Pope Francis blesses Religious Icon for Syria with ACN reps

Pope Francis blesses Religious Icon for Syria with ACN reps
Pope Francis blesses Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians – Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, ITALY – A small delegation of representatives from the papal charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) stood witness to the Holy Father’s blessing of the icon of the Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians. The icon was made in August by Fr. Spiridon Kabbash, a Greek Orthodox priest from Homs in Syria. Present in this initiative is the organization’s National Director for the Philippines, Jonathan Luciano.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians was designated to bring a dawn of hope, peace, and consolation to all Christians of the world. It shows the beloved Virgin Mary, Mother of God, seated on a throne, with the Lord Jesus Christ on her lap. Holding an orb, the icon depicts that He entrusts the care of the world to his Mother, similar to what he did with all humankind under the cross. Also in visible detail is war-stricken Syria, very much destroyed and wounded with all the unheard and unknown battles plaguing its grounds. According to an interview with Fr. Kabbash, the icon is a message of hope. “We will send it to many places of the world, because they need consolation from God. The war is too heavy for the people,” he mentioned. 

Pope Francis with ACN Philippines Director Jonathan Luciano – Aid to the Church in Need

“I was personally, deeply moved by the message of the icon. It strengthened in me the challenge to rise to the mission to help the suffering Church, especially our persecuted brothers and sisters,” ACN Philippines Director Luciano shared. The icon will be travelling to all the dioceses of Syria and the whole of Middle East to spread the message of peace and consolation to all war victims. This is part of the “Console My People” campaign, an ACN initiative for Syrians. Last August, 6,000 rosaries were also blessed by the Pope for the relatives of the victims. 

Pope Francis with ACN representatives for the icon blessing – Aid to the Church in Need

“There is a greater need to be sensitive and aware of the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters, and the icon of the sorrowful mother, who, in her tears, consoles her children. Which is why I also asked the Pope to pray for the Philippines, especially the persecuted and the oppressed. He agreed, and Pope Francis requests that we pray for him as well,” Luciano added. 

“An important step, but one that needs to be followed by action”

"An important step, but one that needs to be followed by action"

UN International Day Victims of Acts of Religious Violence – August 22

A woman praying solemnly at the candles – Aid to the Church in Need

“The new day to commemorate the victims of religious violence is an important step to ensuring that more attention is paid to persecuted Christians in the future,” explained Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern.

The executive president of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is pleased that for the first time this year, 22 August can be celebrated as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The respective resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in May.

Following an international conference held by ACN in Rome in September 2017, the lawyer and author Ewelina Ochab took the initiative to draw attention to infringements of religious freedom and in particular to the persecution of Christians and to appeal to the international community to act. Since then, she has spoken at many conferences to build up a network of supporters.

The proposed resolution was ultimately introduced to the United Nations General Assembly by Poland. The proposal was supported by the United States, Canada, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Pakistan. “It was a long process and involved many people, but ACN was the inspiration,” Ms Ochab said.

“As an organisation that has been dedicated to helping suffering Christians for over 70 years, we at ACN are very excited that the United Nations has proclaimed this day. A step that has long been overdue,” Dr. Heine-Geldern said. “All religious communities regularly fall victim to violence, but as international reports on religious freedom confirm time and again, Christians are unfortunately the group that is most persecuted.”

During the last five years alone, there have been two cases of genocide of religious minorities: the first of Christians and other religious groups by the troops of the “Islamic State” in Iraq and in Syria, and the second of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Inauguration of Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern as new executive president of ACN at the Haus der Begegnung – Aid to the Church in Need

Dr Heine-Geldern also referred to systematically-organised atrocities which are increasingly being committed in particular against Christians in Africa. The ACN president considers the new day of commemoration to be an important milestone, which, however, should be seen only as a first step.

“It is important that 22 August does not become an end in itself, but triggers a process that motivates the international community to implement a coordinated plan of action to end religious persecution and prevent it in the future.”

A man amid the ruins of the Armenian Catholic cathedral in the Al-Telal district of Aleppo – Aid to the Church in Need

“It is really the duty of the United Nations, governments and political actors to enforce the human right of freedom of religion. This symbolic day must be followed by action.”

The president then said that one of the necessary instruments would be a UN platform for the promotion of an exchange with representatives of the persecuted religious groups. In addition, the United Nations need to work towards establishing an international tribunal dedicated to the issue of the impunity of groups ranging from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab and IS from prosecution for acts of religious violence.

Last year alone, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need granted more than 100 million euros to over 5,000 projects in 139 countries worldwide to help Christians in need.

Matthias Böhnke (ACN International)

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria - © Servizio Fotografico - Vatican Media

As part of a spiritual initiative by ACN to comfort the grieving

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria
Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria – © Servizio Fotografico – Vatican Media

On 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis, during the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square, blessed 6,000 rosaries destined for Syria. They will be given to people in Syria who have had relatives or family members abducted or murdered during the civil war. This is part of an ecumenical initiative of the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) together with Catholic and Orthodox churches in the country.

“The rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, are a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria,” Pope Francis said. “We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and around the world.”

The plan is to distribute the rosaries among a number of different Christian communities in Syria on 15 September, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The motto of the ecumenical initiative is “Comfort my people”, and aims to commemorate the victims of the recent civil war and offer spiritual support and comfort to the bereaved.

An earlier meeting with the Pope at the Vatican guesthouse Santa Marta, was attended by the Executive President of ACN, Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, as well as several directors of European ACN-national office. At the audience, Pope Francis praised the work of the charity and this ecumenical initiative: “I thank ACN for everything you do. When we pray with the people in Syria, we come close to them. “

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria
Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

ACN President Thomas Heine Geldern said he was deeply moved by the Pope’s support for this prayer campaign. “The Holy Father has on several occasions expressed his support and approval for our commitment in Syria and the Middle East”, he said. “And he has done so again today. For the families of the war victims, these blessed rosaries are a sign that the Pope and the entire Church are with them, praying for them and standing beside them. This is a great source of comfort.”

Ever since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the support for the suffering people of Syria has been a priority for ACN, as President Heine-Geldern emphasised.

Thanks to the generosity of ACN’s benefactors, the charity has been able during this time to support a total of 850 separate projects for the Syrian people, at a total cost of 35 million Euros, thereby enabling many Christian families to remain in Syria, rather than emigrating.

From the outset, this help has been offered in close ecumenical collaboration with Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders – and the same is true of the present, most recent initiative, the ACN president explained. “Money is not enough”, he said. “Alongside  material aid, the people in Syria need spiritual and moral support, for they are living through a desperate situation. Together with our benefactors around the world, ACN is committed to helping them.”

The “Comfort my People” initiative will take place in a number of different towns in Syria on 15 September this year.

There will be commemorative prayers and processions, the Christian faithful will pray for the dead and for the consolation and support of their families. Those who have lost family members who were abducted or killed during the war will be given the rosaries, which were made in Bethlehem and Damascus and blessed by Pope Francis as a special sign of spiritual support. And on 15 September Pope Francis will again associate himself with the initiative, by blessing an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows, Comforter of the Syrians.

Tobias Lehner (ACN International)

Sri Lanka: The terror attacks have hurt people of all faiths

Sri Lanka: The terror attacks have hurt people of all faiths
Cemetery in Negombo – tombs of the martyrs (the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks from April 23 2019) – Aid to the Church in Need

Many Buddhists on the island also admire the Catholics for their peaceful, non-violent reaction  

“The people here are good, but the government is bad”. This was the opinion expressed by one Buddhist taxi driver. And his view is one widely held in Sri Lanka today. Ever since it became public knowledge that the political authorities had already been warned, on 4 April, by India’s Secret Service about the planned terrorist attacks – which three weeks later, on Easter Sunday, claimed the lives of almost 300 people – the sense of outrage and indignation against the government has been intense.

And not only among the Catholic victims and their loved ones. Among the Buddhists there has even been a suggestion that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the head of the Catholics on the island, should be elected as president, some priests tell us, with a wry smile.

The feared revenge attacks did not materialise – not least because Cardinal Ranjith hastened to the scene of the terror bombings and urged his shaken and traumatised Catholics to renounce any form of reprisal.

Altogether around 300 people died. Not even the body parts have all been accurately identified, or all the victims buried, nor are all the critically injured even out of danger yet.

The stories of the survivors are harrowing: Priyantha Jayakody, for example, lives in the mainly Catholic fishing village of Negombo. His wife was murdered by the Islamist suicide bomber on the morning of Easter Sunday, while his 17-year-old son only just survived. In all, the Muslim terrorist who struck in St Sebastian’s church in Negombo took the lives of 115 people.

Cemetery in Negombo – tombs of the martyrs (the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks from April 23 2019) – Aid to the Church in Need

Yet although the carefully planned bombing campaign by the terrorists was clearly targeted against Christians, the terror killings in fact claimed the lives of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims as well. For the church of St Anthony, in the capital city Colombo, is a national shrine that is visited by members of all faiths. And St Anthony’s shrine is particularly attractive to families of mixed religion and to those contemplating baptism. For example, people like 38-year-old Sayana, a Buddhist, who has been interested in Christianity ever since she attended a Catholic school.

After a long fast – a practice also very common among Catholics during Holy Week – she had come to St Anthony’s shrine early in the morning of Easter Sunday. She was just lighting a candle when the suicide bomber detonated his bomb. Fortunately, there was a massive column between her and the terrorist, and she survived with no more than damage to her hearing. But 54 people died in that moment.

Maiar Mar also had a terrifying experience. Heavily pregnant, she was trampled on by people fleeing in their panic. For many hours afterwards she lived in fear for the life of the child within her. Fortunately, her baby survived, but her sister-in-law did not. Velu Ranjithkumar, a Hindu, lost his Catholic wife in the attack, while a young Hindu family lost their 28-year-old father who, after a long fast, had gone to visit St Anthony’s shrine. Another young woman, a former Hindu who had converted two years earlier, lost her Catholic husband and is now alone with her little baby.

Rizwan Manju and Mohamed Yaseen lost their 15-year-old son in the attack on the church. “Our Imam came to the funeral”, explains the Muslim father, who frequently accompanies his Catholic wife to the church, though he himself has no intention of converting.

Fr. Jude Raj with victims of the Easter Sunday attacks from April 23 2019, Colombo, St. Anthony´s Shrine – Aid to the Church in Need

Sister Remoshini visits them all, translating from Sinhalese or Tamil as the occasion requires and bringing little sweets and treats for the children. Like many other religious sisters and priests, she acts as a bridge, enabling people to access the material, pastoral and psychological support offered by the Church and at the same time – as is immediately evident during her visits to the homes of the victims and victims’ families – offering a strong shoulder on which many weep .

22-year-old Medha and her 19-year-old brother Imash also died in St Anthony’s church on Easter Sunday. Their father is Buddhist, their mother Catholic.

Tearfully, she shows us two handcrafted crosses that were made by her children. She no longer has any trust in the politicians. But she tells us that she has had frequent visits from the priests and religious sisters to comfort her in her grief.

Like so many other victims and relatives, she has heard many promises from the government, but received no practical, financial support except from the Catholic Church.

Caritas is providing immediate emergency aid and paying for medical treatment and for the care of the newly orphaned – regardless of religious belief. And teams of priests are also offering spiritual and psychological support to the victims, listening to them in their pain and helping them to overcome their trauma. Many of these victims in fact find it easier to open up to others, outside their own homes.

Emaus Center, Colombo – Aid to the Church in Need

This is one of the reasons for the existence of the Church-run Emmaus Centre in Negombo. Here, married couple Kamilla and Thomas de Silva can put them in touch with qualified  therapists and offer spiritual counselling sessions, and they also spend many hours with them, sitting silently and praying in the adoration chapel.

But these are not the only reasons why respect for the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has risen so greatly among the majority Buddhist population since Easter.

What these Buddhists admire above all is the fact that there were no reprisals or revenge attacks but that instead the Catholics have responded peacefully, despite the terrible trauma they have suffered.

“Let us bring our sufferings to the foot of the Cross, to the Eucharist. We have to forgive!” So says Father Claude Nonis, who is there to support all the traumatised victims, along with 80 trained psychological counsellors. And Jude Raj Fernando, the administrator of St Anthony’s shrine, adds: “Our God is not a God of revenge, but of love and mercy.”

Stephan Baier (ACN International)

“Religious fundamentalism places Christians on the fringes of society”

“Religious fundamentalism places Christians on the fringes of society”

Archbishop reports on the current situation in the Holy Land

Pierbattista Pizzaballa has already spent more than three decades of his life in the Holy Land. In 2016, the Franciscan was made Archbishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa – Aid to the Church in Need

In an interview with Daniele Piccini while visiting ACN Germany, the archbishop recently explained why current international political decisions exacerbate the conflict in the Holy Land and why the Church is relying on the power of small steps.

ACN: Your Grace, what is the current situation of the Christians in the Holy Land?

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa: It is often said that three groups of people live in the region that is considered the Holy Land proper: Israelis, Palestinians and Christians. But the Christians are not a “third people”. The Christians belong to the people among whom they live. As Christians we don’t have any territorial claims. Meeting a Christian does not represent a danger to Jews or Muslims.

However, life is not easy for the Christians: it is more difficult for Christians to find work or a flat. The living conditions are much more difficult.

ISRAEL / JERUSALEM – Aid to the Church in Need

Does this mean that the religious freedom of the Christians is very restricted in the Holy Land?

It is necessary to make distinctions here. The freedom to practice religion is one thing, the freedom of conscience is another. The freedom to practice religion exists: the Christians can celebrate their divine services and develop their community life. Freedom of conscience means that all church members can express themselves freely and should members of other religions wish to become Christians, they have the right to do so. That is a lot more complicated.

Politics always plays a major role in the Holy Land.

Even wanting to visit a certain place can quickly evolve into a political issue. For example: Christians from Bethlehem would like to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to pray. However, this is often not possible because they need a permit to do so. Therefore, is this an issue of religious freedom or is it just politics and they are not being granted permission to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because they are Palestinians? It is all interconnected.

The U.S. government recently moved its Embassy to Jerusalem. How perceptible are the effects of political measures of this kind?

For the time being, this has not had much of an effect on everyday life. However, politically, relocating the U.S. Embassy is a dead end. All issues relating to Jerusalem that do not take account of both sides – Israelis and Palestinians – lead to a deep fracture on a political level. And that is exactly what happened. After the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, the Palestinians broke off all relations with the U.S. government, bringing the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian regions, which were moving sluggishly anyway, to a complete standstill.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa – Aid to the Church in Need

The latest escalations have led to the radicalization of a growing number of young people, particularly among the Palestinians. Does this also have repercussions for the Christians?

There are Palestinians who belong to fundamentalist movements. But there are also many who oppose violence. The majority of Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians. Therefore, they live under the same conditions as the Palestinian Muslims. Religious fundamentalism places Christians clearly on the fringes of society.

We experience both cooperation and solidarity, but also exclusion and discrimination.

Another problem is the growing emigration of Christians..

Emigration is not a mass phenomenon, or the Christians would have long since disappeared from the Holy Land. It is a constant trickle. Each year when I visit the parishes, the priests tell me, “This year we lost two, three families.”

Is there something the Church can do in this dead-end political situation?

Christians make up about one per cent of the population. We therefore cannot expect to carry the same political weight as other groups. But of course the Church has strong connections worldwide. And then there are the millions of Christian pilgrims from all over the world.

It is our job to communicate to the people: there is a Christian way of living in this country.

There is a Christian way of living with this conflict. This is not the time for big gestures. The Church has to try to establish small connections, to build small bridges.

Pope Francis visited the country in 2014. Did this have an effect on the political situation, but also on the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians?

The visits of the Pope are important stepping stones on the way to peace, even though they will not bring about a major change. However, the opposite is true when it comes to ecumenism: with his visit, Pope Francis built on the historic meeting that took place between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964. Keeping this in mind, the visit of Pope Francis, in particular the ecumenical prayer in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was a decisive and perceptible turning point in the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

ISRAEL / JERUSALEM – Aid to the Church In Need

Aid to the Church in Need has been close to the Christians in the Holy Land for many years. In Jerusalem, for example, the pastoral charity funds an interreligious seminar entitled “Develop forgiveness, overcome  hatred”, which is attended by hundreds of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Could you tell us  something about this initiative?

First and foremost, I would like to thank ACN because the pastoral charity does a great deal in the Holy Land. It supports many projects, including this seminar, which is organised by the Rossing Center. Daniel Rossing was a Jew who felt that Jerusalem in particular needed to be a place where all religions felt at home. Many young people who participate in these classes apply what they learn in their professional lives. Which makes religion, which is often an element of division in the Holy Land, an element of unity./

Daniele Piccini & Tobias Lehner  (ACN International)

Hundreds march in solidarity for bishops amidst sedition complaint

UPDATED as of August 5, 2019

On July 31, the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan organized a Mass and a candle-lighting ceremony to express solidarity for the faithful leaders accused of inciting sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice. Involved in the sedition charge are the Vice President of the Philippines and 35 others, including four bishops and several priests. The bishops cited include Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President of ACN Philippines and Member of the Supervisory Board of the International Foundation and retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani,  Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao and Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan.

Held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Dagupan, hundreds of people marched in prayer after Mass on Wednesday in support of Archbishop Villegas and the other three bishops innocently charged.

Jonathan Luciano, ACN National Director for the Philippines, attended the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the candle-lighting procession together with ACN volunteers as sign of solidarity with his president.

The sedition complaint was filed on 18 July by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG). This was in connection to the “Ang Totoong Narco List”, a video series by a man named Peter Joemel Advincula, more widely known as “Bikoy”. In the videos, he linked President Duterte, a few family members and numerous constituents to alleged involvement in illegal drug syndicates. “Bikoy” also confessed that he was a former member of a large syndicate himself. But on surrendering himself to police custody, “Bikoy” retracted his statements and stated the opposite. He claimed that everything in the videos was scripted and orchestrated by the opposing Liberal Party in connivance with a leaders of religious organizations. In a press briefing, he cited Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo David as among those behind the plot to oust the President.

Expressing his concern and sadness the director of ACN said: “Around  the world, cases of religious persecution continue to rise and become more rampant. Ambushes, murders, bombings – these are only a few of the violent means used by persecutors. A subtle yet more dangerous method, however, continues to exist. This comes in the form of political persecution, now directed to innocent servants of the Catholic Church”. 

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”
(John 10:27)

“As emphasized by the Pope’s prayer intentions for July, we continue to pray and hope that the government and the respectful officials involved will wield justice with truth and integrity. As the preliminary investigations against the accused commence on August 9, we call for vigilance. Let us stand in solidarity and unity in our prayers. We pray for the safety of the bishops and all those wrongfully charged, and that they find strength in these trying times,” concluded Jonathan Luciano.

Boko Haram strikes back in Cameroon – Amputee women, the new tactic of terror

Boko Haram strikes back in Cameroon - Amputee women, the new tactic of terror

On the night of July 29, members of the terrorist group Boko Haram attacked the town of Gagalari [not Kalagari as it puts in some media] in the diocese of Yagoua in the Far North region of Cameroon.

According to information received today from local sources by the ACN Foundation, the terrorists seem to have changed their strategy but not in any way diminished their violence. “They arrived during the night, entered the houses one by one and kidnapped the women. Only the women. They took them to the outskirts and amputated one ear of each of the victims. Then they released them threatening them and telling them that they would return, that this is the first touch intervention, but others will follow. It is terrifying. “

The victims were found and picked up by the army and then transferred 260 kilometers away where they could be medically assisted.

The amputation of an ear is a way of pressurizing and terrifying the inhabitants of the area who, according to the terrorists, “listen to the government and the voices of those who do not follow the extremist ideology of Boko Haram.”

For security reasons the men do not sleep inside the houses and there is even a Vigilance Committee, “but it was no use in this repulsive surprise attack. The women were dragged out of their homes before the eyes of their children.”

The population, especially children and women, is very traumatized and terrified. “But what are they going to do? They are simple and very poor people who live from agriculture and right now in the rainy season they are waiting for the harvest. Where are they going to go? “The town is 120 kilometers from the nearest parish.

/ Maria Lozano – ACN International

Summer camps in Syria – “She felt her heart had begun to beat again”

Summer camps in Syria – “She felt her heart had begun to beat again”
Summer camps in Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

In the course of 2019 the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) is supporting over 40 different projects for summer activities on behalf of the Christian communities in countries where they are a minority, experience discrimination or suffering as a result of wars or other conflicts.

Almost half these projects are for the Christian communities in the Middle East, above all in Syria, where a total of 28 such summer courses will be held for young people and families.

After a bloody and fratricidal war, which has resulted today in a critical economic and social situation, Christians of various different faith communities from the dioceses of Homs, Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus have been or will be gathering together between June and September to recuperate, gain new strength and find healing for past trauma.

Summer camps in Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

Father Antoine Mukhallala, of the Greek Melkite diocese of Aleppo, has just returned from one of the eight summer courses that are being organised by the Faith and Life Community for handicapped people and their families. It can sometimes be difficult to comprehend what these people suffered during the war.

Terrorised by the bombings and by the snipers, who killed civilians for no reason whatsoever, they scarcely dared emerge from their homes. Today these people have great need of psychological support and a need to encounter God to find peace through prayer amid nature. Hence the summer camps are a ray of light for them in this situation.

Among the many things Father Antoine has encountered, there is one story in particular he wants to tell ACN about.

It concerns a widow, the mother of two little girls, one of whom is autistic.

This mother was suffering terribly, because she had lost her husband when he attempted to emigrate in one of the “ships of death” to Europe.

Not because he drowned, however, but because he was murdered, and she had to witness his body being returned to her with his throat cut.

This woman was suffering greatly, yet living imprisoned in her solitude. Although physically present among the rest of the group, she barely spoke, either about her dead husband or her daughter. She rejected every kind of happiness, even though the others tried to reach her in her pain.

Little by little, however, during the summer camp week, a sense of love began to return to this woman’s heart; the darkness began to lift from it and it began to beat again with love. She began to realise once more that life is beautiful – partly thanks to the dramatic change in the behaviour of her autistic daughter, who even invited me to dance with her!

At the end of the week, this mother said to us, “If only the camp had lasted another week, I’m quite sure that my Jenny would even have begun to speak!”

I have been involved in many summer camps during my six years as a priest, but this most recent one in Kfarsetta with the “Family of Hope” was one of the most beautiful of all, in which I experienced the joy of Love and of which I can say that I received more than I gave”, Father Antoine continues. 

“I give thanks to God for what this woman experienced and for having been given the opportunity to live many such spiritual experiences. And I also want to thank you all, the representatives and benefactors of ACN, for having supported these camps, for without your support we could never have had this experience, which has brought us so much closer to the advertised theme of the summer camp, which was “Building community, with God”.

I pray to Almighty God that he may bless you all so that you can continue helping all those who call upon you and that you may continue being an instrument of God in spreading his Love throughout the world”, he concludes.

This summer many other groups of children, young people and families, like the “Family Hope”, will be taking part in similar summer camps, not only in other parts of Syria but also in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Crimea and the Republic of Congo, so that they can relax, recuperate and find new strength, not merely physically and psychologically, but also spiritually.

Summer camps in Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

Maria Lozano (ACN International)

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear

The Catholic Church in Pakistan is important for the country, says Reinhard Backes. He recently visited Pakistan for the fourth time as permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in order to inform himself about the situation of the Christians and the projects that ACN supports. “With more than 200 million inhabitants, Pakistan is in sixth place on the list of the most populous countries,” he explained on his return.

“Although the overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims and only some two per cent are Christians, they still amount to at least three million people in the country.”

According to Reinhard Backes’ account, the Church in Pakistan is a young church. “The majority of all worshippers at divine services in Pakistan are children, youths and young adults. But the Catholic Church in the country is a young church, not only in terms of its members, but also when viewed historically.” Unfortunately, due to the difficult social and economic situation, young people in the country hardly have any perspective, he says.

Further, not only for Christians and other religious minorities, but also for Muslims, the controversial blasphemy law represents a major problem because it is sometimes misused in order to pursue and oppress dissenters, says Backes. Although, some weeks ago, Asia Bibi – one of the best-known victims of the blasphemy law – was able to escape the death penalty and depart for Canada after nearly nine years of uncertainty, Christians are still in prison on account of this law.

More than 224 Christians have suffered from the arbitrariness of this law since its introduction in 1986, he confirms. “Even though there are signs of hope, the Christians in the country are constantly living with a degree of insecurity.”

The mood in the country, where Islam is the state religion, is marked by religious intolerance. Over again, there are dead and injured in attacks and assaults, says Backes. He was particularly impressed by his meeting with young people who had experienced a serious attack on two Christian churches in Lahore four years ago. “Sakinder was at prayer in one of the churches and lost an eye in the explosions. Antashia had been singing in the choir at the service.

When she went outside, body parts were scattered in the street. Qandeel told me that, despite the severe attacks, the congregation has grown closer together and that many subsequently joined the security service. They all do it on a voluntary basis and are proud to be able to serve the Church.”

During his journeys through the country, Reinhard Backes visited numerous projects that ACN has funded in recent years. These include the Joti Pastoral Centre in Mirpur Khas in Hyderabad Diocese, as well as the parish of St. Peter in Jhugian Jhuhid (Lahore Archdiocese) where Catholics live today who were violently driven out of the so-called Joseph Colony in 2013. ACN is helping them to develop the new parish there.

In the words of Reinhard Backes, an indispensable source of hope and confidence in Pakistan’s patriarchal society is the involvement of Christian women. “In many places, nuns perform enormously important pastoral and social work.” He mentions as examples the Mother Teresa Sisters in Faisalabad, or the Franciscan nuns in Dar-ul-Sukun, a social facility whose name means “House of Peace and Love”.

There, with great devotion, a nun from Karachi has been caring for neglected children for the last 50 years. “They care for the weakest in society, orphans and persons with physical or mental disabilities. These initiatives, which are being driven forward by Christians in all dioceses, are mainly carried out by women,” reports Reinhard Backes, for whom Pakistan is not only a country of fear and violence, but also of hope and charity.

In the last two years alone, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need has funded nearly 100 projects in Pakistan to the tune of more than 1.5 million euros, in particular giving aid for the construction of churches and other ecclesiastical facilities, support for priests, seminarians and nuns, as well as the acquisition of Christian literature.

/ Matthias Böhnke (ACN International)

Renewed by Faith: Jolo Cathedral Restored After Twin Bombing

Renewed By Faith: Jolo Cathedral Restored After Twin Bombing

“I can see their faces, I could remember everything.”

(Father Jeff Nadua to Rappler)

In an interview with Rappler, this was how Father Jeff Nadua, a priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, described his reaction towards the deadly bombing incident which occurred during the Sunday Mass of January 27, 2019. Father Nadua, however, was not in the premises of the church. The mass was officiated by Father Ricky Bacolcol.

The Blast

The cathedral was simultaneously blasted with two improvised explosive devices (IED), with approximately 100 victims in the vicinity. It was at the Second Reading when the first IED was detonated inside. According to MindaNews, the bomb went off from the “right side fronting the altar, at the back portion”.  Police and military men stationed nearby hurried for rescue. Civilians, on the other hand, scrambled for safety. But then,  another unthinkable horror happened. 

A twin IED exploded outside. 

“Nakita ko may mga matatanda na nandoon sa lupa na humihingi ng tulong sa amin. Gusto ko sana kunin ‘yung isang matanda noon. Eh, pumutok na. Tumilapon na rin ako doon.” 

[The elderly were ducked down on the ground, asking for help. I wanted to save them, get one of them, but there was a sudden explosion. I was thrown back by the impact.]

(Corporal Ruel Diaz to GMA News)

Catching them off guard, 5 soldiers died in an instant. It was believed that the second IED was placed in a utility box of a parked motorcycle just beside the cathedral. Both bombs were confirmed to be electronically-controlled through a mobile device from a remote area. The official casualty count of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WESTMINCOM) reached about 21 deaths and approximately 100 injured. 

History of Devastation

The twin blasts left the interior of the church in shambles. The pews were scattered and pieces of shrapnel flew everywhere. The once ocean-hued windows of the cathedral became broken glass. 

The Sunday explosion, however, wasn’t the first. Throughout the previous decade, the cathedral, and its surrounding area, has been the target of many extremist attacks. 

In 2000, a bomb was thrown outside the church. Six years later, a blast occurred in the ground floor of a two-storey commercial building near the cathedral. Investigations later revealed that the cathedral has been the original target of the explosion, with the culprits changing their plans at the last minute.

Three explosions rocked Jolo in 2009. In July, about 6 civilians were killed when an IED exploded a hundred meters away from the church. The October explosion involved a grenade blast which left damaged properties. A New Year’s Eve blast also occurred in the same year, killing one soldier. From 2010-2013, a series of four explosions were tallied. 

Considered the worst and the deadliest one yet, the 2019 twin blasts was the first to happen inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral. 

Fr. Jeff Nadua, in his interview with News5, stressed that the attack was directed to the community and is clearly an “attack against our faith”. However, he also emphasized with Zenit that “we need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”

The Rebuild

And indeed, the rebuilding and the restoration of the church happened. On February 4 and 5, 2019, Jonathan Luciano, National Director of ACN Philippines, immediately paid a solidarity visit to the relatives of the victims and to the site. Aid efforts to rehabilitate the cathedral were on board and slowly developed. Together with the help of many organizations and benefactors led by Aid to the Church in Need, the cathedral was repaired. 

Six months after the deadly explosion, the renewed Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel once again held Mass on July 16, 2019. Together with retired Cardinal Orlando Quevedo and other bishops and priests, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gabrielle Caccia led the reconsecration. The day of celebration coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the church’s patroness. 

The process of the Cathedral’s rebuild is only the start of its restoration. Standing with faith and love, Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public – that the strength and the faith of the lay and of our fellowmen be renewed and strengthened. Moreover, that the souls of those who passed away find peace and justice.

Christians around the world are being targeted because of religious beliefs. Persecution and violence have been rampant and the number of cases continue to rise. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, is a pontifical organization with a mission to support the faithful whenever and wherever they face injustice and persecution. The persecuted will never be forgotten, and the suffering will be aided. 

As one, let us pray for the victims of the twin bombing on January 27, 2019:

(Source: AFP WESTMINCOM)

AFP

  1. Sergeant Mark Des P. Simbre (Inf) PA- from San Isidro, Isabela
  2. Corporal John B. Mangawit, Jr. (Inf) PA- from Kalinga
  3. Corporal Minard Jann P. Ocier (Inf) PA- from Malaybalay City, Bukidnon
  4. Private First Class Alizon L. Ayoman (Inf) PA- from Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte
  5. Private Hernan U. Bulaybulay (Inf) PA- from Pagadian City
  6. Private Leomar P. Degumbis(Inf) PA- from Iligan City

PCG

  1. SN2 Jaypee M. Galicha PCG

Civilians

  1. Mr. Leo Herbolario
  2. Ms. Bibing Perpetua
  3. Mr. Reynaldo Pescadera, Sr.
  4. Mr. Ridzmar Mukadil
  5. Mr. Romolo B. Reyes
  6. Ms. Albacora Perpetua
  7. Ms. Niseria Dela Cruz
  8. Ms. Cecilia Sanchez
  9. Ms. Daisy P. Delos Reyes
  10. Ms. Dolores S. Tan
  11. Ms. Fe Non
  12. Ms. Juliet Jaime
  13. Ms. Leah Angelica Reyes
  14. Ms. Chenly Rubio

“I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

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