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Posts Tagged ‘Aid to the Church in Need’

A follow-up from yesterday’s post about religious freedom and the global persecution of Christians: see the information below about Aid to the Church in Need’s Night of Witness on 17 May at Westminster Cathedral. Details here – and copied below.

17 May 2012 17:30

Westminster Cathedral Ambrosden Avenue London SW1P 1QW

“[Religious freedom is] the first of the human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person.” – Pope Benedict XVI

Will you join with us and persecuted Christians around the world as we come ‘Together in Faith’ this May?

Our Night of Witness aims to bring religious freedom to the forefront of public debate and give a voice to millions of suffering Christians around the world.

As attacks against Christians – and Christianity itself – become more prevalent, please help us to give a voice to the persecuted Church.

Taking our lead from Pope Benedict XVI, we are hosting a public witness event at Westminster Cathedral and on the cathedral piazza, to:

  • Give a voice to Christians and others persecuted for their faith
  • Remind society of the gift of religious liberty
  • Call on the government to make religious freedom a diplomatic priority

Guests who have agreed to take part in the Night of Witness include:

NB We regret that Monsignor Roko Taban Mousa from Sudan will no longer be able to join us.

  • Archbishop Joseph Coutts from Pakistan
  • Bishop Joannes Zakaria from Egypt
  • Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton
  • Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster – greeting participants on the piazza
  • British Pakistani Christian Association
  • Iraqi Christians in Need
  • Priests and faithful from Iraq, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Lithuania

Performers on the Night of Witness include:

  • Catholic band ooberfuse, winners of the World Youth Day 2011 global song contest
  • Eliot Smith Dance Company debuting new piece Persecuted and Forgotten
  • Singer Helen Munt
  • West End Gospel Choir
  • Urdu Christian musician Hammad Baily
  • Catholic poet Sarah de Nordwall

Programme for the Night of Witness

Please join us for all or part of this inspiring evening:

5.30pm Sung Mass to remember the modern-day martyrs to the Faith, concelebrated by Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, and Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton.

6.30pm Rally for Religious Freedom on the cathedral piazza, celebrating our faith through speeches, music, drama, dance, poetry and film, with groups from Iraqi, Pakistani, Sudanese and Egyptian communities in the UK, as well as others.

7.30-8.30pm Solemn, candlelit vigil in Westminster Cathedral – in thanksgiving for the inspirational sacrifice of Christians today.

Please come ‘Together in Faith’ as Christians to make our concerns heard

Through music, prayer and speeches by guests from Pakistan, Egypt and the UK we will explore what it means to be a Christian today – both at home and abroad. And, through examples of the courage and faith of others, we can grow in faith and resolve ‘to stand in the public square and proclaim the Lord’.

The vigil will also be a public statement about our own right to religious freedom.

To find out how you, your parish, school or group can participate please email witness@acnuk.org or call us on 020 8642 8668.

Download a flyer for the Night of Witness

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You expect an organisation like Aid to the Church in Need to document the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – which it does assiduously. See their News Section for various updates, e.g. the ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Syrian city of Homs, which has created a forced exodus of over 50,000 people to the surrounding towns and villages; e.g. fears voiced by ACN-UK Director Neville Kyrke-Smith that ‘the Arab Spring is threatening to turn into a disaster for Christians in the Middle East – and Western indifference is making the problem worse’.

So it is reassuring, at least a tiny bit, that there seems to have been a gradual increase in reporting on this tragedy and its implications in the mainstream media.

I cut out an article from January’s Prospect, by Rachel Aspden, writing about post-revolutionary Egypt.

For the last three decades the Copts have had a stable, if not cordial, accommodation with the Mubarak regime. In late January [last year], Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic church, appealed to anti-Mubarak protesters to return home—before quickly expressing his support for the revolution two weeks later, after the president had departed. “We suffered discrimination under Mubarak, but at least we knew he would protect us and the rest of the country from Islamic fundamentalists,” says Samia [a 70 year old Egyptian Coptic Christian]. Now the old certainties have been shattered.

Since the military council, known as Scaf, took power in February, the Copts’ situation has worsened. Attacks on churches and congregations in Cairo and Upper Egypt were followed by the killing of 27 protesters, mostly Christian, by security forces at Maspero, Cairo in October. Like many Copts, Samia now believes the army has a clandestine power-sharing deal with the Muslim Brotherhood—and is willing to sacrifice the rights of minorities to secure it.

In the small flat where she lives alone, Samia worries about the future. On her bedside table, silver-framed photos of her daughter Nisreen sit next to a picture of the pope and an icon of the Virgin Mary. After Samia’s husband died 15 years ago, Nisreen emigrated to the United States. Samia joined her for eight years. “But the homesickness became too much and I had to return,” she says. “Many of my Christian friends here are securing foreign passports now. I have a green card, but I’ve decided I will live and die here.” Although many lack the will or means to emigrate, the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights estimates that 93,000 Copts have left Egypt since March [last year].

And last week there was a long article by Douglas Davis in the Spectator about how more generally Arab Christians are being driven out of their homelands. He gives some of the shocking statistics.

[Look at] the dwindling Arab Christian minorities in the region who believed their arabness would trump their Christianity — the Copts and Chaldeans, the Maronites and Melkites, the Latin Rite Catholics and Protestants, the Armenians, Syriac Orthodox, the Assyrian Church of the East and others. They have paid a high price for hanging on. Christian Arabs constituted 20 per cent of the region’s population a century ago; today, they represent about 5 per cent, and falling.The remnant of the 2,000-year-old Christian population is being decanted from the Arab world.

Take Iraq, whose liberty was won at the cost of thousands of soldiers from the Christian West. When the Americans invaded in 2003, about 1.4 million Christian Arabs called Iraq their home. Since then, some 70 churches have been burned and about 1,000 Christians killed in Baghdad alone. Three quarters of the community have fled, leading the Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, the Revd Jean Benjamin Sleiman, to lament ‘the extinction of Christianity in Iraq and the Middle East’.

Across the border, a war-within-a-war is raging in Syria. While Homs has been besieged by the army of Bashar al-Assad over the past two months, Islamist fanatics from the ranks of the rebels found time to root out the city’s 50,000 Christians and force them to flee. The Christians of Homs, having abandoned their homes and their belongings, are now sheltering in mountain villages about 30 miles from the city. They are unlikely to return.

The Catholic News Agency reports that Syria’s Christian community has suffered terrorist attacks in other cities, too. Last month, a car bomb exploded in the Christian quarter of Aleppo, close to the Franciscan-run Church of St Bonaventure. ‘The people we are helping are very afraid,’ said Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, who is overseeing a Catholic aid programme. ‘The Christians don’t know what their future will hold.’

If the Christians of Iraq and Syria are being ‘persuaded’ to leave by Islamic extremists who bomb their churches and murder their priests, so, too, are the Copts, who have lived in Egypt since the days of the pharaohs, well before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century.

Last year, some 200,000 Coptic Christians — such Christians once made up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million population — fled their homes after being subjected to killing, beatings and church-burnings in Alexandria, Luxor and Cairo. On New Year’s Day last year, 21 Copts were slaughtered in their church in Alexandria; a further 27 died in clashes with police in Cairo.

This week, the Coptic Orthodox Church announced that it was withdrawing from talks on a new Egyptian constitution because Islamist domination of the process has made its participation ‘pointless’. The haemorrhage continues. There are no such problems in the Gulf, of course, where Christians, virtually all ‘guest workers’, have no chance of becoming citizens. The Saudis have gone one step further to preserve their ethnic purity: churches and Christian worship, in line with the opinion of Sheikh Abdullah, have been outlawed (the small, isolated community of Syriacs are forced to live as ‘catacomb Christians’ and worship in secret).

Earlier this year, the Saudis demonstrated once again they mean business when they deported 35 Ethiopian Christians, mostly women, for ‘illicit mingling’. Their crime was to attend a prayer service at a private home in Jeddah. Before being deported, Human Rights Watch reported, the women were strip-searched by religious police and the men beaten up to chants of ‘unbeliever’.

When I visited the then-mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, about 30 years ago, he happily boasted that about three quarters of the population of his town, the birthplace of Christianity, was Christian. Today, after a reign of terror which included land theft, intimidation and beatings by recently arrived Islamic extremists, the figure is estimated to be down to 10 per cent. The Christians of Bethlehem, under pressure from the new Muslim majority, are quietly finding new homes wherever émigrés are permitted safer havens.

Bethlehem is a microcosm of a phenomenon that is evident throughout the Palestinian territories. Against a drumbeat of harassment, which has included calls by Muslim extremists to slaughter their Christian neighbours, half of the Palestinian Christians of Gaza have fled their homes since the Hamas putsch in 2007. In the West Bank, Christians, who once accounted for 15 per cent of the population, are now down to less than 2 per cent.

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Another horrific terrorist attack on Christian worshippers yesterday morning, this time in Egypt [report from David Batty]:

At least 21 people have been killed and more than 70 injured in Egypt in a suspected suicide bombing outside a church in Alexandria as worshippers left a new year service.

It was initially thought a car bomb had caused the explosion just after midnight at the Coptic orthodox al-Qidiseen church. But the interior ministry suggested a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible.

Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 79 million.

Security around churches has been stepped up in recent months with the authorities banning cars from parking directly outside them, after an al-Qaida-linked group in Iraq threatened the Egyptian church in November.

I happened to read a piece by John Allen yesterday about the true extent of persecution of Christians around the world, as documented by Aid to the Church in Need.

Aid to the Church in Need, a German-based Catholic aid agency, produces a widely trusted annual report on global threats to religious freedom. It estimates that somewhere between 75 percent and 85 percent of all acts of religious persecution are directed against Christians. In a report to the European Parliament last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said that while Muslims and Jews face significant persecution, “Christians faced some sort of harassment in two-thirds of all countries,” or 133 states. [My italics]

Those statistics are fleshed out by headlines almost every day.

This Christmas season alone, scores of Catholic Masses were cancelled in Iraq due to threats from extremist groups. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraq has lost two-thirds of what was once among the largest Christian populations in the Middle East. In China, a new crackdown on the church is in full swing, as the government has orchestrated elections for a rump bishops’ conference and an assembly of Catholics calculated to preserve state control. Some clergy were herded into those elections virtually at gunpoint.

In Vietnam, a Catholic bishop was banned from celebrating Christmas Mass in the country’s mountain region, reportedly because of his success in converting the Montagnards, a cluster of ethnic groups often stigmatized and seen as potential threats by other Vietnamese. In the Philippines, Muslim extremists attacked a Catholic chapel on the island of Jolo on Christmas Day. It was merely the latest assault on Jolo, where a bomb exploded inside the local cathedral in July 2009, killing six and wounding forty. In Nigeria, fighting between Christians and Muslims in the northern city of Jos over the Christmas period has reportedly left at least 80 people dead.

Christianophobia is on the rise for a whole cocktail of reasons. Part of it is simple math: There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world, the largest following of any religion, so in terms of raw numbers there are simply more Christians to oppress. That’s especially true as Christianity’s center of gravity shifts to the developing world, where democracy and the rule of law are sometimes conspicuous by their absence.

Because of the historical association between Christianity and the West, Christians are often convenient targets for individuals and groups expressing anti-Western rage. In some cases, too, the logic is exquisitely local. In India, a disproportionate share of Christian converts come from the “untouchable” Dalit community, so it’s often difficult to disentangle specifically Christian persecution from older caste prejudice. (A similar point could be made about the Montagnards in Vietnam).

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Fr Vincent Van Vossel, CSSR, Superior of the Redemptorists in Baghdad, speaks about the terrible choices facing Christians in Iraq after the massacre that took place on 31 October in the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation.

Iraqi Christians are now terrified and in shock. They are faced with a terrible dilemma: emigrate and save the lives of their loved ones, or stay in the country and witness to the faith, risking death.

The massacre was widely reported. Aid to the Church in Need have produced this short video about the worsening plight of Iraqi Christians.

This is the rest of the report about Fr Vincent’s comments, which comes from Fides and Aid to the Church in Need:

A commando of terrorists linked to al Qaeda stormed the church, crowded with faithful during the Mass, taking those present hostage. Iraqi security forces made a raid to free them, but the the militants reacted with a massacre that left 58 dead, including two priests, and about 70 wounded.

Fr Vincent, who has lived in Iraq for 40 years and teaches at Babel College in Baghdad, the college affiliated with the Pontifical Urban University, has issued a heartfelt testimony to Fides: “We are living something that is really terrible. There had never been a massacre of such magnitude, all within a church during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I have visited the church and listened to the testimonies of the faithful in shock. The terrorists mercilessly killed women and children. The community is traumatized. The church looked like a cemetery.”

The Christian community in Baghdad has lost two young Syro-Catholic priests, Fr Wasim Sabieh and Fr Thaier Saad Abdal, while a third priest, Chorepiscop Fr Rufail Quataimi, is still in the hospital in a serious condition.

“What a tragedy! The two priests who died, not yet in their thirties, were my students at the College. They were very active in Bible apostolate, in interfaith dialogue, and charity. Fr Thaier was in charge of a Centre for Islamic Studies, and Fr Wasin was very involved in helping poor families. We will miss them,” said Fr Vincent.

The Redemptorist recalls that “yesterday a number of attacks hit Baghdad and Shiite areas, which means that not only Christians are under attack, but the whole area is flooded by terrorism. It is hard to see a hopeful future for the nation right now,” he said. “We do not know who is behind these acts, nor where the nation is headed.

Meanwhile, the people suffer. There are such great evils that beset the country.” Hence, the dilemma for Christians: “The faithful say their life has become impossible. Many Christian families are organizing themselves to leave the country. The excruciating dilemma is whether to flee in search of a better future, or stay, risking their lives. In this tragic moment, the Bishops have a great responsibility to speak to the faithful, to give their reasons and hopes, to convince them to stay. The task of our pastors, today, is very difficult,” he remarked.

The funeral was held yesterday, says the Redemptorist missionary. “It was attended by many Muslim leaders who asked the government to defend Christians. We hope that, after yet another massacre, civil authorities listen to the cry of Christians in Iraq and place an end to their suffering.”

The Christian Churches for the Iraqi communities in the UK have arranged a joint remembrance service for the worshippers killed at Our Lady of Salvation for the Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday. It will be take place on Friday 12 November [NOTE NEW DATE], at 7pm at the Syrian Catholic Church, Holy Trinity Church, 4 Brook Green, London W6 7BL.

This is the response of Archbishop Vincent Nichols, speaking for the Catholic Church in England and Wales:

I want to express my horror at the atrocity that occurred at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Karada, Baghdad and my solidarity with those who suffered and died. This massacre has taken a terrible toll on a vulnerable and diminishing Christian community that, along with other religious minorities, continues to suffer persecution. My thoughts and prayers are with all those Iraqis who struggle against violence and extremism. The Christians of the Middle East have a special vocation as peace builders, as the recent Synod emphasised. I know that they will continue to be faithful to that mission and that Catholics in this country will continue to support the Iraqi Church.

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