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ACN International

 

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!

India – ACN Success Story  A well for a boarding school run by Sisters

19.06.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, India

 

India – ACN Success Story

 A well for a boarding school run by Sisters

 

The Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple are an Italian congregation, founded in the 19th century. Their particular mission is the care of children and young girls. The congregation is present today in Italy, India, Djibouti and Somalia running:  schools, boarding schools, orphanages and leprosy centres. The Sisters also provide care for the elderly.

Published on the web, June 19, 2019

The town of Dhabhagudam in the diocese of Eluru (central part of the country), India, has a boarding school run by these Sisters where they teach between 140 to 150 children who live in the remote villages of the jungle region. This is the only way these kids can possibly attend school, for the people of the region are extremely poor, often working as day labourers and living precariously from hand to mouth. Very few of them can read or write. Alcohol abuse is widespread and causes devastation in the lives of many families.

These children would be condemned to an equally precarious existence were it not for the presence of the Sisters who have given them the opportunity to attend school and to learn. The fruits of their apostolate are quite evident: falling illiteracy rates, less child labour, and a decrease in the number of child marriages. All in all, awareness is gaining ground among the people that education is the key to a better future, at least for their children.

A well for all – thanks to you!

In early days, the one and only well was supplying not only the Sisters and the boarding school with clean water, but the surrounding population as well! Above all, by the elderly in the neighbourhood who were reliant on the Sisters‘ water supply, which was becoming increasingly problematic.

Now, thanks to our generous benefactors, we were able to give $11,500 to provide the Sisters with an additional water supply. They send their heartfelt thanks to you all.

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)

 

 

 

Religious Persecution: “Our silence is our shame”

07.06.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview

Religious Persecution: “Our silence is our shame”

On May 28, 2019 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution establishing August 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The proposed observance was tabled by Poland with the support the United States, Canada, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, serving the suffering and persecuted Christians for over 70 years, welcomes this resolution as a first step towards drawing greater attention to the as yet under recognized tragedy of religious persecution – particularly that of violence against Christians, to date the largest faith group experiencing persecution for religious belief. Maria Lozano interviewed Mark Riedemann, Aid to the Church in Need’s Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom.

Do you know how did the idea originate?

The initiative was initiated and carried out by Ms. Ewelina Ochab, lawyer, author and co-author of a number of books and articles addressing religious freedom.  In September 2017 after the success of the ACN-hosted international conference in Rome presenting the post-Daesh reconstruction of the Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains, Ms. Ochab proposed drawing global attention to religious freedom violations, and more specifically Christian persecution. We encouraged her call for action by the international community.

Throughout the 2018, she spoke at 17 conferences proposing the idea to a network of supporters including, among others, supportive representatives in the USA, UK and the EU. In mid-2018, the Foreign Ministry of the Polish government gave confirmation of support and the USA included the proposal in their Potomac declaration and action plan.  As Ms. Ochab told me: “Poland presented and proceeded with the steps necessary at the UN General Assembly, gaining support and working on the draft to ensure consensus. It was a long process with many people involved however, ACN was the inspiration.”

Is this a useful step? How can this promote religious freedom and prevent religion based violence?

This is not only a useful but crucial step. To date the international community’s response to religion based violence, and religious persecution in general, can be categorized as too little too late. This resolution is a clear message and mandate – and every August 22 a reminder – that acts of religion based violence cannot and will not be tolerated by the UN, member states, and civil society.

By implication, the protection of those suffering religion based violence is also a recognition of religious freedom: an acceptance of the sociological reality of religion in society, the positive role of religion in societies in guaranteeing plurality and furthering economic development, and, as Pope Benedict XVI stated, the fundamental right of the individual to seek Truth, to seek the transcendent, to seek God.

Is this a sign that religious violence is taken more seriously internationally and by the UN?

Tragically, research from international religious freedom reports such as those published by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Pew Research Center, and Aid to the Church in Need confirm an unprecedented increase in violence against religious believers of virtually every faith on every continent – with Christians suffering the greatest persecution. In the last five years alone we have witnessed two cases of genocide, as perpetrated by Daesh against Christians and minority religious groups in Iraq and Syria, and against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, not to mention the systematically organized atrocities increasingly perpetrated against (predominantly) Christians in Africa. Our silence is our shame.

What other measures need to be taken at UN level?

Religious groups are being eradicated from the places of their birth. Prior to the 2003 invasion Iraqi Christians numbered 1.3 million. Today there are at best 300,000. The importance is that this step, this day, not be treated as an end in itself, but understood as the beginning of a process towards an internationally coordinated (UN and member states) action plan working towards prevention – to end religious persecution.

What are the next steps?

The establishment of August 22 as a day recognizing those who have suffered religion based violence and focusing on the issue of religious persecution is an important step, but only a first step. It is up to states and civil societies to ensure that this symbolic action is turned into a meaningful one. The ultimate aim is to prevent acts of religious persecution in the future. This will not happen overnight as the necessary infrastructure is currently lacking. An important consideration is the establishment of a dedicated UN platform to which, for example, representatives of the persecuted groups or NGOs working with them, could engage and provide the first-hand information about their situation and the challenges they face. These case studies would serve as a basis for recognizing persecution trends, the perpetrators of such atrocities, how they operate, how they are funded, and in so doing help develop a tailored action plan to prevent such acts in the future – or prevent them from escalating to mass atrocities like genocide. A further measure to be taken is to address the present impunity for acts of religious persecution.  To date the unrecognized victims of, for example, the Daesh genocide, need to be provided with a comprehensive legal recourse to justice. The UN needs to work towards establishing an international tribunal addressing the issue of impunity for acts of religion based violence by groups ranging from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab to Daesh.

 

What is ACN’s help to persecuted Christians and why?

ACN seeks to draw attention and provide support to help keep the faith and the hope alive of those Christians who suffer and are persecuted for their religious beliefs. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we raised 120 million dollars last year and funded more than 5000 projects in some 145 countries. Our donors are the foundation on which we build bridges of faith, hope and charity. As much as the financial support is necessary, so too is the awareness about the suffering of these Christian communities – so that their cries do not unheard, that their suffering does not go unrecognised.

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 News – Electoral results in India, worrying

30.05.2019 in ACN International, By Maria Lozano, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN News – Electoral results in India, worrying

Elections in India

The recent victory of Narendra Modi is worrying to religious minorities

The parliamentary elections in India ended a few days ago. The nationalist ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprisingly won the world’s largest democratic election – with nearly 900 million voters. According to a source close to the Church, “the victory of Modi is a source of frustration and fear to the minorities in India.”

 

“The five years with Narendra Modi in power have brought many concerns and been extremely difficult for us. We are fearful that the next five years to come will be even worse.” This was the reaction of one source who spoke to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN, but who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons of security.

 

“The fact that the Hindu nationalist BJP party has won so overwhelmingly is a warning signal for us, since it shows that Hindu nationalism is growing and the minorities – both Christian and Muslim – often find ourselves abandoned in the face of social injustice and discriminated against even quite openly for religious reasons. But also because the Indian economy has been going downhill in recent years and the poor are now even poorer than before. The poorest classes are being overlooked and the rich are the only ones who have benefited,” the same source explained.

Manipulation of the vote

“Hindu nationalism does not want to see any changes in the social structures,” the source told the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “and many people in India are currently living in a state of semi-slavery. Those belonging to the lowest classes are used and exploited like slave labour.” One of the few institutions striving to change this situation is the Catholic Church, “and this why we are the target of discrimination and oppression.”

 

According to the same source, many people in India are in a state of shock. “We cannot quite believe what has happened. Even in those states and districts where surveys suggested the outlook was less favourable for Modi, in the end his party gained many more seats than had been predicted.” In addition to reports in some of the media which have spoken of manipulation of the electronic voting system, there have also been allegations of vote buying. This was also confirmed by the contact who spoke to ACN. “I also saw how hundreds of destitute day labourers were called together just a few days before the elections and how they were each given 3,000 Rupees (close to $60) on behalf of the Nationalist People’s Party.”

 

ACN’s contact concluded with an appeal for prayers for his country and added, “It is very dangerous to speak against the government; almost nobody dares to do so nowadays, since they have converted themselves into an authoritarian party. But I want people to know what things are like for us, since the world needs to know that the situation is a bad one and that we are afraid. These have already been five years filled with fear, and now we are asking ourselves what the future is going to hold for us?”

 

We would like to invite you to pray for the peoples of India, for the religious minorities threatened by discrimination and persecution in certain States, and to pray for our sisters and brothers in the faith.  Amen.

 

by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web: Thursday May 30, 2019

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.