Friday, March 07, 2014

ACN News - The suffering of Christian women in Egypt



Kidnapping, forced conversion, female circumcision, social discrimination: these are some of things local Christian women in Egypt report they must face.

It is a phenomenon that is scarcely known in the West: the kidnapping and rape of Christian women and girls and their forced conversion to Islam.

"Before 2011, it affected perhaps six or seven girls in the whole of Egypt. But now the numbers have grown into the thousands," Said Fayez, a Coptic lawyer and human rights activist told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Very young girls, such as 14-year-old Nadia Makram, are a particular target for radical Muslims. In 2011, she was kidnapped during a church service. Since then, her family has had no contact with her anymore.

Although the family knows who did it, the police do not help them. "They even warned us not to pursue the matter any further. I must accept that my daughter has been kidnapped," says Nadia’s mother, filled with pain.

Particularly serious consequences result from the forced conversion to Islam that is demanded of the women who are kidnapped.

Lawyer Fayez reports the case of the girl Jacqueline Ibrahim who was kidnapped and forced by Salafists to declare her conversion to Islam before the Al-Azhar University. "An example of the total disregard of her religion and convictions," says Fayez.

The Catholic Church is now attempting to offer safe haven to the girls and women who are affected. In Minya, the Coptic Catholic diocese maintains a house of refuge for girls who had been kidnapped, where they are safe from their tormenters and can stay for six months or longer.

Some girls have also fled into the house to escape kidnapping.

Father Boulos Nasif, who runs the house, explained to ACN, "Here the girls are looked after and can speak about everything that has happened to them. We try to equip them to find their place in society again."

But many Egyptian Christian women face problems not only from radical Islam, but also within their own community, as a visit to Cairo’s “garbage district” shows.

The smell here is terrible. Trucks and donkey carts constantly deliver the trash generated by Africa’s largest city. Goats, dogs and chickens search for anything edible among the fly-infested rubbish heaps.

Amid the piles of rotting domestic waste, plastic bottles, tires and other trash, people sit and sort out the garbage. Pictures of the Madonna, crucifixes and images of Coptic saints show that Christians are living here.

For generations, Coptic Christians have disposed of some of the garbage from the perhaps twenty million inhabitants of the megalopolis of Cairo. They are called Saballin, garbage people.

They can make a relatively good living from the work, at least better than in the villages of Upper Egypt from which most of them come. Rania and Marina, 17 and 14 years old, are growing up here in the almost exclusively Christian garbage district of Mukattam. Their fathers also work in the garbage business. The two Coptic Orthodox girls are friends.

"We are constantly being harassed in a sexual way. Almost all men and boys do that here. In most cases, I ignore it and go on my way. But on one occasion a boy of about 18 in a neighboring Muslim district took matters too far. So I smacked him. The people took my side and rebuked the boy. I was pleased about that."

But courage like Rania’s is not always rewarded. Marina knows this from personal experience. "A Christian neighbor, about fifty years old, spoke to me in a very indecent way. I defended myself and answered him back. But then he went to my father and complained about my poor upbringing. My father took his side and beat me: a girl must not behave so disrespectfully. His lack of understanding hurt me more than the beating did."

Susi Magdy, a social worker, knows of many such cases. Susi, a Coptic Orthodox Christian, works for the Catholic Comboni Mission, and she herself lives in Mukattam.

"The people here come from the rural districts of Upper Egypt and think in a very traditional way. The difference between Muslims and Christians is not very great there. It is very important not to bring shame on the family."

Therefore, in the great majority of cases sexual abuse is hushed up. "Many girls are molested or even raped by their brothers, cousins or uncles. But it is a taboo subject within the extended family. Nobody goes to the police, or even to the pastor. In any case no one would believe them. It would be said that the woman had provoked it."

As well as sexual abuse, physical violence also plays a major role. "My father beats my mother. It happens again and again," says the 14-year-old Marina.

But the social worker Susi is optimistic: "Here in this district, domestic violence is on the decline. It is mainly a problem in the older generation.”

“In the past it was socially acceptable for the husband to beat his wife. But the campaigns that we and other organizations have run in the last few years are now starting to bear fruit here."

Educational campaigns against the circumcision of girls have also been successful in the district. This form of mutilation is very widespread among both Muslims and Christians.

"In the countryside it is also the rule among Christians. But here in this district, the campaigns in recent years have put an end to this brutal practice," says Susi.

It is also social, not religious, reasons that make it unacceptable to large parts of the rural Christian population for girls and women to study and make a career, according to Susi.

"Sadly there is very little progress here. It is virtually impossible for a Christian girl from a village to start a course of studies."

Just a few miles away, in downtown Cairo, it is a different world. Here, in the German Catholic girls’ school near Tahrir Square, the better-off classes send their children to lessons. Every day, buses from their well-kept districts bring the girls to the school, which is run by the Sisters of Mercy of St. Borromeo.

Nada is 17 and a Coptic Orthodox Christian. Next year she will take her university entrance exam. And then she wants to study literature or psychology, she doesn’t exactly know which yet. But she definitely wants to go abroad for a time.

"For us women, many things have changed for the better since the revolution in 2011. People’s way of thinking has changed. Under Mubarak, women’s rights campaigners had no chance to express themselves openly. This has now changed."

Her fellow pupils agree. "The women have lost their fear of fighting for their rights," says the Catholic Helena, also 17 years old. She wants to study art.

Nada, like the social worker Susi, is convinced that the position of women in Egypt largely depends on social status and less on religion. There is a wide gulf between town and country, she says.

"I do not feel any restrictions, either from my parents or among my circle of friends, on account of being a woman and a Christian. They are all educated and open-minded.”

“It is the same for us here at school. The majority of girls are Muslims. But there are no problems. We are like sisters."

But her 16-year-old Protestant fellow student Nadine, who wants to go abroad later to study business, recounts the bad experiences of her mother.

"My mother is a teacher. At the school where she teaches, she has to fight very hard because she is a Christian. Again and again she is asked why she is not wearing a headscarf."

Christian women’s lack of a headscarf results in girls being constantly approached in the street in an indecent way.

"Because we Christians do not wear a headscarf, many boys and men think we are easy prey. We are used to that. Nobody takes it seriously," says the 15-year-old Sheri. "It also largely depends on the district you are in."

But her friend Helena, 16, sees it as a growing problem. "In my opinion, sexual harassment has increased overall. I believe that it is associated with the internet and television, where sex is a constant topic. It rubs off on people."

But the social norms of a conservative country even impose restrictions on educated women and girls. "My brother can bicycle through the district without any problems. I would not be able to do that.”

“In some parts of Cairo, a woman on a bicycle would be pelted with stones," Nada says. "I hope the day will come where I can ride wherever I want, just like him."

For many years, Aid to the Church in Need has supported projects by the Catholic Church in Egypt devoted to promoting the dignity of women.


With picture of a scene from Mukattam, an area where mostly Coptic Christians recycle the garbage of Cairo: (© 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, March 06, 2014

Meatless Fridays in Lent - Tomato Paella

Tomato Paella
It is Lent time again and I hope to be able to share some of the non-meat meals which my family and I enjoy.

The first one is Paella.

If you like Paella, you will like this easy version of the classical Spanish favorite, which does not include the usual seafood, chicken or sausage.  And, you will not miss those missing ingredients.

The recipe I used came from Kitchen Gardeners International. If you click on the link you will see the photo of their paella which makes mine pale in comparison. When I made the dish, I did not have large tomatoes nor did I have parsley on hand. I recommend you following the exact directions for a real taste treat.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

ACN News - Cruelty and Compassion in Nigeria

A disabled man from northern Nigeria has spoken of his horror as he was forced to watch extremists carry out a string of atrocities, including the killing of four men and arson attacks that razed a Catholic school to the ground.

Staff and students from St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary in the small community of Shuwa fled for their lives and hid in a nearby forest when suspected Boko Haram militants stormed into the village with an armored tank, rocket launchers, high caliber guns and more than a dozen jeeps.

Among those unable to escape was St. Joseph’s staff member Andrew (full name not given for security reasons). After being discovered by the militants, the disabled man was placed in his wheelchair and taken outside where he was forced to watch his home go up in flames.

Andrew was then wheeled to other parts of the seminary campus where arson attacks and other atrocities were carried out in front of him. 

The chapel, priests’ house, classroom and other facilities were all attacked using high explosives and there was another attack at a nearby clinic run by Augustinian Sisters who managed to escape just in time.

Most traumatic of all for Andrew was being forced to witness the killing of four security guards who worked at the seminary.

Andrew’s story was told through a close personal friend, Father John Bakeni, who is very familiar with the seminary in Adamawa state.

Describing the atrocity, carried out last Wednesday (Feb. 26, 2014), Bakeni told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “After the security men had been shot, Andrew was told he would be next.”

“However, the military commander said he wanted to consult with a spiritual leader and he came back and said that during Jihad cripples are to be spared. Andrew is convinced that this is what saved his life; otherwise he would have been killed.”

Bakeni explained that the extremists “interrogated” Andrew about his Christian faith and added that his religion had put him at direct risk of being killed.

The priest, who is from Maiduguri Diocese, where Shuwa is located, added, “Boko Haram have made it very clear in their [video] clips that among those they are fighting are the Christians and the government.”

The priest said, “Of course Andrew was very frightened by what happened but he has shown enormous strength through all this.”

“What we need most of all,” said Bakeni, “is your prayers. The cycle of violence we are experiencing now shows every sign of getting worse.”

He went on to praise the quick thinking of the Sisters as well as the staff and students from St Joseph’s Seminary, Shuwa, who fled quickly. “They had a very narrow escape.”

The attack on the seminary was part of a wave of violence in which nearly 40 people died in three separate incidents in this region of north-east Nigeria.

As well as attacking the seminary in Shuwa, the militants targeted government, police and other security buildings, banks and people’s homes across the village and neighboring communities.

In a separate attack, 43 people, most of them students, were killed as they slept at a boarding school in Yobe state.

Diocesan officials have confirmed that 22 died while at Mass on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, when suspected militants armed with guns and explosives opened fire on parishioners at St Paul’s Catholic Church in Waga Chakawa, Madagali.

The attacks come amid growing concern about violence in the region which has continued even though last May President Goodluck Jonathan placed Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states under a state of emergency and installed a heightened security presence.


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

Ash Wednesday and Lent 2014

Saints Peter and Paul Church, Honolulu
I hope you have a very holy Lenten Season.

The following are resources from the convenience of sitting in front of your computer, that may help you on your journey to a holier life and a closer relationship to God.

1. Join in the Saint Damien Retreat and receive a daily email with beautiful reflections, inspiration for meditations by Hawaii's own saint, Damien.

2. Read 7 Fallible Tips for Lent by Father John Holloway and shared by Courageous Priest

3. Sign up for the free Lenten meditations by the Divine Mercy Fathers and receive a daily email.

4. Read 5 Reasons to Love Fasting.

5. Sign up for Father Robert Barron's Lenten Reflections.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Take EWTN’s Lenten Scripture Challenge!



Irondale, AL –
EWTN is launching a brand new app to help you prepare for Lent – and it’s available now! If you download our free app and take our “Daily Lenten Scripture Reading Challenge,” at the end of Lent, you will able to say that you read all four Gospels! It’s easier than you think!

You can download EWTN’s free app at www.ewtnapps.com/challenge or get it directly from iTunes, Google Play or Amazon apps for Kindle Fire. If you already have the EWTN app, the Scripture Challenge is included with the update.
 
To access the Challenge, simply open the app and click on the Bible icon, which will take you to your free RSV-CE Bible. From inside the Bible, click or tap on the menu (the three white bars on the top left hand corner of the screen), and from the resulting drop down menu, choose “Playlists” and then “The Four Gospels During Lent” to begin your Challenge.
 
In addition to the daily reading challenge, we’ve included a free audio version of the Gospel of Mark, which is read by world-renowned actors and contains realistic sound effects! (To find it, go to the menu, as above, click on “contents,” then “New Testament,” and then “Mark”, where you will be able to click on “download.") If you choose, you can purchase audio for the entire Bible for $19.99. This will not only enhance your experience, but help support your favorite Network!

Note: If this is your first time inside the EWTN app, don’t miss all the other great features. With this one app, you will be able to watch what’s on EWTN anywhere in the world, view all our program schedules, enjoy video or audio on demand, and stay up-to-date with EWTN News.
 
Insider secret! By the way, look for another new app featuring Cardinal Timothy Dolan, coming soon! EWTN traveled to the New York office of Cardinal Dolan to tape a series of one-minute reflections, which will air on the Network every day during Lent. You do not want to miss these fabulous bits of inspiration and encouragement – and, with our soon-to-be-released app – “EWTN Daily Lenten Reflections with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan” – you will be able to get them directly on your iOS or Android device! You’ll even get a reminder to watch them! Keep checking EWTN’s home page, www.ewtn.com, for the announcement!
 
These are just two more (free!) ways EWTN is planning to help make 2014 your best Lent ever! Please spread the word!
 
EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 33rd year, is available in over 230 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories. With its direct broadcast satellite television and radio services, AM & FM radio networks, worldwide short-wave radio station, Internet website www.ewtn.com, electronic and print news services, and publishing arm, EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world.