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IRAQ – Iraqi Christians celebrate the feast of Mar Behnam, in the shrine devastated by jihadists

Fraternité en Irak

Qaraqosh (Agenzia Fides) – On Sunday 10 December hundreds of Iraqi Christians were able to take part in the celebrations for the feast of Mar Behnam (San Behnam) at the Shrine-Monastery where the relics of the Saint are kept. The Mar Behnam Monastery, a few kilometers from the city of Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plain, is being rebuilt after the massive devastation carried out by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (Daesh). The project to rebuild the important place of worship is supported in particular by the French association Fraternité en Irak. The large participation of the faithful in Eucharistic liturgies, celebrated outdoors, was an important sign of the will of the Iraqi Christians to return to live their daily life, marked by the feasts and celebrations of the liturgical year, in the places of its traditional roots.

The jihadist militiamen of the self-proclaimed “Islamic Caliphate” already in July 2014 had driven out the three Syriac Catholic monks who had officiated the monastery until the day before. Even some families residing at the monastery had been expelled. Since then, concerns have been expressed about the fate of the heritage kept in the ancient monastery, dating back to the fourth century and dedicated to the Assyrian martyr prince Behnam and his sister Sarah, which is one of the oldest and most venerated places of worship of Syriac Christianity. After a few months from the beginning of the jihadist occupation, as early as 2014 (see Fides 15/10/2017) the militiamen of Daesh had removed all the crosses and burned ancient manuscripts kept in the monastery. Then, in 2015, they had largely devastated it with explosives, and had not spared the Saint’s grave.

Last July (see Fides 17/7/2017), the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) had arrested some members of the so-called “Babylon Brigades” on suspicion of looting private houses and churches Christians, including the Mar Behnam monastery.
The Nineveh Plain Protection Units represent a local military organization, formed in part by native Christians and established in 2014 as a territorial self-defense militia.

The so-called “Babylon Brigades”, headed by Ryan al Kildani (Rayan the Chaldean), also claim their militia label composed by Christians, even if their connection with Shiite militias such as the People’s Protection Units is documented (Hashd al Shaabi) who also operate in the area. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 11/12/2017)

Saints Behnam, Sarah, and the Forty Martyrs

…were 4th-century Christians who suffered martyrdom during the reign of Shapur II. They are venerated as saints in the Oriental Orthodox Church and their feast day is 10 December.

Behnam and Sarah were born in the 4th-century in Adiabene, and were the children of Sinharib, an Assyrian king. Whilst hunting on Mount Alfafwith forty slaves, Behnam became separated from his entourage and was forced to spend the night on the mountain. He received a dream in which an angel instructed him to seek Saint Matthew, who lived on the mountain, as the saint could heal his sister Sarah, who was afflicted with leprosy. Behnam met with his entourage the next day, and they discovered Saint Matthew in a cave and requested he join them on their return to the city, to which he agreed.

Behnam and his entourage returned to the city ahead of Saint Matthew and told his mother of his dream and the saint. His mother allowed Behnam and Sarah to return to the saint in secret, and he healed Sarah of her leprosy, after which Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves were baptised and Saint Matthew returned to Mount Alfaf. Sinharib discovered Behnam and Sarah’s conversion and demanded they abandon Christianity. Stalwart in their faith, Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves, fled to Mount Alfaf, but were slain by soldiers sent by Sinharib.

Following his children’s death, Sinharib was afflicted with madness. Behnam spoke to his mother in a dream and instructed her to seek Saint Matthew, as he could heal the king. The queen took the king to the place of Behnam and Sarah’s death, where he met with Saint Matthew and was cured. Sinharib and his wife returned to Assur with the saint and were baptised. The king had a monument to the martyrs built at the place of their martyrdom, and, at the request of Saint Matthew, constructed a monastery on Mount Alfaf, which later became known as the Monastery of St. Matthew. Sinharib had the martyrs buried at the monastery atop Mount Alfaf. In the 6th century, a Persian merchant constructed a shrine to the martyrs alongside Sinharib’s monument, and would later develop into the Monastery of Saints Behnam and Sarah. Source: Wikipedia

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American Atheists’ attacks on Christmas, what Would Santa Do?

In honor of the Feast Day of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, 326 A.D., we are posting once again this commentary on the defender of faith against Arianism with an update on this year’s aggressive American Atheists’ attacks on Christmas.

The following article contains a section that originally appeared on the American Spectator in 2008, and is reproduced with permission.

December 6 by Faith McDonnell  Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus…Oh wait, it’s not Santa, it’s the American Atheists with yet another attack on Christmas.

It is Christmas, the holiday that dares not speak its name, that may alienate the American Atheists. But unlike the angry atheists, somehow hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who are not Christians, and may or may not have their own exclusive holidays to celebrate, manage to slog through the Christmas season with their feelings unscathed and even enjoying Christmas festivities along with their Christian neighbors!

This year’s attack comes in the form of telling people to skip church and calling the birth of Christ “fake news.” They also go after President Trump, naturally.

“When people are brought down to being just equal after occupying a position of privilege in the country, when they’re made to be equal or just another one of the multitude of religions, I can understand how they think it’s an attack,” the uber-defensive Nick Fish, National Program Director for the American Atheists, told Newsweek. “But it’s not. It’s equality. The government not giving special treatment to you is not an assault on your rights.” Wow! I can’t wait to see the billboard going after Muslims for “fake news” and telling Sharia-pushers that they do not deserve special treatment.

Newsweek said, “The organization is wary of increasingly partisan divides in the government — like Trump’s vow to end the “War on Christmas” during his term — but Fish said it made the group ‘even more excited to sound off’ this year.” Because of course there were no partisan divides in Obama’s administration.

The militant atheist groups — the ones that are really mad at God — have been at it for a while now. Here are some examples:

Christmas 2013: The non-believers launched a 40′ x 40′ digital billboard in New York’s Time Square on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, according to their press release. “Who Needs Christ During Christmas?” the billboard demands. Next, a hand appears and draws an “X” through Christ and the billboard purports to answer its own arrogant question, “Nobody.” Then the display advises, “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas” and offers its own reasons for the season: charity, family, fun, lights, food, hot chocolate, snow, Rockettes, Chinese food.

The American Atheists seem to believe, as some non-liturgical Christians do, that “Xmas” is taking the “Christ” out of Christmas! In reality, the X in “Xmas” comes from the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in the Greek word Χριστός, or Christ. It is combined with P, the Greek letter Rho, as a symbol of Christ both in artistic treasures such as the Book of Kells as well as in the gold glitter-covered Styrofoam Chrismon ornaments for Christmas trees.

But before the Atheists were on billboards urging people not to go to church on Christmas, saying “you hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated” (obviously the American Atheists have never visited my church!), the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Humanist Association were peppering the skies with secular tidings.

In the Christmas season of 2010, the FFRF, more recently known for its atheists “out of the closet” campaign, littered the greater Albuquerque area with such pithy sayings as Imagine No Religion, Praise Darwin, Reason’s Greetings, and Yes, Virginia, There is No God.

Wow! Albuquerque gets hammered with heresy a lot! This year’s American Atheists’ billboard design about skipping church and fake news appeared in the Albuquerque and Dallas “markets.”

In 2009, the American Humanist Association (AHA) launched a National Godless Holiday Campaign. Ads that ran in five major American cities (but not Albuquerque!) declared, “No God? No Problem!” AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt explained, “Religion does not have a monopoly on morality–millions of people are good without believing in God.”

The AHA has also maligned Santa. In mid-November 2008, ads began appearing on Washington, D.C. area Metro buses and ran through December. The ads featured a strange Santa-garbed person with Rastafarian braids. They also included the admonition from the familiar Christmas song “Here Comes Santa Claus” to be “good for goodness’ sake.” The American Humanist Association spokesman, Fred Edwards, said that there were “an awful lot of agnostics, atheists, and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”

AHA’s second reason to deck the halls and Metro buses with posters of apostasy was to declare that “humanists have always understood that you don’t need a god to be good.” According to Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA, “Morality doesn’t come from religion. It’s a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience.”

Morality definitely does not come from “religion.” In fact, sometimes immorality, downright evil, comes from religion. It all depends upon the object of worship. The Swiss philosopher/poet Henri Frederic Amiel confirmed this when he said, “The test of every religious, political, or educational system is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal.”

Mr. Speckhardt did not explain from where the empathy and fairness originate. What is the source of that sense of fairness, the sense of right and wrong? Does it just spring from nowhere? C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity gives a reasonable answer to this question. It begins with a brilliant exposition on “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” And Christian apologists such as Frank Turek follow in Lewis’ footsteps, debating regularly this moral conundrum, even with the likes of the late Christopher Hitchens.

So what would Santa think of AHA’s attempt to identify him with their Advent attack? Even the Santa portrayed in the lyrics of Gene Autry, who is not exactly remembered for his theological prowess, is said to “know that we are all God’s children.”

But would the real Santa Claus have a stronger reaction to AHA? (Yes, FFRF, there is a Santa Claus.) St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, in 4th century Asia Minor, now Turkey. In addition to being remembered for his generosity and compassion to the poor and to children, Bishop Nicholas was the kind of “muscular Christian” that makes the folks at the National Council of Churches shudder. He was a staunch defender of Christian orthodoxy and would not be too pleased with the “Why believe in a god?” mentality.

During his tenure [as] bishop, he attended the first ecumenical council of the Church, which had been called to deal with the growing heresy of Arianism. Arianism, named after Arius, a North African priest who was its key proponent, denied the full deity of Jesus Christ and said that he was a created being. Nicholas struck a blow for orthodoxy, slapping Arius in the face after he spoke. My former colleague, Bart Gingerich, has written about this, as well.

Nicholas might well deal with the American Humanist Association in the same manner in which he dispatched poor Arius, but probably, being older and wiser, and “good, for goodness sake,” he would refrain from physical violence and just urge those who believe in God to assert their right to believe, and to flaunt their belief as publicly as AHA flaunts its unbelief. That’s good advice from St. Nick.

PHILIPPINES – Ten activists killed: Christians to protest against Duterte on Dec. 10th

Bulatlat

“The despotic regime of President Duterte is transforming the whole country into an extermination camp”

(Agenzia Fides) – “Killing a human being means violating his inviolable and inalienable right to life. Killing a priest who is a consecrated person and preventing him from continuing his apostolate in favor of the poor, the excluded and the marginalized is an even graver sin and a crime that shouts to heaven for justice. We live these killings of priests and pastors in the Year of Clergy and Consecrated, a sign of the inestimable gift of life”: this is how Bishop Edwin de La Pena, Bishop of the tortured city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, comments to Agenzia Fides the murder of 72-year-old Don Tito Paez, priest of the diocese of San jose, victim of an extrajudicial execution on 4 December 2017. This is the first Catholic priest killed under President Duterte’s government. “I join my voice in denouncing this evil act to prevent him from fulfilling his prophetic task of defending those who are unjustly deprived of their basic human rights”, says the Bishop.

On 3 December, Protestant pastor Lovelito Quiñones, 57, was shot dead in Mansalay, in the province of Eastern Mindoro. On the same day, eight indigenous people (the so-called “lumad”) were killed by soldiers by the Philippine army in the province of South Cotabato in Mindanao.
Civil society groups, Catholic organizations and human rights defenders deplore and condemn the killing of these 10 activists in just a few days, on the eve of the International Human Rights Day, which is celebrated on 10 December. According to the groups, who manifest dissent in various parts of Manila, the killing of civilians and activists, often by “death squads”, recall the time of the dictatorship of Ferdinando Marcos. Among the protest groups there are the civil society forum “Karapatan”, and the “rural Missionaries of the Philippines” who complain about “state terrorism” and have announced a major demonstration in Luneta Parl in Manila on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Nuns, religious, priests and young Catholics and Protestants will be among those present at the protest.

“The despotic regime of President Duterte is transforming the whole country into an extermination camp”, said Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of “Karapatan”, raising the alarm on human rights violations across the country. “Unarmed civilians have become targets of state security forces” she noted, hoping for “a serious investigation into the murders”.

“Karapatan” attributes the latest attacks against the military program of “counter-insurgency” launched by Duterte, called “Oplan Kapayapaan”, similar to that promoted by the administration of former President Gloria Arroyo, that carried out 1,206 extrajudicial killings, mostly activists and alleged supporters of the Communist armed groups of the “New People’s Army”. In a speech on November 29, Duterte urged soldiers to shoot members of the New People’s Army. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/12/2017)

Government of Pakistan Bows to Islamists on ‘Blasphemy’ Suspects, Critics Say

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The government’s inability to withstand the violent protests and demands of the upstart, Muslim extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) has also further imperiled religious minorities, especially Christians, as it resulted in the state tacitly agreeing to facilitate registration of blasphemy cases and assuring that officials will show no leniency to blasphemy suspects, they said. “The government’s succumbing to Islamists’ pressure will surely have an adverse effect on Asia Bibi’s case, as her appeal is likely to be taken up by the Supreme Court in December,” said her lead counsel in the high court, Saiful Malook, noting that the Islamist upsurge could influence judges. “It is Asia’s fundamental right to appeal her death sentence, but the naked threats made to judges from the podium at the protest sit-in at Faizabad, in full view of the state, and its subsequent surrender to their demands, does not bode well for Asia and all other people accused of blasphemy as well as their defenders.”

The protest sit-in by Barelvi Muslims led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi under the banner of TLYR started at the Faizabad Interchange, the main highway linking the garrison city of Rawalpindi with the federal capital Islamabad, on Nov 5.

The TLYR’s two main demands were the resignation of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a controversial amendment to the elections bill recently passed by the country’s National Assembly, and the execution of Noreen, waiting a Supreme Court appeal of her death sentence.

Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. Although international attorneys note that lower courts did not consider which of three statements attributed to her were “blasphemous” nor prove the intent to blaspheme necessary for conviction, the courts upheld her conviction.

Attorney Malook said reverberations of the “deal” signed between the government and TLYR under the army’s pressure will be felt for a long time. Malook, also the special prosecutor in the assassination case of Punjab Province Gov. Salmaan Taseer, has since been on the hit-list of Muslim extremists. A Muslim, he said the government’s capitulation to TLYR has also increased security fears for him, “but I will not withdraw from the case.”

“I took upon Asia’s appeal knowing the risks involved, but I must admit that the recent events in Pakistan have instilled some fear in me,” he said. “The government has not increased my security despite the fact that I am quite vulnerable to extremists. If anything happens to me, what effect will it have on other lawyers defending people accused of blasphemy?”

Rights activist Shakeel Naz said the state had sacrificed the religious minorities just to perpetuate its rule.

“The PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] government has been humiliated, and the military leadership has further improved its standing with sections of the public for helping end the protests, but at what cost to the country and its people, particularly religious minorities?” Naz told Morning Star News.

A menacing precedent has been set by Islamic extremists that will embolden others to take to the streets and do anything they want without impunity, he said.

“It is no exaggeration to suggest that no one is safe in this country now,” he said. “I am still finding it hard to digest – how could the government cave in to such ridiculous demands, knowing very well that it will roll back all the progress that has been made thus far in trying to make Pakistan a religiously moderate country?”

Naz said that by agreeing to TLYR’s demand of inclusion in the text book curriculum-setting committee, the government has conveniently allowed Islamists to push their extremist ideology onto schoolchildren.

PML-N Sen. Kamran Michael, a Christian, and other government-backed politicians shied away from Morning Star News’ requests for comment.

Napolean Qayyum, a minority leader for the Pakistan People’s Party, minced no words in criticizing the PML-N government and the military leadership for ceding to the protestors’ “illogical” demands.

“It’s a known fact that all major incidents of Christian persecution have taken place during the terms of the PML-N government,” he said. “They have always looked the other way when minority settlements were attacked by zealots, and now when their government itself came under attack, they simply caved in to the extremists’ demands.”

Slamming the government for agreeing to drop over 20 cases of terrorism, violent rioting and murder against TLYR members and releasing them from custody, Qayyum questioned whether the government would also show the same magnanimity to Christians by releasing over 40 people accused of violent riots and lynching of two Muslims in the aftermath of the twin suicide attacks in Youhanabad two years ago.

“Isn’t it blatant discrimination against Christians as all Muslims involved in violence and killings are let off without due punishment, while innocent Christians are languishing in jail on terrorism charges?” he said. “Should they not be judged by the same yardstick? Just because our Christian leadership is weak and our representatives in parliament are mere puppets, the government does not even feel a bit concerned about our people. This is a clear manifestation of the discrimination we face as Christians in Pakistan.”

Islamist Demands

The controversial amendment to the elections bill passed by the National Assembly concerned an oath for Muslim lawmakers declaring their faith in the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of prophethood) of Muhammad. TLYR members believed a “conspiracy” to change the oath was carried out at the behest of the minority Ahmadi sect to enable them to gain entry to parliament.

Pakistani Muslims, in the form of a national identity card or as members of the assembly, have to declare that they are Muslims and believe that Muhammad was the final prophet.

The PML-N government initially reversed the amendment and sought to allay the Barelvi clerics’ concerns by blaming “a clerical error” for the omission in the oath, but the TLYR dug in its heels, demanding the law minister’s resignation, the names of those responsible for the “clerical error” be made public and they be punished, and the hanging of Noreen.

The following are the TLYR demands to which the government conceded:

  • Remove Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid from his position immediately, with the trade-off that “TLYR will issue no fatwa [Muslim decree] of any kind against him.”
  • The report prepared by Raja Zafarul Haq-led committee will be made public within 30 days, and whoever is named in the report for being responsible for the change in the election oath will be acted against under the law.
  • All protestors arrested on Nov. 6 until the end of the sit-in, across the country, will be released within one to three days. The cases registered against them and the house arrests imposed on them will be ended.
  • An inquiry board will be established to probe and decide what action to take against the government and administration officials over the operation conducted by security forces against protestors on Nov. 25. The enquiry should be completed within 30 days, and action will be taken against those found responsible.
  • The federal and provincial governments will determine and compensate the loss of government and private assets incurred from Nov. 6 until the end of the sit-in.
  • The points already agreed to concerning the government of Punjab Province will be fully implemented.

The document ends by crediting Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and his representative team for their “special efforts” that led to the agreement being signed.

“We are thankful to him for saving the nation from a big catastrophe,” it concludes.

Besides the interior minister, the document bears the signatures of TLYR leader Khadim Rizvi, Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza, two other protest leaders and Director General of the Punjab Rangers, Maj. Gen. Faiz Hameed, who facilitated the agreement.

In a revelation that has caused shudders in minority ranks, Muslim cleric Rizvi has claimed that the government has also accepted his following demands:

  • No difficulty will be faced in registering cases under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (blasphemy laws).
  • No leniency will be given to those convicted by courts for blasphemy.
  • Noreen will not be allowed to leave Pakistan in any case, and her execution will be promptly carried out.
  • No ban will be imposed on the use of loudspeakers.
  • The foreign and interior ministries will take steps for the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, after taking her mother and sister in confidence.
  • Two representatives of TLYR will be included in the panel assigned to decide changes in the textbook board. The officials will push for inclusion of translation of the Koran and Seeratun Nabi (Life of Muhammad) chapters and information about Muslim leaders.
  • Every year, Nov. 25 will be observed as “Martyrs of Prophet’s Honor Day.”

TLYR was formed after the execution of Malik Mumtaz Qadri in February 2016. Qadri, a Barelvi, was a police commando who assassinated Taseer in January 2011 after the Punjab governor called for the release of Noreen, a Christian mother of two and stepmother to three others.

An Islamist movement group begun in 2015, TLYR registered as a political party in August and contested a by-election on a National Assembly seat from Lahore that fell vacant after the Supreme Court’s disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Papers case on July 28.

The constituency is a stronghold of the ruling Sharif family, and even though Sharif’s wife won the seat, TYLR’s Begum Kulsoom Nawaz managed to bag more than 7,000 votes. That was more than the candidate of the liberal Pakistan People’s Party, which has already sacrificed two officials, Taseer and former Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, to Islamic terrorism during its term in government.

TLYR’s growing influence among the Pakistani masses, particularly its desire for imposing stricter blasphemy laws, enabled it to hold the federal capital hostage for more than two weeks with hardly a few hundred supporters.

The PML-N government avoided action against the protest sit-in for 20 days despite orders of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court to clear the area of protestors who “openly challenged the writ of the government by making inciting and abusive speeches,” as it feared the protests would grow into a countrywide movement.

On Nov. 25 the Islamabad administration finally launched an operation against TLYR protestors on court orders, but without proper planning and motivation. The botched operation met with fierce resistance from the protestors, resulting in the deaths of at least six protestors and serious injuries to more than 200 people, many of them law enforcement personnel.

At least 150 demonstrators were taken into custody during the riots in Islamabad, which also saw a large number of police and private vehicles torched and property vandalized by frenzied mobs.

The operation’s failure resulted in mass protests in several cities by Islamist groups hoping to take the opportunity to regain their grip on the state by street power. A few hundred Muslim extremists locked down major cities, including Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta, as police and other law enforcement officials looked on in despair.

The mobs also attacked residences of several government ministers and lawmakers in Punjab, injuring a PML-N Member of National Assembly Mian Javed Latif in Sheikhupura.

Fearing that the widespread protests could result in the collapse of its government, the beleaguered PML-N sought the help of the Pakistan army in maintaining order. Then it was bitterly surprised when Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa refused to “use force against our own people.” Instead, he “advised” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to find a peaceful solution to the issue.

Without the army’s support, the PML-N quickly succumbed to the protestors’ demands, dealing a devastating blow to the legitimacy and moral standing of the government and all state institutions.

Pakistan ranked fourth on the World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

PHILIPPINES – A priest killed, a targeted execution: alarm of rural missionaries

Father Marcelito Paez, murdered priest in the Philippines. (Credit: Facebook.)

(Fides Agency) – [72-year-old Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez], an elderly priest of the diocese of San Jose, was killed in the Philippines. As confirmed by Bishop Roberto Mallari, who leads the community of San Jose, in the central part of the Filipino island of Luzon, he was shot by four motorcycle-riding gunmen around 8 pm on December 4 as he was driving through Jaen town. He was rushed to a hospital in the nearby town of San Leonardo and died about two hours later due to gunshot wounds. It was a real execution, that Bishop Mallari “strongly condemns”, asking the authorities “to investigate and do justice to his death “. So far no criminal group has claimed the killing.
As Fides learns, there is strong indignation and disappointment among the faithful in the diocese and throughout the Catholic community in the Philippines. Vigils and spontaneous prayer meetings have brought together the local faithful, whom the Bishop invited to “stay united in prayer for justice”.

Paez was a diocesan priest who served the diocese for more than 30 years and retired in 2015, although he continued his pastoral and apostolic work. In his service to the Church, he was known for his active involvement in the defense of social justice, especially in human rights issues that affected the poor. For many years he had been part of the Commission for the social action of the diocese, at the head of the “Justice and Peace” office.

The priest was currently the coordinator in Luzon of the “Rural Missionaries of the Philippines RMP”, a body that in the Philippines brings together religious men and women and lay people, men and women, founded in 1969 by the Association of Major Superiors in the Philippines, with the idea of offering an active Christian presence in rural areas.

Just on the day he was killed, Paez assisted in facilitating the release of political prisoner Rommel Tucay who was detained in a prison in the city of Cabanatuan. “It is a very serious act. The execution is a brutal act that aims to sow terror among those who oppose the militaristic and despotic nature of Duterte’s government and to silence those who continue to denounce extrajudicial executions and violations of human rights”, says Sister Elenita Belardo, of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, National Coordinator of the “Rural Missionaries of the Philippines” to Agenzia Fides. “We do not know who the perpetrators are and we want a serious investigation to be carried out.

We believe that President Duterte is ultimately responsible for the ongoing attacks against rural missionaries, activists and human rights defenders during this period”, adds the nun, expressing condolences to Fr. Tito’s family and community. “His commitment to serving the poor in rural areas is an inspiration for all of us. He served people until his last breath. He always tried to witness the Gospel and the social teachings of the Church, he defended the rights and interests of the people”.

Sister Elenita concludes: “It is urgent to denounce these atrocities. We live in difficult times when nobody is safe. Let us all come together and raise our voices against the utter contempt for the lives of people, that also the current government encourages”, she concludes. (PA-SD) (Agenzia Fides, 06/12/2017)

Kidnappings, Threats of Massacre Terrorize Christians in Kano State, Nigeria

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – When the 50-year-old church elder and leader of Kano state’s Samaila village heard gunshots shortly before midnight, he rushed out of his house to try to find security agents.

Police arrested Haruna Samaila when he reported death threat by Islamic extremists. (Morning Star News)

It was a natural reaction for Mai’angwa Samaila, given recent Islamist attacks in northern Nigeria. What the elder for the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) did not know was that the armed Islamic extremists, having killed two Christians in front of their Catholic church building, were coming for him next.

Not finding him at home that night (Aug. 15), they instead kidnapped his wife, Safiya Samaila, 45. They then kidnapped two other women, 20-year-old Yaha Gabriel and Hauwa Bebi, 18, both members of the St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Samaila, in Tudun Wada Local Government Area (LGA).

Such kidnappings, along with threats of massacres by Islamic extremists, are continuing with the approval of some state officials in a concerted effort to eliminate Christianity, church leaders said.

Mai’angwa Samaila told Morning Star News how the killing of Yohanna Audu, 45, and Audu’s son, 18-year-old Micah Yohanna Audu, and the kidnappings were carried out. The gunmen first went to St. Michael’s Catholic Church, where Yohanna Audu, a church member whose house is beside the Catholic building, went outside.

“He went to find out who were the men on the premises of the church at that time of the night when they shot him, and he died instantly,” Samaila said. “His son, who heard the sound of the gunshot, ran out to find out what had happened since his dad had just gone to the church; he too was shot and killed.”

The armed Muslim extremists then went through the village to kidnap the three women, starting with his wife.

“As the shooting and capturing of the women was going on, some residents in our village rushed to the Catholic church and rang the church’s bell, alerting others on the attack on the village,” he said. “This forced the armed Muslim men to beat a retreat. This saved so many lives that would have perished during the attack.”

As the gunmen retreated, they shot at those who had run to the church building, Samaila said.

“The three women kidnapped were taken away,” he said. “I frantically called on heads of security agencies in our area, the police and army, but I was told that they were unable to come to our aid because their vehicles had no fuel or were in bad working condition.”

The gunmen contacted him and others the following day, demanding 10 million naira (US$27,510) for the release of the women, he said.

“We pleaded with them to release the women, but they refused,” he said. “They threatened to kill the women unless we paid the ransom. We had no other option than to tax ourselves and pay the money.”

The gunmen accepted 3 million naira (US$8,253) and released the women a week later, on Aug. 22, Samaila said. He and others recovered them in the Falgore Forest.

“We believe that Christian communities here are being persecuted because of our faith,” he said. “The government is aware about such invasions of Christian communities but has not done anything to put an end to the menace. The sad thing is that it is only Christians that are being killed or kidnapped in our area, as there was never any Muslim community attacked or a Muslim kidnapped.”

Death Threats

Morning Star News found that kidnappings of Christians in the Tudun Wada area have forced many Christians to flee, while many others continue to receive text messages and letters threatening massacres in their villages if no payments are made to kidnappers.

Aminu Sallau received death threats from Islamic extremists. (Morning Star News)

Haruna Samaila, a Christian who has received persistent phone threats from Islamic extremists, played recorded phone conversations he had with them.

“They threatened that unless I pay them 3 million naira [US$8,253], I will be killed,” he told Morning Star News. “I reported the threats to our church leaders, and they asked me to report the matter to police. When I did so, I was instead arrested by the police and detained. It took the intervention of our church leaders to get me released.”

Church leaders threatened to sue police for illegally detaining him, Samaila said.

“I will never allow them to kidnap me alive, they just have to kill me,” Samaila he said. “The government is insensitive to our plight. This is a conspiracy against us Christians in Kano. Those in authority and government know those armed Muslims carrying out these attacks against us, and that is the reason they are not concerned about our plight. It is a battle against Christianity and Christians in Kano state.”

A Christian whose adult son was killed by Islamic extremists in 2016 said he received a threatening letter from the gunmen on Nov. 21.

ECWA member Aminu Sallau, 60, told Morning Star News that a gang of nine Muslim extremists rode into Katsinawa village in the Tudun Wada LGA on motorbikes on Feb. 6, 2016 and shot his son, Usman Aminu, to death.

“Even yesterday [Nov. 21], the gunmen again sent a letter to me saying they were not yet done with me,” he said. “They stated in the letter that I should keep aside 3 million naira [US$8,253] for them, as they’ll be coming for the money at any time, and that failure on my part to give them the money would mean death for me.”

Sallau said he had no money to give them.

“I am prepared to die if that is the only price I have to pay for being a Christian,” he said.

Sallau said he narrowly escaped death in the attack that killed his son.

“I was listening to news on the radio when nine armed Muslim men stormed my house,” he said. “They came on three motorbikes and started shooting into the air. Three of them pointed their guns at my head and demanded I give them money.”

He had 80,000 naira (US$220) in the house and gave it to them.

“The gunmen were not happy that I had only a little money on me, so they tied my hands and legs and were about to take me away when one of them, who was standing guard in front of my house, rushed in to tell his colleagues that he had shot and killed my son, Usman,” he said. “On hearing this, I began to cry and shout, and in the midst of the confusion, the gunmen abandoned me and fled.”

Usman Aminu’s widow, 25-year-old ECWA member Hauwa Usman Aminu, said that her husband had returned from a business trip and had decided to check on his mother in their family home.

“He decided to visit his mom in their family home about 200 meters from our house,” she said. “It was there that the gunmen killed him. I heard sounds of gunshots shortly after my husband had gone out and knew that something was wrong.”

State Conspiracy

The Rev. Ayuba Hassan of the ECWA Church, Tudun Wada Dankadai, and chairman of the Tudun Wada Local Area Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said that armed Muslims are carrying out attacks and kidnappings on Christians in order to force them to embrace Islam.

“Christians here are being persecuted for refusing to embrace Islam,” he said. “We are constantly under attack. We are not allowed to freely worship as Christians. These kidnappings are aimed at forcing us to recant or make us run away from here so that they can take over our lands and expand Islam’s frontiers.”

The Rev. Murtala Marti Dangora, vice chairman of the CAN Kano State Chapter, told Morning Star News that Muslim officials in the state government are behind attacks on Christians in the state.

“These attacks are being instigated and supported by the agents of the Muslim-controlled Kano state government to force indigenous Hausa Christians, who we are, to embrace Islam,” he said. “Our refusal to do their biddings is what has made them adopt this strategy of kidnappings and attacks in order to force our people to tow their line. This is a jihad against the church of Jesus Christ.”

Kano state officials declined to speak with Morning Star News about attacks on Christians in the Tudun Wada LGA. The state police headquarters in Kano, a spokesman confirmed the attacks but declined to speak further, saying only that the cases are being investigated.

Hassan said Christian communities and villages attacked include Samaila (Tuku), Katsinawa, Beguwa, Jarkaya, Gidan Kuzuntu and Jitta Dutse.

“In Beguwa village, on 14 July, 2016, three Christians were kidnapped,” he said. “Those kidnapped are Shamaki Ali, Bature Hassan, and Magaji Salisu. A Christian woman was also raped there. The four victims are members of the ECWA Church in Beguwa village.”

On the same day in Jarkaya village, another Christian community, three members of the Catholic church were kidnapped, identified only as Abdu, Jamilu and his son, he said.

In Gidan Kuzuntu village, also a predominantly Christian community, Baba Yaji was kidnapped at about 1:30 a.m. on July 12, 2016, and the Rev. Julius Gospel, a Roman Catholic priest, was kidnapped on June 30, 2016, in predominantly Christian Jitta Dutse, the ECWA pastor said.

Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Report ‘The Jihad on Sufism’ highlights misconceptions of the politically correct

On Friday, November 24, some 30 gunmen carrying the Islamic State flag bombed and stormed a Sufi mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai, about 125 miles northeast of Cairo.  They managed to massacre at least 305 people, 27 of whom were children.  “The scene was horrific,” said Ibrahim Sheteewi, an eyewitness. “The bodies were scattered on the ground outside the mosque. I hope God punishes them for this.”

Not only is this considered the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt, but one of the strangest as well.  As the NYT’s explains, “The scale and ruthlessness of the assault, in an area racked by an Islamist insurgency, sent shock waves across the nation — not just for the number of deaths but also for the choice of target. Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State has targeted Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims but avoided Muslim places of worship.”

Indeed, whereas the bombing and burning of churches and the slaughter of Christians in Egypt at the hands of, not just ISIS, but Muslim mobs and murderers, is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Egypt, attacks on mosques in the name of jihad naturally are.

One Muslim cleric from the region who requested anonymity best voiced the general view: “I can’t believe they attacked a mosque.”  In the West, this selfsame shock of Muslim on Muslim terrorism is used to support the politically correct mantra that terror groups such as the Islamic State truly have nothing to do with Islam—otherwise they would not bomb mosques and kill fellow worshippers of Allah.

Because the attack occurred late Friday—and, as of this writing, it is only Sunday, meaning still the weekend—capitalizing on this tragedy as a way to distance Islam from terrorism has not yet begun in the West; but, if precedent is any indicator, it soon will.

For example, last year during the closing days of Ramadan, a spate of terror attacks occurred in Bangladesh, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia—all Muslim nations; these were followed by a media outpouring of  “told you Islam wasn’t responsible for terrorism,” or, to quote Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, “Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such act. They [Islamic State] do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism.”  Speaking after the San Bernardino terror attack that left 14 dead, Barrack Obama agreed: “ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death… Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim.” After the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, which left 130 people dead, the UK’s Independent published an article titled, “Paris attacks: Isis responsible for more Muslim deaths than western victims.”  And the Daily Beast argued that, “Before the Paris horror, ISIS was killing Muslims on a daily basis. We Muslims despise these crazy people more than anyone else does….  But the number one victim of this barbaric terror group is Muslims. That’s undisputed.”

Along with distancing Islam from violence—real Muslims are not supposed to kill other Muslims in the name of jihad—this argument further clouds the issue of who is the true victim of Islamic terrorism:  Why talk about the Muslim slaughter of non-Muslims—whether Western people, Israelis, or Christian minorities under Islam—when it is Muslims who are the primary victims most deserving of sympathy?

The problem with this argument, however, is that the Islamic State does not view its victims as Muslims.  Indeed, mainstream Sunni Islam—the world’s dominant strand of Islam which 90 percent of the world’s Muslims, including ISIS, adhere to—views all non-Sunnis as false Muslims; at best, they are heretics who need to submit to the “true Islam.” This is largely how Sunnis view Shias and vice versa—hence their perennial war.  While Western talking heads tend to lump them all together as “Muslims”—thus reaching the erroneous conclusion that ISIS is un-Islamic because it kills “fellow Muslims”—each group views the other as enemies.

A saying attributed to the Muslim prophet Muhammad even validates this: “This umma [nation] of mine will split into seventy-three sects; one will be in paradise and seventy-two will be in hell.”  When asked which sect was the true one, the prophet replied, “aljama‘a,” that is, the group which most literally follows the example or “sunna” of Muhammad.

Overall, then, when Sunni jihadis slaughter Shias—or Sufis, Druze, and Baha’i—they do so under the exact same logic as when they slaughter Christian minorities, or European, American, and Israeli citizens: all are infidels who must either embrace the true faith, be subjugated, or die.

Concerning Sufis in particular, last January an ISIS commander situated in Sinai “outlined the group’s hatred for Sufis and their practices, including the veneration of tombs, the sacrificial slaughter of animals and what he termed ‘sorcery and soothsaying.’”   The Islamic State has further referred to Sufism as a “disease” that needs to be “eradicated.”  Accordingly, a year ago, ISIS beheaded Sulayman Abu Hiraz, a Sufi cleric reportedly over 100 years old, on the charge of sorcery.

The argument that ISIS and other jihadi organizations kill fellow Muslims proves nothing.  Muslims have been slaughtering Muslims on the accusation that they are “not Islamic enough” or the wrong “kinds” of Muslims from the start: So what can the open non-Muslim—such as the Western infidel—expect?  Indeed, if anything, that ISIS kills other “Muslims” only further validates the supremacist and intolerant aspects of Sunnism, which is hardly limited to ISIS.  Just look to our good “friend and ally,” Saudi Arabia, the official religion of which is Sunni Islam, and witness the subhuman treatment Shia minorities experience.

In the end, it’s just jihad and more jihad, for all and sundry.

By Raymond Ibrahim (cross-posted on FrontPage Magazine)

Note: Please pray for Egypt and for the Truth be revealed!

 

Christians in India Praise God in Spite of Police Brutality, Month in Jail

 

Four of the six Christians jailed and charged in Jharkhand state, India. (Morning Star News courtesy of Singhray Kullu)

India (Morning Star News) – Six Christians facing false charges, two of them beaten by police, were jailed for a month for praying for a sick woman in eastern India, they said.

After tribal Gondi villagers in Simdega District, Jharkhand state, attacked the Christians on Sept. 16, officers at the local police station refused to listen to the victims and hit two young men among them, 25-year-old Sajan Majhi and Kalender Majhi, 20, they said.

“The police hit Sajan Majhi and Kalender Majhi repeatedly,” said one of those arrested, 35-year-old Dasrath Karketta. “They didn’t give us a chance to speak. If they inquired of us, we could have explained what happened exactly, but they didn’t; instead, they scarred the face of Kalender Majhi. He bled also.”

The police beating followed the thrashing the Christians received from Hindu extremists in Ghosra village, who attacked them while they were praying for healing for the wife of Bikhru Majhi, sources said. Officers jailed the Christians and charged them with “promoting enmity between classes” and insulting religion. They spent a month in jail before being released on bail.

“We spent one month in jail joyously – we sang hymns, read the Bible, prayed and worshipped together in jail,” Karketta said. “We shared the gospel with other inmates in the district jail. There also, people came to Christ. We strongly felt the Lord was using us for His work and were happy about it.”

Karketta, the two young men and James Ba, 30, Balmuni Kumari, 19, and Jagdish Majhi, 50, went to the home of Bikhru Majhi after he asked them to pray for his wife, Nitu Devi, sources said.

“Bikhru Majhi heard our testimonies,” Karketta said. “He was amazed at how I got healed, and he wanted prayers for his wife.”

Before winning a battle against cancer, Karketta had visited several hospitals for treatment, exhausting his family’s financial resources, he said.

“We spent lot of money to a point that there was nothing left in our house, even no food for our children to eat,” Karketta said. “When I came to Christ, I got rid of all ailments, and now I am working, providing for my family and leading my life in Christ: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”’

Bikhru Majhi is Hindu but believes Christ can heal, and he routinely invites Christians to pray for his wife, who has long been ill, said Singhray Kullu, former pastor of the church in Ghosra village that the arrested Christians attend.

“Bikhru believes the prayers can heal her,” he said.

At around 8 p.m. on Sept. 16, a throng of Hindu villagers surrounded Bikhru Majhi’s house as the Christians prayed for his wife, said the only woman among the six arrested, Balmuni Kumari.

“They surrounded us and started beating the Christian brothers and me,” she told Morning Star News. “We told them it’s not conversion, we only came to pray for a sick woman.”

The villagers were furious, Karketta said.

“We tried telling them, ‘We did not come to murder, or get drunk, or steal, we came to pray at the request of Bikhru, and if this act of us offends you, we ask for forgiveness, please forgive us,’” Karketta said. “We tried our best to make peace, but they did not listen. They beat us, screaming, “Where is your God? Where is your Jesus? What can He do? Call him right now. We also want to see what He can do.’”

At around 11 p.m., police arrived and arrested the Christians, he said. They were taken to T. Tangar Police Station.

“We all are daily laborers, we depend on our earnings each day for our bread,” Karketta said. “From where arises the question of paying people and converting them?”

James Ba and Kalender Majhi of Banspahar village, Jagdish Majhi of Latapani village and Balmuni Kumari of Tukupani Baanstoli village were released on bail on Oct. 16. Dasrath Karketta of Khijri village and Sajan Majhi of Farsapani village were released on bail on Oct. 17.

Women’s Prison 

The 19-year-old Kumari was arrested along with the others at 11 p.m., though arrests of women are not permitted in India after sunset, a legal expert told Morning Star News. He added that if special circumstances require the arrest of a woman after sunset, police are required to assign female police officer.

“No female police constable came for me,” Kumari said. “I was the only woman, and it was frightening. I trusted the Lord.”

Her family came under severe pressure from the Hindus extremists while she was in jail, she said.

“The assailants threatened my mother and father,” she said. “They were asked to leave the village.”

Her brother told Singhray Kullu about the threats in Kumari’s home village.

“The family faced severe opposition because of their faith,” Kullu told Morning Star News. “The Gondis plotted to expel them from the village. Balmuni’s mother went into depression. Things turned normal after her release.”

The time in the women’s jail interrupted her university studies, Kumari said.

“Even in the prison, I prayed and worshipped with other Christians,” she said. “Every Sunday believing sisters from outside visited us and led us in prayer and worship.”

Some of the assailants later apologized to her, she added.

“The people who beat me that day came and asked for forgiveness after my release,” Kumari said. “But there is still bitterness in the hearts of some.”

The Christians were charged with promoting enmity between classes (Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine; maliciously insulting the religion or religious beliefs of any class (Section 295-A), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine; and acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention (Section 34).

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

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