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ACN Feature Story: The Pope visits Bulgaria

17.05.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Eastern Europe

Bulgaria

A heartfelt meeting in faith

One early Sunday morning in May, His Holiness, Pope Francis arrived in Bulgaria for his 29th trip abroad. During his two-day stay in Bulgaria, the Pope visited Sofia and Rakovski. The media was primarily interested in political and social issues such as migration or poverty; these were addressed. However, the leader of the Catholic Church is also a shepherd and travelled to Bulgaria to visit the people and to strengthen the minority group of Catholics.


By Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

“In my opinion, our Catholics need to become more confident. It was a heartfelt meeting of the religions. I believe that it was also important for the Pope to see how strong our faith is,” explained Salesian Father Martin Jílek. The project partner of the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) had travelled the 230 kilometres from Stara Zagora to the capital city of Sofia.

Bulgaria’s population strongly identifies itself with the Christian faith, with 80 percent belonging to the Orthodox Church. Muslims make up the second largest group with about ten percent of the population. Catholics are a small minority. “In spite of this, there is a strong feeling of euphoria. A survey taken before the visit found that 54 percent of the population supports the Pope and his mission,” the missionary said.

Pope John XXIII: “The Bulgarian Pope”

For many, the joy of anticipation was dampened by the attitude taken by the Orthodox Church, which made a statement that it would not join the Holy Father in prayer. However, Father Jílek is certain “that this opinion is not shared by all Orthodox. The Bulgarians are open and tolerant people.” However, he did point out that patience would be necessary because ecumenism has yet to take root. “On a personal level, we have established a good relationship with Orthodox priests. Moreover, almost two million Bulgarians live in other countries and are well acquainted with the Catholic Church, especially that in western Europe. Our experiences have been very positive.”

The motto chosen for the trip, “Peace on Earth”, came somewhat as a surprise for those living in other countries; after all, Bulgaria has not drawn the attention of the West because of violence, as other Balkan states have, or because of war, as is the case for Ukraine. Father Jílek explained the background: “The motto ‘Peace on Earth’ was derived from the papal encyclical Pacem in terris, which was written by Pope John XXIII. He was the Apostolic Nuncio in Bulgaria from 1925 to 1935. This is why we call him the ‘Bulgarian’ Pope.”

According to Father Jílek, the motto shows that Bulgaria can be an example to others, because all the different religions and cultures have lived together in peace for many years. A number of minorities still live here in Bulgaria today.

Where God Speaks

One hundred people from Father Martin’s parish travelled to Sofia and 40 to Rakovski. Among them were about 20 boys from the Romani settlement. “This was, of course, a great opportunity for evangelization.” According to Father Jílek, almost all Bulgarians –can be said to be devout.

Unfortunately, none of the children from Stara Zagora took part in the First Communion Mass held at the Sacred Heart Church in Rakovski. “We have a group of ten young people and young families who are preparing themselves, but they are not ready and we don’t just want it to be a festive day with pretty pictures,” explained the priest. However, there was still cause for great joy because in Sofia, “our young people were able to assist during Holy Mass as volunteers.”

All of the participants were very enthusiastic upon their return. “The Pope also had a surprise for us. After Holy Mass, he unexpectedly went up to the young people to say a few words. The young people called out to the Pope very loudly and so he went to them, saying that in order for them to be able to hear, they needed to achieve silence in their own hearts. After all, that is where God speaks. Then he told them to go back to making a lot of noise.”

PopeSpeakingtotheYoung-Impromptu

Father Martin would like to thank the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their support for a large project: the construction of a new church and training centre. “In particular for the Romani children, but of course for all Bulgarians.” He would like to open a primary school in two years. “We are very thankful that we can feel the Church as a world Church. It is not only a source of financial aid for us, but also spiritual support. Who knows, one fine day we may be sending new priests and sisters from Bulgaria out into the world as missionaries. That is the dynamic of the Holy Spirit.”

  * Roma or Romanis, also called gypsies. It is estimated that they number approximately 14 million people worldwide, including eight to ten million in Europe.

ACN Feature Story – Helping women in Cape Verde, Africa

16.05.2019 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, By Robert Lalonde, Journey with ACN

Cape Verde Archipelago – Africa

Moving ahead for women who have nothing left

 

During a trip to the Cape Verde Archipelago in February 2019, Robert Lalonde, a regular Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) contributor, spoke with Sister Romualda Tavares, the provincial leader of the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary for Cape Verde, which also includes Guinea-Bissau in its territory. The Cape Verde Archipelago is a small island country located off the northwestern coast of Africa and is comprised of ten islands, nine of which are inhabited.

***

The country includes two dioceses, that of Santiago – the oldest in modern Africa – and that of Mindelo, which serves a population of 535,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom are Christians. Among its many congregations, that of the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary (DHHM), in addition to being the oldest Indigenous congregation, is, by far, the one with the greatest number of this country’s communities, with nine.

In addition to helping me appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Santiago Island, my visit with Sister Romualda gave me the opportunity to meet nearly all of the forty sisters who are part of six communities surrounding them on the island: Calcheta (2), Praia – the capital –, Santiago, Somada and Tarrafal . Aspirants, postulants and novices who will ensure the future of the congregation are added to these Sisters, all Cape Verdeans.

During our trip, Sister Romualda shared with me the worries she has for each one of them, while never losing sight of the gratitude she feels towards those who came before her: “I arrived as an aspirant in the Calecheta community in 1976, the first one founded by the DHHM in Cape Verde and was welcomed by Sister Regina, a pioneer who gave us everything. “

This visionary Sister knows that, to bear fruit, it is essential to feed its roots, but also the hope of a better world by giving our heart and soul. Keen on preserving the exemplary unity reigning among her communities, it is with the same enthusiasm that she told me about one and the other. And, while there are many urgent projects to complete, when the time came to favour one, she chose Terrafal, a small town located at the edge of the sea.

The Consequences

A few years ago, the DHHM were planning the construction of a building which would include a social centre and a residence for the Sisters. This centre, whose vocation is to provide daycare for children and to teach women various manual activities and also to get them out of an environment of domestic violence is partially in operation today.
However, while the community has the land, the project to build a residence could not be realized. Thus, the Sisters must live in the centre which is their place of work. This situation becomes problematic for several reasons, some being fundamental, since life in community isn’t lived according to the rules of the constitution by which they are governed.

“As busy as we are with professional or apostolic work that our founder advocated, we preserve, at all costs, strong times of prayer, testament to our strength, vitality and apostolic effectiveness.” This life of prayer is the source from which they draw their apostolic dynamism.
However, by permanently staying at their work location, not only do the Sisters not gain perspective regarding their daily apostolate, but they also do not have a vantage point to experience together the essence of their spirituality. Furthermore, the locales that serve as bedrooms are on the second floor. This represents a major inconvenience for the aging Sisters whose physical health is declining.

 

They must also adapt to a temporary chapel, since it is located in a small room that was supposed to serve as a space for one of the activities related to the center’s vocation. This situation is surely not conducive to quality contemplation.
Lastly, what can we make of the consequences experienced by the people targeted by the project? The rooms used by the Sisters take away from the space for the activities planned for the women. For example, these spaces should instead serve as sewing rooms or spaces for other manual work, or transition places when they are victims of domestic violence. This means that women, deprived of such a space, are currently living in a precarious situation, both physically and psychologically. Consequently, they are prevented from engaging in a wellness process.

In spite of difficulties, the Sisters continue to move ahead with their formidable task. They are the motor for so many changes happening for women who otherwise would feel totally lacking and unprotected. The Sisters of Tarrafal’s courage is anchored in putting into action the values of the Gospel. Thanks be to God!

ACN News: Aid to the Church in Need to receive the 2019 Path to Peace Award

13.05.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, By Joop Koopman

New York

Aid to the Church in Need to receive the 2019 Path to Peace Award

NEW YORK/KÖNIGSTEIN/Montreal —Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and president of the Path to Peace Foundation, has announced that Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be the 2019 recipient of the Path to Peace Award.

by Joop Koopman, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for Canada
Published on the web – May 13, 2019
 

 

Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN International will be accepting the Award at the annual Path to Peace Gala Dinner May 22, 2019 in New York. “To receive this outstanding Award is a great honor for Aid to the Church in Need,” said he. He added: “It is an eminent recognition of the worldwide bridge of love built by the generosity of our benefactors and the suffering and persecuted Church.” The Holy See Mission said it has chosen to honour the international pontifical charity in recognition of its humanitarian and pastoral support of persecuted Christians.

 

 

Recognition during a particularly dark year

“I am, of course, very happy our organization is receiving such an exceptional award for its work,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada.  This prize has arrived at a good time for since early 2019, we seem to be in the midst of one of the worst years where the persecution of Christians in concerned.”

In a recent article—which can be found on the ACN Canada website)—Mr. Heine-Geldern recalled the four major attacks against Christians already taken place this year such as the recent attack in Sri Lanka killing 268 people, mainly people attending Easter Mass, and injuring another 500.  “Aid to the Church in Need fights day after day to support these local churches and, to share information about them as well,” states Mrs. Lalonde.  “Religious freedom, which a great number of them do not enjoy, is a fundamental freedom inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.  This tribute we are being awarded invites us at ACN to continue working with the greatest diligence.

The Path to Peace Foundation supports various aspects of the work of the Holy See Mission to the UN. The Foundation also funds humanitarian projects in developing countries.

Previous recipients of the Path to Peace Award include: Cardinal Mario Zenari, papal nuncio to Syria; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus; and Queen Sofia of Spain.

Founded in 1947 by a young Dutch Norbertine Priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten (1903 -2003), to help meet the needs of refugees and displaced people in post-World War II Germany, ACN supports more than 5,000 projects each year in more than 140 countries.  These projects include the construction of churches and chapels; support for the training of seminarians, men and women religious as well as lay catechists; emergency aid; and transportation for clergy and religious.

 

Last year, ACN benefactors gave over 150 million in aid. Since 2011, ACN has provided more than 105 million to support Syrian and Iraqi Christians threatened by ISIS and other Islamist groups, ensuring the survival of Christianity in the region.

The Path to Peace Gala Dinner will be held from 6PM-10PM on May 22, 2019 in Manhattan.

ACN Project of the Week – Supporting the family apostolate in Papua New Guinea

08.05.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Family Apostolate, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea 

Support for the family apostolate in the diocese of Wabag

Papua New Guinea is the largest and most populous country in Oceania. It also has one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet as well as the most diversity of human societies and cultures, with a total of some 830 different spoken languages.

Most of its 5 million inhabitants follow Christianity today, and roughly half of these are Catholics – though Christianity was in many cases introduced only a few generations ago and is in some cases not deeply rooted in the culture.

Many people in Papua New Guinea have found it difficult to adjust to the extremely rapid social developments associated with the modern information age, while the State in many regions seems unable to fulfill even its most basic duties. The consequences have included a sense of social uprootedness, extensive crime, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence and child abuse. The Church is therefore focusing very much upon the family apostolate, since this is the only way to bring about improvement.

In the diocese of Wabag, the work with families is likewise a major priority. Conditions are difficult, however. The diocese is poor and many of the priests also have to support themselves by growing their own food, in addition to carrying out their priestly duties. Most of the faithful live in remote and inaccessible mountain regions, and the parishes are vast, with numerous outstations, while the roads are often nearly impassable. In order to be able to reach as many of the Catholic faithful as possible, there are 13 diocesan committees which operate pastoral and social activities in the parishes, thereby covering almost every area of social life.

Training is also offered to members of the laity that they in turn can carry on the same work independently later on. Along with all this work, the improvement of the practical living circumstances of the people goes hand in hand to deepen and strengthen their faith. ACN has committed to supporting this extensive pastoral outreach program for a period of three years. Our contribution for this year is $45,000.


Are you inspired by this project?
To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Sri Lanka faces “a crime against humanity”

23.04.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Easter morning suicide bombings of churches, hotels in Sri Lanka are a “crime against humanity,” Said Bishop Chilaw to pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need. Suicide bombers hit three churches and hotels in coordinated, near simultaneous, attacks Easter morning that left 290 people dead, while wounding an estimated 500 more.

Text by Joop Koopman, ACN International
English revision for Canada : Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published on-line : April 23, 2019

The series of bombings began at approximately 8.45AM in the capital of Colombo with an explosion at St. Anthony Shrine, a historic church designated as the country’s national shrine. It is the country’s best-known Catholic church. Within about 45 minutes, a second Catholic church was hit, St. Sebastian’s, in Negomba, some 20 miles up the country’s western coast from Colombo. Subsequently, a bomb exploded at the Protestant Zion Church in Batticaloa, on the eastern coast.

During the same time period, there were explosions at three upscale hotels in Colombo that are popular with Westerners. There are several dozen foreigners among the dead. There are reports of two additional explosions in Colombo.

Reached by telephone, Bishop Warnakulasuriya Devsritha Valence Mendis of Chilaw told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he condemned “the brutal attack, these acts of absolute violence that we cannot understand.” The bishop said the bombings were “totally unexpected” and that the country had been enjoying peaceful relations among the different faiths.

Buddhists account for 70 percent of the country’s population of 21 million; 13 percent are Hindus, with Christians making up some 10 percent. Sri Lankan Catholics number 1.3 million.

Most Catholics live in the western, coastal part of the country. “The area has many churches,” said Bishop Mendis, adding that St. Anthony’s Shrine attracts “people of all faiths,” with thousands of people visiting the shrine every day.

No group has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks, but there are some reports that Sri Lankan security officials had received warnings that there was a threat to churches, linked to the return to Sri Lanka of ISIS fighters. Indian officials said the coordinated explosions targeting crowded urban settings are typical of the terror method of ISIS.

Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass Easter Sunday, called the bombings “horrendous” and conveyed his “heartfelt closeness to the Christian community, attacked while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such a cruel act of violence.” Secretary General to the UN, Antonio Guterres,also condemned the bombings and expressed his hope that the aggressors be “quickly brought to justice.”

In Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist country, Christianity is minority religious group representing barely 9 percent of the country’s population.  Catholics are about 7 percent of the population.  Meanwhile, this percentage is higher in some regions, such as the capital city of Colombo, or the Western coastal region.

Noting that people of various faiths died in the attacks on the hotels, Bishop Mendis labeled the terrorist strikes “a crime against humanity.” “Our Easter joy was taken away from us,” he said and Easter Sunday “became a day of mourning.” The bishop expressed confidence that “our people will face the future with courage and faith.”

In a message to ACN donors, Bishop Mendis said that “we need your prayers that peace and harmony may be restored to our country.” He concluded: “As an act of solidarity, we must pray for all Christians who are suffering because of their faith.”

Are you inspired by this text? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Help to Sri Lanka.

ACN Project of the Week – Help for refugees in Marawi

17.04.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Philippines

Philippines

Success Story: help for refugees and people who have suffered trauma, in Marawi

Roughly 80% of the population of the Philippines are Catholic. However, in the southern Mindanao island group there is a relatively large number of Muslims. For years now, Islamist terror groups have been trying to establish an “Islamic State of Mindanao.”

In May 2017 several hundred Islamist fighters besieged, occupied and almost destroyed the city of Marawi, which was in fact already a centre of the Muslim faith. They killed many people, took many hostages and extensively damaged the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady. Most of the hostages they took were Christians, and it seems likely that the terrorists even wanted to capture the Bishop of Marawi, Edwin de la Peña, who as it happened was not in the city at the time. So instead they abducted the vicar general, Teresito Suganob, and other Catholic faithful. But the Islamists also took a number of Muslims hostage whom they accused of collaborating with the Christians.

For five months the jihadists held Marawi in their power, but eventually the city was liberated by the government army, but leaving still more devastation behind. Thousands of inhabitants were forced to flee the city, most of whom still live in tents or crowded in with relatives.

Healing trauma

 

ACN provided emergency aid for the refugees during the conflict. But now, the most imperative need is to help those traumatized by the conflict. ACN is supporting a project run by the diocese helping some 200 men, women and children who were held prisoner for months and subjected to physical, psychological and spiritual torment. Among them, many women and even young girls, who were raped by their captors. Help is given to Christians and Muslims alike. Thanks to the kindness our benefactors, we were able to give $22,500 towards this project.

Another initiative organized by the local diocese is the “Youth for Peace“ project, bringing 184 Christian and Muslim students to visit refugee camps, where tens of thousands of people who fled the city are still living. The students help the refugees, regardless of their religion, and strive to witness to peaceful coexistence, even after the terrible events of 2017.

For the local Bishop, Edwin de la Peña, dialogue and the rebuilding of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims are an absolute priority. ACN has given $90,000 to help fund this project.

ACN Feature Story: Nicaragua – A Church supporting its people 

16.04.2019 in ACN, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Ines San Martin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Nicaragua

Nicaragua: A Church supporting its people

“We are carrying a small corner of the cross of Christ. We cannot carry it all. It is He who is helping us.”

by Ines San Martin , ACN International
Revised by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Posted April 16, 2019

Nicaragua today is a country trapped between two identities: on the one side it is a nation led by a government that in many respects continues a long history of dictatorship, as typified by the Somoza dynasty, which governed the country for almost 6 decades during the 20th century.

On the other hand, it is also a country whose people have said “enough.” A people who have woken up from their stupor and now wish to move forward, with a Catholic Church led by ten bishops who have no fear of shepherding their flock and being a Church that goes out to the margins, as Pope Francis keeps asking, and which opens the doors of its cathedrals in order to be, quite literally, a field hospital. A Church without political banners and which makes no distinctions in caring for the wounded, supporting those who suffer and feeding their hunger, both physical and spiritual.

“They stepped up at a difficult moment… When the people were suffering greatly, because they were afraid to go out into the streets,” says one priest from the diocese of Matagalpa – who for reasons of security prefers to remain anonymous. He is speaking to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which visited the country at the end of November 2018 to express its support and solidarity with the situation in which the country finds itself.

A population in distress

Despite the posters in the city, which boast of a Matagalpa that is “Christian, socialist, in solidarity,” the tension is palpable, with police and paramilitaries on the streets to dissuade the civil population from organizing protests, although these, for the most part, have been peaceful. The protests began in April 2018, but in the case of Matagalpa, the government forces have even prohibited a group of women from honouring the memory of their children, who were murdered in the civil-war in a march that they have done regularly for almost 20 years.

“I am one of the lucky ones. Many priests have been forced to flee,” our friend tells us. “But we cannot remain unmoved when people burst in during Mass because they are killing them. Because the army and police aren’t throwing sweets at them. They are shooting to kill, aiming at people’s heads, their backs and their chests.”

“The Gospel teaches us that we must open our doors to those who are persecuted, and this is what we did. Our churches were turned into refuges, not into opposition planning centres, as the government claims to believe.”

This is a priest who knows what he’s talking about. On May 15, 2018, in a car belonging to the diocese and known as “the ambulance,” he rescued 19 wounded demonstrators who had been hit by army AK-47s bullets. By government order, the public hospitals were forbidden to help the wounded, the majority of whom were university students.

“During those days, the people on our church benches were not listening to the Gospel, they were living it,” he told us with emotion.

The Church defends the right to peaceful protest

From September onwards, and with help from various international organizations, the diocesan church opened five pastoral Human Rights offices providing support to families who lost children during the demonstrations, and to those who are still persecuted today for having protested. Around 50 are still imprisoned without trial, and hundreds have “disappeared,” while an estimated 30,000 or so have gone into exile in Costa Rica, and many more into other countries.

“They accuse us of hiding weapons, but we have never done so,” the priest tells us. “Our only weapon has been Jesus in the Eucharist.”

The number of people who today depend on the Church for their survival has tripled since the month of April.

“We are carrying a small corner of the Cross of Christ,” he tells us. “We cannot carry it all. It is He who is helping us.”

The situation of the bishops and of many religious in Nicaragua is far from easy. Their act of opening the doors of churches to care for the wounded, both students and police, and their willingness to be involved in a failed process of national dialogue, has resulted in many being branded by official sources as “coup plotters” and “terrorists.”

One of these is Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the Archbishop of Managua, the capital of the country. Despite the difficulties, he has lost neither his smile nor his faith. But despite his smile, Brenes cannot hide his concern for the future of Nicaragua, a country that has lived through enough revolutions to know that many of the grandiloquent ideas that convince the masses, sooner or later end up being destroyed by the abuses of power of the few.

The last revolution began on 18 April, although many people in Nicaragua agree that in reality it was no more than the “matchstick that ignited the bonfire that had been building up a long time previously.”

“The Church is accompanying the process of dialogue that was initiated after the protests, but as a service to the country,” Brenes insists. “We are not interested in power, but in supporting the efforts for peace, without looking for any personal benefit other than the good of the country. When the clashes took place between the government forces and the demonstrators, we defended all sides.”

More than once, the Cardinal was forced to mediate between the government and the protesters, both in order to rescue police officers who had been captured in the crush, and to prevent the soldiers from shooting on the students.

“We never asked anyone what side they were on, we simply helped all those who asked our aid,” he told us, though he did acknowledge that they could have denounced the use of violence on the part of some of the demonstrators.

“Both sides were violent at times, but the government made disproportionate use of violence,” he said. “The riot police had rifles, whereas the young demonstrators had catapults and home-made petrol bombs.”

 

Praying the Rosary to bring peace

The challenge now is to work for national reconciliation; something he knows will take generations and cannot be achieved overnight. “But we have to lay the groundwork for this reconciliation.”

Despite the challenges, Brenes chooses to cling to his faith rather than lose hope, more than ever convinced of the prophetic words of Pope Pius XII, who said, “Give me an army of people who pray the Rosary every day, and we will change the world.”

“I pray the Rosary every day: the first mystery for Nicaragua, the second for the conversion of those in government, the third for the mothers who have lost their children, or have them in prison, the fourth for the political prisoners, and the fifth for the clergy.

We believe that faith can move mountains, and the prayer of the Rosary can convert hearts and move them to a true reconciliation that will care for the wounded hearts and seek the good of everyone,” the Cardinal concluded. “And you, will you pray for Nicaragua?”

ACN Feature – Burkina Faso: Religious congregation forced to flee

11.04.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Burkina Faso, By Emmanuelle Ollivry, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

Burkina Faso

Sisters forced to flee their convent

  After their hasty departure from Kompienbiga, in the south-east of Burkina Faso, the sisters of the congregation, Sœurs des Campagnes took refuge with the brothers in the male branch of their same congregation, in Pama, back in January 2019 and just before the assassination of Father César Fernandez. Sister Thérèse, the Mother Superior, and Father Soubeiga, the parish priest of Pama, spoke to the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) about the increase in violence which has struck the country, despite the fact that it is generally considered more peaceful than its tumultuous neighbours, Mali and Niger.
 
By Emmanuelle Ollivry for ACN-International Revision for ACN Canada by: Amanda Bridget Griffin

“Either you give us the medicines, or we blow your head off!” was the order given to Father F. Soubeiga, the parish priest of Pama and missionary brother of the congregation Frères Missionnaires des Campagnes. He was describing the threats made back in January 2019 against Sister Victorine, a nurse at the health and social care centre in Kompienbiga and a member of the female branch of his own congregation. “She was working alone at the dispensary. At around four in the afternoon a group of some 8 to 10 individuals, armed and wearing balaclavas, burst in and demanded medical supplies for their wounded comrades. But Sister Victoria did not have access to the pharmacy. So instead they made violent threats against her and smashed up everything in order to help themselves.”

The incident was the last straw for the sisters in Kompienbiga. Coming on top of a succession of other violent incidents, it forced them to finally withdraw and take shelter with the brothers of their congregation, just 15 km away, since they no longer felt safe on their own.

“The tension is growing, and the people are gripped by fear”

“During the night of 14 September 2018, two terrorist attacks took place in the villages of Diabiga and Kompienbiga, respectively 60 km and 15 km from Pama, in the east of the region,” according to the governorate of the region. According to Father Soubeiga, “the violence began in Pama back in March 2017, and there were a string of bomb explosions aimed at the police – at least three or four of them since August 2018.” Sister Therese, who is Mother Superior of the female branch of the congregation, the Soeurs des Campagnes in Kompienbiga, adds, “The tension is growing, especially since August 2018, in Kompienbiga. The attackers regularly come into the villages, round up the population, and shout orders at them. Fear is gripping them.” A little further north, Father Caesar Fernandez was assassinated in February 2019 and on 17 March 2019 Father Joël Yougbaré was “probably abducted by armed individuals,” according to the local Church. And so the sisters have taken refuge with the brothers in Pama, where it is just a little calmer.

The community is scattered

“This is the first time we have had to leave everything in haste like this,” admits Sister Therese, who had been living in Kompienbiga since 2001. “Out of the seven sisters in the community, four have taken shelter in Pama, while three have left the country for Togo, where they are completing their formation. Nobody knows when they will be able to return. It is hard,” she continues. In fact, their priory was established in Kompienbiga 25 years ago. They had established an elementary school in which they were caring for around 40 young children aged between three and six, children who in many cases had been neglected or abandoned. And they had just opened a sewing and dress-making school, where they were planning to teach five young women.

“All we want to do is to go back as soon as possible so that we can continue the work that we began,” insists Sister Therese. “Please pray for us!”

“The Catholics are the most vulnerable”

For now, even in Pama, “where things are calmer,” there is an obligatory curfew. “We are living in a deteriorating climate,” Father Soubeiga confirms. “As Catholics, we are the most vulnerable, because we represent a centralised institution, and thus an easy target. To attack a priest is to inflict harm on an entire territory. The consequences would not be the same for the Protestants or the Muslims, in their more fragmented communities, led by numerous different pastors and local imams.”

 

 

Unable to celebrate the Easter Vigil

As a result, the police have imposed strict security regulations. “Some areas are forbidden to me”, says the parish priest of Pama, sadly. “In January, in the space of two weeks, I had to evacuate all the catechists from Diabiga, Kompenbiga and another village, around 50 miles (78 km) from Pama. As for the immediate future, it’s looking very unlikely that we will even be able to celebrate the Easter Vigil.”

In response to the question as to who is responsible for the criminal armed attacks of recent months, Father Soubeiga is quite candid: “It’s impossible to say. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Some people refer to them as mercenaries, but some of the terrorists are quite clearly from Burkina itself, because they speak the local languages perfectly.”

ACN News : Nigeria  ‘Carnage’ in Kaduna State

01.04.2019 in ACN, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Marta Petrosillo, Nigeria

Nigeria

 ‘Carnage’ in Kaduna State

Since February, 130 people have been killed in Kaduna state, leaving an additional 10,000 homeless as a result of the Fulani herdsmen attacks.

Montreal, March 27, 2019 – “The violence of Boko Haram has now been added to by that of the Fulani herdsmen. While so-called Islamic State has been losing ground in Iraq and Syria, Nigeria is today the country recording the highest levels of Islamist terrorist activity in the world. Our country is, so to speak, the future “hope” of the Islamist fundamentalists.” This was the view expressed by Father Joseph Bature Fidelis, from the diocese of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, at a meeting organized by ACN with members of the European diplomatic corps at the Holy See.

The reports reaching the international Catholic pastoral charity ACN International from this African country in recent days are dramatic indeed. Since the beginning of February, in the state of Kaduna alone, more than 130 people – mainly from the Adara tribe – have reportedly been murdered by Islamist herdsmen of the Fulani tribe. A veritable wave of violence has left over 10,000 people homeless and caused the destruction of some 150 homes. “These latest attacks have reduced many village communities to rubble and raised the level of the humanitarian crisis here to one of extreme gravity,” writes Father Williams Kaura Abba, of the diocese of Kaduna.

“The latest wave of killings began on Sunday, 10 February 2019, when the Fulani herdsmen murdered 10 Christians, including a pregnant woman, in the village of Ungwar Barde in the district of Maro near Kajuru.”

 

 

Particularly brutal attacks

The priest went on to tell ACN about the critical situation in the hospital in Kajuru and in particular about the five-year-old child who had been gravely wounded. “First they tried to kill him with pistols, and then with a machete, but fortunately God protected him.” Not content with that, the Fulani herdsman beat him violently on the back with sticks. Now he is paralysed. “This poor little child has also lost one of his sisters during the attack, while his mother is still fighting for her life in another hospital.”

The sheer brutality of the Fulani tribesmen is staggering. “Not even the animals kill people like that”, adds Father Kaura Abba, at the same time pointing out the inadequate response on the part of the local authorities. “Neither the governor of Kaduna nor any other representatives of the federal government has so far deigned to visit the victims or seek to console their loved ones. It is the Christian communities alone who are taking care of the medication and treatment of the wounded.”

On  March 19 in the capital Abuja there was a peaceful protest march against the killings. On that occasion Father Kaura Abba issued an appeal to the international community, one that he repeats again today to ACN: “We ask you to put pressure on the Nigerian government to come to the aid of our people. We cannot remain silent in the face of this human slaughter. If we are to salvage what is left of our humanity, then the government bodies concerned must do their duty without fear.”

 

 


by Marta Petrosillo ACN International

Adapted for Canada by Amanda Griffin

 

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – Mass Offerings in Uruguay

27.03.2019 in Project of the Week, Uruguay

Uruguay

Mass Offerings for 20 priests in Tacuarembo

Although Latin America as a whole is described as a “Catholic continent,” Uruguay, the second smallest country in Latin America, in fact, has a long secular history.

In the 19th century, all public expression of religion was banned and banished to the private sphere. The secularist government of the day engaged in numerous deliberate provocations against the Catholic Church. For example, on Good Friday – a day of strict fasting and abstinence for Catholics – the government would deliberately offer free barbecues for all.

A strict separation between the Church and State has existed in the country since 1917 and formally enshrined in the Constitution. No religious festivals are acknowledged in the public calendar. So it is not surprising that not even half the population of 3.3 million people declare themselves Catholics today. As a result, the Church struggles to maintain itself without outside support. The statutory requirements imposed by the state for the maintenance of Church properties are extremely high. Meanwhile, most priests live on the bare minimum.

The diocese of Tacuarembo lies in the northern-central part of the country and covers an area of around 24,000 km². It has 20 priests, who minister to around 100,000 Catholic faithful in 16 far-flung parishes with a total of 85 churches and chapels and a number of different charitable institutions as well. The area is sparsely inhabited and the faithful live widely dispersed.

We are therefore planning to help these priests with Mass Offerings, for a total value of $17,970. This works out at just $900 per priest for an entire year. These priests will celebrate these Holy Masses for the intentions of those benefactors who have given them. Therefore, please know that your Mass Offerings are of enormous help and are grateful appreciated.

 

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