Father Simeon Yampa funeral

Jihadists in Burkina Faso murder Catholic priest in a parish built with the help of ACN

Staff at the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) were deeply shocked and saddened to hear the news of the murder of Father Simeon Yampa, parish priest of the parish of Dablo, in central northern Burkina Faso.

 

Father Simeon Yampa's church was attacked on Sunday 12 May, just after the celebration of Holy Mass had begun, by a group of 20 or so armed men, who murdered the priest and five of his faithful.

According to local sources with whom ACN was able to speak, the attackers burst into the church, shooting, just as the congregation was singing the Gloria. Five members of the congregation were shot and killed. The chapel is small, but, including those standing outside, there were around a hundred worshippers at the time. Three bullets struck the Tabernacle. Father Simeon tried to rescue the altar servers, by ushering them into the sacristy, but the terrorists went through the church and discovered him, shooting him dead on the spot.

“There was a general panic, and people were terrified. The killers forced the faithful to remove the crucifixes and religious items they were wearing and put them down in front of the altar. They threatened the entire congregation before leaving, warning them that they would return and that if the women were not all covered in veils, they would kill them all. Then they set fire to the sacristy, the crucifixes and all the liturgical objects, and also to a vehicle standing outside the church. Then they went to the dispensary and burned the vehicle there also so that nobody could escape”, explained Rafael D’Aqui, who heads ACN’s Africa desk for the area including Burkina Faso.

The parish house in Dablo, which stands next to the chapel and forms part of the parish, which is dedicated to Blessed Isidore Bakanja and includes 18 other villages, was built just six years ago with help from ACN.

Rafael D’Aqui, profoundly moved by the events, went on to explain that “ACN helped this community in 2013 because, although they had had a chapel for many years, they wanted to establish a proper parish there where there would be a stable presence of the Church. In the financial report sent to ACN after completion of the presbytery, the priest had described how this was a historic moment, filled with emotion, for the entire Christian community. They were so happy at the prospect of having a permanent priestly presence, supporting the eight catechists who were already there. It was a dream come true for them, and their joy was plain to see on all their faces”, he recalls.

Dablo lies in an impoverished and arid region, where the lack of rain makes it difficult for people to grow sufficient food, yet when the parish was founded there was no fear of any danger. Burkina Faso was regarded as an example of interreligious peace and harmony. As Rafael D’Aqui explains, the report from the parish struck a profoundly optimistic note: “With your help, the team of priests in charge of the parish will be able to quietly develop a range of pastoral activities for the local people.” Until now the religious minorities, including the Christians (23.9% of the population) and animists (21.3%) have not suffered any discrimination in this majority Muslim country, where there has traditionally been a relationship of mutual understanding between the different faith communities – a fact also underlined by the most recent report on World Religious Freedom published by the foundation ACN.

Although it is true that from a political perspective Burkina Faso has for some years been the target of jihadist attacks, fuelled by its northern neighbours Mali and Niger, these attacks were not directed at other religions. However, the situation has changed abruptly in recent months, and now, after a series of incidents – attacks, abductions threats and intimidation – everything appears to point to the fact that Christians have now become one of the targets of the jihadists, intending to destabilise the country.

Just two weeks or so ago, on 28 April, Pierre Ouedraogo, Protestant pastor was murdered together with two of his children and three other worshippers, in an attack on his church in Silgadji, around 60 km from Djibo, likewise in the north of the country. Three members of the Christian clergy have been assassinated in 2019. In addition to Father Simeon Yampa, the Catholic priest murdered in Dablo, and the Protestant pastor Pierre Ouedraogo killed in Silgadji, another priest was murdered on 15 February, Salesian missionary Father César Fernández, of Spanish origin, who was shot dead during an attack on a customs post in the south of the country close to the frontier with Togo. Also missing, whereabouts unknown is Father Joel Yougbare, a Catholic priest abducted on 17 March on the border with Mali.

ACN has likewise reported a number of threats against Catholic communities in various parts of the country, which have forced Sunday Masses to be cancelled and even obliged communities of religious sisters to vacate their convents. “The jihadist groups are going through the villages threatening local inhabitants and demanding they convert to Islam, shutting down Christian communities and places of worship, and also schools and health centres”, Rafael D’Aqui explains.

“The Church in Burkina Faso is suffering greatly from the situation but impresses me with its fortitude. The international community needs to respond, rather than to leave Burkina Faso to become a fiefdom of the Islamist fundamentalists. Let us pray that peace may return to this country”, he continues.

“Father Simeon only arrived in this parish in September last year, and the fact that he died on Good Shepherd Sunday is a moving sign for us. It is important to emphasise that his funeral on Monday 13 May was attended not only by two government ministers and by Church representatives (three bishops and the secretary of the Nunciature) but also by many animists and Muslims who are completely opposed to such barbaric acts”, D’Aqui concludes.


Noman Pakistan

Noman; a young Catholic on the harsh environment for Christians in Pakistan

Noman is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith.

Here is Noman’s story:

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian. No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives.

Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”


Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi flies to freedom

‘Today is a day of rejoicing’ – Neville Kyrke-Smith

By John Pontifex

 

ASIA Bibi’s flight to Canada has been hailed as “the news we had all been hoping and praying for” – according to the head of a Catholic organisation committed to helping victims of injustice in Pakistan.

Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “For almost 10 years now, this is the day all of us have been waiting for when the family can, at last, be reunited.” And Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Thank you to so many people who have prayed and campaigned for Asia Bibi’s release. “Today is a day of rejoicing.”

Paying tribute to Aid to the Church in Need and all those who have appealed for justice for Asia Bibi, Father Yousaf said: “There are so many who deserve our congratulations for all that they have done for Asia in her struggle to regain her freedom.” The comments come amid breaking news that the Christian woman, formerly on death row for blasphemy, has finally left her native Pakistan and travelled to Canada, where her two daughters, Eisham and Esha, are now living. Father Yousaf said: “We thank God that the family is now being reunited at long last.

“We pray to God that they will have a better future and can put behind them nearly 10 years of suffering. “We thank God that justice has prevailed.”

Asia Bibi was charged with blasphemy in 2009, a crime punishable by death. Last October the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her, confirming its decision in an appeal hearing in January, but she was not allowed to follow her wish and leave the country – until today. Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “At Aid to the Church in Need, we were privileged to welcome some of Asia Bibi’s family to the UK last year. “We are sure that the presentations they made gave added impetus to finding a solution for Asia who had suffered unjust imprisonment for nearly 10 years.”

He added: However, today is also a day tinged with great sadness – as we remember those others who are still incarcerated or unjustly accused under the Blasphemy Laws today as well as those who sacrificed so much for Asia Bibi, particularly the politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who gave up their lives in the pursuit of freedom for Asia. “Our prayers and our work will continue to help all those who are unjustly accused by radical fundamentalists and who cannot practise their Christian faith freely.”


Notre Dame Cathedral after fire

Notre-Dame: Watch, pray, do not be discouraged.

On Monday 15th April, the first day of Holy Week, the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was ravaged by a terrible fire. This was a drama which invited us to pray unceasingly, and without being discouraged.

 

Notre-Dame Cathedral after fire

Shortly before 8pm, the burning spire collapsed into the nave of the cathedral. The fire, which had broken out around 6.50pm in the timbers of the roof, was overcome by about 3.30am, according to the Paris fire department. Two-thirds of the roof has been destroyed. Ravaged by flames in the night of 15th-16th April, the building - the most visited in Europe, welcoming between 12 and 14 million visitors and pilgrims each year - had stood through history and survived countless events, from the French Revolution to the Second World War. An enquiry into ‘involuntary destruction by fire’ has been opened.

“The shocking sight of Notre-Dame in flames reminds us of the dramatic reality lived by too many Christians throughout the world” - Fr Yves Genouville

“The shocking sight of Notre-Dame in flames reminds us of the dramatic reality lived by too many Christians throughout the world”, stated Fr Yves Genouville, French ecclesial assistant to Aid to the Church in Need. “But at the end of a night of sorrow, a striking image: in the midst of smoke and ash, despite the chaos resulting from the flames, the Cross appears, intact. The glorious Cross of Christ, at the foot of which so many pilgrims have come to leave their prayers. The Cross of Christ, at the foot of which Mgr Fridolin Ambongo, Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, Sr Mona Adhem, and so many others came, during the 2018 ‘Nuits de Temoins’, to leave the sorrows and hopes of a Church faced with the folly of Evil. The Cross of Christ, today weighed down, at the foot of which stood Mary, his Mother, Our Lady, to whom the cathedral of the Paris archdiocese is dedicated.

While this fire has joined the long list of the dramas undergone by the Church in France, ACN, an international pontifical foundation, has received messages of compassion from the whole world. The universal church is united by prayer to the diocese of Paris, and to the Church in France. “Our heart is weeping with all of France, and with the Christians of the world: we are praying for you”, wrote Sr Mona. “We are praying for you, we are praying for France’, Mgr Mascarenhas assured us. “We feel your sorrow. Your loss is our loss, your sorrow our sorrow.”

In a statement, the French Bishops’ Conference invited “Catholics to always remain the living rocks of the Church, by living the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the source of our hope.”

Guided by this hope, at the start of this Holy Week, as we approach the paschal solemnities, ACN invites all to watch and pray for the Church in France and for the universal Church; to watch and pray at the foot of the cross, at the side of Our Lady, and without discouragement.

 

 

 


ACN Lenten Campaign Extraordinary women

ACN launches Lenten Campaign for religious sisters in 85 countries

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has launched a Lenten and Easter campaign to strengthen its support for religious sisters in those countries worldwide that are most affected by war and poverty or in which Christians are a minority. The campaign bears the title “Extraordinary women. Thanks to God. Thanks to you.”

The executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, commented at the start of the campaign, “Religious sisters are the heroines of the church. They show us a way to holiness and set an example for a happy and meaningful life. This can also be the way to healing for a society marked by ongoing discussion about the role of women.”

Each year, the pontifical foundation receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.

Among others, ACN supports over 4,500 religious sisters to ensure that they can continue their monastic lives as well as carry out their pastoral and social work caring for the sick, orphans or older people even in those regions where they do not have any way of earning a living. For example, this is the case in Ukraine, Russia and in crisis-ridden Venezuela.

ACN receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.
ACN receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.

A large number of convents have been destroyed or severely damaged, not only in war zones such as Iraq, Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan but also after natural disasters such as the earthquake in Mexico. It would be virtually impossible for religious sisters to carry out their work in these regions without rebuilding aid from ACN.

According to the figures published in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, there are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need. The charity gives direct support to more than 11,000 sisters. In addition, there are other religious women who benefit from assistance for construction, transport and pastoral projects.

Even though the number of vocations to orders is declining most notably in Europe and America, the number of vocations continues to grow in Africa and Asia. This is why more than 80% of all projects supported by ACN in the area of formation for religious sisters and novices are on these two continents. This aid benefits more than 5,700 sisters.

In accordance with their charisma and their history, the foundation pays particular attention to the contemplative orders. As is written in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere issued by Pope Francis on the contemplative life of women, this life “is rooted in the silence of the cloister; it produces a rich harvest of grace and mercy” and represents “the praying heart” of the church. According to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, there are about 40,000 religious sisters in contemplative orders throughout the world; half of these are living in Europe. For this reason, 80% of the aid granted by ACN to contemplative orders supports cloistered sisters in eastern European countries who continue to find themselves in dire economic and spiritual need due to their communist past.

There are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need.
There are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need.

During the Lenten season, ACN and its 23 national offices would also like to express their appreciation for all of the religious sisters who fulfil their mission in dangerous situations or who have sacrificed their lives for the people entrusted to them. A few examples are the four religious of the “Missionary Sisters of Charity” who were murdered by jihadists in Yemen in 2014 or the two religious sisters who were killed during the extreme violence that was unleashed in Haiti and South Sudan in 2016. And not to forget the Columbian missionary Cecilia Narváez, who has been held hostage by Al Qaeda in Mali for two years.

“Through their work, religious sisters convey the loving proximity of God to millions of people each day,” declared ACN President Heine Geldern. “Supporting religious sisters often involves helping an entire community or even an entire ethnic group.” He explained that, in addition to personal signs of appreciation and prayer, this includes providing financial assistance to religious. “This is why the motto of the campaign also includes a reference to our benefactors: ‘Thanks to you.’ This is an appeal: become a part of the mission of courageous religious sisters worldwide!”

A website on the Lenten campaign provides information about the lives of religious sisters on different continents and highlights ACN’s main areas of assistance. The website can be found at the address: https://sisters.acninternational.org/


Pope Iraq Donation Lamborghini

ACN to “convert” the Lamborghini donated by the Pope into a nursery school and a centre for Christians in the Nineveh region

Thanks to a donation of 200,000 Euros from the Holy Father, following the auctioning of the Lamborghini that was given to him last year, ACN will be able to fund two new projects on behalf of the Iraqi Christian families and other minorities who have returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

On 15 November 2017, the Holy Father decided to give ACN part of the proceeds from the auctioning of the Lamborghini Hurricane that had been donated to him by the famous Italian carmaker. Now ACN will give concrete form to the Pope’s gesture by funding the reconstruction of two buildings of the Syriac Catholic Church, destroyed by the war. They are the nursery school (kindergarten) of Our Lady and the multipurpose centre of the parish of the same name.

Both buildings are in the village of Bashiqa, just 30 km from Mosul. The village was badly damaged during the war, but the Christian community has returned and in large numbers. In fact, by now 405 of the 580 homes that were destroyed here have already been rebuilt and around 50% of the Christians, or 1,585 people, have already returned.

Totally destroyed multipurpose hall of St Mary, in the Syriac Catholic town of Bashiqa.
Totally destroyed multipurpose hall of St Mary, in the Syriac Catholic town of Bashiqa.

Totally destroyed multipurpose hall of St Mary, in the Syriac Catholic town of Bashiqa.

The two projects funded with the money from the Lamborghini will also benefit the other minorities in the town, since the multipurpose centre, which has a capacity for over 1,000 people, will be used for weddings and the religious feasts of all the various different communities. It will be the largest such centre in the area and will be available for use to over 30,000 people of all different faiths and ethnic groups.

Just a little over two years since the liberation of the villages of the Nineveh Plains, the number of Christians who have been able to return to their homes has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. By 11 January this year at least 9108 families had returned to their villages, or almost 46% of the 19,832 families dwelling there in 2014 prior to the arrival of so-called Islamic State. This is thanks above all to the immense work of reconstruction – to which ACN has greatly contributed – that has made it possible so far to rebuild or repair some 41% of the 14,035 homes destroyed or damaged by IS.

Partially destroyed Virgin Mary Kindergarten, in the Syriac Catholic town of Bashiqa.

Partially destroyed Virgin Mary Kindergarten, in the Syriac Catholic town of Bashiqa.

This intervention, in which the pontifical foundation ACN has played a major role in collaboration with the local Churches, has also found a generous benefactor in the person of the Holy Father. Already back in 2016, Pope Francis gave 100,000 Euros in support of the “Saint Joseph Charity Clinic” in Erbil, which provides free medical assistance.

This most recent gift by the Holy Father will be a further help to local Christians, enabling them to live their own faith and offer a future in Iraq to their children. At the same time, it is a powerful message and an invitation to peaceful coexistence between the different religions in a region where fundamentalism has sadly done grave damage to interreligious relations.

Since 2014 and up to the present day ACN has given over 14 million Euros for the support of Iraqi Christians.


nicaragua-november-acn

Nicaragua: There is no way out of the current crisis without the involvement of the church

Nicaragua: There is no way out of the current crisis without the involvement of the church

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Latin America section of Aid to the Church in Need, visited Nicaragua in November. The objective of his trip was to learn more about conditions in the country first-hand and to assess how the pontifical foundation has worked with the local church up until this point and how they can continue to work together.

 Last year, Nicaragua experienced a series of intensive and violent clashes between the government and opposition groups that lasted for about three months from 18 April to mid-July. During this period, the clashes claimed hundreds of lives – most of them young protesters. However, the exact number of victims is disputed: the government has estimated 150 dead, other sources say the figure is over 500.

 The Catholic Church played a decisive role in ensuring that the clashes between the armed government forces and the protesters – most of them students – did not cause even more casualties, both dead and wounded.

 “One of the things that the Nicaraguan Church has said time and again is that the only way out of the crisis is through dialogue and by supporting a process that guarantees legal certainty, and channels the energy of young people for the good of the country. It is important to avoid starting new conflicts and to involve all of the relevant social actors in the country,” Mencaglia said in an interview after he returned from his visit to the Central American country. “I would even go so far as to say that there is no peaceful way out of the current situation without the involvement of the Church. At a spiritual and social level, the Church continues to play a decisive and unique role in Nicaragua as it moves along the difficult path to healing the deep wounds left by the conflict that raged from April to July.”

 Mencaglia also addressed the difficult situation that young Catholics face. He was often told during his visit, “Young and Catholic is a dangerous thing to be in Nicaragua today.”

 The following is a transcript of the interview:

 What is the current situation in Nicaragua?

Although officially, there have not been any further violent clashes since July, the political climate in the country remains extremely tense. At this time, the fate of the young people has yet to be decided. Hundreds of them are still incarcerated in prison for political reasons relating to the suppression of the protests. Less blatant forms of discrimination also have a negative impact on life in the country.

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Latin America section of Aid to the Church in Need, visited Nicaragua in November.

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Latin America section of Aid to the Church in Need, visited Nicaragua in November.

What role did the Catholic Church play during this time?

Many people deplore the absence of the basic requirements for democracy. The Catholic Church is playing a decisive role in finding a peaceful solution for the conflict because it is an institution that is deeply rooted in society.

After the first protests, the government asked the Church to play a mediating role. However, the dialogue was aborted by the government after eight meetings. A fierce campaign was initiated by government circles to discredit the Catholic Church. Strong allegations were made against Church leaders and the Catholics were called “putschists” and “terrorists”. At the same time, measures were taken to keep tabs on everything the priests said and did. Thus, for example, the content of Sunday sermons is monitored closely and passed on to the government by agents. In addition, it is said that concrete and in part violent measures are being taken at a local level to discriminate against persons who are suspected of having provided some form of material support for the protests, even if they were not directly involved in the clashes. Over the course of our visit, one sentence came up again and again: “Young and Catholic is a dangerous thing to be in Nicaragua today.”

What impressed you most during your trip?

The courage of the Church as it worked to prevent even more violence during the months of conflict. The protest organisers closed off the main roads in many regions of the country, bringing life to a standstill in the country for weeks. We saw many photos showing priests in, particularly tense situations, standing with arms raised between armed government forces who were about to take down blockades by force, and protesters who had resolved to show resistance. By risking their own lives, these priests, most of them young men, saved the lives of many young people on both sides of the conflict. They prevented the street blockades from ending in violence. Many of the churches took in hundreds of wounded, converting church buildings into makeshift field hospitals.

In spite of the campaign to discredit the Church, recent, independent surveys have shown that the Church as an institution continues to enjoy a very high level of credibility. The number of vocations to the priesthood continues to rise practically everywhere in the country. Each year, new parishes are founded in different dioceses. Others are adding to the number of centres for lay education. The number of applications received from people interested in taking part in educational courses offered by the Church is also growing. The last diocese to be founded in Central America is located in Nicaragua: the diocese of Siuna, established in late 2017.

Mgr Jorge Solórzano Pérez, Bishop of Granada, during the distribution of a meal for the poor of the city - Poor man wearing a T-Shirt with the slogan "Nicaragua loves Jesus".

Mgr Jorge Solórzano Pérez, Bishop of Granada, during the distribution of a meal for the poor of the city – Poor man wearing a T-Shirt with the slogan “Nicaragua loves Jesus”.

Is there a way out of the crisis?

The Nicaraguan Church has said time and again that the only way out of the crisis is through dialogue and by supporting a process that ensures that the fundamental rules of democracy – free and fair elections – are respected, and that channels the energy of young people for the good of the country. It is important to avoid starting new conflicts and to involve all of the relevant social actors in the country. I would even go so far as to say that there is no peaceful way out of the current situation without the involvement of the Church. At a spiritual and social level, the Church continues to play a decisive and unique role in Nicaragua as it moves along the difficult path to healing the deep wounds left by the conflict that raged from April to July.

What does the Nicaraguan Church need?

First of all, the local Church has to remain unified. In spite of the great differences in personal biographies, attitudes and pastoral contexts, the bishops have always been able to show a remarkable solidarity with one another. It is necessary to pray for the people who have distanced themselves from the Church for political reasons, that they may return to the community of the Church. These are difficult processes that quietly continue to move forward in spite of the many problems. During these precarious times, the Nicaraguan Church needs to feel the solidarity of the world Church in prayer and its ongoing attention.

Chapel in Nicaragua.

Chapel in Nicaragua.

What help can ACN provide through the involvement of its benefactors?

In response to the remarkable increase in vocations, beginning in 2019 the Church in Nicaragua has decided to set up new philosophical seminaries for candidates to the priesthood at a regional level. These will be in addition to the existing diocesan seminaries in Managua and Granada as well as the national seminary in Managua, where students from the five other state districts can continue their theological studies. The new, improvised seminaries will need worthy facilities to be able to accommodate the young students.

Furthermore, ACN is assisting in the process of founding new parishes in various dioceses of the country by building small churches and parish houses. These are being built in isolated areas and the communities are happy to finally have a priest living among them. Quite often we have witnessed how the presence of a priest can change the life in a village in Nicaragua: in addition to his liturgical and sacramental duties, the priest is often a point of orientation in the day-to-day life of the entire community.

ACN also offers support for the formation of young lay people. As we mentioned above, during the protests young Catholics became the targets of the most severe attacks. They were robbed of their rights, threatened, thrown into prison and beaten. Many of them fled the country to seek refuge abroad. Many others lost their jobs because of the economic crisis and have no prospects for the future. We have to reach out to these young people so that their wounds can heal and they can discover the love of God in spite of all their suffering and anger.


phillippines-jolo-attack

A message of peace from Mgr. Antonio Javellana Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

A message of peace from Mgr. Antonio Javellana Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

Two bombs exploded during Sunday Mass in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Philippines. According to local police, 20 people were killed, and dozens more were wounded. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack that happened within a week of a referendum in which the Muslim-majority region of Mindanao voted for greater autonomy. Since 2000, there have been at least ten attacks on or near the cathedral. The Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro Mgr. Antonio Javellana Ledesma spoke to ACN: “I am concerned about the incident, because it may disturb the peace process that started with the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro.”


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.