The city of Jos in Northern Nigeria has suffered severely from many long years of inter-religious violence at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram and just now when it seems to be recovering like the phoenix from the ashes, the incessant Fulani herdsmen attacks that have already affected many other areas in the Country, are putting an end to these hopes.

At the end of September, another fresh cycle of violence was triggered off by a night attack of the herdsmen on Rukuba Road in Jos. Two days earlier, both the military and Fulani herdsmen had come to the area, claiming to search for the corpse of a missing Fulani boy. The outbreak left rendering so many people orphans, widows and helpless. One such person is Blessing Kogi, a 23 year old University student who lives in Jos with her family. In an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), she explained how she in one night lost her mother, three siblings and six other family members to a tragic attack by the Fulani men.

“In the evening on the September 27 at around 7:00 pm, we were all in the house having dinner, my grandmother, my mother, three of my siblings, my sister-in-law, nephew and three of my cousins. We were eating when unknown gunmen suddenly burst in and opened fire.”

 

Parishioners of St. Francis Parish Fwapwa at the Mass in honour of those killed in the Fulani attacks.

Parishioners of St. Francis Parish Fwapwa at the Mass in honour of those killed in the Fulani attacks.

 

“So, I fell on the floor and played dead, but one of them still came to where I was lying down and shot me twice – in my neck and shoulder.”

“The men who were speaking to each other in the Hausa and Fulani languages, continued their killing spree in my neighbourhood. In total, 15 people were killed in my area: 10 in my house, three in another and two elsewhere. Five people sustained injuries, including three children in another house, and the two of us (i.e. Blessing and her cousin).”

Blessing’s father survived only because he was at work when the terrible attack occurred.

Just like many other victims of such gratuitous violence, Blessing is broken and traumatised. She says, “I feel I don’t have anything left to live for in my life again. My father has not been eating. He cannot even talk. We don’t know what to do and how to start either”

“This situation has really affected my faith as a Christian. Immediately after all this happened, I said many things without even knowing why, like I doubted whether Christ was really there, but I later realized that God is alive and He knows everything and so I leave everything in His hands. Now, I find strength in praying and singing praises to God”, she said.

She makes a passionate appeal to Christians all over the world, “I really need Christians all over the world to help us with their prayers because we are not finding things easy. Pray for us that we will be stronger in Christ, and He will give us the strength of heart to bear this loss.”

 

Jos/Nigeria: The Nightmare of Fulani herdsmen attacks

“I really need Christians all over the world to help us with their prayers because we are not finding things easy. Pray for us that we will be stronger in Christ, and He will give us the strength of heart to bear this loss.”

 

The Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani militia, are a nomadic, pastoralist ethnic group living in the North and central regions of Nigeria, predominately in the Middle Belt. The majority of the Fulani herdsmen are Muslim. They have been clashing with indigenous tribes and locals, mainly Christian farmers, over grazing land for years.

Commenting on the Fulani herdsmen attacks in many parts of the country, especially in his Archdiocese of Jos, Most. Rev Ignatius Kaigama said, “once again, in Jos, innocent lives have been lost, properties destroyed, healing wounds re-opened, psychological trauma caused, inter-ethnic and religious suspicion rekindled”.

“The people have been unable to go about their normal farming activities this year because of the fear of constant attacks. They certainly need help with food, medication, clothing and above all, to be able to return to their homes to start rebuilding without any further molestation by the merchants of evil”, he said.

The Archbishop, who has become the face of inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria, continued, “we shall not give up in our struggle for peaceful coexistence and civilized conduct. Everyone must do his/her part: Religious leaders must sincerely preach peace. Politicians – avoid operating negatively behind the scenes! Security agents – be fair, unbiased and neutral in your operations! Government leaders- care for citizens facing hostile attacks by terrorists/criminals. Youth – avoid irrationality and stop being used! Terrorists/criminals- stop injuring humanity! Life is sacred. Respect it!”

How the Church is helping rebuild the first hundred homes of Christian families in the Syrian city of Homs, following their destruction during the war

The historical Old City of Homs is a quarter of narrow streets and buildings in dark stone, characteristic of the traditional architecture of the city. Before the war, this area was home to a large part of the city’s Christian community, and it is here that one finds the cathedrals and episcopal sees of the various rites and denominations.

“We are now living not far from our old home, which is in the next suburb just around 500 metres away,”, says Elias Ghattas, a father, who had to look on as his family home was destroyed during the bombardments that laid waste to the city, especially in the year 2013. “Around 40 Christians stayed put, most of them elderly people who refused to flee, or sick people who were unable to do so.” An expression of resignation and helplessness crosses his face at being forced to live so close to his former home, yet still unable to resume his normal life.

 

Elias and the engineer Hassib Makhoul, visiting the reconstruction works

Elias and the engineer Hassib Makhoul, visiting the reconstruction works

 

Elías is welcoming a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in the living room of his present home. With him are his wife, Lina, and Bashar, his youngest son, aged 25. “Thamin, our eldest, is not here. He has been in the Army for seven years. He was conscripted when the war began. Thanks be to God, he is still alive. He has only been able to visit us a couple of times in all those years.” Lina serves freshly made coffee, which fills the whole room with its aroma.

The Ghattas family tell us more about their story. “We didn’t want to leave; we remained in our house as long as possible, but then one day a mortar hit our roof and it all collapsed.” Lina and Bashar’s eyes meet, then she explains: “My son lost one eye, and I was knocked unconscious. Fortunately, an army tank was able to get through the rubble in the street and take us to hospital. It’s a miracle we survived.”

 

Elias Ghattas with his wife Lina Salloum and their son Thamin Ghattas in Homs.

Elias Ghattas with his wife Lina Salloum and their son Thamin Ghattas in Homs.

 

Since then they have had to move three times. First they went to the Al Arman suburb, around 4 km away. From there they were forced to move house again, and then finally they came here, their fourth place, a one roomed flat with bathroom, living room and kitchen. The living room doubles as a bedroom at night-time, a fact borne out by the mattresses piled up against the wall. “It takes a real effort for me to get up the steps with my leg, broken as a result of an illness”, Elias tells us, “but this is all we can afford. The rents have gone up so much in the last few years.”

The Ghattas family have not given up, however, and they want to return to their old home. “It’s our home,  all our experiences and memories are linked to that home. It’s the only place we own and we want to recover it because it symbolises our lives”, says Elias and Lina adds, “For us it’s the most beautiful place to live; we don’t want to go on moving from one house to another.”

 

Main entrance of the Ghattas Family's house.

Main entrance of the Ghattas Family’s house.

 

The courage shown by Lina, Elias and their sons has meant that their family was one of the first to be able to begin reconstructing their home, with the support of the local Church and thanks to the financial aid supplied by ACN. The team of engineers has already assessed the state of the buildings concerned and worked out a meticulous project, so that the families can return to their homes as soon as possible.

Hassib Makhoul is the engineer in charge of the programme for rebuilding the Ghattas family home, and he has taken them to visit the site and see how work has progressed in the last few weeks. “We have been working for more or less a month, and in that time we have been able to restore the electric wiring and plumbing, the front entrance, facade and the distribution boxes”, he explains. “All of this has been done with government approval, of course, but we were able to begin work promptly above all thanks to the financial support from the Church.”

 

Recovering our homes means recovering our lives

Elias and Bashar in the entrance of their house

 

Bashar helps his father negotiate the rubble that still clutters at the entrance to the house, all while explaining to us that he too was able to help with the electric wiring. In fact Bashar would very much like to be able to have a little repair shop as a means of earning a living. “We want peace; we don’t think about the politics. I want only the best for my country, which is for there to be peace soon. We didn’t want to leave, because that costs an awful lot of money, is dangerous.  Besides, we don’t want to leave my brother Thamin on his own, fighting in the army.” From the roof of the building you can see how part of the quarter is still sealed off. “

The engineer Makhoul points to the first works completed to fill the gaps in the walls and make them safe: “This is also to prevent possible theft”. Looking from the balcony of the roof one can see a part of the city quarter: “From the next street onwards there is an uninhabited zone, patrolled by the army. It was formerly a rebel area, and you still can’t enter it.” Then he thanks us for the emergency aid provided by ACN which has made it possible for this house – along with around 100 others – to start being rehabilitated. “We are still in the first phase. We are going to need more aid to be able to finish the work and to rebuild many other homes”, he adds.

Lina explains the reason for her profound hope and optimism. “Prayer is what keeps us going here. Our family was always close to the Church, and the contact with other Christians also strengthens us. We want to thank the benefactors of ACN for everything they are doing for us. It is very impressive. Thank you for remembering us and thank you also for praying for Syria.”

 

“Home is where the heart is and ours is still at our house. We want to return to our house; all our memories and our life is there” says Lina Ghattas. ACN supports the reconstruction of houses that were destroyed during the war in Syria. There are many families like Ghattas family and we want to help them to come home, where their heart is.

“Thanks to the support of ACN International, we don’t feel alone”

The Houdaib family is an extended family, like so many other families in Syria. Evon is the mother and grandmother of the tribe. At the age of 80 she is still the head of the family, and especially now, since her husband George died of heart problems a few years ago. “We have 11 children, all of them still alive, thanks be to God. I know that this is somewhat unusual given the times we are living through in Syria today. Many families have lost children, parents, brothers or sisters.”

The family welcomes a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) to their recently refurbished house in order to share with them their joy in returning to the family home. The Houdaibs had lived in this house since they were newlyweds. But in 2012, during one of the worst bombardments to hit the city, part of the roof came down, blocking the entrance to the house. The family home is on the ground floor of a block of flats in the Al Hameedye quarter, close to the historic centre of Homs. Until recently, in order to get to their home, you had to climb over a series of rubble barriers blocking the streets, barricades built during the fighting.

Today all this rubble has been cleared away from the streets, and although access is still difficult for vehicles, it is possible to come and go on foot with a degree of normality. Standing out among the buildings nearby is the Haiyar Palace, once one of the architectural jewels of Homs. People in the neighbourhood have put up some images of the Way of the Cross as well asa large cross in front of the building, which is surrounded by ruins. “Formerly this was a mainly Christian area, and we want to preserve this atmosphere, even though many of our neighbours still haven’t returned”, says Marwan, Evon’s eldest son.

Marwan expresses his thanks for the support of the local Church which, with financial help from ACN, has funded the repair work on his mother’s house. “We still rely on help, because we don’t have the money for medicines or to pay for an operation that my sister has to undergo. The fighting has moved on northwards from Homs, towards the Idlib region, but now we suffer from an enormous economic crisis- There is no work and the power cuts still occur.”

The local Church gave 500,000 Syrian pounds – or 1,500 Euros – to the Houdaib family. “It may not seem like much money in other countries, but here it’s a small fortune today. Of course we know that people outside Syria are helping us in a spirit of disinterested generosity. I don’t know how to thank them, we no longer feel alone, thanks to them”, says Ragaa, one of Evon’s daughters.

There are a number of grandchildren belonging to the third generation also gathered in the house,. Among them are Wael, aged 20, who works as a delivery man in a restaurant, and Joudi, 13, who is still at school and wants to go on and study pharmacy in the footsteps of her aunt Ragaa. They tell us that the most difficult thing to bear in these last few years was having to flee from one place to another, and suffer separation from their cousins and friends.

“Yes, it has been a great trial”, Evon confesses. “We had to go from here to Feiruzy, a small town on the outskirts of Homs, then from there to Hanessa, another place just outside the city. Then in 2016, after Homs was liberated, we returned here, but we couldn’t come back to the apartment until a few months ago, and that was thanks to the help of ACN.”

 

Joudi and her brother Wael

 

Despite the fact that many Syrians were forced to flee, some even abroad, the Houdaib family tried hard to remain united, and now they are very happy to be back together again. “The reason why we wanted to come back to our former home was to fulfil the wishes of our father George”, Marwan tells us. Evon nods in agreement, goes out of the room and returns with a photograph of her husband. “I’m so sorry that my husband was not able to see this house rebuilt; it was his great dream”, Evon adds.

Marwan now works as a driver for the archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the seat of which is the church of Saint Mary of the Holy Belt. This church is built over an ancient crypt which was a place of prayer for Christians dating back to the year 50 A.D. According to tradition, this church contains a belt once belonging to the Virgin Mary and given by her to Saint Thomas the Apostle upon her Assumption into heaven. It is a relic kept with great devotion and bears witness to the profound Christian roots of Syria. The Houdaib family is one of the many who come to this place to ask Our Lady’s protection and for peace in their country. “We have lost everything, but we have not lost our faith. We remain united, we go to church and celebrate Mass together. That is where we draw the strength that we need”, Evon tells us.

Theirs is one of the first 100 families who – thanks to the support of organisations like ACN – have so far been able to return and rebuild their homes after years of war and destruction. They know well that they still have many challenges ahead of them and a great deal of work to do, but they assure us that they will never leave this land, and that their home is open to anyone in need.

In May 2018 ACN supported the restoration of 100 houses in Homs, with a total of 300.000 Euros

Pakistan has a population of more than 200 million people among those, more than 95% are Muslims, which makes the country the second biggest Islamic state in the world. The 1973 constitution states that all citizens enjoy the freedom to practice and profess freely the religion of their choice. However, this right to religious freedom is considerably limited.

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the pastoral work of the Sacred Heart Sisters in the Syrian city of Homs.

 

The church of Altip, in the Bab Al-Sebaa district, just south of the Old Quarter of Homs, is a social and pastoral training centre. “Years ago it was a Catholic school, but then the government banned all non-state schools. Since then we have used it as a catechetical centre, giving religious instruction to young people and adults, and we also hold social events and sports days here”, explains Sister Samia Syiej, the religious sister in charge of coordinating catechetical instruction for a group of Confirmation children.

Sister Samia is a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a congregation founded in Syria and inspired by Ignatian spirituality. “We have 12 houses throughout Syria. I am also involved in pastoral work with handicapped children. Our congregation is very active and we pursue a range of initiatives, both pastoral and social”, she continues.

 

Sister Samia Syiej

Sister Samia Syiej

 

Sister Samia points out the exact spot where the bombs fell, close to the centre of Altip. “Local families have helped us to repair two sections of the roof which were destroyed by the bombing. But in addition to everything else, what we now have to do is to help repair not only the external damage, but the damage within people’s hearts. I am a religious, and my first responsibility is to bear witness spiritually and help people. This is what moves me. We lived through the war and witnessed it close up. Catechesis is important in helping to heal the wounds.”

Working alongside Sister Samia are a number of young university students who divide themselves between the various different catechetical groups and actively help in this pastoral apostolate. A delegation from our international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) happened to visit while they were endeavouring to explain to the young boys and girls about the life of Jesus during his Passion and Crucifixion, a central point of the Christian faith. One of these catechists is Haya Elias. “Sister Samia taught us how to become closer to God, and now we are passing this on those who come after us.” She is studying philology at university and has always been a member of the group helping the sisters.

 

Children Gifts for Christmas in Aleppo 2017

Children Gifts for Christmas in Aleppo 2017

 

“I am very conscious that I owe my life to God and to the prayers of people like Sister Samia”, says Jihad Alaji, a young man who is currently unemployed. Jihad was in the army of the Assad government, compulsorily recruited to fight in the war. During an ambush he was captured by a rebel group and held prisoner for months. Everybody assumed he was dead, but miraculously he succeeded in escaping. “I thank God, and I thank the sisters for never having given up praying for me. I am so grateful to them today and so now I am helping them as a catechist.”

The Church in Syria is very much alive, despite more than seven years of war. The priests, and the religious brothers and sisters in the country have become a fresh source of hope for the people. “We have never stopped offering our help, our prayers and our accompaniment… Everything is being done through the collaboration of the priests, religious and laity. We all work together to organise these activities and, thanks be to God, we have some very active young people”, Sister Samia continues.

In addition to coordinating the religious instruction, Sister Samia also works in a home for mentally handicapped children. “We have always carried out projects with the help of ACN, even during the bloodiest moments of the war. Children and adults alike often need a word of hope, and want to grow stronger in their faith. The children come to the church, and they can also be very demanding. During the summer, for example, we held a number of youth camps, which gave fresh hope to many people. This is what motivates us.”

During the year 2018, and thanks to the generous help of our many benefactors throughout the world, the pontifical foundation ACN has been able to support more than 35 pastoral courses and programmes for young people and children in various different parts of Syria, for a total cost of 170,000 Euros.

 

Children Gifts for Christmas in Aleppo 2017

Children Gifts for Christmas in Aleppo 2017

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.