ACN International


ACN Project of the Week – Argentina

19.07.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Argentina, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Sisters, SUBSISTENCE



Support for Sisters in the poorest diocese of the country


For Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), suffering and need were never an abstract problem. For him it was always about the individual, a person with a face and a name, a child of God.


It is very easy to dismiss any sense of personal involvement when it comes to a statistic, a mere number can mean very little to us. However, the fate of an individual person with a face and a name is not as easy to distance ourselves from, for it touches us inwardly; it is a direct appeal to us personally and to the heart.


On his many travels around the world, Father Werenfried encountered a great many people living in poverty and destitution, in whom he saw God himself as weeping. They had names – Anna, Pablo and John, Maria and Miguel. He had looked them in the eyes, and what he had seen was for him a cry for help. He asked himself – and all of us – the question: “How is it that we are so comfortably situated? These people live beneath the same sun and the same stars as we do. God also created them on the sixth day, to be kings of creation. Where then is their kingdom? This trampling of their human dignity is a mortal sin against nature, a crying injustice. In addition, we too will personally share in this injustice if we do not do everything in our power to banish it from the world – everything in our power!”



A human crisis

Very few people know there are regions in Argentina where people live in the direst poverty. One such region is a diocese with the long name of “San Roque de Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña.”  It is one of the poorest dioceses in the country and this, on paper, seemingly dry statistic is in reality a human crisis for those involved. Some of these people live in dirty, damp, unhealthy hovels or even under plastic sheeting. There are sick people barely being cared for, emaciated children, living off little more than a little flour moistened in water, gaunt-looking mothers…


The diocese covers a vast area of over 27,000 square miles (70,000 km²) in the north of the country, characterized mainly by savannah and dry forestland. It is home to the descendants of various indigenous tribes who in the past used to live as nomads. Many still live as hunter-gatherers. Now the large Agro industries, which are encroaching ever further on their traditional territories, are increasingly restricting their traditional lifestyle, grubbing up the forest and establishing vast soybean plantations. At the same time, the goats and cattle of settlers and small farmers are eating the forest bare.

Bringing home the truth

The Catholic Church is the only organization supporting these people. However, the distances are huge and there are only very few priests. Therefore, the support of the religious Sisters is vital. At present, there are 38 religious from various different congregations working in the diocese. They are supporting the people in many ways and bringing home to them the truth that they are indeed children of God. They visit the families in the villages, care for the sick and elderly, pray with the people and, while bringing them urgent and vital help, while at the same time managing to introduce a little light and laughter into their poverty-stricken homes.


We regularly help these sisters and this year once again we plan to support them in their modest lifestyle, for all the work that they do is offered entirely free of charge. We have promised a total of $24,800 to support their life and ministry – just $653 per Sister for an entire year. Thank you to our benefactors!



ACN Project of the Week – A pilgrimage to Fatima for 50 young Catholics from Russia

07.07.2017 in ACN International, Fatima, Journey with ACN, World


A pilgrimage to Fatima for 50 young Catholics

This year, the Church is celebrating the centennial of the apparitions at Fatima.  In 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared six times to three shepherds and entrusted them with a message for the world.  She warned the children of the danger that the Russian Revolution and Communism represented for Humanity.  She revels to them that prayer, repentance and inner conversion are the means by which the wars and calamities could in fact be prevented for the world.


On October 13, the day of the very last apparition – over 50,000 people were witness to a miracle often deemed the ‘Miracle of the Sun’. At the very place above the apparitions, the sun began to spin and then zigzag careening to the earth before returning back toward the sky.  The two little shepherds, Francisco and Jacinta, died of Spanish Fever in 1919 and 1920, respectively.  They were canonized this past May 13 by Pope Francis. As for Lucia, she became a Carmelite nun – Sister Lucie – and lived to be 97 years old at Carmel de Coimbra.  Her beatification process was initiated in 2008, three years after her death.


Inspiration for giving God to the world

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The pontifical charity has very close ties to the Fatima message.  During his lifetime, the founder of the international charity, Father Werenfried van Straaten, considered the message given at Fatima by the Holy Mother as the guiding principle informing all his actions.  He first heard talk of Fatima in 1942 while still a young religious Premonstratensian.  On several occasions, he consecrated Aid to the Church in Need to the Holy Mother of Fatima, for it was clear to him that the world was in danger of death if the call of the Holy Mother was not followed.

The “rebellion against God,” culminating during the Russian Revolution and the unprecedented persecution of the Church which followed has continued to this day in various forms.  ACN is an immediate response to the call of the Holy Mother of God to convert and to turn towards God.

In this jubilee year, initiatives to commemorate the Fatima message are planned across the entire planet .  Some are supported by ACN, for example the pilgrimage of 50 young Russian Catholics to the Fatima sanctuary.  For these young Catholics who feel like a small minority in a majority Orthodox country, such a pilgrimage to one of the most significant Catholic sanctuaries signifies a lot,  affirming them in their faith and giving them the opportunity to pray with thousands of other pilgrims from around the world.


Thanks to you, our benefactors, we were able to give them $9,000 for their journey, which we believe will be a moving one which they will carry with them throughout their lives and faith journey.


Photo top: Portugal, Fatima 13.05.2017 
Pope Francis in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Portuguese Marian shrine of Fatima.




Fatima 2017 and Aid to the Church in Need Take part in the celebration !

06.07.2017 in ACN International, Journey with ACN, Prayer, World

Our Lady of Fatima Pilgrimage with ACN 

From September 9 to 18



Fatima 2017 and Aid to the Church in Need

Take part in the celebration !


In order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the charitable organization, Aid to the Church in Need, we would like to offer you the opportunity to participate in a very unique pilgrimage due to its international presence.


Organized in collaboration with Spiritours, a specialist in source of faith tours, and the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need, this sojourn will offer you out of the ordinary opportunities: attending an international Mass with other individuals close to Aid to the Church in Need, a candle-lit procession, testimonials and moments of reflection with guests from around the world are planned.  Many powerful and unforgettable spiritual moments!


Act quickly, the registration deadline is this Sunday, July 9th!

Here is a simple trip outline :


*2 999$/per person for a  double occupation. Departure from Montreal or Toronto  *Also available – departures from  Calgary or Vancouver, on demand.

Day 1 – Departure from Montreal or Toronto for Lisbon


Day 2 – Arrival in Lisbon and city tour


Day 3 – Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO, travel to Fatima.


Day 4 – Guided tour of Fatima.  Official opening  of the pilgrimage with a Eucharistic procession in the evening followed by dinner, reciting the Rosary and candlelight procession.


Day 5 – Solemn Mass with Cardinal Piacenza presiding.  Free afternoon and possibility of a concert in the evening.


Day 6 – Visit Coimbra including time for prayer, testimonials from guests in attendance from around the world.


Day 7 – International closing Mass. Departure for Porto.


Day 8 – Guided visit in Porto and departure for Santiago de Compostela where a Mass will be celebrated.


Day 9 – Free day for exploring, wandering and shopping.


Return to Porto.


Day 10 – Departure from Porto for Montréal or Toronto.








For further information : http://spiritours.com/voyage/portugal-et-espagne-sept2017/ or call

Mikaël Maniscalco  (514) 374-7965, Ext 207  mikael@spiritours.com






Aid to the Church in Need – A Record Year in Donations

05.07.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Annual Report, World

Aid to the Church in Need in the Middle East: support that has continued from 2016 through to 2017. © ACN

Aid to the Church in Need

Another record year


Königstein/Montreal 05.07.2017—  In 2016, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has once more generated a record sum in donations. The charity collected $189,550,370 in total, nearly 13.5 million more than in 2015, making possible the funding of 5,303 projects in 148 countries last year. Africa gained the lion’s share with 34 percent of projects funded on the continent.


The growth of the Church in Africa is seen reflected in a significant fraction of the projects also being located in Africa. The countries situated in the Sahelian zone receive particular attention, as do Northern Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania—all countries in which an aggressive form of Islam is spreading. Emergency and subsistence aid in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, is a major cost factor. This aid went to securing a Christian presence in its region. Among all the countries, Iraq and Syria received the most aid in 2016 with 14.2 and 8.7 million dollars, respectively. This is, of course, due to the political situation in this region. Over 87.9 million dollars have flowed into the crisis areas in the Middle East since 2011, 26.6 million dollars in the past year alone.  Aid is expected to continue its exponential growth in 2017 as well.



 Packing ACN food parcel bags for Internally Displaced People at the packing centre in Ankawa, Erbil, in the Kurdish Region of Iraq


For example, the reconstruction project put in place by ACN, with three other Churches in the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq. This initiative has been created to help Christians return to their villages liberated from the grip of ISIS.


Vicariate of Chaco, Paraguay: Sisters are able to support the poorest of people through education, catechesis, presence, etc. – without the worry of what they will be eating tomorrow, thanks to ACN benefactors.

Construction Supporting Religious Sisters

As in previous years, a majority of the total aid approved for reconstruction projects received a 30 percent share of the total amount.  Over 1,200 chapels, churches, cathedrals and seminaries received co-financing around the world, mainly in the regions most devastated by forces of nature, with one third of these construction projects funded in Africa.


Emergency aid for the Middle East and subsistence aid for Religious Sisters follows closely, as well as formation aid helping an estimated 30,000 catechists and pastoral agents. Much attention was given to aid in Central and Eastern Europe who in the process of shifting from construction to training and continuing education. The Balkan countries received much attention because of the presence of radical forms of Islam.


Thanks to Mass Offerings, one in nine priests (43,015 in total) received help in the form of Mass Offerings in Africa (14,403) and in particularly in  Asia (11,293). Aid for 10,760 seminarians was approved, a number equivalent to every eleventh seminarian worldwide. Most were preparing for the priesthood in Africa (4,667), Latin America (2,900) and Eastern Europe (1,577).



DEM.REP. CONGO 800 ordinary masses for 10 Redemptorist Missionary Fathers, 2015 – 2016

With regard to Religious Sisters, formation and/or subsistence aid were granted to 11,080 among them, or to every 62nd Sister worldwide. In 2015, every 67th Sister received aid. In most cases, the help was in the form of subsistence aid for Religious Sisters in contemplative orders. Additional funding was provided for transportation in the form of 375 cars, 149 motorcycles, 239 bicycles and 2 boats.


Never before has Aid to the Church in Need collected so many funds in a one year span. Just under two thirds of donations (65 percent) issued from individual donations, a fifth (or 21.8 percent) from legacies.


The pontifical charity received most of its donations from France (43.2 million), followed by Great Britain (26.6 million), Spain (over 19.3 million), Germany (18 million) as well as Switzerland and Liechtenstein (13.3 million).

TOGO  Construction of the catechism rooms for the parish of St Paul Apostle of the Nations of Dapaong.


The Canadian office collected 3 million dollars.  Overall, the pastoral charity maintains its national offices with fundraising activities in 23 countries. Finally, 2,109 projects did not receive approval. Administration costs accounted for 6.4 percent of the budget (in 2015: 6.5 percent). These figures and statistics were audited and attested by the international auditing firm KPMG.


Read the ACN Annual Report 2016




ACN Interview – Central African Republic

16.06.2017 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, By Jürgen Liminiski, Central African Republic

Central African Republic

“We weep for our abandoned children!”

Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao, Central African Republic, at the ACN National office in Rome, October 2015

Jürgen Liminski interviews Mons. Cyr-Nestor YAPAUPA, bishop of the Diocese of Alindao in the Central African Republic, for Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN) about the new clashes between factions of the Seleka and the Anti-balaka still present in the region. The violence erupted on May 8,  in response to the abduction and murder of several young people in Datoko by the Seleka. Following the intervention of UN troops, the situation has calmed down, for the moment. Nevertheless there are still around 5,000 refugees, who are currently being cared for in various centres of the Catholic Church.

Interview text :  Jürgen Liminiski, ACN International
Adapted by : Amanda Bridget Griffin

ACN: Is it possible to speak of a normalization of the situation in the country, since the political accords?

Bishop Cyr-Nestor YAPAUPA : The simple truth is that we cannot speak of a general normalization of the situation in our country since the outbreak of the crises that have shaken us ever since 2012 and up to the present day. If from time to time and from place to place we have occasionally observed a temporary calming of the situation, here and there and in certain regions, these are nonetheless very ephemeral. There is no lack of fresh outbreaks of violence, creating new crises. More or less the majority of our country is infested with the presence of armed individuals who are a threat to the freedom of our citizens.

How do people live, and on what, in your diocese? Where do they get their food, water, milk?

The people in my diocese essentially live on the local agricultural produce; food from hunting and fishing having become very rare in recent times. As a result there is a risk of a food crisis, which we are already beginning to see. The people are no longer able to cultivate their fields safely, and the reserves and food stores of these country people have been ransacked, pillaged and even burned. As far as water is concerned, the majority of the people depend on man-made wells and boreholes, while others depend on natural water sources such as the rivers. The occasional modern water supply systems serve only a tiny proportion of the population. I can certainly tell you, however, that in the current crisis access to drinking water is is extremely difficult, not to say critical, since the climate of insecurity has made it very dangerous to approach the water sources. Some form of medical intervention is needed to detoxify some of these water supplies from natural sources or man-made wells; this would be of great benefit to the people’s health.


Are you getting any help from the international organisations? From the NGOs? From the Church?

Sadly, I have to tell you first of all that the crisis we are facing today seems to be very little known about, since it receives less media attention than what is happening elsewhere (in Bangui, Bangassou, Bria, Bambari etc.). And since our particular crisis has received so little media attention, how can we expect to get the aid we need from the international organisations? The Church here in my diocese is fighting alone to provide the barest minimum to live on for the refugees and displaced, through the Caritas network and CORDAID. But I can only tell you in all honesty that conditions are extremely precarious still and our resources very much inadequate for effectively helping all these unfortunate people.


Are the schools able to function still?

Even in normal times we were concerned about the schools in our area. We worked unstintingly for the education of the young. But now we face the double sorrow of finding all our efforts blocked by this wind of violence and our children unable to go to school at present. All the schools are closed now. We weep for our abandoned children! But nevertheless we are hoping for a lease of new life so that we can try and quickly establish something for them. I will be very grateful for anyone who can help us in this direction, so that we can give our children one more chance to catch up.


ACN: What are relations like between the Christians and the Muslims in your diocese of Alindao?

First of all I can tell you that my diocese is one of the parts of the country that still has Central African citizens of every religion, all mixed up together, including the Muslims. In this diocese the Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, all lived in perfect harmony with the Muslims. Proof of this is the fact that in almost all the sub prefectures of the region that coincide with my diocese there are organisations known as religious platforms which aim is to maintain links between the religions and consolidate the social peace between the different groups.

The big surprise was to find that during these events some Muslims behaved as persecutors towards some of their Christian brethren. This has certainly affected the bonds of mutual confidence that have hitherto always prevailed. But we intend to do all we can to work to repair this unexpected gulf and promote the path of dialogue and mutual respect, so that we can re-establish confidence.


How many sisters and priests are caring for the refugees?

In my diocese we only have priest at the moment. The sisters left the diocese following the events of 2013 and have not returned. It is impossible for them. With the priests and the other Church personnel we are ten people in all, and we organize ourselves to manage the ongoing work of the diocese, added to which today there is this humanitarian crisis which demands our support, based on our sense of evangelical commitment.


What is on people’s minds, what is talked about?

According to discreet soundings taken by my priests among the faithful after Mass, it appears that the crisis in Alindao is much marginalised. According to the opinions people have shared with us at this time it is only the Catholic Church that has grasped the full consequences of the situation and is struggling to provide its victims with security, protection, food and basic care.

Here is one such statement: « You have done enough! », said one Catholic parishioner to the priest who had celebrated Mass that day. « If there is no outside aid to support your efforts, then we know that no one can do the impossible. We are praying that these events will quickly come to an end so that we can soon return home. They are helping people everywhere else, but here they show no interest in our particular crisis. Our only refuge is God; that is why we come to Mass every day to ask God’s aid in our situation. Fortunately the Catholic Church is there for us. The bishop is a central figure in finding a solution to this crisis. »


And how about the children?

As you know, our children normally have various activities to shape the pattern of their day. In ordinary times their day is divided between school (for those who attend), working in the fields (for the children of the country people) and games and play for all of them after their various other activities. But in the conditions we face today the tensions for our children are very serious as they confront the problem of the violence that is forcing their parents to flee and disrupting their own normal daily activities. One wonders what impact this situation may have on the mental landscape of these children who find themselves brutally transported to these makeshift camps where the sound of gunfire never ceases to thunder around them.

To sum up, the children remain confined beneath the wings of their frightened parents. Together with my priests I often travel to visit the refugees in order to cheer up the parents and their children and give them fresh hope, but the anxiety is still very strong. Obviously, the children need lots of space and freedom to run about in, but sadly they have not the means to do so in this time of crisis. Hence the urgent need to create a space for them where they can play, and above all a makeshift school in which we can very urgently convey to them a spirit of peace and quickly drive from their spirits the tendency to violence, hatred or revenge. For as you know, children’s minds are very quick to remember events, simplistically, and react to them rather than discerning more deeply.


The foundation Aid to the Church in Need is in contact with Mons. Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa and asks for support and donations to assist the Diocese in the emergency situation in which it now finds itself. 



ACN Feature Story: Iraq- The Dominicans are going home

09.06.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Daniele Piccini, Chaldean Catholic, CONSTRUCTION, Iraq


The Dominicans are going home


On the Nineveh Plain, in Iraq, 363 church buildings or other Church properties were damaged or destroyed by Islamic State (IS) and are now in need of rebuilding.

Dominican Sisters Luma Khuder and Nazek Matty, are both saying, “We hope to be able to return to Teleskuf as soon as possible. The families there have need of us.” Father Andrzej Halemba, the acting chair of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Already 450 families have returned to Teleskuf; we are hoping that many others will follow their example.”

“The agreement between the three Christian Churches is a good sign. People can see that the Churches are united and that the decisions are not being taken unilaterally.” Sister Luma Khuder and Sister Nazek Matty, both Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena originally from the convent of Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf to the north of Mosul, see it as encouraging sign that Christian Churches in Iraq are committing to rebuilding the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain, destroyed by the so-called Islamic State. On 27 March this year the Syrian Catholic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church formally established a committee, the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), whose task is to oversee and plan the repair and rebuilding of almost 13,000 family homes.

March 2017: the Sisters can finally see their convent for the first time in two years.

Before the summer of 2014 the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena had convents in several different towns on the Nineveh plains. Then the extremist fighters of Islamic State arrived and together with around 70 or so fellow Dominican sisters, Sister Luma and Sister Nazek found themselves internal refugees in the autonomous Kurdish -controlled region of northeast Iraq. “In 2014, as soon as we had arrived in Erbil,” explains Sister Luma, “We began distributing food, milk and nappies. We set up “emergency convents” in order to be as close as possible to the Christian refugees, to serve them and accompany them. In 2015, just as soon as the refugees were housed in more permanent lodgings, we opened two schools, one in Ankawa, to the north of Erbil, and the other in Dohuk. There are 600 children at the school in Erbil, ranging in age from 6 to 13. We also opened a nursery school, which has 392 children in it. These centres are financed by ACN among others. We depend totally on their aid.”


The return of the displaced peoples – hoping for a domino effect

By now the situation is starting to change, and “the number of internal refugees in Kurdistan is slowly decreasing” notes Sister Nazek. “There is no longer any danger in Teleskuf, and a number of families have now returned to their homes,” she explains. And Sister Luma adds: “ACN is starting to rebuild the homes, including those in Teleskuf. IS only stayed in the village for a short time, and so the houses are not too badly damaged. We are also repairing our convent of Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf, with the help of ACN. We want to return there as soon as possible together with the people, who are tired by now of living far from home.”

Restoration of Immaculate Mary (Al-Um Al-Tahira) convent in favour of Dominican Sisters fof St Catherine of Siena – Qaraqosh

“We know that since January 2017 around 450 families have returned to Teleskuf, and many others are preparing to return”, explains Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the project section of ACN for the Middle East and is likewise acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. “Today, of all the villages on the plains of Nineveh, Teleskuf is the safest. The area is in fact controlled by the Kurdish army. We are hoping that the return of the Christian families to Teleskuf will have a “domino effect” on the families from the other villages, who are still hesitating to return for fear that the situation is not yet altogether secure. ACN will be contributing over 40,000 Euros towards the cost of restoring the Dominican convent in Teleskuf. The Sisters need to return as soon as possible, for the families have need of them.”

Over the Nineveh Plain as a whole there are 363 Church properties that were attacked by so-called IS and which now need to be repaired or rebuilt. Of these 34 have been totally destroyed, 132 were set on fire and 197 are partly damaged. In Teleskuf alone we have counted 1104 private homes and 21 Church properties that have been damaged by IS.”


ACN will be contributing over $58,000 towards the cost of restoring the Dominican convent in Teleskuf.


Article: Daniele Piccini, ACN International
English adaptation : Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada


ACN Interview – Violence in Marawi, Philippines – Bishop’s speaks

02.06.2017 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Adaptation Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Interreligious Dialogue, Jonathan Luciano, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Philippines

Violence in the Philippines

Cathedral destroyed and interreligious dialogue in peril


“The general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.


Interview by Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines National Director, with Bishop Prelate of Marawi Edwin dela Peña (MSP) about the situation in the Prelature of Marawi in the Southern Philippines, where the terrorist Maute group attacked the city, killing Christians and burning down buildings. including the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. As of press time, 104 people have been killed and more than 12,500 families have been displaced. Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General, was abducted together along with several staff from the ca. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed the authenticity of the video now circulating on Facebook which had surfaced on Fr. Chito Suganob’s profile on Tuesday (30 May). 


How is the present situation now in the Prelature of Marawi?

We are still right in the midst of it, I don’t know how to describe it, our people are not there anymore, they have been evacuated.  Those who have been left behind, I don’t know what their situation is because there is a continuing operation to clean up the city, to flush out the terrorists plus there is aerial bombing.  I don’t know how they are surviving it.

Source: Wikimedia


Was the Cathedral totally destroyed?

Yes, I was told that the cathedral and the bishop’s house have been totally destroyed, first by the torching, it was set on fire, and then by the bombing as we are right there at the center of the fighting. I’m not so sure how soon we will be able to recover. It will be very difficult for all of us, not only for Christians, but for the Muslims as well.


How was the Muslim-Christian relations in Marawi before the incident happened?

Marawi is about 95% Muslims. We are a very tiny minority, we are a very small church in Marawi and the greater bulk of the Catholic population in the city in the area of the university where we have students coming from other provinces in Mindanao.


It was beautiful. We were engaged in interfaith dialogue and we have many partners. And in fact, Fr. Cito was in the thick of it because he was, his primary focus really is to connect, to link up with all the Muslim NGOs who have partnered with us in community development and education for interfaith dialogue. It was beautiful until this extremism emerged, the fighting, the presence of these extremist elements from the Middle East. Then the radicalization of our young people, unwittingly, unknowingly, some not oriented towards the current situation in the Middle East, still have become radicalized, especially here in Mindanao.

But generally, our relations with our partners have remained very positive and in fact, we learned from them that also disavow this influx of ISIS elements coming into Marawi, because they understand exactly what this would do to the culture of their people, to their way of life. The people of Marawi have always been very peaceful.

Marawi City on fire during the first day of the siege. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)


Is it correct to say that the general population is not sympathetic to ISIS elements.

Yes, yes, yes, that is correct. In fact, what is happening today, especially that we are on Ramadan, a very holy month for them, they are not able to celebrate it the way they would have wished. They feel a certain kind of anger toward these terrorist groups coming in to disturb this very holy remembrance of Ramadan. So if these extremist groups wanted to get the support of the people, they are going about it all wrong.










Based on your knowledge of how ISIS operates in the Middle East, do you see any difference with what is happening in Syria and Iraq versus what is happening now in Marawi?

It is something like that. It may not be another Syria or Iraq, but the way the city looks now after the bombing and all, it doesn’t look like Marawi anymore. The remnants of the old city, everything that we see on the news feed about Marawi, is all ruined, there is destruction everywhere. That is the image we have in mind of Syria and Iraq.


Who are the Maute group who led these terror attacks in Marawi?

From my own discussion with some religious figures here in Marawi, Maute is made up of Maranaos who have had to fend for themselves since the ouster of their mayor.   The mayor, previous heir of Marawi, had supported their drug-trade business.  Because he’s no longer mayor, and now that the drug peddling has been controlled by the government, the people who were used to an easy life of free-flowing drug money are suddenly without. That was probably one factor that led them toward radicalization.

We were also informed that money was coming from the outside,  as well as individuals who are part of some training.  There are foreign elements training them inside the lairs of Lanao Sur.  All of which probably are driving them to this kind of life.

The Maranao Muslims of Marawi City preparing to evacuate their ancient hometown. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN))


The government has kept denying that there is ISIS presence in the Philippines. What can you say about that?

I’m not so sure about it. They can deny it for as long as they can, but some people…you know what?  I’m not the right person to speak about it. I’m just echoing what I know: that some of them have even been trained outside.  For instance, the Maute brothers studied in the Middle East. They come from very rich families here who have the means to send their children to school in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I have heard about this.


Is there a relationship between Maute and the infamous terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf? 

I think so, the fact that Hapilon is in Lanao, in fact they were about to serve him with an arrest warrant before all this happened. That was the trigger. Hapilon is Abu Sayyaf, so they have a tactical alliance with the Maute brothers in Lanao Sur aside from the fact that both are also sympathetic to ISIS, so they have this tactical alliance, and they probably have joined forces.


Do you have any updates about Fr. Chito and other kidnapped Christians?

I am aware of the video of Fr. Chito since yesterday. He is alive! I am happy about that, but sad also about the reactions of the DDS netizens (DDS stands for Digong Duterte Supporters- the supporters of the president), who castigated him for his message without any regard for his present situation as a hostage deprived of his freedom. We have lost our sense of humanity! How sad! I grieve for this country, and I am so sorry for the situation of Fr. Chito and company.

Father Teresito Suganob kidnapped Mai 2017 in Marawi. (Pictures taken from facebook page from Father Suganob) Fr. Chito Suganob, the Vicar General was abducted together with other Cathedral Staff.

We did not have any contacts with the military until a few days ago when I was able to link up with a commanding officer of the Marines division who are now doing up the clean-up operations in Marawi.  He has promised that they will do their best to locate Fr. Chito and company. There are about 12 to15 people with him. Some of them were teachers from nearby Dansalan college and they just happened to be meeting together in one place where they are being held, but some of them were at the Cathedral at the time as they were preparing for the feast of Mary, Help of Christians the following day. So we had many people in the house and in the Church doing all sorts of things.


Do you consider this incident as an escalation of the various anti-Christian events that have happened in Mindanao?

Yes, I suppose it is.


Do you know of any personal stories of solidarity between Muslims and Christians these past few days?

Yes, personal knowledge concerning the family of my driver who were holed up in one of the rice mills in Marawi City.  Accompanying them was their barangay (village) chairman. who is Maranao.  He was the one who organized the group and gave them an orientation as to how they should respond if the Maute group intercepts them along the way. So they left the house together and went toward the bridge, where buses were waiting to take them out of Marawi. I would consider them heroes for leading this group of both Christians and Muslims, to flee the danger that awaited them.

But there were some people in the group who were trying to catch up, part of the crowd trying to cross the bridge, who were then accosted by this Maute group, this terrorist group. They were asked if they were Christians. Unfortunately, they responded “yes” because they were not there when the orientation was given.

One fellow, the husband of one of our adopted families living in the cathedral compound in Marawi, was pulled out of the group because he was wearing a sleeveless shirt and had a cross tattoo on his shoulder. So he was identified as a Christian and was pulled out.

Then, lately we have heard reports of men being killed and dropped into a ravine. They say they were also part of the group trying to catch up to join the convoy of evacuees.

You can also read in the papers many other stories of Muslims trying to protect Christians.


How would this incident affect Christian-Muslim relations in Marawi?

Even though people are familiar with what we have been doing here in Marawi and the relationship that we have built up through the years, the old biases that Christians have had against Muslims are bound to be stirred up because of the current situation. This is very frustrating.  Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process, and incidents like these can destroy the very foundation.

And there are some people fueling these anti-Muslim sentiments. It’s sad, because we’ve made such headway in improving relations between Muslims and Christians in Marawi. Without a doubt,  Muslim-Christian relations among the Maranaos is the best compared to others considering we have done in the 41 years since the establishment of the prelature.

Our schools, some of which were here before the prelature, have always been dear to our Muslim brothers and Christians because many of their parents studied there.  Professionals in the town have attended our schools and sent their children to our schools, because they have developed this kind of patronage and loyalty to our schools.


What is your message to the ACN community worldwide?

It is very unfortunate that our small prelature which is the smallest and poorest local church in the Philippines had to undergo this very difficult crisis. Our Cathedral, the Bishop’s house and our parish have been destroyed.  We will have to start from scratch to rebuild and to re-establish the Christian presence in this predominantly Muslim area of Central Mindanao. We must continue our mission of offering the hand of reconciliation and friendship to our Muslim brothers and sisters because this was the legacy of Pope Paul VI when he re-established the prelature of Marawi.

At the height of the crisis in the early 70s, the Pope, quoting Bishop Tutu, stated, “We Christians should be the first to offer the hand of reconciliation and brotherhood to our Muslim brothers and sisters. That is the way to establish peace that has been broken because of the war.” I think that the same holds true for our present situation today.

We cannot turn our backs away from what we have started, what the Prelature had begun in the middle 70’s: to continue the work of dialogue, continue working with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to establish, to rebuild the broken relationships, the broken dreams and hopes of so many people to live in peace. We just want to live in peace and we would like to ask you to help us to rebuild that peace with the kind of work that we do: working with and being in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

A group of 100-200 armed men of the Maute group, a terrorist group founded by a Muslim clan whose children studied in the Middle East. The Maute group has pledged its allegiance to ISIS. (photo:  Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ACN)




What are the most urgent needs at the moment?

We are not so much concerned about our needs in the moment. Our focus is more trying to do what we can to respond to the humanitarian crisis that happening in Iligan right now.  We have so many evacuees from Marawi, and they need all the support that we can give.

This is what some of our dioceses and all the dioceses of the Phillipines, including Caritas Filipinas in Manila and the Archdiocese of Manila through Cardinal Chito Tagle have requested.  They have asked us how they can be of help, and where to send all their donations. So we have united with the Diocese of Iligan to put up command centers at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Iligan City to be able to receive donations, and have organized volunteers to do the repacking and the distribution.

We are also working with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are with us in dialogue.  It is a great opportunity for us to show our solidarity in responding together to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those in the evacuation centers. So this is what we are doing.   If there is anything you can do to help us, to bring the attention of the world to what is happening in Marawi right now, to our relief operations, we would appreciate it so much.

One of the evacuation centers for Marawi City refugees. (Photo: Ms. Sittie Ainah U Balt/ ACN).

Interview: Jonathan Luciano, ACN Philippines
English adaptation: R.P.Delaney for ACN Canada

ACN INTERVIEW – Bishops of Venezuela call on governement

25.05.2017 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Venezuela
Photograph María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)


The call of  Venezuelan bishops to the government

Cardinal Baltazar Porras: “The room to manoeuvre freely is getting smaller and smaller. At the moment, everything here is one-dimensional.”

During a visit to the international head office of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the archbishop of Mérida, Venezuela, Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras, spoke with María Lozano about the exceedingly grave condition of the country and emphasizing the terrible situation the people are in due to of a lack of medicine and food. He also spoke about  the prayer day for peace in Venezuela held this past Sunday, May 21, initiated by the Bishops’ Conference.

Over the last few weeks, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has released two statements on the grave events and the violent political conflicts currently taking place in the country. They are calling for Venezuelans to “repudiate each and every violent statement and to respect the rights of all citizens.” The Bishops’ Conference underlined the duty of the state constitution to ensure that “civil and non-violent protest is possible.” In their last letter dated May 5, the bishops described the latest decisions of the Maduro government and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice as “misguided” and “unnecessary.” They asked that the “constitution not be changed, but followed.” The government should concentrate on the country’s current problems, such as the lack of “foods, medicine, freedom, personal and legal safety as well as peace.”


Cardinal Porras, one of the signatories of the letters and honorary chair of the Bishops’ Conference, explained during his visit to the international pontifical charity, ACN, the necessity of these declarations on the part of the Venezuelan church, which needs to take on a “responsible role.” He describes this role as “a kind of subsidiarity task that goes beyond that which would be necessary in other circumstances and says that, at the moment, “the people face reprisals when they do not agree with the official politics or if they hold a different opinion: threats, fines, prison sentences, deportation … The current social climate can scarcely be understood from the outside. The room to manoeuvre freely is getting smaller and smaller. At the moment, everything here is one-dimensional.”

In this context, the archbishop of Mérida considers the lack of respect for the right to pluralism to be especially serious. “It is all about pushing through a system in which nothing other than the official opinion counts. The others are not allowed. If, for example, a demonstration is planned, a parallel event is immediately organized on the same day and at the same time. It is all about showing who is more powerful.” Cardinal Porras deplores that “the discourse on class warfare” is still alive in Venezuela. “One person achieves something by using hatred against the other. This is the militaristic discourse of ‘anyone who is not with me, is against me’. Eliminating the enemy is the only important thing. This has torn social coexistence apart.”

The archbishop does not mention Nicolás Maduro by name. But the responsibility of the current government is assumed when the cardinal emphasizes that the root of the problem can be traced back to much earlier times. “The 18 years of the Chávez government and then Maduro are also the result of the deterioration that occurred during the years preceding them. Venezuela was able to grow thanks to oil. The country grew both economically and in its infrastructure. But the accelerated growth also led the governing class to forget the people. After all, this is a gift of nature and not the result of personal hard work. The government did a lot of things, but they forgot the people. This is why the ‘Messianic’ discourse was later taken up with such enthusiasm.”


Obstacles to humanitarian aid

A native of Caracas, the 72-year-old cardinal openly criticizes “the pooling of all government powers. This leads to impunity and corruption.” A key to the problem is also the desire to always make others responsible for the bad. “This is repeated over and over again. All bad things are ascribed to others. Or, comparisons are made to the past. This is how teenagers act! For example, when the fact that there are political prisoners in Venezuela today is called into question, the response is that there were also political prisoners in the past. But the problems are here now, especially the lack of food and medicine as well as safety.”

These are the three problems that the archbishop worries about most. It is obvious just by looking at him. “I had to bury a 35-year-old priest who had had a cerebral haemorrhage. According to the physicians, he could have been saved had a certain drug been available to us, one that is not that unusual. But we did not have it. And so, he died. This happens every day. Because we do not even have the basic supplies for surgical procedures, for accidents, for old people or babies, who usually need a more special kind of medication.”

Officially, “this is all disclaimed. It is not acceptable to talk about humanitarian aid. Because according to official reports, we have everything. But anyone who travels to Venezuela can see that this is not the case. And anyone who gives voice to this arouses the suspicion of standing for something else.” Cardinal Porras, who is also the director of Caritas Venezuela, thanks the international community for the support it has provided. However, inside the country, he comes up “against a wall. It is very difficult to build a bridge to ensure that the aid arrives. Because we come up against obstacles.” The media plays an equally important role in the internal conflict. The political disputes have been transformed into a media war. “If I say, ‘medicine is not available here,’ a photograph of medicine immediately appears. It is then said: ‘that is not true, look at this’. And this happens with everything, with food, with domestic security, etc.”

Photograph María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

“The family, diversity, and consensus are threatened.

The church is trying to defend them.”

When you talk about solutions, the question arises whether the Venezuelan people are not sick of dialogue yet. “Talking about the dialogue in Venezuela today is almost an insult because experiences have been terrible. Dialogue was used merely as a photo opportunity. The actual problems were not talked about, they have not been solved. In order for this to be possible, the other person has to accept you as a discussion partner.” This is why the archbishop insists that a second side is indispensable for achieving a real dialogue. “Holding to agreements. A real offer was made to keep agreements, but these were never kept. Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin addressed this in a letter from December 2016. He wrote that there can be no dialogue as long as not even the slightest attempt is made to keep agreements. This may be why the cardinal prefers to talk about consensus and pluralism instead of using the hackneyed and manipulated term “dialogue.” “Dispute is not a part of our culture. One example: people used to prefer to go to a baseball game – the most popular sport in our country – together with someone who was a fan of the other team. This was a lot more fun for them. This friendly disposition has been diluted. Now everything is about politics and you can only be for it or against it. Life is very rich and now everything is about politics. The family, diversity, and consensus are threatened. The church is trying to defend them.”

He asks the international community “to try to get real and timely information so as not to be taken in by lies.” He also asks for prayers and support. “It is all too understandable that everyone is busy with their own daily challenges, but we live in a globalized world. This is even more the case for the Christians. In Venezuela, we need prayer as a source of inner strength that prevents us from being robbed of hope and joy. Difficulties are there to be overcome and not to make us cry.”

Conferencia Episcopal de Venezuela

A day of  prayer was initiated by the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela on Sunday, May 21 – “to end violence and state oppression as well as to search for ways of communication and reconciliation.”

Contact to the world church – according to Cardinal Porras – lends courage. It “leads us to feel a growing desire to overcome the difficulties. They are an incentive to continue to do everything imaginable for our brothers and sisters. I would like to say one more thing. Among the medicine that we are allowed to receive in Mérida, there were also small boxes bearing labels written in Arabic and English. Puzzled, I asked where this medicine had come from. They had been sent to us from Christians in Egypt. When several days later an attack was carried out against Christians in this country, I was deeply moved and felt a profound connection to this country. Samaritan solidarity leads us to give our material and spiritual best.”




ACN Feature Story – Where priests double as master-builders

23.05.2017 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Daniele Piccini, Chaldean Catholic, Iraq, Persecution of Christians, Reconstruction

Nineveh Plains

Where priests double as master-builders

Meet Father Georges Jahola of the Syriac Catholic Church, and Father Salar Boudagh of the Chaldean Catholic Church, in charge of the reconstruction work in some of the Christian villages on the Nineveh Plains.

Fr. Georges Jahola, a Syrian-Catholic priest from Qarakosh

It happens that Catholic priests must suddenly improvise and move into other roles – such as educators, parents, advisors, teachers and sometimes even as technical instructors. In Iraq, where the so-called Islamic State has damaged or destroyed almost 13,000 homes belonging to Christian families on the Nineveh plains, they have been required to assume the role of engineers and master-builders, in the interests of seeing their Catholic faithful return to their hometowns and villages, one day.

The study of building plans sometimes takes the place of other more priestly duties and the priests, after having celebrated Holy Mass, are soon on the telephone, ordering electrical equipment, window fittings, sanitary ware and other building materials. “Here in Iraq, if the Church does not tackle these things, who else will do it? We have the skills, the ability to engage in dialogue and the necessary contacts,” explains Father Georges Jahola, who originates from the town of Baghdeda (Qaraqosh) and a member of the “Nineveh Reconstruction Commitee” (NRC). This committee set up by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) as a body tasked with planning and supervising the rebuilding of thousands of Christian homes destroyed by IS.

Fr. Salar Boudagh, from Iraq, Diocese of Alqosh

In Baghdeda, no fewer than 6,327 homes belonging to the Syriac Catholic Christians are in need of rebuilding (at least 108 of them destroyed), while those of the Syriac Orthodox Christians number 400 (only seven of which have been totally destroyed). However, there is no lack of enthusiasm or ability. “After the liberation of the town, between  November 11 and December 3, 2016, we spent 15 working days photographing 6,000 houses in Baghdeda,” explains Father Jahola. “We divided them up and mapped them sector by sector, assessing the degree of damage in each case. There are houses that are very badly damaged or even destroyed, which need complete rebuilding; houses that have been burned or struck by missiles, which can still be rebuilt. And then, there are houses that have been only partially damaged and can be repaired without much difficulty. We began work with a team of 20 volunteer engineers. Today I have 40 of them helping me and almost 2000 able-bodied workers ready to start work. We are optimistic about it. The re-connection of the electricity supply is slowly being extended throughout the town.”

Reestablishing Christianity in the lands of the prophets

The first rebuilding projects are focusing on those villages where IS only stayed for a short time, without doing too much damage. “We have begun rebuilding work in Telleskof and Bakofa, because the damage to the houses is not too serious, unlike in Badnaya, where 80% of the houses have been destroyed,” explains Father Salar Boudagh, 35, vicar general of the Chaldean diocese of Alqosh and a member of the NRC, now responsible for the rebuilding work of five Chaldean Catholic villages in  the Niniveh plains: Telleskof, Bakofa, Badnaya, Telkef, in the eastern section, and Karamless, in the western sector of the Niniveh plains.

“Before the arrival of IS,” continues Father Salar, “there were 1,450 families living in Telleskof, 110 in Bakofa, 950 in Badnaya, over 700 in Telkef and 875 in Karamless. For these families the first precondition for returning to their villages is security. Our area, the eastern part of the Niniveh plains, is patrolled by a Christian security force, the Zeravani, who can give us a 100% guarantee of security. They are an official militia who are paid a salary by Kurdistan.”

The second condition is the financial resources. The almost 13,000 houses that now need rebuilding, following the ravages of IS, have been divided according to the “coefficient of damage.” “It costs 7,000 dollars to refurbish a home that has been lightly damaged,” Father Salar explains, reading the figures from his smartphone. “To repair a house that has been burned out costs 25,000; to rebuild a house that has been totally destroyed costs 65,000 dollars. I pray to God,” he concludes, “that the benefactors of ACN, who have helped us so much up till now, will continue to help us in every way possible – to rebuild our homes and our villages, to encourage the families to return and re-establish Christianity in the land of the prophets.”


Article: Daniele Piccini, ACN International
English adaptation : Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada



ACN NEWS: Priest stabbed in Mexico City

17.05.2017 in ACN International, ACN Mexico, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Mexico City

Priest in critical condition

Catholic priest is stabbed in Mexico Cathedral – Father Miguel Ángel Machorro in critical condition

Father Miguel Ángel Machorro, who was stabbed Monday evening, May 15, at the main altar in Mexico’s Metropolitan cathedral, is hovering between life and death, according to a press release issued last night in the cathedral itself.

Speaking on behalf on the cathedral chapter, Father Ricardo Valenzuela, the senior sacristan and liturgical director of the cathedral, expressed his concern for the health of the priest and asked for the prayers of all the Catholic faithful. He explained that Father Machorro was close to the cathedral of Mexico city and involved in some of its liturgical ceremonies.

Father Valenzuela also announced that Holy Mass would continue to be celebrated at the normal times and that Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the Archbishop and Primate of Mexico, was currently in Rome. He will decide on the need to celebrate a special Mass of atonement on account of this sacrilegious attack. The Cardinal will be returning to Mexico in time to celebrate the Sunday Mass.

“…in recent years there had been almost 30 violent incursions during religious worship in the cathedral…”

Dr Armando Martínez, the president of the College of Catholic Lawyers, energetically condemned the attack and called for a full investigation and the rigourous application of the law. He confirmed that the attacker had been arrested by the federal police and was being dealt with by the public prosecutor, and he also thanked the Mexico City authorities for having transferred the wounded priest by helicopter to a private hospital, where he is currently being cared for.

Dr Martínez explained that in recent years there had been almost 30 violent incursions during religious worship in the cathedral, most of them carried out by factional groups, as a result which increased levels of security had been introduced. However, the police units assigned to the cathedral have been more focused on the security of the ordinary Catholic faithful and of the property itself. Never before has there been a direct attack of this kind against any priest of the cathedral, nor indeed against the Cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera. This attack had taken everyone by surprise.

The authorities are currently investigating the incident, and consequently it has not yet been possible to give detailed answers to all of the questions asked by the press.

 Courtesy ACN Mexico

Photo: Press conference with Armando Martínez Gómez, president of the Bar Association of Catholic Lawyers, courtesy of the Archdiocese of Mexico City.  Father Ricardo Valenzuela, canon of the Cathedral.