ACN Canada


No Room at the Inn – A Christmas message for restoring Love

22.12.2017 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

In 1947, inspired by a passage in the Gospel of John and the situation of the times he lived in (post World War II), ACN Founder Father Werenfried van Straaten wrote a touching reflection to be published initially in a newsletter belonging to the Norbertine monks and later on, in the small ACN publication of ‘The Mirror’ which has grown over 70 years and now has a world-wide readership in many languages. Have times changed?  Have our hearts opened greater to God’s Love?  Are we there for our brothers and sisters trying to rebuild their lives in Iraq and Syria, in Philippines or in Cuba?  Is there still no room at the inn?  We offer you this text for reflection which is as relevant today as it was back then, as we move in to the celebration of Christmas.


“Peace on Earth? No Room at the Inn”

by Father Werenfried van Straaten

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:16-18).


MIRROR (TOREN (The Tower), DEC. 1947)

Dear Friends,

When Christmas came the first time, the roads to Bethlehem were filled with people, all hastening to reach the town of King David, so that they could be registered there for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. They fought their way forwards, with hands and feet and elbows, intent on getting there first; for they knew well that only the firstcomers would have any chance of finding lodgings for the night. And as so often happens, so then it was the richest and the strongest, those on horseback or on camels, or in their luxury carriages, who pushed aside the little ones on their scrawny donkeys and secured the best places in the inns. And so for Mary, who bore Jesus close to her heart, there was no room at the inn.


Father Werenfried and his representative in Konigstein, Father Coenen, take children from the Frankfurt bunkers and refugee camps to Flanders for a welcome change.

Can you picture the scene? A town suddenly overwhelmed by people who are thinking only of themselves? Can you imagine what it was like during the war in Antwerp, when the No. 41 tram was attacked? How the people fought and kicked? How the friendly office worker and the small shopkeeper suddenly turned into wild beasts? How every kind of decency and courteous feelings disappeared, and people fought recklessly, each for himself alone? Every man for himself! So it was in Bethlehem too. And so it was that for the Holy Family there was no room. No room for Christ! And Mary sensed that her time had come. And Joseph was at his wits’ end. But there was no solution. Lonely and forgotten, they merged back into that mass of humanity…

Little has changed since then. There is still no room for Christ; because man is still driven by his own selfishness, and because he actually no longer cares, as long as he himself is warm and secure.


Many of us are warm and comfortable; our lives are going well. We have a home, glass in our windows to keep out the cold, and despite the post-war shortages of food and everything else, despite the soaring prices, we actually do not lack much. But do we ever stop to think that, out there, Mary and Joseph still wander through Europe in their thousands? And Christ is weeping in the person of the poor, the homeless and the refugees; the hungry and thirsty, the prisoners and the sick; in all those whom he has called the least of his little ones and beneath whose misery his divine and human countenance is concealed?


Christmas is here again, and Christ is longing to be welcomed by his own. Invisibly, he wanders through our streets and throughout Europe. So do not respond like the crowds of human beasts in Bethlehem, or like the indifferent innkeepers, or the well-nourished burghers in their small-town smugness, but open your doors and your hearts to every need — for it is the need of Christ.

No room for Christ! And Mary sensed that her time had come. And Joseph was at his wits’ end. But there was no solution. Lonely and forgotten, they merged back into that mass of humanity…

The need of Christ? In Germany hundreds of towns now lie in rubble and ashes. Often almost nothing is left of them but the air-raid shelters that the Germans built everywhere in order to protect the people against air attacks. In these bunkers hundreds of thousands of people are now living. They are filled with an appalling stench. Each family — if one can still speak of families — is crammed together on a few square metres of concrete floor. There are no fires and there is no warmth, except the warmth of the other bodies all around.

Great injustice was done during the war and the occupation, but despite that, these outcasts remain our brothers and sisters. Christ wishes to live among them too, in his purity, his charity and his loving kindness. The shepherds came and worshiped Christ in a stable. But these people do not even have a stable. In their bunkers Christ cannot, humanly speaking, survive. There is no room for him there. This then — almost 3 years after the end of the war — is the need of Christ!

The world we live in is a crazy one. It is a world that for centuries has looked on heartless self-interest as the highest form of wisdom… and that has foundered again and again because of it. It is a world of wild beasts and violent men; a world where, in great things as in small, man has put his own ego before love. From Caesar to Napoleon, from Hitler to Stalin and the American atom bomb strategists, it has always been the same, and it will probably always remain that way. Caesar was murdered. Napoleon died in exile. Hitler shot himself, Mussolini was lynched… Who will be next? Violence and unbridled self-seeking lead irrevocably to disaster. We know this. We ourselves have witnessed it, and we are also suffering the consequences. And yet, as though blind and crazy, we still pursue the same path. The path of selfishness, in big things as in small. Right from the Yalta conferences and the “Big Five” in Potsdam, down to the small-time miserliness of the extortionate peasant farmer, through all the cowardly evils of our own sins, this world is dominated by selfishness.

“He came to his own home and his own people received him not.” There was no room for him at the inn because “his own” were lacking in love. This is the dark root of all the wars and devastation. And we know that he is the Prince of Peace, whom the whole world yearns for; whom we so desperately need.

The Holy Scriptures contain a tragic sentence: “He came to his own home and his own people received him not.” There was no room for him at the inn because “his own” were lacking in love. This is the dark root of all the wars and devastation. And we know that he is the Prince of Peace, whom the whole world yearns for; whom we so desperately need. So let us, in God’s name, restore love, and open our doors and hearts to him. For we humans belong together — all of us. And that includes the Germans and the communists. It includes the freezing and penniless wretches in their shelters. It includes the refugees and the uprooted. We must create room for one another and love one another. Not with fine phrases but with deeds, just like St Martin. He was on horseback when a poor beggar asked him for alms. But he had nothing left, so he took his coat and tore it in two, so that he could give half of it to the poor man. And this poor man was Christ himself. Everyone who is poor, in whatever sense of the word, is Christ. So give food parcels and clothing parcels for your brothers in Germany and do not exact the last pound of coal from them. Give a room in your home to the homeless. Save a place at your table for the hungry. And give your love and mercy to all; give your forgiveness and a friendly face.


St John wrote to the early Christians, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:16-18).


In so far as we have not done this, our hearts and our doors remain closed to Christ. That means that there is no room for him in our hearts! And all the Christmas cribs, the Christmas trees with their candlelight, their tinsel and their glittering stars, will never be enough to make up for this failing. So let us make peace with one another, in our hearts, amid the ruins of our enemy’s land. Let us forget the old hostilities. Let us reach out our hands to one another in gentleness and kindness. Let us restore love. For the tiny weeping Child in the manger is Emmanuel, God-with-us. And God is Love.

+ Werenfried van Straaten



ACN Project of the Week: A little warmth for Lebanese Sisters

21.12.2017 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Lebanon, Middle East, Pastoral care, Poverty, Project of the Week, Sisters, Urgent need


A heating system for a convent housing sick and elderly sisters


A convent in Jeita is home for some 20 or so elderly religious Sisters, some of whom are frail and or ill. It has been designated, by the congregation of the Salvatorian Sisters of Saint Basil of Our Lady of the Annunciation, as a sheltered accommodation for nuns who require special assistance.


Lying as it does in a quiet valley, the convent is also ideal as a guesthouse for groups and individuals wishing to spend a few days in a quiet retreat in their personal search for God. “We do not want to make a financial profit in any way, but simply to offer a service to Our Lord and to the Church by taking in these faithful,” explains Sister Mona Wazen the general superior of this Melkite Greek Catholic congregation.


The convent was established in 1992, following an attack on the motherhouse of the congregation during the Civil War (1975 to 1990) which at that time, the Sisters were forced to flee. Before the Civil War, in fact, they had no fewer than 17 convents in Lebanon. But the war cost them dearly and now today they have only three convents and a total of around 70 Sisters. Between them, five schools and a number of other educational centers are managed.


As already mentioned, there are 20 elderly and infirm Sisters living in the convent in Jeita today. However, there is no heating in the house and in winter it can get extremely cold. This is not only hard to endure for these already frail sisters but also scarcely inviting for any guests who may wish to stay. The congregation has decided to install a central heating system. However, the cost is too high for them alone and so they have turned to ACN for help.


We are planning to contribute $35,040, so that these frail and elderly Sisters and their guests will not have to suffer the additional burden of facing the freezing cold in their very home.


If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar project funded by ACN, please click to donate!


Aid to the Church in Need – Christmas presents in Iraq

15.12.2017 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Iraq

Aid to the Church in Need in Iraq


Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is committed to ensuring that the Iraqi children from the Nineveh plains will not be without Christmas presents this year.

It is a large warehouse with white and grey walls. Dozens of boxes are piled up on the floor. It might seem to be a somewhat gloomy-looking building, but in fact it is a warehouse of dreams. Beneath the concrete beams and among the wooden pallets, dozens of pairs of hands work industriously and happy faces smile. In the last few days O’Neal, Santa, Reben and many other volunteers from the Chaldean Catholic parish of Erbil in Iraq have become Santa’s little helpers here in the warehouse.


15,000 Christmas gifts for IDP´s children from Nineveh plain and Mosul


Christmas is coming of course, and the Iraqi children of the Nineveh plains – like children all over the world – are looking forward with excitement and expectation to these very special days. For many of them this Christmas will be different, because it will be the first one they have celebrated in their own homes. For they had to spend the last three Christmases homeless, as refugees in their own country, following the invasion of their homes by the Islamist fighters of IS in August 2014. Just like the Child Jesus himself, who was born in a stable and had no place to call his home, the children of the Christian villages and towns of Nineveh spent the last few Christmases in refugee camps or in other accommodation rented with support from the diocese of Ankawa.

After immense effort on their part and thanks to the financial support of friends and benefactors from all over the world, over 6.330 families have now been able to return to the various different Christian towns and villages in this area and start to try and rebuild their lives. Many other families are still waiting their opportunity, however.

15,000 Christmas gifts!

Christmas is the great gift of God to mankind and for this reason it is a message of hope for them all. The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is committed to ensuring that the Iraqi children from the Nineveh plains – not only those who have been able to return to those homes but also those who are still waiting to be able to do so – will not be without Christmas presents this year. And as a result the warehouse in Ankawa has been transformed into a sort of “Santa’s workshop” and the 20 or so young people who are helping the Chaldean religious sisters of the community of the Daughters of Mary are like those little helpers working furiously to bring joy and hope to the children. They are aiming to wrap up a total of 15,000 Christmas parcels which will then be distributed to the children of the different Christian rites in Qaraqosh, Karamless, Bartella and Bashiqua, and likewise to the large number of children who are still living as refugees in Ankawa, which is the Christian quarter of Erbil.

In their Christmas wish lists and letters to Santa, these children often say that their first wish is to have a stable place where they can live in peace. A second wish is to be able to continue attending school, and their third wish to have a place where they can play. Wishes like these are not so easy to parcel up and give them, as these young volunteers well know. But they are in no doubt that the children will also be absolutely delighted with these “material gifts which carry with them the Good News of the presence of God among us and are stamped with the love of God the Father”, as Sister Ni’am puts it. She is the project coordinator. The parcels will include “an anorak – something very necessary, because winter in this part of Iraq can be very cold and the temperatures often fall below zero – plus chocolates and, in order not to overlook the profoundly religious meaning of this feast, a Bible or another spiritual book in every parcel, depending on the age of the child concerned.”

The helpers here in “Santa’s workshop” in Ankawa are profoundly grateful to ACN for having sponsored and funded this initiative of “love and solidarity with the Christians of Iraq.”

“It will be a joyful and a painful celebration at the same time: Joyful because of their return to their birthplaces and houses; and painful because of the state of the villages: destroyed, burned and looted houses; stolen, burned and destroyed churches; neglected streets, almost non-existent services, friends who left the country,” Sister Ni’am explains.

A Christmas very close to that first Christmas in Bethlehem, where joy and suffering were mingled together in the lives of Mary and Joseph as they prepared for the birth of the God Child.

According to ACN the cost of each gift parcel is 30 dollars, so that the total cost of the whole project is 300,000 Euros, or 438,000 dollars. Similarly ACN is also supporting a Christmas parcel project for the children of Aleppo (109,500 ) and another for the Syrian refugee families in Armenia ($29,200).







ACN Project of the Week: Holiday programs in Ethiopia for children

14.12.2017 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ethiopia, Journey with ACN


Holiday catechetical program for the young

The parish of Saint Gabriel in Wolisso has around 1,000 parishioners. They are proud of the fact that their families have been Catholics for many generations. Around 700 Catholics live in the town of Wolisso and another 300 live in a village around 20 km away.

Father Kebede Deju is very happy to see the faithful so actively involved in Church life and in expressing their great love of God. More than anything, he is delighted at the 200 or so children who regularly come to church. But these very children are a particular cause for concern to him. Why? Because during the school holidays there is usually very little for them to do, often ending up spending their time hanging around in the streets.

He has come up with the idea of organizing a seven-day holiday program with the help of the local religious Sisters and seminarians, in order to give these children and young people a chance to engage in constructive and meaningful activities, which will at the same time help them to grow in their faith.

A vivid Christian community wants to take care of its children. 

Among other things, the program will include looking at some of the stories in the Bible, which will be followed with a Bible quiz. The children will have a chance to pray and sing together, to get to know Jesus better and learn more about the Church and her Sacraments, how to practice Christian charity towards one another, and much more. The program is intended to help them shape their lives after the pattern of their faith. Once completed, the children will be receive a Bible or another religious book and various devotional objects, such as rosaries or holy pictures, to take home as a gift.

In order to be able to make the program a success, the parish will need to borrow a loudspeaker sound system, and the children will also need materials for their various activities, they will also need help with board and lodging too. Father Kebede Deju has turned to ACN for help, on behalf of all the children and young people. He writes:

“We, the children and young people of the parish, are praying together with our priests for the success of this project. We Catholics here are only few in number and we want to be able to strengthen our people through this course, so that they can learn more about the Catholic Church, its teaching and its sacraments, and experience the Bible as a whole, so that they can grow in faith and genuinely live their faith. We are hoping and praying that you will be able to help us to proclaim the Gospel to the people in these rural regions and so achieve our goals.”

We are planning to help with a contribution of $7,300 for the fulfillment of the project.

If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar project funded by ACN, please click to donate!





Little spokespeople for the Mother of God in a peace-starved world

08.12.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Journey with ACN

Benin – Little spokespeople for the Mother of God in a peace-starved world

Children of the Catholic Schools of Natitingou in Benin are praying for peace in the world


The International children’s prayer campaign “One Million Children praying the Rosary “, which has been supported for several years now by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has had a particular impact in the country of Benin in West Africa. The campaign goes back to an idea of Saint (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina, who in some way foresaw the great spiritual potential of these little ones when he said, “ If a million children were to pray the Rosary, the world would change.“ This year, for instance in the diocese Natitingou in Benin, the children there have proved him right.

“One million children pray the Rosary Worldwide” in 2017 – The children of the Catholic schools of Natitingou in Benin pray for peace in the world. Here: group photo in front of the little shrine of Our Lady of L´Atacora.


At nine in the morning, in every one of the Catholic schools in the diocese of Natitingou in northwest Benin, you would have seen hundreds of children, aged between two and thirteen, gathered in groups to recite the Rosary – their aim this year being to pray for the children of Syria, the innocent victims of a seemingly endless war. This was the idea suggested to them by ACN on October 18th, “at the same time, wherever you are.”


Thanks to the now well-established initiative “One Million Children Praying the Rosary” they were united in this with hundreds of thousands of other children all over the world who had likewise responded to the appeal launched by the Pontifical Charity ACN. However, in Benin these groups of schoolchildren had produced an effect of remarkable unity – for here there were not only Catholic children praying at the same time, but also children belonging to various other religions, including Protestants and Muslims; all praying for the grace of unity and peace in the world, together.


At the bilingual Holy Family Catholic primary school in the diocese Natitingou, the children gathered at the Catholic cathedral “Cathédrale de l’Immaculée Conception“ around the Marian shrine of “Our Lady of Atakora”. Together with their teachers, they began with a Marian hymn and meditated on all five Glorious Mysteries. Each decade was interspersed with joyful singing and praises of Our Blessed Lady. Then afterwards, Father Servais Yantoukoua, the diocesan chaplain to the children’s apostolate movement in Benin (Mouvement d’Apostolat Des Enfants du Bénin), read from a letter specially written to the children for this occasion by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the President of ACN. He quoted the Cardinal’s words to them, saying that through prayer « we can build a society in which justice and peaceful coexistence are possible ».

The sister is praying the Rosary with the children at class.

Father Servais then went on to explain to the children the meaning of this prayer and the importance of unity and peace in the world, emphasizing the example set by the three children who witnessed the apparition of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal.


The Catholic diocese of Natitingou was fully behind this initiative and supported it via its children’s missionary committee. Afterwards the children returned home “ conscious of the fact that they need to become spokesmen for the Mother of God in this peace-starved world,” as Father Servais  put it.


By Karla Sponar, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada



A “Bethlehem” for Iraqi Christians

08.12.2017 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Iraq, Journey with ACN

International Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need begins Advent campaign “Back to the Roots”


Advent is a “time of expectation”. For thousands of Iraqi Christians, the wait after they were driven out by the terrorist organization IS has stretched out to an indefinite period. Since 2014, many of them have had to leave their homes. Now that it the territory has been liberated, they now want to go back to the places where their ancestors have lived since the beginnings of Christianity. However, since they were driven away, their houses have been destroyed, damaged and looted. The international pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is bringing Christian refugees back home.


For this reason, the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need is calling for more donations just before Christmas so that these displaced persons can go “back to their roots”. Father Andrzej Halemba, Head of Projects in the Middle East for ACN, associates the motto of the campaign with the Advent season. “Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. We want to make sure that the Christians on the Nineveh Plains can once more have a ‘Bethlehem’, a dwelling that actually exists,” he explains.

Furniture on the car: moving back to the roots !


A mammoth task


First off, Aid to the Church in Need wants to enable around 8,000 families to return to their homes in Iraq. In order to do so, 5,000 houses have to be built on the northeastern Nineveh Plains. Two families often share a house. Only 3,000 dollars is needed on average per house to replace roofs, doors, windows and sanitary facilities. In addition, 15,000 children and adolescents will be given a Christmas parcel containing coats and sweets – the gifts will be put together by religious Sisters and catechists in the diocese of Erbil.


According to the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, only 27 per cent of the families have returned to their neighbourhoods in northeastern Iraq. The situation there remains tense. More than 10,000 houses have to be renovated or rebuilt for those returning home. The reconstruction zone encompasses nine towns, among them Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), Bartella and Teleskuf. The total costs for the reconstruction, including infrastructure and the region’s more than 360 church buildings, are estimated to be 230 million euros (335 millions canadian). The Aid to the Church in Need campaign “Back to the Roots” is calling for people all over the world to contribute to this mammoth task.


Displaced Christians have not been forgotten after the exodus


Discussion By Father Halemba, Father Georges and Sabah Zakaria from the Reconstruction Nineveh Plains Comitee, Iraq

Thanks to benefactors from all over the world, the charity Aid to the Church in Need has been able to help thousands of Iraqi Christians return to their towns. “We first funded emergency aid projects and set up containers so that the displaced persons had a roof over their heads and their children could go to school,” Johannes Heereman explained. “Fortunately, in the meantime many have been able to move into shared houses,” the executive president of Aid to the Church in Need added. The international Catholic pastoral charity also contributed rent subsidies, food parcels and subsistence aid to displaced priests and sisters and helped rebuild chapels.


Over a period of almost three years, Aid to the Church in Need has collected more than 35 million euros to help Iraqi Christians return home. “However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Mr. Heereman emphasized. Donations and prayers are equally important for these Christians who have suffered so deeply. Aid to the Church in Need wants to use this campaign to make the hope of a personal “Bethlehem” more obtainable for Iraqi refugees. “Their homeland is still deeply scarred from the war. However, in spite of everything, they want to return to their roots. That is brave,” the president of Aid to the Church in Need emphasised and urged, “We cannot desert the Christian minority after the exodus.”


Families with olive trees outside St George’s Church, Bartela


By Karla Sponar, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


ACN Project of the Week – Prayer books for kids in Ecuador

06.12.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ecuador, Journey with ACN, Project of the Week


Advent and Christmas prayer booklets for 2,000 children and teens


Christmas is not mainly about giving presents of course, but rather, about celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. God came into this world as a little child to lead us to salvation. In order to strengthen and deepen this awareness and faith, the apostolic vicariate of Zamora in southeastern Ecuador is planning to give 2,000 children a little booklet each. 


All of these include prayers and Bible readings relating to the Advent and Christmas seasons as a way to more deeply experience the season of Advent, the time of expectation, and prepare spiritually for the feast of Jesus’ birth.


It is very important for the Church to support and strengthen Catholic children in their personal faith, in a context of great social changes where the symbols and religious content are disappearing – and in the controversy – from public spaces.


These little Christmas booklets intend to do just that!  By supporting the growth of God’s love in their hearts. Then they will be able to come to the Manger at Christmas and adore the newborn Messiah, the Christ Child, together with the shepherds and the Wise Men from the East, and bring Him their love.



We want to help with a contribution of $5,299 so that these 2,000 children may be given these prayer books, which will then, we hope, accompany them throughout their lives.



If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar project funded by ACN, please click to donate!






ACN Project of the Week – Protecting Seminarians in Pakistan

30.11.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Pakistan, Project of the Week


Protecting the seminarians

Attacks against Christians are a regular occurrence in Pakistan today. Almost every priest in the country has at some time received anonymous threatening phone calls or letters. Even the bishops of the country receive threatening letters, demanding that they convert to Islam.

Attacks on churches and Church properties are frequent and increasing – and sometimes they are much more serious than simply stone throwing. There have also been suicide attacks, bomb attacks, armed attacks, arson attacks and assaults by angry mobs and the danger is a real and constant one. Many churches are under police protection, and the government has required the Church to take increased security measures.


In 1995, the diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi opened a minor seminary in Lalazar, where young men who are contemplating a vocation to the priesthood undergo a preliminary three years of training, before entering the major seminary. Right now, there are 22 young seminarians living and studying at Our Lady of Lourdes Minor Seminary where they are introduced to the spiritual life.


The seminary is already surrounded by a wall, which has however, collapsed in places, so that unauthorized persons can easily gain access to the grounds. In a country like Pakistan, where terrorism and violence are everywhere, this is a great danger, particularly for the members of the embattled Christian minority. The wall needs to be repaired and rebuilt; it must be made higher and stronger to protect those within them.


Unfortunately, the seminary itself which has been standing for over 20 years now, has also had to have some essential repair and renovation work done in recent years. And so the diocese has turned to ACN for help to rebuild and reinforce the seminary enclosure wall. We have already promised $25,550.


If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar
project funded by ACN, please click to donate!


Feature Story – Bangladesh looking forward to a papal visit

29.11.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Bangladesh, By Maria Lozano


Christians suffering oppression, looking forward to Pope’s visit

Bangladesh is awaiting the visit of Pope Francis from 30 November to 2 December. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and the third most populous Muslim nation in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan. In line with his desire to “go out to the peripheries”, Pope Francis will be visiting the small Catholic community in the country, which represents less than one percent of the population. Most of the Catholics in the country are members of the indigenous tribal peoples, who are still fighting for recognition of their rights.

The motto of the papal visit is “harmony and peace” – a vitally important subject in a country where life is by no means easy for the Christian minority.

Msgr. Bejoy Nicephorus D’Cruze, O.M.I. , bishop of Khulna diocese

Because most of the Catholics in Bangladesh are members of the indigenous tribal peoples, and although “according to the law and constitution they have the same rights as all the other citizens of the country,” in reality, they face daily discrimination and do not have the same educational or job opportunities, says Bishop Bejoy Nicephorus D’Cruze of the diocese of Sylhet in the northeast of the country. He was speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “Their rights are not acknowledged automatically; if they fight, they might possibly be successful, but it is very difficult to fight alone, especially against the prevailing religious sentiment and against the corruption in the courts,” he explains.


The Khasi are the main ethnic group in the diocese of Sylhet and they are practically all Christians. For centuries, this tribal people have inhabited in the hill country in the region around Sylhet, dwelling in something over a hundred villages. They work to protect the forest and the natural environment, and they live from the traditional cultivation of betel leaves. Their practice is to occupy an area of land for 30 to 40 years or so, until the land is exhausted, and then move on to another area. Although this is their ancestral land, they have no constitutional recognition of their rights. Father Joseph Gomes, OMI ministers to the Khasi Catholic community and he confirms that the native peoples of these mountain regions suffer discrimination and exclusion from social services and are often in a struggle to protect their traditional lands. Bishop D’Cruze explains the reasons behind this conflict: “All these mountains are under the forest department and frequently adjacent to the tea plantations, and so the tea plantation management is taking out leases from the government and ignoring the existence of the Khasi people, in order to to extend the existing tea gardens, thereby forcing the Khasi people to evacuate their ancestral land.”

Repair and Extension of Teliapara Chapel, Sylhet Diocese, Ceremony

Sometimes they even use violence, as Father Joseph Gomes explains sadly: “Around three years ago the manager of a tea plantation arrived with a group of around 200 people, while the village men were away working in the forest, and began to pull down the village houses. Initially, the women resisted these attempts, and when the men returned they also opposed the attempt and fighting broke out. One person from the tea company died later in hospital. In the end, however, the people were unable to continue fighting against the tea companies and as a result they were evicted from these lands.”

In a series of repeated conflicts with the government forest department, over 25 Khasi villages have now disappeared. Others are currently in danger. “Two of the tea gardens, Nahar and Jhimai in Moulvibazar district, are attempting to take the land of the Khasi people forcefully. The people of these two villages – about 150 families – are about to file a case against the tea gardens,” Bishop D’Cruze explains.

ACN supported the SMRA Sisters (local congregation) for 2 years, pictured here with local children

Risking their own lives to protect them

The diocese of Sylhet is doing its best to give spiritual and moral support to the Catholic minority in the face of this challenge. It has begun various initiatives to encourage them, such as the publication of a weekly review, the “Weekly Pratibeshi” which aims at helping the people grow in their faith, but also make them aware of their rights. Father Anthony Sen, who works as a journalist for this newsletter, insists on the need for this support. “They have all this pressure from the powerful people living around them, especially the Muslims. They think that, as they are a minority people, they can do what they like with them. They even think they can kidnap their young girls or attack the people, the women or the men, it doesn’t matter. So, they always have this kind of pressure. But, as a Church, we are beside them, to protect them; always we take care of them.” An approach that sometimes involves risking their own lives, as Bishop D’Cruze can testify, since he has received death threats from fundamentalist Islamist groups in response to his clear posture in defense of human rights and religious freedom.

St Joseph the Worker Parish with the Oraon Tribes. Teliapara Tea Estate. With Bp Bejoy D’Cruze, OMI

This is the suffering and silent Catholic minority in Bangladesh which the Holy Father is also about to visit. Bishop D’Cruze confirms that “the Holy Father knows the situation of the Church and of the Catholics in Bangladesh.” Speaking of the Khasi minority and their expectations of the papal visit, he explains, “They don’t have any high expectations of the Holy Father’s visit. They are simple people and they would be happy to come to Dhaka to see him and receive his blessing so that they can survive, gain courage and fight against all the monsters.”

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN has been working together with the local Catholic Church in Sylhet since the founding of the diocese. Currently ACN is supporting various projects for spiritual formation and human development, in collaboration with the diocesan pastoral, educational and justice and peace committees. In 2016, ACN gave over $817,600 in support of projects in Bangladesh.


Text by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by: Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada


ACN Project of the Week: The Church remains in CAR

23.11.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), Journey with ACN

Central African Republic

The Church remains and provides support


Sadly, the Central African Republic has never truly known peace. In the 57 years since it gained independence, this country – one of the poorest in the world – has suffered one military coup after another. It is hard to keep track of all the different armed groups in the country today. Their names may differ but the crimes they commit are the same everywhere they go:  looting, burning, raping, abducting, murdering.


Since 2013, the country has effectively been in a state of civil war. Although the situation in Bangui, the capital, is largely stable, the rest of the country is still in the hands of various rebel groups who have since split still further. The government – which even in “normal” times was unable to provide the people with even a minimum of schooling, health care, security, law and order – is now almost totally absent. The civil authorities and the police were often the first to save their own skins in the face of the advancing rebel forces. Only the Church remains.


Many Catholic priests and religious have risked their lives trying to protect the defenseless civilian population. Many of them were themselves threatened with guns, a number, abducted, and some of them even murdered. However, to this day they continue to open the doors of their churches and mission stations, providing shelter, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to civilians whose villages and towns have been attacked, costing them everything but the clothes on their backs. The Catholic Church has always been, and continues to be, a constant voice for peace and reconciliation.

Photo Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa in his diocese

Relying on God – looking to the Church

In May and June 2017, the diocese of Alindao in the south of the country was the scene of heavy fighting between warring armed groups. In the town of Alindao itself around 150 people were killed. These people, who even before the conflict were already desperately poor and living from hand to mouth, have now, lost everything. They cannot return to their homes for the time being, for the threat from the rebels is still too serious and the killings and acts of violence persist.


The people can only put their trust in God, and they look to the Church for everything, since they can expect practically no help from any other source. “The Church has to provide for everything, since the State has failed,” says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa sadly. People know that they can count only on God and on the Church. One man commented, “We are hoping the fighting will end soon, so that we can finally return home. Everywhere else, people are being helped, but here no one seems interested in our difficult situation. God is our only protection; that is why we go to Mass every day to ask God to hear us and help us in our situation. Fortunately, the Catholic Church is also there for us. The bishop is on the front line of the efforts to resolve this crisis.”


For now though, the bishop needs help to care for these refugees, among whom there are many children. He is counting on the generosity of our benefactors to fill his empty hands, so that he can provide the barest necessities for the 3,000 refugees under his care. We know we are not going to disappoint him, because we are confident of receiving your support and have already given emergency aid of $43,800.

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