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ACN Canada

 

ACN Press – ACN supports UK report on persecution of Christians

16.07.2019 in ACN, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN United Kingdom, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Persecution of Christians

Persecution of Christians

Aid to the Church in Need Supports the Publication of a Government Report in the United Kingdom

Published on the web July 16, 2019

Montreal-London-Konigstein, Monday, July 15, 2019An independent report commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary has been published showing the scale of persecution of Christians around the world and the response of the United Kingdom Government to their plight.

 

The report is the first of its kind to be requested by a national government minister and produced with the cooperation of government civil service and other officials. The review was overseen by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Reverend Philip Mounstephen. The UK Office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provided support for its publication.

 

In his introduction to the report, Bishop Mounstephen points out that Christian persecution is not an isolated incident, but rather a “global phenomenon.” In the report, he also remarks that the focus on Christianity is “not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit.” Reflecting on the findings of the report, he states that Christians are the religious group who suffer the most persecution. The Church of England Bishop expressed regret that Western nations “have been blind to this issue” and expressed the hope that the report would be a wake-up call “not to be spectators but to be actors,” emphasizing the persecution of Christians is a question of universal human rights and should be seen as such.

 

The report of 176 pages analyzes world trends, detailing the situation in countries such as Iraq, Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Syria and concludes with a list of 22 recommendations directed at the FCO (Minister of Foreign Affairs). It calls for more government action in response to the violence against Christians, which it describes as having at times reached “near genocidal levels.” Among other things it calls on the British government to ensure that “freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains at the heart of the priorities of UK foreign policy,” and urges the country to become a “global leader in championing FoRB.”

 

Common Funeral Service for Easter Sunday Victims at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo (Sri Lanka).

 

The report was drawn up by a commission composed of FCO staff, members of NGOs experienced in the field of religious freedom and other independent members. Among the bodies included was the Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which for over 70 years now has been supporting persecuted Christians around the world. ACN was closely involved in the information-gathering for the first part of the report with essential investigative work on the scale of persecution in Africa, the Near-East and in South Asia.

“I hope the action of the British Government will inspire other governments in the world to dare to broach the question—the larger question—of religious freedoms.” – Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director ACN Canada

 

UK’s social media image.

ACN’s DNA: Keep Talking About Importance of Religious Freedom

“As an international organization we are happy to be able to give voice to the voiceless,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of ACN Canada. “From the beginning, our founder Father Werenfried warned western countries in the ’50s of the terrible tragedy endured by Christians ruled by authoritarian regimes, such as communism. Still today, our work with our partners in 139 countries allows us to ascertain the extent of the discrimination and persecution exercised against Christians. I hope the action of the British Government will inspire other governments in the world to dare to broach the question—the larger question—of religious freedoms.”

 

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK national office of ACN, underlined report’s importance, saying: “We are delighted to have been involved in this report. It is an incentive for our work that these problems should finally be recognized at the political level.” At the same time, he stressed the importance of protecting Christian minorities in countries where they face persecution and oppression. “There is a vital need to support this Christian presence, given that the Christians are frequently bridge builders and agents of peace in many of these countries.”

 


 

 ACN Success Story – Zambia

03.07.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Project of the Week

ACN Success Story – Zambia

Renovation of the Saint Augustine’s Seminary

 

The landlocked state of Zambia in southern Africa is one of the more stable countries on the continent. Christians make up the overwhelming majority (90%) of its population of around 17 million people. However, only around one fifth of the population are Catholics, the majority belonging to a range of different Protestant communities.

The Catholic Church here is facing major challenges. In the past the life of the Church was directed above all by foreign missionaries, able to obtain support from their home countries. But today, it is the native African bishops and priests who are increasingly shouldering the responsibility.

Ensuring a pastoral presence and countering illusions

In many places the infrastructure is poor, the parishes cover vast areas and the Catholic faithful often widely scattered, therefore many more priests are needed to minister to them. At the same time, sectarian groups are very active in proselytizing, drawing away many of the faithful with simplistic messages of salvation and easy promises of health, wealth and material success, they successfully entice many people, including Catholics. They are successful above all where, owing to a lack of financial means and the vast distances, the pastoral outreach of the Church is not intensive enough to make people feel truly rooted and at home in the Catholic Church.

What the Church in Zambia needs above all, is more priests. But in order to train these priests, the appropriate infrastructure and facilities have to be available. In the Saint Augustine‘s Seminary in Kabwe almost 90 young men are training for the priesthood. But the seminary building, which dates back to the 1950s, had for some years now been in urgent need of renovation. There were cracks in the walls, falling ceiling tiles and roof panels, a hopelessly outdated plumbing system… All these things were making life here difficult and in some cases even dangerous. The toilet and sanitary facilities also needed urgent repair and renovation.

 

 

Thanks to the help of our generous benefactors, ACN was able to contribute $22,350.  The bathroom facilities were then properly refurbished and the rusting pipework replaced. The seminarians are delighted with the results and send their heartfelt thanks to all who have helped.


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

ACN Project of the Week: Construction of a village chapel in Benin

26.06.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS

ACN Project of the Week in Benin

Construction of a village chapel

 

The parish of the Most Holy Trinity is based in Guilmaro in northwest Benin. Like so many other rural parishes in Africa, it covers a vast area with numerous outlying villages. Many of the faithful have to travel long journeys in order to be able to participate in Holy Mass. 

 

The village of Damouti is the largest outstation in the parish. At present it has a simple mud chapel – more of a hut really – where the Catholic faithful gather to pray. The priests come here regularly to celebrate Holy Mass, and the people also take an active part in the May devotions, the Holy Rosary and the catechetical sessions in the chapel.

 

An opening to the Good News of Christ

 

The chapel is way too small now to welcome everybody.

The small mud chapel is far too small to accommodate all the faithful. Over half the congregation have to stand outside during Holy Mass exposed to the burning sun in the dry season and the torrential downpours in the rainy season. Needless to say, it is far from easy to follow the liturgy from outside. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic faithful continues to grow and every year there are numerous baptisms. For while 60% of the people within the parish still follow traditional African religions, many of them are very open to the Good News of Christ.

 

The local people would love to have a larger chapel, but there is no way they can finance it with their own resources. So their parish priest, Father Noel Kolida, has turned to ACN, confident of our support. We would like to be able to help him with a contribution of $22,500. Would you like to help?

 

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

 

ACN Press Release: Aid to the Church in Need 2018 Annual Report

20.06.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo

ACN INTERNATIONAL—ANNUAL REPORT 2018

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

OVER 166.5 MILLION RAISED FOR THE CHURCH IN NEED WORLDWIDE
Over 166.5 million dollars for the suffering, oppressed and persecuted Church throughout the world.
This was the total raised in donations for 2018 by ACN International via its 23 national offices around the world and its international headquarters in Germany.

By Marta Petrosillo for ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Published on the web June 20, 2019

The resources raised, thanks to the generous donations of its more than 330,000 benefactors around the world, have enabled the charity to fund no fewer than 5,019 pastoral projects in some 139 different countries.

“We are deeply moved by the generosity of our benefactors all over the world,” commented Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International, at the formal presentation of the charity’s Annual Report. “Once again their sacrifices and their faith have moved mountains!”

“Every year, I rejoice at the generosity of our benefactors who keep supporting the projects entrusted to us. At the same time, we must meet the challenge of introducing the situation of the poor and persecuted Church to younger generations,” underscored Marie-Claude Lalonde.  ACN Canada’s national director also explained, “And so we are exploring new ways to reach people and speak to them about the Church around the world and its needs—and of its great vivacity.”

Last year, the Canadian office received close to 2.6 million dollars to support a multitude of projects, many of which were in Nigeria. The visit of Msgr Ignatius Kaigama, an agent of peace and dialogue in his country, was a significant moment in our year. One of the many fruits of the event today is the ACN photo exhibit on persecution to be held in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Another important event, Red Wednesday, will see its second edition next November 20, will unfold in many dioceses across Canada including Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

Support on Every Continent

A child in Ethiopia holds an image of the Gospel, distributed by ACN.

These figures illustrate the fundamental reality of ACN’s support for the Church throughout the world, given above all in a spirit of closeness to the oppressed and persecuted Church. And, with a capacity to react promptly and in practical terms to the attacks to which Christian communities are ever-increasingly subject to around the world.

In the event of such tragic attacks as the recent bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday; or the frequent attacks in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, ACN has always been able to react promptly and appropriately to help the wounded communities get back on their feet again and reaffirm their presence, even and especially in those countries where Christians are a small and oppressed minority. It does so by helping to rebuild their damaged churches, supporting the families of the victims and helping the priests and religious to continue in their pastoral mission. And thereby, ultimately, demonstrating that faith has the power to overcome hatred.

Supporting Sisters who work in situations of conflict: this one in Syria.

The Prominent Issues

As in recent years, a major proportion of these donations went to support projects in Africa (27%) and in the Middle East (25%). Over the last few years, the Middle East region has witnessed a substantial increase in aid from ACN. Since the beginning of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, in fact, the Pontifical Charity, ACN, has given a total of 148.5 million dollars, of which over 27 million were in 2018 alone. The charity’s emergency support for the thousands of uprooted Christian refugees in this region above all accounted for over 12% of the total aid granted last year. What should be underlined as particularly significant, is the huge project of rebuilding the homes of Christian refugees in Syria and Iraq, made possible by the support of ACN International. In fact, no fewer than 1,479 Christian homes were rebuilt in these areas of the Middle East, thanks to the charity’s involvement.

The country which saw the largest single amount in aid from ACN in 2018 was also in this part of the world—namely Syria, where the support given by the charity totalled a full 12.9 million dollars:  4.35 million more, than in 2017. And in second place in terms of the aid given was Iraq, also in the Middle East, where last year ACN funded projects to a total value of some 9.75 million. These two countries were followed by India (7.8m), Ukraine (4.8m) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (4.2m).

In terms of the types of project supported, as in recent years, the first place was that of construction or reconstruction, with over 34.8 million (31.9% of the total) attributed for 2,470 buildings, including private homes, chapels, churches, convents, seminaries and pastoral centres.

A deacon enters a church in Aleppo, Syria. It is heavily damaged by bombs and mortars. Hope is on the horizon, thanks to our benefactors! 

One Holy Mass every 22 seconds!

In second place were Mass Offerings (16.4%). During 2018 this particular form of support—absolutely crucial in the poorest parts of the world where priests have virtually no other form of support—brought help to no fewer than 40,569 priests, or roughly one in every 10 worldwide. In this way, last year, no fewer than 1,421,001 Holy Masses were celebrated for the intentions of the benefactors, or approximately one Holy Mass every 22 seconds.

Tied in third place in terms of the types of aid given were emergency aid projects and those providing support for the formation of priests and religious (12.4%). During 2018 ACN supported the formation of 11,817 seminarians, or approximately one in every 10 worldwide, in addition to the ongoing studies of 4,370 priests. In addition to this, the Mass Offerings given were able to support the life and work of 1,383 priests teaching in the major seminaries.

Also of great importance for ACN was the education of the lay faithful, which took fifth place in terms of the percentage (11.2%) of the total aid given. In this way the charity was able to support the formation of some 14,169 catechists and lay leaders last year.

In sixth place was the aid given for the means of pastoral transport (6.8%), with a total of 907 vehicles funded—370 cars, 189 motorcycles, 342 bicycles, two trucks, two coaches and two boats. This was followed by support for the Catholic media and the publication of Bibles and other religious literature (4.6%). Including sacred texts and its own publications, ACN was able to fund the publication and dissemination of some 1,103,484 volumes.

An image of despair – here in the State of Bihar, India. Discrimination and religious persecution are the lot in many countries, even in democratic countries!

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

17.06.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Engy Magdy, egypt, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

ACN FEATURE STORY – Christians being kidnapped in Egypt

In January of last year, Adeeb Nakhla, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or condition. A relative of Nakla’s shares the story with Engy Magdy of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  Here is what they said:

Egypt 

‘We fear torture and savage death’

by Engy Magdy, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website June 17,2019

 

On January 17, 2019, around 9am, Nakhla, 55, was traveling from Ismailia to Al-Arish to visit relatives, when a militant Islamic group stopped the minibus he was riding in and checked the national identity cards of those on board. The cards state religious affiliation, and when the militants saw that Nakhla was a Christian, they asked him to get out of the vehicle. He was taken away.

 

A city under siege

 

Nakhla had fled Al-Arish two years ago, as did dozens of Christian families who moved to Ismailia after receiving death threats. A relative, who spoke to ACN on condition of anonymity, said that many Coptic Christians who chose to stay were slaughtered: “We left Al-Arish in 2017, after terrorists killed seven of our neighbours. Among the dead were a father and son; they burnt their bodies and their home, and the mother, Nabila, was forced to watch. She is severely traumatized.”

 

Last year, Nakhla’s family returned to Al-Arish, where family members work and own property; Nakhla stayed in Ismailia for his job. Nakhla’s relative said: “We had to return to our home and work. We were unemployed in Ismailia, and we lived on aid from the Church. Conditions in the city have improved thanks to the Egyptian army’s stepped-up campaign against terrorist groups, though it is still dangerous on the road.”

 

He continued: “Militants affiliated with ISIS have staged ambushes on the highways and launched attacks on civilians and security forces. The Muslim driver of the communal taxi Adeeb rode in said that militants stopped the vehicle and started to check national identity cards. When they saw that Adeeb was a Christian, they asked him to get out. Our biggest fear is that they may abuse, torture, and kill him, just as savagely as they have other Copts.”

 

Violence towards Coptic Christians in Egypt has increased since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Most attacks have occurred in northern Sinai, where, according to the Gospel, the Holy Family entered Egypt. In 2012, unknown assailants issued a handwritten statement demanding that all remaining Copts leave the border city of Rafah; since then, a number of local Copts have been kidnapped and killed by terrorist groups.

 

Egypt: A paradox

 

Terrorist groups are still very much present in Egypt.  However, the paradox finally revealing itself is good news, for since 2016, the authorities have regulated, restored or built 984 Christian places of worship.  (Source: Église dans le monde)

 

 

 

ACN Interview – ACN Head of section sheds light on the DRC, Africa

06.06.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Religious freedom

DRC: “What ACN offers, no other organization does”

On her return from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she visited the Catholic dioceses of the Kasai region, Christine du Coudray, ACN’s section head for this country, reported on the situation in the region and gave her impressions.

 Interview conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Published to web – June 6, 2019

 

Can you give us a description of the overall situation in the country?

This was the first time I had visited the Kasai region of this immense country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, four times the size of France in area. You’re walking on land rich in mineral wealth of every kind – diamonds, gold, minerals of all kinds, petroleum and so forth, yet the infrastructure is wrecked. This particular region, which I spent two weeks travelling, is particularly isolated, and some areas are isolated enclaves. In the country as a whole, the state of the roads, where they exist at all, is catastrophic, but I really found this particular region to be in a state of complete desolation. Historically, this was a privileged region during the time of King Leopold II, the King of the Belgians, who founded the Congo Free State in 1885. He made it his shop window and gave hundreds of hectares of land to the Catholic Church, which he wanted to see established in the country. The Scheutist Fathers (Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) in particular were there in numbers, and in every diocese one can still see today the remains of the buildings built by these missionaries. Later the tables were turned, and the region was punished after independence, under the regime of Mobutu and afterwards, suffering from under-investment and generally abandoned to its fate. The structures are falling apart. The Kivu region, on the frontier with Rwanda, which I know better, is suffering from still worse conflicts, but benefits from having more and better structures.

The situation you describe sounds pretty desperate. How were the people you met on the spot living?

What struck me was the situation of complete abandonment on the one hand, yet on the other hand the local people displayed incredible energy in coping with the situation. I’m thinking of the young people who set out, sometimes from Lake Tanganyika, in the extreme east of the DRC, pushing their bicycles with loads of up to 500 kg of goods piled on them which they plan to sell on the other side of the country. They walk for days and nights like this on the potholed roads, helping each other as they go. I met with one of these young men, who explained to me that he had managed to save up enough for a brand-new bicycle, so that he could also become a “bayanda” – that’s the name they give to these young human beasts of burden – and that he was going to have to make still more savings in order to be able to change his wheels, so that he could carry still heavier loads.

After years as leader of the country, Joseph Kabila finally decided not to stand for the presidential elections last December, partly under pressure from the strong opposition, particularly on the part of the Church. How was this change of decision received by the Catholic leadership in the DRC?

Within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference there was some fairly lively discussion, and this body, which had deployed thousands of observers in the polling stations around the country, finally published a communique stating that in its view the election of the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, had not been in accordance with the “truth of the ballot.” They made it clear that they were pleased to see the political transition, but at the same time considered that the candidate declared as the victor was not necessarily the person who had received the most votes according to their own observations. But the most important thing to be borne in mind was that this change in the head of state is a historical one and that the transition took place almost without any violence. In January everyone had expected that the announcement of the results by the electoral commission would trigger an explosion of violence, and observers continue to be surprised that there has not been. That said, Joseph Kabila is still very much a part of the political scene and the present “truce” is a fragile one.

What is the situation of the Catholic Church, both in the country and within this particular region?

In the Kasai region there are eight dioceses, but for the moment there are only seven bishops, because the diocese of Kabinda is in a state of transition. Of these eight dioceses three, in my view, are in a particularly bad way, namely Kabinda, Mweka and Kole. In addition to its own internal problems, the Church here has to make up for the deficiencies of the state and is at the forefront of all the civic activities – social, political, development and so forth. For example, the town of Kabinda suffers from a terrible problem of soil erosion – it is literally in danger of collapsing – and it is the diocese that is leading the efforts to try and resolve this problem.

What particularly impressed you during this trip?

On the one hand it was the fact that a region so rich in diamonds could be suffering such poverty, yet on the other hand it was the commitment of many of the priests, who are doing exceptional work. I’m thinking of Father Apollinaire Cibaka and his association, which he founded and which is doing wonderful work. They have built 62 schools, four orphanages and four health centres, one of which has its own operating theatre and the regular support of Spanish doctors; then the pastoral work with albino children, helping them to be recognized in their own right, the work with abandoned children or street children, with teenage mothers and the programs for the advancement of women. The construction of an enclosure wall around the local prison, so that the prisoners do not have to be locked up 24 hours a day in a dark, unlit building, the work for the protection of the environment, including the planting of 30,000 trees… We helped Abbé Apollinaire to complete his studies for a doctorate in Spain, and on his return we helped him to set up a radio station, which is an authoritative voice in the local society. So despite the isolation, despite the difficulties, the courage and energy of the people are impressive and admirable. That is why a visit like this one is so very important.

And what would you say was the most difficult moment?

I was horrified to learn that, just a few hours after our visit there, the philosophy seminary in Kabwe had been attacked and vandalized. This is an indication of the fragile situation of the local Church.

What kind of aid is ACN supplying to the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Given the many issues requiring assistance, we are liaising closely with the bishops in order to decide with them on their various projects and assess their priorities in light of our resources. The important thing is that, following our visit, we can provide our aid rapidly. We are concentrating our support on the spiritual formation of the priests and on their living conditions, and likewise on the formation of religious sisters and catechists and the implementation of the teachings of Pope St John Paul II in regard to the family.

What kind of aid is ACN giving to the priests and seminarians?

We want to do all we can so that the Church here can have holy priests. A bishop once said to me, “What ACN offers, is something no other organization offers.” The structures vary greatly from one seminary to another. For example, in the philosophy college in Kabwe there are no toilets, no showers, and the septic tank is blocked up. It is hard to leave them in conditions like that. The seminarians only eat meat once a term.

As to the formation of the future priests, which is truly one of the priorities of ACN, we think that this depends on the formation of the teaching staff in the seminaries. And so we are sending entire teams of trainers for a five-week training course in Rome each summer. Quite apart from the fact that they can in this way live the experience of the universal Church, together with other trainers from all over the world, they learn to live, work and pray together there. Their testimonies of the sense of satisfaction and spiritual renewal there make for moving reading.

As far as their living conditions are concerned, we are providing vehicles to enable the local Church to reach the furthest corners of their dioceses. And sometimes even just a moped will help priests to travel much further than they can ever do on foot. We are also helping the priests with Mass stipends and contributing to the renovation and improvement of their presbyteries, which are frequently in a shocking state and which they scarcely dare to show us.

But you have also mentioned the support for religious brothers and sisters. What form does this aid actually take?

We are also very responsive to the needs of the religious, and especially the contemplative religious, who play a major role in the growth of the Church, thanks to their presence and their prayer. I visited the communities of the contemplative Poor Clare sisters in Mbuji-Mayi and Kabinda. They are a French foundation, formerly supported by their mother house, but today totally dependent on their own resources. It is not easy to provide the daily necessities for 40 religious sisters, including the novices and the postulants. They have a vegetable garden, they rear pigs and poultry, they have a host baking workshop. And they also have a guest house, offering a place of silence and prayer that is open to all. Their convent is some way from the town of Mbujimayi, and sometimes the sisters need hospital care. And there is also necessary shopping to be done, for which they need a robust 4×4 vehicle which we are hoping to be able to help them with.

Does ACN have any projects linked to the various internal wars and conflicts within the country?

Ever since 2016 the Kasaï region has been the theatre of tribal violence of exceptional cruelty; even the ethnologists are puzzled by these outbreaks of brutality, which mingle political issues with fetishist pagan beliefs. It is thought that the Kamwina Nsapu movement alone may have claimed between 4,000 and 23,000 victims, leaving some 1.4 million people uprooted and homeless as a result. The conflict suddenly came to an end with the election of the new president in January 2019, who is a son of the region. But the consequences are enormous, whether visible or invisible.

The visible scars can be seen because, for example, the diocesan structures in Luebo became the target – with the Bishop’s house set on fire, the convent of the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the cathedral both burnt out after first being looted, the presbytery destroyed, the novice house and the propaedeutic seminary both burnt to ashes, official buildings ransacked and looted, many people with their throats cut… Since June 2017 the Bishop has had to take refuge in the parish of Ndeseka. We have promised to help rebuild his diocesan chancery and the convent of the sisters, whose role is so important in helping the traumatized population.

The invisible wounds are in people’s hearts, but they are going to need a long-term program of re-integration for people of all ages – some of the killers were children of seven years old, who after just having served Mass beheaded as the people coming out of the church, they were under the effect of drugs! In light of these events of such enormous and still “unexplained” violence, the Catholic Church now needs to reconsider its pastoral approach and work for an in-depth evangelization, so that Christ may truly reign in people’s hearts through the grace of a profound and personal encounter. ACN’s mission is to accompany the local Church in this new evangelization.

 ACN Project of the Week – Bosnia-Herzegovina – Construction

05.06.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Bosnia Herzegovina, Eastern Europe, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

 ACN Project of the Week – Bosnia-Herzegovina – Construction

By ACN International
Published on-line, June 5, 2019

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The St John Paul II Youth Pastoral Center: a tremendous success!

In 2015, the Pope John Paul II Youth Pastoral Centre was first established in Sarajevo, the capital of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is open to all young people, without distinction as to faith or ethnic origin. It was formally blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II, for whom young people were especially important and who introduced many lasting initiatives for the young, most notably of course, the World Youth Days.


The centre has been a great success. Every year around 10,000 young people aged 10 and over have taken part in the pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities held there. The slogan of the centre is “Encounter and Reconciliation – Shaping Peace and a Future Together.” The centre has 20 full-time staff, working together with around 300 volunteers on the many pastoral activities offered. The foundation of the centre was supported by ACN with a contribution of 750,000 dollars.

A fragile Church

The young people who become involved with the Saint John Paul II centre are often also very active in their own home parishes, further proof that it is possible to live together peaceably in this country, to find work, establish a family and build up a happy life. Part of the goal is also to promote interaction and cooperation among all the different ethnic groups and religions in the country, thereby building bridges for a peaceful future. Such youth work is especially important, not only for a better future but also for the survival of the Church herself.

For as a result of the war in Bosnia (from 1992 to 1995) around half of all the 500,000 Catholic Croats living there were either expelled or voluntarily emigrated. Even today, around 10,000 people are leaving the country each year, among them many Catholics, because they find themselves discriminated against in the workplace, the schools and social life generally and can therefore see little future for themselves. But those young people who are deeply involved in their parish life tend to stay on and have faith in the future.

Now, however, the capacity of the centre in Sarajevo is not enough to cope with the high demand, and so a new centre has been opened in northern Bosnia, as a sort of branch centre. It can offer overnight accommodation to up to 10 people and likewise offers a wide range of activities, including such things as seminars for youth group leaders, interfaith and ecumenical initiatives and many more things besides. The grounds of the centre also have a farm, with animals and an orchard where the young people can work. The centre is already up and running, but there are still a number of finishing touches remaining to be done, especially in the bathrooms and toilet blocks.

Additionally, there is a plan to set up a sort of outdoor stage, with seating for open-air performances and the like. ACN is proposing to help with a contribution of $30,000, so that the work on the centre can be quickly completed.

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

ACN INTERVIEW – A ray of hope in the midst of the Venezuelan crisis

03.06.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, By Maria Lozano, Venezuela

ACN INTERVIEW – A ray of hope in the midst of the Venezuelan crisis

Interview and text by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on-line, June 3, 2019

Crisis in Venezuela: “A small ray of hope”

Following initial talks in Oslo (Norway), Venezuela seems to be moving towards change. These meetings represent an attempt to solve the crisis in Venezuela together with the government of a neutral European country. According to José Virtuoso, rector of Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas (Venezuela), these are “exploratory talks” between the representatives of the government of Nicolás Maduro on the one hand and the opposition on the other as the Jesuit priest explained in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)  representing a “small ray of hope.”

 


How confident are you about the talks being held in Oslo?

We know that informal meetings between the opposition and Maduro’s government have already taken place. If anything, these were exploratory talks – no commitments were made. However, the talks in Oslo imply the “official” commitment of a government, specifically, that of the government of Norway. This can be considered positive.

Secondly, it also shows that both President Maduro’s government and President Guaidó are open to exploring possibilities for reaching an understanding. Anything that has even the slightest chance of resolving the Venezuelan crisis needs to be considered.

 

However, these talks are currently at a very early stage. Have any concrete measures been proposed?

Nothing definite has been suggested. A decision has not even been made on how to proceed. Steps have only been taken towards holding exploratory talks. All involved – both the Norwegian government as well as Maduro’s government and President Guaidó – have talked about an exploratory process. We are still far away from a process of dialogue or negotiation.

 

Does the progress that has been made towards rapprochement have anything to do with the step taken by Juan Guaidó on 30 April, when he called on the army to support him?

In my opinion, what has become clear since 30 April is that we are at an impasse: neither Maduro’s government nor Interim President Guaidó have made any progress. We now have to look for other ways out of this deadlock, we have to find other possibilities.

 

What is the standpoint of the Church? Almost two years ago, the Church was involved in the attempts to start a dialogue. However, the Church later withdrew because it felt that it was being exploited…

Past attempts – the talks in which the Vatican initially took part and later the talks between the government and the opposition in Santo Domingo – all failed. I don’t believe that these meetings were properly prepared for and developed.

For example, if we take a look at Columbia: there, the talks and agreements between the Columbian government and the FARC were the culmination of a very long and meticulously prepared process. These talks only took place when all parties were genuinely interested in negotiating. The same cannot be said about Venezuela at the moment. This willingness first has to be developed and strengthened.

The process should not be pushed forward too quickly, because that makes it too easy to abandon. We have to try to build a solid foundation to enable an agreement. That is why I say that it will be a slow, a difficult process. But I believe that the Venezuelans finally want it to happen.

 

Based on past experiences, do you believe that things will be different this time because Nicolás Maduro has realised that things cannot continue as they are at the moment?

I believe that not only the opposition, but the Venezuelans as a whole are watching the progress of these processes very closely and with a great deal of skepticism. The government is still adamantly refusing to recognize both the opposition and the possibility of a deal. This is why we continue to view the situation with skepticism. However, this is the route we seem to be taking. As a small ray of hope has appeared, I believe that we now have to keep it from being extinguished and instead keep it shining brightly.

I believe that the international community and also the United States, which have taken a tougher stance, agree that a peaceful solution is much better than a violent one. That is also the standpoint of the Church: relief, assistance and the establishment of the conditions necessary to resolve the Venezuelan conflict peacefully.

 

Let’s talk about the situation of the general population. The international press reported on the nationwide blackouts that persisted for days. What is the current situation in the country in terms of energy and food?

In the large cities, in particular those located in the centre of the country such as Caracas and other important cities, the power supply is back to normal. However, the situation is more dramatic in the border regions. At the border with Columbia, in Zulia state, the power supply is deplorable. Although it is the country’s most densely populated state with the second most important city, the power supply remains erratic. A similar situation can be found in the two western states Táchira and Mérida, where a large part of the population lives.

 

Maduro has now given the Red Cross permission to enter the country to provide humanitarian aid. Is this a solution?

In practice, the humanitarian aid is greatly curtailed; that is, a number of medical goods and generators were brought into the country for hospitals, which is good. However, I have the feeling that many countries would like to get a lot more involved by sending medical supplies, medicines and food to the people, but they do not have the possibility to do so.

As rector of the university you are very concerned about education: what is happening in this area?

I am very concerned about the deteriorating educational system in Venezuela. Children and adolescents cannot attend classes regularly, either because of problems with transportation or food. Our schools, secondary schools and universities are suffering terrible consequences from the emigration of teachers and professors. Getting a degree in Venezuela is practically a heroic feat.

 

We have been talking about the situation in Venezuela for almost two years now. People may one day say, “Well, nothing can be done.” How do you avoid becoming discouraged?

Venezuela urgently needs the world’s support. Many Europeans came to Venezuela after World War II and during the terrible 1950s, the years of reconstruction. I myself am the son of a European immigrant, an Italian from Sicily. Many Venezuelans are the children or grandchildren of immigrants who did a great deal for the country. It is now time for Europe to repay the support that it got from Venezuela in the past. I am talking about solidarity and economic support, which can be offered in many areas. I would like to encourage people to continue with it because it gives rise to a feeling of solidarity.

 

ACN Project of the Week: Priests in Liberia need a time-out to recharge

29.05.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Liberia

Recharging the spiritual batteries of priests in need

 

From 1989 to 2003, Liberia went through one of the bloodiest civil wars on the African continent. To this day, this West African nation has still not fully recovered. More than two thirds of the country’s almost 5 million people still have little faith in a lasting peace.

 

One reason among many others is the fact that to this day there have been no prosecutions of known war criminals. All levels of social life are vitiated by a feeling of profound mistrust. “More than the infrastructure, it was our souls that were destroyed,’ says Father Dennis Nimene, secretary general of the Liberian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

 

For the Church too the aftermath of the war has been a great challenge. For although – after the end of the war and the subsequent Ebola crisis – various trauma recovery programs were offered to people, it is the spiritual dimension that is of the greatest importance, especially for priests.

 

‘More than the infrastructure, it was our souls that were destroyed’

 

Consequently, the bishops are hoping to offer spiritual retreats and recovery times for her priests during the current year 2019, so that they in turn can find the serenity to better help the laity. Accordingly, this year 25 priests from the diocese of Cape Palmas will be given an opportunity to recharge their spiritual batteries and find new strength in God, also sharing their problems and experiences with one another so that they can take new ideas back to their home parishes.

 

ACN is supporting these retreats with a contribution of $6,900, representing $276 for each priest who will attend and needs to cover travel costs, board and lodging. A small investment indeed, but one that will have a great impact.

 

Thank you for praying for the success of this project.

And, if you can, thank you for giving in support of these priests.

United in prayer for the people of Liberia. 

Published May 29, 2019

 

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.