fbpx

Religious freedom Tag

 

ACN News – The case of an abducted girl in Pakistan

22.06.2020 in ACN United Kingdom, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, RED WEDNESDAY, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

The case of an abducted girl, 14, taken to High Court by her Christian family

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

A Christian family in Pakistan has gone to the High Court in their fight to win back their 14-year-old daughter. The man, they claim abducted her and then forced the girl to marry him, demanding she abandon her faith.

 

On June 2, Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu confirmed to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) his submission of a petition to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan for the appeal in the case of Maira Shahbaz.

 

The family wants to overturn the ruling of Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court declaring on May 5 the Catholic girl Maira now being 19 and, as such, is validly wedded to the Muslim man—Mohamad Nakash—who is already married and with two young children.

 

Abducted at gun point

Witnesses described how on April 28 Maira was walking close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, when Mr. Nakash and two armed accomplices drew up in a car, abducted her and fired guns into the air as they made off at speed.

 

Mr. Sandhu told ACN: “I am trying my very best for the case. Maira’s mother [Nighat Shahbaz] is so very sad—in fact she is a picture of sadness. You cannot imagine the shock of losing your daughter and losing all contact with her.” He said that when Nighat Shahbaz saw her daughter at last month’s magistrates’ court hearing, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. She is making a slow recovery.

 

A very strong case

Mr. Sandhu added: “The case for Maira being a minor is very strong. There are so many gaps and weaknesses in the opponent’s argument.” He cites a birth certificate and other official documentation from her local church and school to prove that Maira is 14. Mr. Sandhu claims a marriage certificate Mr. Nakash produced in court is a fake. The document purports to show he wed the girl last October.

 

The systematic abuse of young innocent girls

Mr. Nakash argues that, in spite of law, which forbids marriage to minors, marrying Maira is sanctioned by Islamic custom which, he claims, says it is valid, provided the girl has had her first period.

 

Mr. Sandhu said: “In cases like this what we so often see is that, after two or three years, the people send back the girl to the family by which time they have satisfied their lust and have had enough of her.”

 

Motivated by faith

Mr. Sandhu, former Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, pledged to raise Maira’s case in the Punjab Assembly. A one-time university roommate of fellow Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in 2011 while serving as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Mr. Sandhu said: “What motivates me is my faith in Jesus and I am reminded of the Gospel passage where Christ reveals how he has been sent to set the captives free.”

 

 

As a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, ACN supports the National Commission for Justice and Peace and other organizations in Pakistan which provide legal and paralegal aid for minorities and help for those forced into hiding.

 

 

ACN PRESS RELEASE – ANNUAL REPORT 2019

17.06.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS

PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Release

Aid to the Church in Need – 2019 Report
Praying, informing and giving, more essential than ever before!

by ACN  International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published online June 17, 2020

Königstein-im-Taunus-Montreal, Wednesday June 17, 2020 – Close to 160 million dollars raised by Aid to the Church in Need last year.

 

With its 23 national offices and over 333,000 benefactors worldwide, the international pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), collected over $157.95 million in donations for persecuted Christians in need around the world in 2019, maintaining roughly the same level as in 2018.  To this is added a balance of $7.58 million carried over from the previous year, making it a total of $165.2 million, allowing for the funding of the total ensemble of activities for the international organization. Of this total, $132.8 million funded projects directly, the balance being divided among administrative costs, fundraising activities and information work.

 

Senegal : a Dominican Sister of the Immaculate Conception in Diassap. We support her community so they can concentrate on their work of helping young people.

In Canada, a modest player, although recognized year after year as a vital international organization, 5,000 benefactors contributed to the collecting $1.9 million, an amount that provided the financing for several programs, including urgent needs, mass offerings, and the special ‘Drop of Milk’ project in Syria.

 

“It is a tremendous challenge to continue, year after year, to speak about our brothers and sisters in the faith who are living in situations of great distress, whether because of religious persecution or material poverty,” explains Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada.  “I rejoice in the fact that more and more people are joining in solidarity, the younger generation in particular.”  In that respect, in Alberta, elementary school students have been learning about the issue of religious discrimination and persecution for the last two years. “They are impressive!” rejoices Mrs. Lalonde.

 

“Incidentally, with the COVID-19 pandemic, forms of discrimination and persecution have not taken a break,” she explains.  “So, along with continuing to support these Churches as we usually do, we help them to meet the needs of their community in this time of pandemic.  Pakistan is a sad example, where some Imams have called for a stop to helping the Christians affected by the effects of confinement.  So we were there,” relates Mrs. Lalonde, who relates that $7.5 million have already been dispatched by ACN to different corners of the world. “Support that will continue,” she assures.

 

Today, ACN estimates there are some 200 million Christians around the world who are unable to practice their faith freely, and there are over 80 countries in the world where the fundamental right to religious freedom is not guaranteed. At this moment in time, Christians are persecuted, oppressed or actively discriminated against in over 40 different countries.  In 2019, ACN continued to give voice to Christians experiencing persecution from institutions such as the UN and the European Union.

 

In Ukraine, children pray the Rosary for the International prayer campaign – One Million Children pray the Rosary

Support in over a third of all dioceses worldwide

With the additional help of some $7.28 million in donations carried forward from previous years, the charity was able to fund activities for a total of $165.2 million. Some 80.4% of these – or approximately $132.8 million – were spent on the three areas regarded by the charity as the main “pillars” of its mission: direct financial support via various aid projects, providing information about the situation of Christians in different countries, and encouraging Christians to pray for their suffering brethren.

 

Altogether, the charity supported 5,230 projects – an increase of 211 from 2018 – providing assistance for a wide range of different needs in 139 countries, above all in Africa and the Middle East, for a total value of $112.7 million benefitting 1,162 different dioceses, over one third of all the Catholic dioceses in the world.

 

Once again, Africa was the region in which most of ACN’s projects were located, with 29.6%, or almost a third, of the project funds allocated, making possible a total of 1,766 projects. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), owing to its vast size of over 2 million km² and the grave conflicts it is suffering, including international indifference, was the single country in Africa in which the greatest number of projects were realized in 2019, and the third worldwide. Here ACN funded 268 projects to a total of $4.9 million.

 

And, some 22.1% of the project aid allocated went to the support of the Christian minorities whose existence is threatened in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. In Syria, which is still suffering from the terrible civil war, ACN funded 132 projects for a total of almost $11.3 million, for the most part focused on basic emergency and survival aid. The other major beneficiary was Iraq where, following the rebuilding of over 6,000 homes in previous years, a new phase has begun for the reconstruction of places of worship and monasteries. Among the 50 major projects approved by the charity, for a total of $8.3 million in Iraq, was the rebuilding of the Al-Tahira cathedral in Qaraqosh, the largest Christian church in Iraq.

 

Syria : a family says ‘Thank you !’ to benefactors

 

Another country affected by warfare and grave economic poverty, yet at the same time spiritually rich, is Ukraine. This has been the priority country for ACN in Eastern Europe, with a total of almost 300 projects and over $5.9 million allocated in funding in 2019.

 

In Latin America, Venezuela has become the country in receipt of the most aid, after Brazil. Here, ACN funded 108 projects providing vital support for the Church in Venezuela and its people, for many of them the sole support in a country suffering from a profound political and economic crisis, social upheaval and the almost total lack of healthcare provision. Similarly in Asia, ACN’s priority has included aid for Pakistan and India, where Islamic religious fanaticism in the one, and extreme Hindu fundamentalism in the other, are bringing daily discrimination and danger to the ordinary lives of the Christian minorities there.

 

Venezuela: The Catholic Church stays one of the only institution to care for the population, on spiritual and material matters, in the midst of social, economical and political crisis with no precedent.

 

Outside of the geographical context, ACN has also supplied aid in the form of 1,378,635 Mass Offerings, which were celebrated in 2019 for the intentions of its benefactors representing some 15.9% of total donations. This has allowed the charity to support 40,096 priests – roughly one in every ten around the world. Most of the stipends were used not simply for the support of the priests themselves, but also for the benefit of the people by supporting their pastoral and social work.

 

For more information – please visit ACN Canada’s website: acn-canada.org.

+Read the Report

ACN Feature Story – Catholic Church in Cambodia: Thirty years of rebirth

05.05.2020 in Cambodia

 

Catholic Church in Cambodia: Thirty years of rebirth

by Christophe Lafontaine, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published to the web May 5, 2020

While the Khmer Rouge was in power in Cambodia, the party killed about 1.7 million people, including nearly half of all Catholics. But then, thirty years ago, the devastated Church experienced a rebirth in a country in which the majority of the population belongs to the Buddhist faith. Today, the Catholic community remains a tiny minority; however, it has become integrated into the country.

Italian Missionary Father Luca used the words “a very small group” to describe the Catholic Church in Cambodia where he had worked for many years. Speaking in one of the reports that were filmed for the pontifical charity, can, the missionary explained that, “Catholics make up only 0.15% of the population in Cambodia, a country in which Buddhism is the state religion of 90% of its people.”

 

The Catholic Church in Cambodia has come a very long way. During the Pol Pot regime (1975-1979), all religious and traditional cultural customs were suppressed, including both Buddhist and Christian religious observances. Nearly all churches were destroyed during this period is Cambodia’s history, and a large number of priests and religious were killed. Reports say the Catholic community was among the hardest hit: 50% of its members died.

“Dread and horror are still palpable”

The Catholic community in Cambodia still carries the stigmata, in spite of everything, the scars left behind by the many years of dread and horror are still palpable in Cambodia’s Catholic community. Many churches were destroyed, others were desecrated. Father Totet Banaynaz talked about a church that had been built in 1881 by French missionaries. The church may not have been destroyed; however, during the Pol Pot regime, it was turned into “a completely profane place, which does not inspire even the slightest respect and was used as a cow barn and later as a rice mill. There is absolutely nothing holy left in this church anymore.”

 

After Christianity was officially recognized in Cambodia in 1990, the right to freedom of religion was adopted in the new constitution that was ratified in 1993.
Diplomatically, Cambodia and the Holy See officially recognized one another on March  25, 1994. In the course of these developments, foreign missionaries were once more permitted to come to Cambodia.
A Cambodian priest was consecrated in July 1995, the first in 22 years. Over this entire period, ACN has provided ongoing aid for pastoral work to support the regeneration of the Catholic Church in Cambodia.

 

Today, it will not be possible to renovate the church without help from outside. Therefore, the priest invites all “who would like to become active as missionaries with us” to get involved in the project. He added, “We have something that we can give to them: the example of our lives, our simplicity and our suffering. I always say to the faithful here: no one is so poor that he is unable to give. And no one is so rich that he is unable to receive.”

Rebirth of the Church

In 1979, the war between Cambodia (which was called Democratic Kampuchea at the time) and Vietnam was followed by a civil war, which lasted until the late 1990s. Cambodia was ruled by Vietnamese communists from 1979 to 1989, with all forms of religious practice prohibited during this period. After the fall of the regime, Cambodia officially recognized the presence of Christians in the country on April 7, 1990. Seven days later, and now thirty years later, divine services were publicly celebrated – a first in this country in over fifteen years. The services that were held were the celebration of Easter vigil, and this date will be remembered as a sign of the rebirth of the Church in Cambodia. At the time, 3,000 Catholics were living in the country.

 

One of them was an older woman who had been the only Catholic in her village of Prek-Toal for fifteen years. The village is made up of houses built on bamboo rafts moored at the mouth of a river which flows from Battambang to Tonlé Sap Lake. “There were no priests, there was no Christian community to support her. However, at Christmas she gathered her neighbours together to celebrate the birth of Jesus with her,” explained missionary Father Totet Banaynaz. Since then, a mobile floating church has been built. Fifty baptized people live in the village and each year, a growing number of children and adults are preparing themselves for baptism and Holy Communion.

For thirty years, the Catholic Church, which counts slightly over 20,000 members in majority Buddhist Cambodia, has been working to promote the faith, remaining true to the doctrine of the Church, while at the same time making the parables of Christ understandable for the local village population. This was confirmed by Bishop Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar for the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. “When I arrived here, it was Christmastime, and I thought that it would be good to enact the Christmas story. The people are very impressed by our acting skills. I then realised that the time was right for big stage productions and to begin with what l would call evangelization through art.” He believed that this approach would be the most expedient. “Art runs in the blood of the Cambodian people. For all of the people here, both children and adults, it is absolutely natural to dance and to sing,” the bishop said, explaining how the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Cambodia could be used for evangelization purposes.

 

The bishop then went on to point out the importance of maintaining mutual respect between the different denominations. The Bible was translated into the Khmer language, which is also beneficial to the theatre. The bishop explained, “The people come here and see that we respect their culture. Many of them are Buddhists. However, little by little, they are coming to understand the meaning of the gospel.” He added, “We are gradually getting a feel for how art, evangelization and respect for the culture can all work together to help us understand one another.”

 

ACN Press – For Immediate Release – 7.5 million for COVID-19

09.04.2020 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS

 

ACN International response COVID-19


Aid group commits 7.5 Million to support priests and religious serving communities most vulnerable to COVID-19

 

Ukraine: A Soup Kitchen run by the Church continue in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the international pontifical charity serving the persecuted and suffering Church around the world, is providing 7.5 million in emergency funding to priests and religious caring for the most vulnerable communities around the world.

 

“As a rising tide of human suffering related to COVID-19 makes itself felt around the world, the demand for social and spiritual care is soaring,” said Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN’s Executive President. “It is our wish that this aid, made possible thanks to our benefactors, will help ease the burden on our courageous religious, who stand on the front lines, bringing God’s love and compassion to our suffering brothers and sisters.  Now more than ever, the Light and Hope of the Lord is needed.”

While the entire world is coping with the ravages of the pandemic, countless communities in developing countries — already impoverished and with limited resources — are particularly vulnerable in this crisis; often they are dependent on the local Church for social services, including health care.

Venezuela: The Church supports the poorest during COVID-19 Pandemic

This vital initiative will assist religious who lost their basic subsistence, so that they may be able to continue to carry out their spiritual and social ministries, such as administering the sacraments, teaching the faith, caring for the sick and elderly, helping the poor and visiting prisoners. ACN’s funding will be a broad-spectrum intervention, in the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, through project support.

“We are united in prayer with the brave and dedicated priests and nuns who give their all to serve the world’s most vulnerable communities, and with all who are suffering around the world” Heine-Geldern continued. “This is a drop in the bucket in terms of what is and will be needed, but the Church plays a particularly vital spiritual and pastoral role in the day-to-day life of the world’s poorest Christian communities, and we must help strengthen the safety net it provides. I am so thankful to our donors, who, often despite their own pain and hardship, are reaching out to their fellow faithful. It is a beautiful gesture, one that is helping to keep the Faith alive.”

 

India: Emergency help during Corona times in India. Food for the poor families in the diocese of Hazaribag 

www.acn-canada.org.
#ACNSolidarityCovid19

 

 

ACN News – Asia Bibi: An encounter with an icon

28.02.2020 in ACN, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

Asia Bibi in France

An encounter with an icon

 By Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online February 28, 2020

 

Asia Bibi has requested political asylum while in France. This Pakistani Christian woman, whose fate ACN has followed closely since she was first sentenced in 2010, recently gave an interview to ACN France, Aid to the Church in Need’s national office in France.

Asia Bibi is visibly tired. Interviews and official meetings have taken up the few days she has spent in France. Nonetheless, she manages to smile for the photographers with their constantly clicking cameras and valiantly gives her consent for a the long succession of interview requests. “It is thanks to the media that I am still alive,” she insists.

Victim of an absurd law

In fact, she owes the end of her personal Calvary to one French journalist in particular, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, whom she calls “her sister” and who has helped her with the publication of the book Enfin libre! (Free at last! French edition published by éditions du Rocher – due to be published in Canada in April or May, in French). This autobiography relates how this Pakistani Catholic peasant woman has come to be a world icon of resistance to Islamic fundamentalism.

 

Asia Bibi with French journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet

Accused of blasphemy by her Muslim neighbours, Asia Bibi spent nine years in prison on    death row, faced with the constant threat of execution. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are frequently invoked simply as a means of settling scores between neighbours, and may result in the direst consequences. Often those accused have been lynched by enraged crowds or else “disappear” or commit “suicide” in prison. The media attention given to the case of Asia Bibi undoubtedly helped save her from such a fate.

 

Finally acquitted on appeal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on  October 31, 2018,  Ms Bibi was at last able – thanks to international pressure and numerous different twists and turns in her case – to escape the country which held her prisoner for many long years – to find her freedom in Canada on May 8, 2019. Now, a landmark legal precedent has been set, a so-called “Asia Bibi Law” which enables those accused of blasphemy to fight back against their accusers. The anti-blasphemy laws still exist unchanged in Pakistan, but at least now exists a greater risk in using them to unjustly accuse an individual.

 

 

“We have been Christians there for over a thousand years”

“I could never have imagined ever being famous,” Asia Bibi insists in her quiet, gentle voice. She tells of a happy childhood in her native Pakistan: “I used to play together with my Muslim neighbours; there was never any separation,” she recalls nostalgically. Baptized at the age of eight, she never faced any difficulties in living her faith. Speaking of her religious heritage, she recalls the ancient roots of Christianity in Pakistan: “We have been Christians there for over 1,000 years.” However, as she grew up, she became aware of differences separating Christians and Muslims in her country. She heard people speak of attacks against Christians, some victims lynched by enraged crowds. There were also cases of Muslim men in search of a bride who might simply abduct a young Christian woman and forcibly “convert” her in order to marry her.

“There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.”

 

Christians seen as “unclean”

She also discovered that Muslims regarded Christians as “unclean.” It was on account of this belief in fact that her life abruptly changed on one extremely hot day, June 14, 2009. She was working with some Muslim neighbours when they told her to go and fetch some water. She obeyed, drawing up the water, and then drank a cup of water before taking it to the person who had asked for it. One of the women refused to drink from it, because she maintained that Asia had rendered the water “unclean.”  Asia Bibi defended herself, saying that she did not think that the Prophet Muhammad would agree. To which the woman replied that she had just committed a blasphemy! The consequence was prison, her family forced to flee on account of threats by fundamentalists, and a sentence of death by hanging… It was a judicial saga that only reached its final, but happy, conclusion in 2019. There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.

 

Not the only one

But Asia also knows that she is by no means the only person to have been placed in this situation, and she wants to use the microphone that is held out to her to speak out on behalf of those who are still suffering from accusations of blasphemy in her home country. She becomes more animated as she speaks, and her previously quiet voice becomes more confident and assured: “Throughout my imprisonment I held the hand of Christ. It is thanks to him that I managed to stay strong. So don’t be afraid!” Seeing this new force and conviction, one can certainly see the strength of this woman who has remained undefeated after ten years of terrible trials. This is the woman who stubbornly refused to leave her family or deny her faith, as she was asked to do after her arrest, in order to escape  conviction.

She has been forced to leave her country and yet she still retains the hope of being able to return again one day. “It is the country of my birth, I love Pakistan with all my heart!”she insists. Meanwhile, Asia Bibi hopes to be able to seek refuge in France. “I’ve been met with a great deal of love here, and I think I will be happy with you,” she says.

 

 

Below, a brief video testimonial with subtitles in French

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.

ACN Interview: Christians in the Middle East

19.12.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Fionn Shiner, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
Photo: Iraq 30 November 2019
Candlelight vigil around the cross in Baghdeda

Christians in the Middle East

Fresh risk of genocide to Middle East Christians

by Fionn Shiner, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web December 19, 2019

 

Middle East Christians are at direct risk of a second genocide which threatens them with wipe-out from the lands of the Bible – according to an expert in the region who has coordinated emergency relief there for nearly a decade. 

 

Father Andrzej Halemba, head of Middle East projects at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), said that Christians could face total eradication from countries such as Iraq and Syria where they have existed since the time of Christ’s first apostles.

 

“I cannot imagine the Middle East without Christians,” said Father Halemba. “But the threat is real. Daesh (ISIS) wanted to eradicate Christians. The genocidal mentality is alive with Al-Nusra and other groups. If Christians can stay together and help each other they can stay in the Middle East. If they don’t, it may be like Turkey after the terrible genocide in 1915.”

Father Halemba said Christianity’s eradication would be tragic from a religious plurality point of view and because of Christians’ role as bridge builders in conflict zones.

“Christians are the soul of the country and they play a very important role in Middle Eastern societies. They are the peacemakers,” said the director. “Christians work for peace and peaceful co-existence and collaboration for the good of the country.”

 

ACN helps all Christians 

In 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, now there are less than 250,000 – with some reports putting the number as low as 120,000. Similarly, in Syria in 2011, there were 1.5 million Christians and there are now 500,000.

Fr. Halemba said all Christians must work together to ensure their survival in the region.

“Families which pray together stay together. We all need to work for the good of all. ACN helps all Christians – not only the Catholics. Christians should stay together and this is the desire of Jesus Christ. He wanted unity among His supporters,” stated the priest.

In Iraq and Syria, ACN has supported hundreds of different projects, helping Christians who wanted to stay in their homelands with food baskets, water in Aleppo, milk for children, education grants, reconstruction of houses and churches, and much more.

This year the charity has approved 147 projects in Syria. In 2018 ACN supported 40 projects in Iraq.“ACN is always trying to help Christians and others in need with both hands. In one hand we have bread to feed the people, and in the other hand we have the Bible,” Father Halemba recalled. “We provide material help and spiritual help in the form of the Word of God.”

Iraq, December 18, 2016 Mr Emab Kiryakos (Syriac Orthodox) visiting the Mart Shmony Church in Bartella (Syriac Orthodox Church) Mart Shmony Church It’s unknown when this church was first built, but it is old for sure. It was perhaps built after the destruction of Mar Aho Dama Church. It was renovated in 1807. Then brought down completely and rebuilt in 1869. The construction included the transfer of a piece that dates back to 1343 from the Assyrian village of Ba-skhraya. It was reinvigorated again in 1971.

ACN Feature Story: The Bethlehem Mission, Sao Paulo, Brazil

17.12.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Brazil, Brazil, by Rodrigo Arantes

Brazil

The Bethlehem Mission: Being family for those who have none.

by Rodrigo Arantes, ACN Brazil
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web December 17, 2019

 

In the city of São Paulo there are over 25,000 homeless people. To borrow from a phrase used by the missionaries at the Bethlehem Mission: They are our “brothers and sisters of the streets.” The Bethlehem Mission (Misión Belén), an outreach program founded by Fr Gianpietro Carraro and Sister Cacilda da Silva Leste in 2005 has a charism of living out the very first Christmas Night; “becoming incarnate in the midst of the poor, so that God can reach them in a more profound manner.”

 

The members of the Bethlehem Mission originally began their work by actually living on the streets with the poor. But they soon realized that what was needed was to give these people shelter. So began their work of welcome, bringing men and women, children and the elderly in off the streets. In most cases, it also meant delivering them from a life marked by drugs, violence and abuse.

“The person who does not give to God, gives very little.”

These words of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI are often on the lips of the missionaries of the Bethlehem Mission. Fr. Gianpietro tells us that it is like a wound to the heart when he hears people say that they are a social aid agency. “Of course, we do all we can to help these brothers and sisters of ours, but we are above all, a work of evangelization. Jesus healed, preached, blessed and lived among the people, just as we do at the Bethlehem Mission. Whenever someone comes to our shelters, it means that he has already been touched by God, because it is extremely difficult for anyone to get off the streets and off drugs for any other reason. Over these last 14 years 1,500 people have asked to be baptized.”

One of the people rescued by the Bethlehem Mission is Rafael de Jesús. His childhood suffering spiralled into a life of violence, drugs, robbery and spells in prison. He ended up in the centre of São Paulo at the point where he no longer wanted to live. He had been living on the streets for six years, a crack addict, eating out of garbage cans. His only prayer was that God would end his life; he wanted to fall asleep and never wake up again. “When I arrived at the Bethlehem Mission, nobody asked me about the bad things I’d done, but instead they embraced me, gave me the gift of a smile and offered me food, a hot bath and new clothes. I was still wearing the same clothes and hadn’t washed for at least two months. I knew that God was merciful, but I didn’t realize just how merciful. Because I had had many opportunities and had thrown them away, I was convinced that I was lost. I thought that God had withdrawn his hand from me and that I would die on the streets.” Today Rafael is an altar server and he is planning to get married. “I feel like a human being again,” he says.

It is mainly on account of this work of evangelization by the Bethlehem Mission among these marginalized people that ACN is happy to be part of its story.

 

Making a radical difference!

Every individual who is welcomed into the embrace of a mission refuge, is encouraged to go on a retreat and given a personal “spiritual diary”—a monthly leaflet with the Gospel of the day, a meditation on the Word and a space to write down how he is living this Gospel. At the same time, thanks to this diary, many people have been able to learn to read and write for the first time.

However, it was difficult to provide the necessary continuity of material. This is where ACN has come in to lend financial help and also provide copies of the youth catechism YOUCAT, which is given to every individual after a stay of six months.

“It is wonderful to realize that in the Church we are all one. We are on the streets while at the same time there is somebody, often a very ordinary person, far away, maybe someone who cannot even get out of the home, but nevertheless makes their own contribution. It is wonderful because this benefactor thereby becomes a real instrument of evangelization. If we did not have Bibles and catechetical materials, how would we go about our work?” asks Fr. Gianpietro, profoundly grateful for the generosity of ACN’s benefactors.

ACN is supporting “Misión Belén” with catechetical and other religious materials for the next four years—a promise it is able to make because it is backed by the generous donations of its benefactors. At Christmas time many people are looking for a way to help the neediest, and many would be happy to make a radical difference to the life of people living on the streets. This project is a great opportunity to do so, and your support can restore dignity to the lives of people who, like the Holy Family, have found so many doors closed in their faces, but now have the chance to experience the birth of the Divine Child in their hearts.

ACN PRESS – Red Wednesday in Canada

13.12.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada

Red Wednesday in Canada
A large draw in attendance

Montreal, December 12, 2019—Over one hundred events took place in Canada, mainly in the Montreal, Toronto and Calgary archdioceses, on Wednesday, November 20, to highlight the international Red Wednesday movement. The archdiocese of Calgary saw large numbers of Catholic school children involved in, participating in, and even organizing local activities geared to raising awareness, to prayer and many also wore the colour red.

One example, in Medicine Hat, Alberta about two hours south east of Calgary, three young students of Saint John Paul II school simulated a news report for their school news service.

JPII News—a student creation once a week. “It’s wonderful to see a growing dynamism around this event,” declared Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) National Director, Marie-Claude Lalonde. “I am very touched to see that in this second edition of Red Wednesday in Canada, and a sixth year in Montreal, about a dozen schools took part where students and educators took time out to talk about the phenomenon of Christian persecution and questions related to religious freedom,” explained Mrs. Lalonde.

School kids at Christ the Redeemer, Calgary (Photo – Courtesy Christ the Redeemer’s School)

 

A second-class right 

At the very beginning of the Mass celebrated at Mary Queen of the World Basilica in Montreal,

Marie-Claude Lalonde lamented the fact that religious freedom is often considered to be, “a second-class right, or less important than others.” As she does often during conferences organized by diverse groups, parishes, or speaking at a Sunday Mass, she recalled that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are intimately connected. “When we read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she continues, “in a single article, there are mentioned the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. If one does not have the freedom of thought and of conscience, how can you have religious freedom? These rights are interrelated and thus equal in their importance.”

In his homily, the archbishop of Montreal, Msgr Christian Lépine—also a member of ACN’s international council—invited the hundred or so people present to unite in prayer to reflect on the thought of Pope Francis on human fraternity so as not to become the persecutor or discriminator. “When we prayer for the victims of persecution, this should speak to us. So that never should we ourselves, exercise discrimination.”

Montréal: The face of Mary Queen of the World Basilica. (Photo : ACN/AED)

 

Toronto: “Lest we forget.”

In Toronto, the archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins, recalled that only recently in our country and in others we recalled the first World War and the second, the Korean war and and the Armenian genocide among others. The moto used on November 11 for Remembrance Day: “Lest we forget,” from Rudyard Kipling’s poem. “We think to day of the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, and offering their lives in witness to our Lord, Jesus.” Adding: “We are conscious also of other people who are persecuted for their faith, we think of the Muslims in China, persecuted for their faith and others of different religions. Our prayers are with them as well on this day.”

The ecumenical vigil brought together Christians from various religious confessions, as well as from different Protestant denominations.

Just like the Cathedrals in Montreal and Calgary, Toronto was also illumined in red. There were also dozens of other churches that marked the occasion in the same way.

 

The Christmas Campaign

Elsewhere, Aid to the Church in Need is currently fundraising with the ‘Gifts of Faith.

Campaign for Christmas. This great worldwide fundraising effort has as an objective to support Catholics by giving them the means to support the practice of their Faith. Whether it is to support the purchase of a boat to transport missionary teams in the Amazon regions, or to support the evangelization of young people by providing Bibles to children.

Give the lasting Gift of Faith, to suffering Christians!

 

Ghana, a Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

25.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ghana

Ghana

A Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

 

The town of Nkontrodo is one of eight smaller communities belonging to the parish of Saint Francis in Elmina. The town, located in the south of Ghana, has around 200 actively practicing Catholics who regularly attend Holy Mass and play an active part in Church life.

 

For many years the people of Nkontrodo have been waiting for a church of their very own. Only recently did Holy Mass and other forms of worship and liturgical services move from being celebrated in the dining hall of a local school. Not only was it a less than fitting setting for the celebration of the Eucharist, but the parish also had to negotiate with the school for its use for every event. Inevitably, there were constant clashes and conflicts in scheduling. Moreover, the town already had eight different sectarian groups and Pentecostalist groups, all of whom already had their own, solidly built places of worship, making it a real danger that members of the Catholic faithful might leave to join these groups out of sheer frustration with the situation.

 

To “pray” day and night

Father Martino Corazzin, their parish priest, had constantly exhorted the faithful to “pray day and night, with faith and trust, and the Lord will hear your prayers and touch the hearts of those who are able to help us!” They were not left disappointed.

 

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors we were able to contribute $75,000 to bring the dream of the Catholic faithful at last, into reality. In August 2019, the new church was finally consecrated. We helped with an initial contribution of $45,000, but the construction work ran into problems because of difficult soil conditions and other unexpected complications, hiking the cost higher than originally planned for. Thanks again to our generous benefactors, we made another contribution, this time of $30,000.

 

Father Martino has written to thank us: “We are all extremely happy and grateful to you for your generous support and for the confidence you have placed in us, and above all for the fact that you have made our dream come true. We ask God to bless you and the many benefactors who have helped us. The faithful of the parish of Saint Anne in Nkontrodo have also asked me to thank you on their behalf and they have promised to remember you in their prayers, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. They also asked me to tell you that more and more people are now coming to our church. And it is true, we are already seeing new faces.”

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