Haiti: Interview with Mgr Launay SATURNÉ

“What Haiti needs is a ‘new man’ who lives a Christian life in today’s society”

Interview with Mgr Launay SATURNÉ, Archbishop of Cap-Haïtien since 23 September this year and president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference, during his visit to the international headquarters of the international Catholic pastoral charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Mgr. Launay Saturné ( Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Haiti and president of the Haitian Bishop´s Conference)

Mgr. Launay Saturné, Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Haiti and president of the Haitian Bishop´s Conference.

His country, which was struck once again by an earthquake this October, is also plagued internally by cases of corruption extending to the highest levels of the state. On Monday, 22 October President Jovenel Moïse sacked two members of his cabinet, including the Chief of Cabinet (akin to a Prime Minister) due to involvement in scandals for their own personal enrichment.

The vast majority of the 11.5 million inhabitants of Haiti regard themselves as Christians and Catholics, with only 2.7% agnostics and 2.7% animists.These figures however by no means reflect the complexity of the religious picture, in which the influence of voodoo is a powerful force within society.

 

How did the bishops react to the recent cases of corruption which have convulsed the country?

The Catholic hierarchy in Haiti, including the Haitian bishops’ conference, has always accompanied the people, both in their faith and in their daily struggle for human dignity. The reaction of the bishops should be seen in this context. In an official statement, the bishops have publicly denounced the corruption, because it is a scourge, an evil in society. I quote: “It tends to become widespread in society, to develop into a system and it causes damage that is difficult to repair. This situation is nothing new, but this time it has reached a level and a scale that are unacceptable and unsustainable.” We have observed a positive reaction within society in the face of this scandal. “What is very interesting is that this scandal is causing a collective awareness that is strong and healthy. The people are demanding justice with one voice, fully aware that corruption is a radical evil which endangers their collective future.” Everything appears to indicate that funds intended for development, for bringing growth to the country and freeing us a little from the poverty of every kind, has instead been misused and misappropriated. Everyone knows just how useful this money would have been for the reconstruction of our country and for improving the socio-economic conditions of our people. As bishops and pastors we must walk together with the people of God, who have been entrusted to our fatherly and pastoral care.

 

What steps is the Catholic Church in Haiti taking in this context?

The Church must always remain faithful to her Divine Founder. It is by means of this fidelity that we can continue to grow in love and hope, as the Gospel tells us to. In this context our first action as the hierarchy of the Church is to continue walking with the people as we must do as their shepherds. In addition, we must help the people to become better educated in the social teaching of the Church, so that they can be more aware of its role and implication in the responsible management of public life for the good of all. Finally, the preaching of the Gospel is intrinsically a form of leaven that can change hearts and situations from within, like the yeast in the dough in St Matthew’s Gospel (13:33). All this is part and parcel of the overall plan of evangelization, education and formation, which the Church seeks to place at the disposal of all believers, in order to train and motivate them to assume their responsibilities within society and within the country.

But all of this has to take place first of all within the family and in the schools. These places are extremely important to us. Over and above the intellectual formation, the family and the school have to inculcate in children and young people the love of God, love of neighbour, love of country, respect for the common good, civic responsibility and patriotism. For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school, in which the Church can distribute the “bread of education” to the most disadvantaged children in the remotest areas of the country, where the State is absent. A great many priests and bishops have emerged from these schools – to which we should also add the schools run by the religious communities, which have a reputation of being the best in the country, and which are indeed the best. To tell the truth, we are making up for many of the deficiencies of the State, both in this and in many other areas.

 

For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school

“For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school”

 

At the same time we are engaged in many one-off programs to help our fellow citizens in difficulty. This is exactly what we have been doing for the victims of the recent earthquake on 6 and 7 October this year, helping to rebuild their homes and recover their psychological equilibrium.

The archdiocese of Cap-Haïtien owns over 80 hectares of good agricultural land, which we want to use in an environmentally friendly manner, in the spirit of the encyclical Laudato si’ of Pope Francis. The students at the faculty of agronomy at the UDERS in Cap-Haitien (a branch of the Université de Notre Dame de Haití) can carry out some important experimentational work there. Additionally, working this land can help to reduce unemployment, increase local production and persuade workers to stay at home and work to earn a living. The borehole we have on one of these pieces of land can provide water and this means that we have every possibility of success on our side. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Laudato si’ that we must combat poverty via the protection of the environment. This is what we literally intend to do.

 

Do you have good relations with members of the other Christian groups?

We have good relations with Haitians of all Christian confessions. For some time now we have been accustomed to working together with them, and our relationship is based on the important values we share. This is particularly evident in the ecological field, because we share the same environment, and here we are all affected. Inspired by the publication of the encyclical Laudato si’, we organised a ceremony which brought together representatives of the Protestant communities, atheists and followers of voodoo. Ecology has no religion, it concerns us all!

Environmental problems frequently affect us here in Haiti and are a wake-up call. Our country is very vulnerable to natural disasters. However, I refuse to hear it called a cursed country. The Lord gave the earth to the children of Adam to till and cultivate it. Our happiness comes from something beyond, originating in the loving heart of the Creator. Geography alone cannot determine our happiness or unhappiness. On the contrary, we see ourselves as children blessed and loved by God.

 

We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis

“We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis”

 

What is the situation of the Church in Haiti?

We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis. We are fortunate in having many vocations. In our major national interdiocesan seminary we have 102 students in philosophy and 182 in theology. The future of the Church in Haiti, in terms of human resources, is well assured. The bishops of Haiti and the seminary formators are accompanying the seminarians and helping them to develop into priests who will work in harmony with the heart of God. The earthquake of 2010 destroyed the two buildings of the major seminary of Notre Dame of Haiti. Today the bishops are still seeking funds for the reconstruction of this national major seminary, all together in one place, which will cost 9 million dollars. We are seeking economic aid from various organisations and sister churches, episcopal conferences and dioceses, here and elsewhere, in order to make possible this project, which is currently one of the principal and most urgent priorities of the Church in Haiti. We still need 3 million dollars in order to be able to begin work on rebuilding this formation centre in 2019 – the project which the Haitian Bishops’ Conference regards as the first priority.

 

Would you like to say a few words to the benefactors of ACN?

Thank you, of course! Thank you for your donations, but thank you also for the visit by the representatives of ACN to Haiti, and to my archdiocese, to help us rebuild what was destroyed by the earthquake of 2010. We pray every day for the physical and spiritual health of the benefactors of ACN and for those working in your foundation. The reconstruction has still not been finalised and meanwhile, new misfortunes have befallen us. The Church in Haiti needs loving and generous hearts to support her pastoral and evangelising mission. We are most grateful to ACN for your great spiritual closeness and your effective and practical solidarity towards Haiti and the Church here.


5,000 Bibles for the youth in Lebanon

5,000 Bibles for the youth apostolate in the Archdiocese of Zahleh, Lebanon

 

More and more Christians are leaving the Middle East. This Exodus is affecting not only Syria and Iraq, but also Lebanon. In the quite recent past this country was the only country of the Middle East with a Christian majority in the population, but now Christians are an ever shrinking minority. Already back in the civil war, from 1975 to 1990, some 700,000 Christians left the country, and the exodus continues today. Christians now represent just 34% of the total population, and indeed among young people under 25, only a quarter.

The mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East is frequently described as a "tsunami". In August 2015 Patriarch Gregorios III, who was then still head of the Melkite Catholic Church, wrote an open letter to young people in which he said, "The general wave of emigration among young people, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq, breaks my heart, wounds me deeply and feels like a death blow to me. What future can the Church have in the face of such a tsunami of emigration? What will become of our homeland? What will happen to our parishes and Church facilities?"

In response to this crisis, in the 40 parishes belonging to the archdiocese of Zaleh, the Melkite Catholic Church is pursuing an intensive youth apostolate. For it is clear that the more firmly young people are rooted in their faith and in the life of the Church, the less likely they are to abandon their homeland. Weekly meetings and larger monthly events are helping these young people to grow in their faith, and every young person joining the groups is given a copy of the Holy Scriptures by the priests in charge. We have promised 25,000 Euros to cover the cost of an additional 5,000 Bibles.


Addiction in Russia: From the darkness to the light

Aid to the Church in Need supports a Catholic-Orthodox conference on addiction

At the beginning of October an international ecumenical conference on addiction and pastoral care for addicts was held in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need supported this event both with content and financially. It was organized by the department for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow and various Catholic and Orthodox organisations concerned with the problem of addiction.

Under the heading “The theological understanding of addiction problems: the Orthodox and Catholic view” participants of both denominations from Russia, the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belarus, Romania and other countries conferred. This, the second conference on the subject, was chaired by the representative for addiction matters at the Moscow Patriarchate, Bishop Mefodiy (Kondratiev). There had already been a Catholic-Orthodox exchange of views on the subject of addiction and prevention in the Catholic seminary in Saint Petersburg.

Collaboration in the protection of life, addiction therapy and aid for Christians in the Middle East

“The conference was an important forum at which representatives of both Churches not only discussed the subject theoretically, but also exchanged their practical experience,” the head of ACN’s Russian section, Peter Humeniuk, said. The most recent meeting was another result of the Catholic-Orthodox working group initiated by ACN. This had emerged as a consequence of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in February 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This working group already met a number of times to discuss the protection of unborn children and the fight against drug addiction. Addiction in particular is a difficult subject which affects pastoral care in the eastern and western Churches, Humeniuk explained. “We hope that the ecumenical exchange and collaboration will help those concerned and their family members to emerge from the darkness they have fallen into because of their dependence.”

 

Russia: "We want to join together to help people find their way out of the darkness"

Russia: “We want to join together to help people find their way out of the darkness”

 

According to information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) more than 250 million people worldwide consume illegal drugs at least once every year, Humeniuk claimed. The WHO has issued figures showing that every year 200,000 people worldwide die as a result of drugs and around 3 million people die from alcohol consumption. “The number of drug- and alcohol-related fatalities is the equivalent every year to the population of a metropolis like Madrid. Addiction is a global problem,” Humeniuk stressed. “The Catholic and Orthodox Churches can do a lot on a local level, such as providing contact points for those seeking help and hence creating an infrastructure whose effect goes beyond the merely cosmetic. This doesn’t only apply when it comes to addiction. Such concrete concerns give the Church of Christ as well as other religions an opportunity to combine their wealth of possibilities and experience, specifically on a local and practical level. State institutions alone are not able to cope with these problems and they adopt a different approach.”

 

The Vicar General of the Roman-Catholic archdiocese of Moscow, Father Kirill Gorbunov, presented the document “The Church: Drugs and Drug Addiction “, which was published in 2002. He said that this working instrument could also serve the Orthodox Church as a starting point, especially as regards the recommendations to priests on how to deal with addicts. “The ability to accept people and listen to them is important,” Gorbunov said. It had been his experience that people suffering from addiction often felt a strong need for a spiritual life. “The priest must respond to this need,” according to the Vicar General. The most important part of the pastoral approach is “to give help to hope”.

An ecumenical helping hand for those training as priests on handling addicts

The Rector of the Catholic seminary “Mary – Queen of the Apostles” in St. Petersburg, Father Konstantin Perederiy, mentioned that the Catholic-Orthodox collaboration is already in progress in this field. One particularly important project was to create a programme for the seminaries of both Churches to prepare the seminarians more effectively in how to deal in their future pastoral work with the problems faced by addicts.

The participants also included the Russian-Orthodox priest Sergei Belkov, who has successfully managed a facility for drug addicts in the Saint Petersburg area for about twenty years. Many of them have found salvation here in a family atmosphere and a regular life routine permeated by prayer and spiritual life, individual care and work. ACN has supported this project from the beginning. For 25 years the pastoral charity has been committed to establishing a dialogue with the Russian-Orthodox Church. This part of ACN’s mission was originally inspired by Pope Saint John Paul II.


Success Story: Spiritual & material aid in Tanzania

Success Story: Rosaries, books and 30 bicycles for the Fatima apostolate in the diocese of Ifakara, Tanzania

In 2017 Catholics around the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal. On six occasions, between 13 May and 13 October 1917, the Mother of God appeared to three shepherd children and gave them a message for the whole world. She told them that prayer – especially the Rosary – penance and interior conversion were the means to avert war and disaster from the world, and that men must stop offending God by their sins. On 13 October 1917 a crowd of around 70,000 people were witnesses to a solar miracle in which the sun above them began to spin rapidly and then plunge in a zigzag fashion towards the Earth, before rising back to its place again. The Fatima apparitions have been recognised by the Church, and several of the Popes have since visited the shrine in Fatima.

Many Catholic faithful, on every continent, have responded to Our Lady‘s appeal, consecrating themselves to her Immaculate Heart, praying the Rosary and striving to love God better. They include many people in Africa. For example, in the diocese of Ifakara in Tanzania, which has only been in existence for five years, there is already a lively Fatima apostolate, led by Sister Euphrasia. Their aim is to spread the message of Fatima among the families in all 23 parishes of the diocese, encouraging the Rosary and encouraging people to avail themselves of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, and the same time encouraging a spirit of active neighbourly charity in order to live this faith in practical deeds as well.

However, most of the parishes in the diocese are in rural areas and include numerous outlying villages. And at the same time, until recently, they were short of the necessary materials, notably rosaries and booklets. But now, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we have been able to give 1,700 Euros for 30 bicycles, thereby enabling the catechists to visit the many villages more easily, plus another 1,500 Euros for the rosaries and other items required. Thanks to this help, the Fatima apostolate in the diocese has been given new impetus and been able to extend still further.

Sister Euphrasia has written to thank us: „Dear brothers and sisters, we want to thank you for your great support, which has enabled our apostolate to be very active. We have organised a seminar for the community leaders from the various different parishes. And after that, in the presence of our bishop and the priests, we distributed the various devotional items. We are praying for you! May our Blessed Lady continue to intercede for us all!“


Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa

A bookbinding machine for the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Institute for Philosophy and Theology run by the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa is the only Catholic higher educational institution in central and southern Ethiopia. All the dioceses and all the religious communities in this country of Eastern Africa send their seminarians for their studies there.

The Institute also includes a Capuchin Research and Retreat Centre, which provides religious formation for adults, spiritual accompaniment and retreat days for religious and laity alike. These facilities are likewise open to Orthodox and Protestant believers, and every other week there is an ecumenical seminar devoted to various different topics drawn from the fields of religious art, philosophy and literature. National conferences are held four times a year and every three years there is also an international congress.

 

A bookbinding machine for the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

A bookbinding machine for the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 

The centre also publishes books, among other things translating spiritual classics from the European languages into Amharic and also publishing the contributions to the conferences, making them available not only to specialist readers but also to a wider public. At present the centre can print the books itself, but not bind them. This results in great delays in publication, and in addition it is expensive to have the books bound externally – which naturally also increases the price of the books. The centre, which is nonprofitmaking, would like to be able to offer the books at affordable prices. And so the Capuchin Fathers have asked ACN for help. We have promised 18,000 Euros for a bookbinding machine.


Burkina Faso: A fragile oasis of peace

Interview with Bishop Diébougou (Burkina Faso), 23.10.2018
By Thomas Oswald (ACN France) CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

 

Burkina Faso: A fragile oasis of peace between Mali and Niger

An interview with Bishop Raphaël Dabiré, President of the Episcopal Commission for the Clergy and Bishop of the diocese of Diébougou, in the southwest of Burkina Faso. His country, which borders on both Niger and Mali, is subject like its two neighbours to the pressures exerted by jihadist groups on all the peoples of the Sahel. Nonetheless, it can still be seen as an oasis of tolerance between the various religious communities. Christians account for 23.9% of the population, whereas 54.2% is Muslim and 21.3% animist.

How are relations between the various faith communities within Burkina Faso?

Our country has a tradition of religious tolerance which we do our best to maintain. I am regularly invited to the religious celebrations of the other communities. For example, on the most recent feast of Ramadan I went, at their invitation, to a Muslim place of prayer. I did not take part in the sacrifice of the sheep, but I shared their joy with them and wished them a good feast. In the same way the imams and the customary chiefs are invited to our Catholic Mass on the major feast days, and they join in a part of the celebration, generally leaving at the moment of the homily. These are symbolic acts of presence, accompanied by little acts of recognition as expressions of fraternity among us. When a priest dies, to give you another example, the imams never fail to express their sympathies to me.

How do you explain this general climate of good relations, at a time when the Sahel is shaken by ethnic and religious conflicts?

Our country has a solid tradition of tolerance and good relations between the faith communities. Almost every family has members who are Muslims, Christians and animists. It is something acknowledged by everyone.

This familiarity enables us to approach each other’s religion without any taboos, and even with a degree of good-natured irony. I think that the good relations between the communities in my country can be explained to a large extent by what we could call the propensity for teasing. It involves taking the liberty of making good-natured fun of my neighbour’s religion, on the understanding that he will do the same in regard to mine.

Does that mean that Burkina Faso has no problem in relations between the religious communities?

Sadly, no. Our capital city was attacked by terrorists last March, leaving around 30 people dead. The police and military are regularly attacked by jihadist groups, using antipersonnel mines and in organised ambushes. Naturally, the cowardice and violence of these attacks affects us deeply.

These attacks appear to be directed from outside the country, by groups from Niger or Mali. But are the Burkinans – the Burkinabé – themselves ever tempted by jihadism?

We don’t know the whole story, and undoubtedly there are some isolated individuals from our country who are involved in these actions, but overall, our society is resisting those who are seeking to divide us.

Three weeks ago certain individuals smashed the statue of Our Lady in a church, along with four other statues. They left a somewhat enigmatic message, giving to understand that Christians should not worship statues. During the Mass of reparation I urged my parishioners not to jump to hasty conclusions. We should leave it to the law to do its work. This act of desecration was an isolated act, fortunately, and I hope it will remain that way.

Burkina Faso is regarded as one of the poorest countries in the world. Do you see any development in the situation?

It appears to me that the economic situation is stagnant, and I’m afraid that, once again, it’s the actions of the terrorists that have a lot to do with it. They discourage investors who might otherwise take an interest in our country. Youth employment in particular is a major cause for concern.

This poor economic situation is a threat to the stability of the entire country. The opposition to the present president Kaboré, who is a Catholic and was elected in 2015, is playing on this instability in order to undermine his government. But it needs to be said that there is no religious conflict behind this agitation, and besides, there are also Christians among the opposition.

How is the Church faring in your country?

Our community is fervent in its faith. The churches are filled, from Saturday until Sunday evening, and we have a very lively liturgy. There are plenty of priestly vocations, and plenty of demand for baptism. But we have to remain vigilant and accompany this fervour. We need more catechists, and we need more resources to support our seminarians.

This is a vital task, without which people’s faith will remain fragile. In the villages, for example, we see Christians going back to pagan practices when they find themselves facing difficulties. This is a challenge which we must respond to through religious formation.

Do you have a message for the benefactors of ACN?

A huge thank you. Thanks to the support of your association we are dealing precisely with this great need for education, among our young Christians. You are supporting us in building the essential infrastructure, such as the seminaries, the parish offices and catechetical facilities. You have also helped us obtain vital means of transport, including bicycles, mopeds and cars, which are essential in many of our far-flung parishes where it is absolutely crucial to enable the priests and catechists to reach the people!

 

Thanks to the generosity of its benefactors in 2017, the pontifical foundation ACN supported more than 60 projects in Burkina Faso for a total of almost 750,000 Euros.


Syria: Houdaib family return to home

Feature Story, 30.10.2018 Syria/Homs/Family Houdaib by Josué Villalón
CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

 

The Houdaib family return to their home in Homs

 

“Thanks to the support of ACN International, we don’t feel alone”

 

The Houdaib family is an extended family, like so many other families in Syria. Evon is the mother and grandmother of the tribe. At the age of 80 she is still the head of the family, and especially now, since her husband George died of heart problems a few years ago. “We have 11 children, all of them still alive, thanks be to God. I know that this is somewhat unusual given the times we are living through in Syria today. Many families have lost children, parents, brothers or sisters.”

 

The family welcomes a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) to their recently refurbished house in order to share with them their joy in returning to the family home. The Houdaibs had lived in this house since they were newlyweds. But in 2012, during one of the worst bombardments to hit the city, part of the roof came down, blocking the entrance to the house. The family home is on the ground floor of a block of flats in the Al Hameedye quarter, close to the historic centre of Homs. Until recently, in order to get to their home, you had to climb over a series of rubble barriers blocking the streets, barricades built during the fighting.

 

Today all this rubble has been cleared away from the streets, and although access is still difficult for vehicles, it is possible to come and go on foot with a degree of normality. Standing out among the buildings nearby is the Haiyar Palace, once one of the architectural jewels of Homs. People in the neighbourhood have put up some images of the Way of the Cross as well asa large cross in front of the building, which is surrounded by ruins. “Formerly this was a mainly Christian area, and we want to preserve this atmosphere, even though many of our neighbours still haven’t returned”, says Marwan, Evon’s eldest son.

 

Marwan expresses his thanks for the support of the local Church which, with financial help from ACN, has funded the repair work on his mother’s house. “We still rely on help, because we don’t have the money for medicines or to pay for an operation that my sister has to undergo. The fighting has moved on northwards from Homs, towards the Idlib region, but now we suffer from an enormous economic crisis- There is no work and the power cuts still occur.”

 

The local Church gave 500,000 Syrian pounds – or 1,500 Euros – to the Houdaib family. “It may not seem like much money in other countries, but here it’s a small fortune today. Of course we know that people outside Syria are helping us in a spirit of disinterested generosity. I don’t know how to thank them, we no longer feel alone, thanks to them”, says Ragaa, one of Evon’s daughters.

There are a number of grandchildren belonging to the third generation also gathered in the house,. Among them are Wael, aged 20, who works as a delivery man in a restaurant, and Joudi, 13, who is still at school and wants to go on and study pharmacy in the footsteps of her aunt Ragaa. They tell us that the most difficult thing to bear in these last few years was having to flee from one place to another, and suffer separation from their cousins and friends.

 

“Yes, it has been a great trial”, Evon confesses. “We had to go from here to Feiruzy, a small town on the outskirts of Homs, then from there to Hanessa, another place just outside the city. Then in 2016, after Homs was liberated, we returned here, but we couldn’t come back to the apartment until a few months ago, and that was thanks to the help of ACN.”

 

Despite the fact that many Syrians were forced to flee, some even abroad, the Houdaib family tried hard to remain united, and now they are very happy to be back together again. “The reason why we wanted to come back to our former home was to fulfil the wishes of our father George”, Marwan tells us. Evon nods in agreement, goes out of the room and returns with a photograph of her husband. “I’m so sorry that my husband was not able to see this house rebuilt; it was his great dream”, Evon adds.

 

Marwan now works as a driver for the archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the seat of which is the church of Saint Mary of the Holy Belt. This church is built over an ancient crypt which was a place of prayer for Christians dating back to the year 50 A.D. According to tradition, this church contains a belt once belonging to the Virgin Mary and given by her to Saint Thomas the Apostle upon her Assumption into heaven. It is a relic kept with great devotion and bears witness to the profound Christian roots of Syria. The Houdaib family is one of the many who come to this place to ask Our Lady’s protection and for peace in their country. “We have lost everything, but we have not lost our faith. We remain united, we go to church and celebrate Mass together. That is where we draw the strength that we need”, Evon tells us.

 

Theirs is one of the first 100 families who – thanks to the support of organisations like ACN – have so far been able to return and rebuild their homes after years of war and destruction. They know well that they still have many challenges ahead of them and a great deal of work to do, but they assure us that they will never leave this land, and that their home is open to anyone in need.

 

In May 2018 ACN supported the restoration of 100 houses in Homs, with a total of 300.000 Euros - SYRIA / NATIONAL 18/00370     


Breaking news: Asia Bibi Aquittal

ACN News, 31.10.2018 / Pakistan: Asia Bibi’s  Acquittal
by John Newton & John Pontifex CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

 

Asia Bibi’s family thanks God for her acquittal

Asia daughter says “I can’t wait to hug my mother”

 

Asia Bibi’s husband and daughter have today described news of her acquittal as the “most wonderful moment” of their lives – and thanked God for answering their prayers.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court this morning (Wednesday, 31st October) overturned the death sentence hanging over the Catholic labourer from Punjab who in 2010 became the first woman in the country condemned to death for blasphemy.

Speaking within a few minutes of the announcement today, Asia Bibi’s daughter, Eisham Ashiq, 18, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “I am so happy. I want to thank God.

And, speaking through an interpreter, she told the charity for persecuted Christians: “This is the most wonderful moment. I can’t wait to hug my mother and then celebrate with my family. I am grateful to God for listening to our prayers.”

Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, said: “We are very happy. This is wonderful news.

“We thank God very much that he’s heard our prayers – and the prayers of so many people who have longed for Asia Bibi’s release over all these years of suffering and anguish.”

Close family friend Joseph Nadeem said that on hearing the news the family immediately “danced for joy”. He added: “There were many tears – tears of indescribable joy.”

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Today is like the dawn of new hope for oppressed minorities.”

Saluting the courage of the judges in acquitting Asia Bibi in the face of fierce opposition from Islamist protestors, he added: “It is important that justice is not just seen to be done but is done.”

And Father Emmanuel Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, which supports people accused of blasphemy with support from organisations including ACN, said: “I am glad that justice has finally been served.

“In the current developing situation and protests by extremist groups, May Our Lord bless and protect Asia and her family and keep all our Christian brothers and sisters safe here in Pakistan.”

The Supreme Court’s decision today overturns the 2010 sentence Asia Bibi received for insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable by death according to Article 295C of Pakistan’s Penal code – part of the so-called Blasphemy Laws.

The charge was brought against her following an altercation with Muslim co-workers who said that, as a Christian, she had contaminated a common water cup by drinking from it.

Throughout, Asia Bibi has protested her innocence and on 8th October the case had its final hearing at Pakistan’s Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad.

At the time of the hearing, Asia’s daughter, Eisham, and husband, Ashiq, were in the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need, raising awareness of the case.


Scholarships for Young Syrians

Feature Story, 25.10.2018 / Syria/Youth by Josué Villalón

CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org 

 

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.


Syria: Supporting trauma healing courses

Feature Story, 11.10.2018 /Syria – Trauma Healing
by
Irmina Nockiewicz (edited by Maria Lozano) CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

ACN supports Good Samaritan course for trauma healing to assist Syrian families

“The war is not losing steam and after eight years there are scars that will never be erased” - says Father Halemba, the head of projects for the Middle East for Aid to the Church in Need with concern. Every military conflict is a catalyst to suffering for war torn countries, particularly areas where there are many children. Syria has no exception. The effects of these experiences are far beyond human capacity to deal with; this is the reason why ACN is determined to help those who suffer spiritually and mentally. The Good Samaritan workshops for post war trauma healing for Syrians is one of the initiatives supported by ACN. The courses are held at the Carmelite Sanctuary of the Holy Infant in Jounieh in Lebanon. “Time does not heal trauma – adds Fr. Halemba - this is why a person must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. If we don’t help Syrian families and communities to recover, who will do it?”

 “The suffering of war is not extinguishing”, states Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East Section of the Catholic Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “instead, its effects are growing like a tumour, the figures speak for themselves. According to the UN more than 13 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children. They are the most at risk as they face escalating threats of being permanently maimed by fighting, or emotionally scarred by all possible abuses including rape, forced marriages, slavery work, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education”.

According to his report after a recent trip to the country, “economic sanctions only worsen the situation, and in contrary to the declared objective, these sanctions punish civil society by limiting humanitarian activity in the war-torn country, where 6.6 million people have been internally displaced, and nearly 3 million are in hard-to-reach and besieged areas”.

Local Churches, thanks to international support, are playing a vital role in providing comprehensive relief services. “Christians in Syria are so humbly attempting to live at peace with their past. But many are spiritually and psychologically distressed and in desperate need to be supported,” says the polish priest. “Long-term exposure to war and post-war stress cause serious psychological consequences, it is universally true that horrific experiences are so deeply disturbing that they might even be overwhelming, especially for children. The trauma caused by the war implies dramatic behavioural changes leading to relationship problems, violence and other mental disorders. After all, a serious upsurge of post-conflict trauma was to be expected and this is what I hear about and witness when travelling to Syria.” PTSD is only one of the disorders in the wide spectrum of post-traumatic reactions.

“Time does not heal trauma,” insists Fr. Halemba. “This is why a person must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. If we don’t help them who will do it?” reflects the priest and continues: “For this reason Aid to the Church in Need initiates this new project to support and guide towards healing people with psychological suffering especially the children. Due to the short supply and skyrocketing prices of medical services most people in Syria are unable to undergo any treatment at all.

The Good Samaritan course for trauma healing is carried out in cooperation with local Church partners and laity from other countries. This will not be one event, but a steadfast program, comprising weekly follow-up meetings combined with individual assistance and reinforced with refreshment sessions. The first session takes place 8-23 October 2018 in the Carmelite Sanctuary of Infant Jesus in Jounieh, in Lebanon, held especially for the clergy and laity, who will run the project in Syria afterwards.

A recent report by Unicef revealed that 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed. According to this report most children had experienced shelling nearby, they are traumatized by sorrow, extreme nightmares, and daily flashbacks of the horrific events, fear, insecurity and bitterness. Around 50 per cent had been shot at by snipers, and 66 per cent had been in a situation where they thought they would die. Almost one child in four has been wounded in the conflict. The number of orphans has greatly increased. The “lost generation” of those, are below 15 years of age, and have never been to school and are illiterate. Many of them are in a state of depression and attempt suicide. Child deaths soared by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015.

Father Halemba stresses, ACN will do its best to encourage projects, which offer to the children and youth of Syria, an opportunity for hope, both literally and mentally and through sponsorship of: spiritual summer camps, family retreat, summer clubs programs, regional youth days etc. “For many of them it is for the first time in their life they have ever attended such youth events”.

The “Good Samaritan course for trauma healing project” is another initiative of the Catholic Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) supports the local Churches in assisting those suffering in Syria. In addition to the therapeutic effect, ACN hopes that the study on trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder will be indicative to further strategy and to break ground for humanitarian organisations specialised in this field.

It has been 8 long years since the beginning of the war in Syria, ACN benefactors have so kindly supported our poor and persecuted brothers and sisters with more than 28 million dollars.