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Cardinal says world leaders sidestepping persecution of Christians

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PEAPACK, N.J. —Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien told Catholics gathered for Mass and a symposium in the Metuchen Diocese that “the enormity of today’s modern Christian genocide is possibly the worst and bloodiest in church history.”

“The situation in Africa, Asia and the Middle East is conveniently sidestepped by the world’s leaders, even those in Washington,” the cardinal said in his homily during the Aug. 8 Mass at St. Brigid Church in Peapack. “We give God thanks for the grace that continues to nourish and strengthen them.”

Cardinal O’Brien, who is grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, gathered for a Mass with the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre for what was believed to be the first time for the diocese the grand master had gathered with members of the order.

When Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio welcomed the cardinal on such “a historic day for the diocese,” he told those assembled that “a Christian is killed every hour, 365 days a year, because of their faith.”

Resplendent in capes and berets, the Knights and Ladies led a procession for the Mass. The group included Lt. Vicki Downey, head of the order’s Eastern Lieutenancy, which has headquarters in New York, Bishop Checchio, retired Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, St. Brigid pastor Msgr. Edward Puleo, and more than a dozen priests from around the diocese.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Brien quoted from “The Road to Character,” a book by New York Times columnist David Brooks, to explain why people persisted in faith despite persecution and suffering.

“Brooks reminded us, ‘People are beginning to feel a call; they are not masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. They feel they must participate together in responding to the challenge,’” Cardinal O’Brien said. “Isn’t that precisely what brings us here together, in the face of an enormous, ongoing, senseless and seemingly endless persecution of our suffering believers around the world?”

Christ passed the test of suffering, the cardinal reminded the congregation, and he can help us and those persecuted for the faith in other lands do the same. It is our responsibility to speak out and pray for them.

“When they ask the heavenly Father for bread, he will not give them stone, or when they ask for fish, he will not give them a serpent,” Cardinal O’Brien said. “We feel their pain, and we must together respond. Our unity with them in the body of Christ demands we support them spiritually, purposely, and share in their suffering.”

Acknowledging the dozens of Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre seated before him, Cardinal O’Brien said, “May the prayers and petitions of our worldwide order echo in every heart. We are in solidarity with these martyrs. May their witness give new life in us to our people of faith.”

The symposium following Mass was sponsored by the Anglosphere Society, a nonprofit membership organization formed in 2012 to promote the defense of religious freedom in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Panelists included human rights lawyer and international Christian religious freedom advocate Nina Shea; Father Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org, a charity to aid and advocate for persecuted Christians; and Anglosphere founder Amanda Bowman, a member of St. Elizabeth-St. Brigid Parish, who served as moderator and asserted, “Evil must be confronted; mere words have never stopped homicide.”

Shea and Father Kiely held their listeners spellbound as they cited facts and anecdotes on the torture, seizure of private property and destruction of many houses of worship affecting Christians worldwide.

Noting that the symposium was taking place on the third anniversary of the conquering of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Shea said: “It has gone way beyond persecution, it is genocide. It is getting a bit better in this post-ISIS era: the imminent threat of death is gone, but (the Christians) cannot return to their homes.”

Shea reminded the assembly that these Christians could trace the roots of their faith to St. Thomas, but a population of 1.4 million Christians has dispersed and now fewer than 200,000 remain.

“In three years, they have not seen any of the $1.4 billion in aid from the United States,” she said. “We need to put the aid into reconstruction, but it will be tough putting Humpty Dumpty back together again; 82 percent of the Christians have left or died.”

The Knights of Columbus recently pledged $2 million dollars toward reconstruction of a Christian town in Iraq, Shea said, but “safety is dire, and Christian lands are being colonized by Iraqi militia. Whatever we do as Catholics –- prayer, petition, vote, speak with our senators, make donations – will help. Today, there are more martyrs than in the Roman period.”

Father Kiely shared his transformation from a Vermont-based parish priest to an advocate for the persecuted, and said, “I was called to spend the rest of my priesthood doing this.” He said that “the government has a strong hatred of Christians; only the church has been feeding and clothing these people for three years.”

Despite their persecution, Father Kiely said, “they would prefer death or giving up everything to losing their faith. From a spiritual perspective, they give us the intestinal fortitude and guts to stand up for faith.”

“Faith comes from them to us,” the priest continued. “They have a love of God and a deep pride in their heritage. They are the cradle of Christianity. Never let your own faith be weakened by what we have to suffer over here.”

The Anglosphere Society recommended using the acronym PRAY to help Christians worldwide. It stands for pray patiently but with perseverance; read about, research and respond to the needs of the persecuted; advocate and act so others become aware of the plight of persecuted Christians; and say yes by sharing time, talent and treasure on the Christians’ behalf.

“This will not go away,” Father Kiely said grimly. “This is happening in Nigeria, Pakistan, France, Germany … everywhere.”

By Christina Leslie

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Conflicts and drought mean famine looms for 20 million Africans

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Catholic News Service

Conflict and drought are threatening more than 20 million people in four countries with the prospect of famine, and the U.N. has called this food crisis the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was formed more than 70 years ago.

A man walks by a dead cow in Dong Boma, South Sudan, April 12. Up to 20 million people in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and northeast Nigeria face the prospect of famine this year. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Additional resources and funding are needed “to pull people back from the brink of famine” in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, the U.N. Security Council said in an Aug. 9 statement that commended efforts by international donors to provide humanitarian assistance for the crises in these countries.

Catholic church officials and representatives of Catholic aid agencies spoke with Catholic News Service about the enormous efforts being channeled into meeting the needs of those most vulnerable.

Governments “are reducing aid, while needs are skyrocketing,” said Elizabeth Carosella, who works for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services in Abuja, Nigeria.

Humans cannot control the weather patterns, such as drought. But increasingly, aid officials find access to areas of need blocked by ongoing conflicts or inaccessible because of poor infrastructure.

Yemen situation ‘horrific

Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, was Save the Children’s country director in Yemen until mid-2014. He called the situation in Yemen “horrific,” a famine that is entirely man-made. Seventy percent of the country’s 14 million people need some form of humanitarian aid.

Yemen has relied entirely on imported food since 1991 and “now it is sealed off from the rest of the world,” Farrell said. Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2015, which includes a Saudi-led blockade of the country.

Yemen’s food system has collapsed, Farrell said, noting that even hospitals have been bombed, and it is “as difficult to get medical supplies into the country as it is to get food in.”

The World Health Organization reports 436,000 cases of cholera in Yemen.

Bishop Paul Hinder, who heads the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, told CNS that the blockade of Yemen hinders the reconstruction of the destroyed sanitary system.

“As long as the minimal infrastructure in many parts of the country is not functioning, we cannot expect that the cholera can be stopped” or that “the starving people” can be properly fed, Bishop Hinder said.

“Without bringing people again around the table” to agree on a cease-fire, “there will be only killing and destruction with disastrous consequences for the civilian population,” he said.

“As the church is reduced to a tiny group without any structure, little can be done from our side at present,” he said.

“As I believe in the power of the prayer, I can only ask the faithful around the world to keep in mind the suffering people in Yemen — Muslims as well as the few remaining Christians, including the Missionaries of Charity,” Bishop Hinder said.

2 million face famine in South Sudan

In South Sudan, nearly 2 million people are on the cusp of famine, Farrell said, and it is hard to get food to the hungry because the country has “virtually no infrastructure.” South Sudan, a country slightly smaller than Texas, has only 12,000 miles of road, which is “more like track than road,” said Farrell, noting that”the lack of infrastructure can’t be separated from the conflict.”

In the fertile land of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, which has avoided the drought afflicting other parts of the country, little grows because of the war, he said. And even if the residents were still able to grow mangoes and papayas in this “breathtakingly beautiful place,” there are no roads to get any excess food to people outside, he said.

“Fresh food rots because it takes weeks to get it out of there with tracks to follow instead of roads, and one can expect frequent ambushes along the way,” Farrell said.

In distributing food airdropped by the World Food Program, CRS finds “some places very difficult to get to because of active conflict,” he said. Other places are unreachable for many months because of flooding. People often walk four or five miles to food distribution points in South Sudan, he added.

About 200,000 of the 2 million internally displaced people in South Sudan are in U.N.-run camps, Farrell said. The rest have fled into the bush or into neighboring communities, “and they all want to go home to their land.”

Farrell said the tragedy of South Sudan “tires me out more and fills me with more sorrow” than even Yemen’s situation did. In 2013, two years after gaining independence from Sudan, South Sudan was caught up in a civil war.

“South Sudan is a new country, rich in resources, and all this suffering is preventable,” said Farrell, who is based in the capital, Juba.

“Education is what matters most for young people because they will be the new leaders,” he said. Instead, because of the conflict and violence, all efforts need to be directed into emergency feeding programs, “while 75 percent of women in the country cannot read or write,” he said.

Maryknoll Father John Barth, who is based in Eastern Equatoria state, told CNS South Sudanese “are giving up hope and moving to the camps in northern Uganda by the thousands; I see them along the road when I drive back and forth across the border.”

Uganda is hosting about 1 million refugees from South Sudan. They move because “they have no food,” Father Barth said.

Teachers and others with government jobs have not been paid their monthly salaries in five months, and “even if they had been paid it would be the equivalent of about $6, because the 500 percent inflation has ruined the value of the South Sudanese pound,” Father Barth said.

In Nigeria, 5 million need emergency food aid

In northeastern Nigeria, the effects of violent conflict as well as changing weather patterns have exacerbated poverty and led to 5 million people in need of emergency food aid, Carosella told CNS, noting that deaths from famine-related causes have already occurred in Borno state. Since 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million forced to flee their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

Carosella said while the severity of the region’s hunger crisis is caused by conflict, the shorter rainy season of recent years has dramatically reduced harvests, and much of Lake Chad has dried up, partly because of shifting climate patterns.

Many of those forced to flee the violence have sought refuge among communities in remote rural areas, she said, noting that these communities are themselves among the most vulnerable in the region and depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Remote rural communities hosting people displaced by Boko Haram attacks have been “immensely generous despite their own poverty,” she said.

Carosella said Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, “used to be a trade hub, but its markets have been destroyed” by the Boko Haram attacks.

“People have lost their livelihoods and now can’t afford food and have no access to even basic services,” she said.

Even where food can be found, it is unaffordable for most people, she said.

Sometimes a very malnourished woman will sell part of her food ration for cash that will enable her to transport a sick child to a clinic, Carosella said.

“Having to make that choice is something no one should have to face,” she said.

She told of a 24-year-old woman she met at a hospital in Maiduguri.

“She fled her village with her four children, all under 5 years old, after seeing her husband and parents slaughtered” in an attack by Boko insurgents, Carosella said.

One of her children died in the 32 days it took her to walk to the hospital, where her “malnourished children were able to be rehabilitated,” Carosella said. “She was looking for livelihood opportunities when I met her,” she said, noting that “there are so many women in similar positions.”

Continuing conflict in Somalia

Somalia’s “continuous conflict and instability,” along with changing weather patterns, are responsible for its current crisis, Lane Bunkers, CRS country representative for Kenya and Somalia, told CNS.

The conflict started in 1991 when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre, then turned on each other. Today, the security threat posed by al-Shabab activity in south-central Somalia makes it difficult for CRS and others running emergency food programs to reach remote rural communities, Bunkers said.

Somalia is a “very undeveloped country that relies on rain, with rain-fed pasturelands,” and there has been insufficient rain for two years in a row, Bunkers said.

Drought conditions in Somalia are expected to continue, and recovery will not be until at least 2018, CRS said in a statement. More than 766,000 people have been displaced by the drought since November, it said.

In south-central Somalia, which includes the capital, Mogadishu, CRS has civil society partners to channel its resources for humanitarian relief.

“Somalia has very well-organized communities,” Bunkers said, noting that local communities have “stepped in to fill the void in education and health services” in partnerships with international nongovernmental organizations.

Somalis are “entrepreneurial people in a desperately poor country,” which has exceptionally active markets, Bunkers said. This is “born out of necessity” in a country that has had no functioning government for close to three decades, he said.

Somalis’ “wealth is held in their herd of animals,” Bunkers said, noting that in times of drought, men leave women and children behind and follow their goats, sheep or camels, seeking water and grazing land.

“It’s very rare to resort to killing animals for food” in Somalia, Bunkers said.

To help families where animals are already in distress, some relief agencies “pay the farmer for his goat and have him slaughter it so that his family has something to eat,” he said.

“The farmers are then able to use the cash at the markets to replenish their livelihoods,” he said.

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Bishop briefs Tillerson on church’s interest in building the ‘common good’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church’s efforts toward building “the common good.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“After some small talk about Texas,” the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas.

Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know “that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don’t have ulterior motives,” and explaining the bishops’ peace and justice committee’s work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration.

“I have concerns,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good.

“We bring a unique perspective,” said Bishop Cantu. “One of our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes beyond our own church needs.”

Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church’s efforts in Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5 million lives in the region.

Because of the church’s humanitarian agencies, its solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said.

“He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things,” Bishop Cantu said.

“The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out to Central America and Mexico,” said Bishop Cantu.

He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to 28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department’s Food for Peace Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending.

Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church’s concerns with the proposed budget.

“We’re concerned about the very steep increase in the military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we’re very concerned about that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need to be stabilized,” he said, “that those are wise investments of time and funds.”

The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, “and that Christians don’t want to live in a ghetto. … They believe it’s important that they live in an integrated society that is safe and secure,” to have a voice in local, regional as well federal government. He said he also emphasized “the fact that the (Catholic) church in the Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia” and the importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria.

“Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of experience,” Bishop Cantu said. “We have our brothers and sisters there, the church, who do live there. The fact is that … we bring a trusted voice.

“We bring some wisdom to the conversation,” he added. “Our vision is to build a society that’s stable, that’s just, that’s peaceful, and ultimately, that’s the goal of the state department … and so I think that’s why our voice is valuable to them.”

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Pope calls on world to help Africans in desert region

February 10th, 2012 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to address the problems of poverty and malnutrition in Africa’s Sahel region.

“The Sahel was seriously threatened again in recent months by a notable decrease in food resources and by famine caused by a lack of rain and the resulting increase in desertification,” the pope told members of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel Feb. 10.

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Pope expresses concern for Africa’s educational crisis

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In his document on the church in Africa, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the educational crisis on the continent, calling high illiteracy rates “a scourge on par with that of pandemics.”

“True, it does not kill directly, but it contributes actively to the marginalization of the person — which is a form of social death — and it blocks access to knowledge,” the pope said.

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In Benin, pope asks church to care for ‘the poor, the weak, the outcast’

November 21st, 2011 Posted in Featured, International News Tags: , , , ,

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COTONOU, Benin — On a three-day visit to Benin, Pope Benedict XVI urged African Catholics to witness the hope of the Gospel in their daily lives and make the church a model of reconciliation for the entire continent.

In a particular way, the church must be “attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast,” the pope said at a Mass Nov. 20 for more than 50,000 people who filled a stadium in Cotonou.

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In Benin, pope urges Africans to uphold family values

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COTONOU, Benin — Arriving in Benin for a three-day visit, Pope Benedict XVI urged the African continent to protect its ancient values in the face of spiritual and ethical erosion.

“The transition to modernity must be guided by sure criteria based on recognized virtues … firmly rooted in the dignity of the person, the importance of the family and respect for life,” the pope said after arriving Nov. 18 at Cardinal Bernardin Gantin International Airport in Cotonou.

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Pope to outline church’s pastoral direction in Africa

November 10th, 2011 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , , ,

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Next week Pope Benedict will travel to Benin, Africa, where he's expected to highlight is pastoral plan for the continent. Above, African bishops process out of the Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican i 2009.CNS

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI is making his second trip as pope to Africa in mid-November, spending three days in Benin and presenting an important document on the future of the church on the continent.

Benin is a small West African nation with little international influence. But its 150-year history of Christianity, its multi-ethnic and multifaith identity, and its struggles for social justice make the country an ideal platform for the pope’s message.

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