Earlier this year, in accordance with a law for the restitution of religious buildings, the authorities returned the church of Saint Clement in Sevastopol to the Catholic Church. The church, which was built in 1911, was extensively damaged by bombing during the Second World War. In 1948 it was rebuilt by the Soviet government as a children’s cinema, with an auditorium able to accommodate up to 300 spectators.

The return of the church – which took place in early June this year – was celebrated by the entire Catholic community. Bishop Jacek Pyl, who is the delegate of the Holy See for the apostolic district of Crimea and Sevastopol, spoke in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the importance of this gesture of recognition for the Catholic community in this extremely sensitive region, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The return of the church was the result of the implementation of a decree by the local government on the restitution of “historical property”.

Bishop Jacek Pyl, who is also Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukrainian diocese of Odessa-Simferopol, emphasised that the background to this gesture points to the diplomatic activity of the Vatican and he recalled that “last year Cardinal Pietro Parolin met with the authorities in Moscow”. He added: “I am sure that the return of the church in Sevastopol is the result of these negotiations.”

But despite the fact that the return of this historic church holds a high symbolic meaning for the tiny local Catholic community and has been a real “sign of hope”, we should not forget that “many other churches still lie in ruins”, Bishop Pyl warned.

 

Ukraine

Ukraine

 

As the Holy See’s delegate explained to ACN, in the speeches made during the handover ceremony of the church it was recalled that the restitution of this property to the Catholic community was an “exercise of historical justice, since the property should be in the hands of its legitimate owners”.

After having been deprived of their church for so many decades, the Catholics would now like their doors to be open to everyone in the city. “In addition to being a place for liturgical celebrations, it will also have an organ for concert recitals” the bishop explained. “It is important to demonstrate to a society formed under Soviet communism that the Catholic Church is not hostile, and so if it has an organ, we can organize musical concerts for everyone. It is important that we should cooperate with society in the cultural sphere; this is the language of dialogue.”

In addition to tackling the massively burdensome historical legacy of the decades of Soviet dictatorship, the Catholic Church in Crimea also has to confront the present-day economic necessities.

The Catholic community in Crimea is very small and most people face real economic hardship. “Unfortunately, the people here are poor”, the bishop explained. “Following the annexation of Crimea, pensions fell, but at the same time food prices soared, with the result that people now spend everything they have on basic necessities, such as food, rent, electricity, gas, etc.”

“Contact with the outside world is rather difficult”, he added. “For example, air travel to other cities and countries is no longer possible, and the only route that is still open to us is from Simferópol to Moscow…”

At present there are around 1500 Catholics who remain in immediate contact with the Church, but there are many others scattered about or still anonymous, given that under communism the attempt was made to destroy every vestige of the Catholic faith. All the churches in the large cities were either demolished or converted into secular buildings. For all these reasons, it is difficult to make contact with all the Catholics in the area, as Bishop Pyl explained, at the same time pointing out the approach that is needed: “The Church needs to go out to those people whose faith is weak or dormant, to reach them in their homes and meet with them, whether it be in a shack or a private home; or to go and visit them at Christmas or Easter.”

The Catholic community in Crimea, poor and few in number, is still viewed with some mistrust by a society conditioned by decades of Soviet propaganda. Hence the aid it receives from international charities such as ACN is vital. In one of the charity’s current projects for the local Church, ACN is supporting some of the poorest and most vulnerable families, as well as the sick and elderly. Bishop Pyl sees this kind of aid as “indispensable, if they are to live with some dignity”. But despite this, and despite the enormous material poverty, he still views the pastoral support of ACN as the most important aspect. “The spiritual needs are our priority”, the Holy See’s delegate insists. “God, prayer and faith are what comes first.”

Young Christians in Ethiopia are being lured to convert to Islam by promises of jobs, education, help to buy houses and other aid, according to a Christian leader.

Christians, desperate to escape poverty, are being bribed to join the Muslim religion, Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need was told by a religious leader who asked to remain anonymous to protect his safety.

He said: “The [Muslim employers] are getting the younger ones – with scholarships, promises for jobs, and so on.

“Unemployment is at a very high rate in Ethiopia, so this is very attractive to the young people.

“They are told if you want a job you must live like this – the young people are targeted.

“You find hundreds or even thousands of young people waiting at the cross roads of towns and villages to see if they can find work.”

He added said that some mines only employ Muslims and are luring young Christians away from their faith with promises of permanent employment.

 

Ethiopia: Islamists bribing Christians to convert

Ethiopia

 

He said: “There are some rich Muslims who have taken control of major investments – in one diocese the marble mine and the gold mine – all these are owned by them and people are only given employment if they are Muslim.

“Young people convert if they are looking for jobs or if they are looking for homes.”

He added that converts to Islam are also given help to buy houses.

The religious leader also said that the number of mosques being built has increased: “If there are 10 Muslim families they will build a mosque for them – even where there are problems getting new churches built.

“Money comes from overseas countries like Saudi Arabia.”

He also described how Muslims are using bribery to attract members of animist groups in his diocese.

“Islam is reaching to them. They give them promises – whether it is education, jobs, or other help.”

The Christian leader expressed suspicions that the money used to attract the animists was also coming from outside the country.

He stressed that Ethiopia has traditionally had a history of Christians and Muslims living in harmony, but spoke of his fears that the country’s Islamic community was increasingly becoming influenced by foreign hard-liners.

He said: “While there have been no direct conflict or direct clashes, we are afraid that this may change within a few years – we have seen the precedent in Egypt and other nearby places.”

For more information about the situation of religious freedom in Ethiopia, please check: http://religious-freedom-report.org/report/?report=198

“After almost 8 years of conflict in Syria, the consequences are indescribable, above all for the little children. Through our campaign we want to raise awareness of the critical conditions into which the country has been plunged and pray for peace and reconciliation.” The words are those of Philipp Ozores, the Secretary General of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International, who yesterday presented the charity’s campaign Candles for Peace in Syria at the Polish embassy to the Holy See in Rome, an awareness raising campaign formally launched by Pope Francis the day before. In the days leading up to the event over 50,000 children of different religions, from a number of different Syrian cities, had painted images and symbols of peace on the side of their candles. ACN is calling on people of goodwill around the world to respond to this heartfelt cry for peace from the children of Syria, by lighting a candle, as Pope Francis did after the Angelus blessing in Rome on Sunday.

The presentation was attended by many of the foreign ambassadors accredited with the Holy See. “We need the support of national governments”, Mr Ozores told them, adding, “For there to be peace in Syria we need concrete actions.”

 

 

“Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are the Jerusalem of today”, stated the Polish ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Janusz Kotański, before handing the word to the invited guests from Syria with first-hand experience of the situation. Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, described the civil war in Syria as a “slaughter of the innocents” in which many children had been “killed by bombs, drowned in the ocean, suffocated by poison gas, mutilated, traumatised, subjected to sexual abuse, forcibly enlisted in the Army or else – as has happened to many young Syrian girls – forced to “marry” total strangers at an extremely tender age”.

There was profound bitterness in the words of Syriac-Catholic Archbishop Antoine Denys Chahda of Aleppo: “Our churches, mosques, schools and hospitals have been destroyed, as have our lives also”, he declared, before making his own appeal to the diplomats present: “Please convey our message to your governments. We Syrians only ask for justice, peace and love.”

Sister Fida Chaya, a Syrian religious of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne- Antide Thouret (the Thouret Sisters) described the conflict through the eyes of the children at the school run by her congregation in Damascus, going on to underline the importance of supporting the ACN campaign. “Your gestures of support make us realise that you are close to us, despite the distance”, she said. “And we are also grateful to you for all your prayers.”

 

A “Bridge of light” between Rome and Aleppo – launch of ACN’s campaign: Candles for peace in Syria

 

Sister Annie Demerjian, a Syrian religious of the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, displayed some powerful images of the suffering caused by the war, a suffering that she herself witnessed in Aleppo along with its people. “It is difficult to imagine how much the Syrian children had to endure. Children robbed of their childhood and of the joy which should characterise their youthful years”, she explained.

“During these years the faces of the Syrian children have cried out for help. By lighting these candles we can give them hope”, added Father Andrzej Halemba, the head ACN’s project section for the Middle East. He then opened up a live video linkup with a group of children in a primary school in Aleppo, during which both the children in Syria and the ambassadors and other guests in Rome, following the example of Pope Francis, lit up candles made in Damascus. After this Cardinal Zenari lit the first digital candle in ACN’s online campaign “Light a candle for peace”.

 

A “Bridge of light” between Rome and Aleppo – launch of ACN’s campaign: Candles for peace in Syria

 

“A splendid bridge of light has been established” between Rome and Aleppo, said Alfredo Mantovano, the president of the Italian national office of ACN. Quoting the words of the Polish poet Stanislaw Wyspianski, he emphasised the need for “those many who have fallen asleep in the Western world to wake up and redouble their efforts for our suffering brethren, whose testimonies we have heard today, filling us with gratitude.”

For further information about the Christmas Campaign for Syria: https://syria.acninternational.org/

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is launching a Christmas campaign of prayer, aid and solidarity for the people of Syria, entitled Candles for Peace in Syria. The campaign formally begins on the first Sunday of Advent, 2nd December, with the symbolic lighting of a candle by the Holy Father at the end of the Angelus prayer.

In the last few days the initiative has involved over 50,000 children, of different religions, from several of the Syrian cities most severely affected by the war, including Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Hassaké, Tartus and Latakia. The children have prayed and decorated candles with symbols of peace– crosses, doves and messages of hope – to convey to the world their longing for peace. For all too often the prime victims of the conflict, which is still ongoing, have been these little Syrian children .

ACN International is calling on people of goodwill all over the world to respond to this cry of peace from the children of Syria, among other things by lighting a candle, as the Holy Father will do on Sunday, in order to amplify the resonance of this clarion call for peace from the children of Syria and send out a strong message of hope during the season of Advent.

The candle which the Holy Father will light was decorated by a local craftsman from the Bab Touma quarter of the Old City of Damascus and also bears the photos of some 40 children, most of them from Aleppo, together with the logo of the campaign – a dove with outstretched wings in the shape of a child’s hand and the message “Peace for the Children of Syria 2018” – plus the regular logo of ACN International.

This is not the first time that ACN has spoken out for the children of Syria. Back in 2016 the charity made an appeal to the European Parliament, conveying to it pictures drawn by the children, expressing their longing for peace.

In response to the critical humanitarian situation in Syria and in order to prevent the disappearance of the Christian presence in the country, ACN is accompanying its Candles for Peace initiative with an international fundraising campaign over Advent and Christmas, organised through its 23 national fundraising offices. The campaign envisages a package of emergency aid, reconstruction aid and pastoral support for a total of 15 million Euros. This comes on top of the 29,350,000 Euros already donated by the charity since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

The ambitious programme involves the distribution of food parcels and other basic essentials, including medicines, milk powder for babies, support with rent and heating costs for the refugees, rebuilding of the homes of the Christian refugee families as well as their churches and religious houses, support for the priests and religious who are ministering to them, spiritual and psychological support for the traumatised, help with school and education fees for school children and young students and, last but not least, simple Christmas parcels for over 15,000 of the poorest and most destitute children.

For more information please go to: syria.acninternational.org

THE MAN WHO IS SHELTERING HER FAMILY TELLS ACN: “IN THE LAST FEW DAYS THE ISLAMISTS HAVE SHOT AT THE GATEWAY OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE. WE HOPE TO BE ABLE TO FIND A PLACE OF SECURITY SOON, PERHAPS EVEN IN ROME FOR CHRISTMAS.”

“We are afraid. In the last few days they have shot at the gate outside the house where we were living. We face constant threats, and more than once I have been followed.” Such is the frightening situation being endured by the daughters of Asia Bibi, as reported to ACN by Joseph Nadeem, the man who has been sheltering her family ever since this Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Given that Asia and her husband are practically illiterate, it is Nadeem who has been helping them with legal support and accompanying her husband Asihiq and younger daughter Eisham in their travels abroad, giving testimony of their experiences.

Today Joseph Nadeem and his family are themselves in danger and living in hiding together with the daughters of Asia Bibi. “Just as soon as Asia was acquitted, we were forced to flee”, he recalls. “Asia and her husband are currently in a place of safety, protected by the government, but we could not remain with them”, he explains. Ever since then Joseph Nadeem and his family, together with the two daughters of Asia, have had to keep on the move, changing homes four times so far. “The Islamists keep hunting us down, and every time we find we are in danger, we have to move on immediately. We cannot go out openly to buy food. I only ever go out by night and with my face covered”, Joseph Nadeem tells ACN.

Asia is aware of their difficult situation. “I met her as soon as she was acquitted, and every day we speak on the telephone together. She is very concerned for the safety of her daughters.” The two girls, Esha and Eisham, have not even have the chance to embrace their mother since her acquittal, but finally, even if only by telephone, they have been able to spend a few minutes talking to her daily. “I will never forget their first telephone call”, Joseph recalls. “Esha and Eisham wept for hours for sheer joy and relief. Asia cannot wait to see them again, and I am still hoping we can all leave the country very soon, together with Asia and her husband.”

Nevertheless, their nightmare is still far from over. Asia Bibi has shown extraordinary strength and courage. “She is a remarkable woman! She has retained an unshakeable faith and infinite trust in the Lord. It may sound strange, but it is she who has supported us in these difficult moments. She urges us not to get discouraged and tells us that in comparison with what she has been through so far, this is only a brief moment that will pass.”

Nadeem and the two girls are well aware of the flood of information and interest that her mother’s case has aroused around the world, and they have been able to talk to Asia herself about it. “The international attention and solidarity are a source of comfort for us. Eisham was profoundly moved when she saw her video message projected on the buildings of Venice, illuminated in red light. All of us, Asia included, are grateful to all those who have raised their voices in protest about our situation.”

“We are hoping to be able to leave Pakistan soon and live in a safe place. ACN was the first organisation to offer us hospitality. And we are hoping that our two families will be able to spend this Christmas in Rome, together with you all.”

With a symbolic campaign entitled “CANDLES FOR PEACE IN SYRIA” the charity is hoping to highlight the existential drama facing Christians in Syria

In its current Christmas campaign, the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) will intensify its efforts on behalf of the various Christian communities in Syria.

The Christian presence in Syria is in grave danger of becoming a relic of the past. Before the beginning of the war Christians accounted for some 10% of the population, around 2.5 million people. As of today it is estimated that approximately only 700,000 remain, which would amount to between 3% and 4% of the population – although it is difficult to give precise figures at this stage.

This dramatic decline is a direct consequence of the humanitarian crisis sparked by the cruel civil war in Syria and subsequently aggravated by the open outright persecution of Christians at the hands of extremist groups such as Daesh /IS and Al-Qaeda.

ACN aims to finance emergency, reconstruction and pastoral assistance projects valued at a total 15 million Euros, and directed especially to the needs of children and young people:

1) Emergency: food, medicines, personal hygiene items, rental dues, electricity and fuel payments for displaced families

2) Reconstruction: private homes of refugee families that have returned as well as other essential structures in Christian towns and villages, such as churches and monasteries;

3) Pastoral: Basic subsistence support for priests and religious sisters, training programs and spiritual care, as well as post-trauma support programs.

4) School fees and scholarships for children and university students, school equipment and educational materials, milk and food supplements for babies and children aged three years and under as well as token Christmas gifts for over 15,000 children.

The campaign will be preceded by a symbolic action in which some 50,000 children from different Christian communities in six war-torn cities of the country (Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Aleppo, Hassake, Tartous and Latakia) will light candles for peace.

 

Light a Candle for Pease in Syria

Light a Candle for Pease in Syria

 

“By means of this Christmas campaign, ACN hopes to offer consolation to Syrian Christians in the suffering they are going through, for peace still has not arrived everywhere in the country. At the same time we hope to touch the hearts of all people of goodwill and mobilise the world to help this Christian community in the Middle East and allow the Syrians to stay put in their ancient homeland“, explains Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive Chairman of ACN.

Meanwhile, many Christians in Syria have already expressed their gratitude for the planned campaign. The Greek Orthodox Bishop Demetrios Charbak of Banias, is one of the voices in this grateful choir: “We need to pray and stand together in order to be able to meet all the challenges that face us here in Syria. Candles for peace in Syria is a really beautiful and symbolic idea.”

 

Light a Candle for Pease in Syria

Light a Candle for Pease in Syria

 

The campaign will begin worldwide on the First Sunday of Advent. To mark its launch, the ACN foundation has organised various events, including a formal reception on the 3rd of December in Rome for ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, a direct link up via Skype with children in Syria taking part in the event Candles for peace, and a meeting at the European Parliament on 4 December, where testimonies will be given by two Syrian religious sisters who have been working with and supporting the country’s Christian communities throughout the eight years of the war and are now helping with the reconstruction programme.

ACN is a pontifical foundation which, thanks exclusively to the generous support of  private benefactors throughout the world, is able to support more than 5,000 projects each year, including persecuted Christians and other beneficiaries in greatest need in over 160 different countries. Since the Syrian war began in 2011, ACN has supported projects for a total of almost 29.5 million Euros in the country.

 

For more information about the campaign: syria.acninternational.org

To learn about the state of religious freedom in the world, see: religious-freedom-report.org

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 6000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.