In Pakistan, arranged marriage is a common practice. Human trafficking groups regularly take advantage of the custom to pose as “matchmakers” for Chinese men. They entrap Christian girls-and their often very poor families-with the promise of a secure future and a husband who supposedly will provide every luxury. But once the girls are married and moved to China, they face severe, repeated abuse and the loss of personal autonomy. For a time this is how Mehak Parvez lived, but she managed to escape. She agreed to tell her story to Aid to the Church n Need:

“My name is Mehak Parvez. I was born in Punjab, Pakistan, and I work as a beautician in Islamabad. I came home to attend my cousin´s wedding. She married a Chinese man and many Chinese people were in attendance. A Chinese man liked me and asked me about my background. He told me he matched Chinese men with Pakistani Christian girl. He called me later about potential suitors.

Mehak Parvez.

Mehak Parvez.

“My family invited the man and three other Chinese men over; the matchmaker told me that I could choose one of them for marriage. He said that all three were financially secure and would return to China after the wedding. He promised my family and me that our greatest dreams would come true.

“Once I expressed interest, things moved quickly. My family asked for a month to prepare, but the matchmaker insisted that this wasn’t necessary, and the wedding was planned within two days. It was held on November 19, 2018 in Faisalabad; my husband and I moved to Lahore, where eight other Chinese men were living with their wives.

“I quickly noticed that something was seriously wrong. Though the matchmaker had told me that my husband was a Christian, I never saw him praying or reading the Bible. He didn´t provide money for meals, and he often beat me. He even confessed that he had only pretended to be Christian in order to get me to marry him.

“Some time passed, and I got in touch with young wives who had married Chinese men and were actually living in China. I joined their WhatsApp group and learned that about 1,200 Christian girls had been lured into marriage and were being treated inhumanely by their husbands. Those considered beautiful were sexually abused, and those considered average or ugly were bartered off.

“As soon as they told me this, I ran away and connected with a human rights activist named Saleem Iqbal. Saleem brings cases like mine to the attention of media, government agencies, and security forces. Thanks to his efforts, the matchmaker and his gang were arrested – 15 Chinese nationals, including a woman, were charged with human trafficking. However, it is important to remember the many girls who are still in China, waiting for our help.

According to sources close to the international Catholic charity and pastoral foundation ACN, the Christian population in the north of Burkina Faso are currently being exterminated or expelled from their villages by Muslim extremists in the country. The most recent villages to have been abandoned are those of Hitté and Rounga, where the inhabitants have been given an ultimatum by the Islamic terrorists, ordering them to convert to Islam or leave their homes. “They are by no means the only ones facing this situation, rather they are just part of a programme by the jihadists who are deliberately sowing terror, assassinating members of the Christian communities and forcing the remaining Christians to flee after notifying them that they will return in three days time – and that they do not wish to find any Christians or catechumens still there.”

The first place to be attacked, towards the end of May this year, was the village of Toulfé, where the jihadists murdered five people, including one catechist, during a religious celebration, wounding another catechist at the same time. “From Touflé the extremists moved on to the town of Babo, where they again delivered a similar ultimatum. Many of the residents fled, while those who remained had to witness the terrorists assassinating three people, including a community leader named Jean-Paul who had chosen to stay on as leader and organise prayer groups.”

Hitté is the most recent place to have been threatened. “At the beginning of September, 16 men arrived in the village, intercepting the villagers who were returning from the fields. Some of the men forced the people to enter the church where they threatened the Christians and ordered them to leave their homes in the next three days, while others set fire to whatever they found in their path. Now Hitté is empty of any Christians and any catechumens”, ACN’s source confirmed. After that the armed men continued to advance upon Rounga, which has now similarly been evacuated.

“Almost 2000 people have fled these two villages alone. They have found temporary shelter in a primary school in the village of Ouindigui”, ACN was told. Another neighbouring village which has been taking in these refugees since the beginning of the persecution is Titao, where almost 7000 uprooted victims of the violence have sought refuge. The local Catholic Church is organising social and pastoral support for these people [via Caritas], including medical care for the sick and the elderly and counselling and psychological help for the traumatised population.

“The situation is proving very difficult to cope with, but it has prompted a spirit of solidarity among the rest of the population in Titao, including the local Muslims, who do not share the radical extremism of the terrorists and who are helping the local church to provide food and water to alleviate the basic needs of the refugees”, the sources report.

Islamist attacks – Christians in northern Burkina Faso are being attacked, expelled and murdered, village by village

Islamist attacks – Christians in northern Burkina Faso are being attacked, expelled and murdered, village by village

The local authorities in Titao are equally touched by the painful and dramatic situation the region is going through. However, “the government authorities are not responding to the reports they are receiving”.

ACN’s sources likewise reproach the government authorities, including the police and the local gendarmerie, for their unwillingness to help, notably in the recovery of the bodies of the Christians who have been murdered. “They are raising all kinds of difficulties about helping to recover the bodies and give them a fitting burial; they say it is not safe and is very difficult. In fact in some cases the security forces are refusing to help. On one occasion the daughters of the victims plucked up courage and set out on tricycles to find their parents’ bodies so that they could bury them. Those from Babo faced an equally difficult task; they had to go there by night, on mopeds, to recover the bodies and bring them back to Titao. Needless to say, the bodies had already begun to decompose. Afterwards many people experienced health problems. It is quite inhuman.”

ACN’s sources confirmed that “often the majority of the terrorists are members of the Peul  (Fulani) people; however we must not accuse all the Peuls.” The causes behind the current situation are bigger forces: “Someone is persuading these people to take up weapons and is providing them with weapons to kill their brethren with whom they have lived in peace for years until now. For in fact, although there are a number of foreigners among the terrorists, the majority of them are not foreigners. They are Peuls who have been living in the region for years. Their families are known to us, and yet from one day to the next they have become enemies of the people. These people are being manipulated”, ACN’s sources insist.

Nonetheless, the real parties responsible for the crisis and the increase in violence in the country have to be sought abroad. “Weapons like these are not made in Burkina Faso. We know that the people supplying these arms are international organisations which have no real concern for humanity but care only for their profits. We are calling for the removal of these weapons, so that peace can return to Burkina Faso”, the sources urge.

If not, the consequences could be extremely serious, explains the source. “Peace has to be restored immediately, for if not, there could well be reprisals. The people know that ‘it was so-and-so who killed my father or my brother’. It is very difficult. After such barbaric deeds people become deaf to the idea of peace. Besides, these people have lost everything, and their harvests are also going to be lost, which will result in a famine. The situation is critical. Please pray to God to touch people’s hearts, so that peace may return.”

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S order to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria effectively greenlit Turkey’s invasion of the region. With this shift in US policy, Turkey has been given an opening to reshape its borders and begin to carry out a multi-faceted strategy. As the crisis unfolds, one thing is clear: Christians and other minorities are again in the eye of the storm.

Northeastern Syria is home 30.000 to 40,000 Christians, Armenians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, as well as Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox. Although suffering some restrictions, they have been living under the protection of the Kurds in an area that stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Kurds comprised the bulk of the Syrian Defense Forces that, alongside US troops, fought against ISIS.

With the Kurds now likely to engage Turkish forces in battle, Christians and other minorities are afraid they will be left without protection. This confrontation may trigger an exodus, further depleting the Christian population of Syria, which has already shrunk by 80 percent in some regions since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. To make matters worse, Kurds have warned that they may abandon the guarding of some 11,000 ISIS prisoners, who, if freed, would pose a huge threat to the entire region.

Already some refugees from northeastern Syria have reached Kurdistan and northern Iraq. A new wave of refugees will overwhelm the capacity of local government and the local Church to care for them. The Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil, Kurdistan, was home to 120,000 Christians who had fled the 2014 ISIS invasion of northern Iraq. Still some 40,000 Internally Displaced People (IDP) are placed in the archdiocese and it would simply lack the means to cope with a new influx of refugees from Syria. What’s more, fleeing to Lebanon is not an option. Lebanon, overwhelmed by more than a million Syrian refugees, has initiated a policy of forcing refugees to return to their homeland.

Erbil’s Archbishop Bashar Warda expressed major concerns that once again, “Christians and Yazidis will be collateral damage” as great powers make their moves in the region. He worries that many of the Christian refugees from northeastern Syria, unable to find adequate refuge in Kurdistan or northern Iraq, may leave the Middle East altogether.

Will Western nations stand up and protect Christians and other minorities? Non-state actors, such as faith-based organizations, will have to fill the gap best they can. For its part, “Aid to the Church in Need will continue to stand firm in its commitment to protect and serve persecuted Christians in the Middle East and beyond,” said George Marlin, Chairman of ACNUSA.

Turkey’s plan to create a 20-mile wide safe zone in Northeastern Syria may serve multiple purposes, among them a possible forced resettlement of up to 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey; Sealing off the refugees from Turkish territory—the gateway to Europe—would give President Erdogan leverage in negotiations with the EU for billions of dollars in payment for keeping thousands of refugees from migrating to Europe. Turkey may also claim significant resources, such as fertile agricultural land, ample water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and vast natural gas reserves.

Turkey’s plans may even go further. President Erdogan may well want to extend his nation’s control of Syrian territory to also include northwestern Syria. That would raise the prospect of the displacement of Christians all across northern Iraq, including Aleppo, where the Christian population numbers around 30,000. Such development could be “the beginning of the end” for Christians in Syria, said Father Mesrob Lahian, an Aleppo-based Armenian Catholic priest.

President Trump’s much-criticized decision to pull US troops out of northeastern Syria has set in motion a highly unpredictable sequence of events that could lead to massive military confrontations involving the major powers with stakes in the region—Russia, Iran, the US, Turkey and the Syrian regime. Ultimately, said Archbishop Warda, such a major escalation may well achieve the ISIS agenda: “the eradication of Christianity from the Middle East.”

Ed Clancy is director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need-USA, a papal charity that supports the suffering and persecuted Church around the world.

“As always, everyone has their own interests, but it is we Christians who will suffer the consequences.” Speaking with profound bitterness, Emeritus Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, Syrian-Catholic of Hassaké-Nisibis in the Kurdish area of Syria, was commenting to Aid to the Church in Need on the news coming from the border between Syria and Turkey. Two Christians were allegedly killed in an attack that took place yesterday in Qamishli.

Archbishop Hindo met last March with the leaders of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) (PYD). “I invited them to desist from their plans – he says – they believe they have the right to an autonomous region as there is an Iraqi Kurdistan and a Turkish one. But the Kurdish population in those areas of Syria is just 10%. They are also people who came as asylum seekers after 1925, who have Turkish or Iraqi nationality. They have no right “. The bishop is convinced that the Kurds will lose the clash with Turkey, especially due to the lack of support from the United States and other Western forces. “It was  not clever to move from the Kurds, it was clear that no one would help them. Now they will lose everything, as happened in Afrin ».

Emeritus Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, Syrian-Catholic of Hassaké-Nisibis in the Kurdish area of Syria.

Emeritus Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, Syrian-Catholic of Hassaké-Nisibis in the Kurdish area of Syria.

At the present time the thoughts of Archbishop Hindo are with the 5,000 families of the Diocese of Hassaké-Nisibi. “In recent days, many had already moved from the border towns to Hassaké. Now the conflict has become even more serious and I fear that many will emigrate. Since the beginning of the war in Syria, 25% of the Catholics of Qamishli and 50% of the faithful of Hassaké have left the country, along with 50% of the Orthodox from both, Qamashli and Hassaké. I fear a similar exodus, if not a greater one».

There is also great concern about the high numbers of Isis-linked fighters in the area.

“I learned that the Chirkin prison, where jihadists from the Islamic state are being held, had apparently been hit. What was the point of that? That  way the great majority of them will now be free. This is a plan to destroy Syria and not only Syria. Now the terrorists will also arrive in Europe, through Turkey and with the support of Saudi Arabia”.

Monsignor Hindo also called upon the international community to acknowledge its responsibilities. “The United States, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Germany should all offer their own mea culpa. They acted in Syria for their own interests, hiding behind the ideals of freedom and democracy. Instead, they have done nothing but weaken our country, at the expense of its own people. Why don’t they fight for freedom and democracy in Saudi Arabia? “

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is calling for all children worldwide to take part in the joint campaign “One Million Children Praying the Rosary”. This year’s theme is mission, as Pope Francis has designated the month of October as the Extraordinary Missionary Month. With the motto “Baptised and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World”, the intention is to revive the missionary spirit worldwide through pastoral and spiritual initiatives. For this reason, missionaries and new missionary vocations will be the focus of the prayers spoken with the children.

This year’s prayer campaign will once again take place on 18 October. “Traditionally, after all, October is the month of the rosary and we also celebrate the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist on 18 October. He was the only evangelist to write about the childhood of Jesus and is traditionally thought to have had close ties to the Virgin Mary,” Father Martin Barta, the Ecclesiastical Assistant of ACN International, explained. On this day, at 9 o’clock in the morning – or at any other appropriate time – thousands of groups of children worldwide will pray the rosary together.

Children worldwide pray for peace and unity in the world.

Children worldwide pray for peace and unity in the world.

“Each year we receive reports back from all over the world, telling us how children celebrated the day of prayer,” Father Barta was pleased to note. “It has truly become a prayer campaign of the World Church, which not only moves the hearts of children, but also those of adults and blazes a trail to peace!” How the celebration is held varies widely: some participants pray the entire rosary, others just a part. Some not only pray, but include a catechesis on praying the rosary, short readings and children’s hymns. Others invite the children to draw the Mysteries of the Rosary in addition to praying. In some places, teachers stop their regular lessons to pray with the children.

The campaign was initiated in 2005 in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas after a number of children prayed the rosary at a wayside shrine, leading the women who were present to deeply experience the presence of the Virgin Mary. In keeping with the promise of Saint Padre Pio – “When one million children pray the rosary, the world will change” – the campaign is intended to strengthen the faith in the power of children’s prayers.

On the homepage www.millionkidspraying.org, ACN has made a wide selection of materials for the campaign available as a free download in many different languages as well as some background information. The materials include a poster and a four-page prayer leaflet with texts, meditations on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and instructions on how to pray the rosary. In addition, there are reports and pictures from past campaigns as well as colouring pictures for children.

From 1989 through till 2003 Liberia went through one of the bloodiest civil wars on the African continent. To this day this West African nation has still not fully recovered from it. More than two thirds of the country‘s almost 5 million population still have little faith in a lasting peace. One reason for this, among many others, is the fact that to this day there have been no prosecutions of the known war criminals. All levels of social life are vitiated by a feeling of profound mistrust. „More than the infrastructure, it was our souls that were destroyed“, says Father Dennis Nimene, the secretary general of the Liberian Catholic bishops‘ conference.

Father Dennis Nimene, the secretary general of the Liberian Catholic bishops‘ conference.

Father Dennis Nimene, the secretary general of the Liberian Catholic bishops‘ conference.

For the Church too the aftermath of the war has been a great challenge. For although – after the end of the war and the subsequent Ebola crisis – various trauma recovery programmes were offered to people, she knows that it is the spiritual dimension that is above all important, and especially for her priests. Consequently, the bishops are hoping to offer spiritual retreats and recovery times for her priests during the current year 2019, so that they in turn can find the serenity to better help the laity.

Accordingly, this year 25 priests from the diocese of Cape Palmas will be given an opportunity to recharge their spiritual batteries and find new strength in God, also sharing their problems and experiences with one another so that they can take new ideas back to their home parishes. ACN is supporting these retreats with a contribution of 4600 Euros. This represents 184 Euros for each priest, to cover travel costs, board and lodging. A small investment indeed, but one that will have a big impact.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT Aid to the Church in Need, VISIT http://www.churchinneed.org
logoacnwhy2

ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.