The situation of the Christians in Turkey – between the past and the present

By Sébastien de Courtois, Istanbul (Turkey) 

The population of Turkey is regarded as a majority Sunni Muslim one, of almost 65%, but with a strong minority of Alevis – a branch of Shia Islam – estimates of which vary between 25% and 35% of the total population. The Alevis of Turkey are somewhat on the margins of the Muslim world. They do not attend the mosques, but rather the cem evi, or « houses of prayer »; they do not observe the Ramadan fast, nor do they observe the practice of the five daily prayers. While they are officially regarded by the Turkish administration as « Muslims », it is apparent from the above facts that they are outside what is generally regarded as Islam. That is why, when considering the place of the various religions within Turkey it is important not to forget them, since very often the Alevis see themselves as a « minority », just like the Jews and the Christians. Politically, they are opposed to the Islamic and conservative government of the ruling AKP party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi), which has been in power since 2002, and they tend to support a republican, progressive and secularist agenda.

Having themselves suffered at times from a similar kind of discrimination, the Alevis of Turkey are demanding official recognition of their specific character by the Diyanet, the administration for religious affairs. Since 2009 it has no longer been compulsory to indicate one’s religion on one’s identity card.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

As for the Christians of Turkey, they are thought to number no more than around 100,000 individuals, a very small minority in relation to a population that now exceeds 75 million. The Christian communities are divided among several historical branches – the Armenians, with perhaps 80,000 individuals, the Syriac Christians, numbering between 20,000 and 25,000, the Greek Orthodox (known as rum in Turkish – meaning « Roman » in fact) and a few hundred Latin-rite Catholic families living in some of the larger cities around Izmir (the ancient city of Smyrna) and above all in Istanbul. This vast metropolis – which is not however the capital of Turkey – is home to a veritable mosaic of Eastern Christianity. All the churches of East and West are represented here – in addition to the major communities mentioned above. They include Chaldeans from the south-east (originally from the Hakkâri), the Syriac Orthodox of Tur Abdin, Bulgarians, Russians (with their churches built on the roofs of Karaköy), Poles, Ukrainians, Protestant and Anglican churches and a series of Catholic institutions engaged in an educational and social system. An example of the latter are the Don Bosco school, run by the Salesian sisters, or the hospice in Bomonti, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been present in Turkey since 1892.

Now, with the explosion in the number of refugees from all over the world – but principally those from Sub-Saharan Africa, Syria and Iraq – the churches in Istanbul are becoming full again. Generally speaking, and still today, the Christian churches have always found themselves at best in a « minority » situation – and at worst in a « ghetto » situation in Turkey. However, the Christian presence cannot be reduced to these small ersatz communities, even though they are very appealing: the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, for instance, who embodies the heritage of the ancient Byzantine Empire and the destiny of the Orthodox world, governing as he does from the Fener quarter on the Golden Horn. Even though the rum community is now reduced to just a few hundred people, the importance of this patriarchal see is a symbol that far transcends international frontiers. The Byzantine past of Istanbul and Anatolia should not be underestimated; there are still thousands of churches and monasteries scattered across the countryside – many of them ruined and abandoned. The historic peninsular of Istanbul would be nothing without the massive silhouette of Santa Sofia – Hagia Sofia – which dates back to the first half of the sixth century under Emperor Justinian. By its sheer size and grace this monument reminds the visitor that Turkish society is also built on a Christian past. We should not forget this invisible continuity with the present.

At the same time, in the south-east of the country in the Mardin region, one can still find the last of the active Christian monasteries in Turkey. There are five of them (around 20 religious altogether) and they are under the jurisdiction of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Some of the monasteries produce pistachios, raisins and olive oil. This region is called the Tur Abdin, the « Mountain of the Servants of God », an ancient preserve of the Syriac presence and spirituality. The Christians of the region still speak a language of Aramean origin, known as the turoyo. Around these monasteries there are a number of Christian villages, twenty or so in all, which once again have their own specifically regional character.

Santa Sofia – Hagia Sofia

Santa Sofia – Hagia Sofia

Since 1915 and the destruction of the First World War the Armenian population of Eastern Anatolia was – with rare exceptions – deported and massacred by the Young Turk government of the time. The fact that Turkey has always refused to recognise this genocide of the Armenians is indicative of a malaise that still constitutes one of the major handicaps for Turkey on the international stage. The normalisation of relations between Greece and Turkey, which began with the reciprocal aid that these neighbour countries gave each other at the time of the earthquakes in 1999, has been reinforced thanks to the joint efforts to resolve the problem of Cyprus.

However, it is still not enough; the Christians of Turkey continue to depend too heavily on international relations (with Armenia and Greece principally), whereas in fact they are fully Turkish citizens in their own right. Indeed, very often their presence within the Turkish Republic is more ancient than that of those people ordinarily considered as « Turkish ». This is a paradox that exists to this day. The Christians in Turkey are very often regarded as « foreigners » in their own country, which is a great pity. Despite the freedom of worship, they are constantly being forced to justify their place in society. In recent years there have been some very disturbing murders of Catholic and Protestant priests and religious, not to mention the murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin. A not insignificant section of the Turkish population, driven by nationalism, still accuses the « Christians » of Turkey of wanting to destabilize the Turkish « nation » and even of being foreign agents, an attitude that smacks of acute paranoia.

Finally, it should be kept in mind that many of the major cities mentioned in the Gospels and in the journeys of the Apostles Peter and Paul are today to be found in Turkey – Antioch, Ephesus, Caesarea and even Sardis, and the region of Galatea, which is modern day Ankara. The Jews – principally Sephardi – make up the third largest religious community in the country, with around 25,000 faithful. All the religious minorities are looking forward to the visit of the Pope at the end of November.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

 

The massacre of the Armenians and Syriac Christians of Turkey

The Armenian and Syriac communities in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire were the victims of a series of massacres between 1895 and 1915. The fate of the Syriac communities was linked with the more general fate of the Armenians. The eastern provinces, strongly Christianized over history, were the most affected – Cilicia, Eastern Anatolia, the provinces of Erzurum, Van, Bitlis and Hakkâri, as well as the province of Diyarbakir. Nor was Istanbul spared, where the Armenians were also massacred, especially the leading figures and intellectuals.

The Syriac Churches

The Syriac world is the least well-known. It represents a sort of eastern ecumenism of its own. This inheritance goes back to Antioch, the town where the Christians were for the first time called by the name « Christian ». This family includes five distinct Churches, which all share the Syriac language as their heritage – the Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches, the Oriental and Chaldean Churches and the Maronite Church of Lebanon.

 

Even though Turkey´s Christian population is barely 0.3%, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has supported 100 projects in Turkey in the last twenty years. 

A significant amount of ACN´s help has gone towards Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the eastern part of the country. Since 2010, ACN donated a total of $182,600 to Iraqi refugees, mainly via the Chaldean Church and the Salesian Fathers in Istanbul. The Salesians look after families and are particularly concerned to ensure that the children continue to receive a school education. ACN has also helped Syrian refugees in Eastern Turkey, since the onset of the Syrian crisis. From 2013 to 2014, ACN has donated a total of $66,000 – towards their most essential needs.

We invite you to visit our blog – www.aidchurch.wordpress.com over the coming days to get more information on the subject and the situation effecting refugees in Turkey.


 

 More to come on this special series about Christians in Turkey on Monday, December 1

Being a Christian refugee from Iraq in Istanbul

By Sébastien de Courtois, Istanbul (Turkey)
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 The Middle East is a small place. Turkey’s Eastern frontier rubs shoulders with those of Syria, Iraq and Iran. Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, and since the eruption of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Turkey has found itself to be – willy-nilly – an obligatory land of passage for hundreds of thousands of refugees. Many of these are Christians from Iraq – Chaldeans and Syrian Christians from Mosul and the plain of Nineveh.Some want to travel on directly to Europe and are willing to do anything to cross the forbidden frontiers. These are usually young single people, willing to take any risk, even that of losing their lives. Only at the beginning of November, a boatload of illegal migrants capsized just after coming through the Straits of the Bosporus, on their way to Bulgaria. There are so many broken lives, so many hopes in pieces, so many families destroyed. Others travel as families through Turkey and above all through Istanbul, where the immense metropolis draws in and absorbs people from all over the world.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

In the Harbiye quarter, if you go to Mass in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on a Sunday morning, you will see all the different layers of emigration by the Eastern Christians at the 8 o’clock Mass. The church is packed. There are hundreds of Arabic speaking Christians who have ended up living in Turkey for months, and even years in the case of the more unlucky ones. They come from Iraq and Syria. Those who are actually at the Mass are no more than the tip of a much larger iceberg.  It is difficult to know exactly how many Christians there are, since neither the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) nor our own association make any sort of head count according to religious affiliation. We welcome all those who are in need and come to us ,” explains Bishop François Yakan, the patriarchal vicar for the Chaldeans of Turkey.

First and foremost Abuna François, as he is respectfully called by his faithful, is the founder of a special association which provides humanitarian aid and welcomes the refugees. His organisation, KASDER (Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac Humanitarian Organization) was set up as long as 10 years ago. “During those years we took in and helped almost 55,000 people; that is to say, they succeeded in leaving Turkey and obtaining an entry visa for a foreign country. But that is by no means always the case; there is plenty of waiting and plenty of setbacks also…”

The sad reality is the life lived by the thousands of people still waiting here in hopes of eventually finding the magic open sesame  for Europe or America.

In Turkey they have no official right to work. “Sometimes they have to wait for years, and it is terrible for families who have been scattered and dispersed to the four corners of the earth. I cannot resolve all the situations.”  He works in close collaboration with the UN, the Turkish government and other humanitarian associations abroad who are helping him to supply the most immediate necessities.

His office is on the top floor of a small apartment block on the edge of the Tarlabaşı quarter, opposite the British Consulate and overlooking the Chaldean church. The reception office is on the ground floor. Sixteen volunteers, one interpreter and three full-time paid staff take it in turns to attend to the refugees. There is a queue of young people waiting. It is essential to have a passport in order to be recognised as a political refugee in Turkey. They are so well behaved, so humble. “On average we have around 70 visitors each day. I personally welcome as many as I can, particularly the urgent cases », the bishop continues, rolling up his sleeves. “All the people coming from Iraq have health problems – malnutrition, no vaccinations, heart problems, nervous tensions, chronic depression… We have a special psychological counselling service for the women who have been assaulted.” The main countries offering visas are the United States, Canada and Australia. Europe has closed its doors, except in very exceptional circumstances, as happened this summer (2014) when France and Germany opened their doors to Christians and Yazidis forced out by the Islamists of ISIS from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Sindjar.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

Amer Bahnan has come here from Mosul with his family. His story is a tragic one. He has been living in Istanbul for a year and a half now. « Life became impossible for my family in Iraq. I went to Syria first of all, then to Lebanon and finally came to Turkey. I have had four operations on my heart.” He falls silent, and his wife bursts into tears: “We have been living on the road since 2008… We no longer know where to go now. In Iraq everything was taken from us, stolen; we no longer have a house; no money, no dignity, nothing. “

The refugees live in the suburbs, outside the centre, crowded into rented apartment blocks shared by many families, and often in unhygienic conditions. There are no official structures intended for them.

Shortly afterwards, a mother comes in, together with her daughter: « I am a widow, with my five children. We left Dohuk 16 months ago. My application has just been rejected by the American embassy.” She wants to go to Canada, where her brothers are already living. “There is nobody in our family still living in Iraq,” she tells me before getting up to go. Her daughter is being taught by the Salesian Sisters in Istanbul at the Don Bosco school where almost 350 refugee children are being given an education. As for Hassan, aged 27, his story is worthy of a novel. After Baghdad, where he originally came from, he went to Jordan, then to Thailand for two years to try his luck. “I had to leave when my visa expired, because I did not want to try out prison life there… I was working with Arab tourists who needed a guide. I was managing to get by, but here in Istanbul I can’t do anything worthwhile. And yet I don’t have the choice; I need to get to Europe.”

ETRE RÉFUGIÉ ACN-20141120-16441

This living in exile en masse is the fate of the Christians of the Middle East. The land that was the cradle of Christianity is being emptied little by little. “I never imagined that I would witness such a disaster,” says Father Sabah, an émigré priest, originally from northern Iraq. It looks as though, following the dramatic events of the month of August and the occupation of the Christian villages on the plain of Nineveh, the very future of these communities is now gravely at risk. They are now living abroad, in Turkey, in Istanbul, and also elsewhere, scattered right across the whole world. A new wave of refugees is expected in Istanbul. We need to sit up and take note, to learn how to listen to them, to understand their origins, in order to be able to give them a better welcome. Many are deeply traumatized.

 

———————————————————-

Even though Turkey´s Christian population is barely 0.3%, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has supported 100 projects in Turkey in the last twenty years. 

A significant amount of ACN´s help has gone towards Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the eastern part of the country. Since 2010, ACN donated a total of $182,600 to Iraqi refugees, mainly via the Chaldean Church and the Salesian Fathers in Istanbul. The Salesians look after families and are particularly concerned to ensure that the children continue to receive a school education. ACN has also helped Syrian refugees in Eastern Turkey, since the onset of the Syrian crisis. From 2013 to 2014, ACN has donated a total of $66,000 – towards their most essential needs.

 

We invite you to visit our blog – www.aidchurch.wordpress.com over the coming days to get more information on the subject and the situation effecting refugees in Turkey.


 

 

TOMORROW :   Between the Past and the Present

 

 

 

Journey with ACN – Iraq

JOURNEY WITH ACN is  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 helped to bring into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week :  Iraq


 

Teaching the Faith, even in time of war

No matter how difficult life has been for Christians in Baghdad since 2003, the Church still strives by every possible means to keep on with the teaching of the Faith, and also to continue with her other work involving children and young people.

Now, above all, the local Church needs to feel part of the universal Church. This can be done best by passing on the eternal truths of the faith to the next generation – a generation that hopefully, will be able to make its own contribution in the future to a peaceful coexistence among all religions in Iraq.

Every Friday – the Muslim day of prayer – the various Christian communities provide religious instruction for the faithful. There are at least 20 large and small Chaldean communities involved in organizing such instruction. Many of their communities are situated in the most dangerous areas of the city – although at the same time, in the current instability, people are in danger everywhere and at all times in Baghdad.

Irak-3

To reduce the potential danger to children, both they and the catechists have to be collected safely from their homes by bus and brought to one of the eight larger and nine smaller centres, and driven home again afterward – keeping one such bus going costs anywhere between 150 and 300 dollars a month, depending on the size of the bus. This results in a total cost each year of 45,000 dollars for the parishes of Bagdad to deal with transport alone.

But money is also needed for the teaching materials and books. Here again the total cost to the parishes is around 5,000 dollars annually. The Christians of Iraq need all the help we can give them – especially now – if they are to remain in their own homeland and live their faith daily.

We were happy to promise a contribution of $53,600 for this project.  Now we are counting on your support to help us make good on our promise to these Iraqi parishes.

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

ACN Update – Iraq

“ACN PROJECTS ARE SIGNS OF HOPE FOR US.” – Patriarch Sako

By Marta Petrosillo, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

“Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan are living in miserable conditions.” That’s how Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Raphael I Sako described to Aid to the Church in Need the current situation of roughly 120 thousands Christians forced to flee their home and now living in the Iraqi Kurdistan. “It isn’t just the fact that they have to live in crowded cabins or – even worse – out in the open inside small tents which cannot shelter them from the cold winter.

Their main concern is their uncertain future. They are scared because they don’t know what to expect. They want to return home and they don’t know how long this situation is going to last.”

The Patriarch stressed how the tragic conditions of the refugees – who don’t know whether they will be able to work again or if their children will go back to school – affect their psychological state. Moreover, a lot of families are now divided because some of their members have already left the country, while the rest of the family is thinking about fleeing.

So far the crisis has lasted for five months, and during this time Christians often felt abandoned, especially by the Western world. “Now they finally feel that in the world there are people who care about them. And this is thanks to normal people’s charity and to associations like Aid to the Church in Need which did a lot for us.”

Patriarch Sako recently visited the first of eight schools – pre-fabricated PVC structures – donated by ACN. The schools are part of the 4 million emergency relief program created by ACN to provide thousands of displaced Iraqi Christians with food, shelter, schooling and gifts for children. “The school I visited comprises 24 classes: indeed a wonderful work,” Patriarch Sako told ACN. “Those projects are signs of hope for us.”

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

Bishop Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary Chaldean bishop of Baghdad, praised ACN’s help to Iraqi Christians. He visited few of the 150 PVC porta-cabins in Ankawa that ACN donated to the refugees, to be used as accommodations. “All those structures are already full of people – he told ACN – hopefully we will be able to put a roof above everyone’s head. This will happen because of charities like Aid to the Church in Need which undertook a great endeavor to help us.”

Bishop Warduni describes the difficult conditions in which all Iraqi people are living, especially those who belong to religious minorities. “Yazidis and Christians were dragged out of their houses, and they had to leave everything they owned. Now they suffer, while Islamic State terrorists are occupying their properties.”

As Christmas is on the approach, “the Church is doing all it can to help Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord in decent conditions,” said Bishop Warduni.  “We will pray the Child Jesus to help our children, as every day we pray God asking Him to give us the strength to bear this terrible pain with patience and faith.”

PRESS RELEASE – Turkey

Turkey

An ecumenical visit above all

By Sébastien de Courtois, Istanbul (Turkey)
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 Montreal/Turkey, Thursday November 27, 2014 – Pope Francis will be in Turkey from November 28 to 30.  First, he is destined for the capital, Ankara, then to Istanbul to meet Patriarch Bartholomew.  This last meeting is the real objective of the Papal visit, for it is important to the Churches, even if the two men know each other well.

This visit actually falls within a tradition begun by Paul VI in 1967, when he met with Athenagoras, the patriarch at the time.  Since, the tradition rooted itself with each of proceeding freshly elected Holy Father travelling to Turkey at the joint invitation of the patriarch and the Turkish authorities.

Following formal meetings in Ankara, with the president, Tayyip Erdogan and the Minister of Religious Affairs, the pope will bow before the monumental tomb of Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, in a sign of friendship. The following day, in Istanbul, Francis will go to Hagia Sophia, the great Orthodox Basilica (shown in the image to the right) in the company of the patriarch.  In the company of the Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yara, the pope will then go on foot to the close by Sultan Ahmed Mosque.  In the afternoon, he will go to a Mass for the Catholics in Turkey at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Harbiye.  The very next day he will participate in the celebrations of the Feast of Saint Andrew in the company of the patriarch in the venerable Saint George Church in the historic Greek district of Faith, Fener.

TURQUIE 3

A walk toward unity

« The pope is very sensitive to finding ecumenism working between our two sister Churches.  If he comes to Constantinople, it is to encourage a walk toward unity.  Ecumenism is long process.  In the world of today, this is a very powerful symbol showing that the Churches see each other and speak to each other… the divisions belong to history.  Every year, to celebrate the Feast of Saint Andrew, a delegation from the Vatican comes to Fener,» explains Brother Gwenole Jeusset, a Franciscan of Santa-Maria-in – Draperis, one of the churches in the Beyoglu district.

The Patriarch has in the past already shown his interest in this question: “It’s not simply a matter of reiterating a strong ecumenical commitment made fifty years ago, but of intensifying the meetings in order to clear the way for a new stage in the establishment of full communion between our two sister Churches. We must give a visible sign that ecumenism is not running out of steam.” Last October in Istanbul, he himself held a conference in Italian – a language which he speaks fluently, as he does French and English – in order to celebrate the sanctification of Saint John XXIII, who had been Roman Nuncio in Turkey.

It is certain that the political aspect of this visit reinforces the Patriarch in his positions in Turkey. The reasons for conflict are numerous: the matter of Church properties – buildings and land – the reopening of certain churches for worship, such as the monastery of Sumela near Trabzon on the Black Sea, or more importantly the reopening of the Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki, which was closed arbitrarily in 1971.

TURQUIE 1

The disastrous effect of the Islamic State

Finally, the situation of Christians in the Middle East, in Iraq and in Syria after the dramatic events of this summer cannot fail to arise in the conversation between the two religious representatives. Being a transit location for migrants, Turkey is confronted with the war being fought at its gates and with the disastrous effect of the Islamic State. And the question of refugees as well, as Turkey shelters more than two million Syrians and many others coming from Iraq and Sub-Saharan Africa. Pope Francis made his first journey to the island of Lampedusa in order to make the European authorities sensitive to these human dramas. For a number of years the churches in Istanbul have again been full due to the unexpected presence of these thousands of the faithful. The clergy are sometimes overwhelmed. “On Sunday morning in the cathedral four Masses are said in succession, each in a different language. The faces of the unfortunates are those of the universal Church. Through this contact we are rediscovering the original meaning of the Gospel …” Brother Gwenolé concludes.

There remains the delicate subject for Turkey of the evocation, or not, of the Armenian genocide, towards which Pope Francis has shown himself to be extremely sensitive. Last June he referred to the persecutions before the Armenian Catholicos Aram I. There is no doubt that the Pope will be welcomed with joy by all the Christian communities in Turkey, but also by a number of Muslim Turks who are sensitive to his talk of an opening up and dialogue.

Even though Turkey´s Christian population is barely 0.3%, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has supported 100 projects in Turkey in the last twenty years. 

A significant amount of ACN´s help has gone towards Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the eastern part of the country. Since 2010, ACN donated a total of $182,600 to Iraqi refugees, mainly via the Chaldean Church and the Salesian Fathers in Istanbul. The Salesians look after families and are particularly concerned to ensure that the children continue to receive a school education.

ACN has also helped Syrian refugees in Eastern Turkey, since the onset of the Syrian crisis. From 2013 to 2014, ACN has donated a total of  $66,000 – towards their most essential needs.

We invite you to visit our blog – www.aidchurch.wordpress.com over the coming days to get more information on the subject and the situation effecting refugees in Turkey.

China – Chinese government intensifies persecution

 

By Marta Petrosillo, ACN Italy

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
 © Aid to the Church in Need


© Aid to the Church in Need

Rome/Montreal, November 24, 2014 – “We shouldn’t get our hopes up. I don’t see any sign of an immediate improvement in China-Holy See relations,” cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former Bishop of Hong Kong, told Aid to the Church in Need after speaking at the AsiaNews Symposium held on November 18 at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.

The eighty-two-year old bishop believes that, “as every relationship, it depends on both ends” and it is not possible to expect any improvement until the Chinese government makes a real change of its policy. “The Holy Father is conscious of the situation,” stressed the cardinal, “he is patient and ready to work hard to improve the relationship and the situation of the Chinese Church, but he is also aware that the path can be long.”

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

“Not the time for the Pope to visit China”

Speaking about the situation of the Catholics in China, Cardinal Zen criticized the government. “The Chinese government has intensified the persecution recently. We have seen demolished churches, crosses taken away from the buildings, therefore there’s not much we can hope for immediately. The Church is still enslaved to the government.”

Cardinal Zen also believes that this is not the time for the Pope to visit China. “If asked about it, I’ll strongly recommend him not to go, because the current circumstances are not the right ones.” According to the cardinal, the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be making any efforts to improve the situation of the Church, nor its relationship with the Vatican, and a Papal trip will probably be manipulated by Beijing. “They won’t let the Pope meet the people he would like to meet and they will try to force Francis to meet the people they want him to meet. The only outcome of such a visit will be good people suffering and the Pope’s good will being misused.”

 © Aid to the Church in Need


© Aid to the Church in Need

“The one who fights with a ‘sling’”

The cardinal also talked to ACN about the current situation in Hong Kong, where protests against China’s new plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 are ongoing. Protests started as authorities tried to mar next elections by restricting the list of “acceptable” candidates. Cardinal Zen strongly supported the so called Occupy Central protests, and he even marched himself on the streets among the students who started the peaceful occupation of the city’s financial district. “We cannot expect to win immediately,” he told ACN, “but as long as we have freedom of speech, we should keep fighting, even though victory is not close». Cardinal Zen also criticized the students’ leaders who “went too fast” and who believed they can easily win. “We should stay united as we were at the start of the protest, but the students’ leaders began to run on their own without listening to us.”

Speaking at the AsiaNews Symposium, the cardinal said that when Pope Francis greeted him after Paul VI’s Beatification Mass, he told him: “This is the one who fights with a ‘sling’,” referring to his participation in the protests. “He didn’t mean to make fun of me, but to encourage me. When he was in Buenos Aires, he always fought for freedom and for the poor. So he understands our position.” Then Cardinal Zen highlighted the strong support of Hong Kong’s Church to the people. “The Church, thanks to a competent Commission for Justice and Peace, is backing the population in their fight for democracy, following to the letter the Church’s social teaching.”

Then he ended his speech by saying in an ironical way: “When I’m back in Hong Kong, I might hand myself over to the police for having committed an act of civil disobedience. Hopefully they’ll jail me for a few days, so I’ll have time to pray for all of you.”

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

 

ACN Press Release – Zimbabwe

The economy is in bad shape

by Reinhard Backes, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Father Felix Tachiona Mukaro     © Aid to the Church in Need

Father Felix Tachiona Mukaro © Aid to the Church in Need

Felix Tachiona Mukaro is disappointed in his country’s politicians, as many Zimbabweans are. “All they care about is influence and power, not the country itself. And that although the economy is in bad shape and the people don’t know how they are supposed to make it through the day.” Felix Tachiona Mukaro has been a Catholic priest since 2007 and is currently working as a development consultant in the Chinhoyi diocese in northern Zimbabwe. Every day, the priest sees new evidence of how this East African country has been in a state of stagnation for years and how the – now open – fight for the legacy of the long-standing president, 90-year-old Robert Mugabe, is paralyzing Zimbabwe: “While administering pastoral care we clearly see just how deeply the majority of the people are suffering from this.”

“Many don’t even have a dollar a day in order to survive”

According to Father Felix, millions have in the meantime left Zimbabwe. They have gone to the neighbouring states of Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa as well as to the United States or Europe. Because the people no longer trust the local currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, those who can afford to, use the US dollar, euro, British pound or South African rand.

ZIMBABWE 3

Many Zimbabweans who live abroad send money back home but “not everyone is so fortunate as to have family living abroad who can send help,” Father Felix emphasized during a talk with employees of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). He gave examples to show just how tense the situation is. “Many don’t even have a dollar a day in order to survive. When priests point out the widespread injustice, they are threatened or even physically attacked.”

The economic regression is palpable in the Chinhoyi diocese, which covers an area of 56,000 square kilometers, 95 percent of which is predominately rural: mines have been closed; farms that were once thriving have been expropriated and taken over by supporters of the governing party. Now the land lies fallow. Father Felix does not expect rapid political change because he feels that this must first be preceded by a change in mentality. He believes in the arduous, day-to-day pastoral work currently being carried out by 48 priests in the 19 parishes of the diocese.

However, they only have scant resources at their disposal. The distances they must travel are great and means of transportation, such as cars, are often not available. “Our diocese is dependent on aid. The Mass Offerings we receive, for example from Aid to the Church in Need, are very important for our priests because they really are destitute,” Father Felix said. He continued by explaining that the pastors cannot provide for themselves because they do not have an income. They also cannot count on the support of the faithful because they themselves barely have the basic necessities. For this reason, Aid to the Church in Need donated $ 28,000 CAN in Mass Offerings to the Chinhoyi diocese in both 2013 and 2014.

The diocese is grateful for this help. It ensures the livelihood of its priests and thus the continuation of pastoral care in rural areas.

“Our work is based solely on the Gospel and we defend its values. However, if we were to accept contributions from politicians, this would weaken our pastoral care because we would then have to justify their actions,” said Father Felix Tachiona Mukaro in closing.

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.