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Aid to the Church in Need sending emergency aid to Mozambique

22.03.2019 in ACN International

Mozambique

Aid to the Church in Need sending aid to Mozambique – “No one heard victims crying for help as they were carried away by floods’ says priest.”

 

A priest in Mozambique has given a graphic account of the devastating impact of the cyclone amid reports that up to 1,000 people have been killed. The port city of Beira, the economic heart of the country has, according to various report, sustained 90% damage, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has announced that it will work with the local Church and provide some emergency aid.

 

Speaking in an interview with ACN, Father Sandro Faedi, apostolic administrator of Tete, described how people cried for help as the flood waters came towards them.

 

Father Faedi told the charity: “Beira is no longer a city. It has been destroyed almost entirely.” He continued: “From the airplanes, the city presents itself as a large lake, from which emerge buildings without ceilings. “You don’t see streets, houses, fields. A lot of people have lost their lives. “Above the houses or above the trees, [many people were] asking for help, which nobody heard. “They were carried away by the fury of the rivers entering the city.”

 

Father Faedi told ACN that the region, which is now mostly under water, has “no telephone, communications and no drinking water,” as 200 km per hour winds, heavy rains and flooded rivers continue to destroy the country’s infrastructure.

With the death toll expecting to rise, he said: “For now, we only pray, ready to give our contribution when the time comes.”

On Wednesday, 20th March, Mozambique starts three days of mourning for the victims. Floods and winds flattened Beira, an ‘economic lung’ of Mozambique, before moving to Malawi and Zimbabwe, affecting more than 2.5 million people.

 

 

Archbishop Claudio Dalla Zuanna of Beira told ACN: “The help from ACN will be useful because it will serve to revive the ecclesial presence by confronting immediate expenses such as the acquisition and distribution of plastic tarpaulins, material, etc. (buckets, glasses, plates, etc.) and the logistics for transport.​

 

“Once again we thank you for your generosity and we will keep you informed.”

 

Text by Citra Abbott, ACN International

Want to give emergency aid to Mozambique? Click above and select: Help for Mozambique.

ACN Project of the Week – Kazakhstan – Books for the Seminarists

07.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By ACN Project Services, By Mario Bard, FORMATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Kazakhstan

Books for the seminary in Karaganda

 

Kazakhstan is a vast country, covering an area of well over 1 million square miles (2.7 million km²), or the equivalent of more than a quarter of the size of the entire United States! Yet it has a population of just 18 million. A former Soviet republic, it has been an independent state since 1991.

 

The population of the country is 70% Muslim and around 25% are Christians, most of whom belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Catholics make up only a tiny minority of some 300,000 souls. At present there are barely 100 Catholic priests for the entire country, serving in the four dioceses of Kazakhstan. Most of these are the descendants of former Polish, German, Baltic or Ukrainian people, deported here under Stalin and others.

 

Kazakhstan is today an exceptional and happy example of friendly coexistence between the Catholic and Orthodox Christians and there are many positive encounters and joint initiatives between them. Therefore, it was, just recently, for the feast of the Orthodox Christmas, which falls on 7 January. Bishop Jose Luis Mumbiela Sierra of the diocese of the Most Holy Trinity in Almaty, who is also chairman of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Kazakhstan, met together with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Alexander to congratulate him and express his best Christmas wishes on behalf of all the Catholic bishops, priests and faithful in the country. Gifts were exchanged and the two men spoke together about some of the important issues facing both Churches at the present time.

 

The challenges facing Christians today are also keenly felt by 12 young men currently preparing for ordination to the priesthood in the seminary in Karaganda – the only Catholic seminary in the country. The seminary has asked for our help in providing theological books for the seminary, so that these future priests can enjoy a solid and rounded formation. We have promised $2,250.

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

Visit in the United Arab Emirates – “A historic visit” – a first for a pope

04.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Adaptation Mario Bard, By Oliver Maksan, By Oliver Maksan, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, liberté religieuse, Middle East, Pope Francis, United Arab Emirates

Visit in the United Arab Emirates

“A historic visit”

 

Pope Francis is visiting Abu Dhabi until tomorrow. The country is more tolerant to Christians than other countries in the area. However, full religious freedom does not exist in the United Arab Emirates.

Bishop Hinder: “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Shortly before the visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, the local church talked about the support it has received from Muslims. In an interview with ACN International, Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of southern Arabia, spoke of a “historic” visit and declared, “It will be the first time that the Eucharist will be celebrated on public property that the government has placed at our disposal for this purpose.”

Bishop Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin monk, is expecting around 130 000 faithful, who will gather together on 5 February to participate in the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Francis will be visiting the Islamic country from 3 to 5 February. This will be the first time that a pope has ever visited the Arab Peninsula. “A number of Muslims have contacted me to ask how they can help prepare for the visit. Many have expressed an interest in attending the Mass. The government is also doing everything in its power to ensure that as many of our faithful as possible will be able to see the Pope,” Bishop Hinder continued.

The United Arab Emirates is considered relatively open and tolerant towards non-Muslims. Thus, according to ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi had the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Mosque renamed Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque in June 2017. According to the crown prince, this decision was taken to strengthen the human ties between the followers of different religions. “I have been living in Abu Dhabi for the last 15 years and have never experienced any animosity,” explained Bishop Hinder. “Of course we know that in all Islamic countries, non-Muslims – not only Christians – have to comply with the social laws of Islam. On the other hand, I see a deep respect for Christians, also among the local population. This is even more apparent now in the run-up to the papal visit.” According to the bishop, while in Saudi Arabia divine services are only tolerated when held in private in relatively small groups, in the United Arab Emirates there are churches where thousands of worshippers gather regularly to celebrate mass. Almost one million Catholics of different rites live in the United Arab Emirates. Practically all of them are foreign workers who stay in the country for a limited period of time. Many come from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They are taken care of by nine parishes. For this reason, Bishop Hinder is hoping that more churches will be built. “More churches would be desirable, as the number of our parishes is still not commensurate with the number of believers.”

The visit of the pope: to answer The Spirit of the Gospel

Last year ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World report stated that Islam is the state religion of the emirates. Islamic sharia law is one of the primary sources of legislation. The report stated that “while Muslims may proselytize, penalties are in place for non-Muslims proselytizing among Muslims. If caught, non-citizens may have their residency revoked and face deportation.” According to the report, Christian churches may not be adorned with bell towers or have Crosses in them. Muslims do not have the right to convert to Christianity. Bishop Hinder explained, “I am not aware of any Muslim country that allows full religious freedom. Even in those where converting a Muslim to another religion is not punishable by law, at the very least the person’s social circle, in particular his or her family, will react with ostracism or even physical violence. Freedom of religion is greater or less depending upon the country.”

Bishop Hinder mainly hopes that the papal visit will have an effect on the general mood. “I hope that the visit of the pope will be able to change the overall mood for the better. However, it would be a mistake to expect too many miracles from this kind of visit,” the Apostolic Vicar said. “The decisive thing is that we Christians are credible witnesses of the message of Christ. And that also means accepting with humility that we will never play first fiddle in this society. It is sometimes enough to be able to play a simple recorder with sufficient proficiency to delight others!”

Father Andrzej Halemba, who is responsible for this region at ACN, agrees with Bishop Hinder. “The visit of the Holy Father is a great encouragement for the Christians working on the Gulf. They will experience the solidarity of the world Church.” Father Halemba emphasized the great importance of today’s interfaith meeting between the Pope and representatives of Islam. “By reaching out to Muslims, the Pope is fulfilling the mandate of the Gospel. This is a dialogue of God with humanity, which is continued as a dialogue from person to person.”

 


 

Central African Republic – Massacre of Alindao – Emergency Help

01.02.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Africa, By Mario Bard, By Tobias Lehner, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Central African Republic

Death toll from november massacre in Alindao is 80

ACN is funding two aid projects for the local Catholic community as they return to a scene of utter devastation

The number of people who have died as a result of the terrorist attacks, on November 15 last year – in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, diocese of Alindao and on the refugee camp right next to it –, continues to grow. Now, it is estimated that over 80, according to information given to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). What is the reason behind this sudden upsurge in violence against Christians in the south of the Central African Republic? In the report below, the local Church analyzes the situation and explains the consequences of these terrible events.

“The people, who almost all fled into the forest, are now returning, hoping to be able to find a few grains of rice that they can eat and foraging among the ashes for any beans that have been only partially burnt”, says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao, describing the dramatic scenes in his town. The number of those who have died since the attack has now increased to over 80, including two priests and two Protestant pastors, according to hospital sources.

Even if they live under constant threat of attacks and they are sometimes afraid, the Monks are there to help, and vocations are on the rise!

A local Church source reports that the refugee camp, which once sheltered over 26,000 people and was supervised by the priests of the diocese, has now been totally destroyed. “The old people and the handicapped were simply burned alive, if they were not already shot dead or beheaded”, Bishop Yapaupa added. “In their panic, many parents were forced to leave one or other of their children behind in order to save the others. The attackers simply fired indiscriminately on the people.” Quite apart from the loss of human life, “the fire tore through the reception centre and several of the Church buildings. The cathedral lost its roof. The terrorists stole cars, motorcycles, solar panels, food from the storeroom, money and fuel…”

 

A Country Torn Apart

At the present time, there are over 14 different armed groups scattered across the Central African Republic. The president of the country, Faustin Touadéra, does not have the resources to control the activities of these groups, the remnants of the civil war initiated in 2013. That was dissolved into clashes between the Seleka rebels – an almost entirely Muslim coalition – and the so-called “anti-balaka”, initially a self-defence militia (a contraction of the phrase “anti-balas AK-47”, or “anti-bullet AK-47”) which ultimately degenerated into gangs of animist or nominally ‘Christian’ youths.

The authors of this particular terrorist attack were a Muslim militia, an offshoot of the Seleka, ironically named “Unity and Peace in Central Africa” (UPC). So why have the tensions suddenly increased just here in Alindao?

 

Alindao, “a cow to be milked”

According to the UPC, this was a legitimate act of defence because the Anti-balaka in Alindao had killed two Muslims on 14 and 15 November. However, our source informed us that it was rather the desire to compensate for a lack of means on the part of the UPC, which saw Alindao as “a flourishing commercial centre, and a cow to be milked”. After being expelled from Bambari in October, the UPC was forced to abandon its local commercial support base and the gold and diamond mines it controlled. “The weekly collections extorted from local traders in order to feed their troops,” had led to big protests, and so they had had to go in search of another source of income, “Alindao and its war booty.”

 

The Church as a Target

“Organized and structured as she is, the Catholic Church plays a fundamental role in responding to the local humanitarian crisis”, this African bishop explains. The Church maintains relations with the humanitarian agencies, with the president and the UN mission MINUSCA. At the same time, however, she is an “object of covetousness” and an institution that the men of war would like to bring down. Was this the reason for the inaction of the Mauritanian UN forces during the terrorist attack on Alindao, who, “in this way smoothed the path for the attackers by not fulfilling their mission of protecting the refugee population”? Our source also provided a further piece of information, explaining that “two days before the tragedy, the leader of the UPC was received by the Mauritanian contingent.” The diocese sees this meeting as having been possibly one of “consensual planning”, or outright collusion. The leaders of the three main faith communities in the Central African Republic – Cardinal Nzapalainga, Pastor Guerekoyame Gbangou and Iman Omar Kobine Layama – have called for an investigation by the international community.

 

“We have lost everything, except our faith.”

“We have lost everything, except our faith”, Bishop Yapaupa concludes. “We can still look into the eyes of our enemy and offer him our sincere pardon, without giving way to a spirit of vengeance or fear.”

 

ACN is proposing an emergency aid for the diocese of 60 000 dollars, to help rebuild the community, and also Mass stipends to help the local clergy in this situation of total desolation. You can give on our secure web page.  


 

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