AFRICA/EGYPT – Coptic Patriarch Tawadros: Christians here are not “second class citizens”

Cairo – Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II praises Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, invokes divine blessings on the champion footballer Mohamed Salah and holds back – for the moment – on any projects aimed at making a film about the life of his predecessor , Coptic Patriarch Shenuda III, who passed away in 2012.
In a long and detailed television interview with the journalist, Ahmed Tahiri and broadcast on Sunday November 14 on “Extra News” channel, Pope Tawadros provided answers on a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from sports to politics, from the condition of Christians in Egypt to remembering his teachers in faith.
The Primate of the Coptic Orthodox Church firmly reiterated that Christians in Egypt are not treated and cannot be labeled as “second class citizens” compared to their Muslim compatriots, and at the same time he recognized with realism and without recriminations that the path to the full affirmation of the principle of citizenship represents a gradual process, and comes to an end only when it – thanks also to the support of political and educational institutions – becomes part of the common culture and mentality shared by the people. In this regard, Pope Tawadros spared no praise for the current Egyptian presidency. Comparing the leadership of al Sisi with that exercised by his predecessors Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat Gamal Abdel Nasser and Mohamed Naguib, the Patriarch declared that in 7 years of managing power, the current President has achieved results that in different circumstances would be achieved in no less than three decades, and also expressed appreciation for the expression “New Republic” recently coined by al Sisi and his staff as a synthetic formula to define the present and future horizon of his action at the helm of the populous North African country. Moving on to lighter topics, Pope Tawadros confided that he is a football fan and that he follows with particular pleasure the sporting performances of Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian striker: “I listened to him even when he talked about climate change in a meeting with Prince William”, added the Patriarch, also praising the human skills of the sportsman and hoping “May God bless him in his legs, both right and left, which he uses in an impressive way”.
Regarding the recurring rumors about the possible making of films dedicated to the imposing figure of his predecessor, Patriarch Shenuda III , Pope Tawadros reported that he endorsed this prospect in the long term, but added that the time has not yet come to start such a project. The image and memory of Pope Shenuda – Patriarch Tawadros clarified “is still present in all of us”, and any cinematic reconstruction of his life would inevitably fall short of the image of the Patriarch kept in the memory of those who knew him, regardless of the skill and competence of directors and actors. Tawadros himself acknowledged that he was struck by the figure of Shenuda, “eloquent speaker and poet”, who led the Coptic Church as Patriarch for 41 years. “I met Pope Shenuda more than once, we all learned from his books, from his lectures, and our direction in the monastic life developed in large part thanks to him, who was very passionate about monasticism”. Continuing his conversation, Patriarch Tawadros also mentioned his parents, primary school teachers and priests who most favored his Christian journey and the flourishing of his monastic and priestly vocation. In addition, Pope Tawadros recalled that he was impressed and helped by the figure of Patriarch Kyrillos VI, who unlike his successor Tawadros was neither a theologian nor a brilliant preacher, but manifested his holiness in the “unassuming” gestures of everyday life.
In March 2016, as reported by Fides , the Council of Coptic Orthodox lay congregations–influential body in the Coptic Orthodox Church, presided by the Patriarch himself – had cautioned producers of television series, films, and documentaries, from attempting without the approval of the Church any initiative to make a film on the life of Pope Shenuda III. The historical story of Pope Shenuda – a statement released by that body explained at the time – “belongs to the Church”, and no film or other about the life of the Patriarch may be produced without the necessary permission of the competent Church authority, which will not hesitate to take legal action to safeguard its prerogative.

ASIA/PAKISTAN – The bill to protect women rejected: protest campaign by Christians

Karachi – “We must all be united to defend and promote the proposed bill to protect women of religious minorities from forced conversions. Not only do we want this proposal to become law, but we also want it to be implemented. Rejecting the bill that aims to stop forced conversions is against human rights. This refusal hurt our feelings, especially those of women belonging to religious minorities in Pakistan. It is the responsibility of the State to provide protection to its citizens, especially women and children, in the midst of the dangers to their lives and their peace of mind”, said Tabassum Yousaf, a Catholic lawyer from Karachi, active in participating in the protest campaign after the rejection of the text of the law which intended to preserve the most vulnerable women and exposed to the phenomenon of kidnapping and forced conversion .
Tabassum Yousaf, who in recent days took part in the protest together with other citizens at the Karachi Press Club, declares to Fides: “There already exists the ‘law on child marriage’ which prohibits the marriage of minors under 18; but when a minor girl belongs minority religious communities are kidnapped and forcibly converted and forced to marry a man two or three times older than her age, this law is ignored. It is a clear sign that there is no correct implementation of the law when it comes to non-Muslim women. There is a selective application of the law. It is serious discrimination”.
The Christian, Shabir Shafaqat, president of the Christian National Party, who led the protest at the Karachi Press Club against the rejection of the bill, tells Fides: “We are fighting for our fundamental rights, we appeal to the Prime Minister, the judiciary and to the Chief of the Pakistani Army to ensure the protection of our women from kidnapping for forced conversions and forced marriages”. And he notes: “Christians and Hindus feel insecure because of the rapidly growing kidnappings, due to forced marriages and forced conversions of teenagers belonging to religious minorities in Pakistan. State intervention is needed”.
Various minority rights groups announced new peaceful protests in various cities of Pakistan on November 13, 2021. The Parliamentary Commission on Forced Conversions rejected the bill prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights and called this bill “non-Islamic” last month, on October 13, 2021.
The draft law in article no. 3 establishes that any non-Muslim, in order to convert to another religion, must request a “conversion certificate” from the first instance judge in the area where he ordinarily resides or carries out his business. The judge must set the date of the interview within 7 days of receiving the application and on the date indicated the personnel must be present to ensure that the religious conversion takes place in a free way, not due to constriction and is not due to any deception or fraudulent declaration.
The article further states that, at the request of the non-Muslim citizen, the judge can arrange meetings with scholars or religious leaders of the religion to which the person wishes to convert. The judge can grant a period of 90 days to undertake a comparative study of religions. Finally, it will be considered that the non-Muslim citizen has officially changed his faith starting from the “conversion certificate” issued by the judge. In article no. 4 of the bill, to prohibit forced conversion, provides that “whoever converts a person to another religion by criminal force commits the crime of forced conversion and is punished with a penalty of at least 5 years and a maximum of 10 years and a fine of at least 100,000 Pakistani rupees”. Furthermore, anyone who carries out, leads, directs, realizes or in any way facilitates a marriage with the knowledge that one or both parties are victims of forced conversion is punished with imprisonment for a minimum of three years and a fine of 100,000 Pakistani rupees. Article no. 6 of the proposed law states that no person can change religion until he becomes an adult and if a minor claims to have changed religion before reaching legal age, this declaration is not considered valid.

ASIA/SINGAPORE – Christians bring “the light of hope and care” alongside people of other faiths

Singapore – “We have been living with the pandemic for almost two years and we have seen how it has been a universal cause of suffering for mankind. Yet, even in times of greatest darkness, faith communities around the world have been like stars shining in the night sky; they have worked together in unity and solidarity in reaching those in need with closeness and compassion, dispelling the shadows of despair with the light of hope, care and fraternal solicitude”: said the Archbishop of Singapore William Goh who praised this work, in the spirit of the encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”, especially in contexts where Christians are minorities. In a note sent to Fides, Mgr. Goh underlined that in the time of the pandemic, “all peoples of various faiths must work together, bringing each other hope and support”. An occasion to reaffirm this spirit of fruitful collaboration was the recent Hindu festival of ‘Deepavali’ , celebrated on November 4 by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs in Singapore. Inspired by the central theme of this feast, which “celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, wisdom over ignorance and love over fear”, the Archbishop underlined the harmony and common accents which spiritually bind Christians to believers of other religions. Quoting Pope Francis, the Prelate said: “To turn on little lights in people’s hearts, to be little lamps of the Gospel that bring a little love and hope: this is the mission of the Christian. The lamp of faith will always be lit on earth as long as there is the oil of prayer”. Mgr. Goh stressed that “the festive lights of Deepavali truly remind us of how, in the same way, acts of adoration and devotion to the Divine keep the lamps of faith and the virtues of charity alight and shining “.
For this reason, confirming the constant commitment to dialogue and spiritual closeness with people of other faiths, the Prelate expressed the hope that believers of all religious communities promote brotherhood in the city-state of Singapore. May our faith communities continue to inspire and encourage each other to keep their eyes on the sky, to shine together like bright stars to preserve brotherhood and to ignite the light of love in the hearts of our neighbors” , concluded Bishop Goh.
The population of Singapore includes 31.1% Buddhists, 18.9% Christians , 15.6% Muslims, 8.8% Taoists, 5% Hindus, 0.6% others, while around 20% of the population declares themselves non-believers .

ASIA/INDIA – Violence against Christians, “flagrant violation of the Constitution”

New Delhi – The attacks against the Indian Christian faithful are clear and flagrant violations of the Constitution, and as such must be prosecuted and stopped: this is how priests, religious, promoters of human rights in Indian society expressed themselves in the aftermath of the publication of the Report, by a group of Christian organizations, which in 2021 reports more than 300 episodes of violence against Christians in India. The document, sent to Fides, is drawn up by NGOs such as “United Against Hate”, “Association for Protection of Civil Rights” and “United Christian Forum” and others. “What is happening to Christians in India is nothing new. This has been happening with frightening regularity in the States governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party for more than 20 years”, comments Fr. Cedric Prakash, Jesuit scholar and writer, active in the defense and promotion of human rights.
“However, since 2014 the members linked to the ‘Hindutva’ ideology have carried forward their agenda with violence and hate propaganda against religious minorities, such as Christians and Muslims, enjoying greater impunity”, he explains. “Even the most uncompromising Hindu leaders hide behind immunity saying: we are the leaders; no one can touch us, nothing will happen to us”, says Father Prakash. “Attacks and threats have increased dramatically. This is totally against the Constitution, the democratic ethos and the pluralistic fabric of the Country. The Indian people must stand up to stop this fanaticism immediately before it is too late”, he says.
According to the report entitled “Christians under attack in India”, released on October 21, most of the attacks against Christians are reported in three states of northern India such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Delhi.
“The fears and suspicions about Christians converting Hindus are completely unfounded. Brutal attacks took place in 21 states. Most of the incidents occur in the northern states and 288 cases are mass violence.
This is a frightening situation, which raises critical questions about the role of the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of the Interior and the failures to stop this violence”, says Catholic leader A.C. Michael, former member of the Commission for Minorities in Delhi and today National Coordinator of the United Christian Forum . More than 49 complaints were filed in police stations, but no action was taken, the text notes. The investigation carried out shows that most of the violence took place against Christians who belong to the Dalits and tribal communities. The perpetrators of the attacks are Hindu nationalist groups who blame Christians for converting Hindus through flattery, money or other forms of help.
The accusation is totally denied by Christians: as Minakshi Singh, Secretary General of the group “Unity in Christ”, a Protestant organization based in Delhi, which contributed to the report, points out, “this is not at all true, in fact there has been no significant change in the percentage of the Christian population, indeed, its number is decreasing”, he notes.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, Catholic priest, lawyer and defender of human rights, tells Fides: “Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right. It is the cornerstone of all rights as it involves the conscience. Hindutva groups have accused Christians for over a century of proselytizing without proof and real reasons”. Accusing Christians of forcibly converting others to Christianity is pure propaganda and is a pretext for committing violence. Everyone has the right to choose their beliefs. The proof of freedom of religion is the right to convert”, the priest told Fides. “In some villages the Christian churches have been devastated, in others the Pastors have been beaten or mistreated. Assemblies of faithful were dispersed by crowds of violent people and Christians ended up in hospital with injuries. The police are also accused of threatening the faithful, of dragging them to police stations and of making raids during Sunday prayer services”, the priest said, commenting on the Report.
“It is necessary to bring out the real facts as much as possible, with independent investigations. No one should apologize or be ashamed that he exercises the right to choose his religion or belief. We appreciate that independent groups of civil society, which protect individual freedoms, join this campaign to highlight the problems”, concludes Father Singh.
In a recent episode, a group of 30 activists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal forced a Catholic school in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to put a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, on the campus. Also in the past, Madhya Pradesh, which is governed by the BJP Hindu nationalist party, recorded numerous cases of violence against Christians, priests and nuns.
According to the 2011 Indian census, there are 966 million Hindus out of an Indian population of 1.3 billion. Muslims are 172 million, while Christians reach 29 million in all.

AFRICA/MALAWI – Christians, heralds of good news

Lilongwe – On Sunday, October 24, the Bishop Emeritus of Zomba, Monsignor George Desmond Tambala, appointed Archbishop of Lilongwe a few days ago, during the celebration of World Mission Sunday in the parish of St. Vincent De Paoli, energetically invited the Catholic Christians to be “messengers of good news”, by putting God’s word into practice.
“Being heralds of good news means being inside what is happening around us – explained Bishop Tambala -. World Mission Day is a call not only to bring the word of God, but also to be involved in people’s lives and their problems. The themes of health, education, justice and peace, as well as community development, concern us closely, and are part of the mission of the Church”.
In his homily, the Bishop also highlighted the need to cultivate a spirit of hard work and sacrifice in all areas of their existence, encouraging those present to follow in the footsteps of the first missionaries, who also sacrificed their own life for the love of the Gospel.
“The communities that make up the parish of Katamba, although inserted in a rural context, have given life to a great national holiday that is heartfelt and ‘colorful’. It is certainly something that we do not take for granted – said the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Malawi, Father Vincent Mwakhwawa -. We thank them for being generous and open, eager to follow the instructions of our national office regarding the Day and its animation. Now we can truly say that they have demonstrated a universal understanding of the Church”.
At the end of the feast for Mission Sunday, the president of the laity of the diocese of Zomba, Vito Sandfolo, said that Christians are responsible for the development of the Church, encouraging them to pray incessantly for the ministers of the Church and for themselves, so that the Gospel is spread to the ends of the earth.

ASIA/BANGLADESH – Rohingya Christians: Assassination of leader Mohib Ullah must be seriously investigated

Cox’s Bazar – “We are deeply saddened to see that our leader of the Rohingya community Mohib Ullah, founder of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights was killed by the self-proclaimed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army .
It is such a painful and unforgettable loss for our Rohingya community. We extend our deepest condolences to his loved ones and his family; our prayers are always with them”: this is what is stated in a joint statement by the Rohingya Christian community in diaspora, present in Bangladesh, India, Australia, America and Europe. The text, sent to Fides, calls for an urgent investigation after an important Rohingya leader, Mohib Ullah, a former teacher, was killed on September 29 in Cox’s Bazaar. Mohib Ullah represented the Rohingya community at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2019. The statement sent to Fides states: “This murder is not the first incident in the Rohingya community. Since 2012 there have been multiple attacks on Hindu Rohingya, Muslim Rohingya and Christian Rohingya. On January 26, 2020, Christian Pastor Taher and Hadir Hussain were kidnapped, we do not know where they are and their bodies have not been found. We have suffered the destruction of a church and schools, intimidation, sexual assaults, threats, several people have been forcibly converted to Islam. We strongly condemn the atrocious and inhumane attack by the ARSA on the leader of our Rohingya community, Mohib Ullah, and the repeated threats to the members of the ARSPH”.
The statement continues: “With this brutal attack and other immoral activities, ARSA proves to be against humanity, Rohingya ethics and our prosperity. Therefore, we Rohingya Christians in the diaspora call on the government of Bangladesh to ensure the safety of all Rohingya refugees in the camps and bring those responsible to justice. We also urge the entire Rohingya community, around the world, to stand firmly together and to speak out against ARSA for its inhumane activities in refugee camps in Bangladesh. These should be stopped immediately”. Mohib Ullah’s family and those close to him blame the murder on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army , a Rohingya militia fighting against the Myanmar army. But the ARSA denies its involvement in the murder and calls for an investigation to catch the real culprits. Cox’s Bazar police have arrested four suspects and the investigation is ongoing. Mohammad Jobair, a collaborator of Mohib Ullah, tells Fides that Mohib Ullah arrived in Bangladesh during the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar in 2017. His organization ARSPH documented the human rights violations suffered by the Rohingya in Myanmar in 2016 and 2017. Mohammad Jobair states: “Mohib Ullah worked for the rights of the persecuted Rohingya. He wanted to return to Myanmar with dignity, safety and protection, but he had received death threats for some time. Some Rohingya do not want to return to Myanmar. Some are involved in drug trafficking. Crimes, human trafficking and drug trafficking are on the rise in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar”.
The Catholic aid worker Ranjit Reberio, who works for an NGO that helps the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar, explains to Agenzia Fides: “The murder of Mohib Ullah is a great loss for the Rohingya community. He worked as the voice of the persecuted Rohingya. He wanted to return to his birthplace, but he was killed. The international community should put pressure on Myanmar to bring back the citizens who have fled to Bangladesh”. Recently, Sheikh Hasina, a female Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said: “For some international actors, refugees are just a business. If there were no refugees, they would have no work. Nobody wants to say it out loud. I am disappointed by the international response to the repeated requests for help from Bangladesh to get the citizens of Myanmar back to their country”.

ASIA/IRAQ – Chaldean Patriarch Sako: the future of Christians in the Middle East depends above all on them

Baghdad – The presence of Christian communities in the Middle East and their survival in the lands of the first apostolic preaching call into question “first of all” the responsibilities of Middle Eastern Christians themselves, who are also called to “admit their mistakes” to free themselves from a persistent “sectarian mentality” in order to build civil institutions together with their fellow citizens, which are suitable to guarantee the coexistence among different people. This is how the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako comments the present and the future of Christians in the Middle East. He does this in the context of a long and detailed reflection published by the Iraqi cardinal through the official communication tools of the Chaldean Patriarchate.

The patriarch speaks out ahead of the upcoming political elections in Iraq, which are scheduled for October 12th. A choice that many analysts see as crucial – as Patriarch Sako emphasizes – “and which once again raises the question: Is there a future for Christians in Iraq and the region?” The Patriarch’s reflections on the situation of Christians in the Middle East are an expression of a different point of view, a far cry from the sacrificial attitude that often prevails in media coverage of Christian communities in the Middle East. Many of the Iraqi cardinal’s reflections seem to be fully in line with the recommendations of the document on the state and future prospects of the Christian presence in the Middle East, published by the ecumenical team of theologians and scholars “Nakhtar al Hayat” . Patriarch Sako also calls on Middle Eastern Christians to free themselves from a certain “minority complex” that leads some to expect solutions to problems from external political and geopolitical bodies or even from church institutions themselves. The Patriarch urges people to distinguish themselves from those Christians who entrust civil or ecclesiastical institutions with solving the difficulties that mark their daily lives. In a brief historical review, the Chaldean Patriarch recalls the violence and other factors of fear that have “forced more than a million Iraqi Christians to emigrate” since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. In his reflections, the Iraqi cardinal also recalls the spread of extremist Islamist currents and a general “sectarian culture”. At the same time, the Chaldean Patriarch also invites us to recognize the responsibilities and errors committed by Christians, including those of a socio-political nature. “After the fall of the regime – recalls the Iraqi cardinal among other things – some Christians founded political parties, and that was an encouraging start”. But then Christian political parties and representatives “did not join forces in a shared action, with a single vision and a precise plan of action”, and many limited themselves to protecting “personal interests”. In a situation in which worrying signals are increasing, it is appropriate that Christians should be the first to renounce forms of sectarianism that divide them and try to understand themselves “as a group united in language and attitude”, willing to collaborate with its fellow citizens of Islamic faith to jointly build civil institutions based on the principle of citizenship and justice.

In his considerations, Cardinal Sako agrees in a certain way with the most recent statements of the emeritus Latin Patriarch, Archbishop Michel Sabbah . The questions and also the uncertainties that hover over the future of Christians in the Middle East – Archbishop Sabbah also emphasized with reference to the document published by Nakhtar al Hayat – “are not primarily a question of numbers, even if numbers are important, rather they are a matter of faith”.

ASIA/INDIA – Christians celebrate the National Day of Prayer to remember Mahatma Gandhi

New Delhi – On the occasion of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, national hero of India, Indian Christians of all confessions celebrate a National Day of Prayer on October 2, in what was proclaimed by the General Assembly of United Nations as “International Day of Non-Violence”. This year’s theme is “Prayer for Our Nation: A Cry to the Living God for the Peace and Integrity of India”. “Our nation needs intense prayer, while we are going through a critical moment in the history of India”, says to Fides Mgr. Thottumarickal, Bishop of Indore and one of the leaders of the “United Christian Prayer for India” an interfaith network of Christian communities.
The Bishop invites the faithful to remember the figure of the “Mahatma” as the “authentic soul of India”: “I encourage you to lead this year’s prayer in your respective areas. As faithful of the Churches of the whole nation, we want to pray for political leaders and for all communities”.
According to Mgr. Thottumarickal, prayer works as a tool for engaging people: it is therefore recommended that it be held preferably in a public place, i.e. outside the church building, by inviting political leaders and local government officials, such as local government officials and members of non-governmental organizations especially those who care for the poor. In addition, public prayer meetings promoted by women and young people are encouraged. “Celebrating October 2, the anniversary of the birth of Gandhi, a global icon of non-violence, we ask to plan ecumenical prayer meetings with Christians of different denominations”, said Bishop Thottumarickal, noting that members of other religious communities are also welcome. “India, with all its diversity, needs prayer to promote coexistence, love and brotherhood among all citizens”, he concludes.
Since 2014, Indian Christians have started the UCPI network with the aim of praying for the nation and its leaders. “As a nation, we humbly confess our sins of corruption, injustice, inequality of status and opportunity in our society; we recognize the atrocities committed against vulnerable people; crimes against women and children; discrimination based on class, caste, creed, tribe, ethnicity and gender; favoritism and nepotism; the exploitation of the territory and natural resources; the abuse of power and position; the misappropriation of public funds; having ignored what God tells us”, says to Fides Sagar Parichha, Christian lay leader of Odisha, in eastern India. And he adds: “We entrust the mother country to the Lord so that she can warm hearts and help us build a just, peaceful nation, respectful of human dignity, just as Mahatma Gandhi wanted”.

ASIA/MIDDLE EAST – Patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah: “The future of Christians in the Middle East is not a question of numbers, but of faith”

Antelias – The questions, and also the uncertainties about the future of Christians in the Middle East, “are not primarily a question of numbers, even if numbers are important, but rather a question of faith”. This was stated by the Palestinian Archbishop Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem of the Latins, referring to the numerous demands that will be highlighted in a new document on the state and future prospects of the Christian presence in the Middle East, presented this Tuesday in Lebanon and by an ecumenical team of experts and church representatives .
In his speech at the official presentation of the document yesterday, Tuesday, September 28th in the Lebanese city of Antelias, Archbishop Sabbah pointed out that the publication of the text is an opportunity for all churches and ecclesial communities in the Middle East to “reconsider our Christian message”. Christ himself, the Patriarch continued, “said that with a little faith one can move mountains, that is, one can change the conditions in which one finds oneself. The question is therefore: Are we believers? So why can’t we move mountains?” In his presentation, the Patriarch Emeritus pointed out the problems “that concern us as Christians first and foremost, such as our unity, the fact that we have a common heart and share the same intentions. Every Christian must be educated to love every other Christian, both in his own church and in other churches. And it is necessary to work with all to build our pluralistic society together”. Later on, Patriarch Sabbah recalled that the Christian communities of the Middle East were also called upon to redefine their approach towards what he called “the political West” and with the processes of globalization in order to avoid falling into the traps of new forms of “open or hidden colonialism”.
The document, according to the Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, emphasized in a video that was shown at the presentation in Antelias that it could contribute to preparing “the ‘road map’ for a new ecclesiastical and civil work, for a ‘renaissance’ in our difficult Middle Eastern reality” and provide food for thought, which should also be taken seriously by “all heads of the Eastern Churches and above all by the Council of Churches of the Middle East, which for me is like an ‘ecumenical tent’ “. The document is the result of years of reflection and studies by an ecumenical group of scholars of theology, law, politics and social sciences who come together under the name “Nakhtar al Hayat”.
The common reflection was shared by Christians belonging to different countries and various Churches and ecclesial denominations of the Middle East .

ASIA/MIDDLE EAST – Document on the future of Christians in the Middle East: Western “protections” or “alliances between minorities” do not help us

Antelias – In the Middle East there are ecclesial realities that “in order to obtain assistance from some American and European Christian groups, they adopt ideas that militate against coexistence, exaggerate the suffering of Christians, and promote the theory of systematic persecution by Muslims”. Other ecclesial subjects are betting everything on the strategy of the “alliance between minorities” or on the protection of authoritarian regimes as the only ways to ensure the survival of indigenous Christian communities in the Middle East. These are misleading choices and orientations, which risk weighing negatively on the future of the Christian presence in the Middle East and denying the same mission to which the Church called today in the part of the world has lived her earthly life. These are some of the provocations disseminated in the document entitled “Christians in the Middle East: Towards Renewed Theological, Social, and Political Choices”.
The long and dense contribution, divided into one hundred paragraphs, is offered as a systematic attempt to consider in depth the present condition of Christian communities in the Arab-Middle Eastern context. This is an initiative that has no equal in the recent history of theological and pastoral reflection on the present and future of Christians in the Middle East.
The document, released today during an official presentation organized in the conference room of the church of Sant’Elia, in Antelias , is the result of the long work carried out by an ecumenical team of specialists in theology, social studies and geopolitical issues , “Men and women, ordained and lay ministers, who wanted to confront themselves with frankness and freedom also “on issues that some may consider inappropriate for a public debate”.
The team, which has taken as its initials a formula that echoes a verse from Deuteronomy , includes, among others, Professor Souraya Bechealany, former secretary general of the Council on the Churches of the Middle East, and Maronite priest Rouphael Zgheib, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Lebanon.
In many passages, the document breaks away from the stereotypes that condition and blur the dominant representation in the Western media regarding Middle Eastern Christian communities, always presented as besieged “minorities” and in need of external protection, of a financial or geopolitical nature.
Christians in the Middle East – the authors of the document acknowledge – face enormous emergencies and provocations “that put us in front of choices on which our existence and future presence depends”. The “gradual fading of our presence and witness” makes it “imperative to undertake an in-depth examination of our situation, drawing on a calm critical reading”. In the Middle Eastern geopolitical convulsions, analyzed by the document with lucid historical references to the seasons of the Arab “renaissance” and the “Islamic awakening”, the document emphasizes that the most insidious risk for the current Middle Eastern Christian communities consists in the “reductionist approach based exclusively on the logic of the majority and the minority”. A distorted reading of reality that pushes some to seek protection “through an ‘alliance of minorities’, seeing in this a guarantee of a continuous Christian presence in the Middle East”. An option that – the authors of the document argue – in the long run “distorts a genuine Christian witness”, which is based “not on the use of religion as a political tool, nor on claiming specific rights or privileges to maintain a rigid identity, but rather on opening up to the other in dialogue”.
The long document describes with realism the consequences of sectarianism and religious fanaticism as devastating factors for any project of “living with diversity” that rediscovers the “plural” matrix of the history of the peoples and civilizations of the Middle East. It is recognized that the Christian communities in the countries of the area live within societies “permeated by Islam”, and where “Islam has become an intrinsic factor” also for the ways taken by the preaching of the Gospel. It is emphasized that the emigration of Christians, which has intensified in recent decades, cannot be interpreted exclusively as a direct effect of the rise of violent Islamist movements, while many factors of “internal weakness” are also indicated with realism that weigh down the apostolic spirit of ecclesial institutions and realities. Among other things, it is acknowledged that “the language used by the religious establishment, in many cases, is still far from the daily reality, from the sufferings and fears of local Christians”, and loses its own power of attraction for the younger generations is radically growing, among which a tendency to indifferentism and even to atheism is growing, not yet ‘registered’ by ordinary pastoral directives. The document describes in critical terms the cases of competition between ecclesiastical institutions engaged full-time in trying to find financial resources to guarantee their own survival, and in several passages deplores the way in which ecclesial institutions relate to political powers, often dominated “by personal and factional interests, a minority mentality and a search for narrow sectarian conquests”. Among the “wrong solutions” experimented with to address the problems of Middle Eastern Christian communities, the document indicates the tendency that pushes representatives and ecclesial groups “to adhere to totalitarian ideologies, authoritarian regimes”, or the race to “occupy positions of influence, and acquire benefits, and authoritarian protections” arguing that this can “guarantee the continuity and value of their presence in the Middle East”.
In addition to the critical remarks, the document also suggests constructive paths to be tested in order to face the urgencies that besiege the Middle Eastern Christian communities. The document recurs in many passages the call to rediscover the treasure of one’s own ecclesial traditions: “Most of the historical Churches of the Middle East” the authors of the text note “are patriarchal or synodal. Both systems are inspired by the idea of synodality, which, in its original meaning, refers to communion and walking together”.
These traditional features of the ecclesial life of the communities of the East need to be recovered today, while “unfortunately today in our Churches we often see the people of God – especially women and young people – marginalized in important decisions. We often see the growth of an authoritarian spirit, which cancels shared responsibility, balanced government and the spirit of responsibility between people and their pastors”. According to the authors of the document, the ecclesial life of Middle Eastern communities must free itself “from practices that reduce women to second-class beings, practices contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. Furthermore, Christians in the Middle East “should refuse to adhere to dictatorial political regimes, whether ideologically secular, theocratic or feudal, or to identify with them. They must also reject a “minority alliance” and the choice to seek protection”. The suggested perspective is that of recognizing the commonality of destiny of Christians with fellow citizens of other faiths and “favoring their involvement in the public sphere and the struggle for a civil state”, governed according to the principle of citizenship and equality. A state “governed by modern civil law”, which is able to embrace and integrate all the “diversities” and pluralities of the Middle East.

ASIA/JORDAN – Christians and Muslims together seek antidotes to the traps of “media hatred”

Amman – The two-day conference dedicated to the theme “Media against hatred”, organized by the Muslim Council of the Elderly and the Catholic Center for Studies and Media, begins today in Amman, established and directed by Jordanian priest Rifat Bader. Arab media professionals from different countries will take part in the conference, sponsored by Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad, Senior Advisor to the King of Jordan Abdallah II for Religious and Cultural Affairs. The initiative, promoted in conjunction with the Amman International Book Fair, aims to provide information and also potential antidotes to the rampant phenomenon of the so-called “media hatred”, which sees the media and in particular the new social media fatally transform into tools for the dissemination of contents and interventions characterized by hatred, contempt and offensive language, which feed violence and fanaticism among indistinct multitudes of users exposed to the traps of fake news and ideological manipulations. The conference hosts speeches and discussions aimed at also delineating what is the impact of the current legislation and what are the responsibilities of institutions – governments, trade unions, self-control bodies of the media sector – in combating hate speech phenomena through media.
In Arab Countries, the “global” phenomenon of hatred conveyed through the media and social networks is alarmingly intertwined with the conflicts and convulsions of a political, military and sectarian nature that agitate the Middle East, fueling sectarianism and identity struggles which jeopardize the “coexistence of different people” in single nations. The Islamic Council of Elders had already expressed its commitment to supporting initiatives aimed at combating the phenomena of “media hatred”: on February 4, 2020, two years after the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of al Azhar – recalls the Arab online site – the Council had always promoted the Arab Media Gathering in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, during which the new “Code of Action on the Media for Human Fraternity” was released.
The Muslim Council of Elders, chaired by the Grand Imam of al Azhar Ahmed al Tayyeb, is an independent international organization established on June 18, 2014 to “promote peace in Islamic communities”.
The body brings together scholars, experts and qualified representatives of Islamic communities, renowned for their wisdom and sense of justice, eager to work together to promote peace and stem internal conflicts, divisions and fragmentation within Islam.

ASIA/LEBANON – 11 Christians, 10 Muslims and 2 Druze (but only one woman) in the new government of Mikati

Beirut – The new government of Lebanon, led by the Sunni Muslim Najib Mikati, is preparing to obtain the vote of trust from the Lebanese Parliament today, Monday, September 20. All the main political forces represented in Parliament have guaranteed their support for the new government structure, which in its composition reflects the variety of the Lebanese “mosaic” also from the confessional affiliations point of view.
In addition to Sunni Prime Minister Mikati and Greek Orthodox Christian Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh al Shami, there are 11 Christian ministers, 9 Muslim ministers and two Druze ministers. Among the Christian ministers there are 5 Maronites, 2 Greek Orthodox, 2 Greek Catholics, an Armenian apostolic, a Catholic of the Latin rite . Among the Muslim ministers, five are Shiites and four Sunnis.
The most urgent tasks that the new government is called upon to tackle will be to curb the national economic collapse and offer itself as an interlocutor for international financial institutions, in the period of time that separates the country from its next political elections, scheduled for 2022.
During the homily delivered during the divine liturgy on Sunday, September 19, the Maronite Patriarch, Béchara Boutros Raï gave thanks to divine Providence for the end of the crisis that left the country without a government for thirteen months. The Lebanese Cardinal expressed the hope that the new executive will work as a close-knit team at the service of the country, highlighting the need to ensure the resumption of the school year, also through the support to be provided to non-state schools, among the priorities to be addressed. Critical hints regarding the composition of the new government were instead expressed by the Syro-Catholic bishops, who met in the Synodal Assembly from September 12 to 18 in Harissa , at the Convent of Our Lady of Liberation. In the statement released at the end of the Synodal Assembly, chaired by Patriarch Ignace Youssif III Younan, the Syro-Catholic Bishops, among other things, expressed their disappointment at the “persistent marginalization” of Syriacs and the Syro-Catholic community in the attribution processes of high civilian offices, noting that no Syrian Christian appears among the members of the new government. The delicate Lebanese institutional system provides that the office of President of the Republic is to be entrusted to a Maronite Christian, while the Head of Government must belong to the Sunni Muslim community and the President of Parliament must be of Shiite Muslim faith.

AFRICA/LIBERIA – Catechists in Africa: reference point for Christians of small communities

Foya – “In Africa I would never have been able to carry out my missionary service without the help and support of so many catechists”, said Fr. Walter Maccalli in reference to the Motu Proprio “Antiquum ministerium” of May 10, 2021, with which Pope Francis established the ministry of catechists.
The priest, a missionary of the Society for African Missions , in the note sent to Fides, explained what the catechist does in the African Church. “They are the point of reference for Christians in small communities, since they live in close contact with them and animate Sunday celebrations when the missionary are unable. For example, in Angola, during the long civil war, catechists always remained on the spot, even when priests and nuns had to abandon their missions for security reasons. They gave proof of their faith, despite the danger and persecution”, underlines Fr. Maccalli. “They never stopped the work of evangelization, they continued to give Christian formation and assistance to the faithful, even in precarious conditions, in isolated villages in the forest, in the neighborhoods of the displaced people, or in refugee camps beyond the Angolan borders”.
As evidence of the irreplaceable role of catechists, the SMA missionary remembers one, Estêvão Tomais, born two years before 1961, the year in which the Angolan liberation war began. “He was destined to die because he was mestizo – he says. In fact, his father was Portuguese. He was saved by his Angolan mother, who fled to the forest. Catechist by vocation and responsible for the communities scattered in the large parish of Nambuangongo, he has become the faithful collaborator of the missionaries. He is still today the formator of new community leaders, to whom he teaches liturgy and how to explain the Bible”.
“The Angolan Catholic Church owes a lot to catechists for the incalculable contribution they have made to evangelization over the forty years of the war – said Fr. Walter. The impact of the words of an African catechist on the Christians of their communities is very strong, certainly greater than that of us European missionaries. As a connoisseur of local culture and traditions, his word is a stimulus and encouragement to live the Christian faith in those situations in which the Gospel comes into conflict with certain ancestral practices and mentalities. They know how to synthesize the many good things that exist in the African tradition and the novelty of the announcement of Jesus”
“Here in the mission of Foya, in Liberia, where I am now – concludes Fr. Walter – in our parish we can count on a catechist sent to us by the diocese. Among the various services offered, he prepares adult catechumens for Baptism, exercises an itinerant ministry in the villages, for catechesis and liturgy in the local language, the Kissi, as well as helping to restore peace in families and villages where conflicts have arisen”.

ASIA/INDIA – Violence in Orissa 13 years ago: Christians in Orissa call for justice again on the occasion of the commemoration

Bhubaneswar – Many Indian lay people, priests, nuns, academics, Christian leaders, lawyers and believers of other religions celebrated the 13th “Day of Remembrance” on August 25, dedicated to the victims of the massacres of Christians in Orissa 13 years ago. The program includes prayer meetings, liturgical celebrations, webinars, which intend to remember the ferocious anti-Christian violence campaign that took place in 2008 in Kandhamal, in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa , in eastern India. The National Solidarity Forum, an association ofmore than 70 civil society groups, organized a webinar entitled “In Defense of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms” which gathered thousands of participants across the country. “The state government of Orissa has completely failed to take action to prevent horrific crimes. It tried to portray the massacre as an tribal conflict, instead of recognizing the severity of the violence”, said A.P. Shah, former judge of the Delhi and Madras High Court who was one of the speakers at the webinar.
“The government has set up two commissions, as is customary on such matters, but both have been ineffective,” he notes. “The commission has not yet submitted a report on the matter. Almost 13 years later, there is not even a collection of documents . Such commissions, especially those set up after inter-community violence, tend to be bodies meant to temporarily appease public opinion, but usually do not produce anything useful”, he said. “The way the violence was handled in Kandhamal is a textbook example of the failure of India’s criminal justice system”, he said. At the event, Shah also presented the first Kandhamal Human Rights Award to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a Delhi-based NGO, and the individual award to Paul Pradhan, a lay Catholic from Kandhamal.
The former judge recalled that he was head of the “National People’s Court” in Delhi in 2012: “we published a report which clearly concluded that the ‘Kandhamal Carnage’ was a planned act primarily directed against the Christian community, by a vast majority composed of Christian Dalits and Adivasi ; and against those who supported or worked with the community”.
He also noted “the worrying resurgence of communitarianism in India in recent years. Religious nationalism has come to the fore and is supported by powerful political forces. This ideology envisions a nation under Hindu rule, an exclusively Hindu nation. According to this view, Muslims and Christians are seen as foreigners and unwanted. This is a dangerous trend”, Shah said.
John Dayal, a Catholic journalist who advocates the protection of human rights, also complains that “Violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims is increasing in India. We must resist and denounce these hate crimes that go against the spirit of democracy, peace and harmony”.
Many actions and programs are organized at a local and national level. “The innocent victims of Kandhamal should be given justice. Thirteen years have passed. Peace and harmony must be fostered in the minds and hearts of the people of Kandhamal and based on justice”, said Lambodar Singh, a local leader.
A “Justice, Peace and Harmony Film Festival” took place in the Kandhamal region as part of the memorial ceremony. “Human beings have oppressed, mutilated, humiliated, killed their fellow men, with serious violations of human rights. One of the reasons for such human rights violations in India is based on identity. People have been killed, abused, lynched, harassed, raped and burned. Victims and survivors such as Dalits, Adivasis, fishermen, women, religious minorities and many other marginalized people are still fighting for their rights in India. The human rights violations against the people in Kandhamal took place in this context”, said Sasi KP, director of the Film Festival. The film festival, which will take place from August 24th to 26th, is a reminder that “all marginalized groups and communities in India must stick together”, emphasizes Sasi.
Kandhamal, one of the poorest districts in India, was the scene of one of the cruelest campaigns of indiscriminate violence in December 2007 and again in August 2008. The violence was apparently triggered by the murder of a leading Hindu representative, Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati. Hate propaganda by Hindu extremist groups blamed Christians for the murder, sparking a spiral of attacks against Dalit and Adivasi Christians in the district.
More than 360 churches and places of worship were attacked, 5,600 houses were destroyed or set on fire, more than 100 people were killed, and more than 40 women were raped or abused. More than 60,000 people had to leave their homes and live as displaced persons, while the education of over 12,000 children was interrupted. The victims and survivors have still not received justice. The Catholic Church in Orissa has always stood by the persecuted Christians with various initiatives and special aid programs.

ASIA/IRAQ – Political party of Christians announces the boycott of the next parliamentary elections

Baghdad – The Party of the sons of two rivers , a political group that brings together leaders and militants from Iraqi Christian communities, has officially announced its intention to boycott the next Iraqi parliamentary elections, scheduled for next October 10. The drastic decision is justified by bringing up a series of reasons, listed and argued in the statement with which the management announced its intention to boycott the electoral round.
“The Iraqi political forces, including us – reads the text, with implicit references to the excessive power of the sectarian militias and the bloody repression of the 2019 demonstrations – had asked weapons to be exclusively in the hands of the State, killers of demonstrators to be insured to justice and the issue of the fight against corruption to be resolutely tackled”.
Unfortunately – the Beth Nahrain leaders add – none of these requests have found adequate answers, and it is easy to predict that the electoral process will also take place in conditions in which sufficient transparency and fairness are not guaranteed. The statement also puts its finger in the wound repeatedly denounced by the parties that in some way claim to exercise the political representation of the indigenous Christian communities . The system of “quotas”, currently in force, which reserves 5 of the 329 parliamentary seats for members of the various Christian communities, in the opinion of the leadership of Beth Nahrain will continue not to favor adequate political representation of the Christian components, because in its current form it makes possible electoral manipulation operations which in recent years have already allowed the major parties to have those seats assigned to their own emissaries. The mechanism of these electoral manipulations is quite simple: in the 2018 elections – recalls the statement – the largest parties hijacked thousands of votes of their militants to support candidates who were loyal to them competing to win one of the 5 seats reserved for the Christian component. After that incident, requests to change the system for allocating “quota” seats, for example through the creation of specific registers of voters authorized to vote for the allocation of seats reserved for Christian candidates, fell on deaf ears. In mid-July, as reported by Agenzia Fides , Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako feared the possibility that the upcoming elections will be boycotted by many Christian voters, due to the risk of fraud and above all of the mistrust due to the fact that in the 2018 elections the quota of parliamentary seats reserved by the electoral system for candidates from Christian communities was “stolen”. Those scheduled for October will be early elections . The anticipated political vote was one of the demands of the protesters who took to the streets in 2019 against the government. In the climate of generalized mistrust, the appeals of commentators and political activists in favor of the boycott of the next election are multiplying.

ASIA/INDIA – There are 145 cases of violence against Christians in the first half of 2021: “Anti-conversion laws” are worrying

New Delhi – In the first half of 2021 145 cases of violence against Christians in India were documented: as reported in a note sent to Agenzia Fides by the Commission for Religious Freedom within the “Evangelical Fellowship of Indian” Religious Liberty Commission”, among the 145 episodes there are three murders. The cases are presented and documented in the report entitled “Hate and targeted violence against Christians in India – half-yearly report 2021” published on July 23 by the EFI Religious Freedom Commission. “It is disconcerting that the incidents occurred just as the country was again hit by the second wave of the pandemic, which hit, in particular, metropolitan cities including the national capital New Delhi”, said in the note Rev. Vijayesh Lal, Secretary General of the Fellowship of India’s Religious .
The detailed violence in the Report sent to Fides refers, among others, to 3 murders, 22 attacks on churches, 20 cases, in rural areas, of ostracism or social boycott of families who had refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Threats to false accusations of conversions follow, such as stories of social exclusion and discrimination on a religious basis. According to the Report, Madhya Pradesh tops the list with 30 cases in terms of geographical spread. The state, which has vast areas of forest land where Adivasis, or tribals live, was among the first to enact “Anti-Conversion Laws”. The neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh continued to record 22 cases, while the Karnataka and Chhattisgarh States, also polarized by a decade of religiously divisive political campaigns, report 14 and 13 cases each. The most bizarre incident occurred on March 19, 2021 in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, when four Catholic nuns of the Sacred Heart Society were arrested on their way from Delhi to Odisha state. The incident occurred as the train they were traveling on stopped at Jhansi Railway Station. A group of religious extremists, returning from a pilgrimage, accused them of carrying out unauthorized religious conversions. Police arrived at the scene and arrested the women without paying any attention to their side of the story. About 150 members of radical Hindu nationalist organizations accompanied the women in procession to the police station. The terrified nuns were released at 11.30pm after leaders and civil society organizations convinced the police that the nuns were innocent and had credible documents to prove their story, Reverend Lal noted. “Violence against Christians in India derives from a climate of targeted hatred. The translation of hatred into violence is triggered by a sense of impunity generated in the Indian administrative apparatus”, says Reverend Lal. COVID-19, which has had a severe impact on data collection, basic investigations and even solidarity with victims in distant villages, appears to have provided the police with a ploy to not register cases – the police have generally been reluctant to recording cases of violence against Christians. Access to the courts for justice was also limited. The violence was also facilitated by the absence of civil society on the streets as activists were unable to travel due to restrictions and blockades due to Covid.
The most alarming development – notes the Report – was the expansion of the infamous “Freedom of Religion Acts”, popularly known as “Anti-conversion laws”. Previously approved and applied in 7 Indian states, they have now extended to multiple states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. These norms target Christian and Muslim minorities, in the latter case under the pretext of curbing the “Love Jihad”. This is a term coined a few years ago to demonize marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women, especially those belonging to the Hindu upper castes. The laws apparently punish “forced or fraudulent religious conversions”, but in practice they serve to criminalize all conversions, especially in non-urban areas.
Uttar Pradesh became the eighth Indian state to pass an anti-conversion law. Similar laws are in place in the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have passed anti-conversion laws that are not in effect for various reasons, while Tamil Nadu has passed and subsequently repealed an anti-conversion law. Christian activists fear that the trend to expand anti-conversion laws is a step towards the law and “to control what is called the proselytism of ‘missionaries’, to Christianize Dalits, tribals and others in rural areas, small towns and urban slums”.
Responding to several petitions, the Supreme Court of India agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, but stated that the laws must first be challenged by the respective state’s High Court. Campaigns of nationalist groups linked to the ideology of Hindutva are lobbying to present a law against religious conversion in Parliament, to be approved on a federal basis. EFI appeals to the Government of India and their respective state governments to ensure the rule of law and safety of religious minorities in India.

AFRICA/EGYPT – Gestures of brotherhood between Christians and Muslims on the occasion of Eid al Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice

Cairo – Also this year, on the occasion of Eid al Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice celebrated on July 21, gestures and initiatives of fraternal solidarity between Christians and Muslims in Egypt were renewed. These are not unusual scenes in the great Egyptian country, where even the coexistence between Christians and Muslims is punctuated by recurring local episodes of sectarian conflict, and where Coptic Christian communities have suffered ferocious massacres by organized groups of the jihadist galaxy.
In several Egyptian provinces, high representatives of the ecclesial hierarchies have made formal gestures of homage to the local political and military authorities. Among others, Anba Kyrillos William, Coptic Catholic Metropolitan of Assiut, attended with a delegation from his archdiocese to pay homage to the Chief of Staff Moheb Habashi, Commander of the Southern Military Region. Anba Timotheos, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Zaqaziq, also visited, together with some representatives of the diocese, Dr. Mamdouh Ghorab, Governor of the Governorate of Sharqia, and General Ibrahim Abdel Ghaffar, at the head of the armed forces of the eastern provinces of the Country. Among the most striking initiatives are the gestures of fraternal closeness made spontaneously by members of the local Christian communities. A group of young Copts in the Governorate of Beni Suef – reports Copts Today news agency, stood at the doors of the mosques to facilitate the entry and exit of Muslims from the festive prayer, checking that the measures were respected imposed by the pandemic and distributing health protection masks to those who did not have them. In particular, in Beni Suef, Christian men and young scouts were posted in front of the mosque of Omar Bin Abdulaziz from 4.30 in the morning, one hour before the start of the Eid al Adha prayer, to coordinate the entry of Muslim fellow citizens in their place of worship in compliance with anti-pandemic provisions.
“We and our Muslim brothers and sisters belong to he same social fabric, we will never forget when they came to protect our churches in difficult times, and we are happy to be able to offer them help and assistance on the occasion of Eid al Adha”, said Youssef William Nassim, Secretary General of the Scout Service in the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Beni Suef. In the same city, on the occasion of the Islamic holiday, young Copts also organized entertainment initiatives for Muslim children , distributing sweets, chocolates and balloons and organizing social events with entertainers dressed as cartoon characters.
For his part, Sheikh Ahmed Karima, a well-known theologian and professor at the Sunni University of al-Azhar, invited Muslims to share with their Christian neighbors the meat and food prepared for the Feast of Sacrifice, while inviting them to treat animals subjected to ritual slaughter with respect, avoiding unnecessary suffering and refraining from the disgusting and even dangerous behaviors from a health point of view that unfortunately continue to characterize the celebration of Eid al Adha in some areas. The feast of Eid al Adha commemorates Abraham’s test of obedience to God, when the Father of all Believers, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, was willing to sacrifice the life of his son Isaac following the will of God. During the feast, Islamic family clans sacrifice an animal to commemorate the substitute sacrifice of a ram made by Abraham himself, after the Angel had stopped his hand ready to sacrifice Isaac.

ASIA/IRAQ – Patriarch Sako: elections at risk of boycott, even Christians could desert the polls

Baghdad – The risk of fraud and the experience of having been “robbed” of the quota of parliamentary seats reserved by the electoral system for candidates from Christian communities will push many Christians to boycott the political elections scheduled in Iraq next October. Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, is convinced of this, currently engaged in a pastoral visit to the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. “I doubt that there will be transparent and fair elections as the ground is not prepared for that. There are militias and political money, so fraud will occur”, the Patriarch said on Friday, July 16 in an interview with the Kurdish media group Rudaw.
The Primate referred in particular to the “tiredness” of Christian voters, due to the widespread belief that the Christian quota “will be hijacked again” by hegemonic parties and political forces.
The Iraqi electoral system reserves 5 of the 329 parliamentary seats for Christian candidates. The last political elections were held in May 2018. In recent years, as reported by Agenzia Fides , Patriarch Sako has stigmatized on several occasions the fragmentation of political acronyms animated by Christian leaders and militants, noting that also thanks to these internal divisions, the Iraqi political parties with the most power in the 2018 elections had managed to place their own emissaries also in the parliamentary seats reserved for representatives belonging to the Christian component.
Those scheduled for October will be early elections . The early political vote was one of the demands of the protesters who took to the streets in 2019 against the government. In the general climate of mistrust, the appeals of commentators and political activists in favor of the boycott of the next election are multiplying. On Thursday, July 15 the same Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, at the head of the largest political bloc in the current parliamentary assembly, announced his intention to close his party, withdraw support for the government and not take part in the next electoral competition.

AFRICA/EGYPT – Approval of the law on the personal status of Christians and family law is imminent

Cairo – The new law on the personal status of Egyptian Christians, which has been awaited for decades by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the other Christian churches and ecclesial communities represented in Egypt, may be passed during the next session of the Egyptian parliament. The indiscretion on the forthcoming parliamentary approval of the draft law, which also includes provisions on sensitive issues relating to family law, was expressed by parliamentarian Monsef Suleiman, legal advisor of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Recently, Suleiman announced the completion of the legislative text revision that has been underway for some time at the Egyptian Ministry of Justice. The revision process was carried out in the course of 16 working sessions at the Ministry, which brought together experts, officials from the Government Department and representatives of the various Christian denominations, summoned by the civil authorities in order to examine the wording of all articles of the bill.
The legal advisor of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate informed the Egyptian web portal Masrawy that soon the revised draft of the text will be sent to the Council of Ministers, which in turn should submit it to the control of the Council of State, in order to then forward it to the House of Representatives and submit it to the parliamentary vote, which confirms the final approval and sets the date of its entry into force. The involvement of the Christian Churches present in Egypt in the long process for the drafting of a new law on personal status had already begun in 2014 , by the then Transitional Ministry of Justice. Already at that time, the government body had submitted a draft of the law to the leaders of the various churches with the request that they examine the text and submit their own reflections on this subject. The time required for drafting the draft was lengthened especially due to the negotiations aimed at guaranteeing the formulation of a text which takes into account the existing differences in matters such as separation and divorce, which are regulated differently by the various Christian denominations. The draft of the unitary legislative text, drawn up by mutual agreement by the representatives of the various churches and ecclesiastical communities, was handed over to the government authorities on October 15, 2020


CHRIST, dost Thou live indeed? or are Thy bones
Still straitened in their rock-hewn sepulchre?
And was Thy Rising only dreamed by her
Whose love of Thee for all her sin atones?
For here the air is horrid with men’s groans,
The priests who call upon Thy name are slain,
Dost Thou not hear the bitter wail of pain
From those whose children lie upon the stones?
Come down, O Son of God! incestuous gloom
Curtains the land, and through the starless night
Over Thy Cross a Crescent moon I see!
If Thou in very truth didst burst the tomb
Come down, O Son of Man! and show Thy might
Lest Mahomet be crowned instead of Thee!