Karla Sponar


India: A Church that goes to the poorest of the poor

06.04.2018 in ACN International, Asia, Feature Story, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar


A Church that goes to the poorest of the poor

Bita lives in a mud-walled hut with an earthen floor. Actually, it is only a few mud walls covered by a plastic sheet. Her old house burned down a year ago. “That was a great misfortune.” One of the children saw the fire start just in time and was able to pull the younger sister out of the house, the mother of three says. The church community then helped her obtain a small loan. This allowed her to temporarily move into a nearby dwelling, although it is not much more than a makeshift shelter of mud and straw: one room to sleep in, one to cook and live in, both of them only about three by three metres.

Most of the Dalits live in extremely close quarters, and their space is even further restricted. “There are a lot of things that Dalits are not permitted to touch; they may not be touched and may not set down their things everywhere,” Father John explains. His name has been changed for his safety. For decades, he has been working with Dalits, the members of the lowest caste in India. “The cooking area, for example, is a holy place. Once, I put down a drinking glass in the wrong place. It was a huge drama,” the priest recalls. For the host he was visiting, it was an affront that made it “unholy.” For the Dalits it is like a ban. They believe that disaster will befall anyone who doesn’t respect it.

India, February 2017: Bita (name changed for security reasons) with one of her sons at home in Bihar State. Faith in the Gospel and joy of Christ changed her life and the future with hope in Bihar State.





Plagued by a spirit world
Bita once believed this as well. “I was very scared and afraid of bad spirits.” It was an imaginary world that began to plague her more and more. “I was even afraid to get out of bed and walk. I became ill.”


Then she met a Christian woman who told her about the Bible. The message that there is a God who is a champion of the poor and the lowest in society, who invites them to join His community, goes beyond anything that the Dalits can imagine. This Christian invitation also began to exert its influence on Bita. Today, she is being pressured by her neighbours. Most people in the village are members of other religions and distrust how Bita is growing closer and closer to the Catholic community. “I fear that they are also a little envious because I am now part of a community that supports me. That I am feeling better again, since I started going to church.”


Strengthened, yet under new threat as a minority
Anyone who visits Bita can feel some of the anxiety that hangs in the air. Bita and a small handful of other people have now converted to Christianity. They are a minority among neighbours who are trying to get Bita to leave the church. However, she remains true to her faith. “I have also convinced my husband. He stands by me now. We have more joy in our lives and also earn a little more. We have hope again. We have put our faith in God and the church.”
When asked which passage from the Bible she likes best, she takes a moment to reflect. “Jesus says, love thy neighbour. That gives me strength.”


Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support Christians in India, especially in the North-East of the country, for many years now. Nationalist groups have branded them the enemy of Indian society. ACN is presenting projects that support the poorest of the poor so that they can live their faith and develop as individuals in dignity: www.india.acninternational.org


You can always donate for many projects in India. Simply click on the button below,
and indicate in the commentary rectangle – set a the end of the process -,
that you want to give for a project in India!

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Bosnia – Two professions in the life of the Croat religious sister Marija Bešker

23.03.2018 in ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Bosnia Herzegovina, Catholic Religious Sisters, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Josip Vajdner, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar, SUBSISTENCE


The more people give, the greater their contentment


“She is stronger than Tito,” a doctor at the Trauma Surgery Unit of the Clinical Centre of the University of Sarajevo says. She is quick to retort, “Of course! President Tito is long dead and I – thank the Lord – am very much alive.” Marija Bešker grew up in a family of 14. She spent most of her life at the hospital after she had already chosen her first profession. That came about suddenly. “My aunt was already a religious sister. When I was small, my uncle used to say to me that I could be her Mother Superior one day. I definitely did not want that. But once when I was visiting my aunt in Bijelo Polje, I saw beautiful flowers everywhere. I was so taken by the gardens. On that day, I had to admit to myself that there was a definite possibility that I would one day become a religious sister.”


She took her decision at the age of 14 and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King in the Croatian province near Mostar, in the Herzegovina region. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has supported this religious order on a number of occasions. Although the principal duty of this religious congregation was the care of orphans, the sisters were not allowed to run a kindergarten or orphanage, much less work in a school, during the reign of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia. This meant that she was forced to choose a different profession, and so she became a nurse.

The Croatian sister Marija Bešker from Bosnia. She took her decision at the age of 14 and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King in the Croatian province near Mostar in the Herzegovina region. Today she is matron in charge of the fourth ward of the Trauma Surgery Unit of the Clinical Centre of the University of Sarajevo. “The more people dedicate themselves to others, the greater their contentment and happiness.”


Holding out in Sarajevo, even during the war


“You can neither buy nor learn true standing. It has something to do with an honest attitude towards life, a professional attitude towards work and more than anything else: a love for humanity,” the 61-year-old is convinced. She professed her vows in 1980. Three years before the Iron Curtain fell, Sister Marija moved to Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina. She had been offered a place in the picturesque city of Dubrovnik, a city of fine arts and poets on the Croatian coast. However, she remained in Bosnia, even when war broke out in the region shortly thereafter. She recalls that it became necessary to bear the “reality of evil”. “However, I came away from the war years with something positive. Even during the worst battles, our medical staff never made a difference between saving a Croat, Serb or Muslim.”


A way to make proper use of time


When asked about her work, she emphasizes, “It is not enough to have completed medical training. You need to have the proper attitude: you need to understand that it is a calling.” This attitude has helped her to advance – today she is matron in charge of the fourth ward of the Trauma Surgery Unit. She has never encountered any problems at work due to the fact that she belongs to a Catholic order. “All of my colleagues treat me with utmost respect.” However, that alone is not enough. “When I have to go to a doctor to ask him for something, I pray inwardly, ‘Think of me, merciful Madonna, so that he is in a good mood and will do me this favour’.” After her work is done for the day, Sister Marija visits patients who are going through difficult times in a society that is still processing the trauma of war – socially, economically and psychologically.


Her wish to have a beautiful garden like the one she saw on the day she visited her aunt has come true. “When the flowers in the garden are blooming, all tiredness just falls away,” Sister Marija describes. For her, prayer is the most important part of religious life, both shared as well as private. “From older fellow sisters I learned that the day would come when we would be held responsible for lost time.” Sister Marija smiles almost mischievously. She radiates that of which she speaks. “The more people dedicate themselves to others, the greater their contentment and happiness.”

Sister Marija Bešker in front of the hospital where she work. 


In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need donated approximately $120,800 to a number of communities of religious sisters in Bosnia-Herzegovina for subsistence aid, pastoral work and transportation.






ACN Interview – “It is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today.”

08.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Asia, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians

“It is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today.”

Dimensions of the community of faith: sources of friction and inspiration from India


Interview with Veronique Vogel, head of the Indian section of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on the situation of Christians in India. The interview was conducted by Karla Sponar.


What is the situation of Christians in India today?

Alarming. Anti-Christian attacks almost doubled in 2017, with 740 more incidents than in the previous year. Most of them occurred in northern India. It is important to know that the nationalist party that is currently ruling India at the federal level is also governing 19 of the 29 federal states of India. Not only has the number of attacks grown, but what is striking is the kind of attacks: they are characterized by even more hate. The consequences for Catholics are more severe. The attacks used to be more verbal in nature, such as against the directors of Catholic schools. Now, for example in Madhya Pradesh, groups of extremists enter schools, disrupt classes, and try to impose an extreme nationalism in schools. This is new. Priests were attacked and detained by police, even though they were only heading out to visit a village community to sing Advent carols. There is also a tendency to accuse Christians of blasphemy – as has happened in Pakistan. Christians are portrayed as a danger to national unity. This trend has developed since the last elections in 2014.

India, February 2018 : Veronique Vogel (ACN) with Bishop William D’Souza (Archbishop of Patna diocese) next to the foundation stone for the new Archdiocesan Spirituality Centre at Jyoti Bhavan, Mokama.


What is the press reporting with regard to this?

We read – in particular in the Catholic media, but also in other reliable sources – that the number of attacks and their severity has risen.


Who is responding critically to this?

At the close of their meeting at the end of February, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reinforced that Christians are to be treated as one hundred per cent Indian, and at the same time to be considered one hundred per cent Catholic. The false argument of having an anti-national stance has no place in Christian thought.


What message does Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) have for the Christians in India?

In this atmosphere of persecution in which Christians are pressured by harassment on a daily basis and also made to fear for their lives, ACN is, first of all, helping bishops in their pastoral work so that they can, in turn, support their brothers and sisters in faith and encourage them to grow in their Christian faith. In concrete terms, ACN is supporting the Indian church, for example in its work with adolescents, with women and with families. We are in close contact with them, we show our solidarity with them in prayer, demonstrate our understanding of their situation, and report on it.

Because it is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today. The bishops are maintaining interdenominational connections. We support Catholics in India so that they can continue to be an example of Christian coexistence in love and compassion for everyone.

India, February 2017: Offertory during the Mass on the Feast of Christ the King in Bihar State.


Of the total of 5,384 projects that were approved by ACN in 2017, the greatest share, i.e. 584 projects, involved aid for India. Besides Then there is the fact that its approx. 1.3 billion inhabitants make India the second most populous country in the world after China – is there another reason for this?

Pope Francis correctly said: that “the church of the future will be the church in Asia.” India has an important Christian community of faith. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that Indians generally have a deep and strong spirituality, no matter what religion they belong to. Eighty-four per cent of the population is Hindu. Apart from the extremists, who want to foment unrest among people with different religious affiliations, Hindus are very hospitable, pacifist, and consider cultural and religious diversity to be a gift from God and allow every religion to have a place in society. This special way of greeting each day and each moment of each day in community with God is one way of remaining connected to the divine. To pray. Accepting one’s own inferiority faced with the magnificence of God. I frequently come across this humility and simultaneous joy in Hindus.

However, it is an individual religion. This is why Hindus are interested in how Christians are organized, with their priests, religious and communities that all come together to pray. They consider this dimension of community to hold new meaning for their Hindu spirituality. This is why Hindus generally view Christianity favourably and are willing to give it a place in their society.

India, February 2017: Participating in the Hostel Children’s Bible Sharing Prayer Service in Bihar State.


ACN News – Nigeria: In spite of attacks and radicalization – the faith is growing

16.02.2018 in ACN International, Africa, Boko Haram, by Tobias Lehner, Faith, Fulani, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar, Nigeria, Nigeria

Nigeria: In spite of attacks and radicalization – the faith is growing

The Archbishop of Kaduna, on the situation of Christianity in his homeland


Even though the government has initiated efforts to regain control over the areas occupied by Boko Haram, attacks on Christians and their communities take place regularly, particularly in the northeastern parts of the country. Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso most recently visited his former diocese in Maiduguri on November 2nd of last year. Two days later, another attack was carried out. The present archbishop of Kaduna escaped with his life, “but once again, there were many fatalities – attacks such as these make our day-to-day lives very uncertain,” Ndagoso said.


According to international statistics, there are currently almost 1.8 million displaced persons in Nigeria; this number grew by at least 140,000 people last year alone because of ongoing attacks. The focus of the attacks is primarily markets and churches; however, Ndagoso said that mosques have also been targeted lately. “Terrorist groups pretend that they would like to pray. They mingle among those gathered in places where one would normally not suspect bomb attacks.” This spreads confusion. A

ccording to the archbishop, some of the greatest problems today are abductions and demands for ransom payments.


More groups have radicalized in the meantime, including members of the Fulani, a nomadic, pastoral people. It is conspicuous that they are outfitted with modern weapons – a circumstance that indicates that “powerful forces with connections to terrorist organizations such as IS and al-Qaeda are behind groups such as these,” Ndagoso explained. However, no matter how hard Christians are hit by the attacks, “they just grow stronger in their faith.” Not only has the number of students enrolled at the seminaries in Nigeria grown, but also the number of Christians overall. “Over the past four years, I have opened at least three new parishes per year,” reported the archbishop of Kaduna. And that although his diocese in northern Nigeria is located in what is anything but an easy environment for Christians. They are a minority living among a Muslim majority, in areas governed in part by Islamic Sharia law. Attacks on churches are a regular occurrence. Building projects for new churches are not approved. The house in Maiduguri in which Ndagoso once lived as bishop was destroyed by Boko Haram. The terrorist group was formed in a mosque in the neighbourhood of the bishop’s house.


The activities of Boko Haram are like “a wake-up call” for the Christians in his diocese, Ndagoso said. He gave the example of a church in the city of Kaduna that became the target of an attack in 2012 that killed several and wounded over a hundred. Three services a week were held there before the attack, now Holy Mass is celebrated almost every day. The number of faithful has tripled since the attack. Funding from

Archbishop Matthew Ndangoso of Kaduna

Aid to the Church in Need has made it possible to rebuild the once destroyed pastoral centre nearby.



With regard to the role of Christians in his country, Ndagoso emphasized, “We have to be as patient as God has been with all people for millennia – time and again we must take the initiative ourselves, we must take a stand for truth – because our God is a God of peace and not of violence.”


Government agencies have now allocated relief goods to the church for further distribution among displaced persons because of the transparency of the aid work carried out by Christians in the northeastern part of Nigeria.


In over ten years, Aid to the Church in Need has granted more than 14.4 million Dollars in aid to Nigeria, about 2.7 million Dollars of this in the past year alone. In addition to rebuilding church buildings destroyed by violence, the international Catholic pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has set up a special program in Maiduguri to help the widows and orphans of the victims of Boko Haram.


Nigeria: Destruction of churches and houses at Gogogodo in Jemaa local Goverment Area in Kafanchan Diocese (Kaduna State) by the Fulani Herdsmen terrorists. These are just a tip of iceberg.


Catholics in Eastern Europe : their presence is essential

02.02.2018 in ACN International, Bosnia Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Eastern Europe, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar

Catholics in Eastern Europe:

in great demand, when state and society offer few prospects


Who is still  paying attention to the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe. However, in many countries its situation continues to be difficult, at times oppressive and its commitment is often decisive in enabling coexistence. This came to the fore once more during the 23rd meeting of Catholic aid organizations for Eastern Europe that took place at the main office of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) near Frankfurt am Main. The meeting primarily focused on reports from south-east Europe, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, as well as the Czech Republic.

The contested eastern parts of the Ukraine continue to be the area that is in greatest need, with fatalities still being reported every single day. Remarkably enough, this has strengthened the solidarity of Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox in the troubled regions, as the director of the Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Tetiana Stawnychy, described during an informal talk.

A child in a church in Albania

The churches in Albania and Kosovo are among the poorest local Catholic churches in Eastern Europe. Catholics in Bosnia and Serbia are, moreover, in a difficult situation: the reality of life as a minority shapes the everyday life of believers. Pastoral offers are especially important for younger parish members, also because few have even begun to process the events that occurred during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s. Next to the economic problems, these are additional reasons why thousands continue to emigrate from these areas year after year.


Ray of hope in a beleaguered atmosphere


Initiatives of the churches are even more desperately needed in those areas where there is little public or state support for the work of reconciliation. At times, they are the only ray of hope in a beleaguered atmosphere. “We must therefore continue to strengthen local missionary work, which includes interfaith dialogue, reconciliation among the peoples and sociocultural education – also to ensure that radical Islam does not spread,” emphasized the spiritual assistant of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Martin Barta, in reference to the ex-Soviet countries in Central Asia.

Securing the material needs of priests and religious in old age is an important topic, particularly in the Balkans, where the Catholic Church is in the minority. Representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania discussed solutions as part of the initiative “Piccolo Gregge” started by bishops from these regions, in order to be able to guarantee priests and religious at least basic health insurance and a minimal pension.

In addition to the above-mentioned aid organizations, the meeting was also attended by participants from the Conference of Catholic Bishops from Italy, Poland and the United States as well as the Porticus Foundation. All hope that a possible visit from the pope to the Baltic states will create additional impetus for the churches in eastern Europe.

Kosovo, March 2013
All the baptised after the ceremony in the cathedral of mother Teresa in Pristina.

Turkish offensive in northern Syria: Christians desperate for help

25.01.2018 in ACN International, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Karla Sponar, Middle East

Turkish offensive in northern Syria
Christians desperate for help


Just a few days after the attacks on north Syria began, Christians in Afrin have launched an urgent appeal for help. “The congregation of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Afrin is asking for immediate international protection for the believers in the city,” reads the appeal, which was forwarded to the international aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We call for an immediate stop to the Turkish bombardment.”


The appeal had been written by members of the local evangelical community during the shelling that began in northern Syria over the previous weekend.

“We are under serious attack,” states the desperate message from Christians in Afrin. Afrin is part of the Aleppo Governorate with around 36 000 inhabitants.

According to the appeal, the community is even under siege from two sides: for days, they have been subject to heavy Turkish shelling as well as attacks from Islamic troops that are also moving in on the zone from the periphery.

Damascus: Christians attacked

ACN’s partners on the ground have reported that in Damascus in southern Syria, attacks on Christian districts began last Monday. Several individuals were injured, with at least one fatality. Most of the victims are young, including a student According to the Maronite Archdiocese of Damascus 24 people were injured, including seven children who were hit while entering their school. The short message stated that there was fear and trepidation among the faithful and called for prayers for peace on January 25th, the feast of Saint Paul’s conversion, which is a key date in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.


Last autumn the security situation had improved to the point where schools in Syria were able to reopen.  In 2017 the international charity ACN has contributed 6,9 millions dollars in emergency aid to Syria.