Tuesday, August 25, 2015

ACN News - In Peru, a missionary Church bears fruit


By Eva-Maria Kolmann


The shortage of priests is acute in Peru. Some 81 percent of Peru’s population of 27 million has been baptized as Catholics, and the country is home to forms of deeply rooted popular devotion—but there is a great lack of even the most basic knowledge of the Catholic faith and a serious shortage of the necessary pastoral care.

That was the conclusion of a recent fact-finding mission to Peru sponsored by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Because of the shortage of priests, especially in the Andean highlands—where parishes might serve up to 100 small communities—Mass can be celebrated perhaps only once a month.

The rest of the time parish life is overseen by women religious or lay missionaries who conduct Liturgies of the Word and provide overall pastoral care.

Peru is no easy pastoral territory. Regional differences are immense, and there are huge gaps between rich and poor throughout society. Most of the Catholic faithful are simple campesinos who barely manage to scrape a meager living from the land.

And even if it takes the Church considerable time in certain places to gain the people’s trust, especially “in isolated regions, the Church stands beside the people, often more than political authorities themselves,” said Marco Mencaglia, whose portfolio as grant manager at ACN includes Peru.

A very hopeful trend is the rise in vocations among young girls in certain mountainous regions, thanks to their exposure to the care and prayer life of women religious.

In contrast with the challenges of providing pastoral care in the Andes regions, the Church faces a particular task ministering in large cities, such as in Callao, a suburb of the Peruvian capital of Peru, which with a population of 10 million, is the third largest metropolis in Latin America.

Callao, home to 2 million, is the destination for migrants from the countryside looking for better lives in the city.

Their living conditions are very poor; they live in barracks built in arid sandy areas that are often without water and electricity and no means of public transportation.

Domestic abuse and alcoholism are rampant. A great number of young women have to fend on their own for themselves and their children.

Bishop José Luis del Palacio y Pérez-Medel heads the Diocese of Callao, where he has worked for three decades as a missionary. “Priests are really missionaries in these urban areas.”

“There is a deep need to let the people feel the presence of the Church in these almost forgotten areas which are yet so close to a rich and developed city center,” Mencaglia said.

In Callao, a single parish priest may be responsible for the pastoral care of up to 50.000 faithful spread out over a huge area. The bishop’s priorities include the formation of religious and lay leaders, alongside an ambitious pastoral plan to promote vocations.

Success has come, if slowly: today, the Diocese of Callao counts 92 seminarians, including some from neighboring Sees.

Aid to the Church in Need supports the Church in Peru in a variety of ways—funding the building and maintenance of chapels, parish churches and pastoral centers in suburban areas like Callao; enabling missionaries in remote areas to purchase vehicles; and financing the formation of seminarians and women religious.

In 2014, ACN contributed more than $1.2M to the welfare of the Peruvian Church. 


With picture of contemplative Sisters´ convent, built on the sand in front of the Pacific Ocean, North Callao (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.


For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

ACN News - Influx of Muslim refugees worries Lebanese prelate, stirs bitter memories



By Oliver Maksan


A senior Lebanese cleric fears for the future of his country’s Christian community. His worries stem from the radically changing demographic balance in Lebanon due the large number of Syrian refugees in the country.

Archbishop Simon Attallah, the former Maronite eparch of Baalbek-Deir Al Ahmar told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), "We have 2 million Syrians in the country as refugees. Many will return to their homeland when the war is over.”

“But many refugees will remain and apply for Lebanese citizenship in ten years.”

“What will become of us Christians then?" asked Archbishop Attallah, who recently retired from the leadership of his diocese.

He added, "Lebanon is marked by a very delicate religious composition. Those Syrians who will remain in the country are mostly Sunnis. The country’s religious balance will thus be destroyed. That is a problem for us."

The prelate hastened to add that his remarks should not be interpreted as showing a lack of concern for the refugees. "We show much solidarity. We want to act in solidarity. But we have obvious problems before our eyes. A question mark hangs over our future."

Archbishop Attallah mentioned his former bishop’s seat of Deir Al Ahmar in the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border. "9,000 Syrians [most of them Muslim] now live in the area. But in the city itself there are only some 3,000 to 4,000 native Christians. Thus the Syrians represent a large majority."

Even aside from religious issues, there are many problems associated with the presence of the refugees: "There is economic competition.”

“Even before the present crisis the Syrians had already become the bulk of the labor force. This situation has now intensified even more. As a result the Lebanese cannot find work anymore."

The archbishop also reported that Syrian women prostitute themselves for Lebanese men, while Lebanese women make themselves available to Lebanese men.

Then there is religious tension, in particular with Syrian Sunnis. In individual cases, Muslims from have damaged and destroyed Christian symbols.

"They defile crosses, statues of the Virgin Mary,” the archbishop charged, and anti-Christian slogans have been painted on walls.

What’s more, Syrian Sunni extremists have found refuge among their co-religionists in Lebanon.

"Lebanese Shiites support the Syrian regime, but local Sunnis are on the side of ISIS,” offering shelter to its fighters and an opportunity to penetrate Lebanon, the archbishop said.

The present situation must be seen against long-standing regional tensions. The archbishop explained, “Our experience with the Syrians was very bad. They occupied the country for 30 years. We suffered terribly under them."

The last Syrian troops did not leave until 2005. "There were Lebanese who were kidnapped and taken to Syria. They are missing without trace. There are hundreds, thousands of such cases,” the archbishop said.

Lebanon also suffered economically under the occupation. Many companies left the country and settled elsewhere.

"And finally, they killed our democracy. Lebanon’s democracy was well known. We Lebanese really do not have good memories of the Syrian occupation,” concluded Archbishop Attallah.


With picture of Archbishop Simon Attallah (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.

For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

WHY THE DECREASE IN CHRISTIAN POPULATIONS IN THE EAST?

The attached article on the timely topic of Christians emigrating from the Holy Land was published in SOPHIA, Summer 2015, pages 17 and 19.

Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.


            Christians are becoming an ever smaller minority in the Holy Land countries of Jesus Christ’s time.

            At the beginning of the twentieth century Christians accounted for a quarter of the population in the countries of the Near East and Middle East.  Muslims have been the majority.  One hundred years later in the second decade of the third millennium the number of Christians has decreased to less than five per cent, except in Lebanon.

            Why is the Christian population shrinking in these Muslim-dominated countries?    Researchers in Beirut and in Rome identify three reasons based on their observations.  The causes of shrinking Christian population are demographic changes, emigration, and sterner Islamization.

Demography

            Muslims multiply faster than Christians.  This is due partially because of Muslim polygamy, a fairly common practice in rural areas.

            Another contributing factor is improved hygiene and health care.  Until a half-century ago, before the use of antibiotics and advanced medical care, infant mortality in these areas was higher in Muslim communities than among the more educated Christian families.  Now Muslim families are no longer plagued by that handicap. 

            In the socio-cultural realm, Christians place strong emphasis on the education of their children, and this accounts for a somewhat lower birth rate.  World statistics indicate that groups with a greater educational and cultural achievement, in this case Christians, have fewer children.  Christian families used to average three or four children, and Muslims eight to ten.  The figures are lower now, and the gap continues to grow.



Emigration

            Worsening social and political factors have caused increased Christian emigration.  Christians occupy an inferior position in Islamic society.  This is stipulated both in the Qur’an and in historical tradition. 

            According to Islam a Christian is one who pays taxes and is tolerated, but in a position subordinate to Muslims.  The Qur’an actually calls for the “humiliation” of Christians (sura IX, verse 29), although the term has been interpreted differently throughout history by various Muslim rulers.  In most, but not all, Muslim countries Christians have been allowed to worship freely, but were subject to diverse humiliations.  In times past they had to cede to Muslims passing by, or travel on foot while Muslims were permitted to ride horses.

            In the modern era Christians in Muslim lands have worked for equal rights.  In fact, in nineteenth century Egypt under Mehmed Ali Pasha, and in Turkey after Ataturk’s revolution of 1923, Christians were trusted with important roles in the modernization of Muslim countries. 

            While some Muslim and Israeli political leaders pay lip service to equal rights for Christians, the reality is often the opposite.

Islamization

            Re-Islamization and intolerance have sprung up again and been re-fueled with the current crisis in the Arab world caused by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.  In this era it must be understood objectively that Israel was not founded in a just and equitable manner.  For the first time in world history a state was born from nothing at the expense of another people, whose identity was cancelled as its territory was confiscated.  Because of a troubled conscience following the Shoah, the West facilitated the population of a new state with Jews from outside the area, mostly from Europe.  Consequently the Muslim world perceived Israel as a Western and Christian creation.  Unfortunately the identification of “Western” with “Christian” persists in Muslim society.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

ACN News - Papal agency pledges new aid to Iraqi Christians—one year after their expulsion by ISIS




Marking the one-year anniversary of the mass exodus of more than 120,000 Christians from Iraq’s major Christian city, the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) announced a new aid package worth approx. $4M for the country’s terrorized community of faithful.

The refugees, including both Chaldean and Syriac Christians, had to leave all their possessions behind; they are now stranded in Kurdish Iraq, where they continue to suffer material, psychological and spiritual hardships.

Some thousands of Iraqi Christians have sought refuge in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

The aid package announcement was made on Aug. 6, 2015, exactly one year after ISIS took control of the city of Qaraqosh, its second major assault on Iraq’s Christian heartland after sacking the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, a month earlier.

The bulk of the fresh round of ACN funding will pay the coming six months’ rent for displaced Christian families living in and around the Kurdish capital of Erbil; monies will also go toward providing food for at least 13,000 families.

In addition, ACN will cover living expenses for both Chaldean and Syriac-Catholic clergy

George Marlin, chairman of ACN-USA said that “the latest series of projects will ensure the continuation of the Christian presence in Iraq and the wider Middle East.”

“Thanks to the compassion of our benefactors, ACN has been able to nourish the hope of those displaced within the country.”

It is estimated that some 8.2 million people are in need of assistance in Iraq, with 3.1 million people internally displaced since August 2014.

 Since 2011, ACN has spent more than $8M to help Iraqi Christians; one-third of ACN grants have paid for the rental of reliable housing for internally displaced people.
           
ACN will also continue provide significant amounts of aid to Christian refugees in Lebanon and Syria, in particular humanitarian supplies for Melkite and Syrian-Catholic families in the city of Homs.


With picture of refugees in Erbil (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.


For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

ACN News - ISIS abducts as many as 160 Syrian Christians: “Fear is growing”



ACN-USA News

8/12/2015

ISIS abducts as many as 160 Syrian Christians: “Fear is growing”


By Oliver Maksan


“We do not know what ISIS intends to do with the hostages,” Father Jihad Youssef, a member of a Syrian-Catholic religious order, exclaimed, his community in uproar.

The Syrian town of Al Qaryatayn near Homs was captured by ISIS Aug. 6, 2015, and a large number of both Christian and Muslim hostages were taken.

Father Youssef told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN):
“Does ISIS intend to negotiate and let the people go free, or does it intend to kill them? We don’t know.”

“Normally they give Christians three options: They pay the Jizya tax; they convert to Islam, or they must leave the place. The last option was evidently not offered, or the Christians would have left.”

“Reports that it could be around 160 persons sound realistic. This is approximately the number of Christians who had remained in Al Qaryatayn until the last. But we do not know if all of the remaining Christians were taken as hostages by ISIS, or if some went into hiding.”

“At the end of the week, some 30 Christians succeeded in fleeing from the town. Some are shepherds and they know the region. They fled to Homs.”

Father Jihad belongs to the Catholic religious community of Mar Musa, which has a monastery in Al Qaryatayn. “We still have some lay people there who are working for us. One of them recently informed us via Whatsapp that they are well.”

“But now we no longer have any contact with the place at all, not even by telephone. So we do not know if our monastery has now been occupied by ISIS or not, and what has happened to our workers or the hostages.”

At the end of May, one of Father Youssef’s fellow monks, Father Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped in Al Qaryatayn, along with a deacon. “We have absolutely no information about Father Jacques’ condition, or where he is,” the priest said.

“We have tried everything. I do not know how the latest events in Al Qaryatayn will affect our brothers’ situation.”

Father Youssef reported that there is great concern in Syria following the kidnappings. “Especially the Christians close to Al Qarytayn are anxious.”

“Many people are thinking of leaving their homes, or even leaving the country. The fear is growing,” he said.

In a message to Christians in the West, Father Youssef said: “I now call on you to pray for our kidnapped brothers and the hostages of Al Qaryatayn. May God bring a change into the hearts of the kidnappers, so that they show mercy.”

Aid to the Church in Need has been particularly active in the Middle East. More than $12M has been spent since the end of 2011 in providing assistance to the Christians in Syria and Iraq.

Recently, ACN has set aside more than $2.2M for humanitarian aid in Syria.


With picture of liturgy in Homs, Syria (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.


For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

Friday, August 07, 2015

ACN News - Remembering August 6, 2014—a day of sorrow, a ‘day that God saved us’




By Oliver Maksan


A year ago, on Aug. 6, 2014, the life of Iraqi Christians was changed for ever: more than 120,000 faithful, most of them Chaldeans, left their homes and all their property behind on the Nineveh Plane as they fled the onslaught of ISIS. For most, the past year has been one severe deprivation living in Kurdish Iraq.

Today, Rami, 22, like hundreds of other people, lives in a caravan at the Mar Elia Center, a refugee camp in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Rami told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he and his family had sought refuge in early 2014 in the Christian city of Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plane, having fled Mosul (which would fall to ISIS in June 2014). Little did the family expect that they would be on the run again so soon.

The young man has little faith that he and his family will be able to go home anytime soon: "I cannot rely on either the government or the army of my country. They simply left Mosul and the other places at the mercy of ISIS,” he said.

He added, “Christians have no rights here and no security. Furthermore, the Shiites and Sunnis are at war with one another. This is why I want to get away from here. Today, rather than tomorrow.”

“I don’t see a future for me here in Iraq. It is my impression that most Christians want to leave."

The camp at Mar Elia Center is run by Chaldean Father Douglas Bazi, whose efforts have made a tremendous difference in a year’s time. No one is sleeping on the ground anymore. Caravans provide more dignified housing for 130 families. Many families have moved into actual apartments.

"I try to find something for the people, and especially the boys, to do. We offer language courses. The children are also learning how to play instruments or how to use a computer.”

“But they ask me: What will happen next? This scares me. Soon, I may no longer have an answer,” said Father Bazi.

"The 6th of August is a day of sorrow, but also the day that God saved us,” the priest said, adding that “we are, after all, still alive. We will celebrate a Mass.”

“We cannot forget what happened. However, we will ask God to forgive the perpetrators and to change their thinking."

He entreats Christians around the world to join him and the people under this care in prayer. "We feel the power of people’s prayers. This is the only reason we can continue.”

“As the members of one body of Christ it is our responsibility to be there for one another. The Church in Mesopotamia is confronted with evil. Please pray that my people will be able to stand firm in the face of the devil!"

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has spent some $7M to house and care for the exiles and to build a number of schools for thousands of refugee children. The charity is calling for prayers on August 6, 2015 for the benefit Christians in need in Iraq. #PrayForIraq #WeAreChristians #6thAugust


With picture of Father Douglas Bazi and one of his youngest charges (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.


For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

ACN News - Iraq – A sad anniversary – “We are living—but it’s like living in a cage”



By Daniel Konstantinovic


August 6, 2015 will mark the one-year anniversary of the expulsion from their convent of a group of Dominican Sisters who had been serving Christians on Iraq’s Nineveh Plane for many years. That day, ISIS forced the women religious into exile in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan.

Discovering that Kurdish militia had fled the ISIS assault, the Sisters decided to leave their convent in Qaraqosh and march to safety along with thousands of refugees; they had just 30 minutes to pack their things.

“We were panicked when they told us ISIS had gotten into the roads, so many people left with even just their nightgowns on,” recalled Sister Lyca.

“From 11:30 at night to the next morning we marched without any food or water,” Sister Diana said, adding: “we’re talking about August when the heat is unbearable: 100 degree temperatures, with no water.”

The effects of exhaustion and dehydration were compounded by horrible sights that left powerful impressions on the Sisters.

“When we got into the streets we saw thousands and thousands of people marching, cars and people walking,” Sister Diana said.

“Cars meant for five people held eight to ten. We heard children shouting and crying, very afraid.”

“When we got [to Erbil], it was even more horrible to see people scattered everywhere like sheep without a shepherd,” Sister Diana said.

“Some of these people had left behind mansions. They had so much. So much, and in just a few hours they became homeless.”

“We began to realize that our displacement might not last days, but that it could take years and years.”

Ever since, the Church has provided the refugees with humanitarian aid, eventually settling many thousands in apartments and opening a number of schools. But the community’s needs go well beyond the material.

“We lost our dignity here. We have been humiliated in so many ways,” Sister Diana said. “We are living day-by-day, but the fact is that deep down, this is not the way that human beings should live.”

“We’re living, but it’s like living in a cage. We don’t have the power or strength to stretch our wings where we want.”

The Sisters worry their efforts are not enough. “Our kids come to school for two or three hours a day. It’s nothing. Our college students are deprived of the chance to continue their studies.”

“What ISIS is doing to us is killing a new generation, because if this generation does not get educated, neither will the next one,” said Sister Diana.

On top of this, hospitals lack the facilities to deal with all their patients, and there are concerns that the flow of aid may not last.

“To the government and even the United Nations, we’re just numbers. We’re not considered as human beings,” Sister Diana charged.

The Sisters remain hopeful—despite the odds: “We have brought all these things into our prayers,” Sister Huda said. “This is my faith. God is with us. God saved us when we came here.”

“We want to thank all the people who think of us and who are helping us.”


With picture of Dominican Sisters in Erbil, Kurdistan (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.


For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

Thursday, July 30, 2015

ACN News - Lebanese Christians come to aid of former enemies—Syrian Muslims



By Oliver Maksan


From the Christian town of Deir al Ahmar, it's only a few miles to the Syrian border. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought refuge in this area, camping in tents on the vast, fertile plain. Bumpy dirt tracks lead to one of the ten camps which have been set up around Deir Al Ahmar.

The families who live here are all Sunni Muslims. They come from Raqqa, the East Syrian city that now serves as the capital of the ISIS caliphate.

"We lived under ISIS," a man says, agitatedly. "They're not Muslims. They're criminals. Our women had to completely veil themselves. We men were no longer allowed to smoke. They control everything."

A woman adds, "We knew God before ISIS. They don't need to explain anything to us."

These refugees literally came only with the clothes on their backs. Some 800 Syrian Muslim families are now in the care of a group of Catholic nuns, who are running a local aid center that provides food and medicine.

Each day, the Sisters run a school that serves 350 Syrian children, who are assured of a hot meal as well. Local Christians are also pitching in.

"God bless Sister Micheline," says one woman. Sister Micheline makes a gesture of dismissal, saying, "What was I supposed to do?”

“In the middle of winter 2011, I suddenly had more than 150 people, some wearing only sandals, standing in the deep snow at my door. As a member of the Order of the Good Shepherd, I couldn't possibly send them away."

Sister Micheline explains the historical context, "This area suffered considerably as a result of the Lebanese civil war [1975-1990] and the Syrian occupation. There were tensions both with the Shiites and with the Syrian army of occupation.”

“Many Christians therefore left. Whole Christian villages were abandoned. To improve life a little, my order decided in 2005 to open up a center to support native Christians here, and especially the children.”

“We offer not only catechetical instruction, but also homework courses and leisure activities. People have responded enthusiastically.”

“It's important that the children get out of their houses. Throughout the winter, which is very long here, they all sit in one room and get on one another's nerves.”

“Then the Syrians suddenly came. The people again thought someone was going to take something away from them."

During the civil war and up to the withdrawal of the Syrians from Lebanon in 2005, 300 adolescents and young men from Deir Al Ahmar were killed in battles with the Syrians.

Not surprisingly, local Christians were very reluctant to come to the aid of the Syrian refugees at first, but they have come around, the Sister explains, even as building up mutual respect and trust between the communities is a slow process.

"We offer manicure courses to enable the women to earn a little extra. This means that Christian women from the village are meeting with Syrian refugee women. This also helps to break down prejudices,” says Sister Micheline.


With picture of Syrian refugee children near Deir Al Ahmar, Lebanon (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:



Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.


For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

Friday, July 24, 2015

ACN News - In the heart of Africa, a sudden upsurge of radical Islam



By John Pontifex


Jihadist training camps housing up to 1,500 children as young as nine have been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to research by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Sources close to the organization—which requested anonymity for security reasons—have reported that poverty-stricken youngsters are being lured off the streets of the impoverished and war-torn country and taken to remote camps where they are brutalized and indoctrinated by Islamist militia.

In at least three camps in the Ruwenzori Mountains of eastern DRC, young boys have been observed dressed in camouflage clothing and doing military exercises watched over by soldiers with guns. There are also reports of dozens of girls, wearing burkas, huddled together in the camps and being readied for marriage to Islamic fighters.

Maria Lozano, a communications official for ACN, said, “We have been given access to a variety of materials that shows the nature of these camps. The reports show soldiers wielding rifles, watching over children ages nine to 15 in military outfits carrying out military exercises. The images we have seen are very disturbing.”

Ms. Lozano said, “We are very concerned for the children as they have been lured off the streets with the promise of an escape from poverty.”

“Some of the children are orphans but others have left their families after being deceived by recruiters who build up their hopes by offering them the chance to study in the Middle East, Europe or Canada.”

“The information we have is that the girls are being forced into marriages in which they will be treated as sex slaves.”

The apparently sudden emergence of the jihadist camps is being linked by some to UN peace keeping forces, with some alleging that the troops that they are complicit in operating the camps and that they are intentionally failing to take action against them. 

There have been allegations that some members of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are fundamentalist Muslims from Pakistan who in their spare time are setting up Quranic schools and working on mosque construction sites.

The ACN sources have charged the mosques have been built in areas where virtually no Muslims were living.

Ms. Lozano said, “People don’t feel protected by the UN soldiers; the information we have received suggests that they are supporting the jihadist camps or at least they are not taking action against the indoctrination of children and the barbaric treatment of them.”

According to the 2014 Journal of International Organizations Studies, 28 of the 44 mosques in the Medina region of DRC were built between 2005 and 2012. According to some reports, the Muslim share of the population of eastern DRC has grown from 1 to 10 percent in just a few years.

The Catholic bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bukavu, in eastern DRC, last May sent a sent an open letter to the country’s political leadership, the UN and international governments, denouncing an upsurge of jihadist fundamentalism in a region traditionally dominated by Christianity.

“It has already been [over] one month since the bishops sent their urgent appeal to the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other leaders, but nobody has acted,” said Ms. Lozano.


With picture of UN troop activity in DRC (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:




Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.

For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

Saturday, July 18, 2015

ACN News - Niger – ‘They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze with love for them.’



By Antonia von Alten


Six months after extremist Muslims attacked Christians and burned down a number of churches, the local faithful remain fearful—but a local bishop reported that Catholic life in Niger continues to flourish.

In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Ambroise Ouédraogo of Maradi recalled the events of Jan. 7, 2015, when Muslims—goaded on by the deadly attack on the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo—rioted in the capital city of Niger and the town of Zinder.

In the end, save for the cathedral in Niamey and a single church outside the city, every single church in the country was attacked, looted and set on fire.

The violence came as a big shock in a country where Muslims and Christians had lived together in relative harmony.

"Why did they attack us, especially since we have had such a good mutual understanding?” the bishop asked, while speculating that "they mixed up 'Charlie Hebdo' with Christianity,” as if Christians had drawn the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that the Paris weekly was known for.

The bishop said, "Freedom of the press in Europe is fine. But you have to handle this freedom with caution and be aware of the impact it will have in other countries. The sensibilities in Africa are different from those in Europe."

Fearing further attacks, some 200 Christians from Zinder fled to the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and even Nigeria. Most have since returned.

The local community now celebrates Mass in the open or in halls decorated for the occasion. Yet, the people’s faith is strong, said the bishop: "Living communities have emerged and I believe that is a blessing."

Still, today, Muslims don't know how they should conduct themselves towards Christians after the attacks.

"They're out of their depth," said Bishop Ouédraogo. “They are sorry for what happened, but they can't say it officially." So far, no one has been charged in the violence.

Many Muslims were amazed that Niger’s Catholic bishops quickly proclaimed forgiveness of the perpetrators. "They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze with love for them.”

“Christian or Muslim—God wishes good fortune for all people,” the prelate said.

Through an interreligious commission, Niger’s Catholics and Muslims collaborate in the area of education and charitable work, as both communities help build up one of the poorest countries in the world, which is regularly plagued by drought and famine.

Of the population of 17 million, 98 percent are Muslims; there are just 21,000 Catholics in Niger, comprising the Archdiocese of Niamey and the Diocese of Maradi.


With picture of Mass in an improvised setting in Niger (© ACN)


Editor’s Notes:




Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.

For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org