fbpx

ACN Tag

 

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 Project of the Week—Support for the youth pastoral centre in Sarajevo, Bosnia

29.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Eastern Europe, Pastoral aid, Pastoral care, Pastoral work, Religious formation

Project of the Week—Bosnia

Support for the youth pastoral centre in Sarajevo

By ACN International, Adapted by ACN Canada
Published online – November 29, 2019

Catholics are a minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina—now at a bare 14% of the population, and falling. This decline began during the Bosnian War (1992 to 1995) when half the Catholic population was expelled or forced to emigrate from the country. And with every new year, many continue their exodus as the future looks dim, owing to the discrimination they face when seeking employment, in attending schools and in regular social life. Catholic bishops have been complaining for years that Catholic Croat families who would otherwise be willing to return are not receiving the support they are entitled to. At the same time, a growing Islamization of the society is very noticeable, with the building of numerous new mosques.

 

The Catholic Church continues to work hard for a better future, through its reconciliation work, its schools and its charitable work, all of which are open to people of all ethnic groups. At the same time, the Church strives to offer steady employment opportunities that will provide families with some prospect for the future. One beautiful example of reconciliation work is the John Paul II Youth Centre in Sarajevo, offering a range of initiatives for promoting interfaith and interdenominational dialogue.

Spiritual Retreats, Pilgrimages and Interfaith Dialogue

Each year thousands of young people benefit from a broad range of programs offered by the centre. Their enthusiasm remains as they return with great energy to their own parishes to work with a renewed faith for a better future. The centre also offers employment, with 10 full-time positions and 10 part-time positions, providing these men and women with a steady income and a future for their families. An additional 300 volunteers help out as needed. Training in leadership is available along with courses in spiritual exercises for confirmation candidates, volunteers, altar servers and other types of youth groups. An ecumenical program is in place for young people of different faiths to learn about shared responsibility and how to create a better future in the society in which they live. Those attending come not only from the archdiocese of Sarajevo (Vrhbosna) itself, but from all over the country.

Other big events are have been organized, such as a large youth pilgrimage in May to the Shrine of Our Lady in Kondzilo,  which was attended again this year by well over 3,000 young people. A music festival, with modern Christian music, and a young people’s Way of the Cross procession giving hundreds of youth from individual parishes the opportunity to gather together in shared faith.

 

ACN recognizes the valuable work done by this youth centre named for the great Pope, Saint John Paul II. The Saint who held such great affection for young people, established the very first World Youth Days during his pontificate. This year we are helping once again, with a promised contribution of $37,500.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN Project of the Week – Renovation needs in Ecuador

01.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Journey with ACN

Project of the Week in Ecuador

Renovation of the presbytery on Isla di Puná

Posted Friday, November 1, 2019

The Isla di Puná is an island of some 900 km² just off the south coast of Ecuador. It has a population of around 7,000 and is actually a somewhat impoverished area, although efforts have been made more recently to promote tourism. Most people depend either on small-scale fishing or on selling local crafts to tourists.

 

The island also holds important history of the Church in Latin America. In 1541 the first Bishop of Cusco – who was also one of the first bishops in all Latin America – was martyred and thus the evangelization of the island has held a special place in the story of the local Catholic Church.

 

Despite its ancient Christian history, only in 2018 was the first parish actually established here, covering 13 small towns and villages on the island. The parish priest, Father Celso Miguel Montesdeoca Robles, would like to breathe new life into the local Church. Indeed, he has already achieved a great deal! Regular catechetical instruction now exists for children, young people and adults, plus a pastoral youth outreach and local groups who visit the sick and elderly. But Father Robles would like to provide a more solid formation for the group leaders and encourage more new people to get involved. The sisters of the congregation of the Daughters of Mary (Hijas de Maria) have been assisting him in his work.

 

His presbytery and parish house are in very dire condition and urgently require renovation. This is an area prone to frequent earthquakes, often leaving damage to the walls and roof – especially the devastating earthquake of 2016, which caused extensive damage. And the sharp salt-laden sea air has eaten away at the fabric of the building. Now the ageing plumbing and electrical wiring need a complete overhaul. Last but importantly, the building has very little protection against the many criminal gangs who roam the area.

ACN is proposing to contribute $21,900  towards the cost of these necessary renovations.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Success Story: Support given for Year of the Family

24.10.2019 in ACN International, Belarus

Belarus

Success Story: Support given for Year of the Family

 

Belarus is a country which knows numerous problems. The country, which gained its independence in 1991, is considered by many international observers to be a dictatorship. Most see little hope or future prospect for themselves and many young people often try escaping their despair and frustration by turning to drugs. The suicide rate is alarmingly high.

In an effort to support families and give them new hope The Catholic Bishops’ Conference and its Marriage and Family Commission, declared 2019 to be a “Year of the Family.” In this optic, a range of different activities have been organized and will be continuing throughout this year. Training sessions and counselling for married couples and families will be offered as well as ongoing training and retreat days for those working in the Catholic marriage and family counselling services. While prayer campaigns and a congress of family associations in the capital, Minsk are also on the horizon.

 

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to contribute $10,500 towards the cost of these valuable initiatives.

 

On behalf of all the families and individuals who have, and continue to benefit from them, we offer you our heartfelt thanks!

ACN Feature Story – Celebrating the restoration of a church in Syria

11.10.2019 in Peace, Persecution of Christians, Reconstruction, Syria

Syria

Celebrating the inauguration of the newly restored church of Haret Saraya, destroyed by jihadists in 2012

by Marta Garcia, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

Marmarita/Königstein. —Evening is falling in the Valley of the Christians. From its high vantage point the Crusader fortress, the Crac des Chevaliers, built in the 11th-12th century, looks down impassively on the arriving visitors. Today is a day of festival in the church of Haret Saraya in the village of Al-Husn. The band of trumpeters and drummers plays on unceasingly.

The church, which is dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, looks resplendent with its freshly painted white walls and brightly coloured iconostasis. “They’ve rebuilt it just as it was before,” says local Archbishop Nikolas Sawaf, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Latakia.

In 2012 this church was ransacked and burned by the jihadists, who dominated the valley from their position overlooking the village in the historic Crusader fortress the Crac des Chevaliers, built by the Knights Hospitaller. They tore down the cross, profaned the holy icons and smashed and disfigured the statues. Nor did they spare the parish premises or the presbytery, even ripping the electric wiring from the walls of the house.

But seven years later—exactly on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross—the day becomes a feast for the faithful and the little church is packed with people during the re-dedication ceremony. Both Catholic and Orthodox priests from the region are present for the occasion. It is a scene of great joy. Outside in the courtyard, in front of a rejoicing crowd, the Orthodox choir of Our Lady of Al Wadi sings hymns of hope, peace and forgiveness, at the same time remembering those who disappeared, were killed or exiled by the war and calling on the Christians to stand fast and remain on their lands.

“Now that the church has been renewed, it is time for us to renew the living stones, our own hearts,” urges Father Andrzej Halemba to the faithful during the celebration. The head of the project section for the countries of the Middle East of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) says: “Our hearts have been broken by the violence, divided and unsettled by the events in our lives. Now is the time to renew them with the love of Christ. Let us pray for peace in Syria.”

ACN helped not only for the renovation of the church of Haret Saraya, but also for the repairs to the parish buildings and the presbytery. And at the same time it was possible to add on additional guest rooms and small business outlets in the village, so close to the historic tourist attraction of the Crac des Chevaliers, which will soon be welcoming visiting tourists once again. In this way it has been possible to some extent to help guarantee a longer term future for the Christian legacy here, where it has such ancient roots.

“ACN is like Simon of Cyrene for us, supporting us and helping us to carry our cross,” said Archbishop Sawaf, at the end of this day of celebration.

 

The projects for the rebuilding of the Christian structures in the village of Al-Husn were supported by ACN with grants totalling over $255,000. They are part of a broader program by the charity, for the reconstruction of the Christian infrastructure affected by the war in the various dioceses of Syria.

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 Interview: Professor Muna Yako, Iraqi Christian activist and constitutional expert

20.09.2019 in ACN, Chaldean Catholic, Iraq

Iraq

Political Islamists attempt to radicalize judiciary in Iraq

 Christians fear a theocracy as parliamentarians try to change the Federal Supreme Court, which interprets the constitution and determines the constitutionality of laws and regulations.

By Xavier Bisits, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin ACN Canada

In a country where Christians have grappled with targeted bombings, kidnapping, and discrimination, leaders are grappling with a new crisis: an attempt to give Islamic clerics voting rights on the country’s Federal Supreme Court.

The move, which is not yet confirmed, would bring Iraq a step closer to an Iran-like theocracy, where non-Muslims are forced to live under Islamic Sharia law. For example, in Iran, Christian women are forced to wear the veil, and alcohol is completely banned.

The change would include four Islamic jurists as part of 13 voting members of the country’s Federal Supreme Court. All decisions would require the support of at least three of the four jurists, permanently radicalizing the country’s judiciary.

This past August, Professor Muna Yako, an Iraqi Christian activist and constitutional expert, explained to ACN that although the Constitution refers to Islam as the foundation of law, it also references the importance of democracy and human rights.

This change to the Federal Supreme court would likely mean that Islamic law will always take precedence: “You need to have the court to interpret the constitution. Right now, I hope that if a case goes to the Federal Court they might prioritize human rights and democracy, in some instances. If, however, these Islamic jurists join the court, we will have no chance of ever prioritizing democracy or human rights.”

Iraq, Karamlesh (Karamles), July 2019 – buildings destroyed by ISIS

 

It would also mean an end to any attempts to overturn legislation that discriminates against religious minorities and treats them as second-class citizens. For example, current law says that non-Muslims can convert to Islam, but the reverse can’t happen. Likewise, Christian men are not allowed to marry Muslim women without converting to Islam, which is “unconstitutional discrimination.”

“If, however, these Islamic jurists join the court, we will have no chance of ever prioritizing democracy or human rights.”

“The Iraqi government has disappointed us so far, but I still have hope of seeing change. If the court adopts this law, though, I will no longer have any hope. This will make Iraq like a theocracy because all the laws will be based on religion – for example, rules about clothes and alcohol.“

She worries that if this “terrifying” change happens,  even more Christians will leave the country and “we will become just a memory, just like the Jews.” Most Christians belong to indigenous groups who have been in the country for thousands of years.

Vigil prayer for the Middle East at Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark´s Basilica) in Rome, 27.09.2017: His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako (Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church from Iraq)

Cardinal Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, in a letter to the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, wrote of his concern that this is proposed “after all the suffering we have endured from terrorism, displacement, pillaging, murder, and property theft.” He expressed his worry that the proposal would threaten the future of Christians in the country, by applying Islamic law to Christians in personal matters, such as inheritance.

This opinion is backed up by other legal experts. Dr Majida Sanaan-Guharzi, writing in the newspaper Kurdistan 24, believes that the change “could substantially alter the court’s function, promoting an increasingly theocratic state wherein religious rules take precedence over the existing, mostly secular, legal system.”

 

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need has extensive operations underway in Iraq and has mostly been working to provide emergency support to Christians affected by Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS). ACN’s main focus at present is on rebuilding church properties that were deliberately targeted during the three-year occupation.

 

November 2018, Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh, destroyed during violence under reconstruction.

ACN Press: A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria

16.09.2019 in ACN, Pope Francis, Prayer, Press Release, Syria

A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria
Marie-Claude Lalonde among ACN delegates to Vatican

By Mario Bard, ACN Canada
Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Monday, September 16, 2019 — The national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN), Marie-Claude Lalonde, attended this past Sunday, September 15, the blessing of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People by Pope Francis. 

The ceremony took place at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican. The icon will be carried through 34 dioceses in Syria—as a sort of pilgrimage—offered for the veneration of the faithful along its path intended to finish in Damascus, in May 2020.

“It is a great joy for me to have participated in this event which took place just before the Sunday Angelus,” said a joyful Marie-Claude Lalonde on the other end of the line. “This blessing is a pure joy as we are at the very heart of ACN’s mission: providing pastoral support to Christians who are in need.” And she adds: “This initiative touches on every one of the calls for peace that Pope Francis has launched to put a stop to the abominable conflict that has caused so much suffering for Syrian civilians. With this gesture he has reaffirmed with strength his support of the Syria population broken by war.”

 

Pilgrimage of the icon: For the healing of hearts

This icon of Our Lady of Sorrows was written last August by Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs and will be presented for the veneration of the faithful in 34 dioceses of Syria, likely until May 31, 2020.

I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde

“The blessing of an icon can seem inconsequential to secularized societies like our own,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. “But in Syria, religious traditions are still present in public and social society and these gestures—such as to write an icon, bless it and offer it for veneration by the faithful for a period of nine months is a veritable balm, immense and almost essential for all Christians who are wounded by this filthy war, they who have survived through over eight years of fratricidal conflict.”

“Finally, I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde in closing.

The Pope’s message to the families who will accompany the icon is: “You are not alone; we are with you.”

Meanwhile in Syria, the 6,000 rosaries blessed by Pope Francis one month ago were distributed throughout Syrian parishes as part of a larger prayer campaign for and with the Syrian people called Console my People, an initiative promoted by Aid to the Church in Need and the Syrian Churches.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 : Pope Francis,  blessing the Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People. Next to the Icon, Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs, the writer of the icon. (© ACN/AED)

A Drop of Milk in Homs, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need Canada continues to promote its fundraising campaign to raise over $378,000, for the provision of daily milk, for over 6,000 children aged 0 to 10 in the city of Homs for a period of six months.

There are three easy and secure ways to give for these children:

  • Give through our secure site: http://bit.ly/DropofMilk2019
  • By telephone: 1(800) 585-6333, Ext 222
  • By mail Aid to the Church in Need Canada
    PO. Box 670, Station H
    Montréal (Québec) H3G 2M6

 

ACN NEWS: Pope Francis Calls on Catholics to Pray for Syrian Families

16.08.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Syria

POPE FRANCIS AND ACN – AN ACN EVENT SUPPORTING SYRIANS

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to pray for Syrian families

By Amanda Griffin and Maria Lozano, ACN International
Published on the web, Friday August 16, 2019

Rome/Montreal, Thursday August 15, 2019 – This Thursday, August 15th, Pope Francis welcomed a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and blessed 6,000 Rosaries which will be offered to the families of the war victims in Syria.

Committed to helping the suffering Christians in Syria ACN has, since 2011, supported approximately 850 projects with a budget of 52.5 million dollars. But it is clear that money is simply not enough. Spiritual support is necessary to heal the wounds and scars left by a long war.

“The Rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, shall be a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria, especially those who have lost a loved one. We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and in the whole world.” The words of Pope Francis came during the Angelus prayers at the Vatican audience with the pontiff attended by ACN President, Thomas Heine-Geldern, as Pope Francis’ personal commitment to praying for peace in solidarity with the Syrian people.

 

Consoling my people – September 15th

Considering the profound need for Christians, and indeed for the whole of Syrian society, for solidarity, consolation as well for forgiveness, reconciliation and purification of memory at both the personal and communal levels –the benediction of the Rosaries will be followed-up with a special celebration of prayers for peace in Syria, on Sunday, September 15, led by the Holy Father (In Rome).  The local Christian leaders with the support of the international pontifical charity are organizing a celebration in Syria on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Prayers for the families of victims of war (killed and kidnapped alike). Pope Francis will bless the icon of “Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians” written by a Greek-Orthodox priest in Homs.

On the same date many celebrations will unfold in all Syrian parishes where pastoral gifts will be given to families in mourning, with a special Vespers and a Procession titled: Console my people (cf. Is 40:1). With the Console my people celebration, ACN hopes to provide a much needed spiritual consolation and moral support to Syrian families and communities recovering from profound losses of members who were killed or kidnapped, to console families who mourn the loss of their dearest ones and commemorate the victims of war.

 

ACN Drop of Milk campaign for the children of Homs

Aid to the Church in Need Canada has launched a campaign to help the children in the city of Homs, Syria. The goal is to give milk daily to children of 0 to 10 years old, for a period of six months.  The objective is to raise 378,000 dollars.

Information: DropofMilk2019 or 1-800-585-6333.

 

 

ACN Interview: Cardinal Baltasar Porras of Venezuela

05.08.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Interview, Venezuela

Venezuela

Interview of Cardinal Baltasar Porras: “Venezuela is suffering from a wartime economy”

by Maria Lozano & Josué Villalón for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada
Published on the web August 5th, 2019  

The social, political and economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate gravely, with shortages of food, medicines and the basic necessities of daily life. The Church is suffering the consequences of this crisis along with the people, and in many of the dioceses of the country the clergy and other pastoral workers, who are involved in the indispensable work of addressing the material and spiritual needs of the people, are themselves in need of aid in order to survive.

Cardinal Baltasar Porras, who is apostolic administrator of Caracas and Archbishop of Mérida, spoke recently with a delegation from the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) who were visiting the country to see the situation for themselves and observe how the aid projects of the charity are helping the Church in Venezuela in its pastoral and social outreach.


 

Venezuela is not actually at war, yet in reality it is living as though it were in a state of war. What would you say of this assessment?

We are living in an exceptional and unheard-of situation, which is not the result of war, nor of any armed conflict, or any natural catastrophe, and yet which is having similar consequences. The political regime that is running Venezuela has broken the country and has generated an atmosphere of social conflict that is steadily growing worse. On top of this there is the reality of so many Venezuelans living in exile – something that was unheard of before. People are leaving on account of their economic situation and because of their political ideas, while others are doing so on account of the harassment and repression in the country, whose economic system is now practically ruined. There is absolutely no security under the law. At the same time there is no work and no proper healthcare, there is no possibility for people of bringing home even the minimum to support their family. The experts describe this whole situation as a wartime economy.

 

Cars waiting in long lines for fuel

We have heard about the negotiations in Oslo between the government and the opposition, but there is a great deal of scepticism in regard to them. Do you think that this could really be a way forward to improve the situation in the country?

We have to understand that over the past 20 years, when the government found itself in difficulties, it frequently called for dialogue. But these appeals were only made in order to “paper over the cracks”, because the government had no real desire to negotiate sincerely, or to concede anything at all. Given this situation, a large proportion of the population have lost all trust and belief in the idea of dialogue. But despite this, it is an opportunity to discover if there is any will to restore democracy, which has for now been totally sidelined in this country. We are deeply concerned at the fact that in the last year the number of people who have been arrested, tortured, murdered or “disappeared” has been growing and that those involved in these actions include not only high-ranking members of the military, but also some members of the pro-government popular classes. Some of the state organisations are looked on by people as “Nazi” police, and generate fear among the people. The government has lost the streets, and now the only way it can control the people is through fear, and by deliberately provoking fuel, food and energy shortages.

 

Lack of transportation has become a problem for Venezuelans

During our visit we were able to see how, wherever there is a parish or another Church institution, people flock to it and find help and leave somewhat comforted. Could one say that the Church in Venezuela is a Church of Hope?

The public and private institutions have been destroyed, and the only institution remaining is the Church. This is thanks to our closeness to the people and to our presence at every level of society. Besides, the Church has had the courage to point out the defects of this regime. Other social agencies have not spoken out about this crisis, for fear of the government, which has threatened and closed down the communications media and attacked private enterprises.

 

Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras eating with the poor

 

As a result of its clear and firm stance the Church too is suffering from threats and pressure. Can it be said that the Church in Venezuela is being persecuted?

I would say, we cannot say that it is not persecuted. For example, in the field of education there are restrictions on the Catholic centres; it seems as though they are looking to place obstacles, so that it is the Church itself who has to close her own schools. For years we have been suffering subtle forms of pressure, including verbal threats and harassment against our social institutions such as Caritas, for example. The parishes are attacked by the government, by the communal councils and the so-called “colectivos”, pro-government popular groups. For example, in Caracas, the members of these groups stand at the church doors and listen to what the priest says in his homilies, and if they don’t like it, then the threats begin.

 

Poverty is on the rise

What would happen in Venezuela if it weren’t for the presence of the Catholic Church?

The situation would be worse, and worsening for many people. It hurts us to see our people like this. Given the phenomenon of emigration, those of us who have been left behind are “orphans of affection”, because the family and the whole environment in which we used to live have disappeared. We feel the lack of companionship and we also suffer because many of those who have emigrated are not doing well either. Venezuela is turning into a geopolitical problem that affects other countries also. There are already 4 million Venezuelans outside the country – 1.5 million in Colombia, 700,000 in Peru, 400,000 in Chile, 500,000 in Florida – half of them without papers, we are told. And there are many more in other countries of the Americas and in Europe. It is terribly sad.

 

What has Pope Francis said to you in the meetings you have had with him?

The Pope knows the situation in Venezuela very well, since long before he was appointed Pope. And in addition, his closest collaborators, such as the Vatican Secretary of State, have had direct connections with Venezuela and are very much involved. The Pope is trusting in the local bodies. In the last meeting that we had between the entire Venezuelan episcopate and the Holy Father he said to us “I endorse everything you are doing.” Some people wonder why he doesn’t say more about Venezuela. Things are being done, but discreetly, partly so as not to endanger the organisations which are helping the Church in Venezuela.

 

 

Have you a final message for those in ACN who are working together with the Church in Venezuela?

The support of many institutions, and not only Catholic ones, is a great source of consolation for us. In particular we are profoundly grateful to ACN, not only for your material support, but for the spiritual closeness expressed by you, above all through prayer. And there is one thing in particular we must acknowledge, namely that thanks to the support we receive from ACN in the form of Mass intentions, you are helping enormously to alleviate the needs in the parishes, and in this way we can devote other resources to support our social outreach. You are helping us to continue to be present and support the people who need us most.

 

March 2012: Ranchos in Caracas