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UNICEF: CAR is most dangerous country for children

March 11, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Bangui, Central African Republic, Mar 11, 2019 / 10:00 pm (CNA).- Despite last month’s peace agreement between the Central African Republic government and rebel factions, the country’s citizens, especially children, continue to face violence and famine.

“This is the most dangerous place in the world for children,” Caryl Stern, the CEO of United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in the U.S. (UNICEF USA), told NBC News.

Ongoing battles between Muslim and Christian rebels have taken thousands of lives and displaced millions of people since 2013. The Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, signed in Kourham, Sudan, in February, is the eighth agreement to have occured.

Because of the violence between rebel groups, the country of over four million people has a shortage of necessities. According to UNICEF, 1.5 million children are at risk for starvation, 950,000 children are without access to safe water, and, in 2019, 38,000 children under the age of five will suffer severe acute malnutrition.

The children are not only threatened by a lack of food and water; they also face the risk of being recruited as child soldiers against their will.

According to NBC News, rebel groups control about 75 percent of the country, while the government has authority over the capital and other small sections. The country is dangerous for humanitarian groups; 396 attacks on aid workers took place last year.

David Brownstein, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in the Central African Republic, has expressed concern that the unstable nature of the country will give ISIS the opportunity to take hold of the area and promote further violence.  

“ISIS takes advantage of vacuums. Literal vacuums, security vacuums, governance vacuums, perceived moral vacuums,” Brownstein said, according to NBC News.

In February, a peace agreement was reached after a lengthy dialogue between the government and 14 major rebel groups. The African Union and United Nations mediated the discussion. Countries such as Chad, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, France, Britain, the U.S. and Russia were also involved.

Vatican News reported that, under the agreement, the armed groups promised to refrain from the destruction or occupation of public places and sacred spaces. The deal also required that arm groups not harm civilians or humanitarian workers.

Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muños of Bangassou said the agreement was reached under false pretenses – a means for rebel groups to gain more control of the resource rich land, according to Vida Nueva.

“Although they already have control of 80% of the mines of diamonds, gold, cobalt, mercury … and of transhumance, they want more,” he said.

“It is a screen to hide everything from above and continue conquering the country and stealing raw materials,” he added.

 

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With Buhari poised to win re-election, Nigerian bishops continue call for credibility

February 26, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Abuja, Nigeria, Feb 26, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Nigeria is in the midst of counting votes cast in a contentious general election, and Catholic bishops are urging the nation’s leaders to conduct a credible and transparent vote, while at the same time the bishops closely observe the election process.

A week before the elections were supposed to take place, the bishops called for all Nigerians to pray and fast for the success of the elections.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria announced Feb. 25 that Caritas Nigeria, in collaboration with the Nigerian Justice Development and Peace Commissions, had set up a “Situation Room” to collect observations and reports about the elections from diocese across the country.

The general election, during which Nigerians voted for a presidential candidate as well as for the Senate and House of Representatives, was originally scheduled for Feb. 16 but was delayed at the last minute until Feb. 23. Catholic Action Nigeria said at the time that the delay placed a burden on citizens, especially those who underwent difficult travels to vote.

The Independent National Electoral Commission is still counting votes. Incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari has the lead as of Feb. 26, having won 13 of Nigeria’s 36 states, according to the BBC. His opponent, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has won 11 states and the capital, Abuja. Uche Secondus, chairman of Abubakar’s party, has alleged that there have been irregularities in the election.

According to the Nigerian bishops’ conference, the Church has “actively engaged 3,823 accredited Observers, and 9,000 Citizen Observers to enhance data collection and collation” during elections. Father Zacharia Nyantiso Samjumi, Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, signed the Feb. 25 report.

The bishops observed that voting at many polling places commenced very late. Some polling places experienced attacks from suspected Boko Haram militants; a 19-year-old man was killed at a polling place in the north-central region of the country. There were also some instances of people attempting to steal ballot boxes and technical problems with electronic card readers used to identify voters.

Some areas saw a low voter turnout a because security fears. In one area, armed men reportedly hijacked voting materials and abducted officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission and other officials. In at least two areas, armed men gunned a number of people down at the polls and “snatched ballot boxes.” In Lagos state, the bishops report that cast votes were burnt and voters were “chased by suspected thugs.”

The bishops also said their observers noted cases of buying and selling votes in at least ten states across the country.

“The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria is grateful to all Nigerians for their resilience and admonishes [the Independent National Electoral Commission] to improve on the electoral systems and processes for the purposes of credible and transparent future elections in Nigeria,” the report concludes.

The Nigerian bishops’ conference had released a Jan. 19 statement ahead of the election after meeting at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Lagos, Nigeria, specifically warning against illegal voting practices such as buying or selling votes.

“Being an election year, 2019 appears delicate; we call on Nigerians to carry out their civic responsibilities with diligence and patriotism,” the statement read, according to Pulse Nigeria.

“Nigerians should see the election as a duty to enthrone good leadership, and no amount of financial inducement should sway us.”

Nigeria became a democracy in 1999 and is Africa’s most populous nation, with the continent’s largest economy, but has for years faced attacks and kidnappings by the radial Islamist group Boko Haram. Last year, the militants burned 22 buildings, including a part of the Catechetical Training Centre in Kaya.

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Nigerian Catholics brave persecution to remain steadfast in faith

February 20, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Abuja, Nigeria, Feb 21, 2019 / 12:35 am (CNA).- Despite the constant threat of violence from Boko Haram terrorists, Catholics in Nigeria remain faithful to the Gospel, trusting God as they offer a witness of forgiveness, said a priest from the country.

As they attend Sunday Mass each week, Catholics in Nigeria “go into a church but don’t know if they’ll come out,” said Fr. Kenneth Chukwuka Iloabuchi.

The Nigerian priest, who is currently serving in the Diocese of Cartagena, Spain, recounted the experience of Christians in his home country to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency. Iloabuchi visited several cities in Mexico in mid-February as part of the second Night of Witnesses organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group is estimated to have killed tens of thousands over the last decade. Christians are targeted, sometimes in attacks during Mass.

But the Catholics in Nigeria hold fast to the faith “unto death,” Iloabuchi said.

“There’s one case that really struck me,” he recalled, that of “a woman who during Christmas Eve Mass lost all of her family members” to a terrorist attack.

“This woman said at the burial that she would not give in, that she would remain a Catholic unto death, that that was not going to take away her faith,” he said.

“With that peace of heart, with this attitude of forgiveness, they’re giving a great witness.”

Two years ago, the priest said, while visiting a village in northern Nigeria, “in the middle of Mass a sacristan came up, an assistant, and told me that a message had been received that Boko Haram was going to enter the village and was going to attack the people, was going to attack Christians.”

“At one point, I was scared and I asked him if I had to end the Mass so the people could leave. He told me no, that never for fear of this group… had they left the church. They had never abandoned their church for fear [the militants] were going to come in to kill the people, because if they started living that way, the terrorists will have won the war.”

Iloabuchi confessed he was afraid. “But seeing the people praising God, living the ceremony, praying, I had to ask myself: ‘You, who are a priest are afraid, while these people are praising God?’ And I had to take this encouragement from the people to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with dignity, and we celebrated it well without a problem.”

That night, they received a message that the militants had entered the neighboring village and killed six people.

The priest said he was struck by those who lost family members to attacks such as these, yet remained at peace.

“The ministers of the Church are working hard, beginning with the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference and the priests who live in the parishes with the people,” he said.

“What they are preaching is forgiveness, justice, peace and love,” the priest said. “That leads even young people in the Church, instead of taking up arms,…to forgive those who are persecuting them, and think that tomorrow will be better.”

 

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News Briefs

Aid agencies highlight Christian persecution on anniversary of ‘Coptic Martyrs’

February 15, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Denver, Colo., Feb 15, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Four years after the so-called Islamic State released a propaganda video showing the beheading of 21 abducted Coptic Christians in Libya, aid workers and politicians continue to highlight the dangers facing Christians in the Middle East and across the world.

 

On Feb. 15, 2015, a video was released showing IS fighters beheading Egyptian workers,as they knelt on a Libyan beach wearing prison-style orange jumpsuits. The Egyptian government and the Coptic Church later confirmed the video’s authenticity.

 

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need USA, told CNA that the killing of the Coptic martyrs helped to bring the issue to Christian persecution into focus for the wider Western culture and media, and spurred an outpouring of donations for charitable aid.

 

“It definitely brought the Christian persecution to the forefront and put it on page one,” Clancy told CNA in an interview Feb. 15.

 

Soon afterward the video’s release. the Coptic Church announced that the men would be commemorated as martyrs in its Church calendar. In October 2018, authorities found a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of the 21 men.

 

“Seemingly every day at that time there was a story of something going on, whether it was the fall of Raqqa; the enslavement of women; obviously the killing of the Coptic martyrs. And all of these did bring this [issue] into focus, and people did respond. Obviously it touched a lot of people’s hearts, and because of that they were very generous,” Clancy said.

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been working to help persecuted Christians since its founding in 1947. Clancy told CNA that while the public martyrdoms brought the dangers facing persecuted Christians to wider attention, Aid to the Church in Need had considered the issue a core concern for some time.

 

“I wouldn’t say that the videos changed much as far as [ACN’s priorities] go; our commitment to the Christian community there was as high before and after;” Clancy said.

 

“And that was because we saw the existential threat to the Christian communities by what was going on, by the violence, by the terrorism…The videos strengthened our resolve, I guess, to say we’re not going to let this happen.”

 

To this day, Clancy said, ancient Christian communities in the Middle East are at risk of disappearing. In Syria alone hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in places like Nineveh, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.

 

Last December, a mass grave of 34 Ethiopian Christians was unearthed. That grave is believed to contain the bodies of Christians killed by IS forces in a propaganda video posted on social media in April 2015, two months after the first video was released.

 

That video, similar to the first one, appeared to show the Islamic State members shooting and beheading the Ethiopian Christians, who were all wearing orange jumpsuits, on a beach.

 

Clancy told CNA that ancient Christian communities in the Middle East remain at risk of disappearing. In Syria alone hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in places like Nineveh, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.

 

“We’ve been able to support $55 million in aid over the years in Iraq and probably about $40 million in Syria in different programs to help keep the Christian communities alive,” Clancy said.

 

“Unfortunately though, even with all of those efforts, there’s been a great decline in the number of Christians. Iraq is down to about 20% of its Christian population as compared to 2000. And Syria’s down probably something like 40% since that time too.”

 

Clancy highlighted the continued dangers faced by Christians all over the region and the world, and noted the moral imperative on the international community to remember and support them.

 

“For us here in the United States, in the West, in the sort of ‘safe world,’ we actually take for granted that our faith is part of our lives. There, it’s part of their lives, but it could also be a reason for their death. So we should do our best to pray for them, to be aware of what’s going on and to support them by financial means and also for advocating on their behalf in the public arena.”

 

Clancy highlighted the recent announcement that the United States would withdraw troops from Syria as a source of fear among some in the Christian community. The move, he said, raised anxiety that terrorist forces might be emboldened by the decision.

 

“I think we have to be fair enough to say that when there’s a need for [military] protection that we should do it,” he said.

 

“It’s really all dependent on international governments, on the United States, the West, Europe, to stand up and say we’re not going to allow Christianity to die there. As Catholics, we can’t be afraid to say that, ” Clancy said.

 

One such advocate in the United States is Arkansas Congressman French Hill, who introduced a resolution Jan. 16 supporting the religious freedom of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

 

Hill’s resolution called on the Egyptian government to “end the culture of impunity” with which Christians were attacked and to “make examples by arresting, prosecuting, and convicting those responsible for attacks on Christians.”

 

“We forget that it’s not wrong to say that Christians belong [in the Middle East] and Christians should stay there. That’s what I always ask people to remember,” Clancy said.

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