Two Imprisoned Christians Released from Prison in Chiapas, Mexico
As previously reported, Andres Lopez, Virginia Lopez, and three girls were imprisoned for their conversion to Protestantism in Chiapas, Mexico. Although the girls were released earlier once it was discovered that they were minors, on July 10, 2015, Andres and Virginia were released as well and relieved of the initial demand of their respective 5,000 and 2,500 peso fines. State authorities were responsible for intervening in the case and village leaders have since stated that they will allow the Christians to practice their faith freely.
Iran Deal “Unconscionable” Because it Leaves Imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Behind
As Iran and the US reached a nuclear agreement, Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, still suffers under cruel prison conditions in Iran. Despite the Obama Administration’s promise to prioritize the American pastor, he is left behind as the chance for his freedom slips away. Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, spoke before Congress in the past weeks and has been advocating for his release for some time. The nuclear negotiations were a golden opportunity for the US to negotiate his release, yet he still remains a prisoner of conscience in Evin prison.
United States Questions Mexico over Persecution of Protestant Christians
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the United States has questioned Mexico regarding reports of widespread discrimination, violence, and displacement of Protestant Christian communities in Chiapas and several other states. In a private e-mail received by ICC last week, Congressional staff members revealed that Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson confirmed that the questioning of the Mexican government by State Department officials took place during the first week of June.
Jihadist Groups Surge Attacks Across Africa During Ramadan
Islamic extremist groups continue to pile up shocking body counts, slaughtering scores of civilians during the Muslim holiday month of Ramadan. Across Africa, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have devastated communities in Nigeria and Kenya, ramping up attacks against Christians and all “unbelievers” of their brand of Islam during the holiday.
Clerics Announce Bounty on Asia Bibi Even If She Is Acquitted of Blasphemy in Pakistan
The husband of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for committing blasphemy in Pakistan, has observed that even if his wife is acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, her life will still be in danger in Pakistan. According the Bibi’s husband, a bounty has been placed on his wife’s head by Islamic clerics seeking to ensure that the Christian woman is put to death, legally or illegally. Bibi has spent six years in prison since being accused of blasphemy.
Good News from Iran: Christian Prisoner Pastor Farshid Fathi Gets Early Release Date
Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi, imprisoned since 2010, has now been given an early release date. He was anticipated to be in prison until December 2017 but will now be released December 2015 according to reports. He has suffered inhumane conditions and beatings while in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. His only crime is being a Christian and practicing his religion.
A dozen leaders of the provincial Catholic Patriotic Association and the Church Affairs Commission, known by the acronym, Lianghui, issued the report addressed to the provincial Ethnic and Religious Commission saying, “the situation is getting more and more serious and that they had to speak out”, said a source who asked not to be named.
In the report, the Church leaders in Lianghui described the cross removals as an “evil act that has to be stopped immediately” and that it had made Catholic priests and laity in Zhejiang “very angry”.
“The cross is a symbol of the Christian faith and some of the buildings are legally approved. It is unexplainable why it has to be forcibly removed,” the Lianghui source told ucanews.com.
An emergency meeting was called by the group on July 4 through “Wechat” — a popular smartphone app used by some 600 million people in China — in advance of an early visit in August to the United States by a group of Chinese Church leaders, the source said.
The document also was sent to the Communist Party’s local and central United Front Work departments, the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the government-sanctioned bishops’ conference and the national Catholic Patriotic Association. Copies were sent to four Catholic dioceses in the province, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Taizhou and Wenzhou.
However, a Wenzhou Catholic identified as Joseph said “the report was written not for the government authorities but to appease Catholics”.
It is “just a gesture” to show they have “at least made a protest”, he said.
“If they are really serious about this,” Joseph said, “they should hire a lawyer and sue the authorities”.
The cross removal campaign began in late 2013.
A Protestant minister told ucanews.com last week that more than 1,100 Christian Churches across Zhejiang had crosses moved. He believes many more removals went unreported because the churches concerned are in remote areas.
Since last year, about 40 Catholic churches have had their crosses removed in Wenzhou. Ten others were removed in Hangzhou and Taizhou over the past two months.
The latest incidents saw two Catholic churches in Hangzhou have their crosses removed on July 9.
One of the churches, the Jingjiang church, “was the last church in the Xiaoshan area to have its cross removed,” a local source said.
Vatican City, July 1, 2015: Pope Francis on Monday deplored the “atrocious, inhumane and inexplicable persecution” of Christians still taking place in many parts of the world and “often beneath the eyes and sealed lips of all”.
Pope Francis made the remarks during a sermon as he celebrated mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as it marks the feast day of its patron saints, Peter and Paul.
During an audience on June 19 with the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Aprhrem II, Pope Francis chided world powers for failing to end the “terrible suffering” of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East region.
“How much pain! How many innocent victims! Yet the world’s powerful seems incapable of finding solutions,” he told Aprhrem II.
Al-shabaab jihadists vow to attack Christians during Ramadan, give ‘non-believers’ a ‘true taste of jihad’
Somalia, June 30, 2015: The al-Shabaab terror group, which back in April murdered 152 people, mostly Christian students, have vowed to attack “non-believers” throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a pledge echoing ISIS’ threats.
News 24 reported that at least 15 people were killed on Monday in clashes between al-Shabaab and Somali and African Union troops near the southern port of Kismayo, though eight Islamic militants were also killed in the battle.
AFP noted that another 80 soldiers were killed on Friday in a separate attack on the Leego base in southern Somalia, with the jihadists claiming to have brought back 60 of the bodies.
“Al-Shabaab has consistently shown its ability to strike in urban areas and regroup in rural bases. It will take much longer to defeat the group and require Somalia’s security services to be significantly improved,” Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa analyst at the London-based Chatham House, told the Bloomberg news.
The total death toll could still be higher, with reports that some captured troop members have been beheaded.
Earier in June, al-Shabaab’s leadership said that the terror group will be attacking non-believers, which includes Christians, throughout Ramadan.
“We are planning to give Kenyan non-believers a true taste of Jihad [the holy war] in the next few days and weeks,” a senior al-Shabaab commander said, adding that they will keep “targeting and destroying” Kenya’s education sector and business sector.”
The terror group’s attack on Garissa University College in Kenya made world news headlines back in April, when four al-Shabaab gunmen stormed the college, separated Christian from Muslim students, and murdered the Christians.
The massacre prompted the #147notjustanumber social media campaign, named after the original death toll, aimed at reminding the world that the victims were real people with real hopes and dreams that were taken away.
“I can’t even look at pictures of the people killed without crying,” 32-year-old Mary Wambui from Nakuru said at the time.
“They were just children. They were trying to make a better life for themselves. Some were first to go to college in their communities. They died trying to get an education.”
Kenya has suffered heavily from al-Shabaab’s attacks, which are often launched from the terror group’s strongholds in Somalia.
The jihadist vow to slaughter Christians and other non-Muslims throughout Ramadan has been echoed by ISIS and its affiliates.
Earlier this week, Islamic militants in Jerusalem promised to “cleanse” Israel of all Christians and non-Muslims during the holy month, accusing Christians of encouraging Muslims to abandon their religion.
“Those who work with the Zionists also encourage Muslims to leave their religion and become more secular and open, and they spread evil,” Arabic-language leaflets reportedly warned. “They take these Muslims away from us. … We know where they are, but we need help to find them all — all those Christian collaborators.”
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Islamic State fighters release elderly Christian hostage in north-eastern Syria but intense fighting displaces Christians in Aleppo
Syria, 25 June, 2015: Four months after he was taken captive by Islamic State (IS) fighters in north-eastern Syria, 70-year-old Francois Sawa was safely released on 16 June and is in good health. In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, Christian families are fleeing their homes after horrific fighting killed at least ten people, most of them children, and injured a further 150 on 15 June.
Just a few days later, two Armenian Christian men were also tragically killed in a mortar explosion in Aleppo on 20 June. One of the men who died was a visiting pastor from Armenia who had arrived only two days earlier. “All our congregation members are in agony,” said Dr Jany Haddad, Barnabas Fund’s partner on the ground in Syria, as he relayed the news.
With fighting coming from four fronts, thousands of Christians have fled the city in terror. Local Christians told Barnabas that there are now between 45,000 and 90,000 Christians living in Aleppo, down from an estimated 465,000 in 2010. At least 30 people were killed and many others injured only in the last week in Aleppo with bombing and shelling occurring almost daily. The situation across Syria is one of extreme concern; IS forces have again attacked parts of the north-eastern city of Hassake as well as the northern city of Kobane on Thursday (25 June).
The release of Francois Sawa puts the number of those still being held at 227. One of 253 Christians abducted in IS raids against the mainly Christian villages that are clustered around the Khabur river, Francois Sawa was taken from his home village of Tel Shamiram on 23 February. Little has been heard about the situation of the Christians who remain hostage to IS. Twenty-three of the captives were released at the beginning of March and two elderly women were freed on 25 May.
Despite the fact that IS militants have been forced out of the villages in the Khabur area, the area remains unsafe. Islamists have destroyed many of the homes and churches and some have been booby-trapped. Barnabas has been helping to care for 1,200 Christian families who were forced to flee their homes after IS raided the villages.
But the situation for Christians in Syria is extremely precarious. Kidnappings such as the ones that took place in the Khabur area villages have led many Christians to decide to leave their beloved country in search of safety abroad.
Barnabas Fund is working with the Polish government, the Polish charity Esther Foundation, and local Polish churches to rescue Syrian Christians in extreme danger. Through our Operation Safe Havens, we are flying them to Poland and paying for their basic needs for one year, while Polish churches welcome them, and help them to find accommodation and jobs.
- barnabas team
Vatican City, 19 June, 2015: Following a tradition established in 1971 by the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, His Holiness Ignatius Jacob III and Blessed Paul VI, this morning Pope Francis received in the Vatican His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, accompanied by a Syriac-Orthodox delegation, recalling that the historic first meeting was the beginning of a “holy pilgrimage” towards full communion between the two Churches.
Francis also mentioned the Joint Declaration on the common profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the true God and the true man, signed in that year by the Patriarch and the Pope, which laid the foundations for a path to unity among disciples. Subsequent meetings between Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas and St. John Paul II, first in Rome and then in Damascus, represented important steps toward the concrete pastoral collaboration for the good of the faithful.
“How much has changed since those first meetings!” exclaimed the bishop of Rome. “Yours, Beatitude, has been a Church of martyrs since the very beginning, and continues to be so to this day in the Middle East, where, along with other Christian communities and other minorities, it suffers greatly as a result of war, violence and persecution. How much pain! How many innocent victims! Faced with all this, it seems that those in power seem unable to find solutions”.
“Let us pray together for the victims of this brutal violence and for all the situations of war throughout the world. In particular, let us remember the Metropolitan Gregorios Ibrahim and the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church Griega Paul Yazigi, abducted at the same time two years ago. Let us also remember the priests and the many other people, of different groups, deprived of their freedom. And let us ask of the Lord the grace always to be willing to forgive and to be builders of reconciliation and peace. This is what inspires the witness of the martyrs. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the unity of the Church and the tool for the edification of the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of peace and justice”.
“Beatitude, dear brother, in this moment of tension and pain”, concluded the Pope, “let us increasingly strengthen the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Syriac-Orthodox Church. Let us hasten our steps on the common path, looking towards the day in which we will be able to celebrate our common belonging to Christ’s single Church around the same altar of the Sacrifice and of worship. Let us exchange the treasures of our traditions as spiritual gifts, as what unites us is far greater than what divides us”.
The Holy Father and the Patriarch then prayed together in the Redemptoris Mater chapel.
Mosul, June 16, 2015: One year after the fall of Mosul to Islamic State (IS), militants posted notices around the captured city announcing that the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral Church of St Ephrem, seized a year ago, is to be turned into the “mosque of the mujahedeen” (jihad fighters).
Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul broke down and wept last year as he told Barnabas about the fate of his cathedral. The jihadist flag stating, “There is no God but Allah” and “Prophet Muhammad” was draped over the building and last July the militants took down the cross from the church’s dome.
Since July, the headquarters of the IS “state council” has met in buildings on the church’s premises. And last November, IS removed all of the furniture from inside the building and sold it off. The new name was announced on the anniversary of the date the church was seized.
“If they changed a church to a mosque it is further proof of their cleansing …,” said human rights activist Nuri Kino, president of A Demand for Action, a group advocating the protection of ethno-religious minorities such as Assyrians and Yazidis in the Middle East. “They destroy our artefacts, our churches and try to erase us in any way they can.”
Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and was traditionally the heartland of the country’s Christian presence. After Mosul fell to IS on 10 June 2014, Mosul’s Christians were issued an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the humiliating jizya head tax, or be killed. The city is now empty of its Christians who have little hope of being able to return. Archbishop Nicodemus was last to leave, fleeing only when IS were five minutes away from his residence.
Sudan: Pastors facing death penalty barred from seeing lawyers, family following visit by American pastor
Sudan, June 10, 2015: Two Sudanese pastors who are potentially facing the death penalty after being arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of alleged conspiracy and espionage, were removed from a low-security military prison and transferred to a more dangerous facility where they’ve been denied access to visitors, the pastors lawyers have said.
Revs. Peter Yen Reith and Yat Michael, who’ve been detained since the winter and charged with violating seven laws including spying, undermining the government and insulting religion, were transferred from the Omdurman Prison for Men outside of Khartoum — where they were allowed to see their families and lawyers — to Kober Prison in North Khartoum, a high-security detention center.
According to an advocacy group closely following the case, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, no one — not even their wives or lawyers — has been allowed to visit with the pastors since their transfer to Kober.
Michael and Reith, who are clergymen from the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, had been held in Omdurman Prison since March 1 and were last seen there on June 3, the day in which they were visited by three other Sudanese pastors and American pastor the Rev. William Devlin, who was detained for over an hour and prevented from visiting with the pastors after guards caught him taking photos and video inside the prison waiting room.
Concerns were raised about the whereabouts of the pastors after family members were denied access to them on June 4, but prison officials confirmed on June 6 that the pastors were transferred.
“We are concerned by this development in the clergymen’s case. They already endured extended detention without access to their families at the beginning of this year, and they and their families should be spared further emotional distress,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
“We urge the Sudanese authorities to ensure that the clergymen’s detention is regularised, and they are permitted regular family visits and unhindered access to their lawyers. The decision to detain them at a higher security prison should be reconsidered, given that they have not been found guilty of any crime.”
CSW believes that the Sudan National Intelligence and Security Service may have issued an order to prison officials telling them not to allow Reith and Michael to have any visitors.
The pastors’ lawyers met with Sudan’s director of prisons on June 7 and requested access to the pastors. However, they were directed to talk with the director of Kober Prison, who told the lawyers they needed a court order.
The lawyers request for a court order was denied because the court ruled that the decision should be left to the prison director.
CSW also reports that although there was no official reason given for the pastors’ not being allowed to have visitors, there is speculation that the move “may have been triggered by the actions of foreign visitors,” an implication that it may have been the result of Devlin’s visit.
Devlin, who pastors the Infinity Bible Church in the Bronx, has visited Sudan eight times in the last nine years and always stays as a guest of Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, he told CP last week. Upon his latest visit, he was invited by the three Sudanese pastors to go with them to visit Michael and Reith in prison.
Although the last time the pastors were seen in Omdurman Prison was the day in which Devlin was detained there, Devlin told CP on Tuesday that he was told that the transfer was already being planned prior to his visit.
“A Muslim colleague in Khartoum reported to me yesterday, that the move of the two imprisoned pastors was in the works prior to my 90-minute detention on June 3,” Devlin wrote in a statement. “My detention was unintended by me. However, I pray that God would use my detention to make known the plight of these two innocent pastors.”
Devlin had previously urged American and Western pastors to travel to Sudan to visit with the pastors and prove to Sudanese government officials that religious freedom violations impact how the country is viewed by potential international trade partners. Even though the pastors have been moved to a high-security prison where they are not allowed visitors, Devlin still encourages International pastors to travel to Khartoum to make a statement and support the pastors families.
“Western pastors, African pastors, European pastors must go to Khartoum to advocate for these imprisoned pastors,” Devlin wrote. “Even if they cannot visit them, they can meet with their wives and support their wives and children financially.”
The next scheduled hearing for the pastors will take place on June 15.
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Rome, June 4, 2015: Persecuted Christians were remembered during Thursday’s Corpus Christi procession in Rome, where Pope Francis told the thousands taking part to walk and pray in unity with those who cannot express their faith so openly.
“Let us feel united with them: sing with them, give praise with them, worship with them,” the Roman Pontiff said in his homily for Mass said in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran June 4, celebrated just before the procession.
“As we walk along the street, we feel in communion with the many brothers and sisters who are not free to express their faith in the Lord Jesus.”
The Pope also remembered those who have been martyred for their faith.
“We venerate in our hearts those brothers and sisters who have been asked to sacrifice their lives in fidelity to Christ,” he said.
“May their blood, united to that of the Lord, be a token of peace and reconciliation for the whole world.”
During the procession for the feast of Corpus Christi, a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament was carried slowly through the streets on top a white truck, protected by two deacons and illuminated by candles.
The procession began after the evening Mass in Saint John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral, and continued to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Thousands of people took part, including many of the prelates who concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father.
Pope Francis in his homily added that this procession can also be a way of “expressing our gratitude for the journey which God has made through the desert of our poverty, to free us from servitude, nourishing us with his love through the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.”
The feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
During the Mass, Pope Francis recalled how during the Last Supper, Christ gave his Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine.
“With this ‘viaticum’ over flowing with Grace, the disciples have everything they need for their long journey through history, extending God’s reign to everyone,” the Pope said.
“This Bread of Life has come down to us!” he said, adding that the never-ending awe which the Church has before of this reality fosters “contemplation, adoration, and memory.”
Pope Francis reflected a few lines taken from the Office of Readings for the feast: “eat (Christ’s Body), or you will have no part in him … drink (His Blood), lest you despair of your sinfulness.”
By not obeying the Lord’s Word, by not living together fraternally, by trying to be first, by not courageously giving witness to charity, by being unable to offer hope – in these ways, the Pope said, we separate ourselves from Christ.
The Eucharist, on the other hand, “is the bond of communion, the fulfillment of the Covenant, the living sign of Christ’s love, who was humiliated and annihilated in order that we may remain united.”
By taking part and nourishing ourselves with the Eucharist, “we are placed on a path which does not allow divisions,” he continued.
Christ’s presence among us under the appearance of bread and wine demands that “the power of love overcomes every wound,” he said. “At the same time, it becomes communion with the poor, support for the weak, and fraternal awareness for those struggling to support the weight of daily life.”
Pope Francis spoke of the “watering down” of our Christian dignity with “the idolatries of our time.” He gave several examples of this contemporary “idolatry,” including the viewing of oneself at the center of everything, arrogance, and not admitting fault.
“All of this degrades us, and makes us into mediocre, lukewarm, insipid, pagan Christians,” he said.
The Roman Pontiff also spoke of how we are transformed by the grace which comes from the shedding of Christ’s blood. “We always poor sinners, but the Blood of Christ frees us from our sins and restores our dignity,” he said.
“Although undeserving, we are able to bring with sincere humility the love of our Lord and Savior to our brethren.”
Nigeria, June 5, 2015: Nigerian terror group Boko Haram has reportedly kidnapped more than 1,000 children and used some of them in neighboring Cameroon as human shields, prompting a U.N. official to condemn its actions as “inhuman.”
“The system they use is just inhuman,” Najat Rochdi, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Cameroon, told AFP.
While the Islamic militants have killed more than 15,000 people in continuous attacks throughout Nigeria since 2009, they have also sought to expand their operations in other countries in the region, in a mission to establish an Arican Caliphate.
Boko Haram has been following in the footsteps of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, though the Nigerian army has said it has managed to drive them out of several hideouts in the past few months.
Boko Haram has also suffered heavy losses when engaging with Cameroon’s army, but has still successfully carried out a number of hit-and-run cross-border attacks, where the jihadist raid villages to steal supplies, kill people, and kidnap children.
Reports have since come out showing that Boko Haram has used some of these children as human shields, putting them on the frontline of such attacks.
“To my knowledge, the children were used as human shields … [and] were aged between eight and 12,” Rochdi said.
“The worst was the children … Obviously this created a horrible situation,” she added, noting that Cameroonian soldiers have been deeply traumatized by having to face children on the battlefield.
The humanitarian coordinator said it is not known if the kidnapped children were from Cameroon or Nigeria.
UNICEF has said that at least 743,000 children have been uprooted by the conflict in Nigeria in the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa alone.
Last week the terror group slaughtered dozens of people, including scores of Christians, in a series of village raids in Nigeria.
“They destroyed the telephone mast first before invading our community — this was to prevent us from telephoning and requesting help,” said one pastor from the Pambula-Kwamda Christian community in Adamawa’s Madagali local government area.
“They killed 10 members of our church [Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, or EYN] using machetes and then slaughtering them.”
The U.N. has also said that the Islamic militants continue to use women and girls in its suicide bombing attacks.
“Children are not instigating these suicide attacks; they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way; they are, first and foremost, victims not perpetrators,” UNICEF representative Jean Gough said.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International have meanwhile documented what they say are abuses carried out by Nigeria’s military, and earlier this week accused it of the war-crime death of thousands of people by way of starvation, suffocation and torturing to death.
The 133-page report, based on hundreds of interviews, including some with military sources and exposition of leaked defense ministry documents, says that armed forces “committed countless acts of torture; hundreds, if not thousands, of Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance; and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention as a result of murder, starvation, extreme overcrowding and denial of medical assistance.”
Amnesty called on the government of new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that civilians in Nigeria are protected from terrorism, but at the same time said that there needs to be a crackdown on the “culture of impunity” within the army.
“This sickening evidence exposes how thousands of young men and boys have been arbitrarily arrested and deliberately killed or left to die in detention in the most horrific conditions. It provides strong grounds for investigations into the possible criminal responsibility of members of the military, including those at the highest levels,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Whilst an urgent and impartial investigation of these war crimes is vital, this report is not just about the criminal responsibility of individuals. It is also about the responsibility of Nigeria’s leadership to act decisively to end the pervasive culture of impunity within the armed forces.”
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