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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

ACN Press – ACN supports UK report on persecution of Christians

16.07.2019 in ACN, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN United Kingdom, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Persecution of Christians

Persecution of Christians

Aid to the Church in Need Supports the Publication of a Government Report in the United Kingdom

Published on the web July 16, 2019

Montreal-London-Konigstein, Monday, July 15, 2019An independent report commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary has been published showing the scale of persecution of Christians around the world and the response of the United Kingdom Government to their plight.

 

The report is the first of its kind to be requested by a national government minister and produced with the cooperation of government civil service and other officials. The review was overseen by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Reverend Philip Mounstephen. The UK Office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provided support for its publication.

 

In his introduction to the report, Bishop Mounstephen points out that Christian persecution is not an isolated incident, but rather a “global phenomenon.” In the report, he also remarks that the focus on Christianity is “not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit.” Reflecting on the findings of the report, he states that Christians are the religious group who suffer the most persecution. The Church of England Bishop expressed regret that Western nations “have been blind to this issue” and expressed the hope that the report would be a wake-up call “not to be spectators but to be actors,” emphasizing the persecution of Christians is a question of universal human rights and should be seen as such.

 

The report of 176 pages analyzes world trends, detailing the situation in countries such as Iraq, Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Syria and concludes with a list of 22 recommendations directed at the FCO (Minister of Foreign Affairs). It calls for more government action in response to the violence against Christians, which it describes as having at times reached “near genocidal levels.” Among other things it calls on the British government to ensure that “freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains at the heart of the priorities of UK foreign policy,” and urges the country to become a “global leader in championing FoRB.”

 

Common Funeral Service for Easter Sunday Victims at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo (Sri Lanka).

 

The report was drawn up by a commission composed of FCO staff, members of NGOs experienced in the field of religious freedom and other independent members. Among the bodies included was the Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which for over 70 years now has been supporting persecuted Christians around the world. ACN was closely involved in the information-gathering for the first part of the report with essential investigative work on the scale of persecution in Africa, the Near-East and in South Asia.

“I hope the action of the British Government will inspire other governments in the world to dare to broach the question—the larger question—of religious freedoms.” – Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director ACN Canada

 

UK’s social media image.

ACN’s DNA: Keep Talking About Importance of Religious Freedom

“As an international organization we are happy to be able to give voice to the voiceless,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of ACN Canada. “From the beginning, our founder Father Werenfried warned western countries in the ’50s of the terrible tragedy endured by Christians ruled by authoritarian regimes, such as communism. Still today, our work with our partners in 139 countries allows us to ascertain the extent of the discrimination and persecution exercised against Christians. I hope the action of the British Government will inspire other governments in the world to dare to broach the question—the larger question—of religious freedoms.”

 

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK national office of ACN, underlined report’s importance, saying: “We are delighted to have been involved in this report. It is an incentive for our work that these problems should finally be recognized at the political level.” At the same time, he stressed the importance of protecting Christian minorities in countries where they face persecution and oppression. “There is a vital need to support this Christian presence, given that the Christians are frequently bridge builders and agents of peace in many of these countries.”

 


 

ACN Press: “Brutal” Closures of Church Administered Health Centres in Eritrea

11.07.2019 in ACN International

 

Eritrea

“Brutal” Closures of Church Administered Health Centres

by Tobias Lehner, for ACN International
Adapted by Mario Bard Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 11, 2019

Beginning in mid-June, the Eritrean military forcibly and “brutally” occupied and closed 21 hospitals and medical facilities run by the Catholic Church in Eritrea. This was reported last week to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), by Father Mussie Zerai, himself of Eritrean origin and currently coordinating the pastoral work for the country in Rome. “The patients were more or less thrown out of their beds. The military smashed wa and doors and pressured the staff […] the director of a hospital in northern Eritrea, a Franciscan Sister, was even arrested when she resisted the closure.”

 

“There is no justification for the actions of the regime. It punishes those who are taking care of the poorest of the poor,” Father Zerai said, also pointing out that the more than 200,000 people who receive treatment year after year at health care facilities run by the Church will suffer as a result of these new measures, for which the government has not announced any kind of replacement. It is believed the government wishes to have sole control of the social sector in favour of the “separation of powers” —It is thus basing its actions on a law passed in 1995 which has never been applied in such a brutal manner to date. “Most of the patients weren’t Catholics, but Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions. The facilities are often located in remote [and poor] areas,” the priest explained. In 2018, eight dispensaries were forced to close.

 

The reasons for these massive seizures remain unclear. According to the suggestions of outside observers, in the eyes of President Isaias Aferwerki’s government, the Church has become too self-confident in its efforts to further the peace process with Ethiopia. The situation is clear for Father Zerai: “The government is obsessed with having control over everything and everyone. It sees the Catholic Church as a threat because we are part of an international network and [we dare to] ask questions.”

All Religions Suffer in This State Marked by Atheism

Eritrea has at most 120,000 to 160,000 Catholics. Half of its population is Christian belonging to Orthodox Churches and Lutheran Evangelicals. In addition to Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam, the Orthodox and Lutheran churches are the only other religious denominations tolerated by the state. A situation reminiscent of the one observed in certain communist regimes, where official religious denominations cohabited parallel with those refusing interference from the state in their affairs. Or those who are held in contempt by the regime, though not prohibited, and thus become clandestine.

 

Moreover, unlike many other countries in North Africa, Islam is not the state religion in Eritrea. The country has a “strong atheistic leaning. If it were up to the government, religion would not exist. Essentially, it follows the same school of thought as China,” explained Father Zerai. In every case, all believers are suffering in similar situations.

 

No Constitution and No Fundamental Rights

“Young Eritreans are leaving the country in growing numbers because there is no rule of law,” Father Zerai explained. Moreover, the country has no constitution implemented to speak of, and this, despite the country declaring its independence in 1993. “This is why the people can just be picked up from their homes without reason. Military service has become legalized slavery. The possibility of a future is taken away from the young people,” Father Zerai said. Of course, at the present time, “the countries are trying to get Eritrea more involved on an international level in order to make it more open and democratic,” he explains. But despite its election in October 2018 to the Human Rights Council by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the human rights situation is still critical and the country remains isolated.

 

 

Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights in Eritrea, Mrs. Daniela Kravetz, considers the seizures of the last weeks demonstrate “that despite the improved regional climate for peace and security, the human rights situation [in Eritrea] remains unchanged.”

 

According to Father Zerai, similar to the overall human rights situation, the freedom of religion is severely restricted and at the mercy of capriciousness: “A few are permitted to freely practise their religion, but not all. Sometimes the cooperation works better [with authorities], sometimes worse.”—a situation which also applies to the freedom of religion.

 

In spite of the current escalation in violence, the priest is certain about one thing, “The Catholic Church will continue its pastoral work, but also its social work. After all, it says in the Bible: faith without works is dead. Taking away the ability of the Church to carry out charitable works is like amputating one of its arms.”

 

Since 2016 alone, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has financially supported 44 projects in Eritrea with a total of about $1.350 million dollars. This includes aid to build chapels and church facilities, funding for stipends and vehicles to secure the mobility of priests and subsistence aid for religious Sisters.

 

ACN Project of the Week – A new parish church in Camela, Brazil

11.07.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Brazil, South America

Brazil

A new parish church amidst the sugarcane

 

The town of Camela has a population of around 30,000 souls, and lies in the midst of the vast sugarcane plantations of northeastern Brazil.

 

The life of the people here is marked by great poverty and grave social problems manifesting in widespread violence and drug addiction.  Moreover, there has been an expansion into the territory of fundamentalist sectarian groups. Today there are no fewer than 75 different temples belonging to them in the town, while the Catholic Church has just one – far too small – parish church and chapel in the cemetery.

 

Furthermore, the church is sandwiched between a store and a supermarket, leaving no possibility of extending or enlarging it. Since there is not enough space inside the church for all the faithful. Sunday Mass is instead celebrated on the local sports grounds.

 

Father Laion Fernando Gonçalves dos Santos Ferreira, the parish priests, works very hard to serve his people. Together with three lay missionaries, they provide an excellent and fruitful pastoral ministry.

 

The parish has now been given a plot of land on which to build a new parish church. And they need our help.

 

ACN is proposing to offer $53,550 to support this project. Will you help us?

 

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ACN Feature story— Mosul, Iraq

10.07.2019 in Iraq, Middle East, Persecution of Christians

 

ACN Feature Story—Iraq

Mosul was liberated two years ago, but many Christians are still afraid to return

On July 10, 2017, exactly 2 years ago, Iraqi government declared Daesh (ISIS), defeated. The liberation of Mosul took place three years after the city had been subjected to strict sharia law, including forced conversions, mass executions and a resurgence of slavery.

 
by Xavier Bisits & Maria Lozano , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 10, 2019

 

Once the city was liberated “no one believed that the Christians would return to Mosul,” explained Syriac Catholic priest, Father Amanuel Adel Kloo in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). But Father Kloo certainly decided to return. In fact, he is currently the only priest in Mosul. He feels that it is his mission to “serve beneath the Cross” while at the same time “maintain and salvage the historical legacy of the Christian people here.” A legacy that includes Christian churches dating back over 1,200 years. As part of this same mission, he is rebuilding the Church of the Annunciation, which will be the first Christian church to be restored in Mosul.

 

Thus far, the number of Christians who have returned to Mosul is only 30 or 40 people. But there is a much larger community of “itinerant” or rather “commuting” Christians. For example, there are approximately 1,000 Christian students who travel daily to the University of Mosul from the surrounding smaller towns and villages. Added to these, a few hundred Christian labourers, most of whom are working for the government repairing still very damaged water and electricity supply networks. Father Kloo hopes that some of these Christians will eventually return to Mosul.

 

‘N’ for Nazarene marks the doorway of this home

In 2003 the Christian community in Mosul numbered around 35,000 faithful. In the 11 years that followed the beginning of the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, their numbers fell tragically, and the abduction and murder of Christians became an almost daily occurrence. Several churches were closed down even before the invasion by ISIS as many Christians had already left Mosul after the murders in 2008 of the Chaldean Catholic Bishop Raho and Father Ragheed. By 2014, only around 15,000 Christians belonging to various communities remained, including Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics and some Armenian Christian families. The bells that had sounded in Mosul for almost 2,000 years fell silent with the arrival of the jihadists. Immediately, thousands of Christians fled the city. Those who did not, were either forcibly converted or executed.

 

Renaissance of Christianity in its cradle—Iraq

Although almost devoid of Christians for the time being, the city of Mosul continues to be the “nominal” seat of two important bishoprics in Iraq. Both these dioceses have been reinforced in recent months with the appointment of new bishops—in January with Najeeb Michaeel Moussa as Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul, and in June with coadjutor bishop Nizar Semaan, to support Archbishop Petros Mouche of the Syriac Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul.

…”when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure… And many people will return.”

 

In time, Father Kloo hopes to be able to build a complex with accommodation for university students and for people in need. But the most urgent thing is to build a school as now nearly the entire million or so inhabitants of Mosul are Muslim and there are no Christian schools in the city. Clearly, this is a decisive factor for families who may consider returning.

Father Kloo is hoping that the Church of the Annunciation will be finished in three months’ time. And it represents still greater hope for him that it will signify a rebirth of Christianity in the historic city. “People are still afraid,” he says. “However, when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure… And many people will return.”

 

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need provided food, shelter, medicine and education for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) and elsewhere. When communities began returning home following the expulsion of Daesh (ISIS), the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.

 

ACN benefactors have given close to 64 million dollars in aid to Iraq between 2014 and May 2019.