for local people. Many people are benefiting from this aid without regard for their religious affiliation. We intend to continue providing this aid, because our vocation is to help the most needy, as we are helping the victims of the earthquake today.”

 

Nepal Street Market, street vendor scene

Religious Freedom in Nepal

According to the Report on Religious Freedom Worldwide published by ACN last November, the Catholics within the apostolic vicariate of Nepal number around 8,000 faithful. The Protestant communities, above all the evangelical and Pentecostal groups, are very much present in the country.

As the above-mentioned religious freedom report describes, the very young Democratic Federal Republic of Nepal – formerly a Hindu kingdom – adopted the character of a secular state in the year 2007, one year after the abolition of the monarchy and following a decade of civil war between the government armies and Maoist guerrillas. Currently the pressure exerted by the Hinduist parties is very strong, a fact which, added to the many other difficulties (above all relating to the establishment of the internal frontiers within the seven provinces) has made it almost impossible for the members of the constituent assembly to reach agreement.

In August 2015, following the earthquake on 25 April of the same year and under pressure from the population, the major political parties in Parliament finally came to an agreement, described by many Nepalese as “historic.” On September 16, the constituent assembly finally approved the constitution thereby concluding a laborious and delicate process begun eight years earlier. The new text affirms the secular character of the Nepalese institutions while at the same time greatly curtailing religious freedoms.

The May 14 elections will mark a crucial step in the establishment of the new republican institutions envisaged under the constitution. And so, Father Silas is calling on the international community and ACN members “to pray for the Catholics and at the same time for the whole country, so that the political process of the next few weeks will unfold peacefully and bring about the long desired stability for the country.”

 

 

By Maria Lozano, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office

 

Violence against Christians in the Philippines : Difficult dialogue

08.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians

Philippines

Is Mindanao Another Iraq?

 “In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq.” The words are those of Father Sebastiano D’Ambra an Italian missionary of the PIME congregation who has been working for almost 50 years now in the Philippines. He was speaking on the phone to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has a Canadian office in Montreal. 

Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

“The situation is a worrying one,” adds Father Sebastiano, referring to the anti-Christian attacks that took place on Christmas Day in the south of Mindanao. “It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case. Without doubt our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups.”

He goes on to explain that the attacks were carried out by the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIIF), a paramilitary Islamist terrorist group that emerged in 2008 following a split in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In 2011 the government in Manila signed a peace accord with the MILF, with both sides pledging to engage in negotiations to establish a new law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, that would guarantee a special status to the region. “But the agreements with the government have been put on hold because the Filipino authorities attach greater priority to the presidential and legislative elections planned for May 9, 2016. And so radical groups like the BIIF, which have absolutely no desire to negotiate with Manila, are taking advantage of the instability of the situation to engage in terrorist disturbances.”

Urged not to celebrate Christmas

Islamic radicalism has a long history on Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group was widely active, and was responsible for the murder of the PIME missionary, Father Salvatore Carzedda in 1992. The radicalization continued with the proliferation of Islamist movements of a Wahabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia, while for the past 10 years or so there has been a powerful presence of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamist group that began in Indonesia. “In the last three years the so-called Islamic State has gained a growing number of supporters in Mindanao. ISIS is present here too, albeit not in such an extreme form as in the Middle East.” Father Sebastiano also points to the fact that many Islamic leaders on this island, which has a strong Muslim presence, have urged their own people not to celebrate Christmas together with the Christians, although this is an ancient and deeply rooted custom in the Philippines.

Zamboanga is quite far from the place where the Christmas attacks occurred, and the news went almost unreported by the media, because the government is attempting to play it down in view of the forthcoming elections. Nonetheless, in the local Christian communities the fears are growing, above all because they still retain a vivid memory of the attack carried out by the MILF in 2013 which destroyed half of the town, left numerous people dead and more than 10,000 homes in flames. “Since then the Christians have been extremely cautious in regard to the Muslims, while the Muslims themselves complain of a local government by the majority Christian community (approximately 70%) that does not reflect the growth of their own community.

Convinced that dialogue is possible

Father Sebastiano is the founder of the Silsilah movement which has been attempting since 1984 to promote interreligious dialogue and which has also involved a section of the local Muslim community.

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

“The growth of radicalism throughout the world is making our mission more difficult and still more necessary than ever at the present time. Even some of the Islamic leaders who are working together with us are becoming discouraged. We need to have more courage and more faith. It is a long process, but I am convinced that through dialogue it is possible to bring about real change and create a climate of mercy. Just as Pope Francis is inviting us to do in this Holy Year.”

*Main image: Extract of Journey to Emmaus, Icons presenting the history, vision, mission and call of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

 

By Marta Petrosillo, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : ag@acn-aed-ca.org


 

 

 

 

ACN News – Abducted priest – Father Dhiya Aziz – freed

07.01.2016 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, John Pontifex, Syria, Violence against Christians

Syria

Abducted priest freed

Released after two weeks of captivity in Syria, Iraqi priest, Father Dhiya Aziz, is safe and recovering, according to fellow Franciscans in Aleppo.

The priest, who was released late yesterday (Monday, January 4), is reported to have suffered extreme cold while he was being held and when freed was in a state of severe exhaustion. No other details have emerged about his condition.

During a trip in Aleppo in May 2015, an ACN delegation saw the devastation of churches. The war in Syria is going on its 5th year these next days. (Credit: ACN-Melikte Archdiocese of Aleppo)

During a trip in May 2015, an ACN delegation saw the devastation in Aleppo. The war in Syria is going on its 5th year these next days. (Credit: ACN-Melikte Archdiocese of Aleppo)

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need yesterday (Tuesday), Fr Aziz’s fellow Franciscans in Aleppo, northern Syria, said they had yet to establish if he had been tortured but that the priority now was sleep and rest.

Fr Aziz’s disappearance was announced after he failed to return to his parish in Syria’s Idlib province on December 23. The priest had set off from the Syrian city of Lattakia, aiming to arrive at his parish before Christmas. He was returning from a visit to Turkey where he was visiting family who had fled from Qaraqosh, northern Iraq, seized by militant Islamic group Daesh (ISIS) in August 2014.

Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said that Fr Aziz was now recovering at an undisclosed location. “The Franciscans told me that in this Year of Mercy they were giving thanks to |God for showing his mercy through the release of Fr Aziz. “We are just so grateful to God that Fr Aziz has been freed.”

Fr Halemba said the identity of Fr Aziz’s kidnappers was as yet unknown and that “it is not quite clear yet what Fr Aziz’s state of health is. He explained that Fr Aziz has a pre-existing back condition dating back to an earlier kidnapping in July and a planned operation on his spine will now be rescheduled.

Latest in a series of abductions

The Custody of the Holy Land, the region’s Franciscan authority, announced Fr Aziz’s release late last night but added that, “due to confidentiality reasons,” no further details could be given about how he came to be freed. The kidnapping of the priest is the latest in a series of clergy kidnapped in Syria. Previously, on July 4, 2015, Father Aziz had been seized by militants in Yacoubieh and released after five days. Among those still missing are Archbishops Boulos Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, kidnapped in April 2013 and Jesuit priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, abducted three months later.

By John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : ag@acn-aed-ca.org