ACN Feature – The Wall separating Israel and Palestine

11.02.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Israel, Journey with ACN, Palestine

(Crédit: Marcin Mazur)

The Holy Land

“Where can we go? After all, this is our home”

Israel’s wall in the Cremisan Valley: The hopes of  Beit Jala Christians are again diminished


The hopes of Beit Jala Christians , a town  neighbouring Bethlehem, have again diminished. Israel’s supreme court has now dismissed their lawyers’ most recent petitions. The aim was to force the Israeli army to disclose the precise course of the wall in the Cremisan Valley, which is part of Beit Jala, before construction commenced.


The plaintiffs, Christian families and members of Catholic orders, wanted to use this  to stop the army creating a situation on the ground in the agricultural area which could not be appealed against. The judges did emphasize the possibility of an appeal. But with the rejection of the petition, continued work to close the gap connecting the sections of wall between Israel and Palestine has become possible.

Mgrs. William Shomali "People feel very frustrated and depressed. "

Mgrs. William Shomali “People feel very frustrated and depressed.”


“This dismissal has weakened their trust in the justice and will motivate some people to sell and leave,” Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali explained in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need. In the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem he is responsible for the Palestinian areas. As for the promise to allow owners to have full access to their land, it is not enough. It means the owners can use their land to plant grapes and olives but not to construct a home. The access itself may be denied in the future, since the land behind the wall will be part of Jerusalem. Going there needs a permit and permits can be denied,” the Bishop said.


The legal dispute between the Christian landowners and the Israeli army has been dragging on since 2006. The proceedings are being followed closely by the media and also by diplomats from the whole world stationed in Israel. Pope Francis has also intervened. But minor successes over the past year have ultimately given way to disillusion. Israel’s supreme court as the final arbiter announced that the army could build – on Palestinian soil.  As a result, 58 Christian families will lose their land where the wall is and sooner or later or will only have limited access to it. Israel justified the planned route by quoting security reasons and defence against terrorism, and it talks of this being a temporary measure. But the Palestinians regard the course of the wall as a state-organised land grab. They talk of the “annexation wall.”


In actuality, the barrier, which meanders across more than 700 kilometers between Israeli and Palestinian areas, has about eighty per cent of its structure on Palestinian land, and not on the Israeli border.

“The land has belonged to us for generations”


In August of last year, the excavators advanced in the valley(Credit: Society Saint Yves).

In August of last year, the excavators advanced in the valley (Credit: Society Saint Yves).

In August of last year, the excavators advanced in the valley. Ancient olive trees uprooted: The wall – already growing out of the soil. “I have to date lost fifteen olive trees because of the wall. They were many hundreds of years old. It makes my heart bleed,” said Mr Nahmi. “And they intend to take even more from us.” The elderly gentleman, an Orthodox Christian from Beit Jala, is directly affected by the construction of the wall. He doesn’t think much of the agricultural gates in the wall which the army intends to install for the farmers. “This hasn’t worked in the past. For some security reason or other people are then stopped from entering. Regardless of whether they have permission or not to take heavy agricultural machinery and workers across to the fields located on the Israeli side. The fact is that our land is lost. The Israelis still apply Ottoman law by which private land passes into state ownership if it hasn’t been cultivated for ten years.”


His nephew Xavier, a Chilean-born Palestinian, agrees with him. He had very consciously decided to return to the home of his forefathers. The young Catholic said: “For four years we have celebrated  Holy Mass and prayed every Friday in the olive groves so that we will be spared what is now happening. I said to our critics that prayer and non-violent resistance pay off. But what can I say now?”


Mrs Ilham is also affected by the planned wall. “It’s very difficult for us. A catastrophe,” the teacher from Beit Jala said. “The land has belonged to us for generations. It’s not only about the fruit that we grow there. It’s about our history, our bond with our homeland which is being taken from us.” This seventy-year-old lady understands it when young people from Beit Jala think about emigrating. “But where can we go? After all, this is our home. Everywhere else we are strangers.”


Priests saying mass in cremisan valley, August 2015 (Credit: Saint-Yves Society).

Priests saying mass in Cremisan valley, August 2015 (Credit: Saint-Yves Society).



















By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


ACN Feature – Prayer Campaign for Iraq & Syria

08.02.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Chaldean Catholic, Mgr Louis Sako, Patriarche Grégoire, Prayer, Religious freedom, Syria

Ash Wednesday

They have one desire – to remain in their “beloved homeland”



Mgr Louis Sako : « La guerre en Irak et en Syrie a pris une ampleur d'apocalypse ». (Crédit: EPP Press Service).

Msgr Louis Sako, here in 2014 before the European Parliament : “The war in Iraq and Syria is taking on apocalyptic dimensions.” (Photo: EPP Press Service).

In a dramatic appeal to “all who help us through Aid to the Church in Need”, Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Syria, and Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Christians in Iraq, are calling for a day of prayer and fasting so that God “may finally grant our country the long-awaited peace.”

In separate letters to the benefactors and friends of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the two church leaders in Syria and Iraq have called upon them to join them in praying and fasting for the Christians in Iraq and Syria on Ash Wednesday. They wrote that Ash Wednesday is to be a joint day of supplication to God.



War has “apocalyptic dimensions”, in the “cradle of Christianity” 

Both patriarchs thank the benefactors for their help, without which “many of us would be dead, have starved to death, frozen or already fled.” To quote Patriarch Sako, “We are all very thankful for this help. However, what is most needed is mercy. For this reason I would like to ask you at the beginning of this Lenten period and especially on Ash Wednesday: pray and fast for peace in our country! Pray and fast that God has mercy on us! Pray and fast that we may remain in our homelands, that the refugees may return to their villages and cities.”


According to Bishop Sako, “the war in Iraq and Syria is taking on apocalyptic dimensions.”

The human race is facing the largest humanitarian catastrophe since the end of World War II. Once thriving cities such as Mosul and the villages on the Nineveh plains have been reduced to rubble. “Those who could flee, did. Millions of children in refugee camps are waiting for their daily bread, but they thirst for a future, they want schools and a home. They want to return to their homelands, as do their parents and relatives.” In this situation, Aid to the Church in Need is “like a mother to us,” Patriarch Sako said. “I know that you are also doing this out of love for Christ. And that is the reason for my request: pray and fast that we may remain in our beloved homeland. So that we may also experience a resurrection from the rubble, an Easter in the Land of Abraham.”



S.B. Grégoire III Laham, patriarche de l’Église melkite grecque catholique en Syrie. « Cela fait cinq ans que nous traversons maintenant le désert ».

S.B. Gregorios III Laham, patriarch of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church on Syria. “For five years we have been journeying through the desert”

Patriarch Gregorios drew attention to the dramatic situation in Syria, the “cradle of Christianity”.

“Our faith is put to the test day after day. We see the suffering of the children, the pain of the parents, we are surrounded by hatred and death. We want to be able to live in peace once more in our beloved homeland.” For five years now, Patriarch Gregorios said, “we have been wandering through the desert. For us, your continuous help is like the manna that God gave to the Israelites to save them from starvation.”

The Christians in Syria “steadfastly believe that the Way of the Cross is necessary to achieve the glory of Resurrection.

However, even the Lord Himself had comforters and helpers at His side on the way to Golgotha: Simeon of Cyrene helped Christ carry the cross, Saint Veronica passed Him the veil, His Most Holy Mother and St. John the Apostle stood at the foot of the cross.” And so the Christians in Syria are hoping “for the comfort and aid of our brothers and sisters” and are now cordially asking people to join them on Ash Wednesday “for a day of fasting and prayer, a day on which we would like to entreat God together that He may finally grant our country the long-awaited peace.” Patriarch Gregorios concluded his letter with the words: “Your prayers, your encouragement and your support help us in our suffering. For this reason I would like to extend my invitation once more:

Please fast and pray with us! It is impossible that the Lord will not answer the combined prayers and sacrifices of His children. The most heartfelt thanks for everything!”

The international charity “Aid to the church in need” embraces the appeal of the patriarchs from Syria and Iraq. Under the slogan “Will you carry the cross for one day with them? Fast and pray on Ash Wednesday for Iraq and Syria,” ACN calls Christians from all over the world to fast and pray intensively on Ash Wednesday (February 10th). That way Christians can unite spiritually with their suffering brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq.


The campaign will be advertised in the social media with the hashtags 

#FastandPray, #CarrytheCross, #AshWednesday, #Lent2016.

Will you carry the message?


Since March of 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has granted aid money totaling 40,121,500 million Canadian dollars to Christians and members of other religions in Syria and Iraq. Last month, the aid organisation began 19 aid programs, and will add another 20 emergency aid programs in the coming months.


Holy Mass at St. Joseph chapel celebrating Immaculate conception


Project of the week: Feeding Iraqi refugees

03.02.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Emergency Aid, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Lebanon, Projets pastorale, Refugees, SUBSISTENCE, Syria, Voyager avec l’AED


Help to feed Iraqi refugees 

Right now, Lebanon is facing huge challenges . This small country of just 4.5 million has had to find space for no fewer than 1.1 million refugees. In fact, this number includes only those refugees officially registered with international agencies. The real figure is almost certainly much higher than this.

Every day more refugees are arriving in Lebanon, from Syria and Iraq. More often than not, their dreams of a better life here are quickly devastated for while they have at least saved their lives, they very soon find themselves confronted with immense difficulties with simply finding ways to live and  to survive.  They face astronomical rents for example, even for the smallest and most miserable living accommodations. There is no work. Medical treatment is expensive and indeed virtually unaffordable for most refugees. If refugees attempt to move elsewhere within Lebanon, they can be arrested and imprisoned as illegal immigrants. Many have had false expectations of what awaited them abroad.

Lebanon: exemple of pastoral projects to the refugees children of Syria and Iraq.

Lebanon: An example of pastoral projects to the refugees children of Syria and Iraq.

In the capital city of Beirut, the Chaldean Catholic eparchy is striving to take care of  Iraqi families, most of who have fled here from Mosul and the Plain of Niniveh from the advancing ISIS fighters. The eparchy provides these people with basic necessities, helps them look for work, and also ministers to them pastorally.

For example,  children can prepare for their First Holy Communion and there are other catechetical classes for children and young people, plus pastoral and social services for women and many other services besides. Last year ACN gave a total of 43,500 CAD towards the cost of this pastoral and human support for the Iraqi refugees. For example, helping with the supply of catechetical materials, including audiovisual equipment .

Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut has thanked ACN for all the help he has already received, and in advance,for the help he still about to receive. “We pray to Christ our Lord, the Good Samaritan, to pour out his graces on you in rich measure and bless you, and to reward you, and all those who have contributed to this wonderful work of charity, a hundredfold for the good you have done.”

At the same time he has asked us to help his community with additional aid for food and other necessities.

We have promised him 14,500 CAD.

Holy communion for the refugee children of Iraq and Syria, at St.Joseph Parish.

Holy communion for the refugee children of Iraq and Syria, at St.Joseph Parish.


ACN Press – Mass for persecuted Christians in Montreal

29.01.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard




Montreal, Canada

A profound celebration for Middle Eastern Christians

Nearly 150 people came together last Friday, January 22, at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, in order to pray for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.  Presided over by the Archbishop of Montreal, Christian Lépine, the Mass – which was jointly organized by the Archdiocese of Montreal and the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – was an occasion to recall their current suffering.


Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (©Archdiocese of Montreal)

Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (©Archdiocese of Montreal)

“When I am speaking of religious persecution, many are incredulous. They don’t think it still exists in this 3rd millennium,” indicated Marie-Claude Lalonde, the National Director of ACN’s Canadian office. “There are currently 200 million Christians in the world that cannot practice their faith freely.  They are scattered across every continent: Asia, Africa, South America and even Europe,” she said. 

Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (©Archdiocese of Montreal)

“We pray for all those who are left behind and welcome all those who are settling in here with us,” she declared before adding: “It is our duty as Christians to denounce the discrimination and violence that have victimized them. It is our duty […] to pray for them.” She also proposed an action with an evangelical accent which was to invite the participants, “in this Year of Mercy,” to “pray for their [persecuted Christians] torturers.  Who knows what will happen if one of them were to convert… as did Saint Paul long ago.”



Mina Aro, réfugiée syrienne : « Nous ne pouvions plus vivre comme des humains. » (photo : Diocèse catholique de Montréal)

Mina Aro, Syrian refugee (©Archdiocese of Montreal)

“We could no longer live like humans.”

According to many participants, the celebration was very profound and richly animated with songs offered by the choir of Saint Éphrem Syrian Catholic church in Laval. Also in the program was the deeply touching testimonial of Mina Aro, a young Syrian refugee and new arrival to Montreal.  “We could no longer live like humans,” she testified. “I cannot forget those who have died because of their faith.  I also ask you to pray for the people who stayed in Syria that they continue to keep their faith in God.”


De gauche à droit: Mgr Paul Marwan-Tabet, éparque des Maronites au Canada; Brian Cordero, diacre permanent et membre du Conseil d'administration de l'AED-Canada; Mgr Christian Lépine, archevêque de Montréal et membre du Conseil international de l'AED.

From left to right: Msgr Paul Marwan-Tabet, Eparch of the Maronites in Canada; Brian Cordero, permanent deacon and member of the board of directors for ACN Canada; Msgr Christian Lépine, archbishop of Montreal and member of the International board of directors of Aid to the Church in Need.

The strength of prayer was evoked throughout the ceremony. “Pray,” insisted Msgr Lépine in his homily.  He then recounted the extent to which the few encounters he has had with persecuted Christians had left an impression on him, through the peace these people emit, they who by all rights should be in a constant state of anger.

The archbishop also recalled the subject of persecution as being a current one, as we often have the impression that the story of Christian martyrs is one from the past.  However “it is happening now as I speak,” he recalled.

Several co-celebrants and deacons participated in the celebration including Msgr Paul Marwan Tabet, Bishop for Catholic Maronites in Canada.

In 2015, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support to local churches in Iraq surpassed 15 million dollars and totaled over 8 million dollars in Syria.  These amounts do not include the help already given where Christians are living as refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.



By Mario Bard, ACN Canada

Translated and adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin











Press release : ACN is developing 20 more emergency aid programs for Syria

15.01.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN United Kingdom, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Emergency Aid, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, John Pontifex, Journey with ACN, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org, Syria


Starved into submission

January 15, 2016 –  Food has become “the most deadly weapon of war” in Syria, according to a leading Catholic charity’s Middle East projects coordinator, who says both government and rebel forces are blocking humanitarian aid to force entire communities on the brink of starvation to submit to their rule. 

Father Andrzej Halemba, from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), says that many groups are preventing food aid from getting through in an attempt to weaken the resistance of opposition groups. Father Halemba, who is in constant communication with Church leaders in Syria and who visited the country three times last year, said the crisis was putting extra pressure on ACN and other organizations to increase emergency help to areas open to aid. It also confirmed what the media around the world reported this week via the troubling images of starving children – numerous groups had mounted blockades and were letting no one through, no convoys transporting food, in order to weaken the resistance of the opposition.  Civilians are paying the price.

Fr Andrezj Halemba: .“We wish to fulfil 100 percent of the requests we receive however it is not always possible to achieve everything we hope to do. Every item of help is appreciated so much. People have told us of their joy on receiving our help. They were crying with joy, saying now we can survive the winter.”

Fr Andrezj Halemba: .“We wish to fulfil 100 percent of the requests we receive however it is not always possible to achieve everything we hope to do. Every item of help is appreciated so much. People have told us of their joy on receiving our help. They were crying with joy, saying now we can survive the winter.”

Such regions have become a magnet for people fleeing aid-blockaded areas. “Forces on both sides – Government and rebels alike – are preventing humanitarian aid from getting through in an attempt to subdue the people,” said ACN‘s Head of the Middle East section, adding that rebels had taken humanitarian aid and sold it to the highest bidder to generate funds. Referring to Madaya, the town north-east of Damascus where people have reportedly starved to death, he said: “There are quite a few places like Madaya where people are in desperate need but where help is not getting through.”

Amid reports that up to 4 million people in Syria are living in areas cut off from aid, Father Halemba cited statistics showing that, since the violence began nearly five years ago, 280,000 people had been killed in conflict but that 350,000 had died from lack of medicine and other essential supplies. ACN was building up emergency aid programs in centres such as the capital of Damascus, which is receiving thousands of people fleeing Madaya.

Since March 2011 when the conflict first began, ACN has provided  $15,051 million dollars  in aid for Christians and others in the country. Of that figure, nearly 60 percent – $8.99 million  – was provided last year alone.

Renew prayers and increase programs for Syria

Last month, the charity put into action 19 relief programs for Syria. Father Halemba stated that the charity is developing 20 more emergency aid programs for Syria to be rolled out over the coming months.  ACN is working with bishops in Damascus, Tartus, Aleppo and Homs as well as Jesuits and religious communities providing food, medicine, anoraks and shoes in regions such as Aleppo, north-east Syria, as well as Homs, further south and surrounding Marmarita and the Valley of the Christians. He stressed how the crisis was compounded by a loss of power supplies in key areas, saying that Aleppo had been without electricity since mid-November, a problem made worse by below zero night-time temperatures.

Saying that last year, 15,000 items of aid were given to families across the country, Father Halemba added: “Many of the families have received numerous packages of aid from us. This year, we are seeking to increase our aid to meet the growing needs of the people.“We wish to fulfil 100 percent of the requests we receive however it is not always possible to achieve everything we hope to do. Every item of help is appreciated so much. People have told us of their joy on receiving our help. They were crying with joy, saying now we can survive the winter.”

Already 5 years of conflict in Syria.

Already 5 years of conflict in Syria.

Father Halemba spoke to us of the urgent need to provide aid to villages near the north-eastern city of Hassake newly liberated from Islamist forces. At present, many Assyrian Christians exiled from the villages are unable to return because of the lack of basic supplies.

The priest also urged everyone to renew prayers for Syria, especially for the 79 Christians kidnapped in the Assyrian villages near Hassake and held by Daesh at its stronghold of Raqqa in the north of the country. Reports say the Islamists have requested ransoms of up to  $46,545 per person.

Fr Halemba went on to highlight the suffering of Christians unable to pay extortionate Islamic jizya tax demanded in areas controlled by ISIS (Daesh) and other militant groups. He said that Christians were forced to pay jizya of up to 87,000 Syrian pounds per year ( $525 CAN  – according to the official exchange rate) but that people could not afford it in a country where since 2010 1 kilo of sugar has risen from 5 Syrian pounds ($2.90) to 5,000 Syrian pounds ($30.22 CAN).

Responding to the build-up of international military action in Syria, Father Halemba said: “A Pandora’s Box has been opened up and nobody is willing to close the lid. Instead of talking about waging war, what is needed is for people to sit down and talk about ways to bring peace. That is what the people really need right now.”





By John Pontifex, ACN UK, press@acn-intl.org

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada, ag@acn-aed-ca.org 

A difficult Christmas in the birthplace of Jesus

09.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Holy Land, Persecution of Christians

Holy Land

Bethlehem celebrates Christmas under difficult circumstances 

Joseph and Mary quietly rocked the child. Shepherds gathered around them. Children in costumes were enacting the Nativity of Jesus deep in the subterranean chapels tucked away into nooks and crannies under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The actual Nativity took place close by over 2,000 years ago. A silver star marks the birthplace in a grotto just a few metres away. The little actors that played the parts of the Holy Family and the Magi were children with disabilities from all over Palestine. They live in a house near the Church of the Nativity, which is run by nuns from the Institute of the Incarnate Word. “Our children need strong impressions to understand the truths of our faith,” Sister Maria, who takes care of the little ones, said. “A nativity scene helps them understand the mystery of Christmas. That, out of love for us, God became a small and weak child just like them so that He could share our lot: this makes it clear to them.”

Les enfants handicapés vivants à la maison gérée par les Sœurs de l’Institut du Verbe incarné, situé à proximité de l’Église de la Nativité.

Disabled children staging the birth of Jesus. The children live in a house in Bethlehem run by the Sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word IVE.

The quiet, peaceful scene in the Church of the Nativity stood in stark contrast to the situation in the Holy Land in general. There was no sign of Christmas peace. For months a wave of violence has been sweeping through Israel and Palestine. More than 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian assailants since the end of September. In most cases knives and other stabbing weapons were used. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in defensive action or in violent clashes, hundreds were wounded. The violence was sparked by fears that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is revered as a sacred site by both Muslims and Jews alike. Observers, however, believe that the underlying reason for the unrests is the political gridlock between Israelis and Palestinians. A peace settlement and a two-state solution do not seem to be in reach.

The Church wants to use the Year of Mercy to strengthen the faith of Christians in the birthplace of Jesus  

A reduced number of festivities

This year, in 2015, Bethlehem’s municipal administration decided to hold more modest Christmas celebrations out of respect for the victims of the violence. Catholic Mayor Vera Baboun explained what makes this year different. “We did not just want to celebrate Christmas as though nothing were happening. When we set up the Christmas tree before the Church of the Nativity, we did not hold the fireworks display. Instead, the bells of the city’s churches were rung. Churches from all over the world joined us in ringing their bells for peace. We also reduced the holiday illuminations. We wanted to show that although we are celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, at the same time we are not at peace and are mourning our dead.”

However, the violence is not only reflected in the reduced number of festivities. Bethlehem’s tourism sector is complaining that this year’s season has fallen far short of expectations. And that although the Christmas season is crucial to Bethlehem in general and to its Christians specifically. The livelihood of many Christians depends upon providing food, drink and lodgings to pilgrims and selling devotional items.

“This year was very bad,” Jack Giacaman told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The Catholic sells figurines carved out of olive wood from Bethlehem. His shop, which is close to the Milk Grotto, where it is said that the Virgin Mary nursed the Christ child, is empty. “The Gaza War last year has made the people afraid of travelling to the Holy Land. This is unfounded. Pilgrims are safe here. But many have still cancelled their bookings.” The Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that the rooms were scarcely at half their usual occupancy during this year’s Christmas season. Thus, in the place where Mary and Joseph once searched unsuccessfully for a room, many now stand empty in 2015.

Des travailleurs palestiniens passent au ''check point'' pour rentrer à la maison.

Palestinian workers returning from Israel and passing the checkpoint to Bethlehem.


In light of the difficult economic and political situation, more and more Christian families have taken the decision to leave Bethlehem and the Holy Land. The mood has further been depressed by the fact that almost sixty Christian families in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem are now going to lose their land to the separation barrier built by Israel despite years of litigation. This has also led many Christians to doubt the possibility of a future in the Holy Land. “Several more families just recently left. This is very painful for us,” Father Pater Ricardo Bustos said when he spoke to Aid to the Church in Need.

“Jesus is the door to peace with God and with each other. God has come to change the state of affairs here. Even though the child in the manger may appear fragile: God’s promise is strong and constant.”

The priest is guardian of the Franciscan monastery near the Church of the Nativity. In May of last year he welcomed Pope Francis here. Father Ricardo still knows him from the time when the pope was working in Argentina. “However, we as the church want to use this Year of Mercy to remind the Christians of Bethlehem of their calling and to strengthen them in the faith. They are witnesses to the peace that Jesus brought us. And although peace may still seem far away and the road to it bumpy: the fact that God was made man here 2000 years ago is a sign of hope for this country and its people.”

According to Father Ricardo, this is especially true in the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. The Latin Patriarch also opened a Holy Door at the Catholic Church of St. Catherine near the Church of the Nativity before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Father Ricardo is convinced that “Jesus is the door to peace with God and with each other. God has come to change the state of affairs here. Even though the child in the manger may appear fragile: God’s promise is strong and constant.”


By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin : ag@acn-aed-ca.org


Violence against Christians in the Philippines : Difficult dialogue

08.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians


Is Mindanao Another Iraq?

 “In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq.” The words are those of Father Sebastiano D’Ambra an Italian missionary of the PIME congregation who has been working for almost 50 years now in the Philippines. He was speaking on the phone to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has a Canadian office in Montreal. 

Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

“The situation is a worrying one,” adds Father Sebastiano, referring to the anti-Christian attacks that took place on Christmas Day in the south of Mindanao. “It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case. Without doubt our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups.”

He goes on to explain that the attacks were carried out by the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIIF), a paramilitary Islamist terrorist group that emerged in 2008 following a split in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In 2011 the government in Manila signed a peace accord with the MILF, with both sides pledging to engage in negotiations to establish a new law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, that would guarantee a special status to the region. “But the agreements with the government have been put on hold because the Filipino authorities attach greater priority to the presidential and legislative elections planned for May 9, 2016. And so radical groups like the BIIF, which have absolutely no desire to negotiate with Manila, are taking advantage of the instability of the situation to engage in terrorist disturbances.”

Urged not to celebrate Christmas

Islamic radicalism has a long history on Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group was widely active, and was responsible for the murder of the PIME missionary, Father Salvatore Carzedda in 1992. The radicalization continued with the proliferation of Islamist movements of a Wahabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia, while for the past 10 years or so there has been a powerful presence of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamist group that began in Indonesia. “In the last three years the so-called Islamic State has gained a growing number of supporters in Mindanao. ISIS is present here too, albeit not in such an extreme form as in the Middle East.” Father Sebastiano also points to the fact that many Islamic leaders on this island, which has a strong Muslim presence, have urged their own people not to celebrate Christmas together with the Christians, although this is an ancient and deeply rooted custom in the Philippines.

Zamboanga is quite far from the place where the Christmas attacks occurred, and the news went almost unreported by the media, because the government is attempting to play it down in view of the forthcoming elections. Nonetheless, in the local Christian communities the fears are growing, above all because they still retain a vivid memory of the attack carried out by the MILF in 2013 which destroyed half of the town, left numerous people dead and more than 10,000 homes in flames. “Since then the Christians have been extremely cautious in regard to the Muslims, while the Muslims themselves complain of a local government by the majority Christian community (approximately 70%) that does not reflect the growth of their own community.

Convinced that dialogue is possible

Father Sebastiano is the founder of the Silsilah movement which has been attempting since 1984 to promote interreligious dialogue and which has also involved a section of the local Muslim community.

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

“The growth of radicalism throughout the world is making our mission more difficult and still more necessary than ever at the present time. Even some of the Islamic leaders who are working together with us are becoming discouraged. We need to have more courage and more faith. It is a long process, but I am convinced that through dialogue it is possible to bring about real change and create a climate of mercy. Just as Pope Francis is inviting us to do in this Holy Year.”

*Main image: Extract of Journey to Emmaus, Icons presenting the history, vision, mission and call of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.


By Marta Petrosillo, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : ag@acn-aed-ca.org





Project of the Week : Prison Ministry in Pakistan

06.01.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Pakistan, Project of the Week, Religious education


Support for the prison ministry in the diocese of Faisalabad

Life in a Pakistani prison is truly punishing. Torture is common-place, and the prison conditions are often appalling. The prison cells are tiny and overfilled, and a hundred prisoners often have to share a single toilet. Prisoners often die of heat stroke or heart attack, and dozens of prisoners die in custody every year.

For Christians the conditions are still worse than for their Muslim fellow prisoners. Given that even in “normal life” they are oppressed and discriminated against, it is hardly surprising that their conditions of imprisonment are still more precarious. Again, since most of the Christians are among the poorest in society, their families cannot afford to bribe their jailers, as others do. As a result, and unlike the Muslim prisoners, the Christian inmates almost never receive visitations from their relatives.

« J'étais en prison et vous m'avez visité » Évangile selon Matthieu, ch. 25 v. 26

“I was in prison and you visited me.”  Matthew, . 25 v. 26

There are approximately 5,000 people in the prisons of Faisalabad, the third-largest city in Pakistan. Of these between 85 and 100 are Christian, most of whom have been imprisoned for relatively minor offences, such as drug possession, illegal trade in alcohol and other similar offences. Many of them would have already long since been released if they had been able to afford the fines imposed on them. But since they are too poor to pay the fines, they are left sitting in prison.

A great blessing for prisoners

Once a month, however, and on major holidays the authorities in Faisalabad do at least permit Catholic priests to enter the prisons and talk and pray with any inmates who wish to do so. This is a great blessing for the prisoners. The pastoral care provided by the Church benefits not only the prisoners themselves but also their family members – above all when the prisoner has been the sole breadwinner of his family. In such cases his imprisonment can inflict extreme poverty on his wife and children, and here too the priests do their best to ease the worst of the need. They also endeavour wherever possible to promote reconciliation between the families of the victims and those who have committed the offence.

ACN has supported this prison ministry in the past and will continue to do so this year with a contribution of $8,700 CAN.


Text : ACN international
Adapted by: Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada – ag@acn-aed-ca.org


ACN Feature – Catholics in the Arab World

27.12.2015 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Brazil, By Oliver Maksan, egypt, Feature Story, Gaza, Lebanon, Middle East

Catholics in the Arab World

“We will pray for Daesh [the Islamic State] ”

The Holy Year of Mercy is hailed with joy from Iraq to Morocco – Catholic voices are heard throughout the Arab world 

The Holy Year of Mercy that was solemnly inaugurated by Pope Francis on December 8 in Rome is being hailed with joy by Catholics throughout the Arab world – from Morocco all the way to Iraq and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has gathered these impressions from across the Middle East.

Father Dankha Issa is a monk of the Alqosh Chaldean order. Last summer, hundreds of Christian refugees found refuge in the city after their villages were seized by jihadists. The ancient, exclusively Christian city is situated in the northern part of Iraq. As the crow flies, only about 15 kilometers separate the monastery of the Virgin in the Corn Field from the front line of the Islamic State. At night you can see the lights of the Islamic State from the mountains of Alqosh.

Au centre, le père Issa, qui a dû fuir la violence de l'ÉI en 2014. « Ce jubilé nous redonne espoir. Espérons donc que cette année éteindra le feu de la haine et apportera la paix. »

At the centre, Father Issa who fled the violence of IS in 2014 with an ACN delegation from several world offices.

“We are very thankful to Our Holy Father that he has proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. It is a time of grace for us,” the priest told ACN. He himself had been forced to flee IS from Mosul last June. “This Jubilee gives us new hope. Let us hope that this year will extinguish the fires of hate and bring peace.”

It is important for Father Dankha that the Christians of Alqosh experience the goodness of God that delivers us from sin. “In this year our attention is particularly drawn to how merciful God is with us sinners. God forgives us. But this also means that we have to forgive each other. Even the people of Daesh (IS), who have done so many evil things to us. After all, as a Christian you also have to love your enemies.” Father Dankha knows that this is anything but easy. “This is almost humanly impossible. But it is easier through faith. God is capable of everything.” Father Dankha’s particular wish is that the jihadists will change their ways. “Of course we hope that God will open and soften the hearts of the people of Daesh so that they cease their murderous doings. Let us pray that he will dispel the hate and violence in their hearts and let love take hold.”

His monastery wants to make it possible for the refugees to experience the mercy of God over the course of the year. “We will continue to support them with food and the like. However, we especially want to pray together, above all the rosary. This is what makes it possible for us suffering limbs of the Body of Christ to become one with the universal church and the Pope.”

To love as Jesus did

In Lebanon, Father Raymond Abdo wants to use the Holy Year as an opportunity to give a Christian response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. “The people who persecute Christians have to come into contact with Jesus Christ. Mercy thus means not allowing ourselves to hate these people,” the Carmelite from the northern city of Tripoli said. “We need the courage to pray for them and to love them. Because when they persecute Christians, they do not know what they are doing. This is what Jesus did on the cross.”

Le père Raymond Abdo, supérieur des carmes du Liban, en compagnie d'une religieuse. « La Miséricorde signifie donc de ne pas accepter de haïr ces gens »

Order of the discalced Carmelites in the Semi-Province of Lebanon: Rev. Fr. Raymond Abdo OCD (superior of the Carmelites in Lebanon)  in the company  of  a Sister

According to Father Raymond, what is decisive in this Year of Mercy is to love, as Jesus loved, people of other religions as well. “The church in the Middle East plays a role in many institutions that are visited by non-Christians. We have to love these people and show the mercy of the Gospels to them by example. Jesus did this with the Gentiles.” In the school in which he teaches, 65 per cent of the students are Muslim. “Respecting the Muslim students the same as the Christian ones: this is what mercy means to me.”

The Year of Mercy is also receiving attention in Gaza. Over the past years, the narrow Palestinian strip along the Mediterranean has experienced several Israeli-Palestinian wars leaving hundreds dead, thousands injured and tens of thousands homeless. Nowhere else is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as brutal as it is here.

More than 1.8 million people live in the densely populated area. There are only about 1,300 Christians. The number of Catholics is hardly higher than 160. Father Mario da Silva is the priest of the Catholic parish of the Holy Family, who are said to have passed through today’s Gaza Strip on their way to Egypt.

Bringing his assistance to the conversion of hearts

The Brazilian from the Argentine Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) has been living in Gaza City for several years. During this time he has witnessed several wars. “This Holy Year is a big chance,” he told the charity. “TWe Christians can re-learn what the mercy of God means. This includes re-thinking the reality of sin. We are dependent upon the forgiveness of God. This is an opportunity to find out something new about the sacrament of penance.” his is why Father Mario wants to offer retreats in the summer that will address the mercy of God. The Sunday Sermons this year will also repeatedly focus on the subject of forgiveness.

Le père Mario da Silva. Cette photo fût prise durant un cessez-le-feu dans la Bande da Gaza, en août 2014. « Cette Année sainte représente une grande chance ».

Gaza City, during the ceasefire that lasted between August 5h and 8th: Father Mario da Silva. The Brazilian cleric works in the Catholic “Holy Family” parish in Gaza City. He belongs to the order “Institute of the Word Incarnate IVE”, which originated in Argentina.

Father Mario believes that interpersonal forgiveness grows out of God’s mercy for humans. “From the first moment I arrived in Gaza, of course I felt the hatred that the people harbour because of Israeli politics. This hatred is rooted in the injustice the people here experience every day. It may be less pronounced among the Christians because forgiveness belongs to our faith. But of course they also know this feeling. That is only human,” Father Mario said. “The wars, the destruction, the high unemployment rate that also affects the Christians: all this eats away at the people. However, as a priest I do not feel it is my first priority to change the political situation. That is not in our hands, even though the church of course draws attention to injustice as such. However, what we can do is to help convert our hearts.”

Reintroducing a culture of forgiveness

In Egypt as well, which borders on the Gaza Strip, the focus is on the conversion of hearts. For several months now, Father Beshoi has been the priest in Azareia, a Christian town in Upper Egypt near Asyut. The Coptic Catholic cleric wants to make the sacrament of penance more accessible to his parishioners again. “We need the forgiveness of God. Here, there are a lot of cases of revenge because of insults to family honour. These are often caused by something trivial. But the situations escalate until there are casualties. And that, even though only Christians live in our town. But they have assimilated to the Islamic culture that surrounds us. In Islam, God is only seen as a lawmaker who metes out punishment when His commandments are not heeded. However, I want to change this mentality. I want to show God to my brothers and sisters as a merciful Father who forgives us. However, this is also why we have to forgive each other. Thus, the Year of Mercy has come at just the right moment for me.”

There are many problems especially among the adolescents in the town. “Many take drugs because they feel unloved or misunderstood. I want to show them that God loves them and is waiting for them with open arms. I know that God can work miracles in the souls. Just recently, an almost 60-year-old man came to me for confession: for the first time in his life! I hope that I will see many such small miracles over the course of this year!”

The Holy Year is also being celebrated at the outermost Western edge of the Arab world. Admittedly, there are hardly any Catholics living in Morocco and the vast majority of these are foreigners. However, the few Catholics who are there take an active role in the life of the world Church. Such as the Sisters of the Carmelite convent of Tanger. “We embrace the Holy Year with pleasure and gratitude. It is a great grace that we want to experience together with the entire church. With all of our poverty and weakness and in recognising our sinfulness, we are on our way to the Father, whose embrace we have need of,” Sister Maria Virtudes said to ACN.

The Spaniard is the prioress of the community of Sisters who began the Jubilee with a prayer vigil. “We prayed to the Lord who is present in the Eucharist. In doing so, we took turns in singing the hymn that was composed for the Holy Year and held long moments of silent worship. As we did this, we were, together with the Immaculate Virgin, in communion with the entire Church.”

Des religieuses au Couvent des Carmélites de Tanger, au Maroc.

Carmelite Sisters of Tanger in Morocco.

By Oliver Maksan: ACN International
Adapted by : Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Project of the Week : Invitation to support this project

23.12.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Bulgaria, Catholic Religious Sisters, EU, European Union, Project of the Week, Sisters, SUBSISTENCE


Support for the life and work of religious Sisters


Les Franciscaines missionnaires de Marie de Zitnitza et de Rakovski soutiennent les plus pauvres. Nous leur accordons 2175 dollars canadiens pour qu'elles continuent à aider.

Franciscan Sisters in Zitniza and Rakovski  support the poor.  We are providing them with  2,175 CAN dollars so they can continue to help, just as Sister Francoise as above with this elderly woman.

In the towns of Zitnitza and Rakovski, in the diocese of Plovdiv in the south of Bulgaria, there is a community of five Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Their congregation was founded in the 19th Century and is present today in 20 countries of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The Sisters preach the Gospel through their example of active service for the poor.

Catholics make up only a very small minority in the total population of Bulgaria of around 7.3 million souls. There are only about 80,000 Catholics living in this country. As a Catholic priest or religious you need to have a great deal of patience. Anyone who expects quick results here, has got it wrong. “We are working for the next generation,” the priests and Sisters agree.

In Zitnitza and Rakovski, the Sisters help the sick and the elderly and do home visits when the priest is unable to do so. They also give catechetical instruction and teach religious education in the schools.

Although Bulgaria is a member state of the European Union, around one fifth of the population nevertheless lives in poverty. So there is plenty of work for the sisters in their ministry to the poor and needy. But at the same time the sisters themselves are in need of help, since their living costs are rising relentlessly.

Each year, ACN has made an effort to help these Sisters make ends meet. This year is no exception: once again they have turned to us for help. Sister Francoise writes,


This year, we are helping the Sisters with a contribution of $2,175 CAD.

Would you like to help us, help them?


Text: ACN International
English Canadian adaptation: Amanda Bridget Griffin