Journey with ACN – The Pope visits the Holy Land

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

This week :  The Pope’s Visit to the Holy Land 

“Aid to the Church in Need” and the dialogue with the Orthodox Church

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

With more than 100 million members, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest and most influential of the Orthodox Churches. Following the wish of Pope John Paul II, “Aid to the Church in Need” has made special endeavours since 1992/93 to establish a dialogue with the Orthodox Church in Russia. Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of “Aid to the Church in Need,” traveled twice to Russia at an advanced age in 1992 and in 1994  he met Patriarch Alexy II and numerous Orthodox bishops, to whom he promised his prayers and active assistance.

After all, the Orthodox Church in Russia, like the Catholic Church, had to start from scratch after 70 years of persecution.  After the end of the Soviet Union it was the order of the day to remind Catholic Christians that the “dialogue of love” between the two Churches which the Second Vatican Council had described years beforehand as “Sister Churches” does not take place primarily on a theological and academic level, but that there is also an “ecumenism of solidarity,” as Father Werenfried called it.



Recreating Peace

The principle was clear: “After 1000 years full of misunderstandings and mutual enmity, we must all now be aware of our unity and be willing to restore it. The unity of faith and the sacraments, which was never lost. And the unity of prayer and love which we now have to achieve.” The Pope asked for detailed reports after Father Werenfried’s two Russian trips and laid great store by being kept personally informed of all developments. Pope Benedict XVI repeated this instruction to “Aid to the Church in Need”.

It was also Pope John Paul II who returned the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church.  In the turmoil of the October Revolution the icon disappeared and reached the west in 1920. After an odyssey it turned up at the New York World’s Fair. The “Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima”, now known as the “World Apostolate of Fatima”, acquired the icon and took it to Fatima. In 1993 the icon reached the Vatican as a gift to Pope John Paul II. The Pope kept it in his private quarters and showed it the deepest reverence. During the devotion on the departure of the Kazanskaya he said: “How often since that day have I called on the Mother of God of Kazan, asking her to protect and guide the Russian people who venerate her, and to hasten the moment when all the disciples of her Son, recognizing one another as brothers and sisters, will be able to fully restore the compromised unity.”

As its representative at the funeral ceremony of Pope John Paul II on 8 April 2005, the Moscow Patriarchate delegated its “Minister of External Church Relations,” Metropolitan Kirill, who was to become Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia only four years later. In the same year he also attended the enthronement on 24 April of Pope Benedict XVI, during whose pontificate contact between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate become ever closer. Numerous Russian bishops visited Pope Benedict, and high-ranking cardinals travelled to Russia. In the summer of 2006 there also appeared in Russia a translation, supported by “Aid to the Church in Need”, of Joseph Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity”. This was intended to give the Russian public direct access to Ratzinger’s theology. The Russian translation was received with great interest.

A First for Russian Television

One of the high spots in the relationship between the Vatican and Russia was on 16 April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI’s 81st birthday, when for the first time a state television channel in Russia showed a documentary film about the Pope. The highlight of the film is an address by the Holy Father in which the Head of the Catholic Church turns to the Russian people for the first time in the history of television to express his great esteem. The message of greetings is directed at Patriarch Alexy II, the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Christians, the Catholic bishops and the Catholics in Russia, as well as all people living in Russia. Benedict XVI stresses in his address, delivered partly in Russian, the need primarily for internal Christian dialogue. The documentary film, the making of which was suggested and supported by “Aid to the Church in Need”, also showed important stations in the life and work of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI; the Russian public have to date known little about his life.

Russia: The Icon of Our Lady of Kazan (also known as "Kazanskaya

The significance of the film also became evident when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was at that time Cardinal Secretary of State of the Vatican, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, the then President of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, arranged to be given personal reports a month after the broadcast on the positive reactions which the film had provoked in the Russian media and society at large.

AFP_061130pape-patriarche-turquie_nA letter of congratulations from Pope Benedict XVI

In 2008 a hand-written letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Patriarch Alexy II also attracted considerable attention, including in the media. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the Archbishop of Naples, delivered the letter when he visited Moscow from 30 September to 3 October at the invitation of the Patriarch. The Patriarch was evidently “much moved” by the Pope’s letter. In his reply he found warm words to say and expressed his “deepest respect and sincere good will” to the Pope. Furthermore he wrote that he was “happy about the growing perspectives for the development of good relations and a positive collaboration between our two Churches. The firm basis for this is provided by our common roots and the positions which we share with respect to the many problems the world faces today.”

On January 27, 2009 Metropolitan Kirill was elected Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. His enthronement on 1 February 2009, which took place in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, was also attended by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Catholic Archbishop of Moscow, Paolo Pezzi, and the Bishop of Regensburg Ludwig Müller, who is today Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The representatives of the Catholic Church conveyed the letter of congratulation from Pope Benedict XVI, in which the Pope expressed his “fervent hope” for a continued collaboration “in order to find ways and forms for promoting and strengthening the community in the body of Christ”, and stressed his wish for a further strengthening of the “good relations” between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. He sent the Patriarch the gift of a chalice as “a pledge of the desire to achieve complete unity soon.”

20120529_008 HilarionA Strategic Alliance 

In the following years the concept of a “strategic alliance” formed steadily in the collaboration between the two Churches. This notion is based on the fact that both Churches see themselves confronted in the modern world with numerous challenges which they must face together. These include the plight and persecution suffered by Christians in countries where they are a minority, the need to deal with the matter of  Islam, a growing hostility towards Christianity even in Europe, the spread of secularism, relativism and materialism, and the dwindling respect, also in the political domain, for human life and the Christian family. These and numerous other ethical questions render it essential for Christians of different denominations to raise a common voice. At a large number of meetings between senior representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches over the past few years, both sides always emphasized and still emphasize complete agreement in the area of ethics and Christian values.

One of the first meetings between Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Chairman of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) took place on 19 March 2011 at a congress organised in Germany by “Aid to the Church in Need.” In retrospect the Cardinal stressed that this meeting had been “very positive” and “important” in “emphasizing the public dimension of the dialogue with the Orthodox Church and rendering the dialogue publicly visible.”

In January 2014 Cardinal Koch highlighted in a conversation with “Aid to the Church in Need” the significance of the year 2014 for ecumenism. The meeting planned for May between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew in Jerusalem was, he said, of “the utmost importance.”

Talking about the initial large steps in the direction of unity at the time of the Second Vatican Council, he said: “When today I read the texts from that time I am amazed at the passion for unity they express. This passion must be maintained and we must reawaken our awareness of it this year.” The President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity praised the commitment of “Aid to the Church in Need” to the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church and highlighted the importance of the founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, who had “dedicated himself throughout his life to the Church in Eastern Europe in particular. The fact that he extended this commitment to the Russian Orthodox Church after the collapse of the Soviet Union is very positive.”

Cardinal Koch encouraged the Catholic pastoral charity to continue cultivating the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church.




Journey with ACN – The Pope visits the Holy Land

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

This week :  The Holy Land – “Pope Francis is a real model of the priesthood”

By Oliver Maksan



When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land, Auxiliary Bishop Marcuzzo was still only a seminarian. But to this day he remains impressed by the visit. Now, 50 years later, other seminarians are preparing for the visit of a new Pope.

Returning to the sources – this was the goal Pope Paul VI had set himself when in 1963 he revealed to the astonished Council Fathers his plan to visit the Holy Land. “The pilgrimage of Pope Paul VI was the key to the understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and conversely, it is not possible to understand his visit without the Council. The return to the beginnings, to the Holy Places of the Faith, to the simplicity of the Gospel – all these things are expressed in his pilgrimage and in the Council.” This is the conviction of Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, who was speaking recently to ACN.

A Joyful Chaos

He is the Vicar General and Representative of the Latin Patriarch in Israel, and he resides in Nazareth. An Italian by birth, he decided while still a seminarian in his home country that he wished to serve as a priest in the Holy Land. When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land in 1964, Bishop Marcuzzo was still studying at the Catholic seminary in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. “It was a bitterly cold January day. The wind was icy. But that didn’t bother us in the least, since we were so full of joyful anticipation”, Bishop Marcuzzo recalls.



“Jerusalem had been waiting for three hours for the arrival of the Pope. It was already growing dark, and Pope Paul VI was considerably delayed. We waited for him at the Damascus Gate. My task was to carry the processional cross that was to precede the papal procession through the Old City along the road to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Eventually, he arrived.

The jubilation was really indescribable. Everybody, regardless of whether they were Christian or Muslim, rejoiced immensely at his arrival.” But things did not go quite as planned. The Jordanian police – for East Jerusalem and the Old City at that time still belonged to Jordan – had prepared everything carefully, and the procession was to have wound its way solemnly through the city. “But that’s not what happened”, says Bishop Marcuzzo with a smile. “Suddenly, chaos broke out. But not from ill will, but from joy. Everybody wanted to see the Pope and touch him. The planned, orderly procession fell apart. I was walking ahead, but at some point I turned round to see where the Pope was.”

The bishop still recalls vividly how, by the time they had reached the Third Station of the Cross, there was complete confusion. “Cardinals had heart attacks, so dense were the crowds; the Pope himself was literally being suffocated by the mass of people.” Then somebody decided to take the Pope to the convent of the Little Sisters to recover his breath, the bishop recalls. “For at least three quarters of an hour the Holy Father rested there, prayed the Rosary and spoke about the Way of the Cross. I was standing nearby with my processional cross, and I waited to see what would happen next.”

Eventually, the situation calmed down. “Suddenly, the Holy Father emerged and we continued on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – calmly if somewhat chaotically.” Finally, the Pope arrived, very belatedly, at the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. There, in front of the Holy Sepulchre, he celebrated Holy Mass. Bishop Marcuzzo is still moved today by the memory. “During the celebration of Holy Mass I realised: What a man of faith and prayer this is! He appeared quite unconcerned by all the turmoil around him. The most important thing was the encounter with Jesus. He lived in an inner world. For me his homily remains unforgettable. It was a prayer to the Risen Lord.” The priestly example of Pope Paul VI that he then experienced still remains with him today, Bishop Marcuzzo told ACN.

 “This is the first time I will have been so close to the Holy Father”



Today, 50 years later, seminarians from the Holy Land will be again standing near the altar of the Pope. Joseph Sweiss is a Jordanian from the vicinity of Amman. Just as Bishop Marcuzzo once did, he too is studying theology at the seminary in Beit Jala. Along with 11 other seminarians, he was chosen by the rector of the seminary and the papal master of ceremonies to serve at the altar during the Holy Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis in Bethlehem. “This is the first time I will have been so close to the Holy Father”, Joseph tells ACN. “For us seminarians Pope Francis is a real model of the priesthood. He gives the example of a good shepherd. For me this is very important on my personal journey to the priesthood.” His fellow seminarian, Salam Haddad, agrees with him. This young man is likewise from Jordan and is in his third year studying theology. “Pope Francis is greatly loved here in the Holy Land. I am looking forward to the privilege of soon being close to him as an altar server.” Of course he is excited, Salam admits. “After all, this is the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church. One cannot not be thrilled at the prospect of meeting him and serving with him at the altar. This is a blessing, especially with this Pope whom the whole world admires.”

Already, for months now, they have been praying the Rosary in the seminary for a successful outcome to the now imminent visit, the two seminarians reveal. Patriarch Fouad Twal, their bishop, has expressly urged them to do so, they tell us. And they are likewise including the Pope in their own personal prayers. Though of course they are not alone in this. “Everywhere, in the Holy Land, people are praying for Pope Francis”, Joseph says. “We are so greatly looking forward to welcoming him. We Christians are only a small minority here in the Holy Land. Hence it is important to know that the Pope is thinking of us. He will teach us how to live in respect and peace with others, how to be the salt of the earth.”



Nigeria – More outside help to defeat Boko Haram

Archbishop Kaigama: International community must do more to help defeat Boko Haram

Reinhard Backes, ACN InternationalREPORTAGE - LUNDI

Adapted by Robert Lalonde

The international community should stop posturing and start providing practical support in the struggle against extremist violence in Nigeria – according to one of the country’s most senior Church leaders, whose city was rocked by attacks last Tuesday which killed more than 100 people.

Critical of the headline-grabbing displays of solidarity and statements of support by the United Nations and others, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said the Nigerian government urgently needed more outside help to defeat Boko Haram. The Islamist movement is strongly suspected of carrying out Tuesday, 20th May twin blasts at a bus terminal and a nearby market in Jos, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, where at least 118 people were killed and 56 were injured.

Put economics interests to one side

Speaking from Nigeria yesterday in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, the Archbishop of Jos said foreign governments and others had a vital role to play in helping with intelligence gathering, stopping the illegal sale of arms, stepping up border controls and other initiatives crucial to cutting off Boko Haram’s supply lines.

Highlighting Nigeria’s security problems, Archbishop Kaigama, who is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, said: “The international community can help in a number of important ways. The sale of arms is of grave concern. In short, the government needs help in cutting the supply lines of Boko Haram and others.”



Referring to the many international pledges of solidarity, especially in the wake of Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 300 school girls in northern Nigeria, Archbishop Kaigama said: “All this hyperactivity from the UN and different nation amounts to pouring water into a basket.” Archbishop Kaigama added: “While we appreciate what has been done recently with so many coming together in solidarity with us – and it really is great that the whole world is talking about it – what we need to do is work together to find solutions and put economics and other interests to one side.”

“Too little, too late”

While critical of the government’s efforts to tackle Boko Haram, he said President Goodluck Jonathan’s key problem was that the government had done “too little, too late” and now “lacked the capacity” to deal with the crisis. Archbishop Kaigama said: “The problem is that the government thought that they did not have to apply all the force that was necessary to defeat them but they have been proved wrong. “All the money used for the military has not been used properly. Quite a lot of the budget was used for security but we do not see the fruits.”

Amid reports that yesterday’s attack was Jos’ first major incident of its kind in more than two years, Archbishop Kaigama said: “People were beginning to move freely from one end of the town to another without fear. “We thought we had moved beyond all this violence and so to wake up to this is very demoralising. It is very tragic and unexpected.”



The archbishop went on to highlight the religious objectives of Boko Haram, stating: “Even in recent times, the bomb blasts have occurred in places where Christians are the majority. So many of the girls who were kidnapped are Christian, the attacks in Kano took place in a predominantly Christian area and this applies to some extent to what has happened in Jos. “Even now, [Boko Haram] are faithful to their target of eliminating and destroying Christianity from parts of the country. “The only difference is that we are not just seeing Christians dying and being abducted, we are seeing attacks on Muslims who Boko Haram consider are not Muslim enough.”



PRESS RELEASE: India – “The expectations are naturally now very high.”

Reinhard Backes, ACN InternationalInde-1
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal – Thursday May 22nd 2014. Following the victory of the Hindu nationalist “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP) the Catholic Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in the east Indian state of Odisha expressed cautious optimism.

Archbishop John Barwa, who is currently in London, emphasized in a phone conversation with the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need”: “The first utterances by the prime minister-designate Narendra Modi give me reason to feel optimistic. Perhaps our worries and doubts were unfounded after all. Let’s wait and see. Of course we respect the vote of the people. The BJP has won an overwhelming victory, and the expectations are naturally now very, very high.”


In the state of Odisha, which was called Orissa until 2011, serious unrest occurred in 2008. About 50,000 Christians fled from the attacks by Hindu-nationalist groups and dozens of Christians were killed. Archbishop Barwa: “At that time the experience with BJP representatives was not particularly positive. The statements about minorities were not very friendly. Now, however, they bear responsibility for the whole country. Narendra Modi has now stressed that he wants everybody to be involved in the country’s continuing development. It would make me very happy if this were to be the case. It would then be clear that not only Hindus belong to this nation, but all the others as well, all the minorities. At the moment we have no other choice than to strengthen this hope within us.”

Palestine – “Christians are suffering under the occupation, not under Islam”

Bethlehem’s Mayor Vera Baboun is hoping that the Pope’s visit to the town of Christ’s birth next Sunday will give fresh impetus to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.



Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need,” this Catholic who, since 2012, has been the first woman to head the city’s administration, said on Tuesday (20.5.): “We hope that through the visit we can pass from the hope for peace to the attainment of peace itself. Pope Francis lends a new dimension to the papacy. He speaks from person to person. Through his simple actions he gives expression to Jesus’ teaching of peace and reconciliation.”

She read the fact that Pope Francis, unlike his predecessors, will be travelling directly from Jordan to Palestine and not first to Israel as a strong indication of his support for Palestinian statehood. “This is indeed a first as are so many things that Francis does. I hope that he will set further examples in this respect.”


“ Recognizing others means recognizing peace “




Ms Baboun also described the time of the Pope’s visit as favourable with respect to the peace process. “Pope Francis is coming at a time when we Palestinians are doing everything to advance the peace process. Since 2012 we have been recognized by the UN as a state. In addition we are endeavouring to attain national reconciliation internally.”  These were different conditions from those which the preceding papal visits would have encountered, Ms Baboun continued.

The mayor went on to stress that it was important for the Pope to experience the situation of the Palestinians himself. “It’s not enough to look up Palestine on the Internet. You have to experience the situation and the discrimination for yourself. The Pope will meet refugees. He will have lunch with Christian families. Each of them expresses a different facet of the Palestinian suffering, such as land confiscation or deportation.”

Ms. Baboun also anticipated that Francis would pass this experience on in Israel. “He will do that. But the attainment of peace requires good intentions and a good heart. That is my message to the Israeli leadership: For sustainable co-existence we need sustainable peace. Recognizing others, means recognizing peace.”


©AED/ACN These Palestinian Muslim journalists were touring Nativity church ahead of the visit of Pope Francis. “Welcome Pope Francis to Palestine!” they told ACN.

Mayor Baboun also hopes that the visit will have positive effects regarding the Christian presence in Palestine. “The mere fact that he is coming to Bethlehem expresses support for us. But the Christian presence is best served by progress in the peace process. After all, it’s not Islam under which the Palestinian Christians are suffering, but the Israeli occupation,” Ms Baboun made clear.


Journey with ACN – Catholic and Orthodox Churches meet

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

This week :  Background report and highlights post Vatican II


IMG_5189Developments between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches following the Second Vatican Council


By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

During the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church defined the Orthodox Churches as “Sister Churches.” There had already been a number of positive steps leading up to this statement:  For example, in 1958 Patriarch Athenagoras offered his condolences to the Western Church on the death of Pope Pius XII and congratulated John XXIII on his election. Representatives of the Orthodox Churches attended the Second Vatican Council, including also a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since the Council the relations between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy have developed and deepened at a breathless pace. One of the high-spots was the meeting between Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in January 1964 in Jerusalem. An outcome of the meeting between the Pope and the highest-ranking representative of Orthodoxy was the solemn lifting of the mutual anathema between the Eastern and Western Churches. This ban, which had been imposed in 1054, was lifted on the penultimate day of the Council, 7 December 1965, simultaneously in the Vatican and in the Phanar, the official seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and as stated in the declaration it was to be “left to oblivion”. On 25 July 1967 Pope Paul VI visited Patriarch Athenagoras in the Phanar in Istanbul and received the Patriarch ceremoniously in October of the same year in Rome.


Preparing for a theological dialogue

The tenth anniversary of the lifting of the anathema was celebrated in a solemn service simultaneously by Paul VI in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and by Patriarch Dimitrios, the successor to Patriarch Athenagoras who died in 1972, in St. George’s Church in the Phanar. The ceremony in Rome was attended by Metropolitan Meliton representing Constantinople. A symbolic and surprising high-point was the Pope’s spontaneous genuflection before the Metropolitan, whose feet he kissed when the latter announced the setting up of a pan-orthodox commission to prepare the theological dialogue between Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church also announced that it would set up a commission for this dialogue. Pope Paul VI said in his address that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were “joined by such a deep community that it would not take much to achieve the fullness which will permit a joint celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord.”

Pope John Paul II coined the phrase: “We need two lungs: the western and the eastern to enable Christendom to breathe.” He stressed in particular the “ecumenism of the Martyrs,” which means the common witness of Christ. In his apostolic letter of the jubilee year 2000, which appeared under the title “Tertio millennio adveniente,” Pope John Paul II elaborated on this idea: “Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and of the martyrs. The communio sanctorum speaks louder than the things which divide us.” This theme had already been present in his ecumenical encyclical which appeared in 1995 under the title “Ut unum sint.

The kiss of peace

On November 30, 1979, the Feast of Andrew the Apostle, Pope John Paul II visited Patriarch Dimitrios, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, in his official seat in Istanbul. On the same day exactly 27 years later Benedict XVI also visited Patriarch Bartholomew while on a three-day journey to Turkey. The Pope was also present at the Divine Liturgy which was celebrated on the occasion of the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle on this day in the Patriarchal Church of St. George in the Phanar. In their joint declaration, the two church leaders thanked God for this “fraternal meeting” and stated: “The Holy Spirit will help us to prepare the great day of the re-establishment of full unity, whenever and however God wills it. Then we shall truly be able to rejoice and be glad.” Photos showing Pope Benedict XVI and the Ecumenical Patriarch standing on the loggia holding hands went around the world.


Patriarch Bartholomew also attended the enthronement of Pope Francis on March 19, 2013. It was the first time since the 1054 split in the Church that an Orthodox Patriarch had attended the inauguration of a Roman Pope. Numerous other representatives of the different Orthodox Churches were also present. After the Lord’s Prayer, Pope Francis exchanged a kiss of peace with Patriarch Bartholomew and the Armenian Catholicos Karekin II.

The next day the Pope met representatives of other religious communities. On this occasion he was acting as the successor of the Apostle Paul when he consciously addressed the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as “my brother Andrew”. The Patriarch, as “first among equals”, occupies the honorary chairmanship of the heads of the Orthodox Churches. (Peter is the Apostle of the Western Church, while Andrew is the Apostle of the Eastern Churches. For example, icons showing the two brother apostles Peter and Andres embracing are a symbol of the inner bond between eastern and western Christianity.).



Boko Haram: “They wanted to hurt the heart of Nigeria”

Maria Lozano, ACN International

On the night of 14–15 April 2014, approximately 275 girls were kidnapped from a Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Boko Haram admitted responsibility for the kidnappings.

Aid to the Church in Need spoke to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, during the charit´s international Religious Freedom Conference in Malta, May 13, 2014.

This interview was conducted by Maria Lozano of ACN’s International Communications Department.


Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria

ML: Archbishop Kaigama, this is not the first time that Boko Haram has perpetrated violence against innocent victims in in Nigeria but this time the blow has shocked the world.

Archbishop Kaigama: They wanted to hurt the heart of Nigeria. I am very worried. These girls have never been outside of their village, and now they are in the bush. I just pray that the religious values that Boko Haram promotes are sufficient to influence them to respect the dignity of these girls. They are just innocent girls and every human being feels bad about this. Life is sacred.


ML: Surely, it is tragic that something so horrific has to occur to attract the attention of the world.

Archbishop Kaigama: Yes, Boko Haram has already perpetrated a lot of attacks and killed thousands of people since 2009. In my own diocese of Jos, we have suffered several attacks, e.g. St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in which 14 people died. In February, the group killed more than 100 Christian men in the villages of Doron Baga and Izghe, but the international community did not respond. This time was different, I think, because they are innocent young girls and also because it touches directly the suffering of women, the mothers of these children. And women can identify themselves more with the pain of others. The women started holding demonstrations – both Christian and Muslim women.


ML: Although Boko Haram is persecuting Christians and trying to Islamize the whole country, isn´t it true that more and more of the persecution and violence are affecting the Muslim community too?

Archbishop Kaigama: Yes.  At the beginning, it was more the idea to destroy Christianity, so-called “Western values” and implant a Sharia State in the North of Nigeria. So they targeted Christians as well as police stations and other institutions representing western values. But now one cannot say that they are only attacking Christians. Boko Haram has killed Muslim clergy as well. It is no longer about north or south, nor about Muslims or Christians. It is about human beings.  Nigerians are standing up together for freedom and dignity; a common voice is growing up, a voice that says: “violence is never the way.”


ML: How many of the girls are Christian and to what extent were they targeted because so many of them are Christian?

Archbishop Kaigama: Most of the girls are Christian. The majority of the girls who escaped were Christian, so we can presume that this applies to those still being held. But it is also true that there are some Muslims who were also kidnapped. So this incident is further evidence to show that Boko Haram is also targeting Muslims to some extent.


ML: There have been criticisms about the government’s reaction to the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, especially in the wake of the kidnapping of the school girls. Are these criticisms justified?

Archbishop Kaigama: The government underestimated the Boko Haram crisis and was therefore slow in reacting. Part of the problem is that resources were not used in the right way to provide adequate care of the security agents and the proper equipment they need to combat the violence, perhaps because of some corrupt practices. Some security sources are claiming that Boko Haram’s weapons are more sophisticated and more developed than those of the military and police. The resources have to reach the right people. Also, soldiers have been killed trying to defend people and their families have not received enough help.  It is important that these families receive assistance.


ML: What is the Catholic Church doing in response to the kidnappings?

Archbishop Kaigama: We tried dialogue and it didn’t work; the government used force and it didn’t work. At this stage, what we need to do is to pray: only God can move the heart of these people. We pray and we request your prayers. As President of the Bishops’ Conference, I wrote to all the Catholics in Nigeria to have an hour of adoration, asking all the bishops, priests and faithful to offer prayer.


ML: What are you praying for?

Archbishop Kaigama: I am praying for three things: The first is that they release the girls soon and without harm. Secondly that Boko Haram stops these attacks and abandons violence. And then that the government benefits from the help of other countries around the world: that countries come together and fight terrorism, hunger, poverty to create an authentic unity, not just to serve political – hypocritical – interests.


ML: This problem has been going on now for five years. Are you hopeful that the international community can solve this problem now?

Archbishop Kaigama: We have to stand together, this is the only solution. Boko Haram has weapons but how are these weapons getting to the terrorists? Where is the money coming from? Who is training them? I believe the international community can deal with this. I am a priest, it is not my task, but I feel that the international governments working together can do it. Nigeria plays an important role in Africa and the world. It is better to help now rather than wait until it is too late and even more complicated.

Nigeria, diocese of Jos in March 2012  Women from the crater of a bomb at the headquarters of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in Jos, Plateau State (Boko Haram)  Project trip of Roberto Simona and Corinne Zaugg

Nigeria, diocese of Jos in March 2012
Women surround a crater caused by a Boko Haram bomb at the headquarters of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in Jos.