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Bishop rejects South Sudan president’s day of prayer as a political move

March 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

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.

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South Sudanese bishops call for food aid, peace negotiations

February 28, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

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.”

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Are MidEast youth are losing the virtue of hope?

February 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

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 st… […]

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Syrian priest: After liberation of Aleppo, living conditions still dire

February 24, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

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.”

 

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Proceeds of Vatican art project will go to children’s hospital in CAR

February 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Bangui, Central African Republic, Feb 7, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Inspired by Pope Francis’ trip to Central African Republic in 2015, a children’s hospital in the country will receive a substantial donation from the proceeds of a mercy-themed art project.

The project, entitled “Christo’s box, between Art and Mercy, A Gift for Bangui” was presented at the Vatican Museums in May 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

When the project came to the Vatican, Pope Francis made it clear that he wanted the proceeds to go to Bangui Pediatric Hospital in Central African Republic.

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the hospital during his trip to the conflict-torn country in November 2015, and was struck by the lack of equipment.

“I felt great pain,” the Pope said during his Nov. 30 in-flight press conference returning from Bangui to Rome. “Yesterday, for example, I went to a pediatric hospital, the only one in Bangui and maybe in the country, and in the intensive care unit they do not have instruments of oxygen. There were many malnourished children there, many of them, and doctor told me that the majority of them will die soon because they have a very bad malaria and are seriously malnourished.”

On Monday, Vatican Radio reported that 200,000 euros ($215,000) were raised by the project and given to Pope Francis, who said the proceeds will be used at the hospital to care for all poor children “without distinction of religious belonging, because all children need care and attention.”

Christo, the artist, is a Bulgarian-born U.S. citizen and contemporary artist perhaps best known for his pieces that involve “packaging” or wrapping. Featured in the Vatican exhibit was a “packaged” fragment of Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens.’”

At the launch of the project, the then-Vatican Museums director, Antonio Paolucci, said that “Many years ago, Pope Julius II used Raphael to celebrate himself and his Church, (…) five centuries have gone by and another Pope is using a Raphael for a work of mercy to help one of the poorest and most marginalized countries of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Bangui Pediatric Hospital was also a beneficiary of a December 2016 concert in Rome.

The Central African Republic has suffered civil war 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 Seleka declared an independent Republic of Logone in northeastern Central African Republic in December 2015.

Central African Republic held presidential elections between December 2015 and February 2016, resulting in the March 2016 inauguration of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, but violence continued nevertheless.

At least 29 people were killed during clashes between Seleka and anti-balaka forces in October 2016.

Thousands of people have been killed in the civil war, with hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.

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Christians assess damage on Iraq’s Nineveh plain, ravaged by ISIS

January 24, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Erbil, Iraq, Jan 24, 2017 / 12:03 am (Aid to the Church in Need).- “I don’t understand how people can harm each other so much,” sighs security guard Louis Petrus. Petrus recently returned to his hometown for the first time: the Christian city of Qaraqosh, near Mosul, which he had to flee in August 2014, when Islamic State captured the largest Christian city on the Nineveh plain.

He told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Look at my house: it is damaged, most of my furniture has been stolen and my household effects are broken. Other inhabitants of Qaraqosh had prepared me for what I would find in the city. I had heard stories and seen pictures of the destruction caused by the jihadists. Now that I am seeing the city with my own eyes, I do not know what to feel. The terrorists have destroyed a lot of my possessions.”

Father Sharbil Eeso, a 72-year-old Syrian Catholic priest, also returned to the town, also known as Bakhdida. He found the seminary in shambles. In search of hidden treasures, the occupiers brought down ceilings and destroyed statues.

“We are not allowed to clear up the mess yet,” the priest said, adding that “first the damage needs to be assessed carefully and documented thoroughly, and that can only start when the city is safe. Last week, a jihadist emerged from the tunnel system which ISIS has built underneath the city. The army immediately shot and killed him: it was a 13-year-old boy.”

The jihadists made full use of the churches in Qaraqosh, even writing battle instructions on church walls. St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was turned into a bomb factory; hundreds of bombs and grenades, in all shapes and sizes, are still lying there. There are also supplies of deadly chemicals, ingredients to make powerful explosives.

Like Father Eeso, Louis Petrus firmly intends to return to Qaraqosh. He said: “I don’t want to leave Iraq, unless all the inhabitants stay away and leave. But if two or three families return to Qaraqosh, I will too. This is my country. As soon as it is safe in the city and we receive permission to live here again, I want to rebuild my life in Qaraqosh. This is my place, I shall remain here until I die.”

“We really want to return to Qaraqosh, with our children,” said the mayor of the city, Nisan Karromi. But he added, “it will be a long time before all damages will be repaired.”

“We not only have to reconstruct and rebuild this city, but we also have to compensate the people for the damages they have suffered,” he said. “Now that the Iraqi government is in crisis, the international community will have to help make Iraq habitable again.”

Another concern Christians have is that both the Iraqi government and the Kurds – whose forces chased out the Islamic State – have designs on their land.

Manal Matti recently visited the blackened church of the Immaculate Conception. She is surprised by the mannequins that are spread out across the church grounds, shot through with bullets.

“The jihadists used the church as a shooting range, and the mannequins as targets,” she said, horrified. The woman used to run a beauty salon, just steps away from the church. She pondered: “I do not know when I will ever be able to see the inhabitants of Qaraqosh coming again to my beauty salon.”

 

Jaco Klamer 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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