ACN Press Release: Syria Extremists IS – seize Christian towns

Iraq, June 2010 Father Emanuel Youkhana in his office Photo: CAPNI

By John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Montreal – Tuesday, February 14, 2015 – According to recent reports, one hundred Assyrian Christians in the north-eastern region of Khabour in Syria’s Hassake governate, have been captured and are being held by the extremist Islamist organization IS following attacks on several Assyrian villages yesterday morning, the 23rd of February, and provoking a mass exodus of hundreds toward Hassake city and leaving many trapped and surrounded as the soldiers advanced.

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, leader of the Assyrian Christians and head of CAPNI (Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq) told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he had spoken to a CAPNI contact, who prefers to remain anonymous, in Hassake city, where hundreds of families have fled, “Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel… told me the church and community hall are overloaded with the people and they are now [sending] them to the families in Hassake city.”

“The fight started Monday early morning 4am Syrian time when IS opened a 40km long battle front from Tel Shamiram to Tel Hormizd. IS took advantage of [the fact that the] PYD (Democratic Union Kurdish Party) [had] been fighting in other places – mainly the Syrian-Iraqi borders. So, there were less resistance to face IS fighters. In general, IS was supported by Arab Sunni neighboring villages.”

The destiny of these families of major concern

The situation for Christians is extremely difficult, “There are no clear numbers of the families, but more than 600 families managed to flee. Most of them are in Hassake,” where we are told the people have found refuge in churches – and around 200 others in Qamishly.

“Unfortunately,” explains Archimandrite Youkhana to ACN as told to him by the anonymous source, “most of the families failed to escape and were captured by IS. – 50 families in Tel Shamiran, 26 families in Tel Gouran, 28 families in Tel Jezira, and 14 young people (12 males and 2 females) who were defending Tel Hormiz had been seized by IS and separated men from women and children.” Knowing the brutal barbaric record of IS with the captured, the destiny of those families is a major concern to us,” he added.  One of these sad examples was the martyring of you Milad, only 17 years of age.

According to Archmandrite Youkhana, at least two villages – Tal Shamiran and Tal Hermiz – were still surrounded by IS yesterday evening. The churches in both villages have been torched. “According to the source, IS been defeated in Kobane some places, [but] it tried to gain in other places.” The water level of the Khabur River was able to serve as a natural defense for some villages on the other side of the river.  Some villagers witnessed fires burning in other villages further on which had been seized by IS.

Father Emanuel Youkahna (Iraq) with displaced peoplePhoto: CAP

Father Emanuel Youkahna (Iraq) with displaced people  Photo: CAPNI

But Archmandrite Youkhana also drew attention to acts of solidarity between Sunni Muslims and the attacked Christians. “Arab Sunni villagers nearby Assyrian village of Qaber Shamiat rescued 15 Assyrians (13 males and two females) who are protected by them and are expected to be guided and transported to Hassake, to the church,” he said.

There are 35 Assyrian villages in the Khabour region which were founded in the 1930s following the August massacre in 1933 which took place in Iraq forcing Christians to flee to Syria with the hope of one day returning to their homeland of Iraq. The term ‘village’ is never attributed to their dwelling but always referred to as a ‘camps’ to describe their colonies which were to be temporary installments until they could return home, as was explained to us by the Archmandrite who also said:  “May God bring an end to the continuous suffer of the people in our countries and worldwide.”




Press Release – Nigeria


Germany, Munich 23.04.2013Press Conference with presentation ofBishops attack government corruption 

John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Attacking “the ugly tide of corruption” in Nigeria’s government, a Catholic bishop has highlighted the tough challenges the country’s new administration will face after the election. 

Montreal, Friday
February 13 In a message sent to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria said the next parliament will need to deal with pressing issues destabilizing the nation. “Years of corruption have diminished the sense of loyalty to the Nigerian state,“ he said calling on the new president “to rally citizens around the project of a national identity and national unity.”

According to Bishop Kukah major inequalities have resulted from the wealth from Nigeria’s natural resources being concentrated in the hands of a few. “Despite the huge resources that the nation has received from the unprecedented sales in oil, there is hardly anything to show for it in the lives of ordinary citizens. The uncontrollable hemorrhaging of resources has led to the ubiquity of misery among the people.” He called on the election’s winners to channel resources into education, job creation and agriculture.

The impact of Boko Haram

Bishop Kukah warned that terrorist group Boko Haram had increased tensions between religious groups saying: “the insurgency has depleted a lot of the good will among the various ethnic groups and further deepened the fracture between Christians and Muslims.”

Nigeria: Military forces entering the north-east to help repel BDrawing attention to recent attacks by Boko Haram, Bishop Kukah said: “In Sokoto where I live, as well as most northern cities, the last few months have witnessed a huge exodus of citizens, some out of the country, and others to their ancestral homes in different parts of the country.”

There are fears of a repeat of the violence that followed the 2011 election, when 800 killed were killed over a three-day period and many churches, businesses and homes were destroyed. Bishop Kukah explained, “Sadly, the federal government did almost nothing to redress these issues. No one was prosecuted and except for a few, the federal government did not deal with the issues of compensation for the majority of the citizens who lost property.”

“This is based on the ugly experiences that have been associated with some of the worst form of violence in Nigeria,” said the bishop describing how Christians had started sending their families to their ancestral homes and states even before the Christmas.

But the prelate was largely positive about the elections, which are currently scheduled for Saturday, March 28. “Nigerians,” he said “are approaching the forthcoming elections with measured optimism, excitement but a deep sense of caution and even trepidation.” Saying that the result was “too close to call,” Bishop Kukah paid tribute to efforts to repel Boko Haram’s recent incursion further south ahead of polling day.

ACN has provided $64,220 in emergency aid to the displaced people of the Maiduguri diocese who fled the advance of Boko Haram.

The charity also provided $52,800 in Mass Offerings to priests in the diocese, half of whom found refuge in the neighbouring Yola diocese.

Sudan – Pressure mounting for Mariam to convert to Islam       

  John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by, Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


Montreal, Thursday June 21, 2014 – Sudanese Christian woman Mariam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam, still refuses to abandon her Christian Faith – despite ongoing calls for her to convert.

 Exactly a month after she was sentenced to death, the Archdiocese of Khartoum, north Sudan, issued a statement describing her current predicament. “There are many people trying to persuade Mariam to renounce Christianity in order to be freed but she is refusing. Some people are pleading with her husband to convince her to abandon [her] Christian faith in order to save her life but to not avail.”

The statement issued yesterday ( June 11 ) from Fr. Mussa Kacho, Episcopal Vicar of Khartoum region, aimed to correct media inaccuracies and “pleaded” with authorities to resolve the case.

Describing the present situation, Fr. Kacho said: “Mrs Mariam is still in Omdurman prison, practically on death row, breast feeding her child in chains. Her case is currently in the court of appeal. No one knows when the appeal court will decide on it. According to the concerned authorities, Mrs Mariam can only be released on the condition that she renounces Christianity and gets divorced from her husband ‘Daniel’ to embrace Islam and gets divorced from the husband.

“The only way to save their marriage, supposing that Mariam abandons her Christian faith, is for the husband ‘Daniel’ to embrace Islam and be remarried according to Islamic religion.”

The couple were married in the Catholic Church on December 19, 2011. Her husband, Daniel Bicensio Wani, is a life-long Catholic and Ms. Ibrahim converted from Ethiopian Orthodox to Catholic shortly before her marriage. Although her father was a Muslim, she was baptized and raised in her mother’s Orthodox Faith.

The statement from the Archdiocese of Khartoum stressed: “Never in her life did she embrace the Islamic religion nor renounce it. She has never been a Muslim in her life.”

It also drew attention to the fact that the 2005 interim constitution of Sudan guarantees freedom of religion: “no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.”

The Church statement concluded: “Therefore, in light of the facts that we have provided above, and to honour Mariam’s steadfast position to maintain her Christian faith, we are pleading with the Judiciary and other concerned authorities to review the case against Mrs. Mariam and to bring it to a reasonable end.”


Syria – Kidnapped nuns set free

Sisters are safe and have not been harmed – according to Catholic Patriarch from Syria

John Newton, ACN UK – in Beirut

Twelve nuns kidnapped by jihadists in Syria last December were set free yesterday (Sunday, 9th March).

Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, broke the news to a team from Aid to the Church in Need, who had just arrived in Lebanon to visit projects supporting refugees from Syria.

The Damascus-based Patriarch told members of the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians that the nuns had not been harmed during their ordeal and that their release was “a sign of hope in this time of crisis”.

Gregorios III said: “I think they were not treated too badly as it is not in the interest of the kidnappers to do this.”

He said that the freedom of the nuns had been secured following the intervention of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X.

Patriarch Gregorios added that the release had apparently been mediated by the secret services of Qatar and Lebanon.

Describing the plight of the nuns, who were seized from a monastery in the Syrian town of Maaloula, Patriarch Gregorios said yesterday (Sunday): “[The nuns] had to travel [80Km] from Yabroud [where they were being held] to the border of Lebanon and I don’t know where they will go this evening”, although it is expected they will now settle in Lebanon.

His comments came as a Lebanese security source was reported yesterday (Sunday) as saying that the nuns were being accompanied by the head of a Lebanese security agency and a Qatari intelligence official.

According to media reports, the release of the nuns had been agreed as part of a deal in which the government would free scores of women prisoners.

The Sisters were seized in December from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Thecla in the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula, about 40 miles north of Damascus.

Later that month (December), the nuns appeared in a video obtained by Al-Jazeera television, saying they were in good health, but the circumstances in which the video was made were unclear.

Soon after their capture, they were reportedly moved 15 miles north to the rebel-held town of Yabroud.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group identified the rebels who took the nuns as militants from the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The Nusra Front invaded Maaloula on 4th September 2013.

In the three days that they held the town, 12 people were killed, including three men who refused to renounce their Christian faith.

The Patriarch described speaking to the nuns’ Mother Superior shortly after the town was taken and being assured by her that all the Sisters were unharmed.

Weeks later, the Islamists struck again and took the nuns.

Meantime, children who fled Maaloula in September are being supported and educated by the Church in Damascus.

Patriarch Gregorios said: “Thanks to Aid to the Church in Need we have been able to give help to 5,000 children: 1,000 in Damascus, 2,000 in Dina, and 2,000 in Homs.”

ACN has provided ongoing emergency help for the victims of the violence and unrest in Syria – including food, shelter and medicine.

Up to nine million people are either internally displaced within Syria or living as refugees abroad.

Of Syria’s pre-war Christian population of 1.75 million, it is now understood that 500,000 have fled their homes.