fbpx

ACN Tag

 

ACN Info – Nigeria Attacks by Fulani herdsmen; “a timebomb”

19.12.2018 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Thomas Oswald & Maria Lozano

Nigeria

Attacks by Fulani herdsmen; “a timebomb”

 

NIGERIA / GBOKO – Bishop William AVENYA

Christians in northern Nigeria, in addition to suffering attacks by the terrorist Boko Haram group, are also facing a terrible situation as a result of the bloody attacks by Fulani herdsmen against Christian villages in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt.

 

“This is a time bomb that threatens to ignite the whole region,” says Bishop William Amove Avenya of the diocese of Gboko. He was speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). He described how in his diocese, located in Nigeria’s majority Christian Benue State, “Fulani tribesman, armed to the teeth, are murdering pregnant women and children and destroying our smallholdings”. Ever since 2010 the Christian villages have been the target of violent attacks by the nomadic, Muslim Fulani herdsman from the Sahel region, who have been armed with a wealth of modern weaponry. The result has been thousands killed and numerous communities forced to flee. “The Fulani have claimed far more victims during 2018 than Boko Haram, but no one is doing anything about it,” the bishop explained.

Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria  Credit: © Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications

“This is a time bomb”

According to Bishop Avenya, the Nigerian authorities are simply not taking the necessary measures to address the violence. He denounced the silence of the government and of the media. During his visit to Europe to attend the official launch of ACN’s Report on Religious Freedom in the World, the bishop met with EU politicians from Brussels who likewise “seemed poorly informed about the situation in our country and about the threat posed by the Fulani, who have been supplied with modern weapons of a kind not used by simple herdsmen. We need to ask who is behind this.”

 

Presentation of the Religious Freedom Report at the European Parliament in Brussels on 04.12.2018
(from left to right):
Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla (Head of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace),
Mark von Riedemann ( ACN Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom)
His Excellency Mgr. Alain Lebeaupin (Apostolic Nuncio to the EU),
His Excellency Mgr William Avenya (Bishop of Gboko, Nigeria),
Sister Fida Chaaya (Damascus in Syria)

“We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

Nigeria, Kaduna : Destruction by fulani attacks 2017

Already a month ago, Bishop Avenya had issued a desperate appeal to the international community, urging it “not to wait for a genocide to happen before intervening.” Additionally, on numerous occasions, the Nigerian bishops’ conference has called on the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to provide effective guarantees for the safety of his people or, if he is unable to do so, to resign. Their petition has been ignored and the violence continues. Meanwhile, Muhammadu Buhari plans to stand once again for president in the new elections to be held in February next year.

“Meanwhile, the Church continues to try and heal the wounds,” Bishop Avenya added. “We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

ACN Canada is supporting the Church in Nigeria.  Please be generous with our project partners!  Learn more here: NigeriaACN

 

ACN Interview – Sister Yvonne Gera in Algeria

18.12.2018 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Algeria, By Grace Attu

ALGERIA / CONSTANTINE  Management of buildings in the parish of Skikda.

Algeria

“They died at their post”

Between 1994 and 1996, Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 others were killed during the Algerian civil war. The cause for their beatification opened in 2007 and at the beginning of this year, Pope Francis signed the decree confirming that they died in “odium fidei” (hatred of the faith) thus recognizing them as martyrs.

On December 8th the ceremony of beatification took place in the Cathedral of the Diocese of Oran, where Msgr Pierre Claverie was Bishop. 

Sr Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary who worked in Algeria for 22 years and knew each of the 19 martyrs personally, speaks to Grace Attu from the ACN National Office in Malta about the martyrs and her experience in Algeria at the time.

 

ACN: The official document of the Congregation for the causes of Saints describes the 19 Martyrs as “Bishop Pierre Claverie and 18 companions,” who are they, really?

Sr. Yvonne Gera, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary

Sr. YVONNE GERA: Yes. They are Bishop Pierre Claverie, seven Trappist monks from Tibhirine, one Marist brother, four White Fathers, and six Nuns from various congregations that had a presence in Algeria. They all worked with the people; helping the poor, the sick, the children.  The Marist brother Henry worked in a Library of the diocese that attended to more than a thousand youth  especially poor children, some of the sisters were Nurses. The 7 Trappists had a clinic, one of them was a doctor and all the people came. They didn’t ask if they were Muslim or Christians before helping them. Bishop Pierre Claverie always spoke the truth to the government and the people.

 

ACN: Can you give us a background of the situation that led to their death?

YVONNE GERA: First of all I would like to say that the war in Algeria was not a religious war but a civil war. The Islamists took advantage of the situation. On October 3, 1993, all foreigners were warned that if they didn’t leave the country by the end of the year, they would be targeted.

On the eve of Christmas, the terrorists visited the Monastery. They wanted money but the Prior told them, “we live on our crops.” All of a sudden the bell rang for Christmas Eve Mass and he told them, “Today is born the King of Peace” and they told him, “Ayisa” in Arabic meaning that they will come back.

The quit notice was not only to religious but also to foreign Christian families. So, between 1992 and 1993, the Church lost almost all foreign Catholic families. Even as we were targeted, we all stayed. We used to say that the captain is not going to leave the ship while it is sinking. So we all remained.

 

ACN: They are being beatified together.  What do they have in common?

YVONNE GERA: At that time, almost all religious had to write to their superior general if they were willing to stay. Those who were afraid left. But one thing these 19 had in common was that they decided to stay despite the threats. They continued working and taking care of the people. And they died at their duty posts.

Fr Paul-Elie Cheknoun serving the parishes of om Alger and Constantine

 

ACN: You were also working in Algeria during this period. What was your experience?

YVONNE GERA : I worked 22 years in Algeria and out of it was 14 years of war. Why I am here and was not killed during that time, I don’t know. I was also a target. In the morning I tell the Lord, “keep your Hand on me, help me to do my duty.”

One morning, I received a call from French Ambassador. He asked to speak with Msgr Henri Teissier. The ambassador told him, “Go to the French hospital.” We went to the French hospital, and there were 7 coffins. At first, they didn’t want to open it but Msgr Teissier told them, “If you don’t open it, I can’t say if they are the terrorists or the brothers.” Then he opened and in each coffin, there was only the head of each monk (the 7 Trappists). As I was waiting, Msgr Teissier told me, “Do you want to see them?”, I replied, “Yes, for the last time,” It was horrible to see.

The Church suffered a lot. But it was a Church of presence. We never preached. We didn’t go and preach here and there but everyone was welcomed and they came. I was in charge of all the clinics of the Church and all clinics had a centre for malnourished children and a centre for mother and child-care. Everything was free.

We never had difficulties with the people. During Ramadan we used to be invited every evening to different families to have the meal with them. In the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa, it is written “pray for us and for the Muslims.” And the young women (including Muslims) who could not have a baby used to come to pray to our Lady, bringing a doll, and when she had the baby, she came to present it to Our Lady.

Participation of 30 young faithful of the church of Algeria in the WYD in Krakow, Poland, July 2016.

 

ACN: Even today, many priests and religious who work in crisis ridden countries suffer threats to their lives. Some have been abducted. What word do you have for them?

YVONNE GERA: We are missionaries. Whatever happens, we are missionaries. We know that that is our vocation and I say one thing, “you will receive more than you give”. It is sometimes difficult, yes but the Lord has called us. If the people suffer, we suffer with them. It is our vocation and the Lord is always there to help us. Even in suffering or in martyrdom. These 19 martyrs knew that they were targeted but they remained. Don’t be afraid, the Lord is there to help you.

On the occasion of the beatification of the 19 Martyrs in Oran, Algeria on December 8, 2018, Aid to the Church in Need (Malta) will issue a booklet about the Martyrs, who they were, the kind of life they lived and some testimonies about them.

 

To learn more about the situation of the religious freedom in Algeria please see: www.religious-freedom-report.org

ACN Info – Nicaragua, Cardinal Brenes: “The tears of the people are the tears of God”

14.12.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN Intl

Nicaragua

November 2018
Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano, diocese of Managua in Nicaragua

Cardinal Brenes: “The tears of the people are the tears of God”

“Dialogue is the only solution”

A few days before the national feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, called on people to “pray for Nicaragua; for peace and unity among the people and in the families,” in a video message sent to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The Cardinal goes on to insist, “The tears of the people are the tears of God, and so they are also the tears of Mary, who is our Mother. She would weep seeing our situation.”

Speaking to the media about the significance of this great feast day for the Nicaraguan people, Cardinal Brenes gave thanks to God for the fact that conflicts in the country “are diminishing” and expressed the hope that little by little, “we will be able to regain peace.” And he invited people to “continue working during this Advent of hope” and at the same time to reflect on the broad pastoral message for Advent published by the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, which has not been well received in every sector of society.

In their Advent message – issued at a critical moment for the country, still in the throes of a social and political crisis caused by the killings and repression which first prompted the protests against President Daniel Ortega – the Nicaraguan Bishops remind people that they must act as though they are “co-workers of God” in the face of “injustice and oppression.” They must not allow themselves “to be seduced by quick-fix solutions.” Instead, “the new Nicaragua needs non-violent leaders who, with the help of God, will achieve goals of freedom and justice.” The bishops call for dialogue, for words and gestures of solidarity, love and forgiveness in order to confront the violence. They remind people that in the face of the conflicts and the crisis the country is going through, “no one can remain detached with arms folded,” at the sight of “the suffering of our adversaries, who have not ceased to be our brothers.” The bishops insist that everyone must break with their own “personal egoisms” in order to become more and more like “the Lord.”

 

A family in the village of Inotaga, Inotega diocese

Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes insists on dialogue, which he describes as “the spirit of the Church, be it in the family, vis-a-vis our neighbours or in politics.” The same sentiment is contained in the Advent message of the bishops, in which they emphasize that “a good politician is one who has in mind the interests of all parties and seizes the opportunity to engage in dialogue with an open spirit.” At the same time, they also recognize the difficulty in solving every issue through dialogue between the state and society, and add that they themselves are “willing to accompany any proposals that best live up to human dignity and the common good.”

“With dialogue there is hope for the future; without it every effort will end in failure. This is the only peaceful way out of this social and political crisis,” they conclude.

 

The crisis in Nicaragua

Trip to Nicaragua, November 2018
Bishop Jorge Solórzano Pérez (Bishop of Granada, Nicaragua) – World Day of the Poor

Nicaragua is currently going through a political and social crisis which has its root cause in the growing authoritarianism and lack of respect for the rule of law that started emerging in the last decade, following the electoral victory of President Daniel Ortega in 2006. An attempted reform of the social security system by the government in April 2018 prompted mass protests, which were violently repressed by groups close to the government. The result was hundreds killed, hundreds of young people still lingering in the prisons of Nicaragua and thousands of young people who simply left the country. Nicaragua is now a divided and desperate country. The Church in Nicaragua, which has taken a critical stance in response to the political authoritarianism it has witnessed, has likewise been subjected to a campaign of vilification on the part of the government and has received a constant string of threats from groups close to President Ortega.

Several bishops have been attacked, among them auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez of Managua, Bishop Juan Mata of Estelí and Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa. Not to mention the violent incident in the Basilica of San Sebastian in the city of Diriamba, when Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag were both assaulted.

 

ACN International has just concluded a visit to Nicaragua to investigate the situation at first hand and assess what practical help can be given to the local Church to help reinforce its pastoral outreach in these difficult and delicate moments for the country.

 

 

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – Cameroon

06.12.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Cameroon

ACN Project of the Week: Cameroon

Help for the training of seminarians threatened by Boko Haram terrorists

Nigeria is not the only country suffering from the terror of Boko Haram. Its neighbour, Cameroon also suffers from the violence of Islamist terror groups in the northern part of the country.

 

It is true that the organized armed attacks by Boko Haram have now decreased in the face of a united military offensive by several African countries. On the other hand, suicide bombings have continued, as have murders and abductions in the affected areas—leaving many people to live in fear.

 

The Catholic diocese of Maroua-Mokolo, found in the far north region of Cameroon, faces many difficult challenges. Not only located in a significantly poor part of the country, but the diocese also has to take in large numbers of Nigerian and Cameroonian refugees. A positive side to this difficult remains, however, for the people’s faith is unbroken. And despite the fear of attack, people continue to flock to the churches. The number of vocations is also growing. Right now, 32 seminarians are training for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary, plus another 18 youths at the minor seminary; four more are in their so-called propaedeutic year (a form of educational foundation year in preparation for entering the seminary proper).  This number is astonishingly high given that there are only around 84,000 Catholics in the diocese.

 

 

These vocations naturally delight Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo, but he desperately needs financial help so as to give these young men a solid and thorough formation. He has asked ACN for help and we are planning to give him $40,500 dollars.

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

ACN News: A First #RedWednesday in Canada

05.12.2018 in Uncategorized

A First #RedWednesday in Canada

Close to 1,500 participants across the land

“This first edition of Red Wednesday – #RedWednesday – is a real success across the board,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN), a little over a week after the event which, from one ocean to the other, gathered close to 1,500 people in at least 8 Canadian dioceses with a total 65 different activities.

“A response for which we feel overjoyed and demonstrates to us the extraordinary desire people hold to be in solidarity with those whose fundamental right for religious freedom and freedom of conscience is not respected,” adds Mrs. Lalonde. “We are already asking people across the country to mark Wednesday, November 20, 2019, on their calendars.  Join us in this global movement aiming to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians and serious lack – in certain cases an extreme lack – of religious freedom in close to forty or so countries.”

 

Calgary: 58 Activities

The team at the Diocese of Calgary responded with great enthusiasm to the call launched by ACN and then by their bishop, Msgr. William Terrence McGrattan. “There were 51 activities organized throughout the region taking place throughout the day,” said Theodoric Nowak, director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries for the diocese.  “Essentially, times for prayer were scheduled, or in some cases, parishes decided to offer masses that day for the intentions of persecuted Christians and to subscribe to the objectives of #RedWednesday.  Mr. Nowak who was the principal promoter of the event of the diocese indicates, “people in our diocese hold religious freedom to heart and cannot conceive of people, including their brothers and sisters in the faith, would be obligated to practise in secret or worse, face imprisonment for simply professing their faith.  It is inconceivable to us!” he adds.  According to Mr. Nowak, another reason is also that in the parishes one can find “a large number of immigrant people coming from countries where religious freedom is under pressure.  They understand the situation all too well,” he concludes.

 

Braving a Storm

On November 21st, in the afternoon, snow fell abundantly and was accompanied by violent winds,” Robert Lebel, the priest who heads the ecumenical pavilion of Versant-la-Noel (roughly translated as Christmas Slope for it sits at the foot of a mountain slope in Thetford Mines, diocese of Quebec) and author-composer-singer of the well-known songs, among others the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. “The thick powder made travelling very difficult and the mercury quickly fell to zero! But the team of Versant-La-Noel chose not to cancel nor to reschedule the vigil anticipated for this Red Wednesday.”

 

In a message sent to ACN, he also wrote, “Despite the temperature, thirty or so people gathered in the ecumenical pavilion which was completely lit in red.  In the spirit of simplicity and as a symbol of solidarity people were wearing red and also wore the scarves provided by ACN.  We also used the presentation texts about the global situation prepared by ACN, as well as the suggested prayers.  Of course, we shared in our prayers spontaneously and our evening was punctuated with song: Intercession, Consolez mon Peuple, Rien jamais, Comme la Prunelle de tes yeux…. Thank you to the ACN team for this invitation to raise awareness in our world about these never-ending persecutions and in bringing us into solidarity through this chain of prayer.”

 

An Embassy That Went Red

Elsewhere in Canada, the archbishops of Toronto and Montreal both presided over events connected to #RedWednesday.  In cosmopolitan Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins presided at an evening interfaith prayer vigil broadcast live on Salt and Light television.  And in Montreal, Msgr Christian Lepine presided for a fifth consecutive year at a mass for persecuted Christians. The mass was broadcast over the radio waves of RadioVM, a Catholic radio station reaching a vast number of Quebecers.  In Ottawa, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) lit their offices in red, one way to give support to persecuted Christians.

Finally, the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa illuminated their building.  The Christians of Hungary, when living under a communist regime, benefitted from ACN support.  Today the government is contributing to the reconstruction of Christian towns and villages on the Nineveh Plain in Iraq.  In 2017, it was the first member country of the European Union to consult with Aid to the Church in Need with regard to the reconstruction of this region devastated by the Islamic State.

In all, 65 activities took place in at least eight dioceses: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Rimouski, Toronto, Saint Jerome and as far away in northern Ontario as Hearst.  “We are already making plans for next year!” said Mrs. Lalonde.  “The enthusiasm shown by the organizers for this activity of awareness raising, prayer and information is very encouraging.  We hope to see everyone next year!”

The archdiocese of Toronto was also very active this Red Wednesday with activities and spreading the word to all their parishioners. We invite you to read the homily given by Archbishop Collins of Toronto and also view the beautiful vigil in replay which was broadcast live from Saint Michael’s right here: Red Wednesday Vigil in Toronto.

For more information: www.acn-canada.org

Full 2018 Religious Freedom Report: www.religion-freedom-report.org

Executive Summary  (PDF Version) : bit.ly/RFR_ACNCanada

Key words: #ReligiousFreedom  #RFR2018  #ACN

 

 

 

ACN Feature Story: Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

04.12.2018 in By Amanda Griffin, Pakistan, Religious Freedom Report, Shahbaz Bhatti

Christians living in ‘7 lanes’ district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, came under fire from Muslim extremists displaced to the neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence.

Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

Pakistan. A country where the Christian minority experiences terrible persecution and discrimination, simply because of their faith.

One tool of discrimination used against Christians or other minorities is the “Blasphemy Law”.  In 1986, the so-called blasphemy law was enacted in Pakistan. In principle, the law protects all religions from offences, but it provides for severe and draconian punishments to offences and blasphemies against Islam: and the 1,300 people along the way accused of transgressing the blasphemy laws since it was instated. A simple suspicion or a statement would be enough to imprison a person, and the burden of proof is placed on the accused, who is left to prove his, or her, innocence. So far, no one who has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death has actually been executed. Though one significant case that drew worldwide attention almost saw it through. It involved a woman named Asia Bibi.

 

Asia Bibi, Christian mother of five

Ms. Bibi, a Christian woman from a simple village, living a simple life as a mother of five children—and who in fact has never even left her small surroundings even to go to the capital of Islamabad—when one day a small action on her part would devastate her entire life, giving rise to accusations of blasphemy.  The accusation was followed by a mob attacking her in the streets along with her young daughter–they were beaten and finally Ms. Bibi was arrested.  Having no credibility, as a woman and as a Christian within the Pakistani legal system, she was found guilty of blasphemy and placed on death row where she remained in isolation and awful conditions for the better part of 10 years until very recently.

Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi during their October 2018 visit to the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need.

On October 31, 2018 – after her appeal to overthrow the death penalty was pushed back many times because judges were unwilling to hear the case, it is assumed for fear of reprisals.  She was finally and joyously for her family and supporters around the world–acquitted of the crime, found not guilty.  But she could not be freed from her imprisonment, not let out to be with her family because riots and unrest demanding she be put to death for her crime, ensued in the country.

Unfortunately, even if she is now out of prison, she has still not been able to be with her family for the threats of violence  persist.  Recent arrests of protest leaders have maintained the ongoing threat to her life.

Like in other moments of Pakistan’s recent history, this mass reaction to uphold the death sentence demonstrates the gravity of the situation local Christians in Pakistan find themselves in. In the past, and during Asia Bibi’s trial, other brave people spoke out for her freedom and minority rights. Many were silenced for doing so, and ultimately some were assassinated. This calls to mind a brave Christian man named Shahbaz Bhatti.

 

Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs

His courageous pursuit towards realizing his dream of religious freedom and equality for all led him in 2008 to being appointed Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. Within a short time, he managed to introduce a law guaranteeing minorities a five-percent share of public posts, including parliament.  He became personally involved in difficult issues confronting ordinary people, and in particular sensitive to the two percent minority Christian community. He spoke out for the voiceless, and for among others, Asia Bibi. His open criticism about the misuse of the blasphemy law resulted in an ever-growing number of threats and although conscious of the mounting very real danger, he very bravely did not back down from his commitment to help discriminated religious minorities.

On March 2, 2011, his car was sprayed with gunfire outside his Islamabad home. Twenty-seven bullets found their target.

 

A cemetery in Gojra, diocese of Faisalabad – grave of Shahbaz Bhatti -Pakistan 2011 Photo: Magdalena Wolnik

 

Two years before his death, in yet another quote from a book that has become his spiritual testament, Bhatti wrote, “My human body is wounded but these wounds are not physical wounds, they are the wounds of worry, of grief, of the sorrows and pains of the persecuted Christians of Pakistan, of the needy and the oppressed Christians. We are one family with the people who are in need. Thus as a family we should share the sorrows, the griefs and the sufferings of each other.” I am deeply convinced that these words remain equally relevant today, as much to me, as to us all.

Now Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said of him that he was “a man with a dream, with a vision, that people of different faiths can live here together.”

 

Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab

Another brave man assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

 

Pakistan, May 2017  Women and children during Holy Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.

The abduction and rape of women as a tool

Another tool used to discriminate and persecute Christians, Christian women in particular, according to the Religious Freedom in the World Report released recently by Aid to the Church in Need International*, the abduction of women in minorities is also on the rise in 2018. Often, authorities tell parents the girl has converted and married of her own free will. Many families don’t report the crime, or withdraw the case, because of threats against other women and girls in the family.

 

Such abductions are part of a wider pattern of sexual violence against religious-minority women: more powerless before courts than Muslim women, they are a soft target as rapists know prosecution is unlikely. If a woman cannot prove sex happened against her will, she can be accused of adultery and face arrest, flogging or even stoning to death. For this reason, many women are frightened to report sexual violence committed against them or their loved ones.

 

Mr. Bhatti’s call for prayers for freedom of religion and equality along with so many other brave souls have finally made a difference for Asia Bibi and her family who have never ceased advocating, fighting and praying for her. Reunited, but still awaiting a firm invitation from a safe country, like Canada.

 

Pakistan, May 2017 – At the St. Joseph’s Colony. Visit of the St. Joseph’s Colony, located in a Christian-dominated neighborhood of Lahore, where an enraged mob torched dozens of houses following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man in March 2013. It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy.

To learn more about the volatile and increasingly dangerous situation of Christians in Pakistan, the Pakistani penal code and the “blasphemy laws” introduced in 1986, please consult the full length Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 with extensive data on the subject compiled on the international website where you can view by country: Pakistan.

By Amanda Griffin, ACN CANADA
Sources: ACN Religious Freedom Report 2016 and 2018, the Catholic Register and various ACN Press articles
*Other sources: Human Rights Council of Pakistan and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan

ACN News: Aid to the Church in Need Religious Freedom Report 2018

22.11.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PRESS, Refugees, Religious freedom, Religious Freedom Report

Aggressive nationalism is fueling religious hatred –
and the West is failing to act

Report says West is not doing enough to confront new crisis of oppressive nationalism

A surge in aggressive nationalism in key parts of the world is to blame for a rise in violence and other intimidation against religious minorities – and the West is failing to convert words of concern into action, according to a report just out.

Religious Freedom Report 2018

Religious Freedom Report 2018

Assessing all 196 countries around the globe, the Religious Freedom in the World 2018 Report concludes that “ultra-nationalism” by both government and non-state actors has caused a spike in hatred against faith minorities in countries including leading regional powers such as India, China and Burma (Myanmar). The full report is to be found on the following: www.religion-freedom-report.org. The Executive Summary is in PDF format on www.acn-canada.org.

The report, produced every two years by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, finds that religious illiteracy, including within the media, and the lack of political action in the West, has exacerbated the problem, concluding that many faith minority groups suffer behind a “curtain of indifference.”

“This is a situation that we believe is a real challenge for Canada,” considers Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) “Experience tells us the more people know about a situation, the more they can act on to change what at first may have seemed completely unchangeable. Freedom of religion must become an essential concern for Canadians if we want a real change in the numbers of countries where rampant discrimination and persecution are killing so many.”

Religious Freedom in the World 2018 criticizes governments stating: “Most Western governments have failed to provide urgently needed assistance to minority faith groups, especially displaced communities wanting to return home.”

The report says most governments failed to offer displaced minority faith groups the help they themselves have requested to enable their return to northern Iraq and elsewhere following the ousting of Daesh (ISIS) and other militant groups.

Photo: © Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications

Nigeria: Fulani herdsmen (Muslims), and farmers (Christians). What was mainly an economic conflict is becoming more religious as one group wants to dominate the other. (Photo: © Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications)

The investigation by the Catholic charity finds that media coverage about militant Islam has focused almost exclusively on the fight-back against Daesh and affiliate groups during the period under review – 2016-18 – and has largely ignored the relentless spread of militant Islamist movements in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

According to the report, a main driver behind the growth in extremism is the growing clash between Sunni and Shi’a, the main rival branches of Islam. The report states that in the 25-month review period the situation for minority faith groups deteriorated in almost half of the countries classed as having significant violations of religious freedom – 18 out of a total of 38 countries.

Worsening intolerance towards religious minorities meant that for the first time in the report’s 19-year history two new countries: Russia and Kyrgyzstan – were placed in the “discrimination” category.

The report adds that in a number of cases, such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the situation was already so bad that in the period under review it was virtually impossible for it to get any worse.

“This rapid deterioration of rights in critically classified countries, such as the right to practice one’s faith in freedom and security as stipulated in article 18 of the UN Charter of Human Rights should be of great concern for all people of all faiths,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, the National Director of ACN Canada.

 

Turning to the West

Turning to the West, the report highlights a surge in extremist attacks by militants against targets in the West. Such terrorism striking at the heart of liberal democracies means that the threat can be called “neighbourhood terrorism.” The report says the danger from such terrorists is “universal, imminent and ever-present.”

Religious Freedom in the World 2018 underlines in this context the growth of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the West as well.  Summarizing the report’s main findings, Editor-in-Chief John Pontifex said: “Aggressive ultra-nationalism – be it by hard-line governments or violent extremist groups – means many minority faith groups feel like aliens in their own country. They are easy targets in a new era of ignorance and intolerance.

“True, there are some like the Rohingya Muslims, whose plight has received due attention in the West, but so many others – such as Christians in Nigeria, Ahmadis in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran – feel abandoned by the West where religious freedom has slipped down the human rights priority rankings.”

Mme Lalonde, in Toronto on Wednesday November 21, for a Red Wednesday interfaith prayer vigil, an event organized by Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world said, “We must challenge this pervasive ignorance by informing, as we are doing with this rare global report on religious freedom, and challenge intolerance through acts of unity like we are doing today by praying together as brothers and sisters of many faiths.”

 

ACN News: 22.11. 2018 – International/Religious Freedom Report 2018 
by John Pontifex, Adapted by Amanda Griffin ACN Canada

ACN Feature Story: Syria, “Helping to heal the spiritual wounds of the war”

19.11.2018 in International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Jesuits, Sacred Heart Sisters, Sisters, Syria, Texte: Josue Villalón

Syria 2016 September – Sr. Samia Jerij of the Sacred Heart Sisters in the courtyard of the Jesuits in the Old Hom

Syria

 “Helping to heal the spiritual wounds of the war”

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the pastoral work of the Sacred Heart Sisters in the Syrian city of Homs.

The church of Altip, in the Bab Al-Sebaa district, just south of the Old Quarter of Homs, is a social and pastoral training centre. “Years ago it was a Catholic school, but then the government banned all non-state schools. Since then we have used it as a catechetical centre, giving religious instruction to young people and adults, and we also hold social events and sports days here,” explains Sister Samia Syiej, the religious Sister in charge of coordinating catechetical instruction for a group of children preparing for confirmation.

 

Sister Samia points out the exact spot where the bombs fell, close to the centre of Altip. “Local families have helped us to repair two sections of the roof which were destroyed by the bombing. But in addition to everything else, what we now have to do is to help repair not only the external damage, but the damage within people’s hearts. I am a religious, and my first responsibility is to bear witness spiritually and help people. This is what moves me. We lived through the war and witnessed it close up. Catechesis is important in helping to heal the wounds.”

 

Working alongside Sister Samia are a number of young university students who divide themselves between the various different catechetical groups and actively help in this pastoral apostolate. A delegation from our international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) happened to visit while they were endeavouring to explain to the young boys and girls about the life of Jesus during his Passion and Crucifixion, a central point of the Christian faith. One of these catechists is Haya Elias. “Sister Samia taught us how to become closer to God, and now we are passing this on those who come after us.” She is studying philology at university and has always been a member of the group helping the sisters.Sister Samia is a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a congregation founded in Syria and inspired by Ignatian spirituality. “We have 12 houses throughout Syria. I am also involved in pastoral work with disabled children. Our congregation is very active and we pursue a range of initiatives, both pastoral and social,” she continues.

 

Sr. Samia Jerij of Sacred Heart Sisters with children – Children receiving Christmas gifts in Aleppo 2017

 

“I am very conscious that I owe my life to God and to the prayers of people like Sister Samia,” says a young man who is currently unemployed. He was in the army, compulsorily recruited to fight in the war. During an ambush he was captured by a rebel group and held prisoner for months. Everybody assumed he was dead, but miraculously he succeeded in escaping. “I thank God, and I thank the Sisters for never having given up praying for me. I am so grateful to them today and so now I am helping them as a catechist.”

The Church in Syria is very much alive, despite more than seven years of war. The priests, and the religious brothers and sisters in the country have become a fresh source of hope for the people. “We have never stopped offering our help, our prayers and our accompaniment… Everything is being done through the collaboration of the priests, religious and laity. We all work together to organize these activities and, thanks be to God, we have some very active

Sr. Samia distributing more gifts.

young people,” Sister Samia continues.

 

In addition to coordinating the religious instruction, Sister Samia also works in a home for mentally handicapped children. “We have always carried out projects with the help of ACN, even during the bloodiest moments of the war. Children and adults alike often need a word of hope, and want to grow stronger in their faith. The children come to the church, and they can also be very demanding. During the summer, for example, we held a number of youth camps, which gave fresh hope to many people. This is what motivates us.”

 

Over the course of 2018, and thanks to the generous help of our many benefactors throughout the world, ACN has been able to support more than 35 pastoral courses and programs for young people and children in various different parts of Syria, for a total cost of $255,000.

ACN Press Release: #RedWednesday A first in Canada

19.11.2018 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians, World

 

Press Release

#RedWednesday
A first in Canada

Montreal, Friday November 16 – Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Rimouski, Hearst, and Quebec and more: Wednesday November 21st, close to 50 activities planned, each one connected to Red Wednesday (#RedWednesday) will take place in dioceses across Canada.  Initiated a few years ago by the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), this event helps to sensitize and inform people about the situation of 200 million Christians who regularly live situations of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, and in a particularly acute way in at least 30 countries.

 

This is the fifth Mass for persecuted Christians to be held in Montreal where the event saw it’s beginning in Canada.  Msgr Christian Lépine will preside over the liturgy which will begin at 7:30pm and will be preceded by a 5 à 7 gathering around the subject of religious freedom – created for youth 18-35 years old, to be held in the basement of the Cathedral.

 

In Toronto, Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Collins will preside over the interfaith prayer vigil beginning at 6:30pm.  In Alberta’s metropolis, Calgary and greater area throughout the diocese many events have been planned including a Rosary Prayer followed by a Mass at Saint Mary’s University.  In Versant la Noel, at Robert Lebel’s, composer of the theme song for World Youth Days in Toronto in 2002 (doors open at 6:15).

 

“This is a first experience for us which is starting on a very positive note!” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director at the ACN Canada.  “We are very happy that so many people are willing to take part in the event and willing to share with us in this deep concern with regard to the situation of persecuted Christians and victims of discrimination in the world.  It is also a way to demonstrate one’s solidarity with those who are suffering.”

 

Some elements that will be present in various buildings across the country – the doorways to the Cathedrals in Montreal and Toronto for example, as well as the interior of the Saint Michael’s Toronto cathedral, will be lit with red lights, the colour of the blood of the martyrs.  The ecumenical pavilion at Versant-la-Noel will be robed in red as well.

 

Many nations deprived of a fundamental right

In his letter inviting the faithful of his diocese to participate in the event, the Archbishop of Calgary, Msgr William T. McGrattan, underlined, “while it is true that Canadian Christians are facing increasing challenges in the practice of our faith, we must also continue to express gratitude for the many liberties which our country provides. Sadly, many nations across the globe continue to deprive their citizens of even the most basic religious freedoms.

Currently, over 30 events have been organized in his diocese, generally masses and moments of prayer prepared as acts of solidarity with persecuted Christians suffering from severe forms of discrimination.

 

ACN’s 2018 report on Religious Freedom launch date: November 22

“This Red Wednesday is also in accord with the publication of our Religious Freedom in the World Report 2016-2018 which will be launched the following day, Thursday November 22, at the Vatican,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde for whom this event represents a shift in the understanding Catholics here have of religious persecution lived by Christians.  “I think that people are beginning to grasp the scope of the problem and realize that article 18 of the Universal Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that should ensure the right to religious freedom in all signatory countries, is far from being respected.”

This will be the fourteenth edition of the ACN report on Religious Freedom in the World. It examines the situation in over 190 different countries and documents not only the current legal situation but also the abuses against the right to religious freedom over the time period 2016–2018. The report also details developments and changes in the situation in a number of the most critically threatened countries documented in the previous report of 2014-2016.

Nigeria: Fulani Herdsmen – mostly Muslim – threaten farmers – mostly Christians. Economic or religious conflict? Answer November 22nd
(Photo: © Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Directorate of Social Communications)

 

The report will only be available online in Canada, in French and in English at the following website : www.religion-freedom-report.org. An executive summary will be available on ACN Canada’s website: www.aed-canada.org.

For more information:

http://bit.ly/RWednesday-Canada
1-800-585-6333 or,
[email protected]


Source: Mario Bard, Information, Aid to the Church in Need Canada
Amanda Griffin, English Information, ext. 221 or toll free at 1-800-585-6333
[email protected]
Website: acn-canada.org Cell. Phone: 514-967-8340

*ACN’s articles are given freely for partial or full publication on condition that ©Aid to the Church in Need is mentioned as the source.  If you would like to use an original photo, or for an interview with the National Director, Marie-Claude Lalonde, please contact us at the coordinates above.Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, is a Pontifical Charity which has as Mission to provide assistance to Catholics wherever the Church suffers from poverty or persecution. The international charity operates offices in 23 countries including Canada, who together support projects in over 145 countries.

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – Lebanon 5,000 Bibles for the youth apostolate in the Archdiocese of Zahleh

14.11.2018 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Lebanon, Middle East

ACN Project of the Week – Lebanon

Church of St. Andrew, the Apostle Greek-Catholic archdiocese of Zahle. 

5,000 Bibles for the youth apostolate in the Archdiocese of Zahleh

More and more Christians are leaving the Middle-East. This Exodus is not only affecting Syria and Iraq, but Lebanon as well. In the quite recent past, this was the only country in the Middle East with a Christian majority population. But now, Christians are an ever shrinking minority. Back in the civil, some 700,000 Christians left the country 1975 to 1990 – the exodus continues to this day. Christians now represent just 34% of the total population, and only a quarter of young people under the age of 25.

The mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East is frequently described as a tsunami. In August 2015 Patriarch Gregorios III, who was then still head of the Melkite Catholic Church, wrote an open letter to young people in which he said, “The general wave of emigration among young people, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq, breaks my heart, wounds me deeply and feels like a death blow to me. What future can the Church have in the face of such a tsunami of emigration? What will become of our homeland? What will happen to our parishes and Church facilities?”

In response to this crisis, the Melkite Catholic Church has mobilized in the 40 parishes belonging to the archdiocese of Zaleh, in pursuing an intensive youth apostolate. For it is clear that the more firmly young people are rooted in their faith and in the life of the Church, the less likely they are to abandon their homeland. Weekly meetings and larger monthly events are helping these young people to grow in their faith, and every young person joining the groups is given a copy of the Holy Scriptures by the priests in charge.

We have promised 37,500 dollars to cover the cost of an additional 5,000 Bibles.

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