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ACN Information Covid-19: a Missed Opportunity for Peace

29.06.2020 in Religious freedom, World

 

ACN Information

Covid-19, a Missed Opportunity for Peace

By Amélie de la Hougue, AED France
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web June 29, 2020

 

Over two months ago, the UN issued an appeal for a worldwide ceasefire in the hope that people would instead concentrate on the battle against Covid-19. Six days later, the Pope also echoed this appeal. Now ACN has contacted Church leaders on the ground in the various conflict regions in order to find out what the result has been. Their conclusion: despite the COVID-19 pandemic, war and terrorism have continued. The charity has conducted a brief survey, ranging through Cameroon, Syria, the Philippines, Ukraine, Nigeria, Iraq, Mexico and the Central African Republic.

 

Philippines 2018

“The fury with which the virus has struck shows clearly that it is madness to continue making war,” declared Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general on March 23, 2020. “The time has come to leave the armed conflicts behind in order to concentrate our efforts on the real battle of our lives,” he continued, in the hope that, confronted with a disease that was striking indiscriminately against every single nation, the men of war would sit up and take notice. Following up on this appeal on Sunday, March 29, Pope Francis called for “the creation of humanitarian aid corridors, an opening up to diplomacy and concern for the needs of those facing a situation of extreme vulnerability.”

 

Eastern Ukraine

 

An opportunity to forge peace?

“Here the conflict is continuing,” replies Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda, in CAMEROON, regretfully. For while it is true that several of the leaders of the secessionist camp in the English-speaking area have understood what is at stake and agreed to sign a general ceasefire, “they don’t actually have much influence on those fighting on the ground.”

 

Father Sebastian D’Ambra

The same story is playing out in the Al-Hasakah region of northern Syria where “the warplanes still fill the sky and the attacks continue unabated”, according to Msgr Nidal Thomas, vicar of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Jazeera—Hasaké Governorate. “We have not had more than two or three consecutive days of peace since the outbreak of the Coronavirus,” he explained. The pandemic has caught the country in a state of extreme fragility after nine years of war. Syria has lost 60% of its doctors, and no more than a quarter of its hospital structures are still functioning. At the same time, it is facing the same economic crisis as neighbouring Lebanon, having been affected by a dollar shortage and likewise suffering international sanctions which weigh heavily on the economy.

Similarly, in PHILIPPINES where the ceasefire between the government and the Communist guerrilla movement, the New People’s Army (NPA), has not held. According to Father Sebastian D’Ambra, a missionary priest working in the region, “there are continuing skirmishes and attacks by [the Islamist terrorist organization] Abu Sayyaf on the island of Jolo and in the Cotabato region” in the south of the country. Nonetheless, he acknowledges, “there is more restraint now, since both groups are frightened of the virus and there is a more visible presence on the part of the army.”

 

Tragedy Within Tragedy

Even if it no longer makes the headlines, war is still continuing in the Donbass region of UKRAINE, as we are reminded by Bishop Pavio Honcharuk of Kharkiv, whose diocese lies partially within the conflict zone. And the arrival of the Coronavirus has merely revealed just how much “the oligarchical system has damaged the Ukrainian healthcare network, especially in the countryside. The pandemic has laid bare the widespread corruption among our leaders, which is a consequence of the history of the country. Throughout the 70 years of Communism, family and traditional values were weakened and undermined by the government,” he says. The loss of a spirit of solidarity is endangering the lives of the poorest people in the country, he believes.

 

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama

 

In Africa, in NIGERIA, poverty is also one of the factors of concern to the Church. “The principal danger linked to Covid-19 for the country is the risk of famine it poses for the poorest of the people. It is destabilizing an economy that is already a fragile one,” explains Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, of Abuja, the Nigerian capital. He also emphasizes that even since the arrival of the pandemic “the country is still at the mercy of sporadic terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, especially in the northeast of the country.”

 

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako of Baghdad

In IRAQ, where the so-called Islamic State/Daesh was officially wiped out in 2017, it appears that there are still terrorists active in the regions of Kirkuk and the Saladin governorate in the northeast. And the arrival of Covid-19 has found the social services in crisis. “They have never recovered from the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003,” says Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako of Baghdad. “There are so many problems,” he adds, “not enough money, not enough hospitals, doctors or medical equipment… And the lockdown restrictions are alien to the local culture, especially for the men.” Nevertheless, with 5,000 cases of the virus now registered, “people ought to stay at home. It’s the only way to stay safe.”

 

 

A Church With Open Doors

 “The violence in our society has not diminished,” says Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlos, the vice president of the MEXICAN bishops’ conference, sadly. It seems that the drug traffickers have not heard the message of Pope Francis. But in these circumstances the Church continues, more than ever, to “open her doors to the victims of the aggression,” he adds. During this phase of confinement, the Church must be a Church which “goes out to the margins,” to use the expression of Pope Francis.

 

Bishop Bertrand Guy Richard Appora-Ngalanibé of Bambari

Likewise, in the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC the armed groups that are plaguing the country have clearly not received the message about the ceasefire, says Coadjutor Bishop Bertrand Guy Richard Appora-Ngalanibé of Bambari. “Sadly, in some areas of the Central African Republic, the armed groups are engaged in strategic battles aimed at extending their supremacy and continuing to pillage the natural resources of the country,” he grieves. Nonetheless, he believes that the interfaith initiatives are demonstrating that this crisis may be an opportunity to reforge the damaged bonds with their fellow citizens. “With the support of our Protestant and Muslim brethren, gathered under the Interfaith Platform of Religions in Bambari, we are striving to carry out awareness-raising campaigns on this pandemic, since many people still don’t appreciate its extent or its danger.”

 

Faced by these continuing conflicts, ACN is hoping to remind people that these wars are continuing, despite the pandemic. The charity can only call on those responsible to embrace a ceasefire and pray that the international community will also engage with the problem and not merely indulge in rhetoric.

 

And the need is greater than it has ever been: Learn more

ACN News – Mozambique: Carmelite Sisters testify to the “barbarity” of jihadists

22.06.2020 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Mozambique

 Mozambique

Carmelite Sisters testify to the “barbarity” of jihadists

Three days of attacks in the village of Macomia

by Paulo Aido & Christophe Lafontaine
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

At the end of May, terrorist groups launched a merciless attack on the town of Macomia, in the province of Cabo Delgado, in northeast Mozambique, an area rich in oil and natural gas. The Theresian Carmelite Sisters of Saint Joseph have been present in Macomia for 16 years now and do important work in the field of education. Having fled earlier, they returned a few days after the attack and have now related what they saw. The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which has supported the sisters in the past and which visited their community in 2015, has expressed its alarm and concern at what has happened.

 

The attack began in the early morning of May 28. “It was fierce, cruel and lasted three days,” reported Sister Blanca Nubia Castaño of the Carmel in Macomia, on her Facebook page. Just a few days prior to the attack, she and the other Sisters, who were aware of the imminent danger they were in, abandoned their central mission station, which includes a school and boarding house.

 

 

“For the past two and a half years,” Sister Blanca writes, the Macomia region and indeed the whole of the province of Cabo Delgado, have been “terrorized” by the savage attacks of these armed jihadist groups, whose motives, according to some experts, may have something to do with the discovery of rich submarine deposits of natural gas just off the coast of the province. The operations of the terrorists have intensified since the beginning of this year, and they are sowing terror among the population, burning towns and villages and attacking civilians on the roads or those travelling by public transport.

 

On Thursday, June 4, the Sisters decided to return to Macomia to assess the extent of the damage done by the terrorists, “even though the danger had by no means receded.” But they were hoping, “at the very least to be able to visit (our) employees and their families and help them and give them new courage.”

 

According to Sister Blanca Nubia Castaño, the destruction was violent. “As a result of this barbarism, the town centre was completely destroyed, the majority of the administrative infrastructure was damaged and the commercial and shopping centre was reduced to ashes.”

 

Quite apart from the material destruction, what is still unknown is the number of human victims. “We still don’t know the number of civilian victims or those of the security forces. On June 3, people slowly began to return to their homes, some of which had been burnt, others had been looted… You may remember that it was only a year ago that we suffered the destructive force of Cyclone Kenneth…” – the tropical cyclone that particularly affected the province of Cabo Delgado, causing widespread destruction.

 

Fortunately for the Theresian Carmelite Sisters, their mission of Saint Joseph was spared during the attack, seemingly only because it was situated somewhat outside the area attacked by the terrorists. “Our mission was saved because it is situated in the hills, close to a military base.” For their own security, however, the sisters had to leave again that same day and return to the mission where they had taken refuge, since it was not safe for them to stay in Macomia.

 

Little known crisis, ignored by the international community

Since the end of 2017, the violence in the region has claimed the lives of over 1,100 people, including 700 civilian victims, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). The violence has also caused the displacement of some 200,000 people since the end of 2017, according to UN data. According to the same sources, this new attack on the town of Macomia, which was already sheltering some 30,000 refugees before the attack, has now occasioned yet another exodus.

During his Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi message in April, the Holy Father himself mentioned this little-known crisis, bringing it to world attention.

In 2015, a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need International visited the Carmelite Sisters in Macomia and also funded a vehicle for their pastoral work. “I am deeply saddened by the situation in Macomia, and especially so since I personally met with the Carmelite Sisters during my most recent visit to Mozambique,” said Rafael D’Aquí, head of the charity’s international desk for projects in Mozambique who said he was particularly impressed by the work of these Sisters, since “their commitment extends not only to the boarding school they run but also to the entire population in the surrounding area.”

In addition to looking after the pupils in their care they also help the families and the teachers themselves; they run a healthcare program, aimed at helping young mothers learning to breastfeed and providing basic primary health care for their babies.

COVID-19 in Africa Catholic radio stations broadcast hope!

17.04.2020 in Africa, Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Malawi, Mozambique, RDC CONGO, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia

COVID-19 in Africa

Catholic radio stations broadcast hope!

 

More than 14,500 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Africa. The virus has cost the lives of almost 800 people there. Public institutions such as churches and schools are closed in numerous countries on the continent. Many Africans do not have access to the Internet or to television, and the radio remains the best instrument for the Church to reach and support its faithful. In this, the Church is taking its mission as a “church on the go“ seriously.

 

By Christopher Lafontaine, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web April 17, 2020

 

“In these days of social distancing and confinement measures, the radio has become an area of life necessary to many people.” Father Apollinaire Cibaka Cikongo discussed the situation that he is currently experiencing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with ACN International (Aid to the Church in Need). The country is also affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The priest from the diocese of Mbujimayi founded Radio Ditunga with headquarters in Ngandajika, a city in his diocese that is centrally located in the country. The radio station was founded ten years ago with the support of ACN.

“Since the churches are now closed due to the health concerns we are all familiar with, Radio Ditunga has adapted its programme to allocate more air time to the celebration of the Eucharist, prayer and spiritual exercises held by priests from Ngandajika,” Father Cibaka Cikongo explained. He also emphasized that all of the spiritual exercises and liturgical celebrations are broadcast live, as was the Easter Triduum.

 

This station has a broadcasting range over an area with about five million inhabitants. However, it did not observe its traditional day of silence on Holy Saturday this year. “In view of the competition that exists between the communities of faith, which other local radio stations use to spread false messages, one example being that several of them are giving the pope and the Catholic Church the spiritual responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic,” Father Cikongo continued, “we decided that the period of silence might lead our listeners to turn to competitor stations, with all the risk of manipulation this involves.”

A new challenge: school lessons live on the radio

In response to the schools closing on March 19, the radio station decided to broadcast lessons live to maintain the connection between teachers and their students. “This is a completely new experience for us,” the priest acknowledged. “We started working with the Catholic education centre La Robertanna (Centre éducatif catholique La Robertanna). As we have a total of 153 families with children, we bought small transistor radios to distribute to each of these families. Other families are interested in the project and will be able to participate because radio is accessible to all. Two hours of lessons are arranged for each day.”

 

“The teachers come to the radio station and the plan is to broadcast questions and answers live for 30 minutes during the time of the evening lesson.” One of the challenges will be “to make sure that the parents participate, particularly those who are illiterate,” while the other challenge is a financial one, the priest explained. “Because of the school closures, it is difficult for the parents to make spontaneous payments.”


Messengers of hope

The medium of radio has proved to be a critical hub for Christians in these times of health crisis, and not only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A large number of project partners of ACN have turned to the radio stations for even more intensive use.

 

One such example can be found at Radio Sol Mansi in Guinea-Bissau, which has also extended its broadcasting programme. This was done not only to raise awareness among the population of the measures being taken against the coronavirus epidemic, but also to continue their evangelisation efforts, now more than ever, by broadcasting divine services, catechesis and the various hours of prayer, Sister Alessandra Bonfanti, assistant manager of the Portuguese radio station, explained to ACN. She then continued, “In the current times, it is our mission to act as ambassadors of hope for a society that fears the pandemic. We have to help keep burning the flames of faith in hope – the hope that the world will return to normal if everyone does his or her part.”

 

ACN supports a number of radio stations in Africa. Over the past five years, the pontifical charity has not only helped stations in Guinea-Bissau and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. ACN has made financial contributions to 35 projects for the acquisition of new technical equipment and five projects for the production of new radio programs.

 

Together, let us continue to support our suffering brothers and sisters.  In these times of crisis when the needs are greater than ever, we should be in solidarity all the more.  To give a donation or to offer a prayer, visit our website: www.acn-canada.org/covid-19

 

 

ACN Press: A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria

16.09.2019 in ACN, Pope Francis, Prayer, Press Release, Syria

A Papal Blessing of an Icon for Syria
Marie-Claude Lalonde among ACN delegates to Vatican

By Mario Bard, ACN Canada
Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Monday, September 16, 2019 — The national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN), Marie-Claude Lalonde, attended this past Sunday, September 15, the blessing of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People by Pope Francis. 

The ceremony took place at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican. The icon will be carried through 34 dioceses in Syria—as a sort of pilgrimage—offered for the veneration of the faithful along its path intended to finish in Damascus, in May 2020.

“It is a great joy for me to have participated in this event which took place just before the Sunday Angelus,” said a joyful Marie-Claude Lalonde on the other end of the line. “This blessing is a pure joy as we are at the very heart of ACN’s mission: providing pastoral support to Christians who are in need.” And she adds: “This initiative touches on every one of the calls for peace that Pope Francis has launched to put a stop to the abominable conflict that has caused so much suffering for Syrian civilians. With this gesture he has reaffirmed with strength his support of the Syria population broken by war.”

 

Pilgrimage of the icon: For the healing of hearts

This icon of Our Lady of Sorrows was written last August by Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs and will be presented for the veneration of the faithful in 34 dioceses of Syria, likely until May 31, 2020.

I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde

“The blessing of an icon can seem inconsequential to secularized societies like our own,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. “But in Syria, religious traditions are still present in public and social society and these gestures—such as to write an icon, bless it and offer it for veneration by the faithful for a period of nine months is a veritable balm, immense and almost essential for all Christians who are wounded by this filthy war, they who have survived through over eight years of fratricidal conflict.”

“Finally, I greeted the Pope in the name of all Canadian benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need Canada,” says Mrs. Lalonde in closing.

The Pope’s message to the families who will accompany the icon is: “You are not alone; we are with you.”

Meanwhile in Syria, the 6,000 rosaries blessed by Pope Francis one month ago were distributed throughout Syrian parishes as part of a larger prayer campaign for and with the Syrian people called Console my People, an initiative promoted by Aid to the Church in Need and the Syrian Churches.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 : Pope Francis,  blessing the Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consoler of the Syrian People. Next to the Icon, Father Spiridon Kabbash of Homs, the writer of the icon. (© ACN/AED)

A Drop of Milk in Homs, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need Canada continues to promote its fundraising campaign to raise over $378,000, for the provision of daily milk, for over 6,000 children aged 0 to 10 in the city of Homs for a period of six months.

There are three easy and secure ways to give for these children:

  • Give through our secure site: http://bit.ly/DropofMilk2019
  • By telephone: 1(800) 585-6333, Ext 222
  • By mail Aid to the Church in Need Canada
    PO. Box 670, Station H
    Montréal (Québec) H3G 2M6

 

ACN NEWS: Pope Francis Calls on Catholics to Pray for Syrian Families

16.08.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Syria

POPE FRANCIS AND ACN – AN ACN EVENT SUPPORTING SYRIANS

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to pray for Syrian families

By Amanda Griffin and Maria Lozano, ACN International
Published on the web, Friday August 16, 2019

Rome/Montreal, Thursday August 15, 2019 – This Thursday, August 15th, Pope Francis welcomed a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and blessed 6,000 Rosaries which will be offered to the families of the war victims in Syria.

Committed to helping the suffering Christians in Syria ACN has, since 2011, supported approximately 850 projects with a budget of 52.5 million dollars. But it is clear that money is simply not enough. Spiritual support is necessary to heal the wounds and scars left by a long war.

“The Rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, shall be a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria, especially those who have lost a loved one. We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and in the whole world.” The words of Pope Francis came during the Angelus prayers at the Vatican audience with the pontiff attended by ACN President, Thomas Heine-Geldern, as Pope Francis’ personal commitment to praying for peace in solidarity with the Syrian people.

 

Consoling my people – September 15th

Considering the profound need for Christians, and indeed for the whole of Syrian society, for solidarity, consolation as well for forgiveness, reconciliation and purification of memory at both the personal and communal levels –the benediction of the Rosaries will be followed-up with a special celebration of prayers for peace in Syria, on Sunday, September 15, led by the Holy Father (In Rome).  The local Christian leaders with the support of the international pontifical charity are organizing a celebration in Syria on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Prayers for the families of victims of war (killed and kidnapped alike). Pope Francis will bless the icon of “Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians” written by a Greek-Orthodox priest in Homs.

On the same date many celebrations will unfold in all Syrian parishes where pastoral gifts will be given to families in mourning, with a special Vespers and a Procession titled: Console my people (cf. Is 40:1). With the Console my people celebration, ACN hopes to provide a much needed spiritual consolation and moral support to Syrian families and communities recovering from profound losses of members who were killed or kidnapped, to console families who mourn the loss of their dearest ones and commemorate the victims of war.

 

ACN Drop of Milk campaign for the children of Homs

Aid to the Church in Need Canada has launched a campaign to help the children in the city of Homs, Syria. The goal is to give milk daily to children of 0 to 10 years old, for a period of six months.  The objective is to raise 378,000 dollars.

Information: DropofMilk2019 or 1-800-585-6333.

 

 

ACN News: Prayers for the repose of the soul of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Ortega

30.07.2019 in Uncategorized

 

Cuba

A Shepherd to My People

With great sadness the international Catholic pontifical charity has received news of the passing of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino, who dedicated his life with such care and humble concern to the service of the People of God on the island of Cuba.

ACN had the privilege of working for many years with Cardinal Ortega who, thanks to his great spirit of cooperation, contributed to the realization of many important projects on behalf of the Church in Cuba and in the Archdiocese of Havana in particular.

Below we publish a tribute to Cardinal Ortega, written by Sergio-Lázaro Cabarrouy, a Cuban layman who has long been involved with the Church in his country and who knew the Cardinal since his own childhood.


“Mummy, can we talk to Monsignor Jaime and ask him to move the time of the Mass? I can never watch the cartoons on TV.” I can still recall the mischievous grin on my father’s face and the quick response from my mother: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” That Sunday, the Bishop of Pinar del Río arrived a few minutes late for Holy Mass for the seven Catholics gathered together in San Diego de los Baños. “The water has risen in the dam, and we had to make a detour,” he explained, as he began the celebration.

After Mass, as usual, the little community gathered together with our Bishop and parish priest to chat a little and drink some juice, which Bishop Jaime always thought very sweet. On that day, without beating about the bush, I put my “reasonable” concern directly to him. In response, in a solemn voice and looking me directly in the eyes, he told me: “It is a good thing that you have to give up the TV cartoons in order to come to Mass. In fact, you will have to give up much more important things than this in your life for the sake of Jesus Christ.”

I was thunderstruck, and for many months I kept going back over those words, and I wasn’t very convinced by them. However, life has since then proved to me overwhelmingly the truth of those words of this man of God, and I give thanks to Almighty God for having given me the light and the strength to freely give up those cartoons – since my father would never have forced me to go to Mass – because undoubtedly since then following Jesus Christ has involved much greater trials, and this was an early training for them.

I recall how the homilies of Bishop Jaime succeeded in overcoming the fears of many a San Diego resident – who found themselves first of all sitting in the park, looking towards the church, then at the church door, then in the last bench at the back, and then finally in the second or third row. I also recall how he endeavoured to engage in dialogue with the teachers and headmasters at my primary school, who were eager to get me to abandon my “obscurantist practices, relics of the past.”

The life of Cardinal Jaime Ortega was one of a caring shepherd who always took the path of dialogue with those of all faiths and none, and who attempted the difficult task of serving as a bridge. As he himself explained, a bridge is made of the same materials as a wall, but it serves to join both banks of the river, rather than being built up to separate people from one another. A bridge is built so that people can walk over it, unlike a wall, which towers above us. It is the only approach that could have enabled me, years after those “struggles” of the 1970’s, to go up to that same school teacher, who was awaiting news of her own daughter in the same maternity ward as my own wife, and say to her, “I have been praying for your daughter and her baby” and have the joy of witnessing her reply: “Thank you so much! We needed that.”

One Cuban bishop told me how he had never seen his brother bishop, the Cardinal, happier than when he was travelling with him to visit recently founded Catholic communities in remote places where the faith had previously been abandoned in his rural diocese. It was shortly before he retired as Archbishop of Havana. “He was as happy as a child!” And indeed he was a priest close to his people, a man of dialogue, a promoter of the unity of the Church and a fervent Cuban, committed to bringing the support of the Christian faith to society. In all this he made mistakes, in the view of some people, almost as great as his successes, but he never deviated from his course, like a navigator persevering in sailing out “into the deep” (Lk 5:4).

His courage enabled him to achieve things that were unthinkable at the time, such as launching publications and periodicals right at the beginning of the so-called “special period”, mediating in the sharp dispute between Cuba and the United States in order to re-establish diplomatic relations, and funding a centre for Higher Studies in order to bring continuity to the educational work begun by Padre Varela in the same building.

May the Lord, in his infinite mercy, receive the soul of this son of Matanzas, born in Jagüey Grande on October 18, 1936, the child of Adela and Arsenio, who responded to the call of God to the priesthood and to whom high responsibilities were entrusted. And who, knowing himself ultimately inadequate to the task, chose as his episcopal motto the phrase: “My grace is enough for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

 

ACN asks your prayers for the repose of the soul of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

May the Lord grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.

ACN Feature Story: Nicaragua – A Church supporting its people 

16.04.2019 in ACN, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Ines San Martin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Nicaragua

Nicaragua: A Church supporting its people

“We are carrying a small corner of the cross of Christ. We cannot carry it all. It is He who is helping us.”

by Ines San Martin , ACN International
Revised by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Posted April 16, 2019

Nicaragua today is a country trapped between two identities: on the one side it is a nation led by a government that in many respects continues a long history of dictatorship, as typified by the Somoza dynasty, which governed the country for almost 6 decades during the 20th century.

On the other hand, it is also a country whose people have said “enough.” A people who have woken up from their stupor and now wish to move forward, with a Catholic Church led by ten bishops who have no fear of shepherding their flock and being a Church that goes out to the margins, as Pope Francis keeps asking, and which opens the doors of its cathedrals in order to be, quite literally, a field hospital. A Church without political banners and which makes no distinctions in caring for the wounded, supporting those who suffer and feeding their hunger, both physical and spiritual.

“They stepped up at a difficult moment… When the people were suffering greatly, because they were afraid to go out into the streets,” says one priest from the diocese of Matagalpa – who for reasons of security prefers to remain anonymous. He is speaking to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which visited the country at the end of November 2018 to express its support and solidarity with the situation in which the country finds itself.

A population in distress

Despite the posters in the city, which boast of a Matagalpa that is “Christian, socialist, in solidarity,” the tension is palpable, with police and paramilitaries on the streets to dissuade the civil population from organizing protests, although these, for the most part, have been peaceful. The protests began in April 2018, but in the case of Matagalpa, the government forces have even prohibited a group of women from honouring the memory of their children, who were murdered in the civil-war in a march that they have done regularly for almost 20 years.

“I am one of the lucky ones. Many priests have been forced to flee,” our friend tells us. “But we cannot remain unmoved when people burst in during Mass because they are killing them. Because the army and police aren’t throwing sweets at them. They are shooting to kill, aiming at people’s heads, their backs and their chests.”

“The Gospel teaches us that we must open our doors to those who are persecuted, and this is what we did. Our churches were turned into refuges, not into opposition planning centres, as the government claims to believe.”

This is a priest who knows what he’s talking about. On May 15, 2018, in a car belonging to the diocese and known as “the ambulance,” he rescued 19 wounded demonstrators who had been hit by army AK-47s bullets. By government order, the public hospitals were forbidden to help the wounded, the majority of whom were university students.

“During those days, the people on our church benches were not listening to the Gospel, they were living it,” he told us with emotion.

The Church defends the right to peaceful protest

From September onwards, and with help from various international organizations, the diocesan church opened five pastoral Human Rights offices providing support to families who lost children during the demonstrations, and to those who are still persecuted today for having protested. Around 50 are still imprisoned without trial, and hundreds have “disappeared,” while an estimated 30,000 or so have gone into exile in Costa Rica, and many more into other countries.

“They accuse us of hiding weapons, but we have never done so,” the priest tells us. “Our only weapon has been Jesus in the Eucharist.”

The number of people who today depend on the Church for their survival has tripled since the month of April.

“We are carrying a small corner of the Cross of Christ,” he tells us. “We cannot carry it all. It is He who is helping us.”

The situation of the bishops and of many religious in Nicaragua is far from easy. Their act of opening the doors of churches to care for the wounded, both students and police, and their willingness to be involved in a failed process of national dialogue, has resulted in many being branded by official sources as “coup plotters” and “terrorists.”

One of these is Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the Archbishop of Managua, the capital of the country. Despite the difficulties, he has lost neither his smile nor his faith. But despite his smile, Brenes cannot hide his concern for the future of Nicaragua, a country that has lived through enough revolutions to know that many of the grandiloquent ideas that convince the masses, sooner or later end up being destroyed by the abuses of power of the few.

The last revolution began on 18 April, although many people in Nicaragua agree that in reality it was no more than the “matchstick that ignited the bonfire that had been building up a long time previously.”

“The Church is accompanying the process of dialogue that was initiated after the protests, but as a service to the country,” Brenes insists. “We are not interested in power, but in supporting the efforts for peace, without looking for any personal benefit other than the good of the country. When the clashes took place between the government forces and the demonstrators, we defended all sides.”

More than once, the Cardinal was forced to mediate between the government and the protesters, both in order to rescue police officers who had been captured in the crush, and to prevent the soldiers from shooting on the students.

“We never asked anyone what side they were on, we simply helped all those who asked our aid,” he told us, though he did acknowledge that they could have denounced the use of violence on the part of some of the demonstrators.

“Both sides were violent at times, but the government made disproportionate use of violence,” he said. “The riot police had rifles, whereas the young demonstrators had catapults and home-made petrol bombs.”

 

Praying the Rosary to bring peace

The challenge now is to work for national reconciliation; something he knows will take generations and cannot be achieved overnight. “But we have to lay the groundwork for this reconciliation.”

Despite the challenges, Brenes chooses to cling to his faith rather than lose hope, more than ever convinced of the prophetic words of Pope Pius XII, who said, “Give me an army of people who pray the Rosary every day, and we will change the world.”

“I pray the Rosary every day: the first mystery for Nicaragua, the second for the conversion of those in government, the third for the mothers who have lost their children, or have them in prison, the fourth for the political prisoners, and the fifth for the clergy.

We believe that faith can move mountains, and the prayer of the Rosary can convert hearts and move them to a true reconciliation that will care for the wounded hearts and seek the good of everyone,” the Cardinal concluded. “And you, will you pray for Nicaragua?”

ACN Interview: “The Catholic Church does exist in Morocco. And it is a Samaritan!”

29.03.2019 in ACN International, AFRIQUE

MOROCCO
ACN INTERVIEW “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH DOES EXIST IN MOROCCO. AND IT IS A SAMARITAN!”

Learn first-hand information about the country Pope Francis will be visiting in late March

María Lozano held an interview with Monsignor Cristóbal López Romero, the bishop of Rabat, for a television broadcast produced by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The Salesian of Don Bosco talked about what it means to live and work in this North African nation.

The universality of the Catholic Church becomes palpable in many places where Christianity is in the minority, including Morocco, a country with 37 million inhabitants, 99.9% of whom are Muslim and only 0.08% are Catholics.

A small, but great Church, carries out its pastoral work among the Catholic faithful of the country. It supports the most disadvantaged in the Moroccan population including the thousands of young people who cross the desert from sub-Saharan Africa looking for a future in their idealized Europe. Pope Francis is planning to travel to the region bordering Africa and Europe on March 30 and 31, in response to an invitation issued by King Mohammed VI and the bishops in the country, visit the cities of Rabat and Casablanca.

 “The Catholic Church does exist in Morocco,” the bishop proudly said at the beginning of the interview. “It is a vibrant and young church blessed with mercy and with a strong desire to bear witness.The North African country has two cathedrals, one in Tangier and a second in Rabat. The first was built during the time of the Spanish protectorate, the second during the time of the French protectorate. Bishop López Romero continued, “More young than old people come to our churches, more men than women, more black than white people.” The members of the Church in Morocco are mostly foreigners, faithful from more than 100 different countries. They generally work in companies that operate subsidiaries in Morocco. In addition, many of them come from countries south of the Sahara, such as the Congo, Senegal or the Ivory Coast. They move to Morocco to pursue their studies and find the “feeling of security” they are looking for with the Catholic Church. The Catholic religious who work in the country hail from more than 40 different countries. Bishop López explains, “Being Catholic means being universal, global.” This universality requires people to put aside that which makes them distinct and concentrate on what is shared. “We look for what is important, at the essential. The differences enrich us, we are open with one another and see the differences as an opportunity, not a problem.”

Church as a Samaritan

The Moroccan Church and the charities it works with take in and help who are weakest, irrespective of their background. Primarily, they are active within Moroccan society and for the immigrants coming from countries south of the Sahara, who are trying to reach Europe or remain in North Africa. “The Church takes in and cares for those in need, that is, it is a Samaritan Church,” the interviewee said. Through its Caritas organization, Morocco takes care of thousands of migrants who cross the Sahara and then, after having completed this difficult crossing, “remain stuck” in the country, without being able to continue on to Europe. “These people need care and a sympathetic ear. Most of them are sick when they arrive and many of the women are pregnant. The Church “takes them in. It protects, promotes and integrates them, just as Pope Francis has asked us to do.” The work of the Church in Morocco is so important that “even the Muslim authorities appreciate its efforts.”

When asked why young people are fleeing Africa, Bishop López explained that economic reasons are the key impetus for the majority of the young migrants. They are fleeing poverty and unemployment, but many of them are also fleeing war, hostilities, persecution or natural disasters. According to the bishop of Rabat, the migration problem in Africa will be impossible to solve as long as “30% of the food produced continues to be thrown out in Europe,” and people continue to live “in excess and grandeur” while at the same time expecting those “who live in wretched circumstances to passively accept their fate” and society remains unaware of its behaviour. “It is certainly not Christian and can even be called inhumane that Europe protects its borders so that it does not have to share what belongs to all and what Europe has appropriated,” the religious expressed his outrage. The bishop called to mind the words of Pope Francis: “Capitalism kills.” “Instead of providing aid, we should pay for the raw materials that we exploit. We should make sure that the multinational corporations pay the taxes that they owe.” He believes that Africa cannot be helped with “crumbs, but with justice and development plans. We are nothing without love, we are even less without justice.”

“The young Moroccan” – the bishop returned to the previous topic – “is imprisoned in his own country.” Morocco is suffering because of its geographical location, from the fact that there is no realistic way to leave the country. To the South lies the vast Saharan desert, to the West, the Atlantic, to the East, Algeria – and the border to this country is closed due to war – and to the North, Europe. “Many young people from Morocco point to Spain and ask, ‘Why are they able to come here, but I can’t go there?’”

Does religious freedom exist in Morocco?

An entirely different issue, which Pope Francis will surely be confronted with during his trip, is the status of religious freedom in the country. As the pontifical foundation ACN concluded in the Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018, according to its constitution, the Kingdom of Morocco is a sovereign Muslim state. Article 3 reads: “Islam is the religion of the state, which guarantees to all the free exercise of beliefs.” However, the constitution prohibits political parties, parliamentarians or constitutional amendments to infringe upon Islam. The European Parliament acknowledges that religious freedom is constitutionally enshrined in Morocco, but adds that “Christians and especially Muslims who converted to Christianity face numerous forms of discrimination and are not allowed to set foot in a church.” Under the Moroccan Penal Code, proselytism by non-Muslims, that is to “shake the faith” of the Muslim population, is illegal. The distribution of non-Islamic religious materials is also restricted by the government.

For more information about the situation in Morocco, please consult:
Religious freedom report – country Marocco

By Mónica Zorita and Maria Lozano, ACN International

Revised for Canada: Amanda Bridget Griffin, CAN Canada

March 29, 2019

 

ACN News: Eighth Anniversary of Civil War outbreak in Syria

25.03.2019 in ACN International, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Syria

Eighth Anniversary of Civil War outbreak in Syria


Aid to the Church in Need has supported 308 urgent projects since 2011

 

Friday, March 15 marked the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Syria. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) has continued to support the ongoing emergency situation in the country, especially the plight of the 127,185 Christian families registered in Syria.

The war in Syria has unleashed the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War, with some 12 million refugees and internally displaced as a result of the 8-year conflict.

Moreover, Christians in Syria now represent only 3% of the population, whereas before the war they were 10%. In addition to all the consequences of the hostilities and the economic embargo, they have also suffered religious persecution at the hands of the jihadist groups involved in the conflict. In fact, during these eight years of war, 1,707 Christians were murdered and 677 abducted; 1,309 Christian churches and other Church properties were destroyed and 7,802 Christian houses and homes damaged or destroyed.

 

44.2 Million Dollars in Aid

Since the March 2011 onset of the conflict, and up to the end in 2018, ACN allocated 44.2 million dollars to 738 projects to fulfil its mission of supporting the Church in need throughout the country. The projects were implemented by 9 different Christian Churches, thanks to the cooperation of 130 project partners on the ground.

Of the 738 projects funded, some 80% (35.2 million dollars) were given in the form of emergency aid, among them some 308 for the basic necessities of Christian families who have not left the country. To now, 10% of the aid has been for the reconstruction of people’s homes and Church properties. An additional 6% went to supporting priests in the country, in the form of Mass Offerings and pastoral aid.

 

Emergency Aid, Reconstruction and Pastoral Aid

In Canada, a project aimed to supporting the A Drop of Milk program for children has been active for two years. An initiative showcasing small classical music concerts given by local pianist and ACN supporter, Chantal Roussety, has brought $3,364 to the cause.  “The amount may seem very modest if we compare it to the grand total,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN. “But, for two years now, this personal project developed by Mrs. Roussety, is a reflection of the great sense of solidarity that the Syrians, particularly the children, are in need of. We are so very grateful for it.” In all, donations from Canadians rose to at $17,179.

Destined for children under the age of 10, A Drop of Milk represented 15% of the overall budget of all emergency aid given.  Finally, over three million dollars were attributed to paying the rents of displaced Christian families, and over 1.4 million dollars have served for the reconstruction of family homes.

The 13 main emergency aid projects funded during these eight years of war include the following: direct emergency aid for the most basic necessities; food parcels, financial support for students, medical aid, support with rent, heating, electricity, gas and water; milk and nappies for babies and small children, essential medicines, Christmas gifts for the children, warm clothing, educational materials and vocational counselling.

An Appeal from Pope Francis

Throughout these eight years of war, Pope Francis has continually denounced the injustice of the war in Syria and has continued to draw attention to the suffering of the Christians. “Let us pray and let us help the Christians to remain in Syria and the Middle East as witnesses to mercy, pardon and reconciliation,” he has stated. “May, the prayers of the Church, help them to experience the closeness of the faithful God and touch every human conscience to seek a sincere compromise for the sake of peace. And may God our Lord pardon those who are waging war, those who manufacture arms to destroy one another, and may he convert their hearts. Let us pray for peace in our beloved Syria,” he concluded.

Iraq – Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits! – ACN-News

26.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Marta Petrosillo, By Marta Petrosillo, Communiqué, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Reconstruction

Aid to the Church in Need in Iraq

Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits!

Montreal, February 26thThanks to a donation of 300 000 dollars from the Holy Father, following the auctioning of the Lamborghini that was given to him last year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be able to fund two new projects on behalf of the Iraqi Christian families and other minorities who have returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

Marta Petrosillo for ACN-International and Mario Bard, ACN-Canada

On 15 November 2017 the Holy Father decided to give ACN part of the proceeds from the auctioning of the Lamborghini Hurricane that had been donated to him by the famous Italian carmaker. Now ACN will give concrete form to the Pope’s gesture by funding the reconstruction of two buildings of the Syriac Catholic Church, destroyed by the war. They are the nursery school (kindergarten) of Our Lady and the multipurpose centre of the parish of the same name.

Both buildings are in the village of Bashiqa, just 30 km from Mosul. The village was badly damaged during the war, but the Christian community has returned, and in large numbers. In facts by now, 405 of the 580 homes that were destroyed here have already been rebuilt and around 50% of the Christians, or 1,585 people, have already returned.

The Parish Hall was totally destroyed.

The two projects funded with money from the Lamborghini will also benefit the other minorities in the town, since the multipurpose centre, which has capacity for over 1,000 people, will be used for weddings and the religious feasts of all the different communities. It will be the largest such centre in the area and will be available for use to over 30,000 people of all different faiths and ethnic groups.

The Return of Iraqi Christians: An Unexpected Success!

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Just a little over two years since the liberation of the villages of the Nineveh Plains, the number of Christians who have been able to return to their homes has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. By January 11th this year at least 9108 families had returned to their villages, almost 46% of the 19,832 families dwelling there in 2014 prior to the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (IS). This is thanks above all to the immense work of reconstruction – to which ACN have greatly contributed – that has made it possible so far to rebuild or repair some 41% of the 14,035 homes
destroyed or damaged by IS.

This intervention, in which the pontifical foundation ACN has played a major role in collaboration with the local Churches, has also found a generous benefactor in the person of the Holy Father. Already back in 2016 Pope Francis gave 150,000 dollars in support of the “Saint Joseph Charity Clinic” in Erbil, which provides free medical assistance.

This most recent gift by the Holy Father will be a further help to local Christians, enabling them to live their own faith and offer a future in Iraq to their children. At the same time it is a powerful message and an invitation to peaceful coexistence between the different religions in a region where fundamentalism has sadly damaged interreligious relations.

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Since 2014 and up to the present day ACN has given over 60 million dollars for the support of Iraqi Christians.
Thanks to you, Christians in Iraq can return home.
Thank you!

Iraq: New hope for Christians in Iraq!