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Colosseum to be lit red for persecuted Christians

by Hannah Brockhaus

(Credit: Ruslan Kalnitsky/Shutterstock.)

ROME – The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution.

Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.

The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.

Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”

“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”

Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said.

Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”

The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.

China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”

The Middle East is a major focus for the report.

“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”

The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.

Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.

ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.

Source: CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY



MPs call for ‘declaration of famine’ in North Darfur

By L FASHER

A woman farmer in Darfur (file photo)

Members of the North Darfur Parliament have urged the local government to declare famine in the state. They criticised the authorities for their silence about the deteriorating living conditions and the growing corruption in the region.

About 1,000 people died from hunger and tuberculosis in El Hara and Ein Bassar, north of Jebel Meidob, during the past few months, MP Mahasin Abakar told reporters in the North Darfur capital of El Fasher last week.

She explained that in addition to bread, most people in El Malha locality cannot afford to buy sorghum any more, as the price of the native staple food reached SDG 2,000 ($ 110*) per 100 kg.

According to MP Hari Khamees Arbab school children in a number of localities go to the valleys in the morning to eat wild berries for breakfast.

Food gap

The MPs held a press conference on Thursday after discussing statements of the North Darfur Minister of Finance, Mohamed Yahya Hamid on the economic crisis and the measures taken by the Ministry to support the poorest in the state.

They called on the North Darfur government to immediately intervene to face the threat of famine in a number of localities, and take action to stop the corruption concerning the distribution of food.

In particular people in the northern and eastern parts of the state are hit by a food gap, they said. They further mentioned the shortage of electricity and fuel, and a significant decrease in services.

Suleiman Mukhtar, MP for El Taweisha constituency, pointed to the poor sorghum and millet harvests in the areas of Koraya Laban, Um Katkut and Jabir. He told the press in El Fasher they had notified the state government already in September that the agricultural season failed because of the poor rainfall.

MP Ali El Siddig stressed the rapid decrease in services in North Darfur, especially water and electricity. He accused the North Darfur government of being “too weak and too late to tackle the current economic crisis and ease the burden of living for the Sudanese”.

Corruption

The MPs further complained about the considerable manipulation and corruption by employees of the state Ministry of Social Affairs and members of the committees distributing relief goods.

This means that most of the poor are not supported by the Ministry, they said. Most of the sugar is sold on the black market.

The measures taken by the state government to ease the burden of living is “only ink on paper,” they commented. They called on the Ministry of Finance to control the prices of the basic commodities on the markets.

Price hikes

In early January, the Sudanese government implemented new austerity measures. In addition to increased levies and taxes imposed on traders and citizens, the customs rate of the US Dollar was raised from SDG 6.7 to SDG 18.

The prices of the main consumer goods immediately doubled or even tripled. As the government completely cut its wheat subsidies, the price of flour increased with 233 per cent. Bakeries began to sell smaller loafes of bread for double the price.

The rapid plummeting of the Sudanese Pound on the Khartoum parallel forex market continues. The US Dollar rate on the black market increased from SDG 28 (January 3) to SDG 42 (February 4).

Agricultural season

In December last year, members of Sudan’s federal Parliament warned for a food gap in the country. Poor rainfall in El Gedaref, Blue Nile, Darfur, and Kordofan states that year caused poor sorghum and millet harvests.

In addition, 25 per cent of the country’s strategic crop stocks were damaged last year because of poor storage techniques.

MP Mahmoud Abdeljabar called for a stop on the export of strategic sorghum stocks, as “Consumers will not be able to afford the food prices.

“A sack of millet costs SDG1,200 and is expected to amount to SDG1,500 in the coming months,” he said.

Source: Dabanga



Nigeria: 9 churches burnt down and Christian students attacked as violence continues

 

Nine out of 11 stores where Christian students keep their musical instruments were set ablaze at the Modibbo Adama University of Technology of Yola. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

 

In Nigeria, a new wave of attacks has seen dozens killed in Christian communities across the country.

The violence has hit the north-eastern state of Adamawa, one of the most affected by Boko Haram, and also the Middle Belt states of Nasarawa and Benue, where Fulani herdsmen have caused havoc in recent years.

In Adamawa state, a Christian student was killed, and others injured, in an attack by Muslim students at the Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH) of Yola, the state capital, on 4 February.

A local source, who wanted to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor that the incident started around 7pm, as some students were in their classes, revising ahead of their exams scheduled the following day.

Other students were holding their fellowships in various places across the campus, when suddenly, a mob of fellow students, armed with sticks and machetes and chanting “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest), stormed the classrooms.

Christian students in one of the lecture theatres (Lecture Room LT2) were forced to flee after their room was set ablaze. They ran immediately to a Catholic church (still on the campus), where other students were having their fellowship, to prevent the assailants from attacking and setting it on fire.

Other students who were having their fellowship in another church, the Trinity Chapel (also on the campus), had to come out immediately to help.

Erick McBen Kyari, 25, a second-year Urban and Regional Planning student, was attacked, along with three other students. They were helping to evacuate other injured fellow students when he was hit on the head with machetes and sticks. He later succumbed to his wounds.

His funeral was held yesterday (8 February) at ECWA Bishara 1 Church, in Yola.

Erick McBen Kyari, fatally wounded on 4 February. (Photo: CAN)

The assailants also destroyed nine out of 11 stores where Christian students keep their musical instruments, setting them ablaze.

The Muslim students said they were angered by a message posted by a Christian student on Facebook on 18 December 2017. They said the message was an insult to their prophet, Muhammad.

In a message posted on Facebook, they warned the management that it had 24 hours to respond or they “will do whatever they feel it’s right for them and nobody will stop”.

The Christian student accused of posting the blasphemous message denied any wrongdoing.

Ajine Delo, President of the Youth Fellowship of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for Adamawa state, told World Watch Monitor that the accusation of blasphemy was only an excuse to attack Christian students.

“At the time of the attack, there was no single Muslim female student at the campus,” he said. “They have all left since Friday, but nobody informed the Christian students.

“The assailants may have been angered by the elections of the Student Union Government (SGU) leadership, held on 29 January 2018. The results had seen the emergence of Christian students on almost all the positions of the Union.”

The university management condemned the violence and announced the closure of the university.

Fulani violence continues

Meanwhile, at least 30 people were killed in two separate attacks by armed men, believed to be Fulani herdsmen, against Christian communities in Song LGA, also in Adamawa state.

On Friday 2 February, the assailants attacked and burnt down Shimba and Shiure villages. Two days later (4 February), they attacked and burnt down Tinde and Dumne villages.

Aftermath of Fulani attack on Shimba village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The second attack took place in broad daylight, as people were about to go to church, a local source told World Watch Monitor.

He said the assailants chased and killed many innocent people. They also burned down lots of properties, including nine churches.

“Despite several calls to the governor and his deputy, and other security apparatus, the government remained silent as the atrocities continued,” the source said. “The Fulani were able to carry out their deadly attack. They stayed for hours in the vicinity, moving at will, unchallenged.”

Nasarawa

In the central state of Nasarawa, some 25 villages have been destroyed since 15 January, as Nigeria’s Daily Post reported. The inhabitants of the affected villages are predominantly Christian farmers from the Tiv ethnic group.

An umbrella group, ‘Concerned Indigenous Tiv People’, has accused the authorities of not doing enough to protect their communities.

In a statement, the group wrote: “Since the outbreak of the crisis on the 15th January, this year, due to the Fulani/herdsmen attack on our villages, leading to the displacement of Tiv in their ancestral homes, the Nasarawa State Governor, Tanko Almakura, has done very little to bring the situation under control.”

Benue

Two people were killed, and many others sustained serious injuries, in a fresh attack attributed to Fulani herdsmen in Waku village, Guma Local Government area, on 6 February. According to local media, several houses were set ablaze in the village.

Benue state has been among the worst affected by Fulani herdsmen attacks in recent months. On 11 January, 73 people were buried during state-organised mass funerals following violence over the New Year in Makurdi, Benue’s capital.
The ongoing violence has prompted the state’s governor, Samuel Ortom, on Tuesday 6 February to call on the people of the state to defend themselves from herdsmen attacks.

“I think the people should have the right to defend themselves and not make themselves easy prey to be killed in their homes,” said Orton. “So any lawful means, you can adapt to defend yourself, just go ahead in Benue state. We are not going to wait for the Inspector General of Police to do it.”

On Wednesday (7 February) the Nigerian Army said it would send troops into the restive Middle Belt region. According to an Army spokesman, Major General David Ahmadu, the deployment will start from 15 February, and will crack down on “herdsmen/farmers clashes and attacks on innocent members of our communities, particularly in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa state, by armed militias”.

 

Source: World Watch Monitor



More than 300 child soldiers released by armed groups in South Sudan – UN mission

A 15-year-old boy, former child soldier on his way to school in a South Sudan town. (file)

Some 300 child soldiers, including 87 girls, were formally released by armed groups in South Sudan, the United Nations mission in the country reported on Wednesday, calling on all stakeholders to support the young people on the journey back to their communities and help them build a future for themselves.

“Children should not be carrying guns and killing each other. They should be playing, learning, having fun with friends, protected and cherished by the adults around them,” said David Shearer, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for South Sudan, welcoming the release.

Undertaken in Yambio (south-western South Sudan), it is the first such release in over a year and marks the first phase of the overall programme which will see more than 700 children return back to their communities.

“They will have endured suffering, including sexual abuse. It is vital that they receive the support they need to re-join their communities and that they are welcomed home by family and friends without any sense of stigma,” added Mr. Shearer

At a formal ceremony, the children were disarmed and were provided with civilian clothes as well as medical screenings. In the days to come, agencies, such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local partners will provide them with counselling and psychosocial support as part of the reintegration programme.

According to UNICEF, the children with relatives in area will be reunited with their families, while others will be placed in interim care centres until their families can be traced. They will also be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance and with vocational training and age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centres to help reach their full potential.

“Not all children are forcibly recruited. Many joined armed groups because they feel they had no other option,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, the head of UNICEF programmes in South Sudan.

“Our priority for this group – and for children across South Sudan – is to provide the support they need so they are able to see a more promising future.”

Together with UNICEF, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other UN agencies have been working to bring the release to light.

Given the volatile security situation, the UN Mission deployed peacekeeping troops to escort religious leaders into remote bush areas to make contact and negotiate with the armed groups. It also sent engineers to repair a road between Yambio and a vocational training centre nearby to make sure that the young people can travel safely for training programmes.

Noting in particular, the work of the religious leaders, Mr. Shearer added: “I would like to pay particular credit to religious leaders who travelled into conflict zones and risked their own lives to bring these children to safety.”

However, in spite of this release, some 19,000 children continue to be used by armed forces and groups more than four years after conflict erupted in December 2013. Release efforts have also been also complicated by fighting as the one witnessed in the region in July 2016 that stalled the momentum.

Source: UN



Don’t pray for Kim Jong-Un’s demise say Christians in North Korea

The North Korean missile crisis must be turned into a rallying cry for prayer for persecuted Christians in that country, says Release International, which supports Christians under pressure around the world.

North Korea is staging a massive show of military might ahead of the Winter Olympics. It’s brought forward its annual display of thousands of troops, tanks and missiles to February 8 – the day before the Olympics across the border in South Korea.

The muscle-flexing has been described as grandstanding in a crisis that could threaten nuclear war – but Release International says the crisis should be turned into a rallying cry for prayer for the persecuted.

‘North Korea is probably the harshest persecutor of Christians on the face of the earth,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson.

‘People have been asking whether the crisis is making things worse for Christians in North Korea. But it is hard to imagine how things could get any worse. North Korea doesn’t just persecute Christians – it executes them. This crisis should give us the impetus to pray for the persecuted in that country.’

According to reliable estimates, there are 100,000 Christians In North Korea. 30,000 have been rounded up into concentration camps, on charges of sedition ­– conspiracy against the state. No Christian activity is tolerated other than for propaganda purposes. Today, state surveillance of Christians in North Korea has never been tighter.

‘Our partners working daily with North Korean Christians see the current crisis as a sharp reminder to pray for them. The world may feel on a knife-edge with nuclear missiles pointing in every direction, but the threat of extermination is the daily reality for North Korean Christians,’ says Paul Robinson.

Release Partner Dr Eric Foley, who works with North Korean refugees, says we must do more than pray for tensions to ease and a return to the status quo:
‘When those missiles are pointed at us, should we simply pray that things are returned to the way they were before? No! The status quo means Christians experience torture and imprisonment for the sake of their faith.

‘The focus of the world should not simply be on restoring a situation that is stable for us but unacceptable for Christians. We should pray that it becomes possible for the first time in their lives for Christians in North Korea to practise their faith without recrimination.
‘These missiles should remind us how little attention we pay to North Korean Christians. We need to repent and say, “Lord, forgive us for not being more attentive to our brothers and sisters in the most persecuting country on earth.”

‘As we are in danger, let us remember those who have lived in constant danger for more than 70 years. The international community may be on a knife’s edge right now, but to be a Christian in North Korea is to live on that knife’s edge.’

In praying for North Korea, it can be tempting to pray that Kim Jung-Un is removed from power, but if Kim falls others will take his place, and that is not the way North Korean Christians are praying, says Dr Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs, Korea:
‘I have never encountered a North Korean Christian who has prayed for the regime to be overthrown – not once in 15 years. Underground Christians are praying that Kim Jong-Un will come to know Christ.

‘Perhaps North Korean Christians know better than the rest of us, that it is not a change of government that will bring peace, but the entry of the Prince of Peace into our hearts. We should follow their lead and pray not for regime change, but for a change of the heart of the regime.’

Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.

Source: Release International