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2 August 2019 - The Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) and the Conferences of European Churches are uniting once again this year to reaffirm responsibility for creation and issue an invitation to prayer. In a joint statement, sent to Agenzia Fides, highlights that the “Season of Creation”, from September 1 to October 4, "is a special period in the liturgical calendars of an increasing number of Churches in Europe".

"So, we are taking advantage of this occasion and unite ourselves in prayer so that humanity may respect the planet. With our whole heart we pray for those people in the world who are suffering as a result of environmental damage caused by selfishness and neglect.

The network of life must not be interrupted by human greed and indifference towards human beings and the whole of creation", is what is written in the statement.

Recognizing that "due to the improper use of natural resources, linked also to destruction and pollution, we continue to inflict a painful wound on the work of God" and that "the lifestyle of modern society has consequences for the whole of the world". The statement urges "to stop the cycle of self-interest and isolation, recalling that we are all members of one human family". "So, we ask forgiveness, we intend to change our hearts and behavior to spread the seeds of justice and allow the fruits of charity to grow, thus contributing to the restoration of the beauty of creation".

Urging not to forget to thank God "for the beauty and goodness of his creation", and to pray for those "who are suffering because of our wastefulness, greed and, often, our indifference", the Presidents of CCEE and CEC invite "Christians and every person of good will to show their own responsibility towards creation, to take on concrete and wise actions to work as good stewards and to fight against inequality through the protection of biological diversity". (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 1/8/2019)

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23 March 2019 - "For the sake of my people I will not keep silent": the biblical verse (see Is 62,1), chosen as the theme of the 27th Day of prayer and fasting in memory of the missionary martyrs that is celebrated annually on the 24th March, is inspired by the testimony of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador. The date of March 24 was chosen as the day of the Archbishop's assassination, which took place in 1980, while he was celebratingMass, beatified on May 23, 2015 and canonized by Pope Francis on October 14, 2018.

"To love God means to love one's brothers, to defend their rights, to take on their fears and difficulties - is what is written in the brochure prepared by Missio Italia for the animation of the Day -. For the sake of my people, I will not be silent means to act coherently with one's faith. As Christians, missionary disciples, bearers of the Good News of Jesus, we cannot remain silent in the face of evil. To do so would mean betraying the mandate entrusted to us".

Founded in 1993 by the initiative of the then Youth Missionary Movement of the Pontifical Italian Mission Societies, with the intention of remembering all the witnesses of the Gospel killed in various parts of the world, the initiative has spread to many nations, even on different dates and circumstances: many dioceses, religious institutes, ecclesial movements dedicate special initiatives to remember their missionaries and all those who shed their blood for Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Pope Francis continually recalls that "today there are more martyrs compared to the first centuries".

During the year 2018, according to the report annually edited by Agenzia Fides, 40 missionaries were killed in the world, almost double compared to the 23 of the previous year, mainly priests: 35. After eight consecutive years in which the highest number of missionaries killed had been recorded in America, in 2018 Africa was the first country in this tragic ranking.

"The violence that is unleashed and continues to rage in the geographical and existential suburbs of our time is not limited to the bloody facts, which are already very serious, and often concern our missionaries", writes Father Giulio Albanese, Comboni missionary and director of the Missio magazines, in the thematic reflection on the Day. "Their killing, in fact, is becoming more and more painful for its spreead, motivations and the consequences of the phenomena that generate death and destruction, from Africa, to Latin America, from the Middle to the Far East. Just think of the forced recruitment of child soldiers or baby kamikaze, young people attracted to the coils of deception; so many families thrown into despair; many productive activities stifled by extortion; so many lives cut short; and a widespread resignation among the populations, almost as if it were an inevitable disaster! As baptized, having received the mandate to announce the liberating Gospel of Christ, we cannot remain silent in the face of so much evil, and as the prophet says: For the sake of my people, I will not keep silent. "

The brochure created by Missio Italia presents various suggestions for animation: a brief reflection for every Sunday, from Lent to Pentecost; proposals for the Via crucis, for a Eucharistic Adoration, for the prayer Vigil, for a community penitential liturgy. Five films will also be shown on the subject and offers some proposals to create "street animation". The gesture of solidarity that traditionally accompanies the celebration of the Day this year concerns a project for the youth of the Sainte Marie parish of Mwenga, in the diocese of Uvira, the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the occasion of the Day, Missio also proposes an awareness campaign through social networks, in particular Facebook and Instagram. (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 22/3/2019)

Published in News
Wednesday, 01 August 2018 18:15

EUROPE Migrants and Islam

1 August 2018 - Problems and possible solutions to foster coexistence between Christians and Muslims, in Arab countries and in Europe: an interview with Jesuit Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a great Islam expert. The separation between politics and religion in Islam is an urgent need. Egypt and Syria are two cases in point. The war in Iraq (and in Syria) is above all an intra-Islamic war. European countries must push Islamic countries to implement equality among all citizens, regardless of religion, and absolute equality between men and women.

Europeans must give migrants arriving in Europe bread and a roof but also the best of our culture. They must see the Christian ideal of brotherhood, starting from school, teaching respect between Europeans and migrants, boys and girls, Christians and non-Christians, this according to Fr Samir Khalil Samir who in the following interview focuses on problems and possible solutions to foster coexistence between Christians and Muslims, in Arab countries and in Europe.

1. Is Islam a religion of peace?

Yes and no! In the Qur'an, as in Muhammad's conduct, we find both peaceful and violent attitudes. When he still had no power, Muhammad entered Makkah peacefully. In the second phase of his life, in Madinah, he made war and organised raids. This was commonplace in Arabia.

It should be noted that the word "razzia" (raid) (which we find in various western languages) comes from the Arabic word "ghazwa", which means "military expedition". The first Muslim biography of Muhammad, written by Abū 'Abdallāh Muḥammad ibn'Umar al-Wāqidī (747-823), is called Kitāb al-maghāzī or ‘Book of military expeditions’.

After his death, Muslims followed his method and successfully conquered other countries, even if they were in a numerical minority.

Since Islam was a global religious, social and political project, in the new conquered societies, essentially populated by Christians, Muslims were eager to impose their Islamic rules, heavily influenced by Bedouin traditions.

2. Critics say that Islam is not only religion but also political ideology. Can there be an apolitical Islam?

Islam is a global social project. At the beginning it was a religious project, launched by Muhammad, who urged his contemporaries to abandon the worship of various deities in favour of a single God, Allah. It is clear that at that time the existence of Jews and Christians in the Arabian Peninsula played a significant role in several areas, facilitating this evolution.

But Islam is also a social and political project: social, to conform to Bedouin customs, with all its traditions and norms; political, to unite the community around a new single project, namely the existence of a single all-powerful God! As a result, the Islamic project includes both religious and political dimensions. This has been the real great problem until the present!

Currently, some Muslim majority states make the distinction between religion and politics. Syria, for example, is a 90 per cent Muslim country, but it has a secular constitution, which was drafted at the request of President Hafez al-Assad, in 1973. The author is an Orthodox Christian, Michel Aflaq, who, with Salah al-Bittar, founded the Baath party in 1947. The president is still a Muslim, but Islam is not the state religion. Every citizen follows his or her religion, but the rules of the Constitution apply to everyone: Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists ... The basic ideology is characterised by socialist pan-Arabism, which claims to be secular and tries to distinguish between religion and politics.

We could also mention Tunisia under Bourguiba, who, although a Muslim, introduced a certain degree of secularism in in 1956, above all an absolute equality between men and women.

In both cases, the influence of the French presence in these two countries played a crucial role.

3. How can Europe’s political and Church leaders in Europe face the Muslim world? How can dialogue work?

In relations with all states, including Muslim countries, two fundamental principles should always be applied: equality among all citizens, regardless of their religion; absolute equality between men and women. These are the foundation of human dignity.

Consequently, it is not possible to distinguish between a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu or a non-believer or an atheist. Everyone has the same rights and the same duties towards the state, before the law. There are no privileges or exceptions. The constitution touches all citizens. Likewise, all the articles of the constitution are valid for men and women, who have the same rights and the same obligations provided for by the law.

In their relations with all Muslim states, including Saudi Arabia, European states should demand that these two principles be put in place and applied. It goes without saying that the countries that dare to do this run the risk of being penalised, compared to other countries. It is therefore important that this decision be taken jointly by all European countries to avoid disparities between them.

This also presupposes that the European Union has a joint committee to monitor the application of this decision, to avoid that these principles are only declared in theory but not applied in practice.

4. In recent years we have witnessed spectacular cases of violence and terror by Islamists against Christians in Islamic countries.

This is an obvious reality. By definition, Islamists are extremist Muslims, who clearly differ from other Muslims because of their fanaticism and simple-minded interpretation of certain traditions. This has led to a blatant injustice towards Christians.

Based on what I have said before, Europe must systematically insist on the absolute equality of treatment between Muslims, Christians and others. Therefore, differences in treatment cannot exist, either because of religion, sex, or other reasons!

Here too, all European states must adopt a common and firm position towards Muslim states.

5. Egypt is your homeland. Is there any discrimination against Christians? What does the government do for the Christian minority?

The differences in treatment are very visible, especially when it comes to building a church, for example, where permission is often denied. This forces Christians to build in secret ... with the risk that their churches will be destroyed one day by fanatics!

President Al-Sisi has made great efforts. He has financed the construction of the largest church in the Middle East, in the future administrative capital of Egypt, east of Cairo. He has celebrated the inauguration of this church (not yet finished) in January 2018 (on Christmas according to the Coptic calendar) ... But the fact remains that more than a thousand churches (among the more than 6,000 that exist in Egypt), are theoretically illegal, because they were built without the necessary permits. So, they are a constant target of attacks by Islamic extremists.

With regard to everyday discrimination, today it is almost impossible for Christians to obtain an important position in an administrative office, despite their qualifications. It was not like that in the past. The situation has worsened due to the growing number of fanatical extremist elements. At this level, the state is absolutely defenceless.

6. In Syria, the long peaceful coexistence of religions has been shaken by years of the civil war. Will the country recover from the conflict, which is also between Muslims and Christians?

The situation in Syria is very different from that in Egypt. In principle, the secular nature of the state has been challenged by a conflict within the Muslim world. Since 1973, the state has been in the hands of the Assad family, who are Alawite, a branch of Shia Islam. The Shias make up about 15 per cent of the Muslim population. Sunni Muslims have launched war against this state. Even in Iraq, the government (after the fall of Saddam Hussein) is in the hands of the Shias. Iraq and Syria are the only Arab states in which the Shias are in power.

The Islamic State (IS) group originated in Iraq. Its full name is "Islamic State for Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). What we have witnessed is an intra-Islamic war between Shias and Sunnis. ISIS is also widely financed by the richest Sunni state, namely Saudi Arabia, which is blindly supported by the United States and, in part, by some European countries.

This explains the American and European coalition against Syria and Russia's support for Syria. The dead are all Syrians, whether they are Sunnis, Alawites or others.

The bombardment of cities, including Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, has also affected many Christians. Many had to flee and seek refuge wherever they could. Europe has made a colossal effort to welcome them, especially Germany. Refugees were often Muslims, Christians were forgotten.

At present, the country is recovering very slowly. The problems are far from being solved and the number of migrants runs in the millions: nobody knows if they can ever return to their country.

Again, religious fanaticism – this time among Muslim sects – has completely destroyed the country. And Islam’s fundamental problem reappears automatically, because Islam is both a political and religious project.

7. What can be done for Christians in the Middle East so that they remain and not emigrate?

Christians are not the cause of their problems. A certain vision in Islam is, one that discriminates between Muslims and others on religious grounds. For this reason, we must work on Muslims. It is about changing the way of thinking, from the religious to the political sphere.

It is a cultural problem, linked to the concept of religion itself. Even Christianity has known this identification between religion and politics and had to slowly get rid of it.

This is more difficult for our Muslim brothers, because the unity of religion and politics is complete from the beginning. Europe could help the Muslim world culturally, setting clear conditions for the use of European aid. Many Muslims would also very appreciate such a contribution.

A similar problem can be found in the State of Israel, where state and religion mingle, to the point of creating injustices for those who are not Jewish (especially Muslims). This Israeli position strengthens the position of extremist Muslims.

Europe does not seriously take these dimensions of the problem.

8. Can Muslims be successfully integrated in European society?

I would say yes and this can happen through education and practice; first of all, in schools. Here, the future can be prepared by treating boys and girls, native Europeans and migrants, Christians and non-Christians, and so on, with the same respect.

In everyday life, everyone should be treated the same way, with more understanding for someone who has just arrived, with all the requirements of the country: not only in visible things but also in private life, in the conduct between men and women, boys and girls, Muslims and non-Muslims, in education as well as social life and laws.

In short, it is about educating the mindset of immigrants, for the better, hoping as well that they will also teach it to those who have remained in their countries of origin, or those who will one day return.

Material aid for migrants - bread, a roof - is not enough. It's a lot but it's not enough! Migrants must also be culturally helped to the spiritual dimension, European and Christian ideals, universal brotherhood. Give onto others, whomever they may be, the best we have, especially true, absolute and universal brotherhood, as the Gospel teaches us!

Asianews

Published in News
Friday, 01 December 2017 21:40

EUROPE Investing in African Youth

30 November 2017 - The 5th African Union - European Union Summit took place on 29-30 November in Abidjan, under the overarching theme of Youth. The Summit brought together leaders from 55 African Union and 28 European Union Member States.

The EU was represented by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the President of the Council of the EU Donald Tusk, joined by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, Vice-President responsible for the EU's Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip and Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica.

The African Union was represented by the President of the African Union Alpha Condé and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat. On the occasion, President Juncker said: "We spoke a lot about young people during this summit. Already today, the majority of African citizens are under 25 years old, and by the middle of this century, one in four people on earth will be African. But this demographic dividend cannot deliver without smart investments. This is precisely why we are going to put our investments in education, in infrastructure, in peace and security, as well as in good governance – all of which will in turn inspire good business environments and create much needed jobs and growth."

Read the President's full remarks here. In their political declaration, the European and African leaders set out their joint commitment to invest in youth for a sustainable future. Concretely, they committed to focussing their work on four strategic priorities. On this basis, the European and African Union Commission will put forward concrete projects and programmes within three months. Mobilising investments for African structural and sustainable transformation European leaders presented, and African partners welcomed the EU's innovative External Investment Plan (EIP), which will mobilise €44 billion of private investments for sustainable development and job creation.

Special attention will be paid to enhancing entrepreneurship of women and young people. The newly launched Sustainable Business for Africa Platform (SB4A) will allow for structured dialogue with the European and African private sector. Investing in people through education, science, technology and skills development The importance of supporting inclusive education and vocational training was highlighted. Leaders also agreed to enhance the mobility of students, staff and academics across the African continent, as well as exchange programmes between Africa and Europe, such as ERASMUS+. Strengthening Resilience, Peace, security and governance Leaders will step up their work to enhance peace and security on both continents. In this regard, they will strengthen strategic, political and operational cooperation between the African Union and European Union, in close partnership with the United Nations.

Support to ongoing work to fight against terrorism was reiterated, including the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram, the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel and the African Union Mission in Somalia, to all of which the EU is the biggest contributor. Managing mobility and migration European and African leaders reaffirmed their strong political commitment to address the root causes of irregular migration in a spirit of genuine partnership and shared responsibility, and in full respect of international laws and human rights, as well as creating legal pathways for migration. Leaders committed to deepen cooperation on migration and mobility in a joint framework, including a continental dialogue between Africa and Europe. They stressed the imperative need to improve the conditions of migrants and refugees in Libya, and to undertake all necessary action to provide them with the appropriate assistance and to facilitate their voluntary repatriation to their countries of origin, as well as durable solutions for refugees.

In order to jointly address the dramatic situation of migrants and refugees victims of criminal networks, in IP/17/5007 particular inside Libya, President Jean-Claude Juncker, and High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat agreed to set up a joint EU-AU-UN Task Force to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya.

Furthermore, efforts will be intensified to enhance intra-African mobility and the free movement of persons within Africa. Preparatory events in the run-up to the AU-EU Summit The AU-EU Summit was preceded by a number of important events, including civil society, local authorities, economic and social actors, as well as European and Pan-African Parliament. Young leaders from Africa and Europe gathered at the Youth Summit on 9-11 October in Abidjan, and their work intensified in the context of the AU-EU Youth Plugin-Initiative. They developed a Youth Declaration with concrete proposals to leaders, which have provided a valuable impetus in preparing and shaping the outcomes of the AU-EU Summit. Youth representatives furthermore had the chance to address African and European leaders during the Summit to present these proposals.

The 6th EU-Africa business forum took place on 27 November, where business leaders, investors, innovative start-ups, and young and female entrepreneurs from both continents developed recommendations on how to improve the business and investment climate. On the day before the Summit, Ministers of Foreign Affairs from Europe and Africa gathered in Abidjan for a Ministerial meeting, co-chaired by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini.

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6th February 2016 - At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.

In the first attempt by law enforcement agencies to quantify one of the mostworrying aspects of the migrant crisis, Europol’s chief of staff told the Observerthat thousands of vulnerable minors had vanished after registering with state authorities.

Brian Donald said 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone, while another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden. He warned that a sophisticated pan-European “criminal infrastructure” was now targeting refugees. “It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children. Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.”

The plight of unaccompanied child refugees has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in the migrant crisis. Last week it was announced that Britain would accept more unaccompanied minors from Syria and other conflict zones. According to Save the Children, an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year. Europol, which has a 900-strong force of intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, believes 27% of the million arrivals in Europe last year were minors.

“Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be,” said Donald, indicating that the 10,000 figure is likely to be a conservative estimate of the actual number of unaccompanied minors who have disappeared since entering Europe.

In October, officials in Trelleborg, southern Sweden, revealed that some 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children who had arrived in the port town over the previous month had gone missing. On Tuesday a separate report, again from Sweden, warned that many unaccompanied refugees vanished and that there was “very little information about what happens after the disappearance”.

In the UK the number of children who disappear soon after arriving as asylum seekers has doubled over the past year, raising fears that they are also being targeted by criminal gangs.

 

Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said: “Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population; those without parental care that have either been sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over, or have fled with other family members.”

Donald confirmed Europol had received evidence some unaccompanied child refugees in Europe had been sexually exploited. In Germany and Hungary, the former a popular destination country for refugees and migrants, with the latter an important transit state, large numbers of criminals had been caught exploiting migrants, he said. “An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow. There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis,” said Donald.

The police agency has also documented a disturbing crossover between organised gangs helping to smuggle refugees into the EU and human-trafficking gangs exploiting them for sex work and slavery. He said that longstanding criminal gangs known to be involved in human trafficking, whose identity had been logged in the agency’s Phoenix database, were now being caught exploiting refugees.

“The ones who have been active in human smuggling are now appearing in our files in relation to migrant smuggling,” said Donald.

Europol will take evidence from organisations working on the Balkans route, which requested a meeting with the law enforcement agency specifically to discuss children vanishing. “Their concern is in relation to the number of unaccompanied minors. They’re asking for help in identifying how these children are identified and then brought into the criminal infrastructure. They’re dealing with this on a daily basis, they’ve come to us because they see it as a big problem.” He warned the public to be vigilant, stating that most child refugees who had gone missing would be hiding in plain sight. “These kids are in the community, if they’re being abused it’s in the community. They’re not being spirited away and held in the middle of forests, though I suspect some might be, they’re in the community – they’re visible. As a population we need to be alert to this.”

Europe’s chaotic approach to the migration crisis led last week to calls for Greece to be removed from the open-borders Schengen zone, a development that a senior UN official has described as a “new nadir” in the EU’s approach.

Writing in the Observer, the UN special representative on migration, Peter Sutherland, said such a move would “effectively transform it [Greece] into an open-air holding pen for countless thousands of asylum seekers. The idea is inhumane and a gross violation of basic European principles”. (The Gardian)

Published in News

5th January 2015 - At least 27 migrants and refugees from the Middle East are reported to have drowned Monday night while trying to cross from Turkey to the eastern Greek islands.

Turkish media showed images of bodies being washed ashore, including those of several children, in the coastal areas of Aivalik and Dikili.

The victims were trying to make their way in a small plastic boat to the Greek island of Lesbos just a few kilometres away, when the craft is believed to have capsized in choppy seas.

Meanwhile, figures from the global entertainment industry have been coming to Greece to help raise awareness of the migrants’ plight.  British actress Vanessa Redgrave is scheduled to arrive in Athens this week.  American actress Susan Sarandon was in Lesbos last month on what was called a mercy mission to personally help refugees

And as the weather in Greece is expected to improve this week, with higher-than-usual temperatures – almost everyone expects a new surge in the wave of migrants. (Radio Vaticana)

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