On the program VUES D’AILLEURS (broadcast uniquely in French on Radio Ville-Marie Wednesday May 8th) Robert Lalonde, an ACN journalist, interviewed Regina Lynch, Director of Projects at Aid to the Church in Need, International.
Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Regina Lynch is surrounded by a team of 35 persons, divided into twelve project sections : Africa, Asia, Near and Middle-East, Latin America and Eastern Europe – together they study between 6000 and 6500 projects per year with certain criteria and priorities in mind.
How do you study a project before accepting to support it?
There are first of all, the priorities according to countries and next the priorities according to the types of projects.
For example, there is the persecuted or threatened Church due to communism, such as in China or in Cuba, where though the situation has progressed, the needs persist. There is also, as the bishops report back to us, the persecuted Church in the countries where Islamization exists in more and more of an aggressive way, like some countries in Africa and Israel where there were however very peaceful coexistences between Muslims and their Christian neighbours. There were even situations where our Muslim brothers helped Christians to construct churches.
As for the priorities according to different types of projects, well, the number one priority is formation. I am speaking of the formation of future priests and religious sisters, but also of laypeople and catechists, and even sometimes students of theology – that is to say all formation which helps to deepen faith and to evangelize. And, we must very well consider the shelter required for seminarians. In order to do so, we help with the construction of seminaries; whereas in Vietnam, for example, we provide a means of transportation such as motorbikes for novices who are called to work in faraway parishes. We also have publications such as the Child’s Bible and the Little Catechism “I Believe” which we provide in over 150 languages. Moreover, in recent years, we received many requests for the Youth Catechism called the YOUCAT, which is also offered in many languages.
How do you hope to help the Church in Nigeria?
In order to answer, I must speak of the North of Nigeria, where there are many animists and where there are equally more and more terrorist attacks made by Boko Haram. This is why, as the first order, we hope to have exchanges with the bishops and others who are responsible within the Catholic Church to better know their needs and better evaluate the current situation. We also want know the status of the projects we have supported. I am thinking here, for example, of a construction project to enlarge the Grand Seminary in the Archdiocese of Kaduna where the Church has the grace of having more and more seminarians, but not enough dormitories to lodge them in.
How are religions spread out in Nigeria?
In general, we can say that the South is mainly Christian, whereas the North is mostly Muslim. Between the two are also animists who belong to traditional religions. Until recently, their coexistence was rather good and we even found some families made-up of Christians and of Muslims. However, the apparition of Boko Haram caused alot of harm, killing and wounding many people – as many Christians as Muslims, creating thus a great deal of tension. At present, the bishops and religious Muslim leaders are dialoguing in an effort to find solutions and avoid yet greater divisions amidst the population.
Do local Muslims condemn the acts posed by Boko Haram?
Certainly! In the media, we can see the condemnations clearly set forth by the Muslim communities in reaction to these acts. The great majority do not accept the violent acts of Boko Haram that many among them have actually been victim to. It must be made clear, however, that Boko Haram is attacking everything that comes from the West, and for them, being Christian is representative of the West.
Would you be able to recall for us a few of the attacks claimed by Boko Haram?
Spontaneously, I can recall two grave attacks. The first happened on December 25, 2011, at the St Teresa of Madalla Church in the diocese of Minna. As the Mass ended, a bomb exploded killing 44 and many more were wounded. And then, one Sunday, in March 2012, in a church which is part of the Archdiocese of Jos, as the parishioners were leaving after Mass, there was an attack which caused the death of 10 people. These unexpected attacks shocked the entire population. Lastly, more recently, in mid-April, in the small village of Paga, in the state of Borno in the northeastern part of the country, bordering Chad and Niger, there was an attack which caused 185 deaths.
Would you say that the government has the will to put an end to the terrorist acts led by Boko Haram?
There have been a few attempts at dialogue with Boko Haram, the first of which failed and more recently, Nigeria’s president tried to reach them, but, it is difficult to specify the results of all that. However, the Church, for her part, in keeping with her Faith, has a great desire to forgive and to dialogue with the Muslim communities and to find common solutions. It is very important for the stability of the region.
And what are the bishops saying about the situation facing the problems with Boko Haram?
It is very clear to them that this is not a war about religion. According to them, it is truly terrorists who are using religion as a pretext to justify the violence. It must be said that this region is a very poor one, even if Nigeria is about to become one of the richest countries in Africa with all their petrol. But this money does not benefit the poor. And so, we evaluated that 70% Nigeria’s population is poor. This great difference between rich and poor causes violent reactions. When nothing changes, groups form and react with violence before these injustices.
With all these years of service behind you and the important responsibilities that your position requires, you have been called to travel on many occasions. If I asked you to tell of the most difficult experience that you had to live through, spontaneously, what would you tell us about?
I am reminded of a trip to China where many priests and religious sisters had gone missing and where I met a very young bishop who was chosen by the Pope, but not by the government. He suffered greatly because of this, even if he is now accepted by the government but, nonetheless, constantly under their surveillance. I asked him how he managed to live under such conditions. He answered me, crying, that he often felt isolated and that he found it difficult. However, with courage, he continues to take care of his faithful. This is why I think that it is very important to pray for our brothers and sisters in these Churches who suffer and who are persecuted. It helps them come out of isolation and gives them a lot of strength.
And on the other hand, if I asked you to tell us about one of your loveliest memories…
Oh! That is very difficult! There are many, but I think they are all of the same kind. I mean to say that I have often been impressed by the faith in people that I have met. They are often humble people, with little education and living in difficult situations, such as in China, or in Pakistan or Iraq; these are people who accept suffering because of their Faith.
I am reminded, among other, of a Pakistani man who was accused of having burned pages of the Qur’an. This man did not know how to read or write. He was arrested and tortured after refusing to convert to Islam. And, when I asked him why he refused, he simply responded: “Christ suffered a great deal more than me.” This kind of answer always challenges my own faith. I ask myself if I would be able to hold on like they do. They are a great inspiration.