Catholic News in Africa – Middle East

Cape Coast, Ghana, Mar 23, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Priestly formation isn't a just a job for the rector – it's a responsibility shared between the entire Christian community and seminarians themselves, said a Ghanaian bishop.

“It is the duty and the primary responsibility of parents to form or educate seminarians, while the seminarian himself has the onerous responsibility to be involved and committed to his own formation if he wants to become truly what God the Father has willed,” Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra said.

The archbishop delivered the keynote address the week of March 12 at gathering themed “Sixty Years of Priestly Formation for the Church in Ghana and the Universal Church – A Shared Responsibility.” The address was a part of the activities at St. Peter's Catholic Seminary in the Cape Coast to mark the 60th anniversary of Ghana's independence as a nation.

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle acknowledges that “the challenges are not to be underrated” but stressed it is the entire Christian community which must contribute. He said the challenges for a complete and concrete formation are to be kept in sight of “parents, guardians and society,” for the good of the “subject, the child or the student…and [the] Church as a whole.”

He said that education of the faith begins in the home with families and children, but then continues onto the state, the church, and religious leadership.

Pope Francis has also expressed similar sentiments in a 2015 homily. He said the family is the “center of pastoral work,” and a “handing on of the faith” begins in the home and church.

The Pope also said that a priest “always remains of the people and the culture that have produced him; our roots help us to remember who we are and to where Christ has called us. We priests do not fall from above but are instead called by God, who takes us ‘from among men,’ to ‘ordain us for men.’”

In his address last week, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said that the Holy Spirit is bestowed on everyone in the church, and it is therefore the responsibility of the entire church to nature vocations.

“As a shared responsibility, it begins with praying to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his vineyard. Then it follows with calling people and nurturing them to follow Christ in the priesthood and religious life.”

Posted: March 24, 2017, 2:01 am

Juba, South Sudan, Mar 16, 2017 / 03:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid war, displacement and hunger, South Sudan's day of prayer must lead to true repentance, a leading Catholic bishop has said.

“Our call to prayer must be sincere and honest!” Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro of Tombura-Yambio emphasized. “For this prayer to become historical and meaningful for us today we must repent and sin no more!”

Bishop Hiiboro, president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference, spoke in Yamibo on the March 10 day of prayer.

The country has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when South Sudan's President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. The war has been fought between their supporters, largely along ethnic lines, and peace agreements have been short-lived.

The conflict has created 2.5 million refugees. At present an estimated 4.5 million people face severe food insecurity, a number expected to rise one million by July.

President Kiir had called for the day of prayer. A three-day national dialogue on the country's future began March 15.

Bishop Hiiboro said the whole country will be watching the president closely to see whether his attitude will trend towards peace.

The country's people should also watch themselves, the bishop said: “All of us who have prayed today will also be watched whether we renounce our sinfulness of hate, violence, tribal difference, for love of South Sudan and peace.”

Bishop Hiiboro said South Sudan must commit itself to God every year as a way to unite the country.

“Continual prayers help us in stepping forward to embrace the su ffering of our country, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities throughout South Sudan,” he said.

He encouraged efforts to explore other ways to nurture open dialogue on issues of ethnic relations, justice, forgiveness, poverty, cultural power, mental health, economic opportunity and a “pervasive culture of violence.”

“The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else's. It is our own, in our very homes,” the bishop said.

After the day of prayer, people should walk like penitent sinners. They should stop their hateful and vengeful attitudes and free prisoners. They should reach out to refugees and the South Sudan diaspora in other countries and create a ground for all South Sudanese to dialogue, he said.

The president's call for a day of prayer had drawn some criticism.

Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale, Auxiliary Bishop of the national capital Juba, characterized it as “a political prayer” and “a mockery.”

“It is a joke to hear the president of the country calling prayers while at the moment, the soldiers are hunting people across South Sudan,” he told Voice of America, according to the Sudan Tribune.

He charged that the government army has displaced many people from their ancestral homes. The bishop said that President Kiir, who is Catholic, does not even go to church anymore.

Posted: March 16, 2017, 9:34 pm

Abuja, Nigeria, Mar 16, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At a recent meeting, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria gave a bleak summary of the state of their country, lamenting humanitarian crises including violence at the hands of Boko Haram and other extremist groups, poverty, government corruption, and a lack of respect for human rights or dignity.

“Since the end of Nigeria’s tragic civil war, at no other time in the history of our dear country has the issue of our common citizenship been subjected to more strain,” the bishops said in a statement at the conclusion of their plenary assembly, held in Abuja March 4-10.

“We have found the outright disdain for the sanctity of human life totally at variance with both our cultural traditional norms and our religious sensibilities. Life has never looked so cheap,” they said.

While Nigeria’s civil war ended in 1970, the country has recently undergone a period of extreme violence and instability, with the rise of Boko Haram and other Islamist terrorist groups.

Since 2009, changing government relations and radicalization within Boko Haram have resulted in a dramatic increase in violent attacks against civilian targets, including the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index named Boko Haram the world’s deadliest terrorist organization, greater than the Islamic State.

A 2016 report from the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative said Nigeria was a ticking timebomb of violence and ethnic tensions that could tear the country apart.

The country's bishops decried the ethnic divides that are tearing the country apart, and warned about the dangers of raising a generation of young people who are continually witnessing violence.

“...more and more of our young children are losing their innocence as they watch their parents being randomly slaughtered and their properties vandalised,” the bishops said.

They also called on the government to work to improve the economy, and lamented that many recent graduates are unable to find jobs, making them more likely to end up on the streets or to be recruited or trafficked by extremist groups.

“Today, we are losing our children to the streets, to gangs and drugs. As long as these young people roam the streets with so much despondency, so long will they remain exposed and perhaps recruited to join such evil groups like kidnappers, drug and human trafficking gangs or Boko Haram. Our nation must reverse this ugly trend in our society,” they said.

While the recent violence erupted under Boko Haram, the bishops also noted the 2015 Zaria massacre, during which the Nigerian army killed hundreds of Shia Muslims, as well as the killings in Southern Kaduna and the victims of the Fulani herdsmen, who since September 2016 have burned 53 villages, murdered more than 800 people, and destroyed more than 1,400 houses and 16 churches.

Christians and moderate Muslims living in the northern part of the country have been especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks at the hands of Islamist extremists.

The bishops thanked the current government administration for their efforts in stopping the terrorism and for helping the victims, including recovering some of the Chibook girls, but they also urged the government to speed up the resettlement process for those fleeing the violence.

They also called on the government to “put into effect its unfulfilled commitments such as ending poverty, feeding the nation, and providing accessible education,” and to uphold and reinforce the rights of religious freedom for everyone in the country.

In conclusion, the Nigerian bishops offered their prayers for President Muhammadu Buhari, who recently was on an extended sick leave, raising political and economic tensions in the country. They also offered their prayers that Nigeria would put its vast resources at the service of all of its people.

“The equitable distribution of our resources for the common good must be the definite goal of those who hold this trust. This will help to restore our dignity as human beings and our integrity as a nation and our loyalty as citizens. God bless Nigeria.”

Posted: March 16, 2017, 6:04 am

Aleppo, Syria, Mar 15, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Warning: The following article contains graphic depictions of violence that readers may find disturbing.

As the Syrian Civil War begins its seventh year, Syrian doctors told members of Congress of the “unspeakable horrors” they have witnessed while serving patients in Aleppo.

“In the month leading up to our displacement, I can only describe the events as hell,” said Dr. Farida, an OB/GYN who formerly worked in Aleppo.

Speaking to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, she explained that her hospital “treated many women with severe injuries.” One pregnant woman survived, with the medical efforts of the staff, but shrapnel in her body from an explosion cut her unborn baby in half.

Many other women died because they were not able to make the trip to the hospital due to “the lack of ambulances and fuel,” she continued, and they “bled to death in their home, along with their unborn children.”

Three doctors from the Syrian American Medical Society testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday about the human toll of Syria’s Civil War which began on March 15, 2011. Two of them wore breathing masks and withheld their full names to avoid any hostile detection.

In six years, 400,000 have died in the conflict between government forces and rebel groups, and over 11 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Five million registered refugees have fled the country and 6.6 million displaced are still residing within Syria.

Also, “at least 13.5 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance,” USCIRF noted.

“The al-Assad regime continues to indiscriminately target and forcibly displace Sunni Muslims. In 2016 alone, the Syrian government forcibly displaced 125,000 Sunni Arab civilians from the Damascus suburbs, as well as another 250,000 from Eastern Aleppo,” they stated, adding that the regime was reportedly “repopulating” those areas with Shi’a Muslims “and government sympathizers.”

“In addition, the regime since 2011 has detained or killed prominent Christian civil rights activists, humanitarian workers, and religious leaders,” USCIRF added.

Meanwhile, forces of the Islamic State in the country have waged war against almost all religious minorities, and the U.S. declared last March that ISIS was committing genocide in Syria and Iraq against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims.

Many rebel groups, some affiliates of terror groups, have entered the conflict, as well as regional powers waging a proxy war within the country.

The doctors told of how, despite their efforts to move hospitals underground to avoid destruction, pro-government forces waged a total war on health care in Aleppo, from dropping bunker-busting bombs to using chemical attacks to force patients and medical staff to flee. Two doctors alleged that the scale of the attacks on hospitals escalated when Russia involved itself in the conflict.

“Throughout the last six years, I have witnessed unspeakable horrors,” Dr. Farida said. The “hospital was the most dangerous place in Aleppo.” With the danger continuing to rise, she left Aleppo, with her husband and eight year-old daughter, in December.

Other doctors echoed her testimony of the lack of medical supplies and transport due to the conflict. Besieged cities like Aleppo and Homs have not been able to receive the humanitarian aid patients so desperately need, and airstrikes on hospitals destroy the only access they may have to life-saving health care.

Dr. Abdulkhalek, another doctor who testified at the hearing, pleaded with the senators. “Do not let these acts continue,” he implored. “Do not let more innocent civilians suffer. Do not forgot the human toll of this war, the refugees, the education gap.”

“The UN system is clearly broken, as it has no means to enforce its mandates and hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes,” Dr. Abdulkhalek said in his testimony. He told of how he had to negotiate an evacuation plan for hospital patients with the UN and the World Health Organization, but “as the regime and its allies began to take more territory, the cooperation disappeared” and the “evacuation never occurred.”

“We need sustained humanitarian access,” he insisted.

In the Syrian city of Homs, he said, medical supplies including blood and serum bags and antibiotics couldn’t reach the people from the outside amidst the three year-long siege, and in the last six months there has been a “complete lack of movement for all materials and medications.”

In another city besieged by pro-government forces, Dr. Abdulkhalek said, over 30 patients needed kidney dialysis medication. After the supply evaporated, “we pleaded with the UN to deliver the life-saving medication,” he said. It came – but not by a UN convoy – only after three patients died.

Hospitals were bombed with no regard to the vulnerable civilians that lay within. There have been three hospitals bombed in the last two weeks, Dr. Farida said.

While she worked at the hospital in Aleppo, she was in the middle of performing a caesarian section when a bombing collapsed the ceiling. She had to stay in the dangerous situation to clean debris from the collapse “out of the patient’s abdominal cavity,” she said.

Amidst all the violence, her eight year-old daughter once fled into the room where she was performing an operation, crying and unable to breathe.

“How I’m supposed to explain all of this to an eight year old who has known nothing about violence, killing, and destruction? How am I supposed to protect her?” she asked. “This broke my heart. That feeling of powerlessness to protect my child has broken me to this day.”

Dr. Abdulkhalek described how the hospital he was working in was the target of a chlorine bomb “after repeated attempts” by regime forces and their allies to drop barrel bombs on it.

 Staff were able to save the lives of three men suffocating from gas where they were hiding, but many others died in the attack, he said.

After that, “many hospital staff had to leave, fearing for their lives,” he said. A second chlorine bomb hit the hospital later, claiming many child victims. There was “only one unit of oxygen” available, he said, and the oxygen mask had to be passed around to the children present one at a time.

When asked if there was “more frequent targeting of your hospitals when Russia got involved” in the Syrian conflict, Dr. Abdulkhalek replied “Yes.”

“They are locating the hospital position,” he said, and they “start targeting it many times” until civilians flee.

There were reportedly 600,000 people in Syria living under siege last year, and in February the UN warned of a “looming humanitarian catastrophe” in four besieged towns that had not been reached by a UN convoy since November.

The perpetrators of these atrocities must be held accountable, the doctors and human rights advocates insisted.

USCIRF on Thursday called for the U.S. to push for the International Criminal Court to investigate the crimes committed by the Assad regime and by ISIS in Syria.

“An entire generation has been lost. The world failed Aleppo,” Dr. Abdulkhalek concluded his testimony, begging the international community not to leave other Syrians to the same fate.

 

Posted: March 15, 2017, 10:01 pm

Khartoum, Sudan, Mar 10, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians who are criticizing government action against churches are facing pressure from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services.

“They told me not to talk about the demolition of churches or the two church leaders who are in jail,” Rev. Mubarak Hamad, chairman of Sudan’s Council of Churches, told Radio Tamazuj, a broadcaster in Sudan and South Sudan.

The Sudanese government plans to demolish 25 church buildings in and near the capital of Khartoum, which it says were built on illegal lands which are zoned for other uses. The targeted churches include both Catholic and Protestant buildings.

The order to demolish the churches was made in June 2016. Government officials notified several congregations in September to vacate their property.

Christian officials have challenged the claims, saying the properties were legally obtained and have legal titles.

“This is not an isolated act but should be taken with wider perspective,” Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, moderator of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church's Sudan Evangelical Synod, told Morning Star News last month.

One Christian critic of the demolitions plan, Milad Musa, is allegedly facing retaliation. The security services have required him to report to their offices from 6 a.m. to midnight since Feb. 15. Sometimes he has food in his custody, sometimes he does not.

He is a member of the Sudanese Church of Christ.

Rev. Hamad faced similar requirements to report to the custody of the security services from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily after he held a press conference Feb. 11 calling on the government to reconsider  the demolitions. He noted at the press conference that mosques in the same area were not ordered to be demolished.

Security services lifted that requirement Feb. 26, but then ordered him not to speak publicly about the persecution of Christians and the demolition of church buildings unless he had authorization from security forces.

Since 2012 Sudan has bulldozed church buildings and harrassed and expelled foreign Christians, according to Morning Star News. It was announced in April 2013 that no licenses would be granted to build new churches.

Two Christian leaders in Sudan have been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of espionage.

At least 90 percent of Sudan's population is Muslim, and sharia is the source of the nation's legislation. Apostasy from Islam is punishable by the death penalty.

Since 1999, the U.S. state department has listed Sudan as a country of particular concern due to religious freedom violations.

International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need noted in its 2016 Religious Freedom Report that Sudan's constitution was amended to “widen and increase” the power of the National Intelligence and Security Services, which has impacted “human resources issues and the prosecution of individuals, media outlets and organisations for alleged breaches of the law.”

Sudan scored a 12 out of 100 in Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking ahead of only Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia.

Posted: March 10, 2017, 7:03 am

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mar 8, 2017 / 01:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Church in Ethiopia is mourning the deaths of four religious sisters who died in a car accident that critically injured three other sisters.

The accident involved members of the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne. Eight sisters were driving to the city of Hawassa for a funeral of one sister’s relative.

Near the east-central Ethiopian town of Meki, a truck overtook them on the road, causing the accident.

“The news of the traffic death of four sisters in Ethiopia, the Daughters of St. Anne, touches our hearts and souls very deeply,” said Monsignor John E. Kozar, president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). “I know the Church of Ethiopia has lost some very devoted servants.”

Three of the four dead have been identified as Sister Weinshet Gebru, the provincial superior and head of a formation house; Sister Motu Baba, former administrator of Guder Girls’ Orphanage; and Sister Hanna Bekute, former director of Guder Catholic School.

The sisters are involved in pastoral and human formation. They run schools, health facilities, sewing schools, vocational training centers, orphanages, and a school for the visually impaired. They have partnered with CNEWA for several initiatives.

Regional CNEWA director Argaw Fantu hailed the sisters as “jewels of the Church.”

Fantu requested prayers for the consolation of their religious community, praying that “God may bless them with the grace to keep on serving the people.”

The Daughters of St. Anne have been in Ethiopia since 1968. The congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.

Posted: March 8, 2017, 8:43 pm

Juba, South Sudan, Mar 8, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The call by South Sudan's president for a national day of prayer was met with derision by one of the country's bishops, who called it a “political prayer” and a mockery.

President Salva Kiir addressed South Sudan via state-owned media last week to announce a day of prayer on March 10. The country has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. The war has been fought between their supporters, largely along ethnic lines, and peace agreements have been short-lived.

“I have been praying for South Sudan every day. This morning, I prayed for South Sudan. That prayer called by Salva Kiir; I will never and never understand. Unless they carry me as a corpse but I will never attend that prayer. It is a political prayer. It is a mockery,” Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale, Auxiliary Bishop of Juba, told Voice of America, according to the Sudan Tribune.

“Why should I go [to] pray where there is no holiness, where there is no forgiveness? It is a joke to hear the president of the country calling prayers while at the moment, the soldiers are hunting people across South Sudan.”

He cited the government's army's displacement of numerous people from their homes. “People are being thrown away from their ancestral land. There have been a lot of robbery of the resources of the people.”

Bishop Doggale also charged that Kiir, who is Catholic, “does not even come to church these days.”

Kiir's proposed national day of prayer precedes the March 15 launch of a three-day national dialogue.

“Our time … is now ripe to turn to God and ask him for forgiveness and blessings. We have not been that perfect and we need to submit ourselves to the Almighty through prayers,” Kiir said. “It should be the day we all pray to God and ask Him for forgiveness so that we start a new chapter in our relations as citizens of this nation.”

The national dialogue is being directed by Kiir. One of his spokesmen has said that Machar, the former vice-president, may attend once he has denounced violence. Kiir's direction of the dialogue has been criticized, given his role in the country's civil war.

In January 2016, Bishop Doggale told CNA that the government of South Sudan, as well as that of Sudan, puts political agendas over its people's interests.

“We have crossroads of displaced people in both countries suffering from the political elite who don’t take their people in heart,” he said.

The bishops of South Sudan recently called for dialogue between the country's warring factions, and charged that the forces of both sides are targeting civilians.

“Those who have the ability to make changes for the good of our people have not taken heed of our previous pastoral messages,” the said in their Feb. 23 message. “We need to see action, not just dialogue for the sake of dialogue.”

The bishops said the war has “no moral justification whatsoever,” and expressed concern that some government officials seem to be suspicious of the Church.

Posted: March 8, 2017, 7:04 am

Cairo, Egypt, Mar 2, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A spike in attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, spurred by a video threat from ISIS, has drawn the prayers and concern of advocates, who are urging global leaders to take notice.

“Americans need to know that one of the oldest Christian communities in the world is under threat from being completely pushed out of Egypt,” which would be disastrous both for Egypt and for Christianity itself, Philippe Nassif, executive director of the advocacy group In Defense of Christians, told CNA.

“We pray for those suffering terrorism and violence, for God to grant them peace and reassurance that they are not forgotten by Him or by all those who not only witness their plight but strive to advocate for them,” His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said Tuesday.

There have been 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the last three months, Bishop Angaelos said in a recent statement, “culminating in the most recent murders of seven Christians in Al-Arish,” the largest city in the country’s Sinai region.

Twenty-nine were killed in a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December. The Islamic State took credit for the bombing and released a video threatening to target Christian “crusaders” in Egypt.

“Oh crusaders in Egypt, this attack that struck you in your temple is just the first with many more to come, God willing,” they said.

Since the video’s release, more Christians have been killed in Egypt and hundreds have reportedly fled their homes in the Sinai region in the north of the country after several murders there, the group In Defense of Christians claimed.

Many of these Sinai residents are “very poor,” Nassif said, and have fled to churches, Coptic charities, or to relatives’ homes.

Bishop Angaelos insisted that “the one common denominator is that these innocent children, women and men have had their lives brutally and tragically ended for no other reason except that they are Christians,” noting that written threats have been left in villages “urging Christians to ‘leave or die’.”

The current Egyptian government has condemned the attacks and in the past has pledged to protect embattled Christian minorities in the country, but Christians still suffer most in rural areas outside the capital of Cairo where the national government has lesser oversight.

“The security situation in Sinai itself has just deteriorated dramatically in the past year,” Nassif said, in the area with a “large Christian presence.”

“The ISIS affiliates in the Sinai are basically using a really poor economic situation, and they’re taking advantage of a very difficult geographic area” to target Christians, he said, many of whom have been killed “in lone wolf attacks” intended to instill fear in the rest of the Christian population and drive them out.

“Their goal is to really create real deep anxiety among all the Christians in Egypt, and to sow this sort of narrative that they were part of this sort of counter-coup against the Muslim Brotherhood,” he continued.

The Muslim Brotherhood had governed Egypt before they were ousted in a 2013 military coup. General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi became president months later after elections were held, and Christians have been blamed by insurgents as aiding his rise to power.

The international community must take notice of this persecution, which has “gone largely unnoticed,” Bishop Angaelos stressed.

“In our fast moving world that is filled with so much news of tragedy, war and death, it is all too easy for atrocities to become ‘incidents,’ and for individuals suffering them to become mere statistics, very quickly pushed aside by the next item of news,” he stated.

“In the eyes of the perpetrators they are a viable target, and in the eyes of the world they become a regrettable phenomenon; yet what is actually left behind are traumatized individuals, families and communities that have lost loved ones, living the reality of themselves being targeted.”

In Defense of Christians is asking the U.S. government to advocate that Egypt “prioritize the protection of the Coptic community.”

Catholics must not only pray for the victims of these attacks, but also for those in the government charged with protecting them, and for the perpetrators, Bishop Angaelos insisted.

“We also pray for those in positions of authority and influence that they may be advocates for all those entrusted into their care. Finally, and not of least importance we pray for those who perpetrate these crimes, that they once again become conscious of the true value of every life that appears to be dispensable in their eyes.”

 

Posted: March 2, 2017, 10:27 pm

Juba, South Sudan, Feb 28, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of South Sudan issued a call last Thursday for dialogue between the warring factions in the country, and international humanitarian aid to alleviate the famine affecting so many in their nation.

“Those who have the ability to make changes for the good of our people have not taken heed of our previous pastoral messages … we intend to meet face to face not only with the President but with the vice presidents, ministers, members of parliament, opposition leaders and politicians, military officers from all sides, and anyone else who we believe has the power to change our country for the better,” the South Sudanese bishops said in a Feb. 23 pastoral message to the faithful and people of South Sudan.

“We intend to meet with them not once, but again and again, for as long as is necessary, with the message that we need to see action, not just dialogue for the sake of dialogue.”

In their meetings with government and opposition leaders, the bishops will take as a model the importunate widow of Christ's parable, they emphasized.

South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when violence erupted in the capital city of Juba and quickly spread throughout the country. The war has is being fought between forces loyal to the country’s president and those loyal to its former vice president, and is largely drawn along ethnic lines. Peace agreements have been short-lived, with violence quickly resuming.

The bishops' message came at the conclusion of a three-day plenary assembly together with the apostolic nuncio to South Sudan. They said they received “disturbing reports from all seven of our dioceses spanning the whole country.”

“The civil war, which we have frequently described as having no moral justification whatsoever, continues. Despite our calls to all parties, factions and individuals to STOP THE WAR, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all over the country. In some towns there is calm, but the absence of gunfire does not mean peace has come. In other towns, civilians are effectively trapped inside the town due to insecurity on the surrounding roads.”

The bishops are particulary concerned that alongside fighting between government and opposition forces, “much of the violence is being perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians.”

“There seems to be a perception that people in certain locations or from certain ethnic groups are with the other side, and thus they are targeted by armed forces. They are killed, raped, tortured, burned, beaten, looted, harassed, detained, displaced from their homes and prevented from harvesting their crops … Even when they have fled to our churches or to UN camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces,” they lamented.

They pointed to the famine facing more than 100,000 South Sudanese, saying “there is no doubt” it is “man-made, due to insecurity and poor economic management.”

“Hunger, in turn, creates insecurity, in a vicious circle in which the hungry man, especially if he has a gun, may resort to looting to feed himself and his family. Millions of our people are affected, with large numbers displaced from their homes and many fleeing to neighbouring countries, where they are facing appalling hardships in refugee camps.”

Millions have become refugees or are internally displaced, and some 40 percent of the population is dependent on international aid.

The bishops expressed concern that some government officials seem to be suspicious of the Church.

“In some areas the Church has been able to mediate local peace deals, but these can easily be undermined if government officials are removed and replaced with hardliners who do not welcome Church efforts for peace. Priests, sisters and other personnel have been harassed.”

They detailed that Catholic radio programs have been removed, and churches burnt down. In May 2016, a Slovak nun, Sister Veronika Terézia Racková, was killed by militants; a physician, she had been working at a hospital in Yei.

The bishops also noted that on Feb. 14 “security officers attempted to close down our Catholic bookshop. They harassed our personnel and confiscated several books … We hear people saying that 'the Church is against the government'.”

“We wish to inform all of you that the Church is not for or against anyone, neither the government nor the opposition,” the bishops stressed. “We are FOR all good things - peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance – and we are AGAINST evil - violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression – regardless of where they are and who is practising them. We are ready to dialogue with and between the government and the opposition at any time.”

The bishops called on the international community to act to alleviate the country's humanitarian crisis, and said they will continue to make their people's extreme hardships better known across the world.

Speaking to the people of South Sudan, the bishops said: “We call upon you to remain spiritually strong, and to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and love. Work for justice and peace; reject violence and revenge. We are with you … We wish to give you hope that you are not abandoned and that we are working to resolve the situation at many different levels.”

The bishops concluded by announcing that Pope Francis hopes to visit their country later this year.

“The Holy Father is deeply concerned about the sufferings of the people of South Sudan. You are already in his prayers, but his coming here would be a concrete symbol of his fatherly concern and his solidarity with your suffering. It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here. We call upon you to begin a programme of prayer for this visit to go ahead. Let us use the coming months fruitfully to begin the transformation of our nation.”

Posted: February 28, 2017, 7:02 am

Beirut, Lebanon, Feb 25, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has said that the number of youth wanting to leave the Middle East is a major concern, and stressed that if local Christians are going to stay, political agendas must be set aside.

“We hope that peace, reconciliation and stability will be realized as soon as possible,” the patriarch said Feb. 23. The problem is that there are geopolitical agendas that don’t involve us.”

Their greatest concern is “how to convince our people to return to their homelands,” he said, adding that “this goes above all for the youth...our youth are losing the virtue of hope.”

Head of the Syriac-Catholic Church of Antioch, Younan, who is based in Lebanon, spoke at the presentation of the project “Stand Together,” a digital ecumenical platform aimed at promoting religious freedom and drawing attention to persecuted Christians, particularly those from the Middle East.

The event was held at the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. Among the partners sponsoring the initiative were Communion and Liberation, Rome Reports and the ISCOM association.

In comments to journalists, Patriarch Younan said that if Christians are to stay in the Middle East, “a welcoming, peaceful environment must be created for them so that they can return.”

If they have gone abroad, “it means that they are threatened, persecuted or are truly in straights for everything: they no longer have anything.”

In the summer of 2014 some 100,000 people were forced to flee when ISIS stormed their homes and villages, demanding that Christians either convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax or face death.

According to a recent U.N. report, between January 2014 and October 2015, at least 18,802 civilians were killed in Iraq. About half of them died in Baghdad province. Another 36,000 were injured.

Another 3.2 million people were internally displaced, include about 1 million school-aged children. In addition, millions more have fled to surrounding countries and are currently living as refugees.

Younan said that when he visited Christians displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain after they first fled, he spoke with the Kurdish president, who told him that within a matter of months or even weeks, his people would be back in their villages with the Kurdish Peshmerga army to protect them.

“Two and a half years have passed” since that conversation, the patriarch said, explaining that during a November visit to the Christian villages in Iraq recently liberated from ISIS, “half of the houses were torched, the churches burned.”

Faced with the situation, Younan said his people ask “how can we return if there is no stability, without a strong governing presence?” The burning of their houses and churches, he said, was as if ISIS were telling Christians “you won’t ever come back, we don’t want you.”

The patriarch sympathized with their concerns, admitting that if that he himself had a family with children, “I would not return.”

Another big problem for those who have fled to other countries, such as Lebanon, is the fact that frequently they are not given refugee status, he said, explaining that these people know they will “not ever be accepted as Lebanese,” and so try to move abroad to Australia, Canada, the United States and Sweden.

When asked what can be done to help Christians to stay rather than moving abroad, the patriarch said the world has to avoid letting individual countries go there “to negotiate in order to have greater advantages in trade.”

Local Christians will never be able to be protagonists of change in their home countries because they are such a small minority. Pointing to Egypt as an example, he noted that only 8-10 million of the 80 million people living there are Coptic Christians, and mosques frequently control the elections.

“We try to live in peace with the others but we need stronger interventions on the part of the family of nations to say to these peoples: ‘Live in the 21st century, not the 7th,’” he said. “There must be a unified approach.”

Younan also commented on Pope Francis’ frequent declaration that “no religion is terrorist.” When asked if he agreed this declaration also applies to Islam, the patriarch said that “it’s they who have to prove this, it’s not up to me or the Pope to say it.”

In general “relations with Islamic religious heads are good,” he said, but added that for him, this is only at the “politico-diplomatic level, to not say that there is fanaticism.”

“We meet, we speak in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Syria, but the important thing is that we can’t do more, we are oppressed by a fundamentalism radical Islam that receives funding,” he said, voicing his hope “that Europe reawakens and finds an adequate solution.”

Referring to Pope Francis’ May 23, 2016, meeting with Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb of the prestigious Al-Azhar monsque at the Vatican, Younan called the move “a diplomatic step,” but said he would have representatives at a special Feb. 24 seminar at the Al-Azhar University on countering religious justification for violence.

He said that representatives from his Church have been to the university – widely considered one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam – several times, and that with the joint-seminar with the Vatican they “want to make the world see that they are open.”

However, he also said there are still problems in the educational system of the university, including lessons in which youth use verses of the Koran that endorse violence “as they are.”

“Some are tolerant, others much less,” he said, noting that the two men who killed French priest Jacques Hamel in July 2016, didn’t know the priest, but murdered him “because they were formed like this.”

“It’s there that we need to intervene,” he said, explaining that while the seminar is a step, “Azhar must reform itself.”

When it comes to Vatican diplomacy, the patriarch said they are already doing a lot to intervene in the crisis in the Middle East, “but it’s not enough.”

He recalled that during the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family he urged the Vatican to speak with officials in the U.S. government, in the U.N. and with the foreign ministers in China, Russia and the E.U., telling them that the ancient Christian communities in the region “run the risk of disappearing.”

The primary message that needs to be conveyed is that “you must do something and enough with your own interests please,” he said, but added that so far, “nothing has been done.”

When asked if there was talk of Pope Francis visiting Kurdistan, Younan said that the proposal has been made by several bishops, but nothing is confirmed yet.

However, Younan said that while “will be very happy to have the visit of the Holy Father” if he does go, what they really want are “the facts that can reassure our people.”

Posted: February 25, 2017, 7:06 pm

Aleppo, Syria, Feb 24, 2017 / 12:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly three months after the Syrian Army liberated the city of Aleppo from ISIS control, the local population is facing harsh living conditions in a city left in ruins after nearly six years of fighting.

In an interview with the French aid organization L´Oeuvre D´Orient, Father Ziad Hilal who carries out his pastoral ministry in Aleppo, said that the cost of living in Syria has gotten more expensive.

“Previously, the dollar used to be worth 50 Syrian pounds, today it is equivalent to more than 520 Syrian pounds. Ten times more! The people of Aleppo lack money to live on, few people have a job.”

“They need food, fuel, they have to pay tuition for the children, university students, for milk for the children. They have to pay for electricity generators for each family,” Fr. Hilal said.

“Several thousand people are there in the Aleppo region. They are often without shelter, or housed in old factories. They need everything. Others are close to Idleb (southwest of Aleppo) on the border with Turkey, in Damascus, in Lebanon. Others have taken refuge in Europe. There are also some who have remained in Aleppo by going over to the west side,” Fr. Hilal said.

The Jesuit priest explained that after the evacuation of the rebels from the eastern part of the city, “the situation has gotten a little better, but a lot of rebels still remain in the surrounding villages. There are exchanges of gunfire and shelling between Aleppo and the outskirts.”

“East Aleppo is almost destroyed. There is a military presence but the people can't return there,” he said.

“Despite that, people are going out on the streets, they can go shopping, the children are calmer. On the other hand, neither electricity nor water have been restored to the city. After the fighting, we had ten days with the water supply cut off which was very trying for everyone. That's why people aren't coming back right now, even if some of them want to. Even more so because it's been a rough winter this year, we've had two snowfalls,” Fr. Hilal said.

“The Church must now come alongside the refugees, the displaced, those marginalized. The people of Aleppo come not just to pray but also to get help.”

He stressed that this situation “is not easy work for the priests, the men and women religious, but we're taking this on.”

For example, the six Catholic churches in Aleppo work together to run an initiative called “the milk place.”

Each month they distribute milk to about 2600 children in Aleppo. The churches also distribute food baskets, hygiene supplies, and pay for tuition and housing for families.

Fr. Hilal said that the reconstruction of Aleppo is premature “as long as there is no peace in the country.” However, he said that they are studying with a number of organizations the possibility of rebuilding some churches and destroyed houses.

“The Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari and Mgr. Dal Toso of Cor Unum, came three weeks ago to evaluate the situation.”

“On the other hand, we can't expect electricity to be restored here for at least a year because the network was completely destroyed by the fighting. It would take millions and millions of euros to rebuild it,” he said. “Who's going to pay for that? You have to invest in the city. You have to have hope.”

 

Posted: February 24, 2017, 7:20 am

Mosul, Iraq, Feb 23, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After years of darkness, hope has returned to Telekuf-Tesqopa. Located just 17 miles from Mosul, the village is rebuilding after being liberated from ISIS.

As a visible sign of the rebuilding, a giant cross was erected on a hill, marking the victory of the Christian faith against the darkness of the jihadists.

On Feb. 18, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Sako, visited the village, where he blessed the large cross and participated in the celebration of the first Mass after two and a half years in Saint George Church.

According to the website of the Patriarchate of Babylon, the authorities and officials of the region were present at the celebration.

In his homily, Patriarch Sako said that this event is “the first spark of light shining in all the cities of the Nineveh Plain since the darkness of ISIS, which lasted almost two and a half years.”

“This is our land and this is our home,” he told the faithful. He also said that now is the time to regain hope and for the people to return to their towns to begin a new stage of life.

The patriarch said that Christians will thus demonstrate to the world that the forces of darkness, which wreaked havoc and ravaged their land, are ephemeral and that the Church of Christ, although it suffers, is built upon rock.

When the Mass was over, everyone went out to a hill located on the outskirts of the city. There Patriarch Sako blessed the huge cross which was raised amid fireworks and with cries of “Victory! Victory! Victory!  For those who chose the faith and those who return!”

The Catholic Patriarch said that this cross will announce “to the world that this is our land, we were born here and we will die here. Our ancestors were buried in this pure land and we are going to remain to preserve them with all our might and for future generations.”

“It is a sincere and great call to return and rebuild. We are joined to our land, to our future on the land of our ancestors. Here we can be proud of our history and here we can obtain the granting of all our rights,” Patriarch Sako said.

Before the celebration of the Mass, a delegation came to Telekuf-Tesqopa to assess the state of damage and to thus ask for the support of international organizations for reconstruction. Saint George Church was cleaned by volunteers from the French aid organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient. (SOS Christians of the East).

The placement of crosses has become a recurring gesture since the Iraqi Army began the offensive to recover the city of Mosul, the ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

In every village liberated on the Plain of Nineveh, Christians have made wooden crosses and have placed them on the roofs of churches and homes.

Muslims have also participated in these events. Last week, a group of Muslims youths joined those cleaning a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary located in east Mosul, liberated by the Iraqi Army.

This action is part of a campaign that seeks to remember the religious coexistence that was present in the city before the jihadists occupied it in 2014.

 

Posted: February 23, 2017, 11:00 pm

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Feb 22, 2017 / 06:09 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- In the wake of an attack on a Catholic seminary, the leader of the Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has issued an appeal about “the alarming security situation” in his country.

In a message sent to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, the country’s capital, reported on a Feb. 18 “arson attack” on the Malole major seminary. The prelate charged the perpetrators were “violent thugs, who have [also] sown terror among the Carmelite Sisters” in nearby Kananga.

The cardinal described the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as marked by a “resurgence of fear, anger and insecurity” among the population. He stressed that the Catholic Church in particular has come under attack recently.

On Feb. 19, the parish church of St. Dominic in the Limete municipality of Kinshasa was desecrated by a gang of youth. Cardinal Pasinya wrote that “they overturned the tabernacle, ransacked the altar, smashed some of the benches and attempted to set fire to the church. The material damage is considerable.”

The archbishop believes the Catholic Church is “being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”

The Church played a crucial role as mediator in negotiations that led to a Dec. 31, 2016 agreement that DRC President Joseph Kabila will step down following elections to be held late this year. The agreement brought the country back from the brink of renewed civil war.

In his message, Cardinal Pasinya called on the country’s politicians to assume their responsibility of leadership, reminding them that the country’s bishops were only acting as mediators.

He wrote: “It is now down to the men of politics to acknowledge with humility, both before the nation and before the international community, their political weakness and the turpitude of their selfish choices that have led to a political impasse and the paralysis of the institutions.”

He called on each and every political leader to “demonstrate wisdom, self-restraint and a democratic spirit in order to resolve the question regarding the designation of the Prime Minister and the other related issues” in order not to risk “imperiling the planned elections scheduled for the end of this year.”

ACN supports a number of projects in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, providing funding for the building of rectories and churches as well as priestly formation programs.

The Daughters of the Resurrection, an order of African Sisters that was founded with the aid of ACN, receives special support in the form of living expenses for the sisters. The community has been hard-hit by violence in the past decade; a number of convents were forced to close and several sisters were killed.

ACN also supports yearly retreats for priests, in an effort to give them some respite from the intense psychological stress of performing their ministry in a highly stressful and often violent settings.
 

Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)

Posted: February 23, 2017, 1:09 am

Bamako, Mali, Feb 10, 2017 / 02:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Colombian bishops are asking for prayers after a religious sister from Colombia was kidnapped for the home where she served in Mali.

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was abducted by armed men Tuesday night, according to officials.

The men forced Sister Cecilia to hand over the keys to the community’s ambulance, according to the superior, Sister Noemi Quesada. The vehicle was later found abandoned.

While all four of the sisters who live in the house in Karangasso were present at the time of the intrusion, the other three managed to escape.

So far, no one has taken responsibility for the kidnapping.

Sister Quesada said the kidnappers claimed to be jihadists. However, Fr. Edmond Dembele, secretary general of the Malian Bishops' Conference, acknowledged the possibility that the kidnapping was carried out by bandits who claimed to be jihadists to mislead investigators. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the culprits stole the sisters’ computers, money, and car.

Karangasso is in southeast Mali, removed from the areas where jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda operate, in the country's north.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="es" dir="ltr">La historia de la monja colombiana que estaría en manos de yihadistas <a href="https://t.co/0kyYIXEotv">https://t.co/0kyYIXEotv</a> <a href="https://t.co/D8uQA9SpeJ">pic.twitter.com/D8uQA9SpeJ</a></p>&mdash; Publimetro Colombia (@PublimetroCol) <a href="https://twitter.com/PublimetroCol/status/829468275444764673">February 8, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Fr. Dembele reported that the government of Mali “has mobilized the armed forces to patrol the area where Sister Cecilia was kidnapped. The people have mobilized to help in the search.”

“We don't know who kidnapped her. The Civil Guard and the police are investigating. The bishops are also moving to obtain information in the area,” the priest told the Vatican's Fides News Agency.

The police have arrested two suspects who are being interrogated, he said.

“One of the hypotheses is that the kidnappers have gone to Burkina Faso with her as a hostage. But there is also the possibility that this is a smoke screen. The kidnappers could have headed to the border and then later gone into a wooded area in Malian territory,” Fr. Dembele said.

Upon hearing the news, the Colombian bishops – who are meeting in Bogota for their 102nd Plenary Assembly – asked the Colombian Foreign Ministry to keep up its efforts with the international authorities to obtain the safe and prompt release of the sister.

In a statement released Feb. 8, the Bishops' Conference invited Colombian Catholics to join in prayer for Sister Cecelia to be released.

The sister, “like many of the disciples of the Lord, has decided to give her life for the service of the most poor and needy,” the bishops said, offering assurances that “with our voice of encouragement in faith and hope, we are accompanying in these moments Sister Gloria Cecilia's family and every one of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate.”

Sister Cecilia has served in Mali for 12 years. Her community administers a large health center in the country, as well as a home where they care for some 30 orphans between one and two years of age.

The children were all orphaned at birth, and the sisters pick them up and take care of them, along with some moms that work with them, Sister Noemi told Colombia La FM Radio.

In addition to their pastoral ministry, they teach literacy to some 700 Muslim women and are working on a barn project for times of food shortages, as many mothers in the region die from malnutrition.

 

Posted: February 10, 2017, 9:59 am

Amman, Jordan, Feb 10, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Jerusalem Bishop William Shomali, newly appointed to the Latin Patriarchate of Jordan, says that although Christians are a very small minority in Jordan, through the Catholic schools, hospitals and charities their presence is strongly felt in the communities.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, after consultation with the Bishops Council and the Consultative Council of the Latin Patriarchate, announced Feb. 8 that he named Bishop Shomali the next Patriarchal Vicar of Jordan.

Auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem since 2010, Bishop Shomali told CNA Feb. 9 that while he will make several visits to Jordan over the next few months, including one for a bishops' conference, he won't permanently take over in Jordan until a few months from now, at which point he will reside in Amman.

Although Christians are a very small minority in the area – they only make up about two percent of the overall population, he said – their social status and presence, relatively speaking, has a much stronger influence.

“The Catholic Church, although a minority, is very active through Catholic schools, Caritas, and other institutions,” he said. “We also have Catholic hospitals in Jordan, so our presence in the health and social and educational sectors is strong.”

This doesn't mean Bishop Shomali won't face challenges in Jordan, though.

The issues, he said, are not new ones, but ones the area has been facing for some time: mainly pertaining to the economy, refugees and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The presence of two million refugees” from Syria in Jordan, he said, presents a challenge on a humanitarian level, although the Catholic organization Caritas is very involved on that level.

Jordan is also dealing with an ongoing economic crisis, which significantly affects institutions of higher education, such as the local universities.

“Another challenge is that the diocese is divided into many sectors: Jordan, Palestine, Israel,” he explained. “So we have to care for the unity of the diocese, despite the political and economic differences and discrepancies.”

Asked his response to the possibility of a U.S. embassy move from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, which U.S. bishops condemned just earlier this week, Bishop Shomali said that the bishops in the Holy Land are also united in considering it a bad idea.

“We feel that if the embassy is transferred, it will be a handicap against the two-state solution,” he said, and that they really “don't advise Mr. Trump to do that.”

Not all bad news, the bishop said that Jordan does have a number of young and vibrant priests which helps to make his job much easier. “On the positive side, we have a younger clergy, very dynamic, and very orthodox, which makes it easier for the bishop to work,” he said.

Posted: February 10, 2017, 7:02 am
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