Press release: Syria – “Military intervention by the West would be disastrous”

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©AED/ACN

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Military intervention by the West against the Assad regime in Syria would be disastrous, according to the head of the country’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church, who says nobody can be sure who was responsible for last week’s chemical weapons attack.

Speaking from Lebanon following a pastoral mission to the conflict-ridden Syrian capital, Damascus, Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarch of Antioch, stressed that in spite of the ongoing conflict, reconciliation initiatives were still viable and should be the top priority for all countries concerned with the crisis.

In the interview yesterday (Tuesday, 27th August) with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios spelled out his doubts about the credibility of some of the evidence emerging from centres of conflict in Syria. He said: “Who can know who was behind the chemical weapons attack?”

To work for peace instead of calling for violence

Criticising US policy towards Syria, the Patriarch added: “You should not accuse the government one day and then accuse the opposition the next. That is how you fuel violence and hatred. The Americans have been fuelling the situation for two years.”

While condemning chemical weapons attacks, he highlighted concerns about foreign fighters coming into Syria, a problem he said was compounded by the flow of arms into the country, actions he described as “immoral”. He said: “Many people are coming from outside Syria to fight in the country. These fighters are fuelling fundamentalism and Islamism.”

Patriarch Gregorios said the USA, Russia and other world powers should put together a peace plan. “It is time to finish with these weapons and, instead of calling for violence, international powers need to work for peace.”

Patriarch Gregorios, who ordained three bishops on Sunday (25th August) during his trip to Syria, described the situation in his country as “tragic”. The Patriarch said that 450,000 Syrian Christians – nearly a third of the total – were either displaced within the country or were refugees abroad.

Problems in Damascus

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©AED/ACN

He highlighted problems in Damascus, which until now has acted as a refuge for Christians and others fleeing Homs and other centres north of the capital where violence has been especially severe. He said that on Monday afternoon (26th August), soon after he left the country, two bombs fell in the Old City of Damascus, both of them very close to the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarchate, where he was based.

One explosive fell on a Scout centre, about 10 meters from the entrance to his patriarchate, killing two adult male bystanders. No children were hurt. He said: “We do not know if the attackers are targeting the Churches. It could be that we are attacked because we are close to an army base. The extremists are wanting to fuel hatred between the Christians and Muslim [groups].”

The Patriarch highlighted the work of a relief centre at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate, set up at the end of 2011, and now providing food, medicine and other help to 2,800 displaced families. “While the road from Beirut to Damascus is normally safe, once you are inside Damascus it is very difficult. In Damascus, bombs can fall on your head at any time.”

ACN is organizing a Novena

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©AED/ACN

He renewed calls for prayer, stating: “We are happy that our people are responding to this situation with prayer. Throughout this whole time of crisis, our churches have been almost full. Stressing how many Christian lives had been saved, the Patriarch said: “The people feel that in spite of the problems, God is granting miracles for them.”

In conclusion, he said: “There is a mixture of hope and despair. People do not know what their future may be. They are very concerned about their children and about vulnerable people – including the disabled. People feel fear but in spite of that they are strong in their faith.”

To support our Syrian brother in prayer, ACN, in collaboration with its National Offices is organizing a novena. Information is forthcoming.

Press release : Holy Land = Between hope and scepticism

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

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©AED/ACN

When it comes to the current peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians the Jerusalem Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali feels torn between hope and scepticism. Talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Shomali, who is responsible in the Latin Patriarchate for the Palestinian areas, said (last Friday): “My heart, filled with hope and faith, tells me negotiations will succeed. My sceptical mind, bringing to the surface the past rounds of negotiations – Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, River Plantation, Sharm El-Sheikh, Amman etc. – and how they failed, tells the opposite. “

“In the meantime, I feel the need not to dress up as a prophet but to continue praying and inviting others to do the same.” Should the talks fail, Bishop Shomali expressed his wish that there will not be a third Palestinian intifada.” The experience of the two last ones was destructive. Fighting should continue on the political level.”

“Their moderating role can be of great help”

Bishop Shomali described the role of Israel’s and Palestine’s Christians in the conflict as a moderating one. “They pray and believe that peace remains possible. They are moderate actors in their respective country. Some Palestinian Christians are present in the negotiations, in a direct or indirect way. Their moderating role can be of great help.”

20121207_004When asked what the Church’s position was on what status East Jerusalem should be accorded as part of a final status solution, Shomali expressed the view: “Jerusalem should be a city for two peoples and three religions, which should have equal rights and dignity.” Bishop Shomali, a Palestinian by birth, went on to stress that Jerusalem should remain an open city enjoying a particular status and international guarantees. “For the details of the implementation of such vision, we need creative negotiators, open to new solutions in order to deal with all the obstacles such as the settlements and how to keep open Jerusalem and all its holy Places,” Shomali stated.

Concerning the position of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, according to whom the conflict was not fundamentally about Jewish settlements on the West Bank, but about the Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Bishop Shomali said: “I believe that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a State, with full rights and secure borders. It is up to Israelis, not Palestinians, to decide what character this state should have; in the same way it is up to Israelis and not to others to decide who is a ‘Jew’ and who is not. In a reciprocal way, it will be requested of Israel that they recognize an Arab country as such without specifying whether this Arab country should be secular or ‘Islamic’.”

In conclusion Bishop Shomali stressed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no longer the only conflict which threatened the stability of the Middle East today. “Since the so called ‘Arab spring’ there are new realities on the ground. But this conflict remains an important factor.”

Ukraine – “This place will be the heart of our Church!”

Major Archbishop Shevchuk dedicates the Greek Catholic Cathedral in Kiev

Maria Lozano, AED International

Adaptation Robert Lalonde, AED CanadaACN-20130823-00248

On the invitation of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevczuk – Head of the Ukrainian Church which is in full communion with the Holy See – a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) attended the dedication of the newly-built Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev. The dedication took place on 18 August on the occasion of the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Kievan Rus, the precursor of today’s states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

“We have built it together!”

More than 25,000 faithful attended the three-hour liturgy, including pilgrims from Ukraine, Eastern and Western Europe as well as Canada, Australia, the USA and Scandinavia among others. The Papal Legate Cardinal Audrys Bačkis, Apostolic Nuncio Mons. Thomas Edward Gullikson, and more than 40 bishops from Ukraine as well as from the aforementioned diaspora regions also celebrated the Mass together with more than 500 priests. Only a small proportion were able to attend the celebrations inside the Cathedral. The great majority of the faithful watched the liturgy on screens outside. The liturgy was broadcast live on Ukrainian television.

ACN-20130823-00243The sermon by Major Archbishop Shevchuk was aimed in particular at the Ukrainian youth, who represent the future of this Church: “Jesus Christ be praised! 1025 years ago, our people became a part of God’s people. We are the people of God! And so the city of Kiev has become the centre of our Christianity…Father! You are our God! Happy is the people whose Father is the Lord!” Again and again, Shevchuk emphasised the significance of the “Sobor”, which in the Slavic language means “the assembly” but also “the cathedral”: “Our ‘Sobor’ is in Kiev. This ‘place’ will be the heart of our Church! We have built it together! It is our house! I thank you for your aid from Ukraine, from Western and Eastern Europe, and from the other continents!”

Our building project : a spiritual dimension

ACN has also given its support to the building of the “Sobor Voskresinnya Khrystovoho” Cathedral to the tune of $548 000 in recent years. Magda Kaczmarek, head of the charity’s Ukraine country section, was especially pleased to be able to be present for the project’s completion: “I am delighted to be able to be here, because I can feel how young and flourishing the Catholic Church in Ukraine is. When I see so many children and young people here, I notice once again that our building projects not only have a material dimension but also a spiritual one. We are not only erecting a building, we are also helping to build the future of our Church.”

An especially moving part of the liturgy was the renewal of the baptismal promise and the Blessing of the Waters at the Dnieper River by Major Archbishop Shevchuk. The Papal Letter, read by Cardinal Audrys Bački, further indicated the significance of the event. The 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus by Saint Vladimir was an occasion of hope for the full unity of all Christians among the Ukrainian people, it said.ACN-20130823-00247

Relics of the three Apostles Peter, Paul and Andrew are preserved and honoured in the Cathedral together with those of two popes who died on Ukrainian territory – Clement I and Martin I – as well as the Ukrainian martyrs Jozafat Kuncewicz, Mykola Czarneckyj and Josaphat Kocylovskyj.

The largest Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine in full communion with Rome has a congregation of approximately 4.2 million, at least half of whom are living abroad. At the end of the 1990s, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar decided to transfer the seat of the Head of the Church in Ukraine from Lviv to Kiev, and with that move the construction of the Cathedral in Kiev began.

Egypt – “We ask God to protect the churches, the people and our country!”

In an urgent letter, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak has called on Aid to the Church in need (ACN) for help for the faithful in his Patriarchate[1]. ACN has agreed to give aid to raise the level of protection for Christians. Protective walls around churches to increase security for Christians will be built.

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

Teresa Engländer, ACN International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

“We got many threats, and we ask God to protect the churches, the people and our country.” The letter from Patriarch Ibrahim is no ordinary message. It is the urgent appeal of a shepherd who fears for the safety of his flock; a call for help from a country that can no longer offer protection to its citizens.

Every day, Egypt is shaken by violence. The struggle between the various parties is ruthless and implacable. Extremist groups spread chaos and fear; government and religious buildings are their preferred targets. “More than 40 churches, more than 100 houses and 150 shops belonging to Christian people, police stations, the library of Alexandria, and museums have been attacked or burned.” This is the terrible effect of the war. And in the middle of this madness are the civilians, entirely at the mercy of the unrest.

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

The Christians in the Patriarchate no longer feel safe. In Kobry El Koba (Qobba) – a district of Cairo – employees go to work in fear of their lives. This district of Cairo has become a hub of the fighting, because the ministry of defence is nearby. In the port city of Alexandria, terrorism holds even greater sway and Christians there are subjected to “continuous assaults”, Patriarch Ibrahim writes. Demonstrations around the Coptic Catholic Cathedral in Alexandria represent a permanent danger to the faithful, who wish only to celebrate Mass without fear.

In order to at least give the faithful a feeling of security, the worried Patriarch wishes to build walls around the cathedral in Alexandria and all ecclesiastical buildings in Kobry El Koba. He is aware that these walls will provide but little protection “against assaults, throwing stones and starting fires from outside,” but they will help to limit the Christians’ fears and increase their feeling of security. The Patriarchate is too poor to be able to afford the cost of the walls by itself. “This is not just a project, it is an urgent pastoral request, an appeal.” That is why ACN will provide an amount of $31 600.


[1] The Coptic Catholic Patriarchate, which is in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, has its headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. The patriarchal jurisdiction covers all Coptic believers in the world.

Press release: Zimbabwe – Election observers accuse government of electoral fraud

Reinhard Backes, ACN Internationalzimbabwe jpg

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal, August 22, 2013 – The presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe on 31 July 2013 were marred by grave irregularities. This was recently affirmed by Father Oskar Wermter in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Father Oskar, a Jesuit who works as the theological and pastoral representative for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), stated clearly: “It is a matter of a grave electoral fraud. We ourselves saw how many of the electorate were turned away, how chaotically the voters’ lists were drawn up. An election date in September or October would have been appropriate, but Mugabe wanted the election to be held quickly.”

Father Wermter went on to explain: “Altogether, 2,700 Catholics were involved as electoral observers, including bishops and priests, in order to emphasise the importance of free and non-violent elections.” He expressed concern at the result and the consequences of the presidential and parliamentary elections: “President Mugabe’s party now has a two thirds majority, which means that they can change the constitution that was only just approved in March by a referendum.”

zimbabwe 2AAccording to Father Wermter, the result of the elections will further exacerbate the extremely difficult economic situation of the country. “Zimbabwe is economically isolated. Trade is suffering as a result; there is a lack of investment, because the government will give no guarantee of legal security to companies potentially willing to invest. Yet the country needs investment if it is to combat the catastrophically high unemployment, above all among young people.”

In the view of this Jesuit priest, the absence of future prospects and the growing poverty mean that yet more Zimbabweans will emigrate. Millions already live outside the country, he points out. “People are depending on money sent by their relatives from abroad. Or else they try their hand at trading with goods from neighbouring countries. These are not a sign of healthy economic circumstances, but simply survival strategies. The government is no longer trusted, since economic concerns are always sacrificed to political ones”, Father Oskar explains.zimbabwe 3A

According to him, the Catholic Church, which has been almost uninterruptedly present and active in Zimbabwe for five decades, is “in many respects the only help and support of the people, above all in regard to education, the hospitals and a certain level of social support. ”

 

Statement of the Catholic Church in Egypt

 

Cairo, 18 August 2013

 Statement of the Catholic Church in Egypt

            With pain, but also with hope, the Catholic Church in Egypt is following what our country is experiencing: terrorist attacks, killings and the burning of churches, schools and state institutions. Therefore, out of love for our country and in solidarity with all lovers of Egypt, Christians and Muslims, we are trying to do our best to communicate with friendly organizations around the world to clarify for them the reality of events taking place in our country. We would like to express the following:

 –        Our free, strong and conscious support for all state institutions, particularly the Armed Forces and the police for all their efforts in protecting our homeland.

–        Our appreciation of sincere nations to understand the nature of events while flatly rejecting any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of Egypt or to influence its sovereign decisions whatever the direction might be.

–        Our thanks to all Egyptian and international media that report the news and events objectively and impartially while condemning those media that promote lies and falsify the truth in order to mislead world public opinion.

–        Our thanks to our honorable Muslim compatriots who have stood by our side, as far as they could, in defending our churches and our institutions.

–        Lastly, we address the international conscious and all national leaders that they understand and believe that what is happening in Egypt now is not a political struggle between different factions, but a war against terrorism.

In conclusion, we express our condolences to all families and relatives of the victims. We ask the Lord to heal all the injured.  

+ Ibrahim Isaac

Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copt Catholics
President of the Assembly
of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Egypt

 

 

Egypt – Stop the terrorists

Bishop hits out at West amid reports of nearly 80 church buildings attacked

By John Pontifex – ACN United-Kingdom
Adaptation – Marie-Claude Lalonde – ACN Canada

Damages following the fire, church of St. Teresa, Assiut

Damages following the fire, church of St. Teresa, Assiut

GOVERNMENTS in the West have come under fire from a leading Egyptian bishop who has called on them to work with the country’s new regime in defeating extremists responsible for a wave of terrorism directed against nearly 80 churches and other Coptic centres.

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut said that many Christians, especially in the worst affected area of Minya province, Upper Egypt, were now too afraid to leave their homes after last week’s 48-hour anti-Christian rampage by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

It comes as reports from Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria described how he was “saved” by police who stopped Islamists from setting fire to his home in Luxor during a spate of violence that has grounded the region’s Christian community – including the bishop, priests, Sisters and laity – and prevented them from leaving their homes.

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

Describing how, since Tuesday (13th August), almost 80 churches, convents, Church-run schools, clinics and other centres were hit, Bishop William criticised the West for failing to acknowledge the scale of unprovoked attacks on innocent communities by Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop William said: “The Western governments are speaking about human rights; yes, these groups have a right to demonstrate but not with arms. The Western governments do not see the reality of what is going on here. “A group of terrorists have used arms against us. [Western governments] should not be supporting this.”

Speaking from Assiut, Bishop William added: “The [Muslim Brothers] think that the Christians were the cause of Morsi being ousted. But the Christians were not alone – there were 35 million who went on the streets against Morsi. “Christians are being punished. We have been scape-goated.”

He stressed that, in spite of repeated efforts – including those by European Union governments – to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in dialogue, the Islamist movement had responded with violence.

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

His comments come as Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak of Alexandria issued a statement today (Monday, 19

August) in which he declared “our free, strong and conscious support for all state institutions, particularly the Armed Forces and the police for all their efforts in protecting our homeland.”

Both he and Bishop William stressed how many Muslims had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Christians in defending churches and other Coptic buildings from attack. Bishop William said: “Our people are close to normal Muslims, moderate Muslims. When the fundamentalists came for the Christians in [Assiut’s] Old Town, the Muslims sent them away using arms. “In other cities, Christians and Muslims came to protect churches and they stayed next to the churches all day.”

He said that many Muslims shared the Christians’ view that there should be a clear separation between religion and the state.

Many bishops underlined how the attacks of last week came as a surprise. Bishop William said: “We had expected some response [from the Muslim Brothers] but not to this degree of brutality”.

In Luxor, Bishop Joannes Zakaria told ACN how on Friday (16th August), an Islamic protest turned ugly when the extremists tried to break into the bishop’s house and set fire to it but armed forces intervened “and saved us, thanks be to God”. He said that all the churches were now closed, adding: “I, the bishop, the priests, the Sisters and the people cannot move [about]. We keep staying in our homes to be saved from any kind of violence.”

The bishop said that both in Luxor, and the villages outside, “some” churches and Christians’ homes were set on fire and that some Christian-run shops were destroyed. He added that in Dabbiah, a village close to Luxor, five Christians and one Muslim had been killed.

Fire at the Franciscan's school in Beni Suef

Fire at the Franciscan’s school in Beni Suef

All the bishops appealed for prayers.

In a message to the National Director of ACN in the United Kingdom, Bishop Zakaria said: “We are happy to be suffering and to be victims and to lose our churches and our homes and our livelihood to save Egypt for the Christians and the Muslims. We need the prayer of everybody to solve our problems. It is the future of our children that we are concerned about so that good Christians and Muslims can live alongside each other.”