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Cameroon – The Church is threatened – ACN-Interview

15.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, AED Canada, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Cameroon, Journey with ACN, Thomas Oswald, War

Cameroon


“The truth we speak is not welcome in this fratricidal conflict.”

At present the Anglophone areas of Cameroon are constantly being shaken by a conflict between Anglophone separatist groups and the Francophone central government. In this context of fratricidal conflict, the Church is attempting to rekindle dialogue between the two parties. Bishop Emmanuel Abbo of Ngaoundéré, in the Francophone area, who is 49, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Bibi of Bamenda, in the Anglophone area, talk about the situation in their country. Aid to the Church in Need spoke with them (By Thomas Oswald).

 

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Mgrs. Emmanuel Abbo: ”I am not on the spot, but the news that reaches us is not reassuring. ”

ACN: “Are we talking about ‘civil war’ in the Anglophone areas?

Bishop Michael Bibi: The Elections in October 2018 should have enabled the people of this region to express themselves democratically via the ballot box. But in reality the situation is more complicated than that, since there are a great many internally displaced people and very few Cameronians were able to vote in practice. Unfortunately, the conditions for a peaceful exercise in democracy are not established. And yet it is only through a candid and inclusive dialogue that we will be able to emerge from this crisis. But for the time being, the only voices urging this are the religious leaders!

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: I am not on the spot, but the news that reaches us is not reassuring. We receive widely differing information, so it is difficult to speak objectively.

 

ACN: On several occasions the Church in Cameroon has sounded the alarm, alerting us to the situation of the priests and religious living in the Anglophone areas. What kind of role is the Church able to play?

Bishop Michael Bibi: The Church is on the front line. A priest and a seminarian have both been murdered in the Anglophone region. In the case of the latter it was a deliberate execution, staged in front of his church in the presence of the parishioners. And sadly, these two are not simply isolated cases. I receive alarming news from many priests and religious who have been shot at, or kidnapped and ransomed. I myself have been arrested, but they let me go again after a few hours.

I can bear witness to the fact that the clergy who stay on in the Anglophone area is particularly under threat. We speak the truth. We tell the young people to stay in school and not join the militias that it will lead to nothing – and so the militias accuse us of playing the government’s game for them. But we also denounce the actions of the government army and call for the region to be demilitarized – and so all of a sudden we are accused by the authorities of siding with the rebels! The truth we speak is not welcome in the midst of this fratricidal conflict. The truth is that both sides are involved in the killing and are only adding violence to violence.

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: The Church is playing her part in resolving conflicts and upholding the peace. The bishops’ conference is taking initiatives, but we prefer the path of quiet diplomacy, talking directly to the parties in the conflict, since too much media attention risks undermining the success of these initiatives.

 

ACN: How is the Church faring in your country?

Mgrs. Michael Bibi: ”I receive alarming news from many priests and religious who have been shot at, or kidnapped and ransomed. I myself have been arrested, but they let me go again after a few hours.”

Bishop Michael Bibi: Thanks be to God, the Cameroonian people have a strong faith. They attend Sunday Mass with real fervour, and we have a number of priestly vocations. What is needed now is for our political leaders to be likewise illuminated by this faith.

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: My diocese was evangelized barely 60 years ago. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a congregation of French origin, arrived here in the 1950s. There are three factors that give me hope: I have a cohort of priests in my diocese who are very young, very dynamic and with whom I enjoy an excellent collaboration; then we have the presence of the religious congregations, who share our pastoral concerns; and finally, despite the widespread poverty, we have the Catholic faithful who are willing to do whatever they can to help our Church move forward.

We are facing enormous challenges. On the pastoral level, the diocese does not have enough priests – that is why I have appealed for fidei donum priests to come – nor does it have enough of human and material resources. In the social sphere, we would like to be able to rebuild our schools and health centres in solid materials. And in the development field we would like to be able to support our people, who are extremely poor, in organizing associations or cooperatives. And one of our priorities in the pastoral field is the construction of a diocesan pastoral centre where we can hold our formation sessions which we would like to organize for our 343 catechists and 57 priests.

 

ACN: Would you like to say something to our benefactors?

Bishop Michael Bibi: We need the prayers of ACN. And we also need practical help for the victims of the conflict in the Anglophone region, in line with the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked, and you clothed me.”

Bishop Emmanuel Abbo: I would like to thank them all for their generosity. They have been a huge support for us in our dioceses, and especially here in Cameroon, because ACN helps us greatly with our pastoral projects. And please redouble your generosity, because our problems and our concerns are continuing to grow.

 

***

Good news came from Aid to the Church for Mgr George Nkuo.

 

Just now arrived an email from Kumbo. After they got a message announcing grants to various projects for the diocese. Please find the thank you message of Bishop George Nkuo:

“You have allotted grants for our 110 major seminarians, for the NFP in our family life office, for the novices of the Tertiary Sisters, and for the Brothers of St Martin de Porres.  I wish to sincerely thank you for your very kind consideration.

These grants come at a time when the church in our Ecclesiastical Province is going through a very difficult time and our local income has been seriously affected because of the war going on in our regions so you can imagine the relief it has brought to our various communities. I hasten to write on their behalf to say Thank You. Once more thank you and may God continue to bless you and our benefactors. +George.’’


 

Syria – “The Christians are scared to death and fear for their lives”

16.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, by Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Syria, War

Damascus
“The Christians are scared to death and fear for their lives”

 The current military offensive in Syria not only affects the inhabitants of the Eastern Ghouta region, but also those of neighbouring Damascus. The shelling of the capital city continues. The Christian district at the eastern edge of the old city has also been under fire. In an interview with Father Andrzej Halemba, the head of the Middle East section of the worldwide pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Tobias Lehner discusses why the warring parties are condoning the death of civilians, why Islamist terror is on the rise again and what kind of aid the civilian population needs at this moment.

 

Tobias Lehner: What do you know about the situation in Eastern Ghouta?

Father Andrzej Halemba: We from ACN maintain very good and close contact with a large number of bishops in Damascus. One of them is the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Joseph Absi. Caritas Syria is on site and keeping us informed.

The people in Eastern Ghouta are trapped. Several thousand people! They have practically no access to food. They have no medical care. Many residents have been wounded and are in need of an operation. There are no humanitarian corridors allowing them to escape. This may be because the rebels consider the civilian population “human shields.” And the government fears that not only civilian refugees will flee to Damascus, but also suicide bombers, who would bring the terror even further into the city. Fear and terror reigns everywhere.

And all that practically before the gates of the capital city of Syria with its more than one million inhabitants…

Eastern Ghouta is only about four kilometres from the city centre. From here, rebel troops can look out over the city of Damascus over there. Among them are also troops that are close to al-Qaeda. Several units of the “Islamic State” still remain in the southern districts of Damascus. Therefore, it is important not only to talk about the actions of the government troops, but also about the fact that the Islamists have set their sights on the capital city: with terrorist attacks on the inside, mortar attacks from the outside. The Christian district of Bab Tuma, which is located on the eastern edge of the old city, has also been severely hit. The warring parties know that the moment children die, young people are killed, families are destroyed and houses are demolished, it draws the attention of the world to them. It is part of their strategy. This is why the Christian district is also one of the areas under attack.

Father Andrzej Halemba: “Both sides are in the wrong. Both sides commit crimes. Both sides are guilty. Both sides have caused countless casualties. In the now seven years of war in Syria, more than one million people have been killed or wounded.”

Can you describe the situation there in more detail?

The situation is dire. The mortar attacks continue unabated. The Christians are scared to death. I recently spoke with a religious sister. She told me that she and her fellow sisters are not even able to leave the city centre anymore to go to the districts in which many Christians and refugees from Eastern Ghouta have found shelter. It is too dangerous. Convoys that were supposed to carry humanitarian aid into Damascus have been stopped. It is a terrible situation!

You said that there were also Islamist units among the rebel groups. The European media is focusing primarily on the brutal tactics of the government troops. Is this then not the whole truth?

Truth is always the first casualty in times of war. Both sides are in the wrong. Both sides commit crimes. Both sides are guilty. Both sides have caused countless casualties. In the now seven years of war in Syria, more than one million people have been killed or wounded. And these are wounds not only of the body, but also of the soul. So many people are traumatized. It will take decades to heal these wounds. And all warring parties bear responsibility for this!

Let us talk about the supply situation. The negotiated ceasefire was so fragile that it was at first impossible to get relief supplies to the besieged inhabitants. This was finally possible early this week. What do you know about this?

It was imperative to get food and medical aid to the inhabitants of Eastern Ghouta immediately. However, it is also important to remember the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons who have sought refuge in Damascus. Many have lost family members, many were severely wounded during the attacks. All of them have lost their future. This is why it is important for ACN to help these internally displaced persons. We want to offer them pastoral as well as financial aid, so that they can be cared for in a hospital setting, for example. We have to show these sorely afflicted people our love!

What kind of aid is ACN planning to offer Damascus?

We have been working in this region for a long time. Since war broke out, we have donated over 31 million dollars in emergency aid. We are currently helping Christian families with food donations, clothing and medicine. We are also trying to set up pastoral and therapeutic care for those who are traumatized. This is very important. We are supporting the work of the religious orders – because they are vital relief workers. We are looking for places where refugee families can stay. A top priority in Damascus is helping people who have lost a family member or who have been wounded and are in need of an operation. Even in a city like Damascus there are areas that are difficult to gain access to or that have been neglected. We have to take care of the people there. We encourage our project partners to help all people who come to them.

In many ways, the current situation in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus resembles the battles for control over Aleppo in 2016. From Aleppo we heard that the churches were often the only place those in need could turn to – for Christians, but also for large numbers of Muslims. Is this also the case in Damascus?

As a Christian pastoral charity, ACN takes care of anyone who has fallen victim to this war and who is in need. To achieve this, we are also working closely together with other organizations in Damascus. This means that we can start with existing networks and build from there. The aid we provide is for everyone, no one is excluded. This, of course, also includes individual Muslims; after all, they are suffering just as much from the war as the Christians. Christian charity knows no borders and is not interested in religious affiliation. The image of Jesus Christ is reflected in the face of each and every suffering person. And this maltreated face is looking back at us from the people in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus – and is asking for our response to this unspeakable suffering!


 

Central African Republic – The forgotten war in the heart of Africa

13.03.2018 in ACN International, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, War

Central African Republic:

“we were obliged to bury many people of all different religions”

 

The present situation in the Central African Republic, following five years of war and violence, is a profoundly distressing one. Speaking to the 37th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Bishop Juan José Aguirre-Muñoz of Bangassou described the country as a “failed state.” Ever since the arrival of the fundamentalist Islamic Seleka group in 2013, the country has been “without an army, without police, without a judicial system,” he said. The total absence of the state was demonstrated, he added, in the complete absence of any reaction on the part of the state in the face of the present and continuing threat of an attack on the city of Bangassou, in the southeastern part of the country, the city where he himself has been bishop for the past 17 years.

 

Bishop Aguirre was invited to Geneva on Wednesday, March 7, by the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to speak at an event devoted to the religious minorities in armed conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. In his intervention the Spanish bishop, who is 63 years old and has been working for 38 years as a missionary in the Central African Republic, pleaded for better “control and security on the borders” of the country, since at the present time they were being freely crossed by “criminals of every kind, who are sacking, destroying and laying waste to” the country, which was effectively “in the hands of mercenaries.” And he appealed at the same time for action against the sale of arms.

 

The origins of the crisis are economic

The CAR currently holds the unenviable distinction of being in the very last place in the world on the UN’s Human Development Index. The list of its woes is a long one, the bishop explained:

“The people are tired, abandoned, left to themselves. Entire neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground because the Muslim mercenaries have used fire as a weapon of war. Almost a million refugees are currently sheltering in the Congo. Over half the population is in need of food aid, and infant mortality has increased considerably as a result of the war and violence. The educational system has not been functioning for years, and the health system is non-existent. Our medical centre in the north of the diocese has been destroyed, along with our mission. Now nothing is left but the foundations.”

In the face of these overwhelming difficulties, Bishop Aguirre appealed to ACN: “We need your prayers, that the Lord may help us to discern the path we should take in order to be able to emerge from the crisis we are in,” he said.

 

Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre in Bangassou and Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Ruiz Molina

The forgotten war in the heart of Africa

The bishop, who is a Comboni missionary, called on all those involved in the communications media to tell people about this “forgotten war in the heart of Africa.”.And he asked for something more besides: “Please make this forgotten war your own concern too.” At the same time, however, Bishop Aguirre urged people not to see this war as “a religious crisis,” because those who have lived through it right from the beginning know that it is the result of a “purely economic problem, though undoubtedly with religious consequences.” Among other things, the bishop insisted that “the extraction of diamonds, gold, uranium and petroleum, the trade in hardwoods and the complex issue of transhumance” were “the real reasons behind our disputes.” He suspects “interest groups” of being behind the gross manipulation of information, together with the sad revelation that there are commercial interests actually taking advantage of the crisis.

 

The critical situation in regard to interreligious dialogue

For Bishop Aguirre, the hardest and saddest part of the picture is the situation with regard to interreligious dialogue at the present time. “Despite the great efforts that the Christian and Muslim leaders are making throughout the country, the real situation today is a critical one,” he said. Not only because some of these leaders themselves have been attacked or threatened, but also because “the hatred is growing between Muslim and non-Muslim groups, as are the reactions of religious intolerance on both sides.”

Central Africa Republic Bangassou: “During attacks in the Diocese of Bangassou: 30 Muslims died, 20 non-Muslims, two Imams, women and children. We make a common grave. Only inside the pit is peace”.

 

Speaking of the difficult situation faced by his own priests, who for months now have been sheltering hundreds of Muslims in the grounds of the cathedral and at the same time risking their own lives in an effort to mediate with the frenzied and violent groups of the so-called ‘anti-balaka’, the bishop explained, “We have held out the hand of friendship to those who attacked us, because that is what the Church does.” And he sadly acknowledges that “in the midst of so much violence we were obliged to bury many people of all different religions, and so it was there, in a common grave, that they were finally united again. In peace.”

 

Despite everything, Bishop Aguirre is convinced that the only solution is to “continue working for reconciliation, justice, peace and forgiveness, so as to disarm people’s hearts.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the people of the Central African Republic ever since the beginning of the crisis. In 2017, ACN supported some 30 separate pastoral aid projects in the country, giving a total of over $ 936.200.