‘We Are Living Through the Worst Period in Our History’

The escalation of international conflicts, the Covid-19 pandemic, lack of employment and exorbitant price rises, the isolation of the Syrian people from the outside world by means of the embargoes and sanctions, and the lack of the barest minimum for survival – the list of sufferings enumerated by Sister Annie Demerjian, a Syrian religious sister of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, is long indeed. Her sad summary speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “All these factors are bringing the Syrian people to the point of sheer desperation.”

“Without doubt, we are living through the worst period in our history, as a result of ten years of bloody warfare”, says the religious with Armenian roots. “I don’t know of any other society in the Middle East whose members are living in such appalling conditions at the present time”, adds Sister Annie, who for over seven years now has been coordinating ACN’s aid campaigns in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus.

“Throughout all these years, the help of ACN has been a lifesaver and a source of hope for our Christian families, who are living in truly inhuman conditions. The poverty is all-pervasive, there is a lack of medicines, sometimes we have no electricity or even water for lengthy periods. For many people, life is almost unbearable. Most Syrian families feel afflicted by the psychological and material pressure”, she explains.

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ACN Supports Renovation of Orthodox Children‘s Hospice in Saint Petersburg, Russia

For seventeen years now ACN has been supporting the Orthodox children‘s hospice in Saint Petersburg, the first of its kind, founded in 2003 by the Orthodox priest Father Aleksandr Tkachenko. Prior to this, he had received a special formation in the United States as a hospital chaplain, and he could see that in Russia too there was an urgent need for better facilities for caring for incurably sick children and their families. Generally speaking, prior to this, children were simply sent home from the hospital when it was felt there was no hope for any further successful treatment of their condition. And so the families were simply left to cope entirely by themselves.

Initially, Father Alexander began small. Still a young priest at the time, he simply packed a car full of aid goods and visited the children and their families at home. But he could soon see that this was not enough, and so, working closely together with specialist doctors and psychologists, he founded the first-ever children‘s hospice in Saint Petersburg. Here not only were the sick children cared for by competent medical staff, but both they and their families were lovingly supported right round the clock. The help offered by the hospice ranges from a whole variety of different therapies aimed at improving the quality of life of the children, most of whom are suffering from incurable cancers, through to the loving effort to explore every imaginable way of giving joy and happiness to the children and enabling them to live as happy and normal as possible a childhood.

By the time they arrive in the hospice, many of these children are so accustomed to their own solitude, suffering, and isolation that it is sometimes difficult to motivate them to even open up to play or engage in other recreational activities. Social workers and specialists care for these children with loving sensitivity; doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, priests, and volunteer helpers all work together, hand in hand, to ease the heavy burden borne by these children and their parents. In all this, the pastoral aspect is And with Your Spirit of crucial importance. „We don‘t preach to people as they lie in their beds, but in situations like these, it is the people themselves who come to us with many and very profound questions. As priests, we endeavor to help them to find some inner peace“, says Father Alexander. The hospital also supports those families who continue to care for their children at home, with medical, psychological, and pastoral support and counseling.

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ACN: Good News for Pakistan: Arzoo Raja, Child-Bride of Karachi, Released

The first positive result has been obtained in the Arzoo Raja affair, the 13-year-old Catholic girl of Karachi, Pakistan, abducted last October 13, persuaded to abandon her faith and to marry her 44-yer-old Muslim abductor Ali Azhar. Arzoo was liberated in fact by the police force and led to a shelter house, at the same time as her kidnapper was taken into custody. The Sindh High Court has now ordered that the adolescent be present in the courtroom on the occasion of the forthcoming November 5 hearing.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which is covering the legal fees for the defense of the minor, is happy with the decision assumed by the Judicial Authority and the assured assistance of lawyer Tabassum Yousaf. Above all we now hope that the victim will be properly supported after the very grave trauma suffered. However, Arzoo’s release doesn’t mean that the judicial proceedings are definitively concluded with the hoped-for success. Hence, it’s necessary to verify what the subsequent decisions of the competent court will be, trusting in the application of the Child Marriage Act, which defines illegal the marriages of minors.

Above all, it’s necessary to remember that it’s not an isolated case. The scourge of kidnappings, of forced conversions, and of child-brides involves every year thousands of adolescents belonging to religious minorities, first of all, the Christian. According to some estimates, the numbers are even greater. Numerous political representatives in Pakistan, including Muslims — and many belonging to communities affected these days by this drama –, are courageously raising their voices publicly to denounce such crimes and to invoke the existing norms of protection or the approval of other more appropriate ones.

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The Alpha Male Versus the Alphabet Soup

Is President Trump a Cyrus Redivivus, a type of the ancient, quasi-pagan king who, recognizing their goodness and chosenness by a God he scarcely knew, led the Israelites from captivity to freedom? The analogy is a limited one, for Trump is not a pagan, but, after being brought up Presbyterian, with Vincent Normal Peale as his pastor, now describes himself as a ‘non-denominational’ Christian, even if his pronouncements on life and other issues sound more boldly Catholic than many, if not most, of our own ordained leaders.

Of course, salvation depends primarily upon God, even if He may choose to use ministers of His will, witting and unwitting. In the past while, the President, for all of his human and other limitations, has been doing some remarkable evangelization, trumping up his pro-life, pro-family, pro-religion credentials, all the while shoring up the economy, putting China in its place, and trying, at least, to drain the Washington swamp. He is one of the most remarkable presidents, if not leaders, of modern times. His work ethic seems remarkable, not least for a septuagenarian. Who else would and could do what Donald Trump does and has done? Joe Biden seems like a confused, leaden lamppost next to the vivacious Trump, who from all appearances is enjoying himself immensely.

Regardless of what happens this evening, even the seemingly indefatigable Trump is nearing his twilight years, with eternity on the horizon, and we might not be surprised, and we may hope, that he does the full conversion.  And we should hope and pray for the same for Biden.

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New protests over closure of seminary in Argentina

CNA Staff, Nov 3, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Demonstrators this weekend protested the Vatican-ordered closure of Mary Mother of God Seminary in San Rafael, Argentina.

Protestors gathered Saturday and Sunday outside the diocesan offices, in San Martín Plaza and in front of the city’s cathedral. The protestors prayed the rosary and held signs calling for the diocesan seminary not to be closed.

Signs held by the demonstrators included messages such as “We’re not confused, we’re outraged,” “Enough of the threats, Bishop”; “For the sake of our seminarians, explain the real reason,”  “We ask for an Apostolic Commissioner,” and “Holy Father, give us back the seminary and the seminarians.”

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