Bulgaria: A heartfelt meeting of the religions

by Maria Lozano.

Father Martin Jílek on the motto of the papal visit “Peace on Earth”: “When peace becomes a matter of course for us, that is when we are most in danger of losing it.”

On Sunday morning, Pope Francis arrived in Bulgaria for his 29th trip abroad. During his two-day stay in Bulgaria, the Pope visited Sofia and Rakovski. The media was primarily interested in political and social issues such as migration or poverty; these were addressed. However, the leader of the Catholic Church is also a shepherd and travelled to Bulgaria to visit the common people and to strengthen the small flock of Catholics.

“In my opinion, our Catholics need to become more confident. It was a heartfelt meeting of the religions. I believe that it was also important for the Pope to see how strong our faith is,” explained Salesian Father Martin Jílek. The project partner of the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) had travelled the 230 kilometres from Stara Zagora to the capital city of Sofia to take part in the festivities.

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Image: Bulgaria, Stara Zagora 2012. Young candidates for baptism of the Sinti and Romanies in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria with Fr. Martin Jilek (right), Salesian priest from Czech Republic.

In Pakistan, government-run schools are a harsh environment for Christians
by Tabassum Yousaf.

NOMAN is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith. Here is Noman’s story:

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian.

No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

ACN 20190509 87571 Easy ResizeImage: Noman a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

Asia Bibi has left Pakistan Arriving in Canada

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian women who spent more than a decade on death row after being unjustly convicted of blasphemy, has left Pakistan and flown to Canada, according to reports.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf, National Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace in Pakistan has spoken to ACN and confirmed the reports saying:

"Congratulations to ACN for all the hard work and prayers that have helped to make this day possible. We thank God that justice has prevailed and wish all the best for the family. We also thank God that the family is now being reunited at long last. We pray to God that they will have a better future and can put behind them nearly 10 years of suffering. There are so many who deserve our congratulations for all that they have done for Asia in her struggle to regain her freedom.”

The comments come amid breaking news that the Christian woman, formerly on death row for blasphemy, has finally left her native Pakistan and travelled to Canada, where her two daughters, Eisham and Esha, are now living.

ACN 20160121 34830 Easy ResizeImage: Asia Bibi before her imprisonment. © British Pakistani Christian Association.

“Already one of the bloodiest years for Christians”

The papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has voiced concern in the face of increasing attacks on Christians all over the world. “As the brutal bombings perpetrated against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday show, 2019 is already one of the bloodiest years for Christians,” declared the executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern.

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Photo: (Left) Card. Mauro Piacenza, ACN International President, (Right) Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN Executive President.

The charity, which brings aid to poor and persecuted Christians in more than 140 countries, has become aware of and reported among others on the following anti-religious attacks in the first four months of the year alone:

  • attacks by Islamist Séléka militia on a catholic mission station in Bangassou Diocese in the Central African Republic in which dozens were killed and around 20,000 people fled the violence at the first of January;
  • the Islamist attack on the cathedral of Jolo in the southern Philippines which killed 20 people and injured around 90 at the end of January;
  • attacks by members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen tribe on Christian villagers in the Nigerian state of Kaduna in mid-March that left more than 130 dead; and,
  • attacks by extremist Hindu nationalists on a Catholic school in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu at the end of March, in which the nuns who worked there were categorically hunted down.

 "There is no way to peace, peace is the way."

Interview, 29.04.2019 with Fr. Malaka Leonard Fernando (Sri Lanka) conducted by Maria Lozano

Fr. Malaka Leonard Fernando is the Minister Provincial of the Vice Province of our Lady of Lanka, Sri Lanka, of the Third Order Regular Franciscans. His residence is just half a kilometer from Katuwapitiya, where St. Sebastian’s Church was bombed. The Congregation also has a Friary just in front of St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya. Fortunately none of the friars were injured.

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Inside St. Sebastian’s Church after the explosions. Image Credit: Roshan and Pradeep and T Sunil: Copyright Aid to the Church in Need. 

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