On 15 October Baroness Berridge, convenor of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Religious Freedom, hosted a reception at the House of Lords to relaunch the AAG (Asylum Advocacy Group). It was founded in 2007 under the chairmanship of His Grace Bishop Angaelos, to bring together a wide range of people working in the field of support for those seeking asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. Initially its remit was to support Egyptian Christians, but events in the Middle East and North Africa over the past few years, led to a desire to widen its remit to support those of other faiths and in other countries, where people suffer for their religious convictions. At the relaunch there were also representatives of Baha’i and Shia Muslim Groups and those who spoke expressed the desire to see a wide range of faiths represented as witnesses of their commitment to human rights and justice. Abba Seraphim, who is a founder member, attended along with representatives of some sixteen diverse bodies. He spoke of his active support over many years for those persecuted for converting to Christianity, as well as Christians suffering injustice under regimes in Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea.
The tragedy which occurred off the island of Lampedusa, in which hundreds of Eritrea and Somalian refugees were killed in a shipwreck, took place on 3 October, while Abbas Seraphim was on pilgrimage in Turkey and without proper access to current news. This meant that he did not learn the full scale of the tragedy until after his return to the United Kingdom.
On 6 October a candlelit vigil was held at Speakers’ Corner at London’s Hyde Park, at which Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrea human rights’ activist spoke movingly of the plight of those driven out of their country by the current regime. Also present was Father Shenouda Haile, the London priest of the free Eritrean Orthodox Church under His Grace Bishop Makarios, whose simple but heartfelt speech also moved many people. One of those present later wrote on Facebook, “What impressed me is his analysis of the underlying reasons why Eritreans at home and in Diaspora found themselves in such helpless situations. It can be summarised as fear, greed, selfishness “a culture of I don’t care about others” and indifference to the injustice that is driving people to flee Eritrea …. He pleaded to change our behaviours to care for each other, to be tolerant and help those who are in dire needs such as those languishing in refugees’ camps in Sudan and Ethiopia. He pleaded with us to turn ourselves to God to help us to awaken our authentic self and stands up to injustices with unity and love for each other. He also prayed to God so that he whispers to the ears of the [current Eritrean ruling] authorities to come to their senses and stop oppressing the Eritrean people. His advice was worth listening to, it was words of wisdom.” Another commentator spoke of his “courage, clarity and words of wisdom” and expressed the hope that “his words will reverberate in the ears of the other religious leaders and their followers who have chosen to ignore the plight of our youth – their very flock.”
A video of his message (in Tigrinyan) can be viewed at:
The 2012 Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, covering the period 1 April 2011 to 290 February 2012, has just been published. The full text can be accessed online at http://www.uscirf.gov/images/Annual%20Report%20of%20USCIRF%202012(2).pdf
Of particular interest are the reports dealing with Egypt and Eritrea. Whilst the period under review covered the Egyptian Revolution and overthrow of President Mubarak, there were no significance developments in Eritrea. Yet, both countries raise significant concerns. For Egypt the report found:
“Over the past year, the Egyptian transitional government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. Violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians increased significantly during the reporting period. The transitional government has failed to protect religious minorities from violent attacks at a time when minority communities have been increasingly vulnerable. This high level of violence and the failure to convict those responsible continued to foster a climate of impunity, making further violence more likely. During the reporting period, military and security forces used excessive force and live ammunition targeting Coptic Christian demonstrators and places of worship resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. The government also continued to prosecute, convict, and impose prison terms on Egyptian citizens charged with blasphemy. Implementation of previous court rulings – related to granting official identity documents to Baha‘is and changing religious affiliation on identity documents for converts to Christianity – has seen some progress but continues to lag, particularly for Baha‘is. In addition, the government has not responded adequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government controlled media.”
In Eritrea, the report found:
“Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Eritrea. These violations include: torture or other ill-treatment of thousands of religious prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges of members of unregistered religious groups; a prolonged ban on public religious activities; revocation of citizenship rights of Jehovah‘s Witnesses; interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups; and inordinate delays in responding to registration applications from religious groups.”
Abba Seraphim welcomed the report and said it was of particular help in supporting those seeking asylum, whose personal stories of intimidation and persecution were the specific outcomes of failures by the states in question. Whilst his particular concern was directed towards Orthodox Christians; he highlighted that religious persecution was an evil into which all societies could fall and those who love truth and justice must defend the rights and freedom of all, even those holding un-Orthodox beliefs. “We cannot demand religious freedom as an inalienable human right if we seek to limit those rights for groups whose beliefs we reject. Sadly, there are instances in countries where Orthodoxy is the dominant faith, of severe restrictions, if not direct persecution. If we remain passive in the face of such limitations of other’s freedom, we are not upholding a universal human right but merely seeking to defend our own interests.”
George Alexander, Secretary & spokesman of Orthodox Cognate Page has announced a ‘Save Eritrea’ Fasting and Prayer Exercise to be held on July 24,25 & 26 July 2012.
“We request all of you to pray for the suffering Christians of Eritrea, especially for the detained Patriarch Abune Antonios. Hierarchy and Priests are hereby requested to remember Patriarch Abune Antonios and the Christians of Eritrea in Divine Liturgy. “
More information is available below
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‘SaveEritrea’ Fasting and Prayer Exercise is joint initiative of COLT Crew and Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE.
During a visit to the clergy and faithful of the new Eritrean Orthodox Diocese of Europe in the UK, His Grace met with Abba Seraphim in London. On 12 June following pastoral visits to his communities in Manchester and Birmingham, Bishop Makarios was greeted at Euston Station by Abba Seraphim who accompanied him to Southwark Cathedral, where they were welcomed by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum). Accompanying Bishop Makarios were Father Teklemariam (Frankfurt) the likekahnat (hegumen) of the European diocese, Father Habtom Ftuwi (Manchester), Deacon John Gebrehewit (Manchester), Deacon Teklit Eyob (London), Deacon Habtom Tesfahuney (Birmingham) and Deacon Robel Fessahaye (Birmingham). After showing them some of the highlights of Southwark Cathedral, Bishop Christopher entertained his visitors to tea and discussed the issues related to the current situation of Christians in Eritrea. After an exchange of gifts, prayers were said for Eritrea and especially Patriarch Antonios in his imprisonment. The two bishops and their party joined Bishop Christopher at Choral Evensong, which was led by Canon Paul Saunders, the Sub-Deacon & Canon Pastor.
In the evening Abba Seraphim entertained Bishop Makarios and his clergy to supper at the Church Secretariat at Charlton, where they were joined by Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and James Carr. Bishop Makarios stayed overnight at the Secretariat.
On 13 June Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios and his party visited the Old Naval College at Greenwich, where they viewed the Painted Hall and the Chapel and were received by the Rev’d Jeremy Frost, the chaplain. In the afternoon they visited St. John’s Church, Walham Green, Fulham, where they were welcomed by Father Mark Osborne, the priest-in-charge. On Saturday, 16 June Bishop Makarios will inaugurate Eritrean Orthodox worship in this church with a service commemorating Eritreans who have died in recent wars.
Bishop Makarios’s visit followed his attendance at recent meetings of the Holy Synod in Cairo where he was recognised as the sole canonical representative of the Eritrean diaspora rather than the government controlled hierarchy in Asmara.
- 9 March 2014
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Morning Prayer: Babingley10.30am Morning Prayer
- 13 March 2014
- Evening Prayer & Discussion: Shadwell7.30pm Evening Prayer
7.45pm Talk and discussion
- 16 March 2014
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: Babingley10.30 a.m. Morning Incense
11.30 a.m. Divine Liturgy