The Church needs them
Annually almost 170,000 Christians are killed because of their faith. Over 200 million are persecuted. According to the 2008 report of Aid to the Church in Need (Kirche in Not) the Christian communities are the most repressed groups in the world. Such associations as Aid to the Church in Need support them. For the last four years the Polish national office of the association has helped the persecuted Christians as well.
In South Sudan thousands of Christians, persecuted by the Muslims from the North, are killed. The followers of Muhammad want to change the Christian state of Sudan into a Muslim one, governed by the Shariat law. That’s why Christian villages, churches and schools are burnt. Whole families are massacred, especially the Catholic families that are many a time crucified. Christian children are kidnapped for the army. They are trained to kill their brothers during the ongoing civil war. Many Christians are to become Muslim slaves. The kidnapped Christian women are to become sexual slaves for their Muslim owners. Last year Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala from South Sudan spoke about those facts during his visit to Poland.
The Christians in Iraq are in a similarly tragic situation. They are blamed by the Muslims for the presence of the American and European troops in their country. Therefore, the wrath of the Iraqi Muslims is often poured out upon the Iraqi Christians. The former accuse the latter of what is happening in their homeland. Christians are still being killed. Their houses are burnt. In other cases the Christian properties are confiscated by the Muslim community. The state or regional governments do not react to such acts of violence. Christians gradually become citizens of inferior category and they must struggle for their existence almost every day.
Christians are also persecuted in these countries that do not wage any war, for example in China where priests and those believers who do not want to submit to the government are sent to prison. The similar situation is in Vietnam where priests and laymen are sentenced to several dozen-year imprisonments and to labour camps. Many of them have been in prison since the early 1970s.
The extremely drastic example of Christians’ persecutions is in the country that boasts of its religious tolerance – India. It was there that the followers of Christ were so brutally persecuted. The Hindu launched an especially bloody campaign at Christmas in 2007. It happened in the state of Orissa where Christians’ houses, churches, schools, school campuses, nurseries and orphanages were burnt. Laymen, priests and the religious were massacred. The police and military units did not react when the massacre of Christians happened in the state of Orissa.
Another form of persecutions, that is not perhaps so drastic, concerns the Christians living in the birthplace of Christ, in the Holy Land. In Israel and Palestine. The territories that 50 years ago were inhabited by almost 20% of Christians are now inhabited by less than 2%. The persecutors of the Christians are both the Muslims and the followers of Judaism who treat Christians in the category of sub-people. Many of them are descendents of those who lived in the times of Christ. Today the Israelis often make these Christians lose their jobs under the pretext that they support the Arab extremists. They cannot get jobs from their fellow countrymen because they are not Muslims. Consequently, they are treated as aliens in their own land.
Help for enemies
The Organisation Aid to the Church in Need quickly organised help for the Christians in the above-mentioned situations and similar ones, in the countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Over one billion and a half euros have been spent to support these communities. The organisation founded 63 years ago in Belgium by the Dutch Norbertine priest Fr Werenfried van Straaten did not fix such far-reaching aims at first. Fr Werenfried appealed to his countrymen to support the Germans who had been arrogant occupants of Holland not a long time ago. After the war the Germans were impoverished, even hungry. The response of the Dutch and the Belgians was astonishing. The collections of money, bacon and pork fat contributed to save numerous people from starvation. Since that initiative Fr Werenfried has become ‘Bacon Priest.’ The single action soon changed into institutional help. Priests from other countries joined Fr Werenfried and his association, founding national offices of Aid to the Church in Need. Fr Werenfried also initiated collections for motorcycles for priests that celebrated Mass in distant places. Then he initiated mobile chapels in the European countries and towards the end of the 20th century he organised even Orthodox ‘chapel boats’ and Catholic churches for believers in the former Soviet republics. Such ‘chapel boats’ could reach to the places where neither motorcycles nor cross-country cars could go. Since the early 1990s huge material help has been directed there, too.
Help for the conquered anew
Just after World War II it turned out that the countries influenced by the Soviet Union were in the economic situation that was worse than in Germany. Since totalitarianism made their post-war poverty even bigger. Soon there were also spiritual persecutions. The confiscation of bank accounts and properties of the religious congregations completed the drama. Therefore, the association Aid to the Church in Need began collecting money for aid goods and education of priests, the religious or for building monasteries and churches. Since a frequent form of repression of the Church was to block the purchase of building materials. It was in 1957 that Aid to the Church in Need started its intensive support activities in Poland. Apart from aid goods Poland received the biggest donations until the end of the 20th century. Therefore, at the beginning of the new century, inspired by Fr Werenfried, the launching of the Polish office of the organisation was considered. In 2002, the Norbertine priest, who had been a friend of John Paul II for a long time, wrote to the Pope one year before his death, ‘You know well how we were dedicated to support the dramatic struggle of the Church in Poland in the previous decades. Recently, we have thought of the idea to include Poland in the central structures of our association. Aid to the Church in Need needs Poland, her spirit and experience to be able to fulfil the tasks the Church has entrusted us in the field of reconciliation, strengthening faith and help for the persecuted and poorest Churches.’ Consequently, in January 2006 the Polish Office of Aid to the Church in Need (in Polish ‘Kosciol w Potrzebie’) was opened. Its director became a young priest Dr.Waldemar Cislo, who began organising the Polish office with great determination. In the first year of his activities it occurred that our society was extremely generous despite the fact that the number of collections for various charities in churches increased every year. ‘So we are even happier about it knowing that there is still much poverty in Poland’, stresses Fr Waldemar Cislo. ‘However, we try to show our solidarity with those who are in worse conditions than us. We could share what we have. Perhaps we have no surplus but we remember the message of the Gospel that a poor widow threw in most because she did not give from her surplus but she gave what her heart commanded her. The Polish office takes up the initiatives organised annually by Aid to the Church in Need. And the generosity of the Polish people was shown during the collections for the Sudanese as well as for the Church in the East, which was organised last year, or for the persecuted Christians in the Indian state of Orissa. ‘Last year the biggest achievement in Poland was the introduction of the Day of Solidarity with the Persecuted Church on the second Sunday of November’, says Fr Cislo. ‘Every year we want to choose one country and focus on it to show the situation of Christians there. Last year we presented what had happened in India, specifically in the state of Orissa. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, who was most afflicted by the persecutions, gave his testimony. We travelled all over Poland and he spoke about the atrocities. People learnt about the persecutions from an eyewitness and it was very suggestive. Last year’s help overwhelmed me; it was much more than I expected. Many dioceses organised help. More dioceses than it was early announced. And we are still receiving reports concerning the collections. The public television joined the initiative. However, on the occasion of the Day of Solidarity with the Persecuted Church I was astonished that the event was almost completely ignored by Polsat TV and TVN that boast of being news programmes. They expose every lapse in the Church and they did not notice the importance of that event. It is more astonishing because most inhabitants of Poland are Christians. It is hard to ignore such news. I think it is some non-understandable conspiracy of silence. The activities organised by Aid to the Church in Need, which Polish people are eagerly involved in, include buying Bibles for Christians who cannot afford a copy of the Bible. When we buy one copy of the Bible from Aid to the Church in Need we finance two or three next copies, especially for our Christian brothers in Africa. The unique form of support for the African countries is the Mass intentions ordered in Europe and Poland. Thanks to them in some cases it is possible to finance the whole parish since this donation is the only source of income for this parish. The other forms of support initiated by Aid to the Church in Need include help for your own country. In Poland the annual action ‘Silent and faithful presence’, i.e. financial help for 82 Polish contemplative congregations embracing ca. 1,500 nuns, is very popular with people. Last year some convents also received presents: embroidery machines. Thanks to them nuns have easier lives. ‘We follow the principle of three steps: information, prayer, material help’, says Fr Waldemar Cislo. ‘Certainly, no one can release us from helping through prayer. Praise the Lord that more and more Poles pray for the persecuted when they learn about the tragedies in ‘distant countries’. And then they generously support them. Since we are one Church, one Body. We are all children of Christ.