WITH the surge of Christian persecutions and Islamist attacks worldwide, the Aid to Church in Need, a Vatican foundation that provides relief to Christians and non-Christians in conflict areas, opened its Philippine chapter in an inaugural conference last Nov. 12 at Saint Pedro Poveda College in Pasig.

One out of five countries from Sweden in northern Europe to Australia in Oceania including 17 African countries are experiencing violent Islamist attacks, according to their report in the conference.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas was appointed as president and will head its Philippine office at the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines complex in Intramuros.

He called for Catholics to remain faithful to the Church even if the persecution of Christians is a worsening situation in various parts of the world.

“In the midst of our persecution, we can rejoice. Carrying our cross, we can smile because God is faithful with his promise,” Villegas said in the inauguration conference.

ACN executive president Baron Johannes Heereman von Zuydtwyck of the Knights of Malta, a Christian military order in Germany, likened St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrines as the Doctor of the Church to the duties needed to uphold mercy amid crisis.

“St. Thomas Aquinas expressed one view he would only define as merciful: someone who strives actively to ease the suffering of another,” Heereman said.

The inauguration conference was attended by victims of high-conflict areas in the country and in Syria and Malawi.

The discussion of Christian persecution in the Philippines led back to the 1980s where kidnapping incidents in Basilan involved native priests, said Ozamis Archbishop-elect Martin Jumoad.

“These were perpetuated by the extremists who want Basilan to be a purely Islamic state,” Jumoad said.

Bishop Antoine Chbier, Maronite Bishop of Latakia-Tartus in Syria, tackled the current persecution and war in Syria, describing it as the “Westerners’ war.”

“The war in Syria is not ours; it’s the Westerners’ war. They are only taking advantage of Syria with the effect on the country’s economy,” Chbier said.

He added that the economy of their country is now in “the doldrums” with Syrian pounds dropping at a significant rate: from an equivalence of 40-pound to $1 to 550 Syrian pounds.

Majd Al Jalhoum, a volunteer from Homs in Syria, added that Islamic and extremist groups are now building their own empires on several fronts of the country, causing the growing plurality among its districts.

A witness to numerous heavy fighting and bloodshed, Homs, Syria’s third largest city, is now posing a threat to its inhabitants especially the children, said Al Jalhoum.

Bishop Montfort Stima of the Archdiocese of Mangochi in Malawi discussed how political influence started the discord in his country.

He narrated how Malawi’s first democratic president, Bakili Muluzi, influenced the Muslims in their country to look down on Christians which resulted to conflicts in most districts.

“The cultural differences started the conflict. This shows how an attack on culture is an attack on the religion,” Stima said.

Stima reported that Muslims only take up 12.8 percent of Malawi’s 13,931,831 population while Christians take up 79.9 percent. Other religions occupy 3 percent while the remaining 4.3 percent is occupied by those with no religion at all.

ACN was founded in 1947 by Norbertine priest Fr. Werenfried van Straaten to cater the needs of the 14 million displaced Germans. In 2003, His Holiness John Paul II honored Werenfried by naming him as an “Outstanding Apostle of Charity.”

Recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN has currently over 5,000 projects a year in over 145 countries which now includes the Philippines. Its main headquarters is based in Konigstein in Taunus, Germany.


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