ACN Project of the Week – Ethiopia

09.08.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Aid to refugees, Ethiopia, EVANGILIZATION, MOTORIZATION, Project of the Week



Bicycles for 30 catechists in Gambella


The apostolic vicariate of Gambella lies in the extreme west of Ethiopia, on the frontier with South Sudan. It is a remote and underdeveloped region where there is widespread poverty.


Therefore, there are recurrent and intermittent inter-tribal conflicts mainly between the more settled, farming tribes and the nomadic herders. The cattle eat the farmers’ crops, and the farmers are taking away the traditional grazing lands of the herders. In this conflict over scarce resources, there are frequent and violent clashes. Recently, there have also been clashes between the local population and refugees of the Nuer tribes from South Sudan.


According to the UNHCR, there are over 330,000 refugees from South Sudan in the area at present – almost as many people as the existing population of Gambella state. In early 2016 in particular, there was violent unrest here, with numerous deaths. The Catholic Church is working hard for peace and reconciliation. It is the only force in this region capable of combating the violence, hatred and rising anger in this volatile region of the world.

The people of Gambella thirst for the sacraments and especially to hear the Word of God for the first time.


Announcing the Good News in more villages!

There are many people in this corner of Ethiopia, a newly evangelized region, who have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many of them are open to the faith, well disposed to the activity of the Church and eager to receive baptism. However, the region is remote and the villages widely scattered. There are too few priests, and so the catechists play a vital role, both in preparing people for baptism and in promoting the process of peace and reconciliation.


On Sundays these catechists often have to travel many hours on foot to reach the villages where there is no priest to celebrate Holy Mass, in order to pray with them and instruct them in the Catholic Faith. In order to provide the catechists with more autonomy, ACN has promised 10, 875 dollars to equip some 30 of these catechists with one bicycle each, to help make more efficient use of their time and energies and help them to better carry out their vital and precious service.




In this way, they will reach more villages and devote themselves still more intensively to the work of evangelization.


*  United Nations High Commission for Refugees 

Ivory Coast – Self-sufficiency project: rice and maize fields for 20 parishes

03.07.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, EVANGILIZATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Ivory Coast, Pastoral care, Poverty

The following series of texts has an objective to introduce you to the many kinds of assistance needed by various organizations, parishes or Catholic communities throughout the world.  We invite you to travel with us to all the continents that you may see how very important your support is to them.

 Enjoy the read !


By ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

 For many years the 60 different ethnic groups living in Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) had rubbed shoulders peaceably enough. Towards the end of the 1990s however, the situation worsened and in 2002 a civil war broke out lasting until 2007. Even after the formal end of the civil war, this West African country – which earned its name from the lucrative ivory trade in which elephants were hunted in the region for many years – has continued to make headlines on account of routine violent flare-ups.

COTE-D'IVOIRE-1Today ordinary people are struggling to rebuild their lives. While on one hand this country is now economically the strongest member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), on the other hand over 43% of its population still live in poverty; indeed over 50% in many regions.

Ivory Coast has a very young population, with an average age of just 20 years of age. Almost 40% of the population of close to 22 million are children or young people aged 15 and under. Some 16.8% of the population are Catholic. Christians of all denominations account for something over one third of the total, while Muslims make up somewhat less than a third; 35% – the largest group by a small margin – belongs to various traditional African religions.

The Catholic Church is organized into 15 dioceses. The diocese of Odienné, located in the northwest of the country, is still very young. In fact, this year it will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. It lies in a region that was a bastion of the political opposition during the civil war and which consequently saw heavy fighting. For a time, when the country was divided in two, it lay within the territory controlled by the rebels of the Forces Nouvelles de Côte d’Ivoire.

The great poverty here is disquieting to Bishop Antoine Kone who is concerned for his people. He writes: “Most of the people here are small peasant farmers. They are dependent on the very rare rainfalls and on the infertile lateritic soils. The only people who manage to obtain a good harvest are those who can afford tractors, ploughing oxen, good quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. But all those things are too expensive for the majority of our Christian people.”

Resulting in, of course, impoverished parishes, because the people can barely afford to contribute. The bishop is hoping that the parishes obtain their own sources of income so as to become less dependent on financial support. His idea is to plant rice and maize fields to be maintained by the parishioners. At the same time the poor would also benefit. Bishop Antoine is thinking of the words of Jesus at the feeding of the 5,000: “Give them to eat yourselves!” (Mt 14:16). And he asks, “Can we preach the Gospel of life to men and women who have empty stomachs and who are malnourished?”

At a cost of $20,400 we can help some 20 parishes to plant their own fields. As the old proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.”

By supporting this project we will be helping the Church in Odienné to rely less on outside help.

If you wish to make a donation, please call us:  (514) 932-0552 or 1 (800) 585-6333

Pakistan – A chapel for a new Christian village for liberated slaves

26.06.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, CONSTRUCTION, EVANGILIZATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pastoral care, Persecution of Christians


The following series of texts has an objective to introduce you to the many kinds of assistance needed by various organizations, parishes or Catholic communities throughout the world.  We invite you to travel with us to all the continents that you may see how very important your support is to them.


Enjoy the read !


 By ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada


The parish of Saint-Paul resting approximately 25 km south-west of Faisalabad, conveys an atmosphere of peace. The school’s students have painted an outside enclosure wall within which stand a church, a presbytery and school, with colourful images depicting a peaceful world. One of these depicts a lamb, snuggling up trustingly against a lion. The priest has planted fruit trees, and inside the inner courtyard canaries twitter and pigeons coo, while the children play football.

This parish, which was only recently established in February 2010, serves 30 different villages. The parish priest, Father Emmanuel Parvez, certainly has his hands full. “In many villages the people do know that they are Catholics, but they have never seen a priest before,” he writes. “The catechists are a great help to me. They go into the villages, invite the people to pray and come to Holy Mass, visit the sick and prepare the faithful for the reception of the Sacraments. But we urgently need to have a second priest here.”

ACN has already helped with the construction of a new presbytery, since the old one only had one room which served the priest as a bedroom, a dining room, a sitting room and a workroom combined and was already too small, even for one priest.

Improving living conditions

Father Emmanuel has many plans. Above all, he wants to improve the living conditions of all the locals. Even the children have to work in one of the 25 local brickworks that are scattered all along the roadside in this area. The children make the bricks with their bare hands and leave them to dry in the sun. If it rains before the clay bricks have been fired in the kilns, whose tall chimneys dot the countryside, then all their work is wasted. The factory owner simply says, “How can I help the fact that it has started to rain?” And he refuses to pay them.

The people are trapped in near-slavery conditions and live with their families in unhygienic environments in near-destitution. They can lose their jobs from one day to the next, and then  forced to wander seeking shelter somewhere. Worst of all, if they must borrow money from the factory owner, for example, in the case of someone in the family falling ill who needs medical treatment – this can result in the family becoming still more indebted and dependent on the employer. It takes generations to obtain freedom from this kind of slavery debt, because they can never manage to pay back the initial loan at the horrendous interest rates which have been tacked on to the initial loan.

Now Father Emmanuel Parvez is assisting families like these to escape slavery. He wants to build a small settlement, and begin sheltering  families, initially 80 or son. Each will have their own little house, and there will be a school, a small medical aid post and a chapel. Father Pavez requested help from ACN for the construction of this little chapel.


A special gift

In fact, he has already been given a rather special gift for this chapel – a 2-foot-high statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. This copy of the miraculous replica came directly from the famous shrine in Prague. It is sure to be a source of consolation and of blessings for these Christians in Pakistan. For weeks, hundreds of children awaited the Child Jesus’ arrival to their village and prepared themselves for it through prayer. When the statue finally arrived, they welcomed it with a celebration of song and dance.

PAKISTAN-3These children, who have experienced poverty and slavery since their earliest years, are overjoyed that the Child Jesus himself has come to them. He will be given a place of honour in the chapel of the new village, where these former wage slaves are now able to live a life of genuine human dignity for the first time. He will be invoked above all for the protection of the children, who are so terribly threatened in Pakistan, and will also be a great attraction for Catholics from other parishes. Very soon a Holy Mass will be celebrated in Pansara in honour of the Child Jesus, and priests and faithful from the entire diocese of Faisalabad will be invited, as this replica of the renowned image of Prague is carried in solemn procession to its place of honour in the chapel.

Father Emmanuel is particularly concerned for the children who face many and continuing threats here in Pakistan, from the likes of poverty, child labour, terrorism and violence. He would like to help them enjoy a better future and protect them from harm. He has set up numerous different activities for children that are open to Muslim children as well. By playing and reflecting together, he believes they will come to a good and peaceful understanding in life. He is loved by many Muslim families as well, because he helps them too.

Family ties with Shahbaz Bhatti

Not only is Father Emmanuel tirelessly active in his own parish, but he also lectures at the seminary in Faisalabad – for he is a biblical scholar too. He also writes books for children and young people, based on the parables and miracles of Jesus. The students can perform these stories as plays, for example, and so come to appreciate them more deeply. He has written many other books besides, aimed at deepening faith.

PAKISTAN-1Aged 62, he is in fact a cousin of the Minorities’ Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was brutally gunned down by machine guns by extremists in March 2011, for having opposed Pakistan’s iniquitous blasphemy laws. Just three weeks after Bhatti’s murder, the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference made an official request to the Vatican to have his name included in the list of Martyrs of the Universal Church. Already in his last interview, the Catholic minister had described his commitment as a “witness for Christ.” Several of Shahbaz Bhatti’s family members have since left Pakistan because they fear for their lives. Father Emmanuel himself has also received threatening phone calls. But he is staying, for he says, “It is better to be a martyr than a refugee.” There are many others who need his priestly ministry, his help and his intrepid witness.There is still a great deal that he wants to do for the people in Pansara.

Father Emmanuel Parvez has asked our help to build a chapel in his village of former slaves. We would like to support his project with a contribution of $17,650.

Will you help us?



If you wish to make a donation, please call us:  (514) 932-0552 or 1 800 585 6333

Bolivia – Support for the life and ministry of the “Hermanas Marianitas”

25.06.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, CONSECRATED LIFE, EVANGILIZATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need


The following series of texts has the objective of introducing you to the many kinds of aid needed by various organizations, parishes or Catholic communities throughout the world.  We invite you to travel with us to every  continent, that you may see how very important your support is.


Enjoy the read !


By ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

After Haiti, Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America. Two thirds of its close to 11 million inhabitants – the great majority of whom belong to the indigenous population – live in poverty and 40% of them in what is classed as extreme poverty. Roughly 83% of the population is Catholic.

In the diocese of Cochabamba there are more than one and a half million Catholics. They are ministered to by just 130 diocesan and religious priests – a ratio of almost 12,000 Catholic faithful for each priest. The average size of each parish is approximately 442 km² – almost double the size of a city like Vancouver, Canada.

In the south of the diocese of Cochabamba, in the region of Alto Pagador, four nuns belonging to the congregation of the Hermanas Marianitas (Marian Sisters) are engaged in offering pastoral care. In a region where there is a great deal of poverty and high unemployment, medical provisions are scarce and basic – nor is there running water or proper drainage. Many women attempt to make a living through illegal trade, while the men who do have work, toil on building sites or work as taxi drivers. Yet the cost of living is climbing constantly, and even when both husband and wife have work, their income is often still not enough to feed their families. Many families break up as a result of the strain.

BOLIVIE-2Father Marco Verberckt writes: “For over 10 years the sisters have been devoted, heart, life and soul, to the work of pastoral care in this parish, above all in the Mary of Nazareth Centre, where they are the ones mainly responsible for the pastoral work. They care above all for needy children and women and provide a midday meals service for schoolchildren. They are engaged in catechetical work with the children and young people and in guiding and encouraging the various youth groups and the childhood and youth missionary groups.”

Two of the sisters also teach in a local school, but the salary they receive is not enough to cover their basic needs. ACN is helping with a contribution of $1,570 to help cover the most basic costs of their life and ministry that they can continue in their vocation to give their lives for others.

If you wish to make a donation, please call us:  (514) 932-0552 or 1 800 585 6333


01.06.2013 in ACN International, EVANGILIZATION, FORMATION, IFHIM, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Liturgical dance, Religious education, Religious formation

After being greeted with two liturgical songs, let us today go with something more festive! A Latino dance called La cadena, which speaks about building a bridge of Peace (music by Rafaël Manzanares Aguilar).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NVl41Y_ei8&w=420&h=315]

Not to miss! Tomorrow’s conclusion of this series of dances and song from the students at IFHIM – with the Hail Mary set to music in Senegalese.

Brazil – An appointment with the Pope

31.05.2013 in ACN Canada, Brazil, EVANGILIZATION, Pope

ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Griffin BRÉSIL -1-

“I look forward joyfully to this coming July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil!” Pope Francis called out these words on Palm Sunday to the young people of the world. His invitation includes not only the young people from those wealthier nations which can afford the cost of the journey to Rio. “Go and make disciples of all nations” is the theme of this year’s World Youth Day. Young people from all over the world will converge upon Rio and together bear witness there to Christ. And above all the young people from those countries where Christians face oppression and want will be giving a special kind of testimony. But they themselves will also be strengthened in turn by the experience of sharing their faith with millions of other young people. They will understand that they are by no means a minority, but instead belong to the immense family of the Universal Church.

A group of 100 young people from Baghdad will be among those attending the World Youth Day, as representatives of all their peers in Iraq. The fate of the Christians in Iraq is an issue close to the heart of Pope Francis. When the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako, visited the Holy Father the week after his election and told him of the suffering of Iraqi Christians, the Pope was moved to tears. A thousand Christian martyrs in the space of ten years, sixty churches attacked, fear, death and persecution at every verse and turn… The “appointment with the Pope” will strengthen and encourage these young Iraqis. It will be tangible proof for them that they are not simply a marginalised minority. ACN is helping with a contribution of 20,000 Euros, so that these young people from Baghdad can also respond to the Pope’s invitation.

The young people of Haiti can also do with some encouragement, since theirs is the poorest country in Latin America and one of the most underdeveloped nations on earth. Social violence, natural disasters – including of course the devastating earthquake of January 2010, which claimed over a quarter of a million lives – political unrest, poverty and hunger have plagued this country, which seems to have been spared almost no imaginable suffering. Now young representatives will travel to Rio from all ten dioceses in the country and later returned to share with their friends the fire of their enthusiasm and the sense of being part of the wider, Universal Church. Despair will not be allowed to have the last word; instead, the encounter with the Holy Father and with millions of other young people from all over the world will be an unforgettable experience for them all. Later, in August some of the dioceses in Haiti will be organising their own youth meetings, in which the young men and women who were not able to travel to Rio will be able to share in this message. Consequently ACN is not only contributing to the travel costs of the young delegates who will be travelling to Rio, but will also, with a contribution of 12,000 Euros, be supporting the youth meeting in the Haitian diocese of Jérémie, where almost a thousand young people from the 39 parishes of the diocese will be taking part.

From Egypt too there will be a delegation of young people attending the World Youth Day. Many young people in this country have been disappointed and disillusioned by events at home, where the so-called “Arab spring” has been unmasked as a winter and their hopes have been betrayed. In fact, for Christians in particular, life has become harder than ever. With a contribution of 10,000 Euros ACN has made it possible for 49 young Egyptians to attend, as heralds of new hope for the Church in their country.

BRÉSIL -2-The experience itself is important. Right from the start, faith was a matter of experience. The living encounter, the personal approach, the immediate contact – all this we read about in the Gospels. But it is equally necessary to nourish this enthusiasm with knowledge and to prepare properly for this great event. Consequently ACN is also helping to fund the distribution of a million copies of the youth catechism YOUCAT, which already proved such a great success at the last World Youth Day in Madrid.

Pope Francis is looking forward to the World Youth Day. In his address on Palm Sunday he said, “Young persons, you must tell the world that it’s good to follow Jesus that it’s good to go with Jesus. Jesus’ message is good. It’s good to go outside ourselves to the ends of the earth, and outside of our own existence, to bring Jesus!”

Let us help these young people from the countries where the Church is particularly in need to follow his invitation.

IFHIM – Liturgical Song 2

31.05.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, EVANGILIZATION, FORMATION, IFHIM, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious education, Religious formation

Today we have the pleasure of offering you a second liturgical song entitled Have No Fear ( text according to Isaiah 43, musical arrangement by Jean- Jean-Baptiste Sarton du Jonchay).

Ne crains pas je suis ton Dieu
C’est moi qui t’ai choisi, appelé par ton nom.
Tu as du prix à mes yeux et je t’aime.
Ne crains pas car je suis avec toi.

Contre-chant :

Va, avec la force qui t’anime
Va vers tous les peuples de la terre
Pour bâtir des ponts de paix
Pour que l’amour soit vivant
Va ne crains pas, je suis avec toi.

Le Seigneur m’a appelé dès le sein de ma mère,
Il a prononcé mon nom
C’est lui qui m’a formé pour être son serviteur
Le témoin de sa paix.


Have no fear, I am your God
It is I who chose you, called by your name.
You have worth in my eyes and I love you.

Have no fear, I am with you.

Go, with the power that animates you
Go to all the peoples of the world
To build bridges of Peace
So that love is alive

Go, have no fear, I am with you.

The Lord has been calling to me since I nursed at my mother’s breast
He spoke my name
It is He who molded me to be His servant
To bear witness to His Peace.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFUA9DZaseM&w=560&h=315]

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s video of a Latin-American dance!

Interview with Head of Projects – Regina Lynch

16.05.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, CONSTRUCTION, EVANGILIZATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, MEDIA, Nigeria, TRAINING

REGINA-1On the program VUES D’AILLEURS (broadcast uniquely in French on Radio Ville-Marie Wednesday May 8th) Robert Lalonde, an ACN journalist,  interviewed Regina Lynch, Director of Projects at Aid to the Church in Need, International.

 Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Regina Lynch is surrounded by a team of 35 persons, divided into twelve project sections :  Africa, Asia, Near and Middle-East, Latin America and Eastern Europe – together they study between 6000 and 6500 projects per year with certain criteria and priorities in mind.


 How do you study a project before accepting to support it?

There are first of all, the priorities according to countries and next the priorities according to the types of projects.

For example, there is the persecuted or threatened Church due to communism, such as in China or in Cuba, where though the situation has progressed, the needs persist.  There is also, as the bishops report back to us, the persecuted Church in the countries where Islamization exists in more and more of an aggressive way, like some countries in Africa and Israel where there were however very peaceful coexistences between Muslims and their Christian neighbours.  There were even situations where our Muslim brothers helped Christians to construct churches.

As for the priorities according to different types of projects, well, the number one priority is formation.  I am speaking of the formation of future priests and religious sisters, but also of laypeople and catechists, and even sometimes students of theology – that is to say all formation which helps to deepen faith and to evangelize.  And, we must very well consider the shelter required for seminarians.  In order to do so, we help with the construction of seminaries; whereas in Vietnam, for example, we provide a means of transportation such as motorbikes for novices who are called to work in faraway parishes.  We also have publications such as the Child’s Bible and the Little Catechism “I Believe” which we provide in over 150 languages.  Moreover, in recent years, we received many requests for the Youth Catechism called the YOUCAT, which is also offered in many languages.

How do you hope to help the Church in Nigeria?

In order to answer, I must speak of the North of Nigeria, where there are many animists and where there are equally more and more terrorist attacks made by Boko Haram.  This is why, as the first order, we hope to have exchanges with the bishops and others who are responsible within the Catholic Church to better know their needs and better evaluate the current situation.  We also want know the status of the projects we have supported.  I am thinking here, for example, of a construction project to enlarge the Grand Seminary in the Archdiocese of Kaduna where the Church has the grace of having more and more seminarians, but not enough dormitories to lodge them in.

How are religions spread out in Nigeria?

In general, we can say that the South is mainly Christian, whereas the North is mostly Muslim.  Between the two are also animists who belong to traditional religions. Until recently, their coexistence was rather good and we even found some families made-up of Christians and of Muslims.  However, the apparition of Boko Haram caused alot of harm, killing and wounding many people – as many Christians as Muslims, creating thus a great deal of tension.  At present, the bishops and religious Muslim leaders are dialoguing in an effort to find solutions and avoid yet greater divisions amidst the population.

Do local Muslims condemn the acts posed by Boko Haram?

Certainly!  In the media, we can see the condemnations clearly set forth by the Muslim communities in reaction to these acts.  The great majority do not accept the violent acts of Boko Haram that many among them have actually been victim to.  It must be made clear, however, that Boko Haram is attacking everything that comes from the West, and for them, being Christian is representative of the West.

Would you be able to recall for us a few of the attacks claimed by Boko Haram?

Spontaneously, I can recall two grave attacks.  The first happened on December 25, 2011, at the St Teresa of Madalla Church in the diocese of Minna.  As the Mass ended, a bomb exploded killing 44 and many more were wounded.  And then, one Sunday, in March 2012, in a church which is part of the Archdiocese of Jos, as the parishioners were leaving after Mass, there was an attack which caused the death of 10 people. These unexpected attacks shocked the entire population.  Lastly, more recently, in mid-April, in the small village of Paga, in the state of Borno in the northeastern part of the country,  bordering  Chad and Niger, there was an attack which caused 185 deaths.

Would you say that the government has the will to put an end to the terrorist acts led by Boko Haram?

There have been a few attempts at dialogue with Boko Haram, the first of which failed and more recently, Nigeria’s president tried to reach them, but, it is difficult to specify the results of all that. However, the Church, for her part, in keeping with her Faith, has a great desire to forgive and to dialogue with the Muslim communities and to find common solutions. It is very important for the stability of the region.

And what are the bishops saying about the situation facing the problems with Boko Haram?

It is very clear to them that this is not a war about religion.  According to them, it is truly terrorists who are using religion as a pretext to justify the violence.  It must be said that this region is a very poor one, even if Nigeria is about to become one of the richest countries in Africa with all their petrol.  But this money does not benefit the poor. And so, we evaluated that 70% Nigeria’s population is poor.  This great difference between rich and poor causes violent reactions.  When nothing changes, groups form and react with violence before these injustices.

With all these years of service behind you and the important responsibilities that your position requires, you have been called to travel on many occasions.  If I asked you to tell of the most difficult experience that you had to live through, spontaneously, what would you tell us about?

I am reminded of a trip to China where many priests and religious sisters had gone missing and where I met a very young bishop who was chosen by the Pope, but not by the government.  He suffered greatly because of this, even if he is now accepted by the government but, nonetheless, constantly under their surveillance.   I asked him how he managed to live under such conditions. He answered me, crying, that he often felt isolated and that he found it difficult.  However, with courage, he continues to take care of his faithful. This is why I think that it is very important to pray for our brothers and sisters in these Churches who suffer and who are persecuted.  It helps them come out of isolation and gives them a lot of strength.

And on the other hand, if I asked you to tell us about one of your loveliest memories…

Oh!  That is very difficult!  There are many, but I think they are all of the same kind.  I mean to say that I have often been impressed by the faith in people that I have met.  They are often humble people, with little education and living in difficult situations, such as in China, or in Pakistan or Iraq; these are people who accept suffering because of their Faith.

I am reminded, among other, of a Pakistani man who was  accused of having burned pages of the Qur’an.  This man did not know how to read or write.  He was arrested and tortured after refusing to convert to Islam.  And, when I asked him why he refused, he simply responded: “Christ suffered a great deal more than me.” This kind of answer always challenges my own faith.  I ask myself if I would be able to hold on like they do.  They are a great inspiration.


Interview with Sister Maria Bassaga from Cameroon

03.05.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, EVANGILIZATION, IFHIM, Prison ministry, Religious education, Religious formation

Soeur Maria 1Sister Maria, you have been consecrated to the religious life for over 10 years.  Can you tell us about the journey you took to make this important decision?

In my village, there is a grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Each year, in the month of February, pilgrims gather to spend a week in prayer.  I can remember that at about the age of seven, I was teasing my sister, saying that one day I would become a nun.  But this idea disappeared around the age of twelve.  But when I reached the age of 18 – when the time to choose for my future – the idea manifested once again.  I then felt called from within to become a nun and to serve the world.  I told my mother and all my sisters only to find out, quite curiously, that I was not supported by any of them.  With the exception of my aunt, my entire family was against my call to this vocation.

At some point I began to work with Msgr. Thomas Mongo and confided in him my need to serve the Lord through becoming a religious sister.  After listening to me explain the situation, he asked me for permission to call my mother.  He asked her to come to meet him, and then asked her how many children she had.  And so then he said: “Jeanne, if you have eight children, why are you reticent?  Could it be that God wants you to give him one of them?” It was then that my mother realized that she had to let me enter religious life.  When I took my vows, she cried tears of joy at seeing me so happy.

Can you speak to us about the congregation for whom you perform your work?

The Congregation of the Servant Sisters of Douala is a diocesan congregation which was founded by a Spiritan priest, Msgr Mathurin Le Mailloux, who, when arriving in Douala, felt the mission was solely supported by priests and that there was neither an indigenous congregation nor an international congregation.

So, it began with the Sisters of Mary and the Servants of Mary.  When the diocese was divided, the Daughters of Mary remained in the political capital of Yaoundé and we stayed in the economic capital of Douala.  This is how our congregation was born.  We are available to move into any situation where there are urgent needs, especially those related to education and health.

You recently sent a project request for construction to Aid to the Church in Need.  Can you describe it for us?

We are currently living in the noviciate where our congregation first settled more than 100 years ago.  We thought at first we would be able to do repairs, but experts told us that the buildings held such risks that they couldn’t repair them.  This is why it is important to rebuild one or two new ones such as the old buildings with dispensaries, a college and a residence for girls and boys – we thought of settling the sisters above and the children below with the teacher.  Seeing as our diocesan community is aboriginal, we have few subsidies issuing from elsewhere.

You underwent training at the Instititut de formation humaine intégrale de Montréal (Montreal Institute for Human Integral Formation) Can you tell us what the formation offered you in concrete terms?

It is thanks to Aid to the Church in Need that I was able to undergo this formation.  First of all, it allowed me to observe what was going on within me and give me the tools to handle myself.  Consequently, it allows me to better help others, now. As the majority of the children entrusted to us by their parents are children with problems, I must accompany them and listen to them so they can uncover their abilities.  I was able to salvage a few who are now pursuing their studies at university.  One of them went to university and has found work.  In the meantime, there are others who cannot continue because they do not have the means, one of who is in his 2nd year.  This formation allowed me to better respond to my human and spiritual vocation.

We know that Cameroon is surrounded by countries with rather tumultuous climates these days.  For example, western Nigeria and Boko Harem, or the situation in the east of the Republic of Centralafrica where the rebel Seleca group is exercising Islamic rigorist pressures or in northeastern Chad where Seleca seems to be grouping together as well.  Would you say that Cameroon is currently subjected to these harmful influences?

I feel more like in Cameroon there is a collaborative spirit between the religions.  For example, when there is a marriage between a Protestant man and a Catholic woman, both a pastor and a priest come to celebrate the marriage together.  Or again, when the Pope came to visit, there was a sense of unity among Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.  It touches me very deeply to see that we can intermingle harmoniously with one another.

How is your community celebrating the Year of the Faith?

We did a three day pilgrimage to Marie Anvers, where the first missionaries of the Catholic Church settled.  Msgr John Bosco wanted to highlight the importance of feeling everyone engaged, as much in the celebrations as in the exchanges about faith.  Further, keeping in mind the Pope’s message, our Superior asked us to meditate and to share on four themes, one per week.  For example, yesterday, we spoke of the biblical teaching where we look at the courage of the apostles in their commitment to persist to the very end.Soeur Maria 2

If I asked you to tell us about an experience that was particularly moving for you over the course of your career, what would you talk about?

I would speak to you about my work in the prisons.  This year, I committed to not staying in our health center to attend to patients.  I go down to the villages, to the neighbourhoods, to live with them.  We organized our work by neighbourhood.  The Édéa prison happens to be in my neighbourhood.  So I decided to see how the prisoners live inside and I was deeply touched.  I then chose to contribute with what little that I have to offer.

When I entered, I was astonished to see the conditions in which they lived.  I didn’t think that human beings could live in such conditions. They are crammed together and the heat is suffocating.  You know, it is very hot in Cameroon.  They go in their cells at 5pm and do not come out before 7am and spend the night awake.  They have skin eruptions, hernias, some have diarrhea.  I was stunned.  Moreover, there is no sense of hygiene.  People eat without washing their hands, they eat where they urinate and defecate, and there are no garbage cans…

It allowed me to evaluate how I could be of service. Others have boils and abscesses.  I was obligated to go and see the nurse to verify the contents of the medicine cabinet.  I saw that there was no medication, no basic necessities, not even a bandage. I invited the nurse to come to our health center in order to give him the necessities so that he could help them a little. I will return in any case to treat them.

What kind of help are you looking for from people?

First of all, if there are people who come as tourists, I invite them to come and see us so they can witness to this reality which they probably would have a hard time believing.  I have never seen this elsewhere, myself.  You know, the images that you see in the newspapers and on the television do not reveal the gravity of the situation.

I even went to see the prefect of the prison to tell him “This can’t be true!  This is not alright!  Being in prison does not mean one is supposed to die.  Being in prison is about changing one’s life and returning to society.” He told me he would do something, but he did nothing. So, perhaps people can send us medication or make donations to Aid to the Church in Need on our behalf.

But if I had a message to transmit, it would be that of finding the means to help young people who are without parents and some of which are undergoing treatment for AIDS.  They need encouragement to go to school.  There are obviously many challenges.

The Builders of Bridges for Peace

29.04.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, CONSTRUCTION, EVANGILIZATION, MOTORIZATION, Pastoral care, Persecution of Christians, TRAINING

On April 6th, I had the privilege of attending an evening performance expressing the peace and gratitude of the students from l’Institut de fomation humaine integrale de Montréal (IFHIM) (Institute of Human Integral Training) to all of their benefactors, of whom you are included.  This week we would like to offer you this article about the evening I spent with them at the institute, which was also the subject of our show ‘Vue d’ailleurs’ last week.

 The above-mentioned evening gave me the opportunity to appreciate the extent to which these students, with their hearts filled with joy and with hope, are committed to this formation.  This joy comes from the gratitude of being able to live such an experience; and from this hope which they nourish by reflecting on the privilege they will have of transmitting to those who suffer, a capacity to become themselves and builders of bridges for peace.

Lead by Father Théodore Aimé Seck – a diocesan priest from Thiès Sénégal – in a cheerful and complicit way, the evening gave way to spiritual moments of great intensity that can only truly be inspired by altruistic love.  Songs, skits, and dance were on the programme for this evening of which the most touching moment, for me, was the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, sung in Portuguese by a choir of students which could have rivaled a professional choir.

Throughout the evening, I met many of the consecrated life with whom I had the joy of exchanging.  I even invited some of them to be interviewed on Vue D’ailleurs as I mentioned before.

Convincing testimonials

The first I came across were Sisters Leslie and Manette, two Haitian students in their third year with whom I recorded a radio program in September 2011. At that time, they shared with us their experience related to the terrible earthquake which shook Haiti in January 2010.  The transformation I noticed in them during this interval was surely tangible: more self-assurance in their remarks, sharp senses of humour and a contagious air of ‘joie de vivre’… The greatest joy for them came when these sisters had the opportunity to put into practice the principles assimilated during their formation by participating in a trip home – a third caravan of students to Haiti – between March 13 and 27.  They accompanied people and helped them rise from their trauma.  I invite you to listen to Vues D’ailleurs to hear more about their experiences.

Next, Sister Micheline, a Congolese sister from the Congregating of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Kongolo, who arrived at IFHIM in January 2010 and who was also one of my guests on last week’s show.  This sister, who is in her eighth year of consecrated life, and who looks very much like a novice due to her youthful appearance, came to do the formation following a recommendation from the bishop of her diocese.

In fact, the bishop’s suggestion was inspired because a sister from the same congregation underwent training at IFHIM some years ago.

Because of the way this other sister would go to the rescue of those who had lived a trauma such as rape, war and the like, and her notably similar  charism within her community, the bishop decided to invite the community to send another person to have the experience.

We must emphasize that the institutes’ mission corresponds very much to the types of projects that we support as it is meant as a formation destined as an end for pastoral work within countries of great need.

The last word

IFHIM SoiréeLastly, to close the evening festivities, Marie-Marcelle Desmarais, Director General of IFHIM, addressed the auditorium, warmly thanking all those present and inviting all the students to identify themselves along with their country of origin.  We went around the world!  Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Peru, Columbia, Haiti, India, South Korea… and more.

My inner joy was secured in the knowledge that all these people would eventually return to their respective countries, and transmit a message of love to all suffering people who will likely also one day become, one person at a time, a builder of bridges for peace.

Another evening entitled En route for peace will take place on May 11 at 8pm at the Sanctuaire Marie-Reine des Coeurs, situated at 5875 Sherbrooked East, in Montreal.  Come and take an International Voyage for Peace.