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CENTRAL – AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT (III)

05.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Aid to refugees, Central Africa, Central African Republic, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


 

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© ACN

 

How far can the suffering go?” 

 

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Joy broke out and the people danced in the streets when the news of the resignation of interim president Djotodia was announced on January 10. Just two weeks later, the Séléka ex-rebels withdrew from Bouar. “They were armed to the teeth, and they set off in a convoy in the direction of Chad,” reports Father Beniamino Gusmeroli after the days of fear and severe unrest. But the initial joy did not last long: on the same day, the retreating rebels entered Bocaranga with 31 vehicles. There they attacked the mission station of the Capuchins, where some 2,500 refugees were sheltering at that time.

120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house

 © ACN/AED


© ACN/AED

“It was an apocalyptic day,” Polish Capuchin priest Robert Wnuk describes what happened. “Shooting and detonations could be heard everywhere. There were numerous groups of 10-15 rebels each. They forced their way into all the rooms. The refugee women were sitting there on the floor with their children.  The rebels threatened the priests and also fired on the church,” Father Robert reports. “They fired and fired and fired as if they were crazy.”

The bullets left large holes in the walls and floors and later, 120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house. A woman and a man had died, and one of the friars was wounded. A doctor was struck in the face, and a bullet narrowly missed his head.  The rebels stole all the cars and took money, computers, telephones and cameras.  Then they moved on to the Sisters’ convent where the same scenario was repeated. Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye On the same day, rebels also attacked the mission in Ngaoundaye, where they took a locally-born friar hostage, but later released him. The following day they looted the Capuchins’ mission station in Ndim.

Father Robert cannot believe what took place in his mission station amidst the many helpless refugees: “These are war crimes, crimes against humanity! Crimes against defenceless women and children! The perpetrators are now in Chad, which although it has closed its borders evidently lets armed criminals enter the country in cars that they stole from the missions and aid organizations.”Ngaoundaye Ngaounda

 

And in his desperation and disappointment he asks himself questions. “Protective troops have been in the country for some months. But in reality they are only in Bangui. They supposedly came to protect the civilian population. For many days we have asked the military authorities in Bangui and Bouar for help, but we always get the same answer: ‘Let’s see, we’ll see what happens, we have made a note of it…’ They give replies like this during a military intervention? They ask us on the telephone for information about the situation on the ground, and then nobody responds. Nobody! How far can the suffering go?” 

 A climate full with hate and violence explodes

Meanwhile, the Séléka have also withdrawn from Bozoum. Even shortly beforehand, the rebels had burned down 1,300 houses in the close vicinity, making 6,000 people homeless. In the now empty Séléka barracks there are slogans on the wall such as: “This is the law of Hell,” signed by somebody calling himself, “The Devil Incarnate.”

“The UNO decision in favour of a military intervention came too late,” criticizes Father Aurelio Gazzera who has been working in the Central African Republic for twenty years. “The eight-month reign of terror by the Séléka has created a climate of hatred and vengeance which has exploded into mad and demonic rage that is directed against everybody: against the Muslims, many of whom had profited from the Séléka and let themselves be protected by the rebels to avenge themselves, and the rest of the population, who are often seen by the Muslims as accomplices of the Anti-Balaka.”

The Italian Carmelite priest explains that to present the Anti-Balaka as “Christian militia,” as is often done is a mistake. “There is not much about them that is Christian,” he explains. “They carry fetishes and amulets for protection, and they are full of anger after having to endure long months of assaults and violence. An explosion of madness has taken place. There are arbitrary killings; disabled people are left behind, and so on. We need a strong military presence in the whole district to stop the crazy murders!”

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The missionary, who conducts peace negotiations with all population groups in Bozoum, reports that the discussions have been made more difficult by the fact that many supporters of the Anti-Balaka have drunk a lot of alcohol and thus become unpredictable. In many places the Church is now also protecting the Muslims who are living in fear of vengeance. Thus for example, Father Aurelio is providing the Muslim refugees with drinking water and rice at his own expense, and attempting to prevent the Anti-Balaka from massacring the Muslims, and at least sparing the women and children.

During the Séléka’s withdrawal, Father Aurelio Gazzera himself was almost killed when several outraged Muslims attacked him with stones and weapons. But a Séléka rebel and another Muslim protected him and saved his life. Meanwhile, in the city of Bozoum, rumours were spreading that the priest was dead. When he reached his mission in the evening in his smashed-up car, the people cried for joy. “They spread their clothes in front of my car, and greeted me almost as if I were the Messiah. It was unbelievable. We gave thanks by saying an Ave Maria – also for those who commit evil.” 

Many more prayers will still be required for those who commit evil. In Bossemptélé, where 80 people were killed this week and the Séléka even looted the hospital of the Camillian Fathers, the Anti-Balaka has meanwhile demanded ransom money from the Carmelite Sisters. The Sisters have been told that if they fail to pay it within two days they must hand over the Muslim civilians who have sought shelter in the mission. Otherwise the members of the Anti-Balaka themselves will force their way into the convent premises and kill the Muslims.

The violence spirals faster and faster. And a humanitarian disaster looms, because the situation in the country is resulting in many more malnourished children .

ACN-20140130-04723And yet, there are hopeful moments: “In Bozoum the children are now able to go back to school again,” says Father Aurelio happily. And there are also small miracles: A catechist had fixed a rosary to a door lock. The rebels didn’t dare to break the door open during their looting debauchery. But the greatest miracle is the courage with which, day by day, Catholic priests and members of religious orders set their own lives against the whirlpool of violence. They try to save what can be saved.

“Ciao, now I must go to the refugees,” says Father Beniamino Gusmeroli. Because for the missionaries, their brave service is the most normal thing in the world.

Coming up:

And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to give hope.  An even where union reigns within disorder, where the celebration of Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.

 Chronicle of a love story

© ACN/AED

CENTRAL-AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT ( Part II )

04.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Aid to refugees, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Pope Francis

Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandese genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy.  How can this tragedy be forgotten?  And nonetheless…

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.


 

THE CONFLICT’S EVOLUTION

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

August and September 2013, following a short, apparent lull in the situation where, in July, the attacks by the Séléka took on a still more violent character. Numerous villages – mainly those in the north-west of the country – were burned down, and followed by numerous massacres. At the present time there are over 400,000 people who have fled or been uprooted, representing close to 10% of the population. On September 13, 2013 President Djotodia officially dissolved the Séléka Rebel Forces, though it had no practical effect. The violent attacks continued, and the promised disarming of the rebels, remained only on paper.

Since September there have been an increased number of skirmishes between the Séléka rebels and the so-called “Anti-Balaka” militia groups. Initially, these were men who had armed themselves in whatever way they could to defend themselves and their villages and towns against the rebels. In the meantime however, the readiness to use violence has risen among these groups and resulted in recent terrible acts of violence and revenge, further escalating the situation, and the problems now threatening to develop into a conflict between religious communities.

© ACN/AED

© ACN/AED

October 10, 2013, saw a UN Security Council resolution, a proposal for intervention in the Central African Republic. And then in November, the warnings of an impending genocide grew louder.

November  7‚ ‘Transitional President’ Michel Djotodia, his prime minister Nicolas Ntiangaye and the president of the National Transitional Council, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, signed a so-called “Republican Pact”. The agreement was brokered by the Sant’Egidio community in September 2013, in the context of peace negotiations involving representatives of the new government in Bangui, the National Transitional Council, representatives of civil society and of the various faith communities. However, the signing of the Pact still had no practical impact on the situation within the country.

December 5, 2013, the UN Security Council approved a stepping-up of French military involvement and a reinforcement of the MISCA (or African Union) troops. In the interim, outbreaks of fierce fighting in which 300 – 400 people were killed ensued. Thousands fled, either to the capital or other places such as the mission stations, parishes and convents.

The European Union (EU) set up an airlift to bring aid into the country.

In his Christmas message Urbi et Orbi Pope Francis declared: “Grant peace, dear Child, to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life.”

The violence and unrest in Bangui and other parts of the country are on the rise, and there are numerous cases of vengeful attacks, also by the Anti-Balaka, against Muslims. Because of this escalation in violence, over 1 million people have been made refugees in the Central African Republic. Among them, over 100,000 who have sought refuge in the capital Bangui. According to the Red Cross, at least 1,000 people of been killed since early December.

The bishops of the Central African Republic continue to criticize representations of the situation in the country as being first and foremost a religious conflict between Muslims and Christians. They insist that it is far more a political and military conflict at hand.

January 10, 2014, Michel Djotodia resigned as transitional leader of the interim government, during a meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States, (ECCAS), after pressure was put on him by heads of states of neighbouring countries, as he was unable to bring the escalating situation in the Central African Republic under control.

?????????????????????????????????????On 13 January 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Diplomatic Corps: “I think above all of the Central African Republic, where much suffering has been caused as a result of the country’s tensions, which have frequently led to devastation and death. As I assure you of my prayers for the victims and the many refugees, forced to live in dire poverty, I express my hope that the concern of the international community will help to bring an end to violence, a return to the rule of law and guaranteed access to humanitarian aid, even in the remotest parts of the country.“

January 16, 2014, John Ging, the United Nations (UN) representative for Humanitarian Operations, warned of genocide in the Central African Republic, and drew parallels with Rwanda prior to the terrible genocide of 1994. On January 20, Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of the capital Bangui, was elected as the country’s transitional president and sworn in on January 23.

 

Coming up:

While the situation in the capital city of Bangui begins to stabilize ever so lightly, it is worsening in other parts of the Central African Republic.  Over the last few days, the north-western part of the country has seen new theatres of violent confrontations and attacks against its Catholic missions.

 

“What are the limits of suffering?”

 

 

© ACN/AED

 

 

 

 

CENTRAL – AFRICA: THE HISTORY OF A CONFLICT

03.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Central Africa, Central African Republic, EU, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Uncategorized

ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, beginning today we will be offering you a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the inhabitants of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandan genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy. How can this tragedy be forgotten? And nonetheless…

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

© ACN/AED

© ACN/AED

© ACN/A

BACKGROUND

The Central African Republic is a landlocked nation in the heart of Africa. With an area of 622,984 km² (240,534 square miles) it is roughly the size of France and Belgium put together, though with a population of just 5 million or so, it is thinly populated. The capital, Bangui, in the south of the country, has an estimated population of 700,000. The official languages are French and Sango. Although rich in natural resources, such as gold, diamonds and also some uranium, it is nevertheless near the bottom of the Human Development Index (180th place out of 186).

Roughly 66% of the population profess Christianity, while some 15% are Muslims. The rest of the population belong to traditional African religions, and there is a widespread belief in witchcraft. Until very recently relations between Christians and Muslims were entirely harmonious.

The first Catholic missionaries were French Spiritan Fathers, who travelled by boat from Brazzaville up the Congo River and then via the Oubangui River, visiting the riverside villages. The first Holy Mass was celebrated on 17 April 1894 at the spot where the present capital Bangui now stands. The oldest church in the country is the church of Saint Paul of the Rapids in Bangui. The first native African priest in the country was ordained in 1938.

Today, the Catholic Church in Central African Republic (CAR) has nine dioceses of which one, Bangui, is an archdiocese. According to data from the year 2007, the Catholic Church had 220 schools and kindergartens in the country, plus 168 other institutions, such as orphanages and hospitals or clinics. The State fulfils its responsibilities in regard to education, healthcare and the like only very minimally, and in many places not at all.

In 1889, the first French military outpost was established in what is now the capital Bangui. Next in 1910, the country became an independent colony within French Equatorial Africa. Then in 1911 the region was annexed to the new German colony of German Cameroon, under the name of New Cameroon. However, in 1919 it reverted under the Versailles Treaty to French Equatorial Africa.

On 13 August 1960, the country finally became independent under the name of the Central African Republic (République centrafricaine, or Centrafrique). Since then the history of the country has been marked by an endless series of coups, one of the most notorious being the reign of terror of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who seized power in a military putsch in 1966 and had himself proclaimed emperor on December 4, 1976. Three years later, he himself was overthrown – in yet another putsch. More was to follow. The most recent of these was on March 24, 2013, when Michel Djotodia seized power with the help of the “Séléka” rebel coalition. The previous president, François Bozizé, who had also come to power through a coup, fled abroad.

Since December 10, 2012, a group of armed rebels, calling themselves Séléka – which means “Alliance” in Sango – had taken up arms in order to conquer the country. Within a few days they had succeeded in attacking the major towns, the capitals of the prefectures, and even in capturing Bambari, the headquarters of a military exclusion zone. A few days after Christmas they captured Sibut, about 100 miles from Bangui. In March 2013 they reached the capital Bangui and seized control of the government on March 24 – Michel Djotodia, declared himself President.

Schools and public institutions were closed for months following the coup, which was then followed by an appalling wave of uncontrolled violence and widespread looting. Mission stations and Church premises were among the principal targets. One reason of course was the fact that there was “something to be had” there. Today there are dioceses where the Catholic Church has not a single vehicle left to pursue her mission with. On the other hand, there were also ideological motives. The rebels of the Séléka coalition – who are overwhelmingly Muslim and include many fighters from Chad and Sudan (who speak only Arabic ) – have brought an Islamist element into the country that never existed before. Their self-appointed president is a Muslim, who has filled the government posts mainly with Muslims and who, at the beginning of his rule, announced his intention to establish an “Islamic Republic”.

Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui, also the chairman of the Central African bishops’ conference, has notably warned that religious conflict is being stirred up by people of “ill will”. He has repeatedly warned against revenge attacks, which risk leading to an escalation of violence between the different faith communities within the country. During the summer of 2013 in particular, there were a number of peace meetings between the representatives of the various different faith communities. For example, on the 10th and 11th of June in Bangui there was an interreligious meeting to which Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga invited representatives of the various other religions. One priest was appointed in each diocese to lead the negotiations with the Séléka rebels.

June 23: the bishops of Central Africa issued a joint document in which they clearly acknowledged the catastrophic situation in the country. It was entitled: “Du jamais vu en Centrafrique” (Never seen before in Central Africa).

June 26: Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga received the pallium from Pope Francis, together with 33 other archbishops from around the world.

New Picture

Upcoming:
More and more fighting between the Séléka and member from a group called: “Anti-Balaka”;
• The Signing of the “Republican Pact” has no practical impact on the country’s situation;
• The European Union (EU) sets up an airlift to bring aid goods into the country ;
• Despite a message from Pope Francis, the violence and troubles in Bangui and elsewhere continue to increase;
• Over one million people flee, more than 100,000 of them to the capital, Bangui.

Press Release – Ukraine

31.01.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Ukraine, Uncategorized

ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, Friday, January 31, 2014 –. Catholic pastoral charities in Germany, Poland, the USA and the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” have responded to the critical situation in Ukraine.

© ACN

© ACN

“We want to strengthen the role of the Christian Churches as a peacemaking force in Ukraine, to show our solidarity and to support them, but not any particular position or party,” Johannes Heereman, Executive President of “Aid to the Church in Need”, explained after a meeting with representatives of the German, Polish and US Bishops’ Conference in Königstein, Germany.

Approximately 75.7 million (CAN) in aid was provided to projects in Eastern, Central and South-East Europe by the four pastoral charities in 2013. A major portion of these funds was allocated to promote initiatives by the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches in Ukraine.

Representatives of the aid initiatives meet once a year to co-ordinate aid programs and to exchange experiences on the current situation of the Churches in the various countries of the former Eastern Bloc.  In some countries, for instance in Albania and Moldova, the economic situation has deteriorated. And in Kazakhstan, where Catholics are a small but vital minority, the Church relies on support, Heereman claimed. “The collaboration between the pastoral charities is very close. After the transition the prime concern was to restore or build the Churches and church buildings. Today we mainly support the training of priests, people in religious orders and laypersons,” emphasized the Executive President. “Since the fall of the Iron Curtain a lot of work has been done on building up the Churches. Even so the Churches in Eastern, Central and South-Eastern Europe still need our solidarity today,” said Heereman in his closing statement.

Israel Building the wall in the Holy Land

29.01.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Israel

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Bishop places his hopes on the Israeli Supreme Court

ISRAEL 2

Montreal, Wednesday January 29, 2014 –  Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem hopes that Israel’s Supreme Court will find a just solution in the Cremisan case. The bishop imparted in conversation with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) last Monday.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court judges in the final court of appeal will hear the objections of Christian plaintiffs against the building of the Israeli security barrier. The court had originally set the date of the hearing for December 25, but after protests by the plaintiffs, the date it was moved to today, January 29.

The flame of hope is not extinguished

Bishop Shomali who is responsible for the Palestinian territories in the Latin Patriarchate, said: “My sceptical head tells me there will not be a decision that will benefit the people of Cremisan,  because Israel’s security is holy. But my heart refuses to resign and tells me there is still hope. After all, we have prayed a great deal and made a lot of effort. So the flame of hope is not yet extinguished.” 

Looming in the background,  is the threatened confiscation of the properties of 58 Christian families in the Cremisan Valley at Beit Jala near Bethlehem, in order to build a barrier between Israel and the occupied territories. Two convents in the largely agricultural district are also affected. The Israeli army emphasized that the planned course of the wall through the terraces of the Cremisan Valley, is strictly necessary for security reasons. The Palestinian plaintiffs do not see this as convincing and point to alternative routes. Most recently, an objection to the army’s plans was rejected last year by a Tel Aviv court.

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Every Friday, those affected in the locality pray for a just solution. Last year the Catholic pastor of the community, Ibrahim Shomali, gave the auxiliary bishop a letter to be delivered to Pope Francis in Rome, in which the Pope was requested to help. But Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali dampened the hopes expressed by some of those affected that the Pope might make a public stand on behalf of Cremisan during his visit to the Holy Land in May. “The Catholic Church has intervened in various ways, for example through the US Bishops’ Conference. The Cremisan file is on the desk of Secretary of State Kerry,” said Shomali. “But with regard to a possible intervention by the Holy Father himself, I must remind you that there are many questions of justice in the world and in the Holy Land. Should the Pope involve himself, he will do so discretely, for example in private talks and through the Nunciature. Pope Francis wants results, not just confrontation.”

 

 

 

ACN Press Release – Ukraine

27.01.2014 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN PRESS, Ukraine

Ukraine

Bishop denounces violence against protestors

John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

UKRAINE-1

Bishop Borys Gudziak, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris

 Montreal, Monday January 27, 2014 – According to a local bishop, the “brutal” crackdown on demonstrators in Ukraine is acting as a recruitment agent for the protest movement. It is hard to imagine a more prayerful [protest] in 21st century Europe,” says Bishop Gudziak, describing the country as being engaged “in a battle for dignity.”

Bishop Borys Gudziak, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris, defended protestors on the streets under fire by government forces and repeatedly called that they not take up arms.

“It is hard to imagine a more prayerful manifestation in 21st century Europe.”

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity which for decades has supported the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Gudziak spoke out against the violent security response to the demonstrations, describing protestors as prayerful and non-violent people. “The people are not out on the streets to campaign for a party or candidate – they are gathering around principles. The country in somewhat traumatic ways is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being,” said the bishop on Friday, January 24, from his Paris location.

The bishop went on to accentuate the peaceful nature of the protestors, describing how each day the demonstrations begin with prayer, and that at times prayers take place on the hour every hour, with priests mingling among the crowds, hearing confessions. “It is hard to imagine a more prayerful manifestation in 21st century Europe,” he said.

Events in the last few months and days have been a pilgrimage in our battle for dignity. In the last two months, Ukraine has changed dramatically. The level of social consciousness has increased. The brutality of the special forces is rallying more and more of the population in an active role in this bid for dignity.”

Presentation by Fr. Borys Gudziak (right), rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, on the topic: "The Church and Society in Ukraine twenty years after the Fall of the Iron Curtain." Father Marko Tomashek (left) Director of Projects – ACN International.

Presentation by Fr. Borys Gudziak (right), rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, on the topic: “The Church and Society in Ukraine twenty years after the Fall of the Iron Curtain.” Father Marko Tomashek (left) Director of Projects – ACN International.

I believe that the dialogue will not be effective without international mediation.”

Bishop Gudziak, formerly rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, reasserted the calls made by religious leaders last December 10th including a request to the Ukrainian government to listen to the protestors’ demands, a denunciation of violence and an appeal for dialogue between the regime and the various groups involved in the demonstrations.

Bishop Gudziak then spoke about the need for dialogue and appealed to the international community to intervene to enable successful dialogue: “Dialogue is very difficult and has a very arduous methodology but there are no better alternatives… I believe that the dialogue will not be effective without international mediation.”

The bishop said: Amid increasing calls for the government to dialogue with opposition groups, Bishop Gudziak said: “We hope that reason and ethical principles will prevail and that authentic dialogue will begin.” He added that the government’s harsh treatment of protestors was undermining its authority, adding: “The legitimacy of the Ukrainian government is predicated by respect for human rights. That respect has been neglected and in some cases has been absent. Protestors have been shot and others have been beaten. The perpetrators of violence have not been brought to justice.”

ACN played crucial role in restoration of UGCC

The bishop said he hoped the country would not turn its back on the peace it has mostly enjoyed since emerging from Soviet domination and that this peaceful record was “miraculous” given the conflict in other countries emerging from USSR control.

The bishop, who was installed in Paris at a service in December 2012, highlighted the growth of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from 1989 when there were about 300 priests with an average age of over 70 to today’s 3,000 priests with an average age of 40; 800 seminarians from a Ukrainian Greek Catholic population of five million.

Bishop Gudziak also paid tribute to ACN, which he described as crucial in the restoration of UGCC in the post-Soviet era.  “I would like to express a particular word of thanks to ACN which has been the greatest benefactor of our Church. We are very grateful to all the staff in the organisation and its many generous benefactors who will always remain in our prayers.”  

Journey with ACN – Burkina Faso

24.01.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Burkina Faso, Journey with ACN

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.  

Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:  Burkina Faso

 

Support for a centre for young single and expectant mothers

In Burkina Faso women have a very low position socially. Only 14% of them can even read or write. The number of girls and young women bringing up one or more children alone is on the increase.

Media influence has led to an increase in sexual promiscuity, and when a girl does get pregnant the young father is, more often than not, unwilling to take responsibility for the child.

Sadly, it is also common that the young woman will not find support or help from her parents either.In fact, most are likely to kick her out of the house – often on the pretext of the traditional belief that it will bring misfortune on the family if a daughter gives birth in her parents home.

Many girls attempt to abort the child somehow or other, with great risk  to their own lives in the attempt. Others give birth, but will abandon the child somewhere on a street corner. Some bravely attempt to get by on their own with their child. Often these women fall into prostitution, simply to survive. This results in the continuum of a vicious survival spiral, since many become  infected with the HIV virus making their lives all the more difficult, and frequently, they often become pregnant again.

The Catholic Church in Dedougou has created a centre for pregnant girls and young mothers, where they are taken- in and given as much care and support as possible. They receive not only practical, material and pastoral help, but at the same time they can get vocational training and acquire a useful skill.

Elodie is one such young mother whose story has ended well. At the age of 17 she was married by her strictly Muslim family to a much older man whom she did not know and who already had several wives.

She was given no other choice, and had she not obeyed, she would have been thrown out by her family. The two months following her wedding were a living hell for her, and she decided to run away. She managed to find her way to the capital, nearly a hundred miles away, but she knew absolutely no one there. Spontaneously, the idea came to her  to seek shelter with Catholic nuns, who did indeed lovingly take her in.

ACN-20131127-03090

They quickly noticed that Elodie was pregnant and put her in touch with the “Carmen Kisito”  centre in Dedougou. “I harboured great hatred in my heart towards my family and towards the man I had been forced to marry. I wanted never to see them again. I also felt unable to accept my daughter, Djami, since in my eyes she was responsible for my misfortune. But the more I came to know Jesus, the more I realised that I had to forgive them all. After a three-year long journey, I was preparing to receive Baptism at Easter. I was full of joy at the thought that God would forgive me all my sins and renew me. It was then that I realised that I must also forgive all those who had harmed me. Hatred and revenge could no longer have any place in my life. In my heart I forgave them, therefore. My Baptism was a moment of immense joy for me. I was immersed in a joy that I had never known before and there was a sense of deep peace in my heart.”

After her baptism, Elodie went to visit her family to be reconciled with them. “It was not easy for me, but rather an inner struggle. But through the grace of God I was able to meet them. My father was both astonished and very happy to see his daughter again after almost 5 years, and the reconciliation with my family took place in great joy.”

She did not again see the man whom she had been forced to marry, but she has forgiven him too, in her heart. Today Elodie is able to stand on her own two feet. She has trained as a hairdresser and now earns enough to support herself and her little daughter.

 ACN has been supporting the work of this centre, and is doing so again this year with a grant of $29 400 .

Zanzibar Jubilee “150 Years of Catholic Faith” – and the growing concern about radical Islam

21.01.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN PROJECTS, Zanzibar

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

©ACN

©ACN

To the Spiritan Fathers working on the two main islands of Unguja (or Zanzibar) and Pemba, which together make up Zanzibar and which since 1964 have also formed part of the East African nation of Tanzania, the words of Father Liebermann have been a source of comfort and enabled them to confront every difficulty – both then and now. On January 19th , 2014, the diocese honoured the commitment of these first missionaries with a special Jubilee celebration, marking “150 Years of Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Zanzibar”.

While it is true that Portuguese missionaries had already reached these East African islands by the end of the 16th century, they had subsequently been expelled again. It was not until the end of 1860 that the Catholic Faith took permanent root here. The then ruler of the islands, Sultan Sayyeid Majid bin Said, welcomed the new arrivals with these words: “You are welcome! My house is your house, my people are your people, I am your brother.” In 1863, Zanzibar was established by Rome as an apostolic prefecture.

ACN-20140121-04526_0eca3

©ACN

Today, according to the Church’s pontifical yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, there are some 13,600 Catholics living on Unguja and Pemba, thereby representing roughly 1% of the population. There are 20 priests involved in the pastoral work of the diocese. Bishop Augustine Shao, himself a Spiritan (CSSp), has been in charge of the diocese since 1997. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting the pastoral work of the diocese for many years now. Traditionally, the Catholics have always lived in great harmony with the overwhelmingly Muslim population; however, sadly – and for some years now – the open attitude of Sultan Sayyeid Majid bin Said has no longer been shared by all his fellow Muslims. In recent years the climate of tolerance on Zanzibar has sharply changed, and although the charitable initiatives of the Catholic Church extend to include everyone, and indeed mostly Muslims, there are some extremist groups that are virulently hostile to the presence of Christians on Zanzibar and which express their opposition in more than simply words.

©ACN

This was again made evident very recently, in September 2013, when in the parish of Mpandae an elderly Catholic priest was attacked with acid and severely burned. He survived the attack, but suffered severe acid burns and is currently being treated in India. For his parish it was not the first, but the fourth such violent attack. As Bishop Augustine Shao observed, “This has triggered fear – in me, in the priests, the religious and the parishioners. We are living like wanted criminals. It is sad enough that not one of the attackers has been arrested by the police, quite apart from the fact that this criminal act took place in broad daylight, in a market place.” Earlier, at the end of May 2012, the parish church in Mpandae had been attacked, and parts of the building and its furnishings had been set on fire and burned, before the attackers could be chased away.

ACN has already agreed to help towards the cost of repairing the damage.

Although the authorities in Zanzibar are now starting to move against the extremists, the situation remains tense and unpredictable. Bu,t the Catholics of Zanzibar are not going to let this spoil their joy in the Jubilee of their faith.

Press Release: Syria – A plea for peace from a Patriarch

21.01.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN UK, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pope Francis, Poverty, Prayer, Syria

John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, Tuesday January 21, 2014 – The leader of Catholics in Syria has issued an urgent appeal to the faithful in Syria – and people throughout the world – to pray for the success of next week’s all-important Geneva II peace conference.

ACN/AED

ACN/AED

 

Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III has called on every Syrian Catholic, whatever their circumstances, to pray for an end to the hostilities that have prompted almost nine million Syrians to flee their homes since the conflict began almost three years ago.

Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (Bishops) in Syria, the leader of the world’s Melkite Greek Catholics issued a statement Thursday, 16th January, defining his plea for prayers from “my beloved bishops, all our children, priests, monks, nuns, faithful, confraternities, youth movements, families and young people.” In his statement, he appeals to the West to join him and his community in prayers for peace:  “Let there be a global prayer campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world.”

Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end to the violence comes as latest UN figures show that nearly two-fifths (40 percent) of the country’s 22.5 million pre-war population have now fled their homes – 2.3 million living as refugees abroad, and a further 6.5 million displaced within the country.  In his document, a copy of which was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Gregorios states: “We implore [God] to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of the victims, and grant us the gift of peace.” He also addresses the mounting humanitarian crisis – exacerbated by one of the worst winters on record.

ACN-20131218-03850

Also in his appeal, Patriarch Gregorios, who is noted for his peace advocacy work, states: “We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.” In a separate document released alongside his peace appeal statement, the patriarch emphasizes the need for unity among the international community in calling for peace, and a halt to the influx of weapons to armed groups in Syria.

Initially scheduled for May 2013, the much delayed Geneva II Middle East Conference  in Montreux, Switzerland, is due to begin January 22nd, and involve up to 30 other countries including the US, the UK, France and Germany as well as Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia – the participation of Iran is disputed. The conference is expected to gather representatives of Syria’s Assad regime and the opposition in a bid to end the country’s civil war and pave the way for a transitional government.

Support from Pope Francis

With the hope for a widespread undertaking of his appeal, he states: “We long and pray for the peace to be Syrian though we are grateful to all those countries who are working for that Syrian peace. “The [international community’s] efforts should be concentrated on obtaining a peace that is really Syrian, for that would be true peace and the best and most suitable for all parties to the conflict and for all Syria.”

Credit: Grzegorz Galazka

Credit: Grzegorz Galazka

Patriarch Gregorios has repeatedly praised Pope Francis for his September 2013 prayer vigil for Syria. At the time, the initiative was hailed as a turning-point in the bid to prevent a sudden escalation of conflict in the region with the possibility of direct Western military intervention. The Patriarch also congratulated Pope Francis’ address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on Monday January 13, when he highlighted his hopes for the success of Geneva II.

“It is unacceptable that unarmed civilians, especially children, become targets. I also encourage all parties to promote and ensure in every way possible the provision of urgently-needed aid…,” stated Pope Francis.

In line with its priority commitment to helping persecuted and other suffering Christians in the Middle East, in December, ACN, dispatched another series of aid packages for the Syrian people, including assistance for 215 displaced families in Damascus under the care of Patriarch Gregorios – and emergency support for people from Sadad, a majority Christian town devastated by violence in November and the ‘massacre’ of 45 of its people, as well the mass exodus of thousands of people.

Finally, ACN continues to fund the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters whose clinics such as: the St Antoine Dispensary in Beirut, Lebanon – used by Syrian refugees.  The organization has also provided food, fuel and shelter for displaced Christian families from Syrian towns and cities such as Homs and Marmarita.

 

Journey with ACN – Bangladesh

17.01.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Bangladesh, Uncategorized

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.  

Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:  Bangladesh


A message from Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario

© ACN

© ACN

The Christians in Bangladesh is a “little flock”.  But the Church has great impact on the entire populace of Bangladesh because of its long standing commitments and services to education, health care, development work, charitable activities and inter-religious dialogue.  The Church has another important role to play, and that is prayer, which brings love, justice and reconciliation.

For Church in Bangladesh some of our mission priorities are:  to promote quality education to all, health care to the poor, development of the poor and the needy, immediate charity to the people affected by the natural and human made calamities, justice for climate change, formation of youth, healing of misery through justice, promoting peace and reconciliation.

For the evangelization within the Diocese ad intra we are committed to:  formation of the laity, Christian leadership trainings, promotion of human dignity and rights of the people, promotion of Small Christian Communities, family ministries, youth ministries, dialogue, justice and peace and certain infra-structures to provide the above services to the Christian people.

In the Pastoral Assembly of Archdiocese of Dhaka which was held in September this year we have taken as Pastoral theme for 2014: FAITH LEADS TO SERVICE.  (See some photos on the event). After celebrating the Year of Faith with a lot of achievements we have taken the theme of Service especially to:  (a)  Creation and Culture, (b) Human person, family and basic community, (c) poorest of the poor.  At the level of the family, basic communities, parish, region and the diocese, the program of activities are being planned for 2014.

The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has contributed in the past and also making contribution for the above programs. Our thanks to ACN and to all its donor partners.

Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, csc.

© ACN - Seminarians in Bangladesh

© ACN – Seminarians in Bangladesh