Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said there was “nothing serious” in the threats, which were revealed by the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Nazione on Tuesday.
Fr Lombardi confirmed that the Pope would travel in the same open-top car he uses in St Peter’s Square in Rome while he is in Albania this weekend.
He added: “There is no particular concern in the Vatican. This news has no foundation.”
Habeeb Al-Sadr, who has been the ambassador since 2010, told the newspaper he did not have intelligence about a specific forthcoming attack, but warned that IS’ “genocide” of Iraqi Christians indicated their intent to wipe out Christianity.
“What has been declared by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the Pope. The threats against the Pope are credible,” he said.
He continued: “I believe they could try to kill him during one of his overseas trips or even in Rome. There are members of Isil who are not Arabs but Canadian, American, French, British, also Italians.”
Catholics make up around 15 per cent of Albania’s population of 3.5 million, 70 per cent of which is nominally Muslim and 15 per cent Orthodox, although no new figures have been compiled since a 24-year communist-era ban on religious practices was lifted in 1991.
On Wednesday after his general audience he told the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square: “I decided to visit [Albania] because it has suffered greatly as a result of a terrible atheist regime and is now realising the peaceful co-existence of its various religious components.”
Pope Francis’ trip to Albania will be his first to a Muslim-majority country. His second, to Turkey, is expected to take place at the end of November.
- the tablet
Boko Haram Declares Islamic Caliphate, Analysts Respond
The leader of Boko Haram, a radical Islamic insurgency based out of northeast Nigeria that has slaughtered Christians and burnt churches to the ground for years, declared two predominantly Christians towns as part of the Islamic caliphate. While it remains unclear what additional threat the self-proclaimed caliphate will pose to the Nigerian state and minority Christians in the country’s north, many in the West see the declaration as a clear sign that greater action needs to be taken in combating Boko Haram and other Islamic insurgencies across Africa.
Pastor Faces Decade Behind Bars Amid China’s Anti-Church Campaign
Amid the massive anti-church campaign in China’s Zhejiang Province, Huang Yizi, a preacher who attempted to organize protests against the removal of JiuEn (Salvation) Church’s cross, was arrested by plainclothes police officers and facing up to a decade in prison. He openly criticizes the ongoing church demolition campaign and is accused of “gathering to assault a state organ”, according to Telegraph, a charge often used to silence government critic. “I know I will be put in jail one day,” the preacher told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post in an interview before his detention.
Indonesia Warns: Radicals Inspired by ISIS to Establish a Caliphate in Asia
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is becoming “one of the main centers of Islamic activism in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to AsiaNews. Islamic extremism has been rising with a decline in religious pluralism in the country. Moreover, fundamentalist movements have found “inspiration in the exploits of Sunni fighters in Syria and Iraq.” The Indonesian government warned that the rising radicalism may take a more “dangerous turn with the project of creating a Caliphate” in Asia.
Suspected al-Shabaab Militants Behead Alleged Christian after Releasing Muslim Coworkers
A group of suspected Somalian Shebab Islamist militants have beheaded a Christian Kenyan driver after kidnapping a group of traders near the resort island of Lamu, police said Saturday. Three traders were released by the militants for being Muslim. According to police, the survivors said the attackers were well armed and identified themselves as Shebab members on a mission to fight security forces inside Kenya. Somalia’s Shebab rebels have vowed to increase attacks in Kenya for its military presence in Somalia.
Christian High School Student in Tennessee Suspended for Blessing Fellow Student
Kendra Turner, a student at Dyer County High School, received an in-school suspension for saying “bless you” to a fellow student who sneezed. Local media outlets report Turner said her computer teacher banned the phrase “bless you” for it should only be allowed in church. The Dyersburg State Gazette reports the school said the incident is about distraction, not a religious issue. “We can’t discuss discipline because of right to privacy of students,” DCHS Assistant Principal Lynn Garner told the paper. Turner stated on Facebook, “I don’t care who talks about me or what they say, I WILL stand tall for my God!!!”
12-Year-Old Christian Girl Raped by Muslim Men in Pakistan
12-year-old Muqada and her sister Asma were returning home from their work in Lahore, when Muqadas was kidnapped by two Muslim men and three women. They took her into a closed school and the two men, identified as Ashraf Alias Achi and Ghaffor Alias Paida raped her repeatedly, and then abandoned her. One of the rapists was arrested. Christian lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, said to Fides: “We will do everything so that this violence does not go unpunished.” The family has been intimidated to withdraw the complaint. Rape is very common among young Christian girls in Pakistan, and is rarely punished.
Indonesia, August 25, 2014: In Indonesia Islamic extremism has been rising, a worrisome trend that has developed over the past decade but has recently taken an even more “radical and dangerous” turn with the project of creating a Caliphate.
In fact, as the actions of Islamic State militia in Iraq galvanise extremist groups in the country, the government warns of a possible slide towards violence.
Faced with a situation of real danger, the Indonesian Church launched an initiative – involving three Muslim scholars – aimed at a better understanding the jihadist phenomenon and its possible repercussions.
Last Friday the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (KWI) sponsored a seminar, open to bishops, priests, and nuns as well as lay Catholics and Protestants. Organised by the Episcopal Commission for the Laity and held at the KWI headquarters in Central Jakarta, it also saw the participation of three leading Muslim figures.
One of them was Prof Irfan Idris, head of the Department of Counterterrorism in charge of radical movements, who highlighted the role played by “social injustice, poverty, and political vendettas”, stressing the importance of breathing new life into the nation’s core values (Pancasila) based on pluralism and religious freedom.
The expert said that police should move fast to nip in the bud outbreaks of sectarian violence. He also said that he hopes to see a law that would strip Indonesians of their citizenship if they pledge allegiance to foreign groups or authorities.
Ihsan Ali-Fauzi, a lecturer at Paramadina Islamic University in South Jakarta where he teaches a course on Religion and Democracy, warned that discourses that feed hatred are an example of how “political Islam” is boosted through propaganda in mosques and by religious radicals. Hence, he wants better laws to ensure that police has the authority and the powers to counter the slide towards violence.
For Abdul MoQsith Ghazali, from the Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah in South Tangerang (Banten province), Islamic fundamentalism “is not” a new phenomenon, but has been present from the earliest times following the death of Muhammad. He also noted that radical Islam has many faces: al Qaeda, Wahhabism, the Islamic state. Indonesia, he explained, imported both extremist as well as conciliatory views of the Muslim religion.
Unfortunately though, radicals “have gained greater visibility” among extremists. Charismatic leaders like former President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid are needed to fight them.
At the conclusion of the seminar, in an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Petrus Boddeng Timang, of the Diocese of Banjarmasin (South Kalimantan), expressed appreciation for the initiative, which should be held in every Catholic community. Many lay people, students and workers, who attended the meeting, agree.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where Catholics are 3 per cent of the population, is becoming as one of the main centres of Islamic activism in the Asia-Pacific region.
As AsiaNews recently reported, fundamentalist movements and local Muslim leaders have found inspiration in the exploits of Sunni fighters in Syria and Iraq and plan to support the struggle for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate,even in Asia.
On 10 August, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako released a statement on the plight of displaced Iraqi Christians, whom he said are sleeping in churches, schools, streets and public parks. The statement began:
Death and sickness are taking hold of the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan region.
The most vulnerable among the displaced Christians are dying because of shortages of water, food, medicines and shelter.
Earlier this month, militants from the Islamist group ISIS (which now wishes to be known as the Islamic State) seized vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq, forcing hundreds of thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities to flee. Barnabas Fund is providing around 30,000 displaced Christians with food and basic needs.
Harrowing reports have also been circulating of the plight of those who were unable to escape. On 13 August, a United Nations statement highlighted abductions and sexual violence against women, girls and boys. The report said that some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery.
As the battle for control of northern Iraq continues, the United States has launched airstrikes on ISIS positions. By 19 August, Kurdish and Iraqi forces had managed to recapture the strategically important Mosul Dam from ISIS fighters.
BRAVE MUSLIMS SPEAK OUT FOR CHRISTIANS
Although many believers have found that their neighbours have become their persecutors as ISIS has rallied support, some brave Muslims have spoken out for their Christian compatriots. A Barnabas Fund partner on the ground reported that one Muslim family refused to participate when their neighbours planned to loot Christian homes. A young man from the family said, “We are neighbours. How come you go to loot their houses?” The man was shot by the ISIS sympathisers.
Our partner also reported a similar incident in Telkeif, in which a young Muslim man told ISIS fighters, “Christians are better than you.” ISIS immediately shot the man to death.
Also, an Iraqi TV host, Nahi Mahdi, broke down in tears on-air while speaking out in support of displaced Christians in his country. In response to a statement made about their plight, Mahdi said, “Yes, the Christians. Today… I cried at home. They are our own flesh and blood. Some of them have left for Sweden or Germany… who does (ISIS) think it is to drive out our fellow countrymen?”
A guest on Mahdi’s show also referred to Christians as “honourable people, with high moral values. They always maintain their sense of justice. We stand a hundred per cent in solidarity with them.”
- barnabas team
Fulani Herdsmen Murder 14 Christians in Nigeria’s Plateau State
In Yelwa, radical Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the remnant of a Christian community by burning homes and killing 14 Christians for their faith local Christians said. “These Muslim Fulani gunmen were more than 150, and they were armed,” a 40-year-old Christian from the village who fled to Jos told Morning Star News. “They attacked us in Yelwa. Many of the members of our community were killed by them. And they also burned down our houses. Those of us who survived had to run out of the village, some to Shendam town and others to places like Garkawa, Langtang, Pankshin or Jos.”
Journalist’s Beheading Stirs Cries to Destroy ISIS
President Barack Obama said the world is appalled by the murder of American journalist James Foley at the hands of IS. Foley was a foreign correspondent for the GlobalPost when he disappeared in Syria in 2012. IS released a brutal video on YouTube of the murder, saying Foley’s death is in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. Even Muslim leaders are slamming the actions of IS. Saudi Arabia’s top cleric said the group is Islam’s No. 1 enemy. On Facebook, Foley’s mother paid tribute to her late son, “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
China’s Nobel Nominee Lawyer Released, but Suffers Physically and Mentally
A defender of religious minorities and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Gao Zhisheng was released in a poor-state to relatives from prison after his three-year sentence for ‘inciting to subvert state power’ was served. Zhisheng has yet to be released with unconditional freedom to join his wife and children in the U.S. A recent report shows that he can barely talk and suffers from physical and mental health problems. According to this article, he has not been allowed to see a doctor since his release.
United Kingdom Hotel Chain Removes Bibles, Suffers Outrage
Travelodge, one of Britain’s largest hotel chains, proceeded to remove bibles from its hotels regardless of numerous complaints including from the Church of England. The company said in a statement the decision is to “not to discriminate against any religion.” Now guests are to borrow the bibles, supplied by the Gideon Society, from the reception desk. However according to Daily News, a guest in London could not receive a hard-copy and was suggested to use the hotel’s free Wifi to Google it and read it online. Travelodge is the first national hotel chain to remove bibles, a tradition the chain had for 126 years.
Parents and Students Gather to Pray in Response to Anti-Prayer Letter
Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association (AHA), responded to a local complaint of coaches allegedly leading or joining the team in prayer and citing bible verses on documents, by sending a letter to district officials of Hall County and Chestatee High School to cease the ‘promoting of Christianity’ or possible legal action will ensue. Miller received a response of approximately 200 students and parents gathered to pray on the field Wednesday, and a larger group on Thursday. “We choose to pray, they don’t make us pray,” Megan Ellis, a student at Chestatee High School told reporters.
North Korea Sends U.S. Missionary Back to Labor Camp
American officials confirmed this week Kenneth Bae was sent back to a labor camp in late July to continue serving his 15-year sentence, after he was discharged from the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital. “We remain concerned about Bae’s health, and continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant Bae amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” read an email by State Department officials.
Korea, August 14, 2014: “At least a dozen priests have been contacted by the Chinese government, which has them warned of ‘problems’ to return home if they had waited until the apostolic visit of Francis in the peninsula. ” A delegation of 100 young people present in Daejeon for the Asian Youth Day, but about 80 were stopped before departure. “At least half” of those seminarians are back home in Beijing, who in recent weeks have refused to obey an excommunicated bishop. Su Xinhua not a word about the pope in Korea.
The Beijing government has banned about 80 young people to participate in the Asian Youth Day being held in Daejeon, despite the enthusiasm aroused by the permission given to the papal flight to fly over the airspace of China. According to sources of AsiaNews , about 40 young people prevented is composed of seminarians in Beijing, in July 2014 refused to attend the final Mass of the year celebrated by some illicit bishops . According to the spokesman of the organizing committee of the Pope’s visit in Korea , Heo Young-yeop, China’s decision arose from “problematic situations within”; Another source speaks of possible arrests.
In addition, the government has decided to recall some Communist Chinese priests residing in Korea before the arrival of Pope Francis in the Korean peninsula. This is confirmed by some local sources for AsiaNews : “The priests were called to the telephone by officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau, which threatened them with ‘problems’ if they were not immediately returned home.”
The threats related to “problems” on returning home are a common means to control the priests and religious overseas Chinese. In addition to the withdrawal of the passport, visa and cancellation of any generic grits bureaucracy, the executive and especially the Religious Affairs Bureau arrived on several occasions to threaten the families left at home of Catholics abroad.
Although there are no official figures, the Chinese community in South Korea has hundreds of thousands of people. Of these, at least 50 thousand are Catholic (baptized or catechumens) groups, mostly based in Seoul and Incheon, followed mainly by priests of their own nationality. Similarly, there are many Korean priests who serve in China, especially the Korean community residing there.
To avoid embarrassing moments, Beijing has decided to call these people and to impose themselves to prevent their contact with Francis.
Yesterday at the inaugural Mass of the Asian Youth Day in Daejeon Chinese flags were not visible, even though he was waiting for a delegation of young people from mainland China. However, invariably indicate the sources of AsiaNews , a group of about 100 young people managed to get on the Korean peninsula: it is the boys from the capital and the province of Hebei.
There will be time to evaluate these signals that China sends to the Vatican. For the moment it seems that Beijing, which considers a modern state, could not help but give the Ok to the papal flight crossing the skies of China, but on land the state wants to continue to monitor the Catholics. As well as the information: Xinhua today there is not even a news story on the Pope in Korea, while stand out titles on the Korean actress who participates in a charity dinner (VFP)
Iraq, July 23, 2014: “What is happening today in Mosul brings horror, fear and bad memories to the Christians of Iraq and leads us to question; is this happening in 21st century and in front of the civilized world where innocent Christian civilians are forced to convert, be treated as Dhimmi*, or slaughtered?”- Senior Iraqi church leader
The last remaining Christians of Mosul have been running for their lives after the Islamist militants who control the Iraqi city threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam or pay the jizya tax. Barnabas has sent an emergency grant to provide aid for those driven from their homes and left destitute.The ultimatum was issued by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) last week, giving Christians until noon on Saturday (19 July) either to comply or leave Mosul without taking any of their possessions with them.
Those fleeing were robbed at checkpoints set up by ISIS; the militants stole the Christians’ cars, money, food, jewellery, mobile phones and anything else they were carrying, even medicines. Over 85 families reported having all their possessions taken; hundreds of Christians had to walk over 40 miles (70kms) to reach safety after ISIS stole their cars, arriving at Tel Afar exhausted and dehydrated.
One Christian man, Salwan Noel Miskouni (35), said the militants demanded money and gold, threatening to abduct his four-year-old son if the family did not hand over what they had. He said:
If [ISIS] leaves we will probably go back but if they stay it’s impossible – because they will slaughter us.
Many of Mosul’s Christians had already fled, after the city fell to ISIS (who now wish to be called the Islamic State) on 10 June. Barnabas sent aid for them and on Friday (18 July) sent a second grant to help those escaping after the terrifying decree was published. The Christians have mostly gone to the Kurdish north and many are staying in churches and schools.
A few days before issuing the ultimatum, ISIS started marking properties belonging to Christians in Mosul with the Arabic letter N that stands for “Nisrani” (Nazarene i.e. Christian) along with the statement, “Property of the Islamic State of Iraq”. Several Christian-owned poultry farms were raided and seven people kidnapped.
The threat to Christians has been intensifying as ISIS has expanded its territory in Iraq. Church property has been seized and Christian symbols destroyed. On Saturday (19 July), a photo was released showing a 1,800-year-old Mosul church ablaze. A video had previously been posted on YouTube showing a tomb being smashed up with a sledgehammer; according to government officials, it was “almost certainly” that of the Old Testament prophet Jonah.
On 29 June, ISIS kidnapped two nuns and three Christian orphans in Mosul; they were released on 14 July. Other religious and ethnic minorities are also being targeted by the Sunni militants; over 200 Turkmen, Shabaks and Yazidis have been kidnapped and at least 11 of them killed.
The UN and US have condemned what they both described as the “systematic persecution” of Christians and other minorities in Iraq by ISIS.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
The last few days have been among the very worst in the long history of Iraq’s Christians. The impossible ultimatum from the merciless Islamists has forced those who had tried to stay in Mosul after it was taken over last month to flee. And as if that was not bad enough, the militants took everything from them, leaving them destitute. They are in great need of our support and prayers at this distressing time.
*“Dhimma” is the status given to Christians and Jews in an Islamic state. It affords them a degree of protection and allows them to keep their own faith, provided they adhere to various demeaning regulations intended to mark them out as inferior to Muslims, and pay the jizya, a humiliating tax or tribute that the Quran commands is paid “with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued”
- barnabas team
Meriam, her husband Daniel Wani and the couple’s two children flew to Rome yesterday (24 July), a month after Meriam was released from prison. The death sentence Meriam (27) was given for apostasy was overturned on 23 June following an international outcry.
The Italian government, which has a good relationship with the Sudanese authorities, has played a key role in securing Meriam’s travel. The family travelled on an official Italian government plane and were accompanied by Italy’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli.
Meriam and her family were greeted by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who said, “Today is a day of celebration.” They then travelled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican. The family now hope to continue their journey to the US, where Daniel holds citizenship.
All the details of how Meriam’s travel was arranged are not yet clear. When Meriam and her family first attempted to leave the country for the US on 24 June, she was re-arrested at the airport. She was briefly detained and on her release was barred from leaving Sudan; the family took refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. Meriam’s Muslim family also pursued legal action to try to prevent her from leaving Sudan.
Under the strict application of sharia law in Sudan, Meriam has been regarded as a Muslim because she was born to a Muslim father, even though he left the family when she was six and her mother raised her as a Christian. She was considered to have left Islam – committed apostasy – even though she never practised it and has maintained her Christian faith throughout. Meriam was also considered to have committed adultery because, under sharia, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man.
Meriam was imprisoned along with her 18-month-old son Martin; she gave birth to Maya, now two months old, while shackled in prison. Fears have been raised that the infant may need support to walk.
Meriam, who refused to renounce her faith even when offered a reprieve, is both a tremendous witness to her faith and a political showcase. Her treatment by the Sudanese government represents a grim warning to other Christians in Sudan, where President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been pursuing his stated aim of making the country “100% Islamic”.
- barnabas team
Revival in Iran: ‘I Want to Be a Christian’
With violence following Christians throughout the Middle East and governments brutally repressing the church, it can be hard to look past the persecution. However, a closer look at the church in Iran brings an encouraging note to the recent wave of arrests. A revival is taking place in Iran, bringing many to Jesus Christ, though at great costs as many are forced to leave the country or risk arrest.
Court Unanimously Rules Against Atheists Seeking Removal of 9/11 Cross
A court of appeals has unanimously ruled that a steel beam cross displayed at a museum remembering the September 11th attacks does not violate the U.S. Constitution. The organization American Atheists originally filed a claim that stated that the presence of the cross caused physical distress, citing symptoms such ranging from depression to indigestion. However, the court of appeals unanimously declared that, due to the fact that the museum is not publicly endorsing Christianity, there is no violation of rights.
Meriam Tells Italian Newspaper, “I Have Always…Only Wanted My Faith.”
Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who has escaped Sudan after her death sentence was repealed, is to settle in the U.S. with her extended family. Ibrahim experienced a ‘lifelong dream’ when she met with Pope Francis, who thanked her for her ‘witness of faith’ and ‘perseverance.’ ”I have always wanted and only wanted my faith. The love of my husband is a gift from God,” Ibrahim told La Repubblica. Sudan remains under Sharia Law with many Christians continuing to be persecuted and put to death.
Gaza’s Christians Bury Their First Casualty of The War
As the conflict between the Palestinian territories and Israel continues, the violence claims its first known Christian casualty. Jalila Ayyad was killed in her Gaza home after an Israeli airstrike took place on Sunday afternoon. She is survived by her husband and two sons, who were also in the home during the attack. The Christian community in Gaza City, like its counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking because of both conflict and unemployment, but few say they are staying.
BJP Minister in India Apologizes for Hindu Nation Comment
Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza, a Christian and a senior minority member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Goa, apologized for his comments that India’s already a ‘Hindu nation.’ His comments created strong reactions in the national media, the political scene and amongst Christians, who are waiting for the BJP party to protect them by enforcing religious freedom and equality. The opposition asked the Goa Roman Catholic Church to excommunicate him for committing heresy.
ISIS Presence In Indonesia Raises Concern
ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is sweeping violently across Iraq to re-establish an ancient caliphate based on Sharia Law in the Middle East. Over 30 known Indonesians have joined the jihadist movement fighting in the Middle East, and have established ISIS branches in their homeland, which is a violation of the law according to Ansyaad Mbai of the National Anti-Terror Agency. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, leader of Indonesia’s extremists, has reportedly supported these ISIS branches and has the same goal to create an Islamic state.
Nepal, August 01, 2014: Close to 20 local Hindu women in west Nepal gathered together to beat an evangelist sister named “Jaya”. They accused her of spreading foreign religion in the village. In the two years Jaya has been a Christian she has led 32 people to Christ. Please pray for her wounds to heal, both physical and emotional.
Christians were detained in Boudha on Friday (13 June) by police, who were pressured by Hindus to take action against the Christians. A Hindu crowd gathered outside the jail and threatened a riot if the Christians were freed.Most of the detainees were nevertheless released, but eight leaders were held in custody until Sunday (15 June).
On Saturday (14 June), a pastor in nearby Mulpani was threatened.