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ACN News — COVID19 Coronavirus: An unprecedented Easter in the Holy Land (2)

07.04.2020 in Holy Land

ACN News – COVID-19

Coronavirus: An unprecedented Easter in the Holy Land

by Christophe Lafontaine, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web April 7, 2020

 

Because of the COVID-19 epidemic and confinement measures, pilgrims are staying away from the Holy Land  which will undoubtedly leave the streets of Jerusalem empty at Easter. ACN International looks at the situation and relays the calls for prayer for local Christians. The cancellation of pilgrimages will have serious repercussions on the tourism industry on which many Christian families in Israel and the Palestinian Territories depend. 

 

Continued from the first part of this feature story:

Christians in the Holy Land paying a heavy price

Israel, March 20 2020
Empty forecourt of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

 

Calls to pray . . . 

“We have already started to support the neediest families,” said Brother Ibrahim. “For us too, the local Church,” he admits, “it will be difficult to help people.”

When asked by ACN International how they can be helped, Brother Ibrahim said: “Undoubtedly, your prayers will provide great support, so will encouraging pilgrims to come back to this land as soon as possible,” he added.

 

Returning to the Holy Land after the pandemic

Brother Alberto agrees. In his view, the Brothers in the Holy Land will answer prayers by doing the same in the Holy Places for all those who are suffering as a result of the virus. However, he adds that donations and offerings will be welcome when they become possible. He is conscious that the situation could get worse for local Christians if the “Good Friday collection” is postponed, as he fears. This collection is meant to show the solidarity of Catholic Churches around the world towards the Holy Land. It is also one of the main sources of revenue for the upkeep of the Holy Places, the welcoming of pilgrims and the support for the local Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East in their efforts to ensure that Christians remain in their countries. “For the moment, the Good Friday collection has not been cancelled, even though the faithful in Europe and probably in America will not be able to go to their churches to make their donations.

There are plans to move the date to the summer, but nothing is certain,” said Brother Alberto. Without a collection, “the loss would represent 80% of our income,” warns the Franciscan.

 

The Basilica of the Nativity closed

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the Holy Land is gloomy. On 12 March, the Franciscan Pilgrims Office in Jerusalem cancelled until further notice all Masses booked by pilgrim tours in Holy Land shrines. For now, churches and shrines in Israel are open, said Brother Alberto, but only ten people can take part in a liturgy. “The heads of the Churches meet every day and decisions are taken one at a time,” noted Brother Alberto.

On the Palestinian side, the authorities quarantined the city of Bethlehem more than two weeks ago (around mid-March 2020) . Schools and universities (including Christian institutions), mosques and churches are completely closed, including, since 5 March, the Basilica of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus. “In the past, it was only closed in the event of war or siege [as in 2002],” said Brother Alberto, who added that he had no information about when it would reopen.

Israel, March 17 2020
Inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, in front of the entrance sheltering the Tomb of Christ, the barriers to suppress the crowds of pilgrims have disappeared

 

In Jerusalem, a few butcher and food shops were still open last Friday, but the streets were mostly empty, with no one about and almost all store shutters lowered. No pilgrims on the horizon. “Just to think that only a month ago, pilgrims couldn’t find a place to sleep!” It was very crowded. But now no one is left, the last American pilgrims left last week,” said Brother Ibrahim.

 

Closed doors of the Sainte-Anne Church, French national domain in East Jerusalem. According to tradition, the site houses the house of the parents of the Virgin Mary, on the one hand, and the Bethesda swimming pool, on the other.

Towards Easter celebrations without pilgrims in Jerusalem

A European woman who has lived in Jerusalem for years explains that the pilgrimage agency for which she works had all tours booked until the end of April cancelled, including Easter, which generally marks the first high season of the year with the arrival of thousands of visitors. “Other colleagues have cancelled groups tours until August. Everyone hopes to see things get back to normal after the summer, for the other high season of the year (September-October). “Let us put our trust in the Lord; everything is in his hands even though we are going through a time that is hard to understand and to accept,” she concludes.

 

 

ACN approved 40 projects in the Holy Land in 2018 and 2019 for a total of more than $1,012,500 dollars.

 

 

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ACN News — COVID19 Coronavirus: Christians in the Holy Land paying a heavy price(1)

06.04.2020 in ACN International, ACN International, ACN United Kingdom, Holy Land

ACN News — COVID-19

Christians in the Holy Land paying a heavy price (1)

by Christophe Lafontaine, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web April 6, 2020

 

Station V of Via Dolorosa in Old City of Jerusalem deserted by pilgrims

Because of the COVID-19 epidemic and confinement measures, pilgrims are staying away from the Holy Land  which will undoubtedly leave the streets of Jerusalem empty at Easter. ACN International looks at the situation and relays the calls for prayer for local Christians. The cancellation of pilgrimages will have serious repercussions on the tourism industry on which many Christian families in Israel and the Palestinian Territories depend.

 

The coronavirus in the Holy Land has forced thousands of pilgrims to leave. Clearly, “many Christians will suffer from this, especially in Bethlehem, because they are employed in the tourism sector,” laments Brother Ibrahim Faltas, in charge, among other things, of relations with the Palestinian Authority and Israel for the Custody of the Holy Land.

 

“Without pilgrims, no one works,” he added. This reality has taken hold all the more because  everything is interconnected in the economic ecosystem of Christians in the Holy Land: revenues from tourism fund social and pastoral works carried out by Christian institutions through parishes, shrines, schools, hospices, retirement homes  and thus providing many Christians with “a worthy job” to support their families, as Cardinal Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, said recently.

 

Israel, March 17 2020:  Very rare shop opened in the souk of the Old City of Jerusalem

At present, “with the forced closure of all hotels, bars and restaurants, most of our employees are at home, out of work. The same happened in the past at the time of the *Intifadas. We do not know how we will be able to pay everyone for a long while,” said Brother Alberto Joan Pari, also of the Custody. He explains that all the Casa Nova guest houses run by the Franciscans in the Holy Land are now closed. Souvenir and craft shops, as well as transport companies (taxis, buses, car rentals) are teetering on the edge. The small family-run businesses are not solid enough to withstand such a shock. In the past, when the Holy Land experienced wartime conditions, some managed to temporarily find an economic niche outside tourism. Now with the pandemic, all business sectors are affected, everything is closed, and it is impossible to take the risk of moving to another place to do something else.

Calls to pray . . . and Good Friday collection postponed

“We have already started to support the neediest families,” said Brother Ibrahim. “For us too, the local Church,” he admits, “it will be difficult to help people.”

When asked by ACN International how they can be helped, Brother Ibrahim said: “Undoubtedly, your prayers will provide great support, so will encouraging pilgrims to come back to this land as soon as possible,” he added.

 

Empty forecourt of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

* Intafadas: The Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, beginning in 1987

 

 

Read more in the second part of this feature story:

An unprecedented Easter in the Holy Land

 

 

ACN approved 40 projects in the Holy Land in 2018 and 2019 for a total of more than $1,012,500 dollars

 

 

Breaking News – Acquittal of 40 Christians falsely accused in lynching case

30.01.2020 in Pakistan, press@acn-intl.org, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

Justice and freedom at last

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web January 30, 2020

 

Christians across Pakistan are rejoicing after a court yesterday (Wednesday, 29th January) acquitted 40 men jailed for alleged involvement in the lynching of two people in a district outside Lahore.

 

The 40 individuals, almost all of them Christians, shouted “Alleluia, Praise God” as the anti-terrorism court in Lahore ordered their release after nearly five years in custody.

More than 40 others, on bail after being accused of lesser offences that took place at about the same time in Youhanabad district, were also acquitted.

 

 

A look back at the arrests of these Christians in 2015

They had all been arrested as police responded to riots in Youhanabad sparked by suicide bomb attacks on two churches one Sunday morning in March 2015, in which at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 were injured.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) just hours after the acquittal verdict, Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf described how emotion swept through the court as the accused began to absorb the court’s decision, citing insufficient evidence to prove the men’s guilt.

Reporting that the accused were now back home with their families, Father Yousaf said: “What we have seen today is wonderful news for Pakistan.”

“Throughout Pakistan, people had been praying, every day praying that the court would rule in their favour. It is a big day for us all.  “The accused have been through a big, big trauma and now, thank God, come out the other side.”

Father Yousaf, National Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), went on to thank ACN for providing legal and paralegal aid, which, he said, had been crucial to the successful outcome of the case. As well as funding legal fees, the charity sponsored schooling for the families of the accused and gifts at Easter and Christmas.

“First of all, we are very grateful to ACN. With the charity’s support and prayers, all the accused are now free. Thanks to ACN, they are now able to restart their lives,” expressed Father Yousaf. He also added that two of the accused had died in jail; that there had been reports of physical maltreatment and pressure to convert to Islam were.

ACN to continue providing help

ACN has pledged to continue helping the families of the accused, especially over the coming year. Father Yousaf explained how the families of the accused had struggled to cover basic costs as the men behind bars had been “the major bread winners.”

He said that starting again back home would be difficult for a number of the men who had suffered multiple bereavements of close family members during their incarceration.

Syria – ACN’s support of reconstruction gives hopes for Christians

25.02.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By John Pontifex, CONSTRUCTION, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria

Syria

An action plan to enable thousands of Christians to return to their homes in the Syrian city of Homs was agreed in a house-repair program involving Church leaders and a leading Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

by John Pontifex, ACN-International

At the meeting in Homs, the leaders of five Church communities signed the Homs Reconstruction Committee agreement, in which Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need will repair 300 homes as part of the first stage of the plan.

In the second phase, a further 980 homes are due to be rebuilt – 80 from the Melkite Greek Catholic community, 600 Greek Orthodox and 300 belonging to Syriac Orthodox families. ACN will support part of the project.

Highlighting the significance of the agreement, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said: “The agreement is one of the most critical steps forward in the recovery of the Christian community in Homs. The commitment to rebuild so many homes offers the light of hope for people desperate to return to the city that is one of the most important for Christians in the whole of Syria.”

Fr Andrzej Halemba and Archbishop Nicolas Sawaf, archbishop of Lattaquié, with ‘Jesus is my Rock’ stone tablets

They cannot come back without the program

Happy to be able to come back home.

 

Greek Orthodox Bishop Georges Abou Zakhem of Homs said: “The people need to come back to their houses but they can’t do so without the help of ACN.”

Melkite priest Father Bolos Manhal said: “I am very happy that people have this wonderful opportunity to return to their homes. They have suffered so much and for many coming home will be a dream come true.

“They have had to spend so much money renting a place to live so to have their homes rebuilt will take a huge pressure on family budgets. There are more job opportunities in the city than in the countryside so they will now be able to take advantage of them.”

ACN will be contributing to a maximum of US$3,500 towards each house being repaired.

With more than 12,500 homes destroyed in Homs and 37,500 badly damaged, many Christians have been living in displacement in the nearby Valley of the Christians for up to seven years.

At the height of the conflict in 2014, less than 100 Christians were remaining in Homs Old City and targeted attacks by Islamist extremists forced nearly 250,000 to leave.

Last year ACN piloted a program to repair 100 homes belonging to Melkite and Syriac Orthodox families, of which 85 are already reoccupied and the rest due to return at the start of the new academic year in the autumn.

The 2018 Homs renovation plan was part of a program which has already led to the repairs of nearly 500 homes across Syria, of which many are in Aleppo.

 


Since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, ACN has completed 750 projects involving 150 partners. (2019-02-25)

Egypt: “Help our faithful to stay”, asks Coptic Pope

29.03.2018 in ACN Interview, By John Pontifex, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East, Persecution of Christians

Coptic Pope: ‘Help our faithful to stay’

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church has called on a Catholic charity to redouble its efforts to help Christians stay in the Middle East. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II made the plea at a meeting with Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), during a visit to Egypt. Pope Tawadros said: “I would ask you please to support the presence of Christians in this land and in the Middle East.

“Christians are a vital presence – and a buffer in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shi‘as. “Please do not help the Christians to leave, but help them to stay.

Egypt, 22. March 2018
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (© Aid to the Church in Need), during a visit to Egypt.

“Everyone needs the stability which comes with the presence of Christians.” Aid to the Church in Need is supporting projects in Egypt, including repair of churches and convents – particularly those destroyed by extremist violence in 2013 after the fall of President Morsi –, assistance for youth work, and Mass stipends for priests. ACN is also helping Christians to stay in Iraq by rebuilding towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains destroyed by the extremist group Daesh (ISIS).

At the meeting with Mr. Kyrke-Smith on Tuesday evening (20th March), Pope Tawadros said the attacks by Daesh and other extremist groups on Egypt’s Christians were intended to destroy the good relations between different groups within Egyptian society. He said: “The situation in Egypt has improved and is more stable…

“The attacks in recent years were not so much attacks against Christians, Muslims or security forces, but attacks against national unity. “The attackers wanted to destroy unity – but we stand and we pray … trying to give an example like Jesus Christ with an open heart and open arms for all.” Pope Tawadros also stressed the importance of building bridges not only with other Christians, but with other faiths, stating that the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, was of “great significance”. He said the April 2017 meeting with Pope Francis was important for both Churches.

He went on: “It was very good to pray together with the heads of the Churches in Egypt in the chapel of St. Peter at St. Mark’s Cathedral.” Pope Tawadros added how welcome he had felt when he visited Rome in 2013 and first met Pope Francis. Mr. Kyrke-Smith also met with the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak, who also said that there were signs of change for the better. Patriarch Sidrak said: “Recent developments including the visit of Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Pope’s meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the visit of Pope Francis are important steps of hope for all Egyptians.

“Pope Francis gave us a lot of encouragement – the prayer service involving Pope Tawadros in the chapel of St. Peter at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria was very significant, as was the Mass held at the sports stadium in New Cairo.”

 


 

ACN Project of the Week: Help for attack victims

13.04.2017 in Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

ACN Success Story:

Help for attack victims of a church in Pakistan

In March 2015 an appalling suicide attack on St John‘s Church in Youhanabad on Christians killed 20 people and wounded another 80 people.

The families are all poor, many have lost their main breadwinner or now have to pay for expensive medical treatment. Your help has enabled the purchase of medicines, food and other necessities easing some of the most immediate basic needs.

If this particular attack killed many, the toll of victims could have been higher had it not been for the courageous actions of one man, 20-year-old Akash Bashir, who had volunteered for sentry duty outside the church. He spotted the suicide bomber who was wearing an explosive belt underneath his clothing before he had the chance to enter the church, and managed to wrestle him to the ground. The attacker detonated his suicide belt, killing himself and young Akash instantly, but without entering the church. Young Akash undoubtedly saved numerous lives – there were 600 people inside the church. His family was also among those we were able to help, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors. His parish priest, Father Francis Gulzar says, “Words cannot describe the sorrow we feel at the loss of this hero and martyr. Thousands of people came to his funeral, to pay their last respects to him and to all who died in this attack.”

 

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore has expressed his gratitude for this aid and paid tribute to our work “ACN is not only an aid agency, but a sort of movement that encourages people to be merciful, to trust and to pray. ACN supports us in our difficulties with prayers and good words; it helps the victims who are in need of mercy, it helps us in many ways with works of mercy and it thereby also helps us to help others to be merciful.”

$29,000 generously donated by our benefactors, has gone to help the victims of the  attack on St John‘s Church 

 


ACN Press: Syria – More bombings in Aleppo

19.07.2016 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, Press Release, press@acn-intl.org

Syria

A “consternating” situation leaving Christians “exasperated”

Aid to the Church in Need recently received information coming from its partners in Syria from the village of Aleppo.  For many days, the inhabitants have suffered through many more bombings.   “Aleppo has known a veritable war for the third consecutive day,” writes Father Fadi. 

“The terrorists bomb the neighbourhoods of the city with hundreds of rockets and explosives.  All the people in the city are hiding and no one dares to go and see what has happened.”

According to what he wrote to the international catholic charity, “the Syrian army has made a great offensive lasting 5 hours.” He adds, “What language are we speaking?  In the name of what religion are we addressing you? We have lost our work, our security and our homes but not our humanity and or our Faith in God,” he indicates before adding:  “Please share.”

Syria, 11.July 2016 Old Syriak in Aleppo after the bomb attack on the weekend. Only that very small file quality available

Syria, 11.  July 2016  Aleppo after the bomb attack on the weekend.

Another project partner, Sister Annie, asks for prayers and tells how “enormous attacks” are directed against the Christians, who are “a targeted group.”  She considers the situation to be a “consternating” one.

 

Exasperated, they no longer know where to go to find refuge

Msgr Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, has written a new letter in which he reports on attacks last July 2. “Thanks to Divine Providence, none of the 25 souls gathered suffered a scratch!” he writes as two rockets are shot down only a few meters form a school yard – adjacent to Saint Dimitrios parish church – where parishioners were gathered after Saturday evening Mass.

He indicates that once again,” fire and destruction once again ravaged the poor parish which already had seen its buildings bombarded and destroyed four times since the beginning of this detestable war.”

“What a sad ending to the week. Once more, residents of the city had to suffer greatly the terror that has not stopped menacing them day and night.”

Alep, Syrie, 11 juillet 2016. Des enfants regardent les dommages causés par des bombardements.

Aleppo, Syria – July 11 2016. Children examine the devastation caused by the bombings.

In this letter available on Aid to the Church in Need Canada’s website in PDF, he recalls that “many [Christians] are leaving the country” and he estimates that “many of them are fleeing the country and there is talk that Aleppo will lose all its Christians. What unhappiness, as our 2000-year-old is confronted with such a fateful time in its history,” he writes and adding, “Yet, despite everything, we will not let ourselves be defeated.”

“May our friends who wish us well accompany us with their prayers, may they be at our sides to defend our cause, strengthen our resistance and help us stay put,” he requests.

For over five years, Aid to the Church in Need has supported projects in Syria – with among others, in partnership with Msgr Jeanbart.  In 20145 alone, over 8 million Canadian dollars were essential for emergency projects in Syria.  Whether it was for food aid, shelter or for help with education.  This precious support has continued through this year.

(Read Msgr Jean-Clément Jeanbart’s letter ( translation courtesy of Joop Coopman of ACN USA)

 

By Mario Bard, Aid to the Church in Need Canada

Adapted and translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin


 

ACN Feature: Syria – A Franciscan priest reports from the embattled city of Aleppo

04.05.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Syria

Syria

“Things were never so bad in Aleppo before.”

 

Syrie 1In an urgent appeal to the outside world, Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh is calling on Christians throughout the world to pray for the Syrian city of Aleppo, currently caught up in the midst of heavy fighting. “Never, since the beginning of this terrible war were things as bad as they are now. I have no words to describe all the suffering I see on a daily basis,” Father Ibrahim reported on Tuesday to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

 

Rockets and bombs are raining down on churches, mosques, schools and hospitals. Now 17 people have been killed in an attack on our hospital. And the casualties may yet be higher. So many houses have been partially or entirely destroyed, and so many people killed or severely injured. And when the bombs do stop falling, there is an eerie silence, like in a cemetery. The streets are as though everyone has died.” He goes on to tell us how the Orthodox Easter, on the previous Sunday, had been a very sad affair. “It was more like Good Friday than Easter Sunday. Although two liturgies were celebrated, they were very poorly attended. People were either burying their dead or else they stayed at home out of fear. It was depressing. When will the world community finally wake up and put an end to this new Sarajevo?”

 

“I am praying to our Lord to support us.”

Father Ibrahim has been working for almost two years now in this divided city of northern Syria, the scene of fierce fighting between the Syrian government and rebel groups. “Whoever can escape, does so. On Sunday the roads out of the city were packed with refugees. Those who remain behind are the poorest of all, the ones who cannot even afford to look for a place of safety. We are helping them, wherever and however we can. Some of the people are living in half ruined homes. We help them with repairs and support them, thanks to the help of ACN, with food, clothing, medicines, items of hygiene and other things. But now we really need any outside help we can get. We are in the greatest of need.”

 

Syria 3

 

Father Ibrahim has also noticed increasing signs of psychological stress in people. “The nervous breakdowns are increasing, and we now have so many psychological illnesses as a result of the war. There is so much misery. But at least I thank God that through his grace I am able to be a good Samaritan to all the suffering people. I try to console them with the word of God, but also with deeds of corporal mercy. I always have in my ears the words of Pope Francis, that we must show people the tenderness of God. We priests and religious have really become fathers, and still more mothers, to the people, trying to bind up their wounds tenderly, like a mother.

 

Father Ibrahim compared the state of the 50,000 or so Christians still remaining in Aleppo with the situation of Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. “Saint Paul was in prison on account of his faith, together with Silas. But they were liberated through their prayers. They turned that terrible prison into a place of prayer. That is what we Christians in Aleppo are also called to do. No matter how frightful this place is, yet we must still give Christian witness. We must not think only of ourselves.”

 

He goes on to say that the cross that the Christians are carrying is very heavy. “But it also creates a communion with God and with one another such as I have never seen before. My faith and my priestly vocation have grown here in Aleppo. I pray a great deal before the Tabernacle, that the Lord will support us,” Father Ibrahim continues. And he expressly thanked the benefactors of ACN. “Without their generosity we could do almost nothing. Please be assured that every day prayers go up to God from the mouths of children, the poor and the elderly, that He may bless you for your help. Please continue to pray fervently for us, that we remain strong in faith and love. For this crisis is beyond our human strength.”
 

Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the Christians of Aleppo for many years now. Through the Church representatives who are our project partners on the spot, we fund programs which help the needy by providing them with food, clothing and medication among other necessities. There is also help for essential accommodation and study.  

ACN also helps those Christians from Syria and Iraq who have been forced to flee from war and terrorism and are now refugees, either in their own countries or in neighbouring countries abroad.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International  

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


 

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Pakistan: Continue moving forward

29.03.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Journey with ACN, Pakistan

20100928_001Pakistan

Archbishop of Lahore urges victims to:
” Continue moving forward, bearing the cross 

“I visited every bedside and every victim, of whatever faith. It was truly difficult, because I saw so many children, only four or five years old, both Christians and Muslims, who had been wounded or killed by this terrible attack.”

 

These words are those of Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shah of Lahore, who was speaking exclusively to ACN, following the attack at around 6:30 PM local time yesterday in a public park in Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani Punjab province.

 

The archbishop spoke to ACN after returning from the hospital where he had visited many of the more than 300 people injured in the attack and to the families of the 72 people who were killed by it. Among this last group there were even some 30 children. Archbishop Shah confirmed the fact that for the Christian community in Pakistan, on special feast days such as Christmas and Easter it is customary for people, after Holy Mass and after eating together as a family, to go out for a stroll in the park to continue the festivities.

ACN-20160121-34877

 

“After the attacks last year on two Christian churches in the Youhanabad quarter, we were fearful that there might be another attack, and for this reason the government had provided all the necessary security measures to protect the churches – but no one had thought about the park,” he added. On the afternoon of Holy Saturday the local authorities had even issued a briefing in order to organized the necessary security measures. Archbishop Shah believes it is likely that the Christian community was the target of the attacks, but at the same time he underlined that there were also many Muslims among those killed and wounded.

 

The archbishop also expressed his condolences and sympathies to these Muslims. “To my own faithful I said that they must not give up hope because, even though we were going through a period of grave difficulties, we have to learn to rise up again, just as Christ was able to raise himself again, despite carrying the Cross. And so we too, while carrying our own cross, have to be able to get up again and move forward. Because God is and will always be with us.”

 

An effort to confront terrorism

 

Also speaking on the telephone to ACN from Lahore, Peter Jacob, the former director of the Pakistan Justice and Peace Commission, confirmed that the terrorists had sought to cause the highest possible number of victims and in particular to strike at the Christian community. At the same time he emphasized the increased effort on the part of the Pakistani army and government to confront terrorism, and he didn’t exclude the possibility that the choice of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, not far from the family home of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, might have been a message addressed to the premier. “This is his city, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif also lives here,” he noted, “hence we can’t exclude the possibility that the attackers wanted in some way to send a warning to the authorities.”

 

20130312_004

The attack may also have been linked to the serious tensions that followed the recent execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who in 2011 murdered the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was “guilty” in his eyes of having criticized the anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Qadri was viewed by many of his supporters as a “hero” for “justly” killing a blasphemer, and for this reason his execution had been deferred for a long time. His execution was followed by numerous protests throughout the country. “We cannot exclude a certain ideological link link between the demonstrations and the killers in this case,” Peter Jacob affirms.

 

And, in a statement made to the francophone religious news agency, Présence-Info, National Director of the Canadian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, Marie-Claude Lalonde, believes the notable difference concerning Sunday’s events is that “the Pakistani police seem to take very seriously the situation, which is in contrast with the past when impunity ruled.”

 

 


 

 

ACN INTERVIEW – Middle Eastern Christians must remain in the region

05.02.2016 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Oliver Maksan, Middle East, Syria

Israel, June 2014
The procession on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua. The procession goes through the streets of Jaffa in the direction of the church of St. Anthony in Jaffa – the parish for migrants.

 

 

“If we hate ISIS, then they have won”

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Franciscans in the Middle East, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need: 

(Holy Land) Palestine, Bethlehem 01.12.2012 A Franciscan friar praying in front of an icon in the milk grotto in Bethlehem. The place - close to nativity church - is dear to Christians and Muslims because the virgin Mary is said to have lost her

(Holy Land) Palestine, Bethlehem 
Praying in front of an icon in the milk grotto in Bethlehem. The place – close to the Church of the Nativity  – is dear to both Christians and Muslims 

Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa is head of the Franciscans in the Middle East. The brothers of the Custody of the Holy Land are active in Israel and Palestine, also in Egypt and Syria. A Franciscan brother was recently abducted in Syria. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) met the with him in Jerusalem to discuss the prospects of Christians in Syria and the Middle East five years after the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” He believes that the war in Syria will continue to have repercussions for Christians in the country, even, long after its end. It is imperative to rebuild the trust between Muslims and Christians. In his opinion, Christians need to pray for forgiveness. And Muslims need to rethink their religious teachings.

ACN: Father Custos, the Arab Spring is now five years old. It has primarily resulted in chaos and the disintegration of nations, especially in Syria. Is there any reason for the hard-pressed Christians in the region to be optimistic in 2016?

It is difficult to say whether there are reasons for hope. However, from a political and military standpoint, this year will doubtlessly be a decisive year. 2016 could be a turning point. In Syria, I detect a certain war-weariness among the parties concerned. Therefore, they will not be able to continue at this intensity for much longer.

ACN: Do you believe that this will make it possible to find a political solution at the Geneva peace talks for Syria? (Just two days after its beginning, these talks were halted by the UN negotiator.  Talks should resume at the end of the month.)

Probably not immediately. The trenches are too deep for that. But it may be a beginning.

ACN: But do the Christians still have enough time left to wait and see if a political agreement can be reached at some point? After all, many Christians have already left Syria.

This is because the Christians are not only suffering from the war and its consequences, such as the destruction and shortfalls in supply. Even if the weapons were to fall silent, it would remain difficult for them. You have to realise that this war also has massive social repercussions. After all, this war is not just a civil war, both in Iraq and in Syria. It has had a very distinct denominational, religious character from the very beginning. It will not be a simple task to rebuild the trust that has been lost between Christians and Muslims in these countries. Added to this are the economic consequences. It will be very difficult to rebuild these countries, even if they retain their current borders. The Christians are also worried about the uncertain political future. Which kind of government will Syria have? In answer to your question: Of course not all will leave. Those that could afford to or wanted to, are already gone. Those who remain are those who did not want to leave or could not leave. These are the ones we have to take care of.

ACN: You said that the trust between Christians and Muslims is strained or has been destroyed. Why?

Well, for this you only have to think of jihadists such as Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan

ACN: But do these groups really reflect the beliefs of the Sunnis in Syria or Iraq?

Not all Syrians agree with their ideology or support them, of course. After all, they also suppress Muslims in the areas under their control, and thus numerically speaking one could even say they primarily suppress Muslims. But they still enjoy great popularity. It would be impossible for these groups to control such large parts of Syria and Iraq for such a long time without support from the general population.

ACN: And Christians are being targeted because the Islamists believe that they are on the side of the government?

Yes. However, one also has to say that in many places in Syria Christians and Muslims work and live together wonderfully. I am speaking more in terms of general developments.

ACN: But how can you rebuild trust in this case? Is it perhaps necessary to separate the groups along religious and ethnic borders? This is a trend that has developed in Syria.

This should not be done under any circumstances. In order to make a future possible for Christians in their countries, you have to push through the concept of citizenship and civil equality. This is the decisive point. And this is where the religious leaders have a part to play. Because Islamic fundamentalism didn’t just come out of nowhere.

ACN: However, most of the Islamic clerics say that ISIS, for example, has nothing to do with Islam.

It is surely a deviation, but there are links to the established theology. After World War II, we Catholics also had to ask ourselves from where modern anti-Judaism that brought to the Shoah was born and if we had a role in this. Muslim theologians now have to ask themselves similar questions. A theological examination of conscience is necessary. They have to ask themselves: What in our doctrine led to modern fundamentalism? After all, you have to ask yourself where the hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists suddenly came from. They kill Christians and persons of different religions. Why are they doing this? This needs to be answered by non-radical theologians. But we Christians also have a role to play in this.

ACN: Which role is that?

We Christians have to set an example of forgiveness. The Year of Mercy in particular can help make this clear to us.

Israel, June 2014 Holy Mass in the church in Jaffa on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua - the parish for migrants. Concelebrated holy Mass, the main celebrant - Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan custody of the Holy Land

Israel, June 2014
Holy Mass in the church in Jaffa on the occasion of St. Anthony of Padua – the parish for migrants. Concelebrated holy Mass, the main celebrant – Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa,

ACN: But how can a Christian forgive ISIS, for example?

If we hate them, then they have won. And that is exactly what they want. Being human, it is of course extremely difficult to grant forgiveness and this cannot be done automatically, but in a frame of a process that requires time. But we have to put this in our perspective. And as an Italian who is living in safety, I am the last person who can tell a Christian in Aleppo how this is to be accomplished. I don’t have any answers for this either. But the Christians in Syria and Iraq have to ask themselves this question. The Gospels require this of us. If we fail to do so, our faith will remain theoretical. After all, our faith was born on Mount Calvary. This means that forgiveness has been at the heart of Christianity from the very beginning.

“Under no circumstances would I encourage the Christians to emigrate…”

ACN: Europe has long ceased being simply an observer of the upheaval in the Middle East. It is directly affected by the flow of refugees from the region. Many Christians are also going to Europe. Does this trouble you?

Under no circumstances would I encourage the Christians to emigrate. We are doing everything in our power to make it possible for the Christians to stay. I would tell them: Go to a safe part of the country, but stay in Syria. Fleeing is not a solution. Because the Christians belong here. They have a calling here. And Europe is not a paradise.

ACN: Don’t welcoming signs from Germany, for example, make your work a lot harder?

Yes. Of course this makes our efforts to help the people stay and not leave more difficult. Everyone is now talking about wanting to go to Germany. Angela Merkel has invited them, the people say. However, I would tell the politicians in Europe: It would be better to help the refugees, including the Christians, here than in Europe. It would be better to invest the money required to admit millions of refugees here. It is better for both the refugees and the region.

 

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada