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Damascus bombing kills 9 in Christian districts

January 22, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Damascus, Syria, Jan 22, 2018 / 06:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An estimated nine people were killed in a bombing on Monday afternoon in Damascus. The shelling targeted the Bab Touma and al-Shaghour districts, which are historically Christian areas, and several churches were damaged as well.

At least 18 additional people in Old Damascus were injured in the bombings.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A bomb reportedly caused “severe damage” to the Maronite cathedral in Damascus. According to Archbishop Samir Nassar, the bomb also knocked out water and electricity.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>From Archbishop Samir of Damascus &quot; Another bomb hit the Archdiocesan complex which includes the Cathedral at 14h today January 22nd . There is severe damage . We are without water and electricity. <br>3 bombs not far from here have claimed 15 victims.<br>We pray to the Lord.&quot; <a href=”https://twitter.com/acn_uk?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@acn_uk</a></p>&mdash; Edmund Adamus (@EdmundPAdamus) <a href=”https://twitter.com/EdmundPAdamus/status/955450206018994176?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 22, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>BREAKING NEWS: Another bomb hit the Maronite Archdiocesan buildings in Damascus, Syria today, 22 January at 14:00 – damage is severe. 3 bombs close by claimed 15 victims. Please pray for them <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Prayforus?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Prayforus</a></p>&mdash; Aid to the Church (@acn_uk) <a href=”https://twitter.com/acn_uk/status/955464058970558465?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 22, 2018</a></blockquote>
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This is not Archbishop Samir’s first brush with death this month: a bomb hit his bedroom Jan. 8. He survived unscathed due to an extremely well-timed trip to the bathroom before the bombing began.

The Maronites are an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with Rome. There are about 3 million Maronites in the world. Although the church originated in the Levant, there are now significant Maronite populations in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. The Maronites have faced persecution throughout their history.

The Syrian civil war began nearly seven years ago, in March 2011. More than 400,000 people have been killed. At least 4.8 million have become refugees, and another 8 million have been internally displaced.

What began as demonstrations against the nation’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has become a complex fight among the Syrian regime; moderate rebels; Kurds; and Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State.

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Nigerian bishops deplore dehumanizing trends of violence

January 18, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Abuja, Nigeria, Jan 18, 2018 / 09:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nigeria’s bishops challenged government authorities Tuesday to resolve the country’s violent disputes, especially after recent attacks by Fulani herdsmen have resulted in over 100 deaths just this year.

A Jan. 16 statement from the Nigerian bishops’ conference focused on clashes between herdsmen and farmers; a spate of kidnappings; and the large number of internally displaced persons and refugees.

“The recent mass slaughter of unarmed citizens by these armed herdsmen in some communities in Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba States has caused national shock, grief and outcry” read the statement.
 
“We believe that, if there is some degree of political will, our public authorities can take adequate steps to put an end to these human tragedies.”

Signed by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos and Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, the president and secteary of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, respectively, the statement also urged officials to attend to increased kidnappings causing fear among citizens and humanitarian issues occurring in refugee camps.

On Jan. 11, thousands of Nigerians gathered in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, to mourn the death of 73 people. The deaths were a result of suspected Fulani herdsman who have raided nearby farming communities with automatic rifles since the beginning of the year.

Additionally, at least 55 people were killed by the nomadic herdsman in the neighboring state of Taraba. However, the violence has not ended and the death toll is likely to rise.

Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years since climate issues have pushed herders further south. The bishops understood the herdsmen’s concern “to save their livestock and economy” but condemned the “massacres of innocent people” that have resulted.

“Our perilous situation calls for more security consciousness,” the statement read, and the bishops urged authorities to take measures to disarm and unmask the criminals responsible for the attacks.  

They maintained that “a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing ‘grazing colonies’ in the country. Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice.”

“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect,” the bishops wrote.

Without government intervention, the bishops are worried the conflict would breed situations of long term violence, and that farmers would have to result to self-defense, creating a state of anarchy.

“This will, no doubt, lead to the complete breakdown of law and order in the country,” wrote the bishops. “It is wiser and easier to prevent a war than to stop it after it has broken out,” they later added.

The bishops, though, applauded the government’s successful efforts to remove one terrorist group, but were also saddened by the incidents of kidnapping and the lack of police efforts to prevent such widespread crimes.

“While thanking God and the federal government for the successes so far recorded in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists in the north east, we are appalled by the repeated occurrence of other ugly incidents,” read the message.

Recent kidnappings from have seeded fear among Nigeria’s citizens, the bishops said, noting that no individual “no matter how old, sacred or highly placed” has been safe from the humiliating attacks.  

An Italian priest, who had been missionary in Nigeria for three years, was kidnapped in October 2017. He was taken while driving in Benin City, the capital of Edo, a southern state of the country. Likewise, six religious women were taken last November from their convent near Benin City.

All the mentioned parties have been released, but the bishops expressed frustrations that “communities should be better policed” considering the monthly allowance set aside by the Federal Republican of Nigeria for security forces.

Two American and two Canadian citizens were kidnapped in Kaduna state Jan. 17. The kidnappers shot and killed two police escorts in the incident, according to the BBC.

The bishops also encouraged more policing of refugee camps, which have reportedly become hubs of sexual harassment.

Due to political unrest, Cameroonians have fled their country and taken residence in refugee camps within the states of Taraba and Banue. Many of these places are in need of basic necessities, sanitation, and medical supplies, the bishops wrote.

The government should provide additional support to the National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, they said, but also urged people to aid integration of these struggling communities.

In conclusion, the bishops called on all of Nigeria to participate in actions of peace, forgiveness, and mutual dialogue.

“We, therefore, urge all aggrieved parties to seek reconciliation through dialogue and mutual forgiveness. Above all, we passionately appeal to them to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

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On Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, a ten-year-old girl dares to dream again

January 18, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Mosul, Iraq, Jan 18, 2018 / 02:24 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Ten-year old Helda Khalid Jacob Hindi, a fifth-grader, is not at a loss for words. She is passionate about her life, her future, and that of her loved ones. Helda and her family—mom, dad and a younger brother—recently moved back to Qaraqosh on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains after spending three years in exile in Kurdistan.

She remembers vividly the night of Aug. 6, 2014, when ISIS overran her town and Christian families had to flee overnight.

She says: “Alarm bells rang out in our streets – we had to escape the living hell of violence and terrorism. I went along, crying, with no hope of ever returning to my town, my school; with no hope of ever seeing my friends again. We had no idea how long we would be displaced from our beloved city. The days passed and we lived in torment and tragedy until we got used to it.”

Eventually a new school was built for displaced children and Helda and her family began a new life. She remembers: “I was sad, clinging to hope of returning to my old school; but I made new friends. And today, by God’s grace, we have returned to our town and I am back in my old school among my old friends.”

Life in exile has been hard, perhaps particularly for a proud girl like Helda, who says: “we felt humiliated when we were receiving humanitarian aid, because we didn’t think that the day would come when we would become like beggars, oppressed people, with no power or strength.”

“We had only God and we never stopped believing in his power and his mercy for all those hurting in Iraq and around the world. Whenever we approach him in prayer and faith, we feel joy and confidence without end. My family, friends and relatives never felt that God was far away from us. As far as I can see into the past, God has been with me always. God is with me everywhere and I make sure to always keep nearby some pictures of Jesus Christ and a Bible.”

Helda proclaims she has her own ideas about her country. She explains: “Sometimes I want to stay in Iraq because it is my home, my beloved country. Sometimes I want to leave, especially when I see photographs and videos of terrorism striking innocent civilians. My heart cannot bear those horrifying scenes, but when I feel scared, I ask God to save me.”

“Frankly I’m not really sure about my future here in Iraq. I would want to go abroad with my family if we have to continue suffering war and persecution; how long it will take for us to finally be safe and secure? My message to the West is to do as much as possible to support Christians in Iraq because they are close to extinction. Help us. Have compassion, and you will be rewarded by the one who is in heaven.”

“Stop oppressing poor people. We want stability and peace. Let’s work together and pray together for peace and love – for all of us.”

Helda insists: “I have a beautiful dream in life. My hobbies are painting, music, singing, and I like acting a lot, but my ambition is – with the help of God – to become a dentist, to serve my community and my country, wherever I may end up living.”

She adds, however: “I do not know where to start because things are still so unsettled. What will be next for us? It’s so hard to tell right now…”

 

 

Ragheb Elias Karash writes for Aid to the Church in Need, 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)

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Syrian bishop narrowly avoids death in bombing

January 15, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Damascus, Syria, Jan 15, 2018 / 06:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bomb fell in the bedroom of the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus last week. He was spared death, he says, only because of a providential trip to the lavatory.

Archbishop Samir Nassar related that a shell fell on his bed the afternoon of Jan. 8, when he had been taking a nap. He got up to go to the bathroom shortly before the bomb hit his room, and he said that “a few seconds at the sink saved my life!”

“Providence watches over his little servant, but now I am exiled like 12 million Syrian refugees who have nothing left,” he told Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Archbishop Nassar’s cathedral was heavily damaged. He said that “The doors of the cathedral and 43 windows and doors have to be replaced, holes need to be filled, fuel tanks and water tanks need repairing, as does the electricity network.”

Aid to the Church in Need reports that 10 shells fell that day in various areas of Damascus. A bomb fell in the courtyard of the Melkite patriarchate, and the Sisters of Jesus and Mary convent was also damaged.

Seven people were hospitalized from the convent, and Sister Annie Demerjian told Aid to the Church in Need, “It was the providence of God that we were not in the room.”

Archbishop Nassar said that “violence is the only master – innocents are being sacrificed every day.”

Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, more than 400,000 people have been killed. At least 4.8 million have become refugees, and another 8 million have been internally displaced.

What began as demonstrations against the nation’s Ba’athist president, Bashar al-Assad, has become a complex fight among the Syrian regime; moderate rebels; Kurds; and Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State.

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In Cairo, a Christmas season tinged with sorrow

January 13, 2018 CNA Daily News 1

Cairo, Egypt, Jan 13, 2018 / 04:02 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Marian Nabil Habib recently observed the first anniversary of what she refers to as “the martyrdom of my father.”

Nabil Habib was 48; he was among the 29 people who died Dec. 11, 2016, in a suicide attack claimed by ISIS. The targets were worshippers at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Coptic Church in Cairo, also known as El-Botroseya Church.

Marian, who is 15, tells her story, with some of the details of that dark day gleaned from the church’s security cameras:

“That day was a watershed in my life and the life of my family. I always feared that I would lose one of my family members and then it turned out to be my father, who was a good friend to me. I will never forget the details of that day.

“We live in an apartment in the compound of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where El-Botroseya Church is located. My father worked as a guard of the church. I celebrated my birthday two days before the attack and I exchanged laughs and jokes with my dad that day. Then, the day before the attack, my father did not seem normal. He came back repeatedly to our apartment to check on my younger brother, Fadi, who is two years-old.

“That Saturday evening, the suicide bomber had come to the church and asked dad about religious books, saying that he wanted to know more about Christianity; a deacon overheard the conversation and told the young man to come back the next morning at 10 am.

“On Sunday morning, as soon as my father saw the young man he recognized him; the bomber was quickly making his way to the women’s pews, looking confused. My father got on the phone with my uncle to tell him about the man, but quickly ended the call to give chase. Next, the suicide bomber blew himself up.

“Just a few minutes before the explosion, my father had asked me to go to our apartment and prepare a cup of tea for him. When I heard the explosion, I thought that the kettle had exploded. But soon there was thick smoke and bricks fell from the kitchen walls. I rushed outside and found people running in all directions, screaming hysterically. There was a scene of complete destruction, but I still I did not know what had happened.

“I asked about my father but nobody knew where he was. I continued looking for him; then, at the entrance of the church, I found my father lying on the ground and bleeding heavily from his head. I took off my jacket for his head to rest on. There were wounds across his entire body; his hand looked shattered; my hair got wet with his blood.

“He was still alive and, looking me in the eyes, he told me to take care of my younger sister and brother; and he gave me the keys to the church gate and to our apartment. I will always remember his smile right before he died.

“Before all this happened I had worried for a long time that I would lose something precious. Losing my dad put me in a state of shock for more than a month and a psychiatrist visited me. Finally, it was God’s mercy, his consolation, which helped me recover.

“I feel great comfort from God and I also got support from the Church, my friends, and many of people around us; there also has been great interest from people from other countries and international bodies that visit us to this day.

“I do not feel scared now – but I still long for my father and my little brother needs his hugs; we miss him very much. I do not want to leave my country and the place where my father served and lived his whole life. All my memories of my father are here.

“Despite the pain, my life has changed for better: I feel stronger than before and I care more about my studies than ever before – the future no longer frightens me. I have joined the church choir, which gives me inner peace, because it is one of the things that bring me closer to God.

“My message to all those who suffer, and who might read my words: do not be afraid. God is great and I ask everyone to pray for all people facing violence and hatred; we must pray for peace around the world.”

 

Engy Magdy writes for Aid to the Church in Need, 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)

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Six kidnapped nuns liberated in Nigeria

January 11, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Uromi, Nigeria, Jan 11, 2018 / 03:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During a two day police operation, six women religious who were captured in Nigeria’s Edo state two months ago were released unharmed on Saturday, generating much joy from the Christian community.

The women were freed during a Jan. 6 police operation, but their captors were able to escape.

They had been kidnapped Nov. 13, 2017 from the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Convent in Iguoriakhi. Taken by unknown gunmen, three of the women were professed nuns (Sister Roseline Isiocha, Sister Aloysius Ajayi and Sister Frances Udi), and the other three were aspirants. Sister Ajayi was released first, followed several hours later by the others

“We are happy; to God be the glory,” said the convent’s mother superior, Mother Agatha Osarekho.

“They are fine and are receiving some medical checkup in a hospital,” she added, according to the Scottish Catholic Observer.
 
Sister Agatha received a ransom request of $55,000 for the women’s return, but she did not pay it.

Although the criminals were not captured, Sister Agatha applauded the efforts of authorities.

Fr. Kevin Oselumhense Anetor, a priest of the Diocese of Uromi, whence the women were kidnapped, posted on Facebook thanking “all the men and women of goodwill who worked and prayed tirelessly behind the scenes for the release of our sisters. We thank the mother superior of the EHJ for her patience and strong will, and her sisters for their solidarity during these days of trial.”

“We thank the Catholic Archdioceses of Benin and Lagos for their support and prayers, and indeed the Catholic and non-Catholic World, for their vigilance and prayers,” he added.

Archbishop Alfred Martins of Lagos had, earlier that week, urged government authorities to intensify their investigation into the abduction, saying, “We still do hope that the security agencies would do much more than is being done now to ensure that the sisters are released.”

Nigeria’s bishops had decried the nuns’ kidnapping in December, calling it a product of the “agents of darkness.”

Pope Francis also brought attention to the plight of the religious women, praying for them at his Dec. 17 Angelus address.

An Italian missionary priest, Fr. Maurizio Pallù, was kidnapped in Edo state for a week in October 2017. In Imo state, Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo was kidnapped and killed in September of the same year.

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Dominican sisters help educate Iraqi children returning home

January 10, 2018 CNA Daily News 1

Mosul, Iraq, Jan 10, 2018 / 11:34 am (ACI Prensa).- When Iraqi residents fled their homes during the Islamic State invasion, they left behind their houses, neighbors, and day-to-day lives.

For the children who fled, leaving their home behind also meant an interruption in their education – in some cases for months or years.

While some refugee camps offer classes for children, challenges abound and students often fall behind.

Now, a group of Dominican sisters in one Iraqi town is working to help educate displaced children as their families return to their homes and work to rebuild their lives.

With the support of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in Spain, the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Sienna were able to restore their convent, which had been destroyed by the Islamic State in Iraq. Today, they offer classes to hundreds of children who had been displaced by the war.

“We try to help the children, giving them peace: in our convent we offer them a safe place,” Sister Ilham told ACN in late December. Despite the expulsion of ISIS, security in the area remains unstable.  

In May 2017, ACN funded the restoration of Our Lady of the Rosary Convent with a grant of $54,000. Located in Teleskuf, north of the plain of Nineveh, the convent is just over 20 miles outside of Mosul.

The sisters worked 12-hour days to prepare the convent to welcome the children, Sister Ilham said.

They provide daycare for children between three and five years old. In the mornings, they teach about 150 children between the ages of six and 12. In the evenings, they teach students 12 years of age and older.

Sister Ilham, 57, was working for a church in Mosul when the rapid advance of the Islamic State forced her and her community to flee. However, after the fall of the terrorist group, she returned to the area and today is helping those displaced from Teleskuf.

“None of us wanted to leave where we come from, but as the attacks continued, we had to flee to save our lives,” she said.

“In 2016 some 6,000 people had to leave Telskuf. When I returned to this area, all the houses were abandoned and many of them destroyed,” she continued. “In Teleskuf all that is left of many of buildings are the ruins. The school and the children’s home are destroyed, the doors of the convent were forced open and the sisters’ home was sacked.”

In addition to teaching at the convent, the sisters visit the members of the Christian community in their homes, teach catechism to the children, and prepare them for their First Communion.

Once the local school is rebuilt, the children will no longer need to attend the convent classes. In the meantime, the sisters hope they can help the children from falling too far behind in their studies.

“Before the Islamic State invasion, there were five sisters in the convent, while now there are only two of us. Fortunately, we are will soon receive reinforcements,” Sister Ilham said.

In addition to helping fund the convent reconstruction, Aid to the Church in Need is currently helping rebuild 13,000 houses and more than 300 church properties destroyed by the Islamic State in Iraq.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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