Tuesday, 28 July 2015

"Dialogue with Islam to change the blasphemy law"

            "Christians in Pakistan are suffering because of the abuse of the blasphemy law. Also, when a Christian is accused, the entire community suffers serious consequences", says to Fides Father James Channan, a Dominican, director of the "Peace Center" in Lahore, who constantly works for interreligious dialogue, broadening the reflection on the case of Asia Bibi and all other Pakistani citizens, Christians and Muslims, innocent victims of the blasphemy law.
            Fr. Channan explains: "Christian minorities, such as Hindus and members of other minority faiths in Pakistan are often subject to discrimination and persecution. Being a non-Muslim in Pakistan is sometimes dangerous, especially because of the blasphemy laws".
To counter this situation, Father Channan has worked for years to develop good relations with the most important imams in Lahore, such as Abdul Khadir Azad, the Imam of the royal Mosque in Lahore. Thanks to good relationship, the two leaders have been working together to resolve situations of tension, such as the attack on the Christian "Joseph Colony" area in the heart of Lahore, in March 2013 and, most recently, the attack against the Christian community in the district of Sanda, Lahore. Both cases were generated by charges of blasphemy against a Christian.
            Imam Azad "agrees on necessary changes to the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse as a means of settling private disputes" notes Fr. Channan. This is why the work of Islamic-Christian dialogue, he concludes, is invaluable and necessary to advance ideas and actions designed to enhance interreligious harmony and to build broad consensus to reform the blasphemy law".  (Source: Agenzia Fides 22/07/2015)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

As health needs rise in Somalia, funding hits new low, cutting off 1.5 million from care – UN

24 July 2015 – Somalia – a country where every two hours a mother dies due to pregnancy complications – is facing cuts in life-saving health services because of the lowest funding levels in seven years, according to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).
World Health Organization (WHO) official, Dr. Ahmed El Ganainy, checks the eyes of a little girl during a joint humanitarian assessment mission to Marka, Somalia, on 9 July 2014. UN Photo/David Mutua
“We cannot afford to let the country slide back into a humanitarian crisis,” WHO Representative for Somalia Dr. Ghulam Popal said. “Otherwise, we would undermine all gains made until today.”
UN health partners in Somalia are expressing concern that they will face difficulties in continuing to provide life-saving health services at the scale required as a result of declining humanitarian funding for 2015 and the forecast for 2016, WHO warned in a press release issued Thursday.
The lack of funding for UN’s humanitarian response plan in 2015 has left more than 1.5 million people cut off from primary or secondary health care services, according to the press release. As of July 2015, out of a required $71.5 million, only $6.1 million (8.5 per cent) has been received, the lowest since 2008, despite ongoing early warnings and appeals for adequate funding.
According to WHO, there are currently 3.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Somalia, where every 2 hours a mother dies due to pregnancy complications, every hour, 8 Somali children below the age of 5 die; one in 4 children suffers from chronic malnourishment; and only 1 in 3 Somalis have access to safe water.
“Over the past 3 months, at least 10 hospitals in Somalia have either been closed or have majorly curtailed their services across the country, and at least 3 other hospitals are at risk of closure in the near future,” the agency said. “Basic health posts and clinics are currently struggling to meet primary health needs, and many aid agencies have withdrawn health workers from high-need areas.”
Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51495#.VbOPTvmqqko
This article from the UN News Centre highlights the sad effects on the Somali people due to lack of funding. The Catholic Church's charitable organization Caritas, which has a Somalia branch, offers many services and aid to the Somali people. If you wish to find out more, or to get involved in helping people, follow this link Caritas Somalia -RCMS

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Statement of the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions (CELRA)

NICOSIA – From July 6 to July 9, 2015, Bishops from the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Djibouti and Somalia had their annual meeting. Below is the communiqué they released at the end of the meeting.
Declaration of the bishops belonging to the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions (CELRA)
Our sixty-fifth meeting took place at the Franciscan convent of the Holy Cross in Nicosia (Cyprus), from July 6 to 9, 2015, with the participation of bishops coming from the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Djibouti and Somalia. We met Christian and Muslim religious leaders at the Maronite Archbishopric and sensed the ecumenical spirit among the various Christian Churches. We went on a pilgrimage to the Tomb of Saint Barnabas, apostle of Cyprus, and we prayed for an improvement in the relations between the Turkish and the Greek parts of the island. We paid a visit to the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostom II.
After a rich exchange about the pastoral situations in our respective countries, we studied four themes, which were proposed by the program: consecrated life, the future of the Christian community in the Middle East, the family and the Jubilee of Mercy.
  1. Consecrated life: The religious congregations, the new communities and the ecclesial movements present in our dioceses carry out much appreciated work, putting their evangelical charisma, composed of prayer, charity and communion, at the service of our Churches. While saluting these communities, which continue to work for peace and reconciliation in areas of conflict, we call on all religious communities to improve fluency in the local languages, enter into the culture of the people they want to serve and lovingly integrate even more fully into the local pastoral plan in order to provide even better service.
  2. The future of the Christian community: We, bishops, participate in the sufferings of our people in the areas where great political instability prevails. More than a year has passed since the Gaza war and the fall of Mosul as well as five months since the Arab coalition proclaimed war in Yemen, yet there is no sign or glimmer of hope. Despite the desperate situation of our communities in Syria and Iraq, we insist that our future depends on the quality of our faith. Furthermore, we are confident that interreligious dialogue can help to better coexistence with our Muslim brothers because there are many people of good will, who reject radicalism and intolerance and respect the freedom of conscience and religious pluralism.
Therefore, we reiterate what we wrote in our statement last year:
“No peace without justice as there is no justice without respect for human, social and religious rights. A true peace requires forgiveness and reconciliation. Otherwise, the same factors that produced the conflict will continue to generate more hatred and more wars.”
One cannot kill in the name of God, nor manipulate religion for political or economic interests, as every human being is entitled to respect regardless of his religious or ethnic affiliation or his minority status.
  1. In view of the forthcoming Synod on the family to be held in Rome during the month of October, we exchanged ideas about the beauty of the Christian family, willed by God according to the model of the Holy Family of Nazareth. We discussed the various challenges to the family in general, and especially those related to bio-ethics. We need to form couples to be open to life, the gift of God and the fruit of human love. We brought to mind those couples that are separated or in crisis. We expect much fruit from the upcoming Synod and invite our faithful to pray for the Synod Fathers so that the Lord might enlighten them in giving appropriate responses to the challenges and risks run by the institution of the family.
  2. We thank Pope Francis for having established a Year of Mercy in order to preach mercy to the whole world, inviting all urgently to conversion and reconciliation at all levels: individual, family, national and international. We will make a special effort to fully rediscover and enhance the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation and the practice of corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The bishops of the CELRA
Nicosia, July 9, 2015.

Monday, 20 July 2015

"The project of the Shabaab to liberate the north-east from non-Somalis continues" said the coadjutor Bishop of Garissa

Nairobi (Agenzia Fides) - "The goal of Shabaab is to 'liberate' the north-east of Kenya, inhabited by Kenyans of Somali origin, from the non-Muslims and non-Somalis", says to Agenzia Fides His Exc. Mgr. Joseph Alessandro, Coadjutor Bishop of Garissa, in north-eastern Kenya, bordering Somalia, where in the early hours of July 7, 14 people were killed and 11 wounded in an attack attributed to Shabaab Somalis.

"Just like the attacks that took place before, workers coming from other areas of Kenya, therefore non-Somalis and non-Muslims are being targeted. Unfortunately it seems that this strategy is having success", says the Bishop to Fides. "Already several non-local workers have fled from Mandera in recent months. The most affected sectors are health and education. Throughout the north-east education is in serious difficulty because of the lack of teachers, coming from other areas of the country, who refuse to go back to work there".

"We must say, however, that the Shabaab are also targeting several Muslim leaders who do not think like them and who support the government's action", added Mgr. Alessandro.

"If this project of 'ethnic and religious cleansing' were to be completed, the Shabaab will declare these territories as 'Islamic lands' and perhaps join the Caliphate. The government in Nairobi is trying to do everything possible so that Kenyans from other areas remain in the Northeast, because the whole area is likely to be destabilized", concluded Mgr. Alessandro.

In the area the Shabaab committed several attacks in November and December (see Fides 24/11/2014 and 02/12/2014), the bloodiest attack was committed in April at the university campus of Garissa, where 148 students were killed (see Fides 08/04/2015).

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

"Boko Haram wants to punish Muslims who rebel against their violence" - Nigeria

            The two recent attacks carried out by Boko Haram in the north eastern part of Nigeria killed 145 people of Muslim faith. "These terrible attacks against the Muslim community are signs of weakness and not of strength", says Fr. Patrick Tor Alumuku, Director of Social Communications of the Archdiocese of Abuja, capital of Nigeria.
The fiercest attack occurred in the village of Kukawa, near Lake Chad. According to witnesses, about fifty men opened fire on the faithful gathered in prayer in a village mosque. 97 died, including women and children.
            "The new President, Muhammadu Buhari, a devout Muslim, wants to defeat Boko Haram. Buhari appears more decided than the previous President, who was a Christian, in the fight against Boko Haram", said Fr. Patrick.

"The measures taken by the Head of State have put in serious difficulties the Islamist sect. For example the transfer of the command of military operations against Boko Haram from the federal capital, Abuja, to Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, is seen by Boko Haram as a non-acceptable challenge".
"All this - continues the priest - is putting Boko Haram in difficulty, especially since the Muslim communities are denouncing the atrocities committed by Islamists".
            "Faced with the rebellion of Muslim communities, Boko Haram has decided to punish them, because in their ideology you are either with them or against them. But in the end this is a sign of weakness and not of strength", concludes Fr. Patrick. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Christians organize the "banquet of unity" for Muslims on the occasion of Ramadan in Egypt

            Once again this year, according to custom, parishes and Christian families in Egypt organize spontaneously at the end of the day the so-called "banquet of unity", social occasions in particular offered to neighbors and fellow Muslims who in these weeks observe, from dawn to dusk, the fast prescribed in the holy month of Ramadan.
            In recent weeks, some representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church had given the general guideline to use the resources allocated to banquets to finance social projects and assistance, beginning with those of the Fund "Long live Egypt", launched by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after his election. It does not seem, however, that the official solicitation was followed at a capillary level. The sites related to the Coptic community describe the special initiatives taken such as scout groups that distribute food and drinks to their Muslim neighbors.
            "The practice of organizing banquets and distributing snacks - explains Anba Antonios Aziz Mina, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Guizeh - is just one of the ways of ‘how Christians show their participation during Ramadan’. During work, Christians too make fast, abstaining from food and water for respect and solidarity towards fellow Muslims".  (Source: Agenzia Fides)

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

One Year Later: Rising from the Ashes after Brutal Al-Shabaab Attack in Kenya

Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa
7/6/15 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - Samuel Kang'ethe bears the scars of a gunshot wound to the abdomen that he sustained one year ago when Islamist al-Shabaab militants assaulted his home village of Malamande, Kenya, murdering all of the grown men present and torching the town. On the night of July 5, 2014, Kang'ethe dragged himself to the nearest bush to hide, fearing for his life, bleeding from his abdomen after being shot and witnessing his father's murder.

"The gang of about 15 men knocked at our door and my father opened. He was pushed back into his bed, tied up and shot 6 times at the head and 2 times at the back," he remembers.

"They ordered my mother to get out and sit down. They piled clothes on my father and set him on fire. I escaped through the window but unfortunately, the gunmen spotted me and I was shot on my stomach. I dragged myself in to the bushes and made a call for help to the nearest police post. We did not get immediate help until morning when I was taken to the hospital,"
he recounted. 
Remembering the Tragic Attack
Today, International Christian Concern (ICC) marks the tragic anniversary of al-Shabaab's attack on Malamade, a tiny village outside of Hindi town where militants murdered Christians who refused to convert to Islam.

At around 11 p.m., 15 gunmen started shooting throughout the village and killed 15 people, leaving nine widows and several children fatherless.  Their main target was adult men whom al-Shabaab executed by either tying them up before shooting them or slashing their throats.
Those who managed to escape hid in the bush until morning, only to wake up homeless, their houses, church, and school burned while many of their friends and neighbors lay dead, murdered because of their faithfulness to Jesus.

Altogether, 20 houses were razed during the attack. The scene told several stories of Christians murdered for Christ, like Kenya Kazungu, who was shot in the back four times and his Bible piled onto his corpse.
"They coerced me to convert to Islam or else they burn the house, school and the church," the town's pastor Elizabeth Odipo told ICC's Kenya representative. "When I declined, they ordered me to take my 2 granddaughters out of the house after which they set ablaze the house and left. They proceeded to the primary school and burnt all the stationary and desks. When they were done with the school they went to the village church, spent 1 hour playing the drums, and later burnt it to ashes," Odipo said.
Even a year later, the villagers still bear the burden of the attack. Life has proved especially difficult for mothers and children who lost their husbands and fathers.

Salome's husband Stephen was brutally murdered that night. "Life has not been easy after the attack especially staying in a rented house, staying without food and staying away from our friends and neigbours," she said.
Rebuilding Hope
The townspeople have persevered through fear, hunger, sickness, and trauma, but their faith is left unshaken.

ICC is working with local partners to rebuild hope through home reconstruction for 15 families whose houses were burned down. Brothers and sisters in Christ have discovered new joy looking forward to God's provision of shelter and are returning to their farming and business activities.
"Our hope to return to our homes has been rekindled and we thank God for using the ICC in such an incredible way," said Eunice Njeri whose house is being rebuilt. "This is a new day that the Lord has made and we are extremely happy about owning new houses."
Before the attack, Malamande was a vibrant village with bustling crop trade and several small businesses operating, but the assault on the town  changed that overnight. With Malamande rebuilt, the Christians there will be able to return to their farms and business and the local school will reopen.

"I am a happy man once again. I had lost hope in life after my house and shop were burnt down by al-Shabaab. But now I have a house and soon I will resume my retail shop," said Joseph Muchemi.
As we remember the attack one year later, the victims commemorate their deceased family members and friends and thank God for the help from brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

"Do not lose hope"

The exhortation of Mgr. Pante to 600,000 refugees welcomed in Kenya

            "Every 15 minutes a person becomes displaced in the world", recalled His Exc. Mgr. Virgilio Pante, Bishop of Maralal and Vice President of the Commission for Refugees and Migrants of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, during his homily for the World Day of Migrants, which fell on June 20. The Mass was attended by refugees living in Kenya from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan.
            Mgr. Pante urged refugees not to lose hope despite the difficulties they face every day, and recalled: "Be strong in faith and believe in God. Remember that even Jesus Christ sought refuge in Africa". The Bishop also appealed to Kenyans to avoid tribalism and racism, and instead help refugees to have access to school and work.
            Mgr. Pante finally asked the Kenyan government to allow the voluntary repatriation of Somalis who wish to return home, but not to expel by force the Somalis who do not want to do it.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kenya welcomes 600,000 refugees. Out of 50 million refugees in the world, Kenya is the fourth host country with regard to the total number of refugees, after Pakistan, Iran and Germany. (Source: Agenzia Fides June 23, 2015)