Locals in Burkina Faso are campaigning for the release of a missionary couple Ken & Jocelyn Elliot who have been kidnapped by Islamic extremists. The Elliot’s were taken by unknown assailants but it is suspected there is a connection to the tragic Al-Qaeda attack in the nation’s capital. Local people have created a Facebook page  to campaign for the release of the couple. Hamadou Ag Khallini, a spokesperson for Malian militant group Ansar Dine said of Dr Elliot “For us he’s not only Australian but someone from our own community, because what he did for our community even the government couldn’t do.” The spokesman also claimed that the al-Qaeda-linked Emirate of the Sahara group was holding the couple. There has been no official statement saying where the couple are being held or why they were kidnapped.


Meanwhile 6 of the 29 people killed by Islamist militants in the Burkina Faso attack were on a humanitarian trip prompted by their Christian faith, while a seventh was a US missionary who, with his wife, had been running an orphanage and women’s refuge in the West African country since 2011. The dead included four Canadians from the same family who had gone there over their Christmas break to do aid work in schools and orphanages. Yves Carrier, his wife Gladys Chamberland and their two children, Charles-Élie, 19, and Maude, 37, were visiting on behalf of their local church group. They and two family friends, Suzanne Bernier and Louis Chabot, left Quebec just before Christmas to live and work in several remote villages in Burkina Faso.


The group were on a 3 week visit and were in the capital, Ouagadougou. Charles-Elie and Maude had been due to fly home that evening, and the group had gone out for a last meal together before the two packed to go to the airport. They were supporting the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Chamberland’s sister, Marie-Claude Blais, wrote on Facebook: “I still can’t understand how people who had such a love of life, who were always ready to help, always smiling and loved by so many people, can be taken away in such a horrendous way. They did good only to be killed by evil.” Meanwhile, victim Michael Riddering, 45, from Florida had been working as a Christian missionary in Burkina Faso since 2011. During the recent Ebola crisis, his work had included comforting families and digging graves.


Riddering was meeting a local pastor, named as Valentin, at Cappuccino, the café where the attack began. The pastor was able to make a quick call to Riddering’s wife, Amy, to say “Pray”, before the line went dead. His wife took to Facebook to try to find out what had happened to her husband and their friend. She later confirmed on the social media site that her husband had died during the attack, saying: “Heaven has gained a warrior!” Pastor Valentin is reported to have survived after he hid for hours in the café, and was said to have been rescued by the Army. The American couple had two adult daughters, Hayley and Delaney, in the US but had adopted two more from Burkina Faso – a girl, Biba, 15, and a boy, Moise, aged four.


Michael Riddering was later due to collect a visiting volunteer group from a church in Florida. Their plane was at first diverted, but they eventually landed in Ouagadougou, only to have to make plans to return home. Riddering’s mother-in-law, Carol Boyle, described him as a man who was “extremely well-loved and respected.” Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the jihadist group al-Murabitoun was behind the attacks on two hotels and the café, which were frequented by UN staff and aid workers. Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Kabore, said two of the attackers had been identified as women. Three jihadis, including an Arab and two Africans, were killed in the assaults officials said. A fourth extremist was killed at the Yibi Hotel, which was searched by troops as part of a later raid on nearby buildings.


In a statement released online, the group said that the attack was “a new message from the heroic champions of Islam, with their blood and their bodies, to the slaves of the cross, the occupiers of our homes, the looters of our wealth, and who would undermine our security”. AQIM and al-Murabitoun said they were jointly behind the attack on a hotel in Mali in November, where 22 people were killed. AQIM is based in the Sahara Desert between Mali, Niger and Algeria and has attacked West African countries, but this is the first time the group has targeted Burkina Faso. Explaining the reasons behind the attack, The Guardian said it is a message to France and its Operation Barkhane – a 3,000-strong military force spanning five countries, intended to combat Islamist militancy – that the intervention is not working.



Source: Premier News Service

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The Anglican Communion voted to censure its American branch, the Episcopal Church, during a meeting in Canterbury, England, called to reflect on the future of the communion. The vote passed by a two-thirds margin and included prominent voices among African bishops who have loudly condemned the American church for its liberal stance on homosexuals. The dramatic demotion follows a string of Episcopal Church decisions stretching back to 2003, when it elected Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual man, as a bishop of New Hampshire. That decision led dozens of U.S. churches to break away from the Episcopal Church and declare their allegiance to a series of rival groups, including the Anglican Church in North America.


In July, the Episcopal Church voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex marriages, a move not taken by the majority of churches in the Anglican Communion. “Given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies,” a statement issued by the Anglican Communion reads. “They will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union,” the statement also notes. “The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”


The Anglican Communion consists of 44 member churches from around the world, representing about 85 million Christians. The Episcopal Church, the predominant church of many of the 13 original Colonies, has had a disproportionate influence on public life in the United States. The majority of U.S. presidents have been Episcopalians and its influence still far surpasses its 1.8 million U.S. members, who now find themselves without a voice in Anglican Communion decisions. The three-year term of the suspension is the amount of time until the next denomination-wide meeting of the Episcopal Church, when it will vote on a response, though other church groups could respond sooner.


The suspension comes after 4 days of discussions among Anglican primates over the Episcopal Church’s position on same-sex marriage. The meetings apparently got testy; British Christian media reported that the archbishop of Uganda, among the most conservative of Anglican branches, walked out amid disagreements. Jeffrey Walton, the Anglican program director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., said the suspension of the Episcopal Church is significant but does not yet represent a schism, or irreparable rupture, within the Anglican Communion. “This is not kicking the Episcopal Church out, but what it is saying is that by making these decisions for the past 12 or so years the Episcopal Church has created this distance and there will be consequences to those decisions.”


Jim Naughton, former canon for the Archdiocese of Washington and now a communications consultant in the Episcopal Church expects no impact in the life of the Episcopal Church. “We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back,” Naughton said. Kevin Eckstrom, director of communications for Washington National Cathedral, the seat of newly installed Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, said that while this suspension will be greeted by sadness in the Episcopal Church. Curry told Episcopal News Service the sanction would be painful for many in the Episcopal Church to receive. Communion leaders also reportedly wanted to censure the Anglican Church of Canada, but because it has not yet adopted same-sex marriage rites, no action was taken.



Source: Religion News Service

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The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has launched a blistering attack on the “passive tolerance” of discriminatory practices inflicted on female members of the country’s Muslim communities. A $41 million push to improve English classes for migrants would be backed by sanctions on those who failed to improve their language skills, the prime minister said. In a move to confront men who exert “damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters”, he also announced a review of the role of Britain’s religious councils, including Sharia courts. The lack of integration of some Muslim communities has helped to foster extremism and allowed “appalling practices” such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage, the prime minister said.


Speaking in the wake of the Cologne sex attacks of more than 100 women by migrant men on New Year’s Eve, Mr Cameron says that it is time to be “more assertive about our values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here. He added: “This is Britain. In this country, women and girls are free to choose how they live, how they dress and who they love. It’s our values that make this country what it is, and it’s only by standing up for them assertively that they will endure.” Mr Cameron acknowledged that many Muslim women suffer attacks because of their faith, and that “disgraceful” headscarf-pulling is widespread. He says also that any claim that conservative religious practice was a direct cause of extremism would be insulting to devout and peace-loving Muslims.


The prime minister is unapologetic about the need to bring women from Muslim communities, of whom 60% are economically inactive — into the mainstream. He cites research showing that 190,000 Muslim women “speak little or no English despite having lived here for decades”. 40,000 do not speak the language at all. “At the moment there are no requirement to improve their English” the prime minister said. “We will now say: if you don’t improve your English, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK. This will make it clear to those men who stop their partners from integrating that there are consequences.” Officials said that from October, those coming to Britain on a spouse visa will be expected to become more capable in English, with a new test to assess progress after two and half years.


“The results of the test would be taken into account in any request to extend visas or apply for permanent residence,” one official said. Mr Cameron hopes that bringing women into mainstream society will help to counter Islamist extremism. “Think about the young boy growing up in Bradford. His parents came from a village in Pakistan. His mum can’t speak English and rarely leaves the home, so he finds it hard to communicate with her, and she doesn’t understand what is happening in his life. “As a teenager he is struggling to identify with western culture. Separate development and accepting practices that go against our values only emphasise differences and can help prompt the search of something to belong to. When that happens, the extremist narrative gives him something to believe in.”



Source: The Times

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The scale of persecution being encountered by Christians in Cuba is unlike anything seen before. A new report claims there was a ten-fold increase in violations of freedom of religion last year with 2,300 cases. Church-goers in Cuba are being arrested and dragged away on a weekly basis. Kiri Kankhwende from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said: “The Cuban government is trying to perhaps limit the potential for social upheaval by cracking down on civil society. “The church, after the revolution and after the repressive measures enacted against civil society as a whole, is one of the few places where people come together. “As the government’s trying to retain control, Christians are pushing back a bit by resisting in a peaceful, non-violent manner and we think that the government’s trying to assert itself.”


CSW says the rise in violations of religious freedom last year was largely due to the Cuban government declaring 2,000 Assemblies of God (AOG) churches illegal. The state has also ordered the closure or demolition of some AOG churches. The report says the “consistently antagonistic relationship” between the Cuban Communist Party’s Office of Religious Affairs, which oversees religious affairs on the island-nation, and the leaders of many religious group, “is evidence that the office exists solely to monitor, hinder and restrict the activities of religious groups.” Through the Office of Religious Affairs and other agencies, the government is being accused of continuing to refuse authorisation for numerous religious activities, issuing fines and making threats to confiscate dozens of churches and religious organisations.


The report also highlights “more brutal and public tactics” being employed by “government agents” than were witnessed in the first decade of the millennium: “Week after week, state security agents physically and violently dragged scores of women away from Sunday morning services. Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services. The government continued to employ a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention to target those it views as political dissidents.” This tactic is also applied to religious leaders who are viewed as problematic, for whatever reason, by the authorities. For the first time in four years a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in prison for holding unauthorised religious services.”


Speaking about the report, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We do not use the word ‘unprecedented’ lightly to refer to violations of freedom of religion in Cuba in 2015. “Following an upward trend in violations in recent years, 2015 witnessed a spike as the authorities deployed ever more public and brutal tactics to target churches across the denominational spectrum, regardless of their legal status. “It is clear that despite promises of reform, the government is determined to maintain a tight grip on civil society, including churches. “We commend the courage of religious groups who have spoken out publicly to denounce these violations and to call for the right to freedom of religion to be upheld. We urge the international community to stand with them and to hold Cuba to account for these human rights violations.”



Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

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Following the 2016 primates meeting of Anglican leaders from across the world, the Church has stressed that, despite the removal of The Episcopal Church for a three year period, the church is stable and stands together. The Archbishop of Canterbury opened the meeting and made a personal apology to homosexual Christians. He said that he finds it a “constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality.” He said he wanted to express “how sorry I am” for any pain the church has caused and still causes today. He said that he firmly believes that God loves everyone. However, the primates collectively made it clear that marriage remains a union between a man and a woman, as a faithful and long-lasting relationship.


He told the audience that an “overwhelming majority” voted in favour of this, however, the Archbishop of Canterbury would not release official figures. Justin Welby added that the church could look out of touch in the USA and UK but stressed it was a global church and had to represent the views of 165 countries. Most Rev Paul Kwong, the Bishop of Hong Kong, said: “We are moving forward because we want to be responsible and relevant to the whole world, not just one particular region.” Other issues discussed included the global refugee crisis, corruption and the persecution of Christians around the globe. Justin Welby said the church was asking each primate to decide how to best tackle this issue in their region, stating that the Anglican Church is not a centralised Church that tells people what to do.


He admitted not everyone agreed with the decision. He also confirmed the news that the Ugandan archbishop had left early, but insisted this was merely a practical issue and not a walk out. The Archbishop thanked Christians around the world for their prayers throughout the world as this meetings took place. Most Rev Paul Kwong confessed the atmosphere was “much better” and more “unconventional” than previous primates meetings. However around 40 Ugandans chanted “we asked for justice you gave us rejection” and held signs that showed their dissatisfaction with the choices made surrounding homosexual rights and marriage. The primates also discussed the idea of fixing a date of Easter with the Orthodox Church and Justin Welby said he hopes to see this in place before his retirement.



Source: Premier News Service

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