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OCTOBER 2017

20

WORLD

Refugee children forced

to recite Islamic prayers

Pope Francis’ Myanmar visit

important for reconciliation

South Sudan refugees in Sudan.

Aid to the Church in Need

Children wait for class to begin in a Catholic school in Myanmar.

Image: Catholic Mission

COLUMBIA

By Maria Lozano

I

n the words of the Apostolic

Nuncio Archbishop Ettore

Balestrero peace, recon-

ciliation and social justice

will be important themes dur-

ing the Holy Father’s visit to

Colombia. “It is the beginning

of a new chapter in the history

of Colombia. Everything is

open. The Colombians will be

the authors of this new chap-

ter. They will write it with the

decisions they take.”

In an interview with the

Catholic charity Aid to the

Church in Need (ACN) the

Apostolic Nuncio asked for a

prayer to be said: “I want to

encourage you to ask God for

the Holy Father’s enlighten-

ment. Pray for the Pope to open

the hearts of all the people so

that the Lord will find them

ready to receive his message

and to renew their lives after

the visit.”

Talking to ACN the

Apostolic Nuncio in Colombia

described the imminent visit

of Pope Francis to this Latin

American country as the “visit

of a friend”. Archbishop Ettore

Balestrero emphasised that

the Pope “like all friends of

the Colombians will ask some

searching questions: What are

you doing with your life? Are

you really happy? What is the

meaning of what you do?”

Regarding earlier Papal

trips to Colombia he said:

“The journey made by John

Paul II 31 years ago was the

visit of a father. The journey

of Paul VI in 1968 was some-

what like the visit of a teacher

from afar. These were among

the very first Papal journeys.

The journey of Pope Francis

from September 6-10 is taking

the form of a visit by a friend

– a friend who is, of course, a

father and a teacher, but first

and foremost a friend. Since he

is from Latin America himself,

he knows Colombia. He under-

stands the Colombian way.”

The towns Francis will visit

include not only the interna-

tionally famous ones – Bogotá,

Medellín and Cartagena –

but also Villavicencio on the

eastern plain. No Pope has

ever been there. The town is

located in an area which was

the scene of many armed con-

flicts between FARC guerrillas

and paramilitary units. In view

of the peace process currently

underway in the country, the

Archbishop stressed the sig-

nificance of the Papal visit

at a historically crucial time:

“Although a number of legal

and social aspects still have

to be definitively dealt with,

Colombia is in the process of

closing a chapter of its history.

At the same time a new chapter

is beginning in which every-

thing is open. The Colombians

will themselves be the authors

of this new chapter. They will

write it with the decisions they

take. Colombia can adopt the

positive sides of western cul-

ture and modern societies. But

it can also fall prey to the con-

tradictions and weaknesses of

these societies.”

In the words of Archbishop

Balestreros the Holy Father

is coming as a “pilgrim of

faith, hope and reconciliation

to a country which is passing

through a transitional stage in

many respects, and not only on

account of the peace process”.

It’s of crucial importance “to

rebuild a reconciled country

where the citizens love and

respect one another, and where

they show respect of God and

other people.”

Columbia visit comes at a

‘critical time’ says Nuncio

In the interview the

Archbishop described the

Colombian people as “very

warm,

enterprising

and

diligent”.

He also talked about the

major social rift in Colombia.

“There are people starving

while others throw away food.”

In this context he talked

about the contrasts between

highly developed cities – such

as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali

and Barranquilla – and other

regions in the country where

people live who own practi-

cally nothing.

“The Holy Father,” the

Archbishop explained, “is

the father of the rich and the

poor. But he is coming here to

remind us that Colombia needs

the contribution of all. In his

language and what he pro-

claims the Pope plays special

emphasis on those who suffer.

We cannot live under the same

heaven and fail to recognise

the other reality as though it

didn’t exist.”

With this in mind the

Apostolic Nuncio used the

interview to “thank ACN

for its help in enlightening

Colombians, in opening their

eyes to suffering and to the

other Colombia” as well as

“for its efforts in ensuring that

the Pope’s message reaches the

whole country, and especially

the marginal areas”.

Homeless people on the streets of Bogota.

© Aid to the Church in Need

SUDAN

By Murcadha O Flaherty and

John Newton

CHRISTIAN children in

Sudan’s refugee camps are

not receiving food unless

they say Islamic prayers,

according

to

reports

received by sources close to

Catholic charity Aid to the

Church in Need.

A contact, who asked to

remain anonymous for secu-

rity reasons, described how

Christian refugees from South

Sudan are “in a terrible situ-

ation” in refugee camps in

Sudan.

Speaking of the plight of

child refugees in Sudan, the

ACN source said: “We have

heard stories where children

are conditioned to say Islamic

prayers before [being] given

food. This is not right. These

children are Christian. They

should be respected for that.”

The source, who estimates

that 700,000 South Sudanese

Christians are refugees in

Sudan, added: “The major-

ity are left in camps, some in

a very terrible situation. They

are confined in those places.

They are not allowed to go fur-

ther north to the cities.”

ACN also received reports

that it is hard for refugee fami-

lies to survive on food provided

by the government. A monthly

food parcel for a family lasts

little more than two weeks

– leaving parents to seek provi-

sions in the local market. ACN

was told items provided by the

UN are sold in the market –

many still in wrappers marked

with UNICEF or UNHCR

logos.

ACN’s source went on

to say that the Khartoum

government has hampered

charities seeking to provide

urgent assistance to the camps,

preventing them from oversee-

ing emergency help.

He said: “We have heard the

story that the government does

not allow any other agencies

to give support, including the

Church agencies. The govern-

ment knows every well that the

Church is the body in the world

that supports enormously

the needy around the world.

The Muslim community has

a charity, so the Christians

have a charity, so that possibil-

ity should be given so that the

people are supported.” He said

he identifies with the suffering

families, especially as he him-

self was a refugee as a boy.

Referring to visits to dis-

placed families in South

Sudan, the source said: “I tell

them I was once a refugee like

you – that was not the end of

the road… yet still I can now

contribute something positive

to society.”

MYANMAR

By Matthew Poynting

CATHOLIC Mission has

welcomed the announce-

ment that Pope Francis

will visit Myanmar in

November.

National Director Father

Brian Lucas says the visit will

help to reinforce the work of

the Church in Myanmar and

strengthen

reconciliation

efforts.

“We are very pleased

to hear confirmation that

Pope Francis will be visiting

Myanmar,” Father Lucas said.

“It is especially encourag-

ing for Cardinal Maung Bo

who has been a strong advocate

for his people and for peace.

We hope this visit provides an

impetus for reconciliation.”

The Catholic Church has

been increasingly active in its

contributions to healthcare and

education in Myanmar, as the

country struggles to deal with

the impacts of six decades of

civil unrest and the troubling

situation of the Rohingya

people.

Father Lucas said the Pope’s

visit will raise the profile of the

Church’s work in Myanmar.

“The Church has an impor-

tant role in delivering holistic

education and training pro-

grams and in ensuring the

health and wellbeing of the

marginalised in Myanmar,” he

said.

“The Church’s work in

training

teachers,

open-

ing schools and providing

critical health services will

benefit from the profile that

Pope Francis’ presence will

bring.

“It is a pivotal time for

Francis to visit, as he has con-

sistently called for the Church

to go out to those on the

margins.”