Last week, ACNUSA staff had the privilege of welcoming Anto Akkara, a veteran Catholic journalist from India, and a dear friend. Anto had come to the US to tell the story of the martyrs of Kandhamal, a jungle region in the east of India where five years ago 100 Christians died for their faith; survivors of the massacre still live in fear and great difficulty, many of them permanently banished from their homes and forced to live in poverty.
Anto has spent extraordinary amounts of time and treasure to chronicle the horrors and to help bring the perpetrators to justice. He just published “Early Christians of 21st Century,” his fourth book on the massacre, which tells the story in agonizing detail. Anto’s witness and commitment are extraordinary—his passionate presentation left us stunned, numb, but also fired up and grateful for the opportunity we have to help the persecuted and suffering Church through the work of ACNUSA. To this we are called—in prayer and through our gifts to ensure those living in darkness and fear that they are not alone, that we will not forget them.
The title of Anto’s new book is telling—these were martyrs for the faith. The great majority of those who perished died not because they were Christian, Anto insists—as is the case in Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Kenya and elsewhere—but “because they refused to renounce their faith.” This is what happened. A Kandhamal man of dubious background reinvented himself as a swami or Hindu holy man and made it his business for decades to eradicate Christianity from the district, where 20 percent of the population is Christian. (Nationally, Christians account for less than 2.5 percent of the population.) In August of 2008 the man was murdered and Christians were quickly blamed.
A mob of his followers took his body and crisscrossed the district, stopping in front of churches to denigrate and threaten believers. This was their message: “Hindus worship cows, but Christians eat cows. So, we must treat Christians like they treat cows.” These ominous words were carried out quite literally as faithful were cut into pieces, stoned to death, tied to trees and burned alive; a young nun was raped to applause of the crowd, a priest forced to watch. Each and every church in Kandhamal, 300 in all, was destroyed, along with 6000 homes of Christian families, leaving 56,000 homeless. Local police stood by.
Again and again Anto told us: these people had a choice; they could have been spared their fate by agreeing to reconvert to Hinduism; they refused to give up their faith in Christ, which would have involved a humiliating, denigrating ceremony in Hindu temples, the centerpiece of which is the drinking of “cow dung water” as a means of purification.
In many cases, remains were burned or otherwise disposed of to not leave a trace and prevent the families of victims to claim government compensation. In time, Christians identified more than 80,000 people as perpetrators, but police only managed to find 3,200 of them. Due to police inaction and the intimidation of witnesses, the investigation—which is ongoing—has so far only produced two convictions for murder and 75 convictions for violence. Anto, who has gained national attention for his efforts, including the support of major political leaders, will do what it takes to see that justice is done. That the process is far from over is evident from the sentencing just last week of seven Christians from Kandhamal, convicted of murdering the notorious Swami, a travesty of justice, as the local bishop affirmed. “There was not a shred of evidence against them,” said Anto.
But “mysterious are the ways of God,” a proclamation with which Anto signs his emails. The incredible bravery and witness of these believers has been producing incredible fruit. Anto, a seasoned journalist committed to the facts, confidently reports on a miraculous healing, as well as a rosary and a pectoral cross that survived the torching of a church completely intact. More amazingly still, a number of the swami’s henchmen have themselves become Christians, drawing the ire of fanatical Hindus themselves. One particularly brutal persecutor of the faithful was nearly bludgeoned to death and blinded. “I want to do Christ’s work,” the man said.
Anto has spoken with numerous brave Christians, asking them over and over again: “was it worth it to refuse becoming a Hindu again? You could be living in comfort, but instead you are mired in poverty and living in a tent. Do you still believe in Jesus Christ, in the wake of the slaughter of loved ones?” The answers he recorded are startling. A once prosperous farmer who lost his wife and all his land, simply said: “Christ has taught me that we would be persecuted for our faith. We are all pilgrims on earth—and this is not our permanent home.” Another told Anto: “the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert, but we have been living in this refugee camp for only 14 months.” Still another proclaimed: “I share in the Christ’s suffering on the Cross.”
Anto marvels that these simple, good people could muster such profound Christian wisdom and insight. After all there have been few priests and catechists around in Kandhamal in recent years. The answer is clear, said this brave journalist who in the course of his investigations was robbed of his camera and other equipment by state security personnel: “the Holy Spirit taught them.”
At Mass last Sunday (Oct. 13, 2013), St. Paul’s words to Timothy (2:8-13) spoke to the courage of Kandhamal’s Christians: “If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him; if we persevere we shall also reign with Him.” So too, the Gospel Acclamation: “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Here in the US, we cannot help but ask: what would we have done in such almost unimaginable circumstances?
If you want to learn more about the tragedy of Kandhamal, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Meanwhile, please join us in praying for these brave brothers and sisters. May their courage and witness strengthen our own faith.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Kondwani Matupa is a seminarian in the Diocese of Mangochi, Malawi. Kondwani—who is 25, and the youngest of six siblings—is joyful at the prospect of soon being able to serve the people of Malawi. His great grandparents still worship ancestral spirits to whom they offer sacrifices! The Good News has come to his nation—first introduced by Missionaries of Africa in 1889— and, buoyed by his faith, his Church supported by Aid to the Church in Need and other charities, Kondwani looks to the future with hope. As a priest, he says, he wants to “win the hearts of many people for Jesus, by helping the poor and needy.”
The Holy Father reminds us—often—that it is the duty (and privilege) of all believers to care for the poor, both nearby and in faraway places. This, too, is the mission of ACN—not only to help the persecuted, but to aid those Churches suffering from poverty. Often this means helping seminarians like Kondwani with their basic living needs so that they may fully dedicate their lives to God’s service. The Pope tells us: “Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach.” Kondwani is eager to do exactly this.
“What moves me most is the life of the elderly and the orphans. Old people have no help, no clothes, no good shelter, no good food, and no happiness. One old woman told me that ‘death is better than life because of this absolute poverty.’ This made me almost cry, but still I encouraged her to realize that life is a gift from God,’ the seminarian says.
“There are many boys and girls who cannot attend school because of poverty,” adds Kondwani. “As a priest I will dedicate myself to sending orphans and very poor children to school—as educated Catholics are the main contributors to the life of the Church.”
Pope Francis says that “we have to be a leavening of life and love and the leavening is infinitely smaller than the mass of fruits, flowers and trees that are born of it. … We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love.”
With your support, Aid to the Church in Need is helping Kondwani and many other priests, religious, seminarians, novices and laity share God’s love with everyone. Just think—we are all part of that rich, bubbling brew that is the leavening of life. Together, we are preparing the way for the Spirit and helping to keep the faith alive, even in the toughest of circumstances! Thank you!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
3,500 Houses Destroyed Thousands Fleeing
City Under Attack People Held Captive
These are headlines in the news lately. We have heard many terrible stories from Syria and Egypt as Islamist forces have been attacking and destroying properties of Christians and using fear and terror to cripple cities. These two headlines, however, are not about Syria or Egypt.
The first headline concerns the Central African Republic, a country of 4.5 million, where a militant group called Séléka has been attacking and destroying Christian homes.
The second headline is about the city of Zimboanga in the Philippines. In that city of more than one million people, an extremist Islamic separatist group called Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has sent in a few hundred well-armed terrorists to hold the city hostage. Their demand…a new separate country.
In both places, the Islamic population is a small minority. In both places, Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for many years. There are more places that could be added to this list: Uttar Pradesh, India; Kaduna, Nigeria; Basilan, Philippines and unfortunately, the list is growing.
With all of these violent occurrences, there will be need for help. Refugees will need shelter, churches and schools will need rebuilding. The Christian message of hope will need to be proclaimed by our actions.
Recently, the Holy Father has asked Catholics and people of faith around the world to fast and pray for peace and an end to war. We Christians are challenged by our call to love our enemy and seek peaceful resolutions. We are challenged by our sense of fairness and justice to not let those in these violent places to suffer without protection.
It is a challenging time for us Christian observers. We must follow Pope Francis’s example and pray with earnestness. We must answer the calls for help from those who are suffering with strength and true Christian love.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We are called Easter People and Eighth Day People. This is because Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday…the eighth day. The Easter Liturgy is so central to our faith that each Sunday and each Mass recalls the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I recently had a conversation with a priest who lives and works in a place where Sunday Mass is offered every day of the week. The parishioners cannot come to Mass on Sundays because their bosses and very low wages don’t allow that freedom. In fact, to openly tell people that you attend Catholic Mass will put your life at risk.
The Holy priest said that during April, he celebrated Easter Liturgy twenty two times…almost every day of the month. So important was Easter Mass to the people April essentially became a month of Easter Sundays. As he wanted each liturgy to be as like Easter Sunday as possible, the priest prepared a different homily for each congregation so each group would hear a message particular to their place and situation. His name and location are not being revealed to protect the safety of the people involved.
In 2012, over 100 thousand Christians were killed for their faith. Some made headlines, but most if not almost all of these killings went unreported in the major media outlets. So the next time you hear the priest or deacon say, “The Gospel of the Lord,” be sure to say a prayer for those who cannot hear those words every day. And when you respond, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” say it knowing that those words are special…especially for those who have to say them in hiding.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Nigeria is the 7th most populous country in the world and home to some 21 million Catholics. In recent years, growing corruption and religious violence have distressed this West African nation. In a recent visit to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto voiced their concerns of this descent into disorder. With an economy of over $244 billion and recipients of generous international aid, little help reaches the poorest and most in need. Where government has been unable to or unwilling to serve the people, the Catholic Church, whenever possible, has filled the void. Illustrating the vital role of the Church in the life and well-being of the nation is the fact that the area of Sokoto, where the Catholic population is smallest is also the poorest and most violence ridden.
Nevertheless, the Church remains, serves and suffers with the people through the many attacks and problems and offers hope.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Early morning Tuesday March 26th, Benjamin Camil was supervising distribution of food for the poor and displaced of Damascus. This work was not new to the 35 year old seminarian and soon to be deacon. His bishop praised him for his kindness, generosity and service.
At 11:30 AM, he was walking near his family home that is empty and abandoned since the outbreak of the war when a bomb fell and Benjamin Camil was killed instantly.
As Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar said of Benjamin Camil’s death, “To die during the Holy Week with the Crucified to serve and praise forever the Risen Savior and to beg for peace for his martyred country.”
Let us pray for the people of Syria and for the soul of Benjamin Camil
May perpetual light shine upon him and may his soul and the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace…
Director of EvangelizationRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )