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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 Interview: The Synod for Amazonia – “The indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time”

11.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Brazil, ACN International, Amazonia, by Rodrigo Arantes, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Vatican, World

The Synod for Amazonia

“The indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time”

Interview conducted by Rodrigo Arantes for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

The Synod for Amazonia has been underway since October 6, and will continue through to October 27, at the Vatican. It is a synod that has caught the attention, not only of Catholics but of the entire world.  Msgr. Neri José Tondello is Bishop of the diocese of Juína, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, and one of the 18 members of the pre-synodal Council. In this interview with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he relates the recent history of the Church in relation to Amazonia and speaks of the experience of the Gospel among the indigenous peoples. He also explains the consultative character of the synod.


 

You have been part of the pre-synodal Council. This synod has caught the attention not only of people within the Church, but also of all the major media. To what do you attribute the great interest in this particular synod? 

Bishop Neri: The Synod for Amazonia has a long history. It is evident that it has awakened great interest, because it is tackling the theme of an integral ecology. This includes not only the original inhabitants living there, especially the indigenous peoples, who are the first and legitimate proprietors of the Amazon region. It also includes the communities living on the riverbanks, the quilombolas (descendants of former African slaves), the colonists and so many other people who are now living in the region in search of a better life.

 

Bishop Dom Neri Tondello celebrating Mass at a poor straw-chapel

The aim of an integral ecology is to seek to consider our “common home” in all its complexity, and Pan-Amazonia is a region which serves the whole planet with its benefits. This region, within this context of being a common home, is currently affected by problems that are having a grave and far-reaching impact. To this, one can now add the forest fires that have been started; this is also a serious problem and a threat. Previously people did not pay much attention to the impact of these fires, but they lead to deforestation and illegal logging, agribusiness, poisoning of the rivers, and consequently to the killing of the fish within them. The hydroelectric dams and the mining industry – with its toxic byproducts such as mercury – are likewise killing off the fish stocks. We are speaking of the basic food supply for our indigenous peoples. All these things end up by gravely harming the Pan-Amazonian region in all its biodiversity.

 

This then is the general context, which in consequence is not restricted solely to the internal debate within the Church but which in fact involves the whole world, because Amazonia is not a separate issue – everything is interconnected, everything is interrelated, and that is why the region is of crucial importance for the world. Pope Francis is also posing the question as to what the world can do to save Amazonia.

 

What does the Amazon synod mean to you?

I would say that the synod is a Kairós 1. I know that there has been much talk about the subject around the world and that the synod has met with widespread publicity. Even though there are some who speak ill of it, who condemn it and say ugly things about the synod, the great majority take a positive view of this special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian region and for the whole Church. As someone involved in the preparation process, one is very aware of this. There are those who don’t like it, who criticize it, but in general the synod is a Kairós for the Church. We are going to have to ask for many prayers so that we can have the gift of discernment.

We have listened to the reality of the situation in Amazonia and to the clamour of its peoples, who are expressing their unhappiness. During the course of the synod we will be listening to the scientists, and above all we will be listening to what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to the Churches in the Amazon region.

It is important to remind ourselves that the synod is not a deliberative body; according to its guidelines it is a consultative organ. But let us nonetheless not be lacking in courage to propose new ways for the Church and for an integral ecology. May this great event help Pope Francis to take the necessary decisions and give us sure guidance that will be appropriate to this blessed place that is our beloved Amazonia.

 

Project supported by ACN: Purchase of 2 solar energy generator systems for the “Itinerant” boat: Father Gino Alberati

What is needed if the Church is not to be solely a “visiting Church” throughout Amazonia?

Evangelization was brought to us by men and women who came from abroad, who gave their lives, many of whom are martyrs of Amazonia. But many of the things that were imported were not always the best; they were often schemes of colonization, of domination, which disregarded the potential already existing there. In other words, they did not take account of the true face of the Amazon, a face that had the capacity to become the protagonist of its own form of evangelization, through the inculturation of the Gospel, incarnated in the reality of the “seeds of the word” already present among the indigenous peoples, the riverside dwellers, the settlers and all the other people who inhabit this region. And consequently, in order to achieve a more permanent Church, more effective and more present, and closer to the people themselves, their communities and their groups, there is a need both in religious formation and also in the organization of the community, to draw more deeply on these gifts, these charisms, ministries and individuals. Of course we have to acknowledge baptism as the starting point for everything, a baptismal and collegial Church, different from a clerical Church. In saying this I want to make it clear that our document, the Instrumentum laboris, (working document) presents the Pope with an opening to this call.

 

Celibacy will never disappear, because it will always be a gift for the Church. But I also believe that the Church can reflect, from the point of view of the theology of spirituality and pastoral considerations, on the need for other new forms that will help to assure a more continuing presence alongside the People of God that will go beyond this idea of a “visiting Church.” We need to be closer, more present, and for this reason we need to explore the ideas on which people have been working for so long – for example the idea of a community priest, someone with a community face, an Amazonian face, someone who lives on the spot and knows all the members of the community and can help to make the process of evangelization much more effective.

Brazil, August 2019: a burned field in the Amazon forest.

 

Colniza is one of the towns in your diocese and at the same time one of the towns in the country that is suffering most from the forest fires. What is the situation like there at the moment?

The fires have been terrible. They have always happened, but this year they were excessive. The region of Colniza and Guariba are among the towns that have statistically seen the most fires during this year. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this culture of using fire to clear the pastures. It seems to me that we cannot admit that the use of fire is becoming something cultural, because it is far more destructive than it is beneficial. I have been in the Mato Grosso region for 17 years and I have been able to see that this year the fires have been worse than in other years, by a wide margin.

Some of the burnings are even criminal, whereas others were accidental, but they have caused great damage in the region. There is even a “day of fire” organized by one particular group of delinquents. Now the region is fearing reprisals in its international commercial relationships. We are trying to develop a sense of awareness, in collaboration with the members of IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute for the environment and renewable natural resources (Instituto Brasileño de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales Renovables), with the members of the forestry workers’ union, and with the firefighting agency, which is always organizing campaigns to guide and warn people. We are joining forces with them and we are also using our powers of evangelization in order to draw attention to people’s responsibility in the face of this grave risk, involving the destruction of nature by means of fire.

 

ACN supports the use of green energy alternatives

ACN has been supporting pastoral projects in Amazonia for over 40 years now. Your diocese of Juína is also one of those that have received our help. What kind of benefits have you seen from these projects for your people?

Our diocese has benefited enormously from the projects in which ACN has been involved. Whether in catechetical formation, the family apostolate, youth apostolate and children’s apostolate, the 2,000 Bibles supplied in your Bible distribution campaign, the evangelization materials, the children’s rosaries or the help for our solar energy project. After all, in the Amazon synod we cannot think only about the destruction of the forest and the construction of hydroelectric dams to obtain energy. No, we need to create alternatives, and solar energy is one of these. ACN has helped us greatly in this respect.

Brazil, August 2019: a burned field in the Amazon forest.

 

As to the importance of formation, we recently held some ethics classes with the group from the training school, with the idea of establishing permanent deacons in the near future. We already have 10 deacons exercising this ministry. It is a mixed school, ethnically. We have over 20 indigenous students and 15 non-indigenous. Within this formation school we have people with close links to the riverside villages who are leaders in our communities. Thanks to the aid of ACN we feel very much a part of this Amazonian reality and really appreciate this support, amplified by your help with evangelization projects and at the same time with projects which aim to build up and train individuals for the work of evangelization within the region.


  1. Kairos: definition according to Myriam-Webster dictionary: is – a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment.

 

One Million Children Praying the Rosary 2019

23.09.2019 in Children, Prayer, World

One Million Children Praying the Rosary 2019

Children around the world will pray for peace and unity in the world

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is calling for all children worldwide to take part in the joint campaign “One Million Children Praying the Rosary.” As Pope Francis has designated the month of October as the Extraordinary Missionary Month, this year’s theme is: Mission.

 “Traditionally, after all, October is the month of the rosary and we also celebrate the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist on October 18. He was the only evangelist to write about Jesus’s childhood and is traditionally thought to have had close ties to the Virgin Mary,” Father Martin Barta, ACN International Ecclesiastical Assistant, explained.

On October 18, at 9 o’clock in the morning—or at any other appropriate time—thousands of groups of children worldwide will pray the rosary together.

“Each year we receive news from all over the world, telling us how children celebrated the day of prayer,” Father Barta was pleased to note. “It has truly become a prayer campaign for the Universal Church, which not only moves the hearts of children, but also those of adults and blazes a trail to peace!”

How the celebration is approached varies widely: some participants choose to pray the entire rosary, others just in part. Some not only pray, but include a catechesis on praying the rosary, short readings and children’s hymns. Others invite the children to draw the Mysteries of the Rosary in addition to praying. In some places, teachers integrate time for prayer with regular lessons or interrupt their regular schedule for this special time of prayer.

The campaign came into being in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas in 2005. A group of women witnessed a number of children praying the rosary at a wayside shrine; what followed was a profound experience of the presence of the Virgin Mary, thus giving rise to the movement. In keeping with the promise of Saint Padre Pio — “When one million children pray the rosary, the world will change.”

Aid to the Church in Need is inviting all Canadian children to participate in this great and unique event. To join in the movement and for more information please contact Annie Desrosiers at 1 (800) 585-6333 extension 226.

We invite you to download the letters and the event poster and print to share it, here.

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