Syria: Kurds close several Christian schools

Archbishop Hindo to ACN: “The plan to oust Christians from the region is being executed.”

“For years I have been saying that the Kurds are trying to eliminate the Christian presence in this part of Syria,” the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnam Hindo of Al Hasakah-Nisibi, which is located in the northeastern part of Syria, explained. In an interview with the pontifical foundation, he confirmed the closure of several Christian schools through the Democratic Federation of North Syria, a de facto autonomous region located in northern and northeastern Syria. The region is not officially recognised by the Syrian government and is governed by a coalition in which the “Democratic Union”, a Kurdish political party, holds the majority. “Since the beginning of the year, the local government has already taken possession of about one hundred state-run schools and introduced their own curriculum and textbooks. The Kurdish officials had assured us that they would not even look at the private schools, but they not only looked at them, they closed them.” The official reason given for the closure of several Christian schools in the cities of Qamishli, Al-Darbasiyah and Al-Malikiyah was that these institutions had refused to conform to the curriculum introduced by the local authorities. “They do not want us to instruct pupils in the liturgical language, Syriac, and they do not want us to teach history because they prefer to drum their own history into the heads of pupils.” Archbishop Hindo did not withhold his concerns about the likely closure of further Christian schools – there are six more in Al Hasakah alone – as well as about the extensive damage that the “Kurdish” curriculum, which differs from the official Syrian curriculum, might do to pupils. “I told a Kurdish official that this was penalising an entire generation because they will not have any access to higher levels of education. He answered me that they were even prepared to sacrifice six or seven generations to disseminate their ideology.”

What has happened is evidence of the planned “Kurdification” of the region. According to Archbishop Hino, this also includes the elimination of the local Christian presence. “We have been warning against this danger since at least 2015. They want to oust us Christians to strengthen their own presence. To date, Kurds make up only 20 per cent of the population, but, thanks to Western support, are disproportionately represented in the local government.” Through Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop has directed an appeal to the international community and particularly to European states. “The closure of our schools is painful to us. The church has been in charge of these institutions since 1932 and we never thought that they would ever be closed. The West cannot keep silent. If you are truly Christian, you are obligated to bring everything that is happening out into the open and prevent further violations of our rights and further threats to our presence in this region.”


VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN PAKISTAN

A YOUNG CHRISTIAN WOMAN WAS THROWN FROM THE SECOND STOREY OF A BUILDING AFTER REFUSING TO CONVERT TO ISLAM

Binish Paul is 18 years old and a Christian. She attends public school in Pakistan. On the 22nd of August, a young Muslim by the name of Taheer Abbas threw her from the second storey roof they were out on because she had refused to marry him and convert to Islam. “Another example of violence being used in order to force conversion”, Binish Paul’s solicitor Tabassum Yousaf explained in an interview with the pontifical foundation  Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“For months, Taheer had been putting pressure on Binish to convert to Islam. Over and over again, she refused. This culminated in the violent act, during which the young woman sustained severe fractures to her legs and spine.” As is often the case in such incidents, this puts the family of the young Christian woman in an extremely difficult position. The parents turned to the local police, but the officers declined to file charges. Moreover, the director of the hospital refused to issue the medical report necessary to document the injuries. “They also received serious threats from the family of the perpetrator. If the case were not closed, then they would all be accused of blasphemy,” Tabassum Yousaf, another Christian young woman from Pakistan says.

Fortunately, the solicitor filed the charges directly with the court so that the hospital was forced to provide a medical report. This made it possible to arrest the man on the 24th of August. “When similar attacks happen in our church community, the main problem is that the Christians in Pakistan often belong to the poorest social groups and are not aware of their rights. For example, hardly anyone knows that you can file charges with the courts. The refusal of the police to open a case, together with threats from the relatives and friends of the perpetrators, ensure that many families do not even report the crimes they have suffered.” Therefore, there are many incidents of young Christian women being forced to convert that never become public knowledge. “When I was studying law, I was also pressured by a young Muslim, a friend of mine. Fortunately my family and my brothers protected me. Young Christian women who come from simple circumstances, however, are powerless against their attackers.” According to Yousaf, each year, 15 to 30 cases similar to that experienced by Binish occur in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi alone. In comparison, the number of times these incidents are reported to the police can be counted on one hand. “Many people are afraid because the Muslim community threatens to rape or kill the women of these families.”

“In Pakistan, it is difficult to receive justice if you are a member of a religious minority,” Yousaf says. The judges are under pressure from the political parties. “They do not offer our brothers and sisters in faith adequate and fair legal assistance. Many members of minority groups are not even aware that they have the same rights as Muslims. As a Catholic solicitor, I consider it important that they have access to more information in this area and receive legal assistance. I am rendering this service for God and my church.”


Success Story: Religious sisters in Tanzania

Success Story: Prayer books for religious sisters

The congregation of the Bene-Mariya Sisters was established in Burundi in 1956. Their mission consists in helping families to live according to a Christian spirit and shape their lives after the pattern of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The sisters work above all with the mothers, since they are, so to speak, the „heart“ of the family and the ones who above all shape the family spirit. But the sisters‘ work also involves the training of catechists, and they themselves give catechetical instruction in the schools and parishes, lead parish groups and prepare couples for the sacrament of matrimony.

They are a missionary congregation, which means that the sisters are ready to leave their own homeland and go wherever the Church calls them. By now the Bene-Mariya Sisters (their name means ‚Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary‘) are active not only in Burundi but also in Tanzania, Chad, France and Italy.

 

But in order to be able to help others live according to a Christian spirit, the sisters themselves first have to learn this spirit and cultivate a profound personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This naturally involves an intensive life of prayer, involving both their personal and their communal prayer life.

In Tanzania the congregation is growing rapidly, and currently there are 33 young women in the novitiate, plus many more who would like to join the community. Altogether the congregation has 92 sisters in Tanzania at the present time. One result of this success, however, was that the community did not have enough prayer books for the many new sisters who had joined them – and of course these prayer books are vital to the life of the community. So the congregation turned to ACN and, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to give 1100 Euros to cover the cost of 60 additional prayer books. Now the books have arrived, and there are enough to go around for all the new sisters. Needless to say, they are delighted and have promised their prayers for all who have helped them!


I have been 25 years in a former prison camp

Meditation of Fr. Michael Shields, 24.08.2018 – World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin (Transcript by Maria Lozano CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org)

‘Praise to Jesus Christ – now and forever’. This is the English translation of the Catholic greeting in Russia. One more time: ‘Praise to Jesus Christ – now and forever’. Marvelous. Let’s be enthusiastic for Jesus.  

My name is Fr. Michael Shields from Alaska. I have spent the last 25 years in Siberia Russia in a city called Magadan, a the former prison camp of Stalin. I felt called to live the spirituality of Blessed Charles De Foucauld there, after a 40 day retreat where I heard “go pray in the camps”. I knew it meant going there freely for the rest of my life.  

I have been praying for the healing of families for these 25 years torn apart by atheistic communism that promoted abortion, denied the reality of God and attacked the Church. We need this prayer of healing today more than ever in our western culture that promotes abortion and has forgotten God. 

I have preached the gospel of hope in this dark place of history that sent people to suffer and die because they believed in God. We are in a dark place and we need hope as we see attacks on the family, marriage, the sick, the elderly and on our religious freedom. We see culturally confusing teaching on human sexuality that denies the authority of God, His moral absolutes and the teaching of the Church. We need this gospel of hope more than ever today. What is the risk? Nothing less than the salvation of souls.  

I have proclaimed the scandal of the cross in this place in Siberia Russia called the ‘Devils playground’. The scandal of the cross is God offering himself “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 Peter 2:24 

We are in a time of scandals in the Church that need to be taken seriously to the scandal of the cross through deep prayer, repentance and asking and giving forgiveness. There is no way out of the scandal of sin other than through the Cross of Christ. ‘We adore you Christ and we praise you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world’. 

Our world needs a humble Church, built on healing and hope with heads bowed and on our knees in repentance but our hearts soaring on eagles wings proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord. It is amazing to me that so many have such a low expectation of their faith and their relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Brothers and sisters, is this the best that the death of Jesus Christ the Son of God the savior of the world can do for us? That we should just live in mediocrity, boredom, worldliness, and struggling with sinful habits and patterns, but seeing very little progress. Really? By his wounds you have been healed.”  

It is in Jesus that sin is put to death, that you really come alive, that sorrow, anxieties and fears give way to joy. Brothers and sisters the world needs Jesus. We need Jesus. A story of hope. 

Ilita was 5 years old when she came to our Sunday mass by herself in the middle of winter at 40 below zero. She was so small she could barely see over the pew when she knelt. She had no faith background. And no catechetical formation. Her family was not religious. Yet there she was concentrating every Sunday with an undivided attention watching me as I prayed at the altar. She would come up for a blessing at communion time. Then one Sunday after she had attended Mass for a few month she was blessed and she did not move. And I blessed her again and again she remained. She frowned when I asked her to go back to her seat. I knew after mass I was going to get balled-out by a 5 year old but I didn’t know why. After Mass Ilita with a hurtful look asked me a question that changed the definition of my priesthood and defined the mission of the church. She asked, “Fr. Michael why didn’t you give me Jesus. I wanted Jesus. Why didn’t you give me Jesus.” A 5 year old heart discerned what the world is blind too. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and this 5 year old heart wanted him. And you know the world wants and needs him. 

At that moment I envisioned men and women “from all nations, races and times huge crowds behind Ilita with desperate and painful looks crying out to me as a priest and to us His church. “Why don’t you give us Jesus? We want Jesus.” We are the broken body of Christ that needs healing and hope. We need Jesus. Why? Because we can only give away what we have. The world will judge us if we give away too little. We can give away our brokenness or give away the one who was broken for us. Jesus. The savior of the world. Who died for our selfishness and sinfulness so we could be set free to love like Jesus. What does it mean to love like Jesus? Look of the cross. 

A young man came to me quite poor and broken. He was obnoxious and ungrateful and I didn’t feel like I wanted to help him let alone love him. The Lord spoke to me these simple words as I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament “I died for him. Will you?” Love is the cross of Christ. My life for yours. 

I have been 25 years in a former prison camp of Stalin. I have more hope than I can express. I have more joy in my heart that I can proclaim. Why? Because as St Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Phil. 3:8 

Yes, broken body of Christ, my dear brothers and sisters in faith, let’s give the world what it seeks – Jesus. Mary, dear mother lead us to your Son Jesus, so that the world can be saved. Now and forever. 

 


Venezuelan Bishops Ask for Prayers

Venezuela Visita ad Limina - Interview with Mons. Mario Moronta, 03.09.2018

By Maria Lozano CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

 

Venezuela is going through what is perhaps the most grave crisis in its history. The Venezuelan bishops are preparing for their meeting with the Holy Father, according to the tradition of the ad limina visits to Rome. It will be their first meeting with Pope Francis, since the last two visits were in the year 2002, when Saint John Paul II was Pope, and in 2009 during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. On this occasion, nine years later, the Venezuelan bishops will inform the Argentinian Pope about the grave situation in their country, which has been fragmented and plunged into a profound economic and social crisis 

Maria Lozano of the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) interviewed Bishop Mario Moronta of the diocese of San Cristóbal in Venezuela, and spoke about the importance of their forthcoming visit at such a crucial moment for the future of the country. 

When exactly is your ad Limina visit, and when are you expecting to see the Holy Father? 

The Ad Limina visit will take place between the 6th and 15th of September. It will begin officially with a Eucharistic Celebration in the Basilica of Saint Peter, led by the president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference (CEV) Archbishop José Luis Azuaje of Maracaibo. Pope Francis will receive all the bishops on 10 September in the morning. 

What is the actual situation in the country? 

The crisis has become still more acute. Now with the economic devaluation, even though there are measures which apparently seek to help the people, great confusion has been created. On the other hand, the situation has worsened with regard to respect for the people and in relation to the political situation. There is no confidence in our political leadership. There are so many Venezuelans who are now emigrating to other countries, with all the dire consequences that this entails. 

Does the Holy Father know the situation in Venezuela? 

The Pope knows the situation very well, and from first-hand experience. He is constantly kept informed about it and he knows about the great difficulties the Venezuelan people are going through. He also knows about the work the Church is doing during this time of crisis.  

What are the greatest concerns you have that you wish to share with him?  

There are many of them. The first thing we will say to the Pope is that we will always continue with the evangelising mission proper to the Church, but always alongside the people, close to the population and especially to the poorest. We will tell him that our great concern is the dignity of the human person, illuminated by the Gospel. And of course that we are not remote from the difficulties and problems that we will tell him about, but that at the same time we are builders of bridges and of hope for a suffering people.  

Why is this visit to Rome so important?  

Apart from the fact that this is an activity we normally undertake every few years, the importance of it at this time lies in the opportunity it gives us to reaffirm our communion with the Pope and the universal Church. For this reason we see it as a manifestation of God’s grace for the enrichment of all. To this we should add the knowledge that we will be confirmed in our mission by the Successor of Peter. At the same time we wish to express our support and consolation to the Pope at the present time when he too is facing attacks on his person. 

What can we do so that this visit can bear fruit?  

Within my own diocese, and following the directives of the episcopal conference, I have made a special request that on 11 September a special day of intense prayer should be held for the a Limina visit and its fruits for the whole country. That particular day is the feast of Our Lady of Coromoto, the Patroness of Venezuela. For this reason we have suggested that in the various parishes there should be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from early morning until the evening and that every household should likewise be invited to recite the Holy Rosary and at the same time the sick and elderly be asked to unite themselves in prayer from their own homes for the intentions of the ad limina visit. I also think that in addition to motivating people to prayer for the pastoral success of the visit, it is important to make them realise that it is not simply a tourist trip or a purely bureaucratic event, but rather an expression of the ecclesial communion of the bishops and the Church in Venezuela. I believe that this visit is taking place at a particularly crucial moment in the history of our country. For this reason we see it as an expression of the grace of God which will enrich us all.