THE SISTERS OF THE CONGREGATION DAUGHTERS OF ST. PAUL (FSP) IN PAKISTAN

  • Founded in 1914 in Italy by Fr. Giacomo Alberione
  • Fr. Alberione understood the ever increasing influence of the media (in this time the press) and wanted to use them as means of evangelisation
  • The charism of the Daughters of St. Paul is the proclamation via the mass media. They have libraries, edit and print Christian books and use other means of mass communications (radio, magazines etc.)
  • There are about 2.500 sisters in 50 countries of the world.

Despite rep-resenting less than two percent in a country populated almost entirely by Muslims, there are at least 1.1 million Catholics in Pakistan, a figure comparable with the number of practising Catholics for example in Great Britain. Up to 85 percent of the Christian population live in villages, mostly as “bonded labour” entirely dependent on urban-based landlords often incited by militant forms of Islam. When job vacancies arise, preference automatically goes to Mus-lims. When the Christians do get jobs – mostly as farm labourers, domestic cooks and clean-ers and road sweepers – pay is woefully poor. Child labour is commonplace – parents can’t afford education and daren’t spare them from the workplace for fear of the landlord docking their pay. Lacking identity cards and the right to vote, they have virtually no political repre-sentation. Nor do they have any legitimate access to health care.

And yet, seminaries are packed, the catechist training programmes are full, aspirants joining convents are many and the Church that suffers daily persecution is thriving. It is a young and dynamic, though very poor Church.

This crisis of education and identity among the Catholics – who see themselves and indeed are every bit as much as Pakistanis as their Islamic fellow citizens – is raising serious prob-lems for the Church. The changing situation in the country calls for new strategies. Education is key for Christians to escape ignorance and poverty. Muslims as well estimate a lot the good standard of education the Church provides. Many Muslim leaders have attended Christian schools and are far less at risk of joining extremist anti-Christian agitation.

In this situation especially, the work of the religious sisters is of particular importance. One of the very active congregations are the Daughters of St. Paul. In Pakistan they are in four com-munities in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and since 2016 in Multan united in the Pauline spirit of putting on the mind and the heart of Christ like St. Paul, in order to become all to all and to give Jesus to the world like Mary, the Queen of Apostles. This congregation was founded by an Italian priest, Fr. James Alberione in Alba, Italy in June 15, 1915. They are part of the Pauline Family: five religious institutes and five associations of pontifical approval.

The Daughters of St. Paul came to Pakistan on the 12th of August 1965 because of the great vision of the founder and co-foundress, Sr. Thecla Merlo who used to pass by Karachi port in their journey to and from the Orient. Pakistan is a very important link to reach the different countries in the world. Fr. James and Sr. Tecla prayed and worked hard to fulfill their great dream of having a community in Pakistan; a community that could pave the way for local vocations.

On June 15, 2015, as the congregation spread in 51 countries and opened the way for its 100th year foundation anniversary, the different communities in Pakistan held Masses in different Churches as thanksgiving for all the blessings received along the way of its missionary jour-neys in villages and cities, schools and hospitals, jails and resorts, parishes and homes, bring-ing the printed and audio-visual forms of the Gospel.

The Sisters in Pakistan benefit of the help from the Pauline Family. The spiritual guidance and assistance of the Society of St. Paul, whenever they are asked. As part of the Pauline Family, the daily task of the Daughters of St. Paul (FSP) is to atone for sins committed be-cause of the improper use of media. To stress the power of media as instruments for good, the congregation’s constitutions require active involvement of the Sisters in the annual celebra-tions of World Communications Day. The book centres, various book exhibits and media animations witness to the fact that media serve life.

ACN in the past has helped with a series of projects. The last one in 2018 was support for the recently founded community of the sisters in Multan diocese, located in Southern Punjab.

 

ACN International

 

Bitter memories of time of terror for the priests in Zanzibar

Father Damas Mfoi is a Catholic priest in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar of the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with a small Christian population. Since 2010, Father Mfoi has been a parish priest on the main island of Unguja. In 2012, the otherwise peaceful island community witnessed a series of violent attacks on religious leaders. A Muslim cleric was burned with acid in the fall of that year; a Catholic priest suffered gunshot wounds on Christmas Day 2012, and another was shot to death the following February. At the time, leaflets were distributed to incite violence, some of which bore the stamp of the radical Islamist group Uamsho. However, responsibility for the attacks has yet to be claimed or officially assigned. Father Mfoi tells Aid to the Church in Need about the time of terror:

“It was Christmas 2012, and we had planned to go for supper until we heard that Father Ambrose had been shot. Church leaders were in a state of shock, and we could no longer have our shared meal. We were frightened. We rushed to the hospital, but cautiously, as it was announced via leaflets that Church leaders would be killed, and that churches would be destroyed.

“When we arrived, Father Ambrose was still bleeding, and he couldn’t talk. The following day, he was flown to Dar es Salaam for further treatment. After that, it was our faith that kept us here. People on the mainland called us home, but as Christians committed to the Gospel, we knew from the very beginning that ours was a mission of suffering, and that our lives might be threatened. There was no running away.

“More leaflets were distributed, saying that Muslims should not allow the sale of alcohol, or the presence of churches. They were published anonymously, but today we know who they are. We didn’t know what would happen, though some said that they were just idle threats. But less than three months later, Father Evaristus Mushi was struck, and tragedy befell us.

“It was a Sunday morning at 7:15 A.M.; I was saying Mass in a small church. A non-Catholic neighbor came running in; he shouted, “Father Damas, I have something to tell you!” He told me that Father Mushi was dead, the victim of a shooting. Some man shot him that morning, when he was parked in front of his church. I drove to the other churches to say Mass; now that Father Mushi was dead, I had to carry out the mission of Christ alone.

“News of Father Mushi’s death rippled throughout the community, but that wasn’t the end of it. After we buried him and paid our last respects, a group of women came to our gates, crying. I told them, ‘Don’t cry now. Father Mushi is in heaven.’ One replied, ‘Father, she is not crying over Father Mushi. She is crying because of you.’ The assailants targeted me because I had built too many churches.

“The next morning, I escaped to the mainland, and a month later, I returned. I thought to myself, ‘There is no abandoning our mission. Jesus wouldn’t want to see us fail. There are Christians still here—why should their leaders run?’

“Upon my return, I found that the police had set up a command post within my compound, and over the next two years, they patrolled the area because of the tension that lingered. The government took good care of us, but we knew, above all, that God protected us. When I was offered a bodyguard, I refused, believing that the work of Jesus did not require a machine gun; He promised his people that he would be with us until the end of time.

“Six or seven months passed, and for a while, we thought that the worst was over, though security was still tight. But come September, a priest had acid splashed on him as he was leaving his regular café. He survived the attack but sustained major injuries.

“There is no recovering from what’s happened, and since the assailants might still be active, we aren’t completely safe. But through all these problems, we continue our interfaith work. We talk to people in the community, and we tell them that we believe God created us all and gave us the freedom to believe in whatever way we were taught. Muslims are taught about Muhammad; Christians are taught about Jesus Christ. We should all do our best to respect that and avoid mixing politics with religion.”

In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Church in Tanzania with projects totaling more than 1.7 Million Euros.

 

ACN International

“Thank you, Pope Francis”

The Pope celebrated the largest Holy Mass ever to be held on the Arab Peninsula in Abu Dhabi. But what will be the result of the papal visit?

Gregory Fonseka is grateful: “I already experienced Pope Francis in Sri Lanka, my homeland. But I would never have thought that he would be celebrating Holy Mass here in Abu Dhabi. It has strengthened my faith in Jesus. Thank you, Pope Francis.” The local church in the United Arab Emirates is made up of people like Gregory, a foreign worker. The Catholic church has about one million members there. They are served by a total of nine parishes – a number that is of course far too small for so many people. They temporarily live and work in the country, which grants them the freedom to attend religious services, but not full religious freedom. This is no different for the citizens of the Emirates; they are prohibited from converting to Christianity or another religion. In theory, the renunciation of Islam is punishable by death, even if this punishment is not executed. Nonetheless, converts are under massive pressure from their families. Christian proselytizing is prohibited and punished with deportation.

 

Pope Francis visit to United Arab Emirates February 2019
Faithful and muslims gathering at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi for holy mass with Pope Francis on 05.02.2019: Pope Francis greating the faithful

 

In view of this, the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Tuesday morning was something quite special. Pope Francis has in fact set a number of benchmarks simultaneously by holding the large Mass in Sheikh Zayed Stadium in the capital city of the Emirates. For the first time ever, a Catholic church leader has celebrated Holy Mass in the heartland of Islam, only a few hundred kilometres from Mecca. And it was not just any Mass, but the largest service ever to be celebrated on the Arab Peninsula. More than 160 000 Christians gathered in and around the stadium on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. They cheered enthusiastically when the Pope was driven through the masses in an open car. The fact that the divine service was held on public property was another first. In this country where Islam is the official state religion, Christians may celebrate divine services within the confines of a church. Church bells and crosses that are visible from the outside are not permitted. However, the celebration of Holy Mass in a state-owned building, broadcast on television, attended by members of the government: that was something special. A gigantic cross hung resplendent over the altar. Thousands of Muslims were present when Pope Francis delivered a homily on the Sermon on the Mount as a roadmap for Christian life. The crowd applauded appreciatively when Bishop Paul Hinder thanked the crown prince of the Emirates for the opportunity to celebrate Mass in a public setting. “The ruling family is in fact taking a risk by allowing this,” a journalist from Abu Dhabi, who does not wish to be named, commented. “Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, for example, will not approve of the public celebration of Holy Mass on Islamic soil.”

Bishop Camillo Ballin (Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia).

 

But what will be the result of the papal visit? Will circumstances change for the better for the Christians living in the region? Bishop Camillo Ballin, the Apostolic Vicar for northern Arabia, is sceptical. Similar to the Apostolic Vicariate for Southern Arabia, the region Pope Francis has just visited, millions of Christians live as foreign workers in the region that is composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. Religious freedom does not exist in any of these countries. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Abu Dhabi, Bishop Ballin commented, “The visit of the pope encourages Christians in the northern part of the Arab Peninsula to live their faith with even more conviction and to share human fellowship with Muslims. I am also certain that the interfaith meeting here in Abu Dhabi can foster a new mentality. But fundamental changes simply do not happen within 24 hours. I therefore do not expect any concrete improvements.”

Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Church, a Church that is united with Rome, is more optimistic. He considers the meeting between the Holy Father and leading representatives of Islam such as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University to have been an important event for the relationship between Islam and Christianity. “Of course something will change, even in Saudi Arabia. There are no churches there and no public celebration of Mass. The meeting between the pope and the representatives of Islam will have consequences. But it will need time”, stated to ACN.

George Samia, a young Catholic who travelled to Abu Dhabi from neighbouring Dubai for the papal Mass, is very positive about the outcome. “The papal visit was an opportunity for non-Christians to learn more about Christianity and its message of love. It was wonderful. I am proud that I was able to be here for this historic event.”

 

ACN International

Panama: The Church wants to show the true face of the country

On the XXXIV World Youth Day (WYD), the Catholic Church in Panama has decided to reveal the hidden face of the country. “When a foreigner arrives in Panama, he might think he’s in Dubai, but that’s just the façade,” says Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa of Panama City, the capital.

This Central American country, which has some 4 million inhabitants, more than 80% of whom are Catholics, is preparing to receive Pope Francis, host of this major event that will take place from January 22 to 27, 2019.

One of the six most unequal countries in Latin America

According to the World Bank, Panama is one of the six countries with the greatest inequality in Latin America and one of the ten countries with the greatest inequality in the world. “The WYD 2019 will be the occasion to discover the true face of our country”, said Archbishop Ulloa. Last November, the Archbishop, a member of the Order of St. Augustine, received a delegation from the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in his Diocese of Panama.

Next to the wide and clean avenues of the capital, bordered by luxury shops, glass skyscrapers, bank branches and service companies—not forgetting the prestigious canal—Panama reserves its riches for the wealthy.

“Panama has two faces. In the country, by 2015, the richest 10 per cent of households had incomes 37 times higher than the poorest 10 per cent. These figures reveal to us the social injustice and the high degree of inequality suffered by our people,” emphasizes the Archbishop of Panama.

Afro-descendants and marginalized indigenous groups

The fate of Afro-descendants is not to be envied. Their ancestors were African slaves exported to Panama in the 15th and 16th centuries, or people from the Antilles who came to work on the construction of the Panama Canal in the 20th century. These people suffer directly from poverty and marginalization. They live in poor neighborhoods and traditionally impoverished areas and provinces such as Colon, Darien and Panama. Afro-descendants are now mestizos.

In addition, Panama has seven indigenous ethnic groups that represent around 10-12% of the population or half a million people. A significant part of this autochthonous population lives in a situation of serious marginalization and social exclusion.

“The health status of these indigenous peoples is precarious—infant mortality is three times higher than in the rest of the population—and they also suffer from low levels of education and schooling. As a result, this indigenous population does not have access to well-paid jobs, as Panamanian society is essentially a service-oriented society.

Panama is not the Switzerland of Central America

“From the outside they see a very proud Panama. They think we’re dealing with a Central American Switzerland, but we have to look beyond that: 40% of people work in the undeclared economy. There is a deep Panama that is not reached by development, while international cooperation reduces its aid because it considers Panama to be a developed country,” Maribel Jaen, from the Archbishop’s Justice and Peace Commission, explains to the ACN delegation.

For his part, Bishop Ochogavia, of the Diocese of Colon-Kuna Yala, points out that regional differences are very important: “The people of Colon, who suffer high unemployment, have a bad reputation, so they hide their origin when looking for work. In some families, they have only one meal a day and there is a lack of access to clean water and medical care. Some communities have only one toilet for twenty families! This population lives in a vicious circle that strangles hope.”

“The challenge will be the next day”

For the bishop, the strength of the Church in Panama is its laity, and the impact of the next WYD is already felt: many young people have been involved in the organization of this event. “It’s not just the Catholics; there are even non-believing young people who participate! WYD is a blessing for youth ministry, but also a job opportunity for many young people.

“The challenge will be the next day. It will be necessary to keep the dynamism of WYD, to continue the work, because there is the risk that the charismatic tendency prevails. Very present in Panama, this tendency is often based on the superficial, the emotional, the sentimental. Hence the importance of educating the faithful and the young, in the Social Doctrine of the Church,” says Maribel Jaen.

Archbishop Ulloa also hopes that this WYD, in which 400,000 young people are expected to participate, will offer the opportunity to relaunch and deepen the Social Teachings of the Church, because, in his opinion, the small Church in Panama, which has only 6 dioceses, an apostolic prelature and an apostolic vicariate, needs a profound renewal.

The Archbishop of Panama celebrates the fact that during the next WYD young people who are expected to attend can become familiar with the social teaching of the Church through the Docat Digital app. Provided by the YOUCAT Foundation, which is part of ACN, its goal is to help young people understand in their own language, by answering their questions, this important aspect of Christian commitment.

 

ACN International

 

ACN supports the rosaries included in the Pilgrim Kit for WYD Panama 2019

On different occasions Pope Francis expressed the wish that young people should pray for peace in the world. In order to respond to this request, ACN has offered to send rosaries as a gift to the young people gathering at the World Youth Day in Panama in January 2019.

Israel, Jerusalem
Olive Woord Rosary with a photo of Pope Francis. He will distribute to the pilgrims on the World Youthday in Panama 2019

Responsibility for supplying these rosaries has been entrusted to Caritas Jerusalem. In this way this charity has been able to provide work to many needy families, young unemployed, prisoners and refugees over many months in Bethlehem and its surrounding area. The rosaries, which can also be worn as an armband, have been produced at a cost of one US dollar apiece.

Bethlehem is a sort of microcosm of the situation of Christians in the region – their presence and survival is now at stake in the very place where Christ was born. “So that these rosaries can be a genuine instrument of peace, they have been made in the Holy Land, of local olive wood, and by the people of this very region, which is marked by such violent tensions and yet is at the same time a bearer of hope and peace. You could buy these rosaries cheaply in China – but if we made them in Bethlehem it is a sign of active solidarity with the people of the Holy Land”, says the initiator of the project, Emeritus Bishop Peter Bürcher of Reykjavik.

Archbishop Ulloa Mendieta of Panama underlines this ideas as well in a letter sent to the pontifical foundation ACN, one of the sponsors of the project: “On the one hand, it will encourage prayer and on the other, thanks to this initiative, it will sponsor an aid project that contributes to the support of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land”.


Archbishop of Panama pays an official visit to Caritas Jerusalem:
Msgr. José Domingo Ulloa (Archbishop of Panama Ciudad) meet olive wood workers in Jerusalem. They produce the rosaries, which Pope Francis will distribute to the pilgrims on the World Youthday in Panama 2019

 

For months now the Christians of Bethlehem have been working to produce 1 million rosaries. For each of the 200 families involved in Bethlehem the project will yield enough to support them for a full year. And they too will be contributing by their work; they will be personally involved. Though trapped in the shadow of the warfare in the Middle East, they are not forgotten. And what is equally important to them is the fact that hundreds of thousands of young people will be praying for peace and thereby fulfilling a personal wish of the Pope.

It is expected that there will be at least half a million young people in Panama. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on us to pray this prayer, saying that with the Rosary nothing is impossible, since “the Rosary is the summary of the history of God’s mercy”. This is also very in the line of the theme of the World Youth Day: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Bethlehem remains a city of hope. And we are entrusting this hope, along with the rosaries, into the hands of the young people in Panama.

The Pontifical Foundation ACN supports the World Youth Day in Panama with several projects. The charity is also one of the sponsors of the rosaries included in the pilgrim’s kit, a project that it has helped with 100,000.- €.

 

Credit: Caritas Jerusalem

 

ACN International

Syria: “Being able to continue with my studies was what kept my hopes alive during the war”

Thanks to the help of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN, the great majority of Christian university students in Syria have been able to continue their studies. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the foundation has given over 3.6 million Euros in support of these young people’s school and university studies.

 

In the midst of a country in which the war has not yet even finished, the young Christians of the city of Homs still remain optimistic. “Little by little, the situation in Syria is beginning to improve. Daily life and public transport are gradually returning to normal, although we still face many economic problems.” This is how daily life in his city is summed up by one young student, Khalil Al Tawil.

 

Today many people have gathered in the Melkite Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs to celebrate the Eucharist together. The restoration work inside the cathedral is still ongoing, however. You can still see the bullet holes in a large icon which occupies the entire wall of one of the side aisles. The jihadists made a point of shooting at the paintings, and especially shooting out the eyes of the icons of Jesus, Mary and the Apostles. Hence the celebration of Holy Mass here, united once again together, is a great gesture of hope.

 

Among the congregation are some 300 young university students who have been able to continue their studies thanks to support channelled through their local Church, via a project sponsored by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). Khalil explains, “I was given a bursary for educational materials and so I could follow a course in French. I was also given help with transport to the university.”

 

“There has been a great deal of suffering in Homs, and many families have lost everything in the war”, says another young student, Anaghem Tannous, who is studying civil engineering. “Being able to continue with my studies is what has helped me to remain hopeful and stay happy through these years. Now I want to be able to deepen my knowledge and help other people here in my country.”

 

Education is an investment in the present and, needless to say, for the future. The young people in this country, and especially the young men, are a section of society that has been greatly affected by the conflict. Every young man aged 18 or over is liable to conscription in the army, without any time limit. The only grounds for exemption are if they are the only male child in the family or else engaged in university studies. This was another reason why millions of young people fled the country, hoping to escape conscription and having to fight in the war.

 

“Many thanks for your help. There are many of us facing difficulties, but you never failed us with your support”, acknowledges Wissam Salloum, aged 21 and a software engineering student. “I’m in my fourth year; hopefully, next year I will graduate, but I would like to continue my studies in order to avoid being sent to war. I want to remain in Syria and I am hoping that very soon we will have peace, peace for everyone.”

 

Wissam finds it difficult to put into words his emotions when he is told that kind benefactors around the world are helping him and hundreds of other young students to be able to continue their studies and their careers. “One of the most difficult times I experienced was when the university was forced to close down a few years ago, for several months, owing to the intensity of the attacks. We all thought that we would now no longer be able to fulfil our dreams and finish our university careers and one day enjoy a better life here.”

 

Outside the cathedral there is a small basketball court on which an impromptu game of three a side is in progress. The cathedral courtyard is a meeting place for these young people, where in addition to celebrating their faith they can share their everyday lives through sport and friendship. Wissam greets his fellow student Ibrahim Karam. “Obviously, the majority of the students in our university are Muslims. It is rare to meet with another Christian at university, so for that reason our friendship is all the stronger. We are friends with everyone, and in fact our Muslim fellow students have a high regard for us. They greatly appreciate the peace-loving attitude of the Christians and the fact that we don’t want to quarrel with anyone, and they look to us with hope in the face of so many difficulties.”

 

The meeting ends with lunch on the edge of the basketball court. The first buses soon start to arrive to carry back the people who live on the outskirts of the city. A group of friends say goodbye with a hug. “These are the same buses that take us to the university. The Church takes charge of the expenses, and it is a big help to our families, since we barely have enough to eat with or to pay the rent on our homes“, explains another student, Sandra Satmeh.

 

Her friend, Pascal Napki, also wants to say thank you to us once again, before she leaves. “We know now that we are not alone. This gives us the motivation to complete our studies and at the same time to help those who are most in need here in Homs”, she tells us. “And we want to thank Pope Francis too. I don’t know him personally, of course, but I know that he has spoken many times about Syria and has told the world about our situation.”

 

ACN is now seeking in order to be able to fund the studies of some 7350 school and university students in Aleppo.

 

ACN International

SYRIA: “We didn’t want to leave our home, but the roof fell in on us”

How ACN is helping the local Church in Homs to distribute aid for fuel and heating

Remond Ziade was 72 years old in that first year of the war in Homs, one of the cities most heavily involved in the fighting since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011. Widespread street protests were met with harsh repression and Homs became the seedbed of some of the first groups of rebel fighters, earning it the nickname of “capital of the revolution”. The main areas of fighting were in the City of Old Homs and the Al-Hamidiya district, an area with a significant Christian presence. By around 2012 life had become unbearable and almost all the inhabitants fled the area, leaving only a few elderly people behind.

One of these was Remond, who had already lost several family members during the conflict but still refused to leave his home, a small apartment which he shared with his two sisters, Afef, aged 60 and Nawal, 74. They remained there, stoically, even though the bombs were falling closer and closer to the little alley at the end of which one could see the balcony of the dining room of his apartment. “One day, we were still sleeping when the impact of a mortar strike made us jump”, Nawal Ziade recalls. “The roof of our sitting room came down, along with the wall leading to my room. I don’t even know how we survived to tell the tale.”

At that point Nawal and Remond were forced to leave their home in Homs. They packed their cases with what little they could cram in and left, without knowing if they would ever be able to cross the threshold of their home again. “They evacuated us to a place outside Homs, where we lived for about a year, but we returned here just as soon as the war stopped, around the middle of 2014. It was practically uninhabitable, but this is our home, and we had no other better place to go to.”

Remond is now scarcely able to speak. A few years ago he had a psychological breakdown which left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. He remains sitting next to his sister on one of the sofas in the sitting room of the same apartment where the bomb fell. The room is arranged around a stove with a long chimney reaching right up to the ceiling and emerging through one of the walls on the outside, facing the street. “It is this that enables us to get through the cold winters here, and we also boil the water for our tea and hang out our washing around it to dry”, Nawal explains. It is an appliance greatly appreciated by this family of three elderly adults.

In fact one of the biggest problems today in Homs, along with the lack of food and medication, is the urgent need for fuel. The stove used by the Ziade family, like almost all of those in Syria, is fuelled by heating oil, a greatly sought-after commodity, given its high cost and short supply since the war. “We are extremely grateful for the aid we receive from the Church, thanks to the support of ACN International. It’s what gives us the encouragement to go on living here.”

Nawal brings in a fuel container which she keeps below the kitchen sink. It contains heating oil, and she uses it to refill the stove. Then she turns the key and, drop by drop, the liquid trickles out; then she lights it with a taper. The heat comes through immediately. “We’ll just put some water in a kettle and it will be ready in a moment”, she says with a smile to the group from ACN International who have come to visit her in her home.

As she drinks her tea, before the impassive gaze of Remond, Nawal explains to us that they are a Christian family who have always been very involved in the community. “Very close to here we have the church of Saint Marón, and I usually go to Mass every day, although I go less often than I would like because my health will not allow me. You could say that my brother and sister and I are true “children of the Church”, and my father and my uncle also used to work for the Syriac Catholic Bishop of Homs.”

After drinking our tea, she shows us other parts of their house where you can still see the cracks caused by the impact of the bombs. “We didn’t want to leave here, but we had no choice when the roof fell in on us.” Their apartment has been repaired now, thanks to support from the local Church and with funding from ACN International. “I want to say thank you, on my behalf and on behalf of my brother, to all those people who are thinking us. Your work is irreplaceable. And thank you not only for your financial aid, but also having come to visit us and let people know how we are living.”

The doorbell rings. It is Sara, her upstairs neighbour and her daughter Maryam. They have come to say hello to the visitors and spend a little time with Nawal and Remond. “It is very usual for our visitors to drop in and visit us from time to time, and besides they know that we are on our own for much of the time and need company”, says Nawal. “Come in, would you like a cup of tea?” Sara and Maryam sit down beside the little table with the kettle on it, which is now steaming steadily. “Now the only thing we want is to live in peace and to be allowed to go on preserving the values of peaceful coexistence that existed before the terrible catastrophe of the war.”

 

ACN International

Jos/Nigeria: The Nightmare of Fulani herdsmen attacks

The city of Jos in Northern Nigeria has suffered severely from many long years of inter-religious violence at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram and just now when it seems to be recovering like the phoenix from the ashes, the incessant Fulani herdsmen attacks that have already affected many other areas in the Country, are putting an end to these hopes.

At the end of September, another fresh cycle of violence was triggered off by a night attack of the herdsmen on Rukuba Road in Jos. Two days earlier, both the military and Fulani herdsmen had come to the area, claiming to search for the corpse of a missing Fulani boy. The outbreak left rendering so many people orphans, widows and helpless. One such person is Blessing Kogi, a 23 year old University student who lives in Jos with her family. In an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), she explained how she in one night lost her mother, three siblings and six other family members to a tragic attack by the Fulani men.

 

“In the evening on the September 27 at around 7:00 pm, we were all in the house having dinner, my grandmother, my mother, three of my siblings, my sister-in-law, nephew and three of my cousins. We were eating when unknown gunmen suddenly burst in and opened fire.”

“So, I fell on the floor and played dead, but one of them still came to where I was lying down and shot me twice – in my neck and shoulder.”

“The men who were speaking to each other in the Hausa and Fulani languages, continued their killing spree in my neighbourhood. In total, 15 people were killed in my area: 10 in my house, three in another and two elsewhere. Five people sustained injuries, including three children in another house, and the two of us (i.e. Blessing and her cousin).”

Blessing’s father survived only because he was at work when the terrible attack occurred.

Just like many other victims of such gratuitous violence, Blessing is broken and traumatised. She says, “I feel I don’t have anything left to live for in my life again. My father has not been eating. He cannot even talk. We don’t know what to do and how to start either”

“This situation has really affected my faith as a Christian. Immediately after all this happened, I said many things without even knowing why, like I doubted whether Christ was really there, but I later realized that God is alive and He knows everything and so I leave everything in His hands. Now, I find strength in praying and singing praises to God”, she said.

She makes a passionate appeal to Christians all over the world, “I really need Christians all over the world to help us with their prayers because we are not finding things easy. Pray for us that we will be stronger in Christ, and He will give us the strength of heart to bear this loss.”

 

The Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani militia, are a nomadic, pastoralist ethnic group living in the North and central regions of Nigeria, predominately in the Middle Belt. The majority of the Fulani herdsmen are Muslim. They have been clashing with indigenous tribes and locals, mainly Christian farmers, over grazing land for years.

 

Commenting on the Fulani herdsmen attacks in many parts of the country, especially in his Archdiocese of Jos, Most. Rev Ignatius Kaigama said, “once again, in Jos, innocent lives have been lost, properties destroyed, healing wounds re-opened, psychological trauma caused, inter-ethnic and religious suspicion rekindled”.

“The people have been unable to go about their normal farming activities this year because of the fear of constant attacks. They certainly need help with food, medication, clothing and above all, to be able to return to their homes to start rebuilding without any further molestation by the merchants of evil”, he said.

The Archbishop, who has become the face of inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria, continued, “we shall not give up in our struggle for peaceful coexistence and civilized conduct. Everyone must do his/her part: Religious leaders must sincerely preach peace. Politicians – avoid operating negatively behind the scenes! Security agents – be fair, unbiased and neutral in your operations! Government leaders- care for citizens facing hostile attacks by terrorists/criminals. Youth – avoid irrationality and stop being used! Terrorists/criminals- stop injuring humanity! Life is sacred. Respect it!”

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama will be speaking at the Religious Freedom Report Launch in Malta on 23rd November 2018.

 

ACN International

Young Syrians: “We need the company of the Church to help us feel close to God.”

“When we hear Pope Francis we realise that there is still hope of peace in Syria”

In Rome the universality of the Church is again evident: until 28 October the  Synod of Bishops will continue there. Participants from five continents are dealing with various topics related to young people, their needs and their problems. Against this backdrop the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has spoken to a number of young Christians in Syria. They explain what it means to them to be Christian and what they expect from the Church in their country, where they are a threatened minority that has been suffering from war for over seven years.

Majd Jallhoum recently completed her dental studies. She works helping to distribute emergency aid at the Greek Catholic church in Marmarita, in an area known as the “Valley of Christians”. She asks the Church to be close to young people. “It does not have to be a perfect Church because none of us is perfect. But it should be close to us and know our wishes and what we long for.” Majd knew nothing of the meeting between the bishops and the Pope in Rome. But she believes this is a good opportunity to focus on the difficult situations in which many young people live in various countries. “Here in Syria we young Christians desire to be very close to God. We are going through difficult times. We have experienced the death of friends and relatives. Many others have left the country. But we have also experienced times of joy. There is no doubt that the hand of God is behind these.”

 

Majd knows from personal experience the situation of many families living as displaced persons in the “Valley of Christians”. She often visits them to learn what they need, to accompany people to hospital or to distribute medications provided by ACN together with the local Church. “I stay here on account of my faith, even though I often lose hope. However, I have understood that my task is to remain here and help these people. My parents and some brothers and sisters have emigrated to the United States. But I have decided to stay here. My inspiration was and still is Jesus.”

Hanna Mallouhi is also one of the displaced young persons in Marmarita who devote their time and energy to supporting the major relief work of the parish of St. Peter in the Valley of Christians. He fled from Homs five years ago to escape the bombing raids. Hanna is studying medicine. “Despite the war I didn’t want to abandon my studies. I chose to do my internship in a hospital in Damascus. When the war is over I’d like to stay here and help people so that they can have a better life in Syria.”

With regard to the Synod of Bishops he said: “For me it’s important that we young people are accompanied by priests and responsible individuals who lead a simple life and that they show us through their actions that we are important to them. I need the company of people who are close to God so that I also feel close to Him.”

There are also Christians still living in Homs, the third largest city of Syria after Damascus and Aleppo. They are found mainly in the old city of Homs, in the oldest quarter located at the foot of the ancient citadel. About 300 students gathered there in the recently reconstructed Melkite cathedral “Our Lady of Peace” to celebrate the Eucharist.

Pascal Napki was among them. He is studying economics and regularly follows the Holy Father’s messages from Rome: “I don’t know Pope Francis personally. But from his words and deeds I see that he is a humble person. Every time we hear him we think that there is hope of peace in Syria. I am particularly moved when he calls for prayers for our country.” Next to Pascal is Halil, a pharmacy student who quietly reflects for a few seconds about the question: “What do I expect of the Church?”, and then answers emphatically: “I expect it to understand us, to encourage us and to give us the opportunity to have faith in ourselves as well. I know that this isn’t easy. But it means taking the same road together, trusting one another and giving one another support.”

After the meeting a group of young Christians goes for a walk in the quarter’s narrow streets. Tannous explains that because of the suffering in Syria some people have turned away from God. “But the bombs, the ever present distress and the violence have destroyed neither the zest for life nor the future plans of the young people. That’s why we as the Church must first encourage the young people to get close to God.” During the walk they enter a nearby church to pray together there. It is a church of St. Mary belonging to the Syriac Orthodox community. “Here we all live together as Catholics and Orthodox as a matter of course. This is part of our culture.”

As he enters the church Wisam says: “We pray for the Pope and for the Church in the whole world. Here faith is something fundamental. It makes up a large part of our identity. Over the past few years we have also overcome many difficulties in our families, in our studies and at work precisely because we have not lost our faith and our hope.”

The testimony of these young people from the Christian community in Syria, a minority which has suffered a lot in the course of the armed conflict, can be an inspiration for others. According to the Syrian Church 1.5 million Christians were living in the country before the war. At present there are only about 500,000. The uncertainty, the violence and the threats from jihadi groups such as the so-called “Islamic State” have led to an unprecedented wave of emigration. The pontifical foundation ACN supports numerous projects for children and young people in various cities in Syria.

 

ACN International

 

 

 

Message from our Ecclesiastical Assistant

The ACN Campaign for One Million Children Praying the Rosary for Peace and Unity is an invitation to God who is Love to come and dwell in the hearts of all, thereby uniting all people to live together and work for peace which in turn will bring happiness.

Why One Million? It could be more; it could be less. As long as we are one in asking God to fill everyone with His presence, so that everyone will live in love. And when St. Augustine said: “Love and do what you will”, he meant that a person who loves will not do anything that will hurt others, and a person who loves will always think of the good of others.

Why the Children? Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me…It is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” I observed the simplicity, the fidelity and the humility of children manifested in the more than one thousand children praying the rosary during the ACN Campaign for One Million Children Praying the Rosary at the San Jose Academy in Navotas City, Philippines These childlike virtues inspire everyone to open their hearts and welcome God in their lives.

Why the Rosary? The Rosary is about the life of Jesus. On praying the Rosary , our Blessed Mother Mary brings Jesus to us. In praying the Rosary, our Blessed Mother Mary brings us to Jesus. In Jesus, we feel God’s presence in our lives. God’s presence will fill us with His love. His love will enable us to live in unity which will bring us peace which in turn will give us happiness.

 

FR. REYNALDO V. ROMERO,
Ecclesiastical Assistant,
ACN Philippines