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Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

 

ACN Feature Story: Religious Sisters in Russia at the side of the marginalized during COVID-19

06.07.2020 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Kira von Bock-Iwaniuk, COVID19

Novosibirsk Russia

 “Sister, come back soon.”
Religious Sisters in Russia at the side of the marginalized due to COVID-19

by Kira von Bock-Iwaniuk, ACN International Projects Department
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, July 10, 2020

 

Very few have fallen ill, but all who live in the million-strong West Siberian city of Novosibirsk are affected by the lockdown and its economic impact – particularly those, of course, who already were living on the fringes of society prior to the crisis: the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and children from lower-income families. They are who the religious Sisters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of the Transfiguration at Novosibirsk have now focused most of their attention. They spoke with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the challenges they are facing during these times of the pandemic.

 

In Russia, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was registered as early as January 20. This case was followed by just over half a million infected, 7,478 deaths and what is assumed to be a much higher number of unknown cases (as at June 17). In response, a nationwide lockdown was imposed, which is only gradually being eased now. Moscow is at the epicentre of the crisis; however, the virus continues to spread across Siberia, but to a much lesser extent. In the metropolitan area of Novosibirsk alone, 4,604 cases of Coronavirus have been registered, 62 people have died.

 

Even in times not marked by pandemic, the work of these religious is a Herculean task. Sister Theresa Witschling, a religious of German descent of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, describes it as follows, “Russia – Siberia; the people call this region ‘a house without a roof’. A region that, throughout its history, has accepted countless exiles and people forced to relocate. Many of them died a martyr’s death. They starved to death, died performing forced labour under inhumane conditions, were killed by the cold. The long, cold winters and the short, hot summers make it unmistakably clear: life here is not easy.”

 

Approximately one million people with Catholic roots live in the Diocese of the Transfiguration in West Siberia (extending across an area of 2 million square kilometres), most are of Ukrainian, Polish or German descent. About 40 priests serve in its 70 parishes, travelling enormous distances as they go about their ministry. Without the assistance of the religious Sisters, it would be impossible to provide pastoral care for the faithful living scattered across the diocese.

 

For this reason, Sister Theresa and two fellow religious relocated to Siberia in 2015 in spite of the inhospitable conditions. Since then, the Daughters of Charity have operated a state-run and a church-run children’s centre in Slavgorod, a town located southwest of Novosibirsk. “Most of the children here are from lower-income families and have a difficult home life with practically no parental care. No matter whether both parents are out working all day for little pay or one of the parents has found work in another country and is gone for months at a time to secure the family’s livelihood, the children are left to their own devices far too often.” The religious do homework with them, offer a range of cultural projects and make sure that one hundred children have access to a paid school lunch, often the only warm meal the children receive all day. In addition, twice a year – in the summer and in the winter – they invite the children to spend “holidays with God.” But everything changed with the pandemic. “It has made our work here more complicated. Many people have lost their jobs, or at least their wages have been cut. They knock on our door asking for help, if only for a piece of bread for the children.”

 

The religious have begun sewing masks; as everywhere else in the region, there are not enough face masks available, and they hand them out to those in their care. The religious are particularly beloved among the homeless of the city. “These people all have their painful memories and emotional wounds. They do not come to us solely for material assistance. They are just grateful to receive a little kindness and warmth.” However, this is not the only thing that gives the people comfort and hope. “We thank God that we are able to celebrate the Eucharist every day. We are holding daily worship services in response to the pandemic. At the end of the service, the priest goes out on the street with the monstrance and blesses the parish and city with the divine offerings.”

 

 

Overcoming distance

In Surgut, 1,000 kilometres north of Novosibirsk as the crow flies, two Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul from Poland have become veritable angels for 140 homeless people in a social rehabilitation facility – organizing clothing and food drives in the parish, which have become crucial to survival in these difficult times.

 

The religious community first came to Surgut in 2011, taking up permanent residence there in 2015 to support the pastoral ministry of the parish of St. Joseph. This is the only place that has a “real” church. Thanks to the initiative and generosity of a number of Catholics, additional chapels have been set up in private homes in Noyabrsk, located 320 kilometres from Surgut, and in Kogalym, located 190 kilometres away. Every two weeks, the Sisters visit these chapels in the company of a priest – at least they did in normal times. “It is important to build up personal relationships with the faithful,” Sister Tereza Jakubovska explains. Her dream is to have chapels available in all places where there are Catholics. More crucial than ever, and therefore more sorely missed, is the ability to participate in divine services. Like many other religious communities, the Angelic Sisters in Surgut are broadcasting Holy Mass live every day to offer daily spiritual encouragement. “This ensures that we keep in touch.”

 

This is also the objective of Sister Aljona Alakschova of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany, who, together with a fellow religious, has been serving in the Parish of the Divine Mercy in Ishim for 20 years. “There are few Catholics here and those who are here live scattered across the local villages. When they take the bus to attend Holy Mass on Sundays or feast days, they know that they will have to wait for long periods of time before they can travel back in the late afternoon. We shorten their wait by serving them meals and talking with them. There is no better opportunity to get to know the people in the parish,” Sister Aljona confirms. “Everything has become more difficult since the Coronavirus. Public transportation runs even more seldomly, private shared taxis arrive sporadically and rarely according to schedule. This makes it difficult for us to visit those who are sick and to bring groceries and medicines to elderly people who have no one else.” Divine services now have to be celebrated without the congregation. However, necessity has always been the mother of invention. The religious have now set up a WhatsApp group, which connects parish members and keeps everyone up to date. This service is also used to send out the links to livestream services.

 

The lockdown presents a challenge to all communities of religious sisters in the diocese. The Sisters of Saint Elizabeth in Novosibirsk miss visiting parish members. “Through our regular visits we became friends. They often said to us as we took our leave, ‘Please don’t leave me, Sister. Please come back!’” This is where the good old telephone comes in, it helps the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth in Novosibirsk stay in touch with all those who are not yet part of the worldwide network, particularly older people who suffer the most under social distancing.

 

Like most congregations, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará in Omsk have shifted their pedagogical efforts completely into the virtual realm. They teach catechesis via video conferences, have made short videos together with adolescents to boost morale and have developed lively pedagogical activities for the province of their monastic order that are being used far beyond the borders of Omsk. “We hope that our work inspires adolescents to think about God’s word, even in these times of the Coronavirus. We pray that these, from a human perspective terrible times, will help us and all people to grow in faith, in hope and in love for God and our neighbours,” Mother Maria Glum explains.

 

Prayer: The most powerful remedy

The Carmelites in Novosibirsk, the only contemplative community in the diocese, are battling this pandemic with the most powerful instrument that we Christians have – prayer. Sisters Teresamaria, Christina and Agnija write, “We pray for the healing of the sick, comfort for those who are suffering, relief for medical workers and for the protection of the most vulnerable groups of people against infection. We also pray for the scientists who are working to develop medicines and a vaccine for the virus and have not forgotten those working in government, who have to solve far-reaching socio-economic problems. In gratitude for the aid that we receive from you, we also include ACN and its benefactors in the prayers we offer up to Our Lord.”

 

ACN supports all 68 religious Sisters who are serving at 18 locations in the Diocese of the Transformation at Novosibirsk. “It would not merely be a disappointment, but a catastrophe, for the religious Sisters” if this aid were discontinued, the local bishop, Msgr. Joseph Werth, confirms. This is even more true in these times of crisis, when collections are no longer being taken in the parishes.

 

For many decades, ACN has also supported the communities of religious in the other three Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia (Moscow, Irkutsk and Saratov) with educational and subsistence aid as well as funding for building projects, the renovation of housing and for transportation.

 

Let us continue in our efforts to unite and support those who need us most!

 

COVID-19: Have you still no faith?

28.05.2020 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, COVID19

Ukraine: Sister ­Magdalena consoles those in need.

COVID-19: Have you still no faith?

“Cum Petro per Mariam ad Jesum”– this was always the path taken to God by Christians of all times. It is no less so during this time of the coronavirus. 

by ACN  International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online May 28, 2020

 

The virus has shaken the world. Like a sudden storm, it has upended all our certainties. The situation is like that of the disciples in the boat, when Jesus asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mk. 4:40).

The gestures of loving concern on the part of all those we have been helping for many years in their necessities and in their service for God are a living response. For example, the Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo in the Philippines going out with food packages for the poorest families living in quarantine behind their walls. Or the “Small Christian Communities” (SCCs) in India who are going out, along with their bishops and deacons, giving water, protective masks and disinfectant handwash to the needy in the streets. Or Sister Magdalena in Kiev, who is visiting the sick and elderly, responding with concrete acts of love. And Bishop Désinord Jean in Haiti, calling the faithful to prayer with his church bell to plead for an end to the pandemic.

 

So many shining examples of loving charity! In Haiti, the people themselves have nothing; over half now live below the poverty threshold and four out of five Haitians are unemployed. Public life has come to a standstill. An outbreak of the epidemic here would plunge this, the poorest country of the Western hemisphere, into an abyss of suffering. The situation is little better for the poor in India. Sister Christin Joseph, who heads the SCCs, is organizing the response to the Coronavirus crisis and the Indian government lock-down. “We have introduced a special family prayer initiative.

 

Every evening at seven, the families gather in their own homes and pray the Rosary in solidarity with the coronavirus victims all over the world,” she says. She knows that most of these Christians are day labourers without any social security, and the lock-down has taken what little they had. Many are looking anxiously to the future. But their faith is still alive.

 

The same response of faith has been seen in the many priests, all over the world, who have fulfilled their priestly ministry to the victims of COVID–19, even to the point of death. They believed. The disciples in the boat cried out in fear, “We are perishing,” for their faith was weak. But after Easter, they strengthened one another. Peter and Our Lady were the visible pillars of the young Church – and they continue to be so today.

The invisible pillars are those who bear loving witness to their faith in this crisis, our brothers and sisters.

 

 

 

ACN Interview – Mozambique: The hidden war

28.04.2020 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Mozambique

Mozambique: The hidden war

“It is important to know what is happening – 52 young people were massacred on April 7 for refusing to join the insurgents.”

An interview with Mgr. Luiz Fernando Lisboa, Mozambique 27.04.2020
by Maria Lozano

Published on the web April 28, 2020

Pope Francis has been one of the few international figures to speak publicly about the terrorist violence in the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique. It is a tragedy ignored by many and unknown to others.

Maria Lozano, of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), spoke recently with Catholic Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of the diocese of Pemba, which is in the region of Cabo Delgado, to find out more about the situation.

 

A few weeks ago we heard about attacks on the town of Mocímboa da Praia, in the north of your diocese. What is the situation there at present?

In the past few months not only Mocímboa da Praia, but also Quissanga and Muidumbe have been attacked. These are the three major centres that have suffered such attacks. In Mocímboa da Praia, as I speak, the situation is under control, but unfortunately there was a lot of looting. During the attacks many people fled the town and took refuge in the forest, spending the night there. Some heartless scoundrels took advantage of the situation and many houses were broken into; they stole food, clothing and other belongings. Last week [20 April] one of these thieves was captured and lynched by the people. Unfortunately, this whole climate of terror has ended up generating insecurity and increasing crime. The people are so weary and very anxious after what has happened.

 

You mentioned Muidumbe; this was in fact the district where the most recent attack occurred, on Good Friday 10 April, on the Catholic mission in the town of Muambula. What else can you tell us about this attack?

In the district of Muidumbe seven small towns or villages were attacked in fact during the days of Holy Week, among others that of Muambula where the Catholic mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is situated, in Nangololo. They attacked the church and burnt the benches and a statue of Our Lady, made of ebony. They also destroyed an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom the parish is dedicated. Fortunately, they were unable to burn the building itself, only the benches.

 

Was this the first attack on a church?

No, this was not the first attack on a church. They had already attacked and burnt five or six local chapels, but they also burned some mosques. Although ultimately, it seems, the target is the Christian churches. The tragic thing for us is that this mission in Nangololo is almost a hundred years old and is the second most important mission in the diocese. So, it was a very tragic attack in what it symbolizes.

 

Is it true that there was a massacre in one of the towns of the Muidumbe district?

Yes, on April 7 in Xitaxi. To our immense sadness, 52 young people who refused to join the insurgents were massacred. To us they are true martyrs of peace because they would not agree to take part in the violence, in warfare, and that is the reason why they were murdered.

 

How many attacks have there been, to your knowledge, since the beginning of 2020?

I don’t know exactly how many attacks there have been altogether. But as I said, in this last wave alone they attacked seven towns and villages. Today I read a news bulletin that speaks of 26 attacks so far this year. But to tell you the truth, I think the true figure will have been higher.

 

These terrorist attacks have increased since 2017 and Mozambique has gone from being a safe place to being numbered on the foreign embassy lists as a place of potential danger… How is it that Mozambique has become a theatre of Islamic terrorism? What are they trying to achieve exactly?

I believe that this change of international perception is due to the war in Cabo Delgado. Here in the north, and also in the centre of the country, there have been attacks on public transport, and this creates a clear sense of insecurity within the country. However, I would not say that Mozambique is a theatre of Islamic terror. The most recent attacks have apparently been claimed by the Islamic State, but there are still doubts about this. Some people are saying that it is a local group which began small and is using the name of Islamic State, while others say that it really is the Islamic State. All we can say is that we don’t know for certain. Equally, we don’t know what is behind all this, but we imagine that it has to do with the natural resources. There are many financial interests and those who are funding all this are finding fertile ground due to the poverty, the lack of opportunities and the resulting youth unemployment. Cabo Delgado has always been a very poor province, neglected by everyone, including the authorities. What we’re seeing is the result of all these factors.

 

But the authors of these acts of terror are the same ones in every case, are they not? Where do they come from?

As I said earlier, we don’t know exactly who are the agents behind these actions. We have noted that initially they would only attack a single locality, but recently they have carried out several attacks at the same time, at least in two places at once… Nor do we know where they come from, although many reports indicate that while some of them are Mozambicans, the rest are from Tanzania and other countries…

 

But how do they operate? Is there a particular area under terrorist control, or do they attack and then withdraw again?

I don’t know if we can say that there is an area under the control of the terrorists, but there is certainly a region where they are most active. The people from the villages closest to this area have been forced to abandon their homes and are unable to return, because the terrorists go from there to other places and then come back again.

 

Is there also a religious element to these attacks?

That is difficult to say. Ever since they started, the main Muslim authorities in Cabo Delgado and throughout the country have distanced themselves from the attacks and have said that they have nothing to do with all this. A few days ago they published another letter, the second one, distancing themselves from these groups. In the declaration they insist that Islam is a religion of peace and understanding among peoples and among religions. They do not want violence. We cannot say that these attacks were carried out by religious groups. Both in Cabo Delgado and in the rest of Mozambique we have never had problems between our religions or between their leaders. We have engaged in many joint activities – prayers, declarations and walks for peace.

 

Are the priests and religious of the region in danger?

We have priests and religious, men and women throughout this region where the attacks are taking place. The official government personnel, such as teachers and healthcare workers, have left the districts because they were attacking public buildings. A large proportion of the population has fled out of fear. And several foreign NGOs which were operating within the territory have also left because they were being threatened. I asked the missionaries to leave because as their diocesan bishop I am responsible for them and the risk of attacks was imminent, given that they were the only ones who had remained. They were starting to attack churches, and the violence was taking on a religious dimension. I have to keep them safe, although they want to return as soon as they can in order to serve the people.

 

What is the central government doing to alleviate the situation?

The central government has strengthened its defences and sent reinforcements. It is playing its part; I don’t know if it couldn’t do more, but it is here to provide a defence. However, there are many young people in the military who are mere conscripts, and when the attacks take place there are many desertions and they flee to the woods with the people. They have very little training and little ability to cope with this situation. I feel terrible sorrow for the young people who have to go and fight, because a great many of them have already lost their lives.

 

The Holy Father spoke about Mozambique during his Easter Mass; he is one of the few voices to have broken the silence…

Yes, on Easter Sunday, after celebrating the Eucharist and giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing, the Holy Father spoke about the situation the world is facing, about the pandemic and the various conflicts around the world. For us it meant a great deal that he referred to the humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado because there is a certain “law of silence” surrounding it.

 

What precisely do you mean by referring to a “law of silence”?

The situation is a very grave one, because we can’t speak about it openly. Some journalists in the country have been arrested, and many of them have had their cameras confiscated. There is a journalist from the Community Radio station of Palma, Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco, who has been missing since April 7. It is important to know what is happening and important for the international organizations such as the UN, the European Union and the African Union to do something about it. The people here have suffered greatly, there have been hundreds of deaths, thousands of people forced from their homes. In our province we have over 200,000 refugees. It is an injustice that is crying out to heaven. The people here have very little, and what little they have they are losing because of this war. I appeal for help and solidarity for my people, so that they can live in peace once again, as they desire and as they deserve to do.

COVID-19: How are ACN Project Partners coping in Mali?

20.04.2020 in ACN PROJECTS, Africa, By Annie Desrosiers, Mali

COVID-19:  How are our project partners coping in Mali?

 

The impact of the pandemic in developing countries is very significant.  But despite this – they are thinking of us.  Here are some difficult stories collected by ACN in the diocese of Segou, that are coloured by hope and faith in God in Mali.

“Everyone is aware of what is happening around the world today. How will end 2020? Who can answer? GOD ALONE. Yes, God alone can answer. Coronavirus disease is very real in Mali today. 144 cases have been reported, 13 have died (press release from the Ministry of Health on April 16) … I think that the impact on the population will be enormous, especially in poor countries. Here, churches are closed, unnecessary travel is prohibited. The curfew is too heavy for small traders. Money is increasingly scarce, income-generating activities are reduced. I think it’s hard all over the world.  At Easter, we were unable to baptize our catechumens. We will do it when the churches will be open again. However, the triduum was celebrated in small groups. I celebrated at the postulate of the Sisters Servants of the Sacred Heart in Ségou. At each celebration, we were about twenty people. We hope that coronavirus disease will soon be overcome.”

Our donations are fundamental in these unprecedented conditions, to support disadvantaged and suffering communities.

Thank you for giving to the Church in need.

#ACNSolidarityCOVID19

 

ACN News – The only hope for Huma Younus: Supreme Court of Pakistan

26.03.2020 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pakistan

Pakistan

Supreme court – the only hope for Huma Younus

Text by Marta Petrosillo, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Briget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted to website March 26, 2020

For the umpteenth time, no progress has been made in the case of Huma Younus, the 14-year-old Catholic girl abducted on 10 October last year in Karachi, Pakistan, then raped, forcibly ‘converted‘ to Islam and forced to marry her own abductor.

 

As reported to ACN by the lawyer representing the parents of Huma, Tabassum Yousaf, March 19, there was a new hearing at the High Court of Sindh, the province within which Karachi lies. Once again on this occasion, the girl was not brought to court as requested by the judges.

 

On the other hand, there were some results from the long-awaited medical visit to attest the actual age of Huma. Despite the fact that, right from the outset, the parents have produced both the birth certificate and the baptismal certificate of their daughter – which clearly state the date of her birth as May 22, 2005 – her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar, has continued to insist that the girl is an adult and of legal age for marriage – 18 years of age. After repeated failures, attributed by the police to the impossibility of making contact with the girl in order to conduct the medical examination, the result was announced today finally: according to the examination of her bones, the doctors stated that Huma was 17 years old.

 

A finding that does not correspond to her true age, but which nonetheless confirms that the girl is under age and thereby proves the illegality both of her conversion and of her claimed marriage. Yet despite this, no arrest warrant was issued for Abdul Jabbar, nor was he ordered to return Huma to her parental home. The judges confined themselves to announcing a new hearing on April 16 this year, by which time Huma will have already spent six months in the hands of her tormentor, the victim of daily abuse.

 

The case will go to the supreme court, as did the case of Asia Bibi

 

“This confirms what we have always believed,” her mother, Nagheeno Younus tells ACN. “The judges are taking their time, waiting for her to reach the age of 18, so that they can then close the case. By declaring that my little girl is 17, it will be enough for them to wait a few months and then abandon her to her fate.”

 

Moreover, there are serious doubts as to the integrity of the local police, who were charged with supervising the outcome of the medical examination. On a number of occasions members of the police have acted in the interests of her abductor Abdul Jabbar, who has even forced Huma to level a charge against her own parents in which she allegedly asserts that she is afraid her own family members might kill her.

 

The Italian section of the pontifical charity ACN, is accompanying the family and supports them during the legal process. “Sadly, though, it has gone the way we feared,“ says the director of ACN Italy, Alessandro Monteduro. “The first two levels of the judiciary have not given justice to Huma. But we are not giving up, and, together with her lawyer Yousaf, we are going to take the case to the Supreme Court. This was the court which finally set Asia Bibi free, though her release seems not to bring about any change for the better for the religious minorities in Pakistan.”

 

*  We do not know if the audience was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

ACN Feature Story – The worsening conditions in Syria after nine years of war

25.03.2020 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Sisters, SUBSISTENCE, Syria

Syria

Nine Years of war

Religious Sister living in Syria talks about the country’s tragic conditions

March 15th marked the ninth anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria. “The situation is terrible,” said Sister Maria Lúcia Ferreira, a sister from the Mar Yakub Monastery in Qara, in the Christian region of Qalamoun, in a statement to the Portuguese headquarters of ACN international.

 

Text by Paulo Aido, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted online March 25, 2020

According to the Portuguese-born religious, Sister Myri, “after the crisis in Lebanon and the new sanctions imposed on the country, the economic situation has become really terrible. People complain that they can barely buy [anything] to eat.”

Weather conditions have worsened an already difficult situation. “The winter was mild until January, when several snow storms struck us here in Qalamoun, one of the coldest places in Syria,” said the Sister, who belongs to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Unity of Antioch. Qalamoun is located in a mountainous area and is a traditionally Christian region, located in western Syria, near the border with Lebanon.

 

Burning clothing for heat

Sister Myri also explained that they had very little electricity in recent days. “Here in Qalamoun, we still get two hours with electricity and four hours without it, but I think the area is better off than others because we heard that in the city of Homs, they sometimes go two days without electrical power. It depends on the part of the country.”

As a direct result of electricity and gas shortages, of the economic crisis and of the worsening weather conditions, the poorest families are going through very hard times. The Portuguese nun gave as an example the tragic story of one family: “A local woman, whom we know well because she has a disabled daughter, told us that she had neither electricity nor gas. It is very hard to get gas in the country, or any kind of fuel oil to heat the furnace. So, she told us: “To keep Maria, my girl, warm, we have been burning clothes that we no longer use.”

Electricity shortages have also forced the Sisters to change some daily routines in the monastery. “Now we cook with firewood. We have to find firewood so that we can cook and eat something hot.”

“It’s horrible, people can no longer buy anything to eat. Some people survive on bread and water,” Sister Myri said. For this reason, she is asking for a show of solidarity and prayers for the Syrian people. “I would like to ask people to join us to pray for these people who are in such a situation.”

Like the town of Qara, where the sisters live, all of Syria continues to suffer from an extremely weak economy caused by nine years of war that have already left more than 380,000 dead and turned millions into refugees and internally displaced persons. The situation is exacerbated by the violence that continues in the northeast of the country, in Idlib province, where government forces are trying to capture the last stronghold still in the hands of jihadist groups. Syrian children are direct victims of this climate of war.

According to UNICEF, more than 300,000 children have been displaced from their homes and neighbourhoods since December alone. Approximately 1.2 million children are in a situation deemed extremely vulnerable.

ACN is implementing various humanitarian aid projects for the neediest populations in Syria, including children. An example is the “fuel for heating” campaign with which ACN is supporting four major projects in Aleppo and Damascus. This is enabling more than 1,700 families in need, including the elderly and the sick, to cook food and warm their homes for at least a few hours.

ACN Interview – the changes brought to Cuba through the communist ideologie

18.03.2020 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Cuba

 CUBA

“The Communist ideology has fundamentally changed society”

Text by ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted on line March 18, 2020

In a country shaped by half a century under Communist rule, a country facing a lack of economic prospects and the disintegration of the traditional family, the Church in Cuba remains steadfast. Father Jean Pichon is a priest from the Community of Saint Martin who serves in Santa Clara, a diocese located at the heart of Cuba. He has answered the questions of the international Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports the priest in a number of evangelization projects.

 

ACN: How do you see Cuban society today?

Cubans are caught between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, living costs are on the rise, on the other, wages and salaries continue to fall. They are currently stagnating at 20 to 30 dollars a month. A large number of Cubans have moved to other countries, particularly Spain. This has contributed to the dissolution of families and the destruction of social ties within the country. Besides the economic issues, which are, of course, significant, I believe that Cuba’s primary problem is the collapse of the family. The father-figure has ceased to exist.

You say that the family, and particularly fatherhood, has been weakened in Cuba. What do you believe has caused this?

When I arrived on the island, an older priest told me that there were only biological fathers here, no real fathers. I believe that the Communist ideology has fundamentally changed society. For half a century, it was not the father who protected and nurtured in Cuba, but Fidel Castro! There is a very strong bond between mothers and their children, but the fathers are not around. I also think that the pressure exerted by the regime has led young people to see sexuality as one area in which they can be free. There are a lot of single mothers here and prostitution has become a gigantic problem. Weddings are a rare occurrence and most young people just go from one partner to the next.

 

What are your duties in a society that is at such odds with itself?

When I talk with young people, I cannot suggest that they abstain from sexual relationships until they marry. That would be too far removed from the reality in which they live. But I do try to get them to at least associate sexuality with love. However, in spite of everything, a few couples do marry. Another problem is that there are hardly any vocations to the priesthood; this is a well-known problem here in Cuba. When I drove to a remote village in 2009, an old lady told me that she had not seen a priest in over 50 years.

But don’t the Cubans continue to be very devout?

They are an endearing people and full of paradoxes! There are many followers of the Santeria among the Catholics. This religion is inspired by animism and likes to recruit its followers from among people who have been baptized in the Catholic faith. The influence of the materialistic Marxist ideology is also palpable. However, the Cubans who define themselves as atheists or agnostics are often the ones who deeply revere the Virgen de la Caridad (Virgin of Charity). This statue of Our Lady was found on a beach by slaves gathering salt and has become a point of reference for all Cubans of all religious persuasions. I can tell you an anecdote that clearly demonstrates this. One day, I knocked on the door of a Cuban who at first refused to open the door when he saw that I was a priest. This is very unusual for Cubans, because they set great store by hospitality in this country. However, when I told him that we were organizing a procession in honour of the Virgen de la Caridad, his eyes lit up. He answered that if it were for her, then he would also attend… The Virgin of Charity is often able to open the door to the hearts of the Cuban people for us.

Project of the Week: Support for the youth apostolate in Pakistan

27.02.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Family Apostolate, Pakistan, Pastoral aid, Youth Apostolate

Project of the Week:  Pakistan

A spiritual breath for a youth apostolate in Faisalabad

Published on line February 27, 2020

Roughly half of the 207 million people who make up the population of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are under the age of  25, and one third of these are actually aged 14 or younger. Young Christians, living in a society that is 97% Muslim, face many more and much greater challenges than their Muslim counterparts. In fact, for many Christians it is almost impossible to advance professionally within society. And, the religious minorities such as the Christians find themselves in, the lowest strata of society, Most having to work as street sweepers, labourers, or domestic employees.

 

A Christian name can be enough to block one’s access to higher studies. Non-Muslims are in effect seen as second-class citizens, not full Pakistani citizens. They are even unfavourably portrayed in official school textbooks, and the many services performed by Christians on behalf of the country are passed over in silence. Islam is promoted in almost every area of the curriculum, most notably in the selection of essay topics. Christian pupils are often insulted and excluded, or else pressured to convert to Islam. For Christian girls it is even worse, since they are doubly discriminated against, because  of their gender. And young Christian girls face a very real danger of being abducted and forcibly married to their abductors – also meaning: being forcibly converted to Islam.

2020: Year of Youth!

 

In response to this situation, the Catholic Church in Pakistan is working very hard to encourage Christian youth to take pride in their faith and give confident and capable answers whenever they are confronted with prejudice and ignorance. Many Catholic children also attend one of the many Church-run Sunday schools, but the older teenagers also need guidance and support in living their faith. So it was that in November 2019 the Catholic Church in Pakistan announced a “Year of Youth” for this 2020 year, which will contain a range of different initiatives.

The Youth Commission of the diocese of Faisalabad is seeking support for its youth apostolate program. Its aim:  to strengthen young Catholic women and men in their faith and help them to stand firm – and find their rightful place in society. ACN is supporting this initiative with a contribution of $10,725.

 

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

ACN Feature Story : Venezuela, a message from Cardinal Baltazar Porras

18.02.2020 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Venezuela

 

Venezuela

Seeking a peaceful way out

By Raquel Martin, ACN Spain
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web February 18, 2020

 

Venezuelan Cardinal Baltazar Porras said during a press conference at the ACN pontifical charity’s headquarters in Spain that “real changes are always built from the bottom up” and cautioned about “not raising our hopes about so many populisms that are doing so much damage to our continent.”

The Archbishop of Merida and Apostolic Administrator of Caracas has supported the ACN campaign to support the Church in this country.

In Venezuela, 30% of children suffer from malnutrition, 60% of families search for food on the street every day, censorship has grown enormously “85% of the media are confronted with restrictions and the free press is very much threatened,” said the Cardinal. He added that the disappearance of young people is constant and “the repression is enormous.”

The Venezuelan Church: dedicated to the people

However, the Catholic Church in Venezuela “has not lost hope, creativity and constancy” remaining completely dedicated to helping the people in this social, political, economic and humanitarian crisis. “The Church works creatively in order to serve others,” he said. “In the most popular districts, the presence of the Church is impressive, involved in all these districts with a joy and a dedication that edifies me.”

The parishes in Venezuela’s dioceses have been transformed into social dining halls and medical dispensaries, the Cardinal explained. “The people unite to give solutions for common problems” and it is “the simple and humble people who give and give, as in the Gospel, the little that they have.” According to the Venezuelan Cardinal, the work of the priests, religious and laity who are helping others is incredible: “They do not only give food; they accompany, give their time and dedication. The greatest lack now is that of affection.”

 

Venezuela – Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras eating with the poor 

 

Regarding the future of his country, the Archbishop of Merida added that “we want a way out of this situation that is peaceful and democratic, without the language of war, we all need each other. We must do something beyond political beliefs and ideologies, creating deep consciences for the present and for the future.”

 

Loyal to its mission, Aid to the Church in Need, is supporting priests, men and women religious, lay people, catechists, and seminarians to respond to the crossroads the country finds itself at. In addition to helping in their support and training, the pontifical charity has opened humanitarian emergency projects, such as the support of parish canteens, building water wells or purchasing electric generators, among other common essential needs.

 

 

 

ACN News, Cameroon: Boko Haram – “ the beast of the Apocalypse”

27.01.2020 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Cameroon, Nigeria

Cameroon

Boko Haram – “ the beast of the Apocalypse”

The toll of daily attacks on Cameroon’s villages bordering on Nigeria

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted for ACN Canada by Mario Bard and Amanda Griffin

Published on the web January 27, 2020

 

Boko Haram is like the beast of the Apocalypse, or a many-headed Hydra; whenever you cut off one of its heads, it simply seems to grow another,” says Bishop Bruno Ateba of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo in northern Cameroon, while speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).

 

Nearing the end of 2015, the Nigerian government announced that the terrorist group called Boko Haram – born in Nigeria in 2002 and radicalized in 2009 – had finally been defeated.

However, according to information received by ACN, there is every indication that the group has simply shifted its sphere of operations to the more rural areas of Nigeria and even extended it into the border regions of Cameroon and Lake Chad. “In the villages of Borno State in Nigeria, and throughout the border regions of Cameroon, not a day passes without news of attacks and incursions by the terrorists. The abductions and executions of the country-people have become a veritable reign of terror and a source of deep psychosis among the population,” Bishop Bruno insists.

Since just after this past Christmas, a video has publicly circulated showing the beheading of 11 people in Nigeria. Responsibility for this atrocity has been claimed by the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), one of the two factions into which Boko Haram split in 2016.

At almost the same time, Bishop Barthélemy Yaouda Hourgo of Yaouga in Cameroon, native to a village close to the Nigeria border, wrote the following alarming message to ACN: “My birthplace, the village of Blablim, no longer exists! The terrorists have murdered a young man of my family and totally devastated the entire village, including the house I was born in. Everybody, with the exception of the sick and elderly, was forced to flee to Mora, 10 miles (17 km) away. It will be impossible now to gather in the cotton harvest. Right now the weather is very cold in this area. Please pray for all those who are having to sleep outside in the inclement weather at this time the year.”

 

Terrorism, or organized crime?

Destruction, pillaging, robbery and kidnappings are the hallmarks of this terrorist group’s activity. According to senior figures in the Nigerian army, the jihadist Islamic group has lost its power and broken up into organized criminal gangs. Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, the current Chief of Staff of the Nigerian army, indicated on September 19, 2019 that “the mode of operation of these elements is pure criminality for personal gain. It is common knowledge that the criminals no longer pretend to be championing any cause other than the quest for materialism as manifested in murder and terror of hapless people.”

At the same time, he urged the Nigerian people to refrain from “glorifying these criminals by calling them by any name other than “criminals” “rapists” “kidnappers” “armed robbers” and “murderers.”

According to the data from the Nigeria Security Tracker, although more than 36,000 people have died since 2012 as a result of these conflicts, including civilians, soldiers and terrorists, the number of victims in Nigeria has now fallen sharply, in comparison with the horrific numbers recorded in 2014 and 2015.

This positive result has been due in part to the defensive efforts of the multi-national military forces, which in addition to the Nigerian army include also those of Cameroon, Niger and Chad. According to the independent International Crisis Group, in Cameroon alone an army of over 7,000 soldiers was deployed during two important military operations, including units of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), an elite army corp.

 

A more violent beast re-emerges

Nevertheless, although in recent years these Armed Forces have effectively prevented the conventional attacks previously launched by Boko Haram, they have not succeeded in cutting off the movement at its roots; instead it appears that a new generation of militants is now posing a fresh threat. “The poverty and insecurity faced by people in the rural areas and the lack of prospects for young people makes them an easy target for manipulation by the jihadists,” Bishop Ateba confirms.

According to data supplied by Human Rights Watch, the conflict between Boko Haram and the international armed forces has led to the displacement of over 270,000 people within the country since 2014. The armed Islamist Boko Haram group apparently carried out over 100 attacks in Cameroon during 2019, killing more than a hundred civilians.

“Just at the moment when people thought that the beast of Boko Haram had been completely decapitated, the horror has resurfaced in northern Cameroon. Within my own diocese there have been 13 attacks in the last weeks. One church was burnt down on the feast of the Epiphany. We are still investigating who was behind the incident, but everything points to a terrorist attack,” Bishop Bruno explains.