On 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis, during the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square, blessed 6,000 rosaries destined for Syria. They will be given to people in Syria who have had relatives or family members abducted or murdered during the civil war. This is part of an ecumenical initiative of the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) together with Catholic and Orthodox churches in the country. “The rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, are a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria,” Pope Francis said. “We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and around the world.”

The plan is to distribute the rosaries among a number of different Christian communities in Syria on 15 September, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The motto of the ecumenical initiative is “Comfort my people”, and aims to commemorate the victims of the recent civil war and offer spiritual support and comfort to the bereaved.

An earlier meeting with the Pope at the Vatican guesthouse Santa Marta, was attended by the Executive President of ACN, Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, as well as several directors of European ACN-national office. At the audience, Pope Francis praised the work of the charity and this ecumenical initiative: “I thank ACN for everything you do. When we pray with the people in Syria, we come close to them. “

ACN President Thomas Heine Geldern said he was deeply moved by the Pope’s support for this prayer campaign. “The Holy Father has on several occasions expressed his support and approval for our commitment in Syria and the Middle East”, he said. “And he has done so again today. For the families of the war victims, these blessed rosaries are a sign that the Pope and the entire Church are with them, praying for them and standing beside them. This is a great source of comfort.”

Ever since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the support for the suffering people of Syria has been a priority for ACN, as President Heine-Geldern emphasised. Thanks to the generosity of ACN’s benefactors, the charity has been able during this time to support a total of 850 separate projects for the Syrian people, at a total cost of 35 million Euros, thereby enabling many Christian families to remain in Syria, rather than emigrating. From the outset, this help has been offered in close ecumenical collaboration with Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders – and the same is true of the present, most recent initiative, the ACN president explained. “Money is not enough”, he said. “Alongside  material aid, the people in Syria need spiritual and moral support, for they are living through a desperate situation. Together with our benefactors around the world, ACN is committed to helping them.”

The “Comfort my People” initiative will take place in a number of different towns in Syria on 15 September this year. There will be commemorative prayers and processions, the Christian faithful will pray for the dead and for the consolation and support of their families. Those who have lost family members who were abducted or killed during the war will be given the rosaries, which were made in Bethlehem and Damascus and blessed by Pope Francis as a special sign of spiritual support. And on 15 September Pope Francis will again associate himself with the initiative, by blessing an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows, Comforter of the Syrians.

On the night of July 29, members of the terrorist group Boko Haram attacked the town of Gagalari [not Kalagari as it puts in some media] in the diocese of Yagoua in the Far North region of Cameroon.

According to information received today from local sources by the ACN Foundation, the terrorists seem to have changed their strategy but not in any way diminished their violence. “They arrived during the night, entered the houses one by one and kidnapped the women. Only the women. They took them to the outskirts and amputated one ear of each of the victims. Then they released them threatening them and telling them that they would return, that this is the first touch intervention, but others will follow. It is terrifying. “The victims were found and picked up by the army and then transferred 260 kilometers away where they could be medically assisted. The amputation of an ear wants is a way of pressurizing and terrifying the inhabitants of the area who, according to the terrorists, “listen to the government and the voices of those who do not follow the extremist ideology of Boko Haram.

“For security reasons the men do not sleep inside the houses and there is even a Vigilance Committee, “but it was no use in this repulsive surprise attack. The women were dragged out of their homes before the eyes of their children.” The population, especially children and women, is very traumatized and terrified. “But what are they going to do? They are simple and very poor people who live from agriculture and right now in the rainy season they are waiting for the harvest. Where are they going to go? “The town is 120 kilometers from the nearest parish.

 

Yolla Ghandour, a Syrian-Armenian Catholic and mother of three, lives in Aleppo. She saw some of the worst fighting of the Syrian civil war. She talked to Aid to the Church in Need about the death of her 19-year-old son, Krikor, who died in the fighting.

“There were five of us: my husband, my two sons and daughter, and myself. Our financial circumstances worsened as a result of the war. My husband and Krikor lost their jobs because the area where they worked was dangerous; it was shelled by militants. To cover necessities, we relied on our savings. It was a difficult time. “A week before he died [on April 16, 2014], Krikor came home to visit us because an uncle had passed away. While getting ready to leave again, he turned to his father and said, ‘I am going back to death.’

Syria: a mother, her son killed in the war, finds strength in her faith: ‘our roots must be planted in God’.

Syria: a mother, her son killed in the war, finds strength in her faith: ‘our roots must be planted in God’.

“On the day he died, we spoke on the phone, and after the call ended I had a strong feeling, like a premonition. I prayed to the Virgin Mary: ‘Please don’t test me. You tasted from this cup; please don’t let me experience the same pain.’ “That night I received another call. They told me that Krikor was wounded, and that he’d been taken to a hospital. I rushed to his side, praying to St. Sharbel: ‘I have given you my son. I do not want to find him dead.’ But, inside, I was nearly sure that he had died.

“After his death, I struggled with St. Sharbel: ‘I don’t love you anymore. I begged you to keep my son alive, and you didn’t.’ Then, about 10 minutes later, I looked at the saint’s face in a painting we own and said to him: ‘I can’t keep myself from loving you. But promise me that you will be with my son.’ “As Christians, we believe in the resurrection, and after a few months of reflection on life in the kingdom of God, I learned that the dead see, hear, and feel us. And I found that I could be proud of my son, above all else.

ACN has supported the pastoral and humanitarian mission of the various Churches in Syria with projects totaling more than € 33M.

ACN has supported the pastoral and humanitarian mission of the various Churches in Syria with projects totaling more than € 33M.

“When we face life’s storms, we must stand like a strong tree, roots fixed deeply in the ground. Our roots must be planted in God; we must weather change and grief with trust in his love.” From 2011, when the Syrian civil war began, through 2018, ACN has supported the pastoral and humanitarian mission of the various Churches in Syria with projects totaling more than € 33M.

In the course of 2019 the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) is supporting over 40 different projects for summer activities on behalf of the Christian communities in countries where they are a minority, experience discrimination or suffering as a result of wars or other conflicts. Almost half these projects are for the Christian communities in the Middle East, above all in Syria, where a total of 28 such summer courses will be held for young people and families. After a bloody and fratricidal war, which has resulted today in a critical economic and social situation, Christians of various different faith communities from the dioceses of Homs, Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus have been or will be gathering together between June and September to recuperate, gain new strength and find healing for past trauma.

Summer camps in Syria – “She felt her heart had begun to beat again”.

Summer camps in Syria – “She felt her heart had begun to beat again”.

Father Antoine Mukhallala, of the Greek Melkite diocese of Aleppo, has just returned from one of the eight summer courses that are being organised by the Faith and Life Community for handicapped people and their families. It can sometimes be difficult to comprehend what these people suffered during the war. Terrorised by the bombings and by the snipers, who killed civilians for no reason whatsoever, they scarcely dared emerge from their homes. Today these people have great need of psychological support and a need to encounter God to find peace through prayer amid nature. Hence the summer camps are a ray of light for them in this situation.

Among the many things Father Antoine has encountered, there is one story in particular he wants to tell ACN about. It concerns a widow, the mother of two little girls, one of whom is autistic. “This mother was suffering terribly, because she had lost her husband when he attempted to emigrate in one of the “ships of death” to Europe. Not because he drowned, however, but because he was murdered, and she had to witness his body being returned to her with his throat cut.

This woman was suffering greatly, yet living imprisoned in her solitude. Although physically present among the rest of the group, she barely spoke, either about her dead husband or her daughter. She rejected every kind of happiness, even though the others tried to reach her in her pain. Little by little, however, during the summer camp week, a sense of love began to return to this woman’s heart; the darkness began to lift from it and it began to beat again with love. She began to realise once more that life is beautiful – partly thanks to the dramatic change in the behaviour of her autistic daughter, who even invited me to dance with her!

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) is supporting over 40 different projects for summer activities.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) is supporting over 40 different projects for summer activities.

At the end of the week, this mother said to us, “If only the camp had lasted another week, I’m quite sure that my Jenny would even have begun to speak!” I have been involved in many summer camps during my six years as a priest, but this most recent one in Kfarsetta with the “Family of Hope” was one of the most beautiful of all, in which I experienced the joy of Love and of which I can say that I received more than I gave”, Father Antoine continues.

“I give thanks to God for what this woman experienced and for having been given the opportunity to live many such spiritual experiences. And I also want to thank you all, the representatives and benefactors of ACN, for having supported these camps, for without your support we could never have had this experience, which has brought us so much closer to the advertised theme of the summer camp, which was “Building community, with God”. I pray to Almighty God that he may bless you all so that you can continue helping all those who call upon you and that you may continue being an instrument of God in spreading his Love throughout the world”, he concludes. This summer many other groups of children, young people and families, like the “Family Hope”, will be taking part in similar summer camps, not only in other parts of Syria but also in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Crimea and the Republic of Congo, so that they can relax, recuperate and find new strength, not merely physically and psychologically, but also spiritually.

“I can see their faces, I could remember everything.”
(Father Jeff Nadua to Rappler)

In an interview with Rappler, this was how Father Jeff Nadua, a priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, described his reaction towards the deadly bombing incident which occurred during the Sunday Mass of January 27, 2019. Father Nadua, however, was not in the premises of the church. The mass was officiated by Father Ricky Bacolcol.

The Blast

The cathedral was simultaneously blasted with two improvised explosive devices (IED), with approximately 100 victims in the vicinity. It was at the Second Reading when the first IED was detonated inside. According to MindaNews, the bomb went off from the “right side fronting the altar, at the back portion”.  Police and military men stationed nearby hurried for rescue. Civilians, on the other hand, scrambled for safety. But then,  another unthinkable horror happened.
A twin IED exploded outside.

“Nakita ko may mga matatanda na nandoon sa lupa na humihingi ng tulong sa amin. Gusto ko sana kunin ‘yung isang matanda noon. Eh, pumutok na. Tumilapon na rin ako doon.”  [The elderly were ducked down on the ground, asking for help. I wanted to save them, get one of them, but there was a sudden explosion. I was thrown back by the impact.]
(Corporal Ruel Diaz to
GMA News)

Catching them off guard, 5 soldiers died in an instant. It was believed that the second IED was placed in a utility box of a parked motorcycle just beside the cathedral. Both bombs were confirmed to be electronically-controlled through a mobile device from a remote area. The official casualty count of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WESTMINCOM) reached about 21 deaths and approximately 100 injured.

Renewed by Faith: Jolo Cathedral Restored After Twin Bombing.

Renewed by Faith: Jolo Cathedral Restored After Twin Bombing.

History of Devastation

The twin blasts left the interior of the church in shambles. The pews were scattered and pieces of shrapnel flew everywhere. The once ocean-hued windows of the cathedral became broken glass.

The Sunday explosion, however, wasn’t the first. Throughout the previous decade, the cathedral, and its surrounding area, has been the target of many extremist attacks.

In 2000, a bomb was thrown outside the church. Six years later, a blast occurred in the ground floor of a two-storey commercial building near the cathedral. Investigations later revealed that the cathedral has been the original target of the explosion, with the culprits changing their plans at the last minute.

Three explosions rocked Jolo in 2009. In July, about 6 civilians were killed when an IED exploded a hundred meters away from the church. The October explosion involved a grenade blast which left damaged properties. A New Year’s Eve blast also occurred in the same year, killing one soldier. From 2010-2013, a series of four explosions were tallied.

Considered the worst and the deadliest one yet, the 2019 twin blasts was the first to happen inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral.

Fr. Jeff Nadua, in his interview with News5, stressed that the attack was directed to the community and is clearly an “attack against our faith”. However, he also emphasized with Zenit that “we need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”

Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public.

Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public.

The Rebuild

And indeed, the rebuilding and the restoration of the church happened. On February 4 and 5, 2019, Jonathan Luciano, National Director of ACN Philippines, immediately paid a solidarity visit to the relatives of the victims and to the site. Aid efforts to rehabilitate the cathedral were on board and slowly developed. Together with the help of many organizations and benefactors led by Aid to the Church in Need, the cathedral was repaired.

Six months after the deadly explosion, the renewed Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel once again held Mass on July 16, 2019. Together with retired Cardinal Orlando Quevedo and other bishops and priests, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gabrielle Caccia led the reconsecration. The day of celebration coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the church’s patroness.

The process of the Cathedral’s rebuild is only the start of its restoration. Standing with faith and love, Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public – that the strength and the faith of the lay and of our fellowmen be renewed and strengthened. Moreover, that the souls of those who passed away find peace and justice.

Christians around the world are being targeted because of religious beliefs. Persecution and violence have been rampant and the number of cases continue to rise. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, is a pontifical organization with a mission to support the faithful whenever and wherever they face injustice and persecution. The persecuted will never be forgotten, and the suffering will be aided.

As one, let us pray for the victims of the twin bombing on January 27, 2019:

(Source: AFP WESTMINCOM)

The Catholic Church in Pakistan is important for the country, says Reinhard Backes. He recently visited Pakistan for the fourth time as permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in order to inform himself about the situation of the Christians and the projects that ACN supports. “With more than 200 million inhabitants, Pakistan is in sixth place on the list of the most populous countries,” he explained on his return. “Although the overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims and only some two per cent are Christians, they still amount to at least three million people in the country.”

According to Reinhard Backes’ account, the Church in Pakistan is a young church. “The majority of all worshippers at divine services in Pakistan are children, youths and young adults. But the Catholic Church in the country is a young church, not only in terms of its members, but also when viewed historically.” Unfortunately, due to the difficult social and economic situation, young people in the country hardly have any perspective, he says.

Reinhard Backes, permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Reinhard Backes, permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Further, not only for Christians and other religious minorities, but also for Muslims, the controversial blasphemy law represents a major problem because it is sometimes misused in order to pursue and oppress dissenters, says Backes. Although, some weeks ago, Asia Bibi – one of the best-known victims of the blasphemy law – was able to escape the death penalty and depart for Canada after nearly nine years of uncertainty, Christians are still in prison on account of this law. More than 224 Christians have suffered from the arbitrariness of this law since its introduction in 1986, he confirms. “Even though there are signs of hope, the Christians in the country are constantly living with a degree of insecurity.”

The mood in the country, where Islam is the state religion, is marked by religious intolerance. Over again, there are dead and injured in attacks and assaults, says Backes. He was particularly impressed by his meeting with young people who had experienced a serious attack on two Christian churches in Lahore four years ago. “Sakinder was at prayer in one of the churches and lost an eye in the explosions. Antashia had been singing in the choir at the service. When she went outside, body parts were scattered in the street. Qandeel told me that, despite the severe attacks, the congregation has grown closer together and that many subsequently joined the security service. They all do it on a voluntary basis and are proud to be able to serve the Church.”

During his journeys through the country, Reinhard Backes visited numerous projects that ACN has funded in recent years. These include the Joti Pastoral Centre in Mirpur Khas in Hyderabad Diocese, as well as the parish of St. Peter in Jhugian Jhuhid (Lahore Archdiocese) where Catholics live today who were violently driven out of the so-called Joseph Colony in 2013. ACN is helping them to develop the new parish there.

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear.

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear.

In the words of Reinhard Backes, an indispensable source of hope and confidence in Pakistan’s patriarchal society is the involvement of Christian women. “In many places, nuns perform enormously important pastoral and social work.” He mentions as examples the Mother Teresa Sisters in Faisalabad, or the Franciscan nuns in Dar-ul-Sukun, a social facility whose name means “House of Peace and Love”. There, with great devotion, a nun from Karachi has been caring for neglected children for the last 50 years. “They care for the weakest in society, orphans and persons with physical or mental disabilities. These initiatives, which are being driven forward by Christians in all dioceses, are mainly carried out by women,” reports Reinhard Backes, for whom Pakistan is not only a country of fear and violence, but also of hope and charity.

In the last two years alone, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need has funded nearly 100 projects in Pakistan to the tune of more than 1.5 million euros, in particular giving aid for the construction of churches and other ecclesiastical facilities, support for priests, seminarians and nuns, as well as the acquisition of Christian literature.

 

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