Second church in central Nigerian city bombed in two weeks *Crackdown on church leaders and Christian activists in Cuba

March 20, 2012 by  
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Regina David DungNigeria, March 15, 2012: A second church in the central Nigerian city of Jos has been hit in a suicide bombing in the space of two weeks; at least ten people were killed in the blast and violent aftermath.

The attack at St Finbarr’s Church happened on Sunday (11 March) at around 10.40am, ten minutes into the second service of the morning. It comes just two weeks after four people were killed in a suicide bombing at the Church of Christ (COCIN) headquarters in Jos, Plateau State, on Sunday 26 February.

The bomb, which was in a car, was detonated just outside the gate of St Finbarr’s after the vehicle was prevented from driving into the church premises. The blast shook the building and caused the ceiling to fall in and the glass to shatter. Three women, one of whom was pregnant, were among those killed. Surrounding buildings were also damaged.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the Rt Rev Benjamin Kwashi, said:

It is worrying that two bombs have gone off within the space of two weeks, and many are fearing a third. Most importantly, a palpable terror is being unleashed on Christians so that Sunday is transformed from a day of worship into a day of fear. We are appealing to the church worldwide to pray without ceasing, and to members of the international community to speak up and take action on our behalf so that we are able to enjoy full religious freedom and worship God freely and without fear.

Two men, one dressed in female clothing, approached the gate of St Finbarr’s in a car. A guard at the gate said he needed to check inside the vehicle’s boot, but they refused to open it and detonated the explosives there.

In the aftermath of the blast, there were clashes involving the security forces and youths, which left at least three more people dead.

And late on Sunday, gunmen ambushed Christians in Chugwi village, south of Jos, killing three and injuring another three. The victims included two brothers, aged 25 and 30. The attackers took their victims’ mobile phones and called the deceased’s relatives to claim responsibility for the murders.

Three other people at the nearby hamlet of Dogo Garba were injured by the same gunmen. The shootings are not thought to be linked to the church blast.

Plateau State is in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, between the Muslim-majority North and mainly Christian South. Christians and churches have frequently come under attack in Jos, the state capital.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan condemned Sunday’s bombing and restated his government’s commitment “to end the spate of mindless attacks and killings”. He claimed that the authorities were “winning the war against the terrorists” but the unrelenting campaign of violence by militant Islamist group Boko Haram and the apparent inability of the security forces to prevent their attacks suggest otherwise.

Boko Haram has not claimed responsibility for this latest church bombing, but it comes just a week after a spokesman for the group declared “war” on Christians in Nigeria and said that they were planning coordinated attacks to “eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country”.

– barnabas team

Crackdown on church leaders and Christian activists in Cuba


San Lazaro ChurchCuba, March 14, 2012: Pastors have been arrested, beaten, fined and threatened, and Christian human rights’ activists physically blocked from attending church, in a crackdown by the Cuban authorities.

One church leader, Reutilio Columbie (41), from Moa, suffered brain damage in a brutal assault. It is thought that he was targeted because he challenged the confiscation by the authorities of a vehicle the church had bought five years ago to transport its members.

His family started receiving threatening phone calls after Reutilio initiated a complaints procedure. Then, when he left his home on 6 February with the intention of filing the papers, he was attacked; Reutilio was found unconscious on the street a few hours later; the documents were missing. He cannot remember anything about the incident and is still struggling with speech and memory. 

In another incident, on 25 February, four church leaders were detained in Bayamo, Granma Province, while they were sharing the Gospel with people at the local bus station. State security agents beat one of them, Juan Moreno, so severely that he required hospital treatment. The other three were released after being held for a few hours.

Elsewhere, in Alamar, Havana, a pastor has been repeatedly fined huge sums since December because his church building is not registered. He and his family are now in great financial difficulty and facing the prospect of the church being forcibly closed.

Another church leader in Havana, Francisco Rodriguez, has faced harassment and threats of physical violence from the authorities in recent weeks. It is thought that the church’s outreach to people on the margins of society, including the homeless and juvenile delinquents, has brought him to the attention of the authorities.

Activists targeted
The authorities have also been clamping down on Christian human rights’ activists. On 4 March, Caridad Caballero Batista and her husband Esteban Sade Suarez were detained by police while on their way to church. They were mistreated and held in a poorly ventilated mosquito-infested cell for three hours.

The couple, along with their 19-year-old son, have been blocked from attending Christian activities since the beginning of the year. Every Sunday, their home has been surrounded by police and state security agents to stop them from going to church. At other times, they have been followed to Christian meetings and prevented physically, sometimes violently, from attending.

Other Christian human rights’ activists have also been arrested or blocked from attending church services.

Cuba’s Marxist authorities try to limit the churches’ growth and activities as much as possible.

In a film released on the internet last year, the top Cuban official in charge of religious affairs, Caridad Diego Bello said, regarding the government’s crackdown on one Christian group:

We are taking measures and will continue to take measures, the hands of our authorities will not waver.

Despite the authorities’ best efforts, the church in Cuba is growing. Some new Christian groups are meeting in overcrowded houses because they are barred from building new churches.

The authorities subject churches to intimidation and restrictions, while church leaders have been imprisoned in dreadful conditions, sometimes enduring periods of solitary confinement.

– barnabas team

Dissident says faith drives his fight for Cuba

March 3, 2012 by  
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Cuban dissident Jose Daniel FerrerCuba, February 29, 2012: Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer said his commitment to fight for freedom in the country is inspired by the Gospels and the Catholic Church.

“I have always believed we should be in the place God wanted us to be and that we should contribute as committed Christians,” said Ferrer, who serves as coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

The activist was recently detained by state police for political dissent in eastern Cuba and was released on Feb. 28.

“What I see in the Gospels is that we cannot remain indifferent to the land where we live, to the nation where we were born, that we should do everything possible so that freedom and the fundamental rights of the person are respected,” he told CNA.

Ferrer was among the 75 dissidents jailed by the Castro government in what’s known as the Black Spring of 2003.

He was condemned to 25 years in prison and was released in 2011 thanks to the Church’s intervention.  However, he refused to be expatriated to Spain and now leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, which seeks a peaceful transition to democracy for the country.

Ferrer explained that his political ideas “are in large measure based on the Gospels and the Social Doctrine of the Church,” and that he fully shares John Paul II’s vision – outlined in his encyclical Centesimus Annus – on the need for nations to be governed by democratic systems and by the authentic rule of law.

He criticized the Communist regime of the Castro brothers for violating the rights and freedoms of Cubans, as well as those who do nothing to change the country and “stand on the sidelines” waiting for others to make sacrifices.

“I think that is a somewhat non-committal, if not almost cowardly attitude,” he said. “Every lay Catholic, every Christian should make a commitment to ensure a legal framework exists in every nation that allows all people to defend their ideas, not only religious ones, not only their faith in God, but also their political and cultural ideas, in every area, in the freest way possible.”

Cubans ought to have the freedom to choose from more than just the one Communist party that exists in the country, Ferrer added, noting that Communism goes against Christianity in its tendency towards totalitarianism.

“This is the reason or my desire and my commitment for change in Cuba,” he said.

On the state of Cuba after John Paul II’s visit in 1998, Ferrer said that although few things have changed, any positive advancements are due to the “sacrifice of heroic men and women, with courage and faith like that of the early Christians.”

“The rights and fundamental freedoms of Cubans continue to be violated,” he said. “There have been very few social, economic and cultural rights, if any.”

He said John Paul II was very clear and precise in his messages to Cuba, which Cubans have yet to fully embrace. “We cannot ask the Pope to do our job for us,” he said.

Ferrer’s remarks to CNA come just weeks before Pope Benedict’s heavily anticipated trip to the country  from March 25-28.

– can

Cuban Pastor, Family Arrive in U.S. after Suffering under Regime

July 12, 2011 by  
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The Rev. Carlos Lamelas with his family

The Rev. Carlos Lamelas with his family

July 8, 2011, Cuba — An evangelical pastor once jailed by the regime of Fidel Castro arrived in the United States from Cuba yesterday with his family under a special resettlement program for political refugees.

The Rev. Carlos Lamelas, 50, his wife Uramis and two daughters, Estephanie, 18, and Daniela, 10, landed at Miami International Airport Thursday evening (July 7) on a direct flight from Havana.

Lamelas, who once served as national president of his denomination in Cuba, was granted asylum in the United States due to persecution he has endured for more than five years at the hands of Cuban authorities. On Feb. 20, 2006, security officials conducted an early morning raid of his home and arrested Lamelas.

They accused the successful evangelist and church planter of “human trafficking,” a charge related to aiding Cubans who wish to escape Cuba without government permission. Those close to Lamelas, however, said police targeted him because he had challenged the Castro regime on religious liberty issues.

During his imprisonment, hundreds of letters poured in from fellow Christians around the world, confirming their prayers for him and offering encouragement. Jailers admitted to Uramis Lamelas that the correspondence created difficulties for them, and that they “had decided on a change in procedure.”

Four months after his arrest, Lamelas was unexpectedly released. Authorities tried him in court in December of 2006. The state prosecuting attorney recommended acquittal on the human trafficking charge, which carries a sentence of up to nine years in prison.

Later that month, however, the court convicted Lamelas on a previously unannounced charge of “falsifying documents” and fined him 1,000 Cuban pesos (US$45). The move was seen as an effort to save face and send Lamelas a message that he was still under surveillance.

Denied means of employment following his imprisonment – leaders of his denomination had earlier expelled Lamelas from the church at the behest of government authorities – he supported his family as a freelance photographer.

Fearing another unexpected arrest and possible long-term imprisonment, Lamelas applied for political asylum in 2010 but was denied. He described the ordeal to friends as “our spiritual waters of Mara. As when Moses was leading the God’s people through the wilderness and, hungry and thirsty, they found the bitter waters of Mara.”

A U.S. official in Havana familiar with the Lamelas case encouraged him to reapply for asylum. Following interviews with the family on March 22, the Department of Internal Security determined they qualified as political refugees.

The family will be resettled in Texas under the auspices of the Division of Refugee Affairs of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Lamelas admitted that the news that they had qualified as political refugees came as a shock, albeit a welcome one. Tense months of waiting and uncertainty had aggravated nagging health problems – he has suffered from chronic stomach ailments since his imprisonment. But once he learned of the asylum decision, he began to recover.

“For our part, we have been open to the will of God, and we know He will take us where we can best serve Him,” he wrote. “Our moral commitment with the Lord’s work is permanent and without borders . . . We know that many brothers and sisters have collaborated for our benefit – we’re sorry not to know specifically who they are. Nevertheless, we want them to know that our love and gratitude is sealed in our hearts for the rest of our lives.”

– cdn