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Pakistani bishops declare Year of the Eucharist

November 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lahore, Pakistan, Nov 14, 2017 / 12:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid national challenges, the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference has announced a “Year of the Eucharist,” to focus on renewal and service.

The year will begin on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 26, 2017. It will end on the same feast day next year, Nov. 25, 2018.

“The ‘Year of the Eucharist’ is meant to be a time of spiritual growth and inner renewal and to share the love of Christ with all humanity by our dedicated service to our country,” the bishops said in a statement published by the Pakistan Christian Post.

“As our country is going through difficult times we urge all people in Pakistan to pray more fervently for peace, harmony, progress and prosperity of our beloved country.”

The statement was issued during the bishops’ second annual plenary meeting, which took place in Lahore, Pakistan on Nov. 9-10.
In the statement, the bishops lamented the social problems that have arisen from corrupt politics. They expressed hope that the next election would be free and fair, and would “strengthen the democratic process.”

“We have to be honest in our dealings and be free from all stains of corruption,” the bishops said. “There must be an honest interim government that will bring in fair practices and not interfere with the election campaigns and the voting process.”

The bishops called on the Election Commission of Pakistan to be completely impartial, and encouraged the political parties to be attentive to the struggles of the country’s minorities.

“We feel that the current electoral system for minority candidates being appointed by political parties on reserved seats does not represent the community and so we urge the government to create a just and fair system,” they said.

The bishops also warned that “the educational system in Pakistan is suffering.” The weaknesses in the system must be addressed, they said, noting that the local Church has worked hard to offer high-quality, affordable education.

“Education is the basic right of every human being. It has power to drag a human from darkness of illiteracy into the light of knowingness. A country can never progress without appropriate educational system,” they stressed, calling on the government to work for a system that promotes peace and religious harmony.

Looking at the situation of the Church in the country, the Pakistani bishops thanked the government for showing respect for Sister Ruth Pfau, a beloved sister who spent more than 50 years working to eradicate leprosy in Pakistan.

Pfau died Aug. 10 at age 87 and was given a state funeral, the first Christian woman in the country to receive one, according to CNN.

The bishops thanked government leaders “for making the funeral of Dr Ruth Pfau a national event,” but said that Pfau’s legacy must continue.

“This must further inspire the clergy, religious, lay faithful and all people to a renewed commitment of serving our neighbor, especially in the poor and the marginalized,” they said.


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Christianity can survive in Iraq but not without your help

November 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Santiago, Chile, Nov 2, 2017 / 04:00 pm (ACI Prensa).- “Iraq needs aid now, or it will be without Christians,” said Fr. Luis Montes, a missionary priest has been serving in the Middle East and the Holy Land for more than 20 years. His current mission is a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, that houses 120,000 people.

Fr. Montes has also visited Christians who have decided to return to their cities liberated from ISIS, where only the foundations of their houses are left standing, marked with the Arabic letter “nun,” which stands for  “Nazarene,” or Christian.

A native of Argentina and member of the  Institute of the Incarnate Word religious order, Fr. Montes was invited by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Chile to raise awareness about the current situation of Christians in formerly-ISIS occupied areas of Iraq.  

In an interview with ACI Prensa, Fr. Montes explained that Christians displaced by the war are returning to their destroyed hometowns because they have “the grace of God that allows them to endure martyrdom.”

“God gives courage to those who are the weakest. This is something purely from God, not from themselves. In face of persecution, God gives them grace. He never gives us a mission he doesn’t give us the strength for. God gives them the grace to endure the worst pain and torture and to be able to follow him,” he said.

“There are things that help them, for example, their very beautiful devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the queen of martyrs, she teaches them to be martyrs.”

“Everything was taken away from the refugees,” so lacking material goods, they just “simplify their lives,” the missionary priest explained.

“Life is simple. They love God because he is the giver of their material needs. They love the Blessed Virgin because she is the Mother that God has given us.”

“That is the wisdom that comes from the Cross. They know their crosses and whoever joins himself to the Cross has that wisdom and draws on it and God grants him peace, which is the closest thing to happiness here on earth,” he added.

“When you visit them” the priest continued, “ you see suffering people but they have an inner peace. Despite everything they have suffered, they never deny their God. The people thank God every day. They tell him about their hardships, they weep and then they finish saying, ‘Allah karim’ which means ‘God is generous,’” he said.

“This people has suffered so much but, they are people tested by suffering. They hold fast to their  faith because their situation is simpler than what you can see from the outside. They are well formed in their faith, so for them, reconstructing their lives is the easier thing to do.”

“Starting their lives over brings them a great deal of joy and consolation, knowing that they can go back to their cities, to their former lives. They have been living as refugees. Compared to that, this is now a paradise!” Fr. Montes emphasized.

While basic services are slowly returning to the cities destroyed by ISIS, the families that come camp over the foundations of the homes that were burned or destroyed by the Islamic extremists.

Fr. Montes said that help coming to the refugees from Christians, through organizations like Aid to the Church in Need, is essential to their repatriation.

Since 2014, ACN has been providing food and housing for displaced Christian families.

“With outside aid coming in, Christians have the courage to begin again and return to their lives. But the aid has to come now or Iraq will be without Christians, ” he stressed

“The Church in Iraq is going through a crucial moment and helping them is everyone’s duty. Imagine how shameful it would be for future generations if it were to be said that Christians had to abandon the Middle East because no one came to their aid,” Fr. Montes concluded.

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


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How can Saudi Arabia counter violent extremism? Religious freedom, expert says

October 26, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Ryiadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct 26, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has suggested a turn towards moderate Islam, especially among younger Saudis who want to “destroy” extremist thoughts, but one expert suggests religious freedom is the best path for Saudi Arabia.

“As a general matter, no government can ‘destroy extremist thoughts,’ including the government of Saudi Arabia,” Georgetown University professor Thomas F. Farr told CNA. “Even when U.S. forces ‘destroy’ ISIS militarily, the problem of extremist interpretations of Islam will remain.”

Farr, who directs the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, advocated religious freedom as the best approach in Saudi Arabia.

His remarks follow comments from Prince Mohammed, the new heir apparent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who recently spoke to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

“We are simply reverting to what we [once] followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.”

“After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia,” Prince Mohammed continued. “We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”

Farr welcomed the encouragement of more moderate interpretations of Islam, but cautioned: “their success in that endeavor will have less to do with the use of force than it will the government’s willingness to move toward true religious freedom, defined in this context as the freedom of all religions in the kingdom openly to challenge Saudi Wahhabism, the ideological source of much violent Islamist extremism.”

“In short, what governments can do to undermine violent extremism is to protect religious freedom,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s religious freedom record has come under criticism.

In its 2017 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Saudi Arabia be designated a tier one “Country of Particular Concern.”

“Saudi courts continue to prosecute and imprison individuals for dissent, apostasy, and blasphemy, and a law classifying blasphemy and the promotion of atheism as terrorism has been used to target human rights defenders, among others,” the report said. The government also privileges its interpretation of Sunni Islam over other interpretations and bans non-Muslim public places of worship.

The commission’s report also cited the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 program, focused on economic and cultural transformation, as a reason for improved religious freedom conditions. There was a “significant decrease” in the power of the country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a continued government commitment to reform textbooks and curricula, and increased efforts to counter domestic and international extremism.

Prince Mohammed’s remarks expanded on comments he had made at an investment conference announcing a $500 billion planned independent economic zone across Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, The Guardian reports.

“Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world,” the prince said. “So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone.”


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What it’s like to be a missionary in Central African Republic

October 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Bangassou, Central African Republic, Oct 25, 2017 / 03:04 am (ACI Prensa).- Especially in war-torn Central African Republic, Christians are called to the virtues of forgiveness and mercy, reflected a priest from Chile who has spent 12 years as a missionary in the central African country.

“Being a Christian in the Central African Republic means witnessing to the forgiveness and mercy of God,” Fr. Yovane Cox told ACI Prensa.

The Central African Republic has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize. Their president was in turn ousted in a negotiated transition in January 2014.

In reaction to the Seleka’s attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

The civil war has officially ended and the Seleka have been disbanded, but ex-Seleka and anti-balaka groups have continued to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.

Fr. Cox is a pastor in Bema, near Bangassou in the country’s southeast.

In the context of the Central African Republic’s extreme poverty, the Chilean missionary of the Gran Rio Mission Association has managed to build a school for 300 children and hopes to build another with the capacity for 400 students.

Fr. Cox said the sectarian violence urgently calls for  “showing mercy” and to “being ready to forgive, to help people to overcome terrible things such as death of a loved one or the destruction of their village.”

The priest related his own experience of persecution and violence when in June this year he had to flee, along with his faithful, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to seek refuge.

“I was lying on the floor of the church for hours waiting for the fighting to end. Then I left and came across some extremely angry people, so I asked myself, “How can I be a witness to Christ in the midst of this terrible situation?”

“Like every pastor I was the last to leave the village, using a dugout canoe,” Fr. Cox recalled, “and when I got to the other side, to the Congo, I was welcomed  by all the people, even by those who were indifferent to me in the village.”

“Everyone gave me a hug and told me ‘Father, we were waiting for you.’ When people say ‘father’ to you so many times, the meaning of the word is lost sometimes, but there I experienced it. I said to myself ‘these are my children, they were waiting for me just like for a father,” the missionary said.

The persecution of Christians in the Central African Republic are undergoing is coming from a mostly Muslim group “which is being politically manipulated,” Fr. Cox said.

“There is a hidden political agenda, no one wants to say it, but it’s the reality. It does a lot of harm and is dividing the country. Only in the capital, Bangui, thanks to the presence of Pope Francis in 2015, was the Muslim population able to be reconciled with the rest of the citizens.”

The priest also said that the the country’s terrain “is extremely rich” thanks to oil and diamonds. Though it has immense natural resources, the country “is mired down in extreme poverty and curiously no international concern or nation is interested in the resources.”

“The United Nations is present but they’re not doing a good job and they haven’t succeeded in defusing this conflict or making progress toward reconciliation. The Church is the only only institution doing something for the people. Africa is suffering from terrible indifference,” from the outside world, he lamented.

Faced with this, Fr. Cox encouraged Catholics to show their solidarity with persecuted Christians in Africa in three ways, beginning with overcoming indifference.

“If we don’t resolve Africa’s problems, how are we going to stop emigration? In face of this indifference the only solution is to open up your heart and recognize that we’re all humans beings and we have the same dignity before God and each other,” he stated.

Secondly, concrete actions. “Many people help out by donating to Aid to the Church in Need and they carry out various projects here. But also it can be done on a personal level; for example, I have 60 Chileans who are paying for the tuition for one child for a whole year.”

Finally, but no less important, is prayer: “If we didn’t have the prayers of the Church, I think the Church in the Central African Republic would have failed in its missionary work.”

“We would have become discouraged and abandoned the people, but there is something that fortifies the soul of all missionaries and that is that we know that we have the support of a lot of people behind us,” Fr. Cox emphasized.


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Christians play vital role in Middle East – the view from Lebanon

October 24, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Byblos, Lebanon, Oct 24, 2017 / 03:35 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- The Church in Lebanon is working to aid the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the great majority of whom are Muslim, and the Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of Jbeil recently told Aid to the Church in Need about these efforts.

Bishop Michel Aoun teaches sacramental theology at the Holy Spirit University in Beirut and serves as the liaison for the country’s Catholic patriarchs and bishops with Caritas Lebanon.

He spoke with papal charity Aid to the Church in Need on a recent visit to New York. He spoke in particular on the local Churches’ role in coming to the aid of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, an influx that has posed enormous challenges for a country whose own population is just 4.5 million.

Please read below the text of Aid to the Church in Need’s interview with Bishop Aoun:

What is the situation at present—are the refugees being integrated somehow?

The refugees are everywhere, along the border with Syria, and in every town and village across the entire country. They are not in refugee camps. These people get some support from international organizations, but they also are seeking work. That is a problem: a Syrian will work for a lot less money than would a Lebanese. As a result, the country is getting poorer. For Caritas it is a special challenge; we are called to help the Syrians, which upsets the Lebanese, who are saying they themselves increasingly need support. Syrian Christians, on the other hand, have local connections, are helped by Churches, etc. The Muslim refugees pose the biggest challenge.

What has been the approach of Caritas in Lebanon?

In conjunction with our partners in Europe and elsewhere, we are allotting at least 30 percent or sometimes even 40 percent of our budget to fund projects in support of vulnerable Lebanese – for example, in supporting schools. That is a good thing. We are also focusing on projects that benefit the Lebanese, as well as the Syrian refugees. In addition, we support Lebanese communities that have a particularly hard time coping, such as those living along the Syrian border; we help them with modest economic development, education, or supply of water, so that local residents are not forced to migrate to the big cities like Beirut. It is important to keep these villages vibrant, so that they simply do not lose all their residents.

With violence abating, to some extent, in Syria, is the refugee crisis in Lebanon easing? Are Syrians – Muslims and Christians – beginning to return home?

That process has not yet begun, much as we want that to happen. Those Muslims who are in Lebanon are opposed to the Assad regime; the majority is Sunni. They await action on the part of the international community so that they can be sure that they will be given protection from being persecuted by the Syrian regime.

There is another issue. These refugees have now spent some four years in Lebanon and have gotten used to a better way of life than the one they left behind. Some are reluctant to leave also because Lebanon offers certain liberties that the dictatorship in Syria, a totalitarian system, would never allow.

Is the additional Sunni presence in Lebanon a threat to Lebanon’s stability?

Lebanon must preserve a certain balance, an equilibrium. Absorbing such a large number of Sunnis could thus pose a threat to that equilibrium. Neither the Shiites nor the Christians of Lebanon could accept that; a solution to the refugee crisis must be found.

Are there tensions in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims?

No, there is a long history of harmony between the two communities, which dates back many decades, up to a century. That culture of living side-by-side is inscribed in the hearts of our people. They work side-by-side and, in Catholic schools, often there are 15 percent or 20 percent, or more, of the students who are Muslim. Muslim parents are eager to have their children taught certain basic values at our schools.

Could Lebanon be a model for the Middle East in this regard?

Yes, St. John Paul II declared that Lebanon, with its conviviality among Christians and Muslims, has a message for the region. Citizens here have the same rights and obligations. It is therefore crucial for the world to help Lebanon preserve this unique state of affairs that shows the world that Christians and Muslims can live together.

Given the upheaval and wars in the region, is Lebanon at risk of losing its privileged position in this regard?

The greatest risk is that Christians will leave Lebanon, also that they do not have many children. That is crucial for maintaining this equilibrium. Christians should not become a small minority. Right now, approximately 38 percent of Lebanese are Christians, with Muslims comprising 62 percent, more or less half Sunnis and half Shiites, not counting the refugees.

What does the Maronite Church in Lebanon want Churches in the West to do?

It would be great if Christians in the West would petition their government so that, for example, the US government take account of the importance of Christians in the Middle East. It seems that sometimes that economic considerations have precedence, as has been the case in Iraq, for example. Western policy should ensure that Christians remain in the Middle East – their presence is vital.

The Lebanese example shows why: Lebanese Muslims are very much influenced by Christians – they are different than Muslims in Syria or Iraq, because they have lived side by side with many Christians and have been exposed to Christian values, including their support for democracy, and tolerance. That is a vital, indispensable gift Christians have to offer the region.


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Kidnapped priest in Nigeria released, doing well

October 18, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Benin City, Nigeria, Oct 18, 2017 / 10:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. Maurizio Pallù, an Italian missionary who was kidnapped in southern Nigeria last week, was freed Tuesday.

He was freed late in the evening of Oct. 17, according to authorities, and is doing well.

“The devil is cowardly, he wants to make us afraid but he has chosen the wrong way because we are poor men, that have fear, but are sustained by the grace of God,” Fr. Pallù told Vatican Radio Oct. 18.

Noting that it was actually the second time he’s been kidnapped in Nigeria, Pallù said that it was more difficult this time, but he saw “the miracles that the Lord did, just great miracles that the Lord did to keep us alive.”

“It means that the Lord has a big plan in this country because the devil is attacking with great force to destroy the work of God in this nation.”

Pallù, 63, is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way. He has served as a missionary in Nigeria for three years. He and two companions were kidnapped Oct. 12 by armed men near Benin City.

According to Vatican Insider, the kidnapping was carried out by a group of criminals who robbed the priest and others while they were travelling from Calabar to Benin City by car.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told Radio Capital Wednesday that Pallù had been freed and is doing well. “We await him in Italy soon,” he said according to Italian news agency ANSA.

They had the intercession of the saints and of the Blessed Virgin Mary over these last few days, Pallù said, pointing out that both times he’s been kidnapped, it has been on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.  

The first took place Oct. 13, 2016. He was released after only an hour and a half.

This time, he was taken captive on the eve of Oct. 13 and kept in the woods along with a Nigerian student and brother for five days.

According to Vatican Insider, Pallù had called his mother on Sunday night to tell her he was well and would be released soon. Pallù’s mother, Laura Pallù, made the phone call public during a prayer vigil for her son’s release in parish of Santa Lucia La Sala in northern Florence.

The priest said he has been asked to return to Italy for the time being, though he would like to stay in Nigeria if he can.

The devil “is keeping millions of people slaves here with lies, cowardice and corruption,” he said, “and when they allow me to return I will return here very happy and offer my poor person for the evangelization of Nigeria.”  

Fr. Pallù is a native of Florence. As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, he was a lay missionary for 11 years in various countries. In 1998, he entered the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Rome.

After serving as a chaplain in two parishes in Rome, he was sent to Holland, where he was a pastor in the Diocese of Haarlem. From there, he was sent to the Archdiocese of Abuja.

Several other priests have recently been kidnapped from the Nigerian state of Edo, where Benin City is located, and one has been killed.


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Despair would worsen the situation, bishop says in wake of Somalia attack

October 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Djibouti, Djibouti, Oct 16, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After Somalia suffered its deadliest terrorist attack on Saturday, the Bishop of Djibouti reflected on the need for hope and unity among Somalis lest it become “a double attack.”

A truck packed with explosives exploded in front of a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu Oct. 14, killing at least 276 people. Many more were wounded.

“I would say that even though what has happened its a catastrophe, we mustn’t despair. It would be a double attack if we despaired,” Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti told Vatican Radio.

Bishop Bertin also serves as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Mogadishu, which has been vacant since the assassination of its last bishop in 1989.

The bombing has yet to have been claimed by any group. Some Somalis have reacted to the attack by condemning al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group associated with al-Qaeda.

Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called it a “heinous act” targeting “civilians who were going about their business.”

Bishop Bertin commented that “when one goes [to Somalia] the situation seems normal; I could spend five days in Baidoa, two days in Mogadishu. Obviously I was accompanied by an armed escort, but the Somalis seemed to be living normally. It seems like normal life.”

“You might have the impression that they are rather habituated to seeing, undergoing these momentary attacks, but they never seem to change life there.”

The bishop added that he thinks “we should continue to seek greater unity within Somalia and the international community to face this problem.”

Turkey is taking 40 of those injured in the attack for medical treatment, and the African Union has said it will continue its support of Somalia as it works “to achieve sustainable peace and security.”

The US Mission to Somalia stated that it “lauds the heroic response of the Somali security forces and first responders and Somali citizens who rushed to the aid of their brothers and sisters. Such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism to promote stability and prosperity for the Somali people and their regional neighbors.”

Somalia has been in a state of turmoil since the early 1990s, and was long regarded as a failed state. It has relatively stabilized in recent years, and has been called a fragile state.

The federal government has consolidated control over much of the southern part of the country, though Islamists still control several swathes of territory. Somalia’s northern areas are effectively governed as the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.