Press Release – Iraq: “A secular state would be the solution”

On Wednesday Iraq will be voting for a new parliament – What kind of future can the country’s Christians expect? 

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Wednesday April 30 – In view of the Iraqi parliamentary elections underway today, representatives of the Catholic Church in the country have expressed high expectations. Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldaic spiritual leader of Mosul in northern Iraq said when talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) on Wednesday, April  23rd: “We want our country to return to stable conditions where all can live in peace.”


Mgr Nona 1Iraq, the Archbishop continued, had to find a way out of the situation it had found itself in since the Iraq war eleven years ago. “Iraqis are fed up with what’s happening in their country.” He cited the examples of the precarious security situation, the corruption, the country’s economic plight and the emigration of highly trained people.


Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna of the Chaldaic Patriarchate in Baghdad also stressed to ACN on Wednesday the importance of the elections. “The eyes of the Iraqi people are fixed on these elections. For many they provide a reason to hope for a better future.” The Bishop went on to say that the Church leadership was encouraging the faithful to take part in the elections. “It is our task to strengthen the confidence of Christian citizens in government institutions and to improve these institutions in terms of human rights.”


Mgr Hanna 2Christian candidates

According to Bishop Hanna, Christian candidates were also running in the elections. On the one hand, the lists included various individuals from among whom members would be elected to the parliamentary seats reserved under the quota arrangement for Christians. On the other hand, Christians were running on democratic and liberal lists compiled by Islamic and non-Islamic citizens.


But Bishop Hanna showed little optimism when it came to the openness of the parties to Christian concerns. “All non-Christian parties have their agenda which is dominated by ideological and religious precepts. These parties lack civic and democratic maturity. They are so fixed on their own agenda that it’s difficult for them to reconcile it with the principles and interests of the Christian community.”


And yet, according to Archbishop Nona, the Christians had very fundamental concerns: “As Christians we want first and foremost in our country a genuine peace which respects human rights. People should be able to live their lives without having to fear that they will become a target because of their Christianity. A secular state would be the solution. By this I mean a constitution made for all citizens and not only for the majority.” Bishop Hanna explained that the future of the Christians depended on legislation which respected human rights and guaranteed equality, freedom and human dignity for all.


The elections for the 328 seats in the Iraqi parliament are taking place in the midst of a precarious security situation. According to United Nations figures, the year 2013 was the bloodiest since 2008 with 8868 left dead. But the attacks still continue in 2014. The UN recently claimed that 2028 Iraqis were killed in attacks by the end of March. In addition thousands were wounded. In recent times the political antagonism between the country’s Shiite majority and the Sunni minority has turned violent in the province of Anbar, where the majority of the inhabitants are Sunnis. Since the end of last year fierce clashes have occurred there between the central government and the radical Sunni groups.



Journey with ACN – Special on the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which is regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with various projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

Exceptionally this week, we are offering you 2 stories (Lebanon and Madagascar) in homage to Popes John XXIII and John Paul II whose canonizations will take place this coming Sunday.

Today:   Special on the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II


Bosnia and Herzegovina

Help for the construction of the John Paul II pastoral youth centre in Sarajevo

Following the breakup of the former communist Yugoslavia, a deadly civil war raged in Bosnia and Herzegovina for three years, from 1992 until 1995. The terrible final toll included 243,000 killed, 2 million people uprooted, or “ethnically cleansed” as a result of the splitting up into smaller, independent republics, numerous churches, religious houses, presbyteries and other Church properties deliberately targeted and destroyed. Even today, 19 years after the end of the war, the wounds are still evident.


Despite his age and ill-health at the time, Pope John Paul II would not be deterred from visiting the newly independent republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2003. During his homily there, he said:

“Beloved sons and daughters of this pilgrim Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I enfold you in my arms in order to tell you that you hold an important place in the heart of the Pope. He constantly brings before the Lord the suffering that still hinders your path and he shares with you, full of hope, your waiting for better days.”

He also assured them of his prayers that God “might inspire in everyone the desire for mutual forgiveness. Only in an atmosphere of true reconciliation will the memory of so many innocent victims and their death not have been in vain; instead they will encourage us to build new relations of fraternal love and understanding.”

Now, in the capital Sarajevo, a youth pastoral centre is being built that will bear the name of this great Pope. The first phase of the building has already been completed; now the second phase is beginning. The centre will offer young people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina the opportunity, whether as individuals or in groups, to take part in pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities. The centre will also have overnight accommodation, so that programs of more than one day can be offered. The motto of the centre is: “Encounter – Reconciliation – shaping peace and a future together”. The director of the centre, Father Simo Marsic explains: “Young people in Bosnia are seeking role models and hope for the future. They long for genuine values and for understanding between the various ethnic groups. Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims must learn to shape the future together.”

The fact that the centre will bear the name of Pope John Paul II is no accident. As the director explains: “The guiding thought in choosing this name was the fact that Pope John Paul II was a builder of bridges with people of all kinds of different origins and beliefs. This bridge building is crucial for the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the Balkans in general and in Europe too. Pope John Paul II saw young people as “bearers of the future”. So it was that, at the World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000, he entrusted to them the responsibility for the future of our country, just as he did during his visit to Banja Luka in 2003. We take these words as a mission statement for the work of our youth centre.”

Aid to the Church in Need is helping with a contribution of $305,600 CAN.



© ACN  - Father Pierino Limonta

© ACN – Father Pierino LimontaMadagascar

A new church in Toamasina, dedicated to Pope John XXIII

By ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

Father Pierino Limonta is delighted, for a new church is to be built in his parish. But what makes his joy even greater is the fact that Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina has decided that it will be dedicated to Pope John XXIII. In this way it will commemorate both the 50th anniversary of the death of the Pope, who will be canonized on April 27 this year, and also the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. “It will be a church of the Council,” the archbishop explains.

“We are all delighted, and the school we will be building will also be named after Pope John XXIII,” says Father Pierino. An Italian by birth himself, he has been a missionary in Madagascar for 36 years. Most of this time he has spent in the jungle, where he shared with the people their joys, their prayers, their hopes and indeed also their sufferings, their sorrows and their sicknesses.

Now, however, he is facing a new challenge, since he has been appointed as parish priest of the Sacred Heart parish in Toamasina. He has exchanged life in the rain forest for life in the jungle of a rapidly developing port city on the east coast of this island nation in the Indian Ocean.

In one of the sprawling suburbs of the city of Toamasina, a new Catholic community has developed. This particular suburb is known as Andranomadio and it forms part of the Sacred Heart parish. The new church is to be built here, where people live in great poverty, but have a deep religious sense.. Holy Mass is being celebrated in Andronomadio for the time being at a temporary location, that is far too small for the many Catholic faithful who must journey a long way on foot to attend Holy Mass in the central parish church.

Work on the construction of the new church in memory of Pope John XXIII actually began on October 11, 2013, and footings are already laid. A school is under construction at the same time, for children to have some prospects for the future. Already, a community of religious sisters are caring for the kindergarten children and children in their first three years of life, but everything is still on a makeshift basis for now. The region around Toamasina is regularly struck by powerful tropical cyclones, and in 1986 the building was almost completely destroyed. It is therefore very important to build a strong and solid structure.



Pope John XXIII once wrote, “We are not here on earth to be custodians of a museum, but to tend a garden that is bursting with flourishing life and destined for a beautiful future.” That is exactly what the Catholic Church in Madagascar is striving to do. Thanks to the hard work and commitment of Father Pierino and the sisters, both the children and the adults in Andranomadio will now be able to look forward to a better future.

Father Pierino Limonta has asked ACN for $76,000 to assist with the cost of building the new church.



PRESS RELEASE : Vatican – Two Missionaries of Love to be canonized

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translation by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Friday April 25, 2014 – On Sunday April 27, in Saint Peter’s Square, millions of the faithful will wittness to the unfolding of the canonization of two Popes:  John XXIII and John Paul II. Considered by many as boundless and timeless Missionaries of Love, they devoted themselves to the mission of the Church, one of peace of earth, for peace is the fruit of love.


They reformed the Church…

Through historical gestures, both reformed the Church. John XXIII, through the Second Vatican Council and with his encyclical on peace “Pacem in Terris,” which dispensed a teaching addressing for the first time not only Catholics, but also “all men and women of good will.”  He always considered faith and humanity in relationship with God and with His Love.  “Man,” he said, “is never greater than when he kneels.”

As for John Paul II, he provoked the collapseof communism and overcame the divisions in Europe.   He reconciled the Church with Judaism and faith with science.  He promoted and advanced reconciliation with the Orthodox Church, stimulated dialogue between religions, launched several peace initiatives and raised consciousness about the value of the family always listening attentively to human rights issues in many regions around the world.  He taught that “war is always a defeat of humanity.”

MARIE-CLAUDE COMMUNIQUÉJohn Paul II is also the father of World Youth Days (WYD).  On this subject, Marie-Claude Lalonde, director of ACN Canada, recalls her participation in WYD Toronto in 2002: “When hearing hundreds of thousands of young people cheering for Pope John Paul II, I realized the extent to which this event was a planetary one, and how the Pontiff was considered to be ‘a star’ by the Media.   But this,” she added, “did not prevent him from becoming a solid rock, it was so evident that he defended the truth, without compromise, with love.”

…and encouraged ACNCANONISATION 2B

Both played an important role for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by encouraging its founder Father Werenfried to go elsewhere in the world.  In recalling a conversation he had with Pope John XXIII who had entrusted him with Latin America, the founder said: “When I spoke with Pope John XXIII, he always had a spirited response reserved.  However, once, he became very serious.  ‘Father,’ he said to me, ‘why do you think only of Eastern Europe?  Do not forget the need of the Church on the vastest continent is Catholic, help Latin America too.’ And this is how we began working in a new continent.”


Whereas on the subject of John Paul II, who entrusted him with Russia and the Orthodox Church, Father Werenfried liked to remember among many memories with the Holy Father, the one where he expressed his gratitude after more than 50 years of the Charity’s existence in these words: “In the half-century history of the ecclesiastical charity, you have brought a moving contribution (…) the world does not hear these Christians who suffer in silence.  One must have a heart awakened to the suffering of those whose voice cannot succeed to break the barriers to get to you.  You collect offerings; you bring them to those who wait, assuring them that their brothers have not abandoned them.  For all this, I express to you all of my gratitude… all of this is written in the Book of Life.”

Today, ACN supports notably construction projects for a church consecrated to John XXIII in Toamasina, in Madagascar, as well as the pastoral centre for youth named after John Paul II in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.  It is with these two Popes that the Charity took on a great breadth, through prayer, sacrifice and creative fidelity.  They who were so long and so often on their knees before the altar, will now themselves, be raised unto the altar.

Central Africa A priest assasinated – Easter plunged into mourning

By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Thursday April 24, 2014 –  It is with much sorrow that ACN has learned of the assassination of Father Christ Forman Wilibona in Paoua, northern Central Africa. On Friday April 18, while on his way home by motorbike, he was seemingly thrown down and likely the victim of mutilations.

The priest, who was a parish priest in the diocese of Bossangoa was buried on-site by local villagers.  His murderers would have been the Bororos – Chadian livestock farmers, long time bandits and allies to members of the Seleka.

We recall two days earlier when Msgr Désiré-Nestor Nongo Aziagbya, bishop of Bossangoa was taken hostage along with three other priests in Butangafo, Cental Africa prior to the Paschal tour and finally being set free on Good Friday, the very day of the assassination.  It was with bitterness in the face of this resurgence of violent acts directed toward clergy that Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga, bishop of Bangui, denounced the barbaric acts which may well call into question all efforts for a much desired national reconciliation.

CENTRAFRIQUE-2On the other hand, as did Pope Francis while offering his Urbi et Orbi Easter Message, Msgr Nzapalainga invited all Central Africans and all men and women of good faith to pray for the return of peace and of security to the country and to open their hearts to dialogue and reconciliation.

He also called on the government to oversee the disarmament of all militias and for the right of free circulation of all persons across the entire territory.

PRESS RELEASE : Conference at the Sanctuaire du Saint-Sacrement – The persecuted Church, today…?

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Wednesday April 23, 2014 – Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada, in partnership with the Fraternité monastique de Jérsusalem and Solidarité Internationale Trinitaire (SIT), is organizing a conference with the theme of “The persecuted Church, today….?” This conference will take place Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and 4 beginning at 8:45 am, at the Sanctuaire du Saint-Sacrement, situated at 500, Mont Royal East, in Montreal.

This conference which will extend over two days, will include – testimonials, presentations, reflection periods in small groups, question and answer periods and the viewing of “Il était une foi(Once upon a time) as well as two religious celebrations:  The Vespers at 6:00 pm on Saturday, and The Lauds on Sunday at 8:00 am.Marie-Claude

From the outset, “La situation de la Syrie” (The situation of Syria) will set the tone of this conference.  You will then have the opportunity to hear the discourse of the much awaited professor and expert on the Middle-East, Sami Aoun, followed in the afternoon a no less interesting presentation by Marie-Claude Lalonde on “La liberté religieuse et la persecution dans le monde” (Religious freedom and persecution in the world.) Marie-Claude Lalonde has held the position of National Director at ACN Canada since 2000.  

Lastly, to complete the conference on Sunday, you are invited to attend at 9:00 am the discourse of Italian sociologist and founder of the Centre des études des nouvelles religions (CESNUR), Massimo Introvigne, entitled  Les actes anti-chrétiens en Occident“ (Anti-Christian acts in the West) . The day will end at 11:00 am with a Eucharistic celebration with the community of brothers and sisters from the Fraternernité monastique de Jérusalem

Photo Exhibit related to persecution

During the entirety of this event, you will also have the opportunity to take in an exhibition of photographs with the theme of persecution, which will be set up on site.  The 24 photographs in this expo tell the stories of various situations where Christians in many countries have suffered acts of violence.  ACN personnel will be on site to answer any questions you may have.

“Today, Christians constitute the religious group which suffers the greatest number of persecutions because of their faith,” Benedict XVI once stated in a message he gave for the World Day of Peace in 2011. This statement may appear to be an exaggerated one, but it rests on real facts.

According to the Report on Religious Freedom in the World, prepared by ACN every two years, it is estimated that currently the number of Christians in the world who may not freely practice their faith is approximately 200 million, that is to say: 1 out of every 10. Whereas according to Msgr Anthony Frontiero, member ot the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, some 150 000 Christians die every year because of their faith, representing as many as in the first three centuries of the history of Christianity.Communiqué 30 ans - 2

For example, in Pakistan where this Christian girl, her neck decorated with a Cross, seems to be looking skyward for a sign of hope.  This photograph, in our opinion, expresses the suffering of Christians in many parts of the world.  In Pakistan, this girl is part of a Catholic minority who suffer a multitude of discriminations in schools and universities.  The work left for them to do is the most difficult and the worst paying, such as brick-making in the sun, work which entire families, parents and children alike are subject to.

Communiqué 30 ans -1

Or, in Vietnam where for more than 30 years, all Christian symbols were prohibited by the totalitarian regime. Today, fireboxes of persecution like the one suffered here in 2006 by the parish of Me Vo Nhiem, persist.  The parishioners pick up the burned Cross anyway, and so bring their church back from the ashes.

JOURNEY WITH ACN in the Holy Land

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which is regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with various projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week again:   The Holy Land



By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin




It was at the Latin Patriarchy of Jerusalem that we met Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR), a project supported by Aid to the Church in Need.  After greeting us, she gave an animated presentation followed by a question period which was no less interesting.

The JCJCR is a non-profit organization established in 2004 to respond to the challenges of the unique and complex encounter of an empowered Jewish majortiy in Israel and the Palestinian Arab Christian minority in the Holy Land.  The Center promotes peace through programs that overcome ignorance and prejudice and foster understanding and empathy between Jews and the local Christians in the Holy Land.

All of the Center’s activities are planned and implemented in accordance with a two-part strategic focus:


Developing and implementing projects and programs that combat prejudices and negative stereotypes; contribute to understanding and appreciation of the other’s religious/cultural/national narrative, traditions and practices; create a spirit of cooperation by drawing on shared values to work toward common goals.

Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR)

Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR)


To reach wider circles of society, JCJCR strives to network with other organizations and institutions, in order to enhance awareness of the significance of Jewish-Christian relations to peace-building in the Holy Land and to ensure the welfare of religious minorities in the Holy Land.

The JCJCR consistently seeks to work with multipliers, such as school teachers and other educators, guides, facilitators, leaders in the local communities, young adults training for leadership, and governmental representatives. To date, JCJCR has collaborated with over 100 Jewish, interfaith, educational and public bodies.

PRESS RELEASE : Syria – ‘Hear the cries of the children’

Patriarch’s appeal after bomb blast in playground kills one child and injures 60 others



John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal, April 17th, 2014 – THE LEADER of Catholics in Syria has issued a desperate plea for international help, describing how one child was killed and 60 others were injured when a bomb landed on a school playground during a spate of attacks in Damascus. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III reported that several children received ‘life-changing’ injuries in the blast that took place while they were singing the Syrian National Anthem during early morning assembly at the Armenian Catholic School in Damascus’ Old City.

Describing how the children suffered injuries to the face, chest, eyes and stomach, the Patriarch said that a further 10 children were injured at about the same time during other blasts in Damascus, one in front of St Abraham’s Melkite Church and another in the suburb of Duel’a. He said that in another suburb – Jaramana – up to 40 shells had fallen within 48 hours.

In a report, sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios said after the attacks on Tuesday (15th April): “May the world heed the cries, tears and the prayers of the children of Syria.” The Patriarch, who is President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (bishops) in Syria, added: “What is the point of all this carnage tantamount to a war of extermination? These attacks on our schools, children, churches and homes are criminal attacks with the aim of intimidating Christians who find themselves increasingly targeted.”

In the name of our children



Appealing to the “world’s conscience in the name of our children”, the Patriarch called for help from the United Nations and the European Union. The Patriarch, who is based in Damascus, said: “Where are the United Nations and the European Union? Do you want to kill this nation?”

He went on to call on Pope Francis to intervene. He said: “Syria, appeals to you, Most Holy Father Francis. Help out of this crisis. “We need your prayer, your strong speech, your bold interventions. Send your messengers West and East into the world’s capital cities, to bring your message of peace for Syria.”

In his report to ACN, the Patriarch described how the disaster had followed the “general rejoicing” over news the day before (Monday, 14th April) that the largely Christian town of Ma’alula, had been “liberated” by the Syrian army. He wrote: “The inhabitants of Ma’alula are exultant. Lift up your heads, your deliverance is nigh.”

Late last year, Aid to the Church in Need provided emergency support for children who fled Ma’alula and went to Damascus, receiving help in a programme organised by Patriarch Gregorios. The charity has provided emergency help for Christians and others both displaced in Syria and those living as refugees in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.  Among those ACN supported were people trapped in the Old City of Homs cared for by Jesuit priest Fr Frans van der Lugt, murdered 10 days ago (Monday, 7th April).


– 30 –