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Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Tag

 

ACN Feature Story – Bitter memories of time of terror for the priests in Zanzibar

08.03.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN Interview, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Priests, TANZANIA, Tanzania, Violence against Christians, Zanzibar

Father Damas Mfoi: “There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work.”

Father Damas Mfoi is a Catholic priest in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a small Christian population. Since 2010, Father Mfoi has been a parish priest on the main island of Unguja. In 2012, the otherwise peaceful island community witnessed a series of violent attacks on religious leaders. A Muslim cleric was burned with acid in the fall of that year; a Catholic priest suffered gunshot wounds on Christmas Day 2012, and another was shot to death the following February. At the time, leaflets were distributed to incite violence, some of which bore the stamp of the radical Islamist group Uamsho. However, responsibility for the attacks has yet to be claimed or officially assigned. Father Mfoi tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) of the time of terror.

Interview by Anne Kidmose

 

“It was Christmas 2012, and we had planned to go for supper until we heard that Father Ambrose had been shot. Church leaders were in a state of shock, and we could no longer have our shared meal. We were frightened. We rushed to the hospital, but cautiously, as it was announced via leaflets that Church leaders would be killed, and that churches would be destroyed.

 

When we arrived, Father Ambrose was still bleeding, and he couldn’t talk. The following day, he was flown to Dar es Salaam for further treatment. After that, it was our faith that kept us here. People on the mainland called us home, but as Christians committed to the Gospel, we knew from the very beginning that ours was a mission of suffering, and that our lives might be threatened. There was no running away.

 

More leaflets were distributed, saying that Muslims should not allow the sale of alcohol, or the presence of churches. They were published anonymously, but today we know who they are. We didn’t know what would happen, though some said that they were just idle threats. But less than three months later, Father Evaristus Mushi was struck, and tragedy befell us.

 

It was a Sunday morning at 7:15 A.M.; I was saying Mass in a small church. A non-Catholic neighbour came running in; he shouted, “Father Damas, I have something to tell you!” He told me that Father Mushi was dead, the victim of a shooting. Some man shot him that morning, when he was parked in front of his church. I drove to the other churches to say Mass; now that Father Mushi was dead, I had to carry out the mission of Christ alone.

 

News of Father Mushi’s death rippled throughout the community, but that wasn’t the end of it. After we buried him and paid our last respects, a group of women came to our gates, crying. I told them, ‘Don’t cry now. Father Mushi is in heaven.’ One replied, ‘Father, she is not crying over Father Mushi. She is crying because of you.’ The assailants targeted me because I had built too many churches.

 

Father Damas Mfoi at the grave of Father Evaristus Mushi

The next morning, I escaped to the mainland, and a month later, I returned. I thought to myself, ‘There is no abandoning our mission. Jesus wouldn’t want to see us fail. There are Christians still here—why should their leaders run?’

 

Upon my return, I found that the police had set up a command post within my compound, and over the next two years, they patrolled the area because of the tension that lingered. The government took good care of us, but we knew, above all, that God protected us. When I was offered a bodyguard, I refused, believing that the work of Jesus did not require a machine gun; He promised his people that he would be with us until the end of time.

 

Six or seven months passed, and for a while, we thought that the worst was over, though security was still tight. But come September, a priest had acid splashed on him as he was leaving his regular café. He survived the attack but sustained major injuries.

 

There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work. We talk to people in the community, and we tell them that we believe God created us all and gave us the freedom to believe in whatever way we were taught. Muslims are taught about Muhammad; Christians are taught about Jesus Christ. We should all do our best to respect that and avoid mixing politics with religion.”

 

In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Church in Tanzania with projects totaling more than 2,5 Million dollars.

 

On line: March 8, 2019


 

ACN’s Project of the Week – Support for the Catholic the families in Togo

07.03.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Family Apostolate, FORMATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Togo

The Fédération Africaine d’Action Familiale (FAAF, or African Family Life Federation) is an initiative for the support of healthy families and the protection of life. It involves doctors of various disciplines, theologians, priests, religious and lay pastoral workers. Its aim is to support families and help them to tackle their problems, offering Africa-friendly, family-friendly and pro-life solutions, as opposed to the alien Western-style solutions which many Africans have by now seen through as a “culture of death.” Instead, they seek to promote a “culture of life” of the kind so frequently referred to by the late Pope Saint John Paul II.

In Togo – West Africa –, the programs of the FAAF have been established since 2005. In the diocese of Aneho in the southeast of the country there are five people who have been involved up to now, for example in giving introductory talks and sessions in the parishes, so as to encourage more people to become aware of issues surrounding marriage and the family and train them to be able to accompany families and married couples.

 

The meetings address such questions as, “What is God‘s plan for marriage?” and “What does it mean to be a mother or a father?” Couples are encouraged to talk together and grow in mutual love and respect. Another important aspect is natural family planning, which observes and respects the natural fertility cycle of the woman. Husbands also learn in this way to respect their wives and respect their bodies. The goal is an education in love, which emphasizes the beauty and value of human sexuality and the human body and the importance of fidelity and responsibility and openness to life. It is the best way to counter such evils as abortion and the spread of AIDS. At the same time, the program aims to help and accompany families and married couples in conflict and crisis.

 

There is a great demand for these talks and for personal counselling, and they are hoping to be able to train up 10 more female counsellors. Printed information materials are also needed.
Aid to the Church in Need has promised 17,500 dollars in support of this laudable initiative.

 

Make your donation now to support family education training in Togo. Thank you very much for your generosity.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Brazil – ACN Project of the week – Catechetical Material for Marginalized People

27.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Brazil, Brazil, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, South America

Brazil

Catechetical materials for pastoral work

The “Bethlehem Mission” (Missao Belem) is a lay spiritual community of people who devote themselves above all to caring for the homeless, the addicts, the lonely and all those facing a crisis or some other difficult situation. The members of the community, who describe themselves as “missionaries,” share their lives full-time with these homeless victims, often even living on the streets with them. In doing so they are endeavouring to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to these people on the margins of society and make His teachings living and tangible for them.

The community is still very young, having been founded only in 2005 in Brazil, yet it already has 160 mission houses and another 7 intermediate centres in 70 different cities of Brazil, Haiti and Italy.

Right now some 2000 or so homeless people are being cared for by members of the community in Brazil, which includes 70 consecrated members and 200 full-time voluntary members. They all live together in the various communities, like one big family. People who have until now been living on the streets slowly become accustomed to living an orderly life in the community and are able to begin to discover the potential for themselves. The community also offers them the opportunity to have therapy where necessary. And they can also take advantage of the chance to gain practical and professional qualifications or become re-accustomed to the world of work. Wherever possible, the street children are encouraged to return to or at least make contact with their families. Where this is not possible, they are helped to find loving homes with foster parents or adoptive families, in collaboration with the relevant authorities.

So far around 50,000 people have been taken in and helped by these communities. Roughly half of them have since been able to return to normal life. Many have found their way to faith and sought baptism. It is a particularly moving sight to see grown men, some advanced in age and after years of homelessness and addiction, dressed in a white baptismal robe, standing there with a baptismal candle in their hand, or going forward like little children to receive their First Holy Communion. In such cases it is quite evident that baptism has been the start of a new life for them as children of God.

Also very popular and very successful are the evangelizing courses run by members of the community. More than 1400 people have so far taken part in these courses, which are aimed at training them for the mission of reaching out to people who still far from the Church, and especially to the marginalized in society, and proclaiming the Gospel to them. At the same time the participants are equipped with appropriate catechetical material, which they can distribute to those who are interested.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is happy to help this wonderful initiative, and we have promised 69 150 dollars to help provide the necessary teaching materials for the coming four years.

Pakistan – The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about – ACN-News

16.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, Asia Bibi, Blasphemy Law, By Maria Lozano, By Marta Petrosillo, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Pakistan

Pakistan: “My husband is innocent!” –

The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about

 

In Pakistan, 224 Christians have been victims of the blasphemy law since the law’s passage in 1986, Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan, told a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the Asian country.

The Colony Joseph. In March 2013, almost 300 houses and 2 churches were destroyed after the Christian Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.

 

By Marta Petrosillo and Maria Lozano

 

Although the legal case against Asia Bibi finally came to a positive resolution on January 29th, 23 Christians were killed for blasphemy accusations between 1990 and 2017 and the Commission has documented a further 25 cases of Christians under trial, according to a study presented to ACN.

 

Specifically, there are two paragraphs of Section 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code (paragraphs B and C) that can be understood as the “anti-blasphemy law”. Section 295B stipulates a life sentence for anyone who desecrates the Quran, while insulting the Prophet Muhammed carries the death sentence under Section 295C.

 

“The anti-blasphemy law is a powerful tool that fundamentalists can wield to the detriment of minorities and is often misused as a means of personal revenge,” Chaudhry said. “And when charges are brought against Christians, the entire community suffers the consequences.”

 

This is exactly what happened in March 2013 in Joseph Colony, a Christian district in Lahore, after the young Christian Sawan Masih was accused of having insulted Muhammad. “On 9 March, after Friday prayers, a mob of 3000 Muslims burnt down the entire district, destroying almost 300 houses and two churches,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf, NCJP President, explained to the delegation from ACN during a visit to the residential area. In the meantime, the district been rebuilt, thanks to funding from the government and returned to the Christians.

 

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan.

While the 83 instigators of the arson attack have all been released, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death in 2014 and is still waiting for the appeal proceedings to be held. “The hearings are constantly being postponed,” attorney Tahir Bashir explained. “The last hearing was scheduled for 28 January, but the judge did not appear. A new court date has now been set for 27 February.”

National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) was formed in 1985 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan. It provides services in the field of human rights advocacy. Since 1990 the Commission has defended cases of blasphemy against Muslims, Christians and Hindus, and has campaigned for abolition of the blasphemy laws. The team of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

Just as in the case of Asia Bibi, there are a lot of irregularities in Sawan’s case. The charges against him were brought by one of his Muslim friends, Shahid Imran, following an argument between the two men. Only two days later, two witnesses appeared who in reality had not even been present at the time Muhammed was allegedly insulted. “The charges against Sawan are being exploited,” Father Yousaf told ACN. “The true motivation behind this is an attempt to drive Christians out of this city district. It has become very popular because it lies very close to the steel factories.”

 

In the meantime, Sawan’s wife Sobia is raising their three children all by herself. “I don’t know why they have accused my husband,” she said to ACN. “I just know that the man who brought charges against him was a friend of his with whom he had quarrelled. Sawan is innocent!”

 


 

On Sunday, February 10th, pray for Venezuela!

08.02.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Venezuela

Venezuela

Call to pray for the country on Sunday, February 10

 

United in their concern to “avoid still greater suffering and pain for the people” and in their hope for a change in the course of the political and democratic situation that Venezuela is currently going through, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has launched a joint communiqué, together with the Conference of Male and Female Religious and the National Council of the Laity in Venezuela, published on Monday, February 4th in Caracas.

Photo : María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

The statement expresses the “determination and hope,” with which the signatories urge the search, “for a political transformation via a process of transparent and peaceful transition that will lead to free and legitimate elections, and the resumption of a democratic course, the restoration of the rule of law, the rebuilding of the social fabric, the revival of economic production, the restoration of the morale of the country and the coming together of all the Venezuelan people.”

They speak of the difficult situation that is currently being written in the annals of Venezuelan history and one that both the Venezuelan people and clergy and also the international community are witnessing with great hope, and yet at the same time with great concern.

In their communiqué, the presidents of the three bodies, which most fully represent the Catholic Church of the country, denounce “the growing, politically motivated repression, the violation of human rights and the selective and arbitrary detentions,” of individuals and they stress that this path of democratic change to be allowed to unfold peacefully and with the National Constitution in hand.

They express their appreciation of the work of the activists who are defending and promoting human rights at a time of crisis and despite the risks, and they urge them to continue in their concern for “the victims who are suffering injustices.” They state: “We call for personal and legal respect and safety for those who are exercising this worthy service in Venezuela.” In this way, they remind people that the Catholic Church is committed to helping those most in need, “acting in accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and humanity” and at the same time they request, “the necessary permission to have access to humanitarian aid as a means of mitigating the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable of the people. Caritas Venezuela and the various other social support institutions of the Church which have a wider outreach throughout the national territory commit themselves to continuing the service we have been providing, with equity, inclusivity, transparency and effectiveness.”

The communiqué ends with a call for prayer on Sunday, February 10th in “every church, every home and every community, calling on the Lord to grant us peace, reconciliation, liberty and health of body and spirit.”

An unprecedented situation

The current political situation in Venezuela is the result of the presidential elections held in May 2018 which, according to the official government version, were won by the current President Nicolas Maduro, but which were widely qualified as “illegitimate” by the majority of countries in the international community. It includes other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia, as well as Canada, Spain and the United States. They base their decision on accounts of numerous irregularities in the way in which elections were held.

Hence, given the illegitimate nature of the elections, President Maduro would thereby cease to be the legitimate president as at the conclusion of his previous mandate, on 10 January, and therefore no longer be recognized as President of the Republic.

Instead, and in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, the acting president of Venezuela would be the president of the National Assembly of the country, who in this case is Juan Gerardo Guaidó. And so, on 11 January 2019, Guaidó announced that he would be invoking article 233 of the Constitution and calling new national elections, and on 23 January he was sworn in as acting president of Venezuela.

 

PLEASE, on Sunday, February 10th, please pray for the People of Venezuela! 


 

Pray for Peace in Korea – Aid to the Church in Need

26.04.2018 in ACN KOREA, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Prayer

Historical meeting in Korea on April 27th.

Please, Pray for peace in Korea! 

 

Aid to the Church in Need has a National office in South Korea for three years. At several occasion, people who were visited were brought beyond the boundary line. Just below, one delegation visited in 2017.

 

The ACN Delegation in front of the border line. From left: Sister Kizza, Father Raymond, Mark v. Riedemann, Archbishop Shaw, Johannes Klausa, Bishop Yu Soo-il, David Jones, Samuel Maksan and Philipp Ozores

The PDF File is a prayer card to Our Lady, prepared by the National office in Korea.
You can share it and pray with it as well.
ACN-20180426-70416.

 

 

ACN’s project of the week – Cuba: a Catholic calendar to accompany the faithful

25.04.2018 in ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Cuba, Faith, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Success Story: Cuba

a Catholic calendar to accompany the faithful through the year

 

Each year, thanks to the help of ACN, the Cuban bishops’ conference is able to publish a Catholic liturgical and catechetical calendar, which has now become an indispensable companion through the year for many Catholics in every diocese of the country.

 

In Cuba the Church still has only very limited access to the media; consequently this calendar is a vitally important means of evangelizing, or re-evangelizing people in the country. It is very much in demand, and not only among Catholics, but even among people who otherwise have very little contact with the Church.

Cuba: Printing of the liturgical calender for 2018.

 

Each year, this colourfully illustrated calendar is devoted to a different topic, and each year it also includes many prayers, and also important messages from the Pope and the bishops. It contains many pictures, and of course, marks all the Catholic feasts and saints‘’days. So in this way it represents a companion for the Catholic faithful throughout the Church’s year.

 

The great advantage of this calendar lies in the fact that it can also be used by people who cannot afford books or who only read a little, or cannot even read at all. And the beautiful illustrations of the saints are perfect for cutting out and hanging on the wall, even after the calendar has run its course. This year the calendar had a special extra in the form of a poster-sized picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, ideal for hanging or pinning up in people’s homes.

 

For the Cuban bishops this colourful calendar is an extremely important means of keeping the Faith alive and present in the family home – since every such calendar reaches an average of five people in every family. And of course, it is not only hung up in private homes or Church premises but is also seen in clinics, hospitals and other public buildings, Cuban priests report. A few years ago, in fact, it was even seen on the set of a national soap opera, screened on TV.

 

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, ACN was able to contribute 45,300 dollars,
so enabling some 441,400 copies to be printed.
Thousands of Cuban people are happy to know that this calendar will be available,
this year as well, to support them in their faith.
Thank you!


 

Syria – “The Christians are scared to death and fear for their lives”

16.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, by Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Syria, War

Damascus
“The Christians are scared to death and fear for their lives”

 The current military offensive in Syria not only affects the inhabitants of the Eastern Ghouta region, but also those of neighbouring Damascus. The shelling of the capital city continues. The Christian district at the eastern edge of the old city has also been under fire. In an interview with Father Andrzej Halemba, the head of the Middle East section of the worldwide pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Tobias Lehner discusses why the warring parties are condoning the death of civilians, why Islamist terror is on the rise again and what kind of aid the civilian population needs at this moment.

 

Tobias Lehner: What do you know about the situation in Eastern Ghouta?

Father Andrzej Halemba: We from ACN maintain very good and close contact with a large number of bishops in Damascus. One of them is the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Joseph Absi. Caritas Syria is on site and keeping us informed.

The people in Eastern Ghouta are trapped. Several thousand people! They have practically no access to food. They have no medical care. Many residents have been wounded and are in need of an operation. There are no humanitarian corridors allowing them to escape. This may be because the rebels consider the civilian population “human shields.” And the government fears that not only civilian refugees will flee to Damascus, but also suicide bombers, who would bring the terror even further into the city. Fear and terror reigns everywhere.

And all that practically before the gates of the capital city of Syria with its more than one million inhabitants…

Eastern Ghouta is only about four kilometres from the city centre. From here, rebel troops can look out over the city of Damascus over there. Among them are also troops that are close to al-Qaeda. Several units of the “Islamic State” still remain in the southern districts of Damascus. Therefore, it is important not only to talk about the actions of the government troops, but also about the fact that the Islamists have set their sights on the capital city: with terrorist attacks on the inside, mortar attacks from the outside. The Christian district of Bab Tuma, which is located on the eastern edge of the old city, has also been severely hit. The warring parties know that the moment children die, young people are killed, families are destroyed and houses are demolished, it draws the attention of the world to them. It is part of their strategy. This is why the Christian district is also one of the areas under attack.

Father Andrzej Halemba: “Both sides are in the wrong. Both sides commit crimes. Both sides are guilty. Both sides have caused countless casualties. In the now seven years of war in Syria, more than one million people have been killed or wounded.”

Can you describe the situation there in more detail?

The situation is dire. The mortar attacks continue unabated. The Christians are scared to death. I recently spoke with a religious sister. She told me that she and her fellow sisters are not even able to leave the city centre anymore to go to the districts in which many Christians and refugees from Eastern Ghouta have found shelter. It is too dangerous. Convoys that were supposed to carry humanitarian aid into Damascus have been stopped. It is a terrible situation!

You said that there were also Islamist units among the rebel groups. The European media is focusing primarily on the brutal tactics of the government troops. Is this then not the whole truth?

Truth is always the first casualty in times of war. Both sides are in the wrong. Both sides commit crimes. Both sides are guilty. Both sides have caused countless casualties. In the now seven years of war in Syria, more than one million people have been killed or wounded. And these are wounds not only of the body, but also of the soul. So many people are traumatized. It will take decades to heal these wounds. And all warring parties bear responsibility for this!

Let us talk about the supply situation. The negotiated ceasefire was so fragile that it was at first impossible to get relief supplies to the besieged inhabitants. This was finally possible early this week. What do you know about this?

It was imperative to get food and medical aid to the inhabitants of Eastern Ghouta immediately. However, it is also important to remember the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons who have sought refuge in Damascus. Many have lost family members, many were severely wounded during the attacks. All of them have lost their future. This is why it is important for ACN to help these internally displaced persons. We want to offer them pastoral as well as financial aid, so that they can be cared for in a hospital setting, for example. We have to show these sorely afflicted people our love!

What kind of aid is ACN planning to offer Damascus?

We have been working in this region for a long time. Since war broke out, we have donated over 31 million dollars in emergency aid. We are currently helping Christian families with food donations, clothing and medicine. We are also trying to set up pastoral and therapeutic care for those who are traumatized. This is very important. We are supporting the work of the religious orders – because they are vital relief workers. We are looking for places where refugee families can stay. A top priority in Damascus is helping people who have lost a family member or who have been wounded and are in need of an operation. Even in a city like Damascus there are areas that are difficult to gain access to or that have been neglected. We have to take care of the people there. We encourage our project partners to help all people who come to them.

In many ways, the current situation in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus resembles the battles for control over Aleppo in 2016. From Aleppo we heard that the churches were often the only place those in need could turn to – for Christians, but also for large numbers of Muslims. Is this also the case in Damascus?

As a Christian pastoral charity, ACN takes care of anyone who has fallen victim to this war and who is in need. To achieve this, we are also working closely together with other organizations in Damascus. This means that we can start with existing networks and build from there. The aid we provide is for everyone, no one is excluded. This, of course, also includes individual Muslims; after all, they are suffering just as much from the war as the Christians. Christian charity knows no borders and is not interested in religious affiliation. The image of Jesus Christ is reflected in the face of each and every suffering person. And this maltreated face is looking back at us from the people in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus – and is asking for our response to this unspeakable suffering!


 

Central African Republic – The forgotten war in the heart of Africa

13.03.2018 in ACN International, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, War

Central African Republic:

“we were obliged to bury many people of all different religions”

 

The present situation in the Central African Republic, following five years of war and violence, is a profoundly distressing one. Speaking to the 37th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Bishop Juan José Aguirre-Muñoz of Bangassou described the country as a “failed state.” Ever since the arrival of the fundamentalist Islamic Seleka group in 2013, the country has been “without an army, without police, without a judicial system,” he said. The total absence of the state was demonstrated, he added, in the complete absence of any reaction on the part of the state in the face of the present and continuing threat of an attack on the city of Bangassou, in the southeastern part of the country, the city where he himself has been bishop for the past 17 years.

 

Bishop Aguirre was invited to Geneva on Wednesday, March 7, by the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to speak at an event devoted to the religious minorities in armed conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. In his intervention the Spanish bishop, who is 63 years old and has been working for 38 years as a missionary in the Central African Republic, pleaded for better “control and security on the borders” of the country, since at the present time they were being freely crossed by “criminals of every kind, who are sacking, destroying and laying waste to” the country, which was effectively “in the hands of mercenaries.” And he appealed at the same time for action against the sale of arms.

 

The origins of the crisis are economic

The CAR currently holds the unenviable distinction of being in the very last place in the world on the UN’s Human Development Index. The list of its woes is a long one, the bishop explained:

“The people are tired, abandoned, left to themselves. Entire neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground because the Muslim mercenaries have used fire as a weapon of war. Almost a million refugees are currently sheltering in the Congo. Over half the population is in need of food aid, and infant mortality has increased considerably as a result of the war and violence. The educational system has not been functioning for years, and the health system is non-existent. Our medical centre in the north of the diocese has been destroyed, along with our mission. Now nothing is left but the foundations.”

In the face of these overwhelming difficulties, Bishop Aguirre appealed to ACN: “We need your prayers, that the Lord may help us to discern the path we should take in order to be able to emerge from the crisis we are in,” he said.

 

Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre in Bangassou and Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Ruiz Molina

The forgotten war in the heart of Africa

The bishop, who is a Comboni missionary, called on all those involved in the communications media to tell people about this “forgotten war in the heart of Africa.”.And he asked for something more besides: “Please make this forgotten war your own concern too.” At the same time, however, Bishop Aguirre urged people not to see this war as “a religious crisis,” because those who have lived through it right from the beginning know that it is the result of a “purely economic problem, though undoubtedly with religious consequences.” Among other things, the bishop insisted that “the extraction of diamonds, gold, uranium and petroleum, the trade in hardwoods and the complex issue of transhumance” were “the real reasons behind our disputes.” He suspects “interest groups” of being behind the gross manipulation of information, together with the sad revelation that there are commercial interests actually taking advantage of the crisis.

 

The critical situation in regard to interreligious dialogue

For Bishop Aguirre, the hardest and saddest part of the picture is the situation with regard to interreligious dialogue at the present time. “Despite the great efforts that the Christian and Muslim leaders are making throughout the country, the real situation today is a critical one,” he said. Not only because some of these leaders themselves have been attacked or threatened, but also because “the hatred is growing between Muslim and non-Muslim groups, as are the reactions of religious intolerance on both sides.”

Central Africa Republic Bangassou: “During attacks in the Diocese of Bangassou: 30 Muslims died, 20 non-Muslims, two Imams, women and children. We make a common grave. Only inside the pit is peace”.

 

Speaking of the difficult situation faced by his own priests, who for months now have been sheltering hundreds of Muslims in the grounds of the cathedral and at the same time risking their own lives in an effort to mediate with the frenzied and violent groups of the so-called ‘anti-balaka’, the bishop explained, “We have held out the hand of friendship to those who attacked us, because that is what the Church does.” And he sadly acknowledges that “in the midst of so much violence we were obliged to bury many people of all different religions, and so it was there, in a common grave, that they were finally united again. In peace.”

 

Despite everything, Bishop Aguirre is convinced that the only solution is to “continue working for reconciliation, justice, peace and forgiveness, so as to disarm people’s hearts.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the people of the Central African Republic ever since the beginning of the crisis. In 2017, ACN supported some 30 separate pastoral aid projects in the country, giving a total of over $ 936.200.


 

ACN Interview – “It is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today.”

08.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Asia, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians

“It is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today.”

Dimensions of the community of faith: sources of friction and inspiration from India

 

Interview with Veronique Vogel, head of the Indian section of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on the situation of Christians in India. The interview was conducted by Karla Sponar.

 

What is the situation of Christians in India today?

Alarming. Anti-Christian attacks almost doubled in 2017, with 740 more incidents than in the previous year. Most of them occurred in northern India. It is important to know that the nationalist party that is currently ruling India at the federal level is also governing 19 of the 29 federal states of India. Not only has the number of attacks grown, but what is striking is the kind of attacks: they are characterized by even more hate. The consequences for Catholics are more severe. The attacks used to be more verbal in nature, such as against the directors of Catholic schools. Now, for example in Madhya Pradesh, groups of extremists enter schools, disrupt classes, and try to impose an extreme nationalism in schools. This is new. Priests were attacked and detained by police, even though they were only heading out to visit a village community to sing Advent carols. There is also a tendency to accuse Christians of blasphemy – as has happened in Pakistan. Christians are portrayed as a danger to national unity. This trend has developed since the last elections in 2014.

India, February 2018 : Veronique Vogel (ACN) with Bishop William D’Souza (Archbishop of Patna diocese) next to the foundation stone for the new Archdiocesan Spirituality Centre at Jyoti Bhavan, Mokama.

 

What is the press reporting with regard to this?

We read – in particular in the Catholic media, but also in other reliable sources – that the number of attacks and their severity has risen.

 

Who is responding critically to this?

At the close of their meeting at the end of February, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reinforced that Christians are to be treated as one hundred per cent Indian, and at the same time to be considered one hundred per cent Catholic. The false argument of having an anti-national stance has no place in Christian thought.

 

What message does Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) have for the Christians in India?

In this atmosphere of persecution in which Christians are pressured by harassment on a daily basis and also made to fear for their lives, ACN is, first of all, helping bishops in their pastoral work so that they can, in turn, support their brothers and sisters in faith and encourage them to grow in their Christian faith. In concrete terms, ACN is supporting the Indian church, for example in its work with adolescents, with women and with families. We are in close contact with them, we show our solidarity with them in prayer, demonstrate our understanding of their situation, and report on it.

Because it is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today. The bishops are maintaining interdenominational connections. We support Catholics in India so that they can continue to be an example of Christian coexistence in love and compassion for everyone.

India, February 2017: Offertory during the Mass on the Feast of Christ the King in Bihar State.

 

Of the total of 5,384 projects that were approved by ACN in 2017, the greatest share, i.e. 584 projects, involved aid for India. Besides Then there is the fact that its approx. 1.3 billion inhabitants make India the second most populous country in the world after China – is there another reason for this?

Pope Francis correctly said: that “the church of the future will be the church in Asia.” India has an important Christian community of faith. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that Indians generally have a deep and strong spirituality, no matter what religion they belong to. Eighty-four per cent of the population is Hindu. Apart from the extremists, who want to foment unrest among people with different religious affiliations, Hindus are very hospitable, pacifist, and consider cultural and religious diversity to be a gift from God and allow every religion to have a place in society. This special way of greeting each day and each moment of each day in community with God is one way of remaining connected to the divine. To pray. Accepting one’s own inferiority faced with the magnificence of God. I frequently come across this humility and simultaneous joy in Hindus.

However, it is an individual religion. This is why Hindus are interested in how Christians are organized, with their priests, religious and communities that all come together to pray. They consider this dimension of community to hold new meaning for their Hindu spirituality. This is why Hindus generally view Christianity favourably and are willing to give it a place in their society.

India, February 2017: Participating in the Hostel Children’s Bible Sharing Prayer Service in Bihar State.