In communion with suffering Christians
Westminster Cathedral Hall was packed as two senior clerics spoke about the help and support being given to suffering Christians in Syria and Nigeria.
Up to 300 people crammed into the hall on Saturday to hear Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria and Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria at Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need’s annual Westminster event.
Both bishops emphasised the importance of the solidarity they received from Christians in the UK and around the world in helping them face dire situations.
Bishop Audo said: “You are near us, you are praying with us, and you are not only giving money but living in communion with us, supporting us, and saying to us that we are not alone – and this is very important for us.
The prelate went on to describe ACN’s help in Aleppo Diocese both historically – including aid for 50,000 refugees fleeing from Iraq – and in “the crisis today” as he highlighted two recent projects where ACN had helped in his diocese.
The charity provided £65,000 helping 500 refugees from Homs with food, shelter and medical assistance, and £41,000 in aid for poor families remaining in Aleppo.
Bishop Audo went on to announce that £28,500 in aid was approved by ACN last week to provide medical aid at St Louis Catholic Hospital in Aleppo for patients injured after being caught up in the fighting.
He stressed that there was an ecumenical and interfaith element to many of these projects, which were helping Orthodox Christians, and in some cases Muslims, as well as Catholic faithful.
Archbishop Kaigama also underlined the interfaith dimension of his work, saying that he wanted to dispel the impression that Christians and Muslims in Nigeria were at war.
“People say the Christians and Muslims are fighting each other – no that is not the case, we are not at war, there is not a religious war.
“The problem is there is a tiny group, a fanatical group, by the name of Boko Haram. They are the ones who have started a cycle of attacks destruction and killing in Nigeria.
“And because they are Muslims and their targets are always Christians it is easy to conclude that Muslims and Christians are fighting.”
Archbishop Kaigama described how dialogue, including a new peace centre, was building links with Muslim community. He also paid tribute to the aid given by ACN.
He said: “The help we get from you has sustained us and given us courage to go on – the spiritual solidarity as well as the material help which is received in different forms.
“Even this act of inviting me to come here is a wonderful act of fraternity and solidarity.
“We greatly appreciate all that you have done and you continue to do, all that we can say is that the Lord will continue blessing you and rewarding you.”
He added: “Just be convinced that what you do goes a long way, no matter how little, it goes a long way to bring hope to many people in the world.”
The talks followed Mass in Westminster Cathedral which the bishops concelebrated with the Papal Nuncio to the UK, Archbishop Antonio Mennini.
During his homily Archbishop Kaigama thanked those present for their solidarity with his suffering faithful and stressed how the Eucharistic brought all Catholics together regardless of nationality.
He said: “In the Eucharist, we feel we are truly one body.”