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Feature Story

 

ACN Feature Story – Helplessness at the Venezuelan border

14.06.2018 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Johan Pacheco, Feature Story, Venezuela

Aid to the Church in Need recently visited the town of San Antonio de Tachira, in Colombia, in order to offer support and show solidarity with the dioceses on the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia in the present difficult situation and to study the possibility of providing support in the future for the planned migrant hostel, the Casa del Migrante.

 


 Venezuela

A picture of helplessness on the Venezuelan border

Since the recent controversial presidential elections in Venezuela (in which President Maduro was re-elected in a manner deemed fraudulent by his opponents), the flood of migrants seeking better prospects in other nations has continued to grow, creating an emergency in which thousands of Venezuelans are in need of help as they attempt to cross the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia.

 

On the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, which links the two cities of San Antonio del Táchira (Venezuela) and San José de Cúcuta (Colombia), the security checks are strict for everyone attempting to leave Venezuela, a country that is undergoing a grave political, economic and social crisis. Many people do not succeed in crossing over the border, and as a result, they are forced to wander the streets of this border-town in search of humanitarian aid.

 

A significant increase in Venezuelan migrants

That is what happened to Fernando and Marisela and their two children aged three and seven, Luis and Camila.  The family travelled from Caracas hoping to cross the border and aiming to travel as far as Ecuador, but because of difficulties with the children’s papers, they were unable to leave the country.

“Life is difficult in the capital; it’s better to emigrate,” says Fernando. But now, with dwindling funds, they have to spend the nights in the town square, along with other would-be migrants, and do casual work while trying to find a solution to their problems and continue their journey.

A report published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on 14 May this year indicates that the number of Venezuelan migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean grew from 89,000 in 2015 to 900,000 in 2017 – a growth rate of over 900%. That is without counting the Venezuelan citizens who cross the border illegally into Colombia or Brazil.

Hundreds of people cross this bridge every day on foot – as it has been closed to vehicular traffic since August 2015. Some people use this crossing in order to travel on to other countries of South America, while others head for the city of Cúcuta, hoping to buy food or medicines and then return. A few people decide to stay on at the frontier, seeking casual work of one kind or another.

Like young Andrés Vargas, for example. Aged 18, he travelled from Barquisimeto, hoping to get to Chile, but his money ran out, so he decided to stay at the border. “Here I manage to earn a little money taking other travelers to the ticket sales office, and that’s enough for me to eat and from time to time pay for accommodation,” he explains.

Some people, after a long journey, find themselves unable to cross over because they have arrived at the wrong time, since the crossing is completely closed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. That is what happened to the Fonseca family – father, mother and their three young daughters – after travelling for 12 hours by bus from Valencia. When they arrived at San Antonio, the crossing was closed, so they had to spend the night in the street in the open air. “It was an adventure. That unpleasant night was like nothing we had experienced in the last few years,” Carlos Fonseca explains.

 

The Church in Venezuela – guided by the Holy Spirit

For Bishop Mario Moronta of the diocese of San Cristóbal in Venezuela, the situation on the frontier here is “a picture of the helplessness of so many Venezuelans who cannot obtain even the most basic necessities for daily life – food, medicines and other similar things.”

Faced with such a situation, the bishop assures us, “The Church, moved and guided by the Holy Spirit, is trying to address the situation with her charitable work, doing whatever lies within her power, humanly speaking, to help the migrants.”

Father Reinaldo Contreras, the rector of the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, which is just a few metres from the border, explains that the Church is responding to this situation through her social outreach – but “with great difficulty, given the shortages and the high prices of food and the lack of any infrastructure for providing adequate care for the migrants,” he adds.

Nevertheless, the parishes on this major border-crossing run regular daily feeding programs so as to provide the most vulnerable migrants with at least one square meal. Father Reinaldo also explained how they are investigating the possibility of doing up some kind of a centre as a migrant hostel, so that they can offer a more comprehensive form of aid.

Many of the migrants who succeed in crossing the frontier into Colombia also receive help from the “Casa de Paso Divina Misericordia”, the Divine Mercy overnight shelter belonging to the diocese of Cúcuta, which provides them with medical services, pastoral support and gives out over a thousand meals daily.

Bishop Victor Manuel Ochoa of Cúcuta, who has recently been in contact with the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), described the situation as “a drama of suffering” and asked for our prayers. “The Church is present here on the border. We wanted to be a helping hand to accompany our Venezuelan brothers and sisters in their suffering. I recall how Father Werenfried, the founder of ACN, provided food for the refugees in 1947.

We want to follow in his footsteps. I ask you all to pray for Venezuela and for Colombia, that we may be able to find a way of peace and reconciliation.”


 

Syria – young volunteers coordinate aid for 2000 displaced families

02.05.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Josué Villalón, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Julie Bourdeau, Middle East, Syria, Urgent need

Syria

Young volunteers coordinate aid for 2000 diplaced families

Several of the volunteers are themselves displaced persons, but do not hesitate to help others: “What motivates us is Jesus”

ACN (Josué Villalón, Marmarita). Eleven young people make up the team of volunteers of the parish centre of St. Peter, the Greek Catholic Church in Marmarita, which is located in the heart of the Valley of Christians, a region in Syria close to the Lebanese border. Many of the people in this region were displaced by the war and came here from all over Syria: Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, etc. This team of volunteer workers coordinates the distribution of the aid that is donated to about 2,000 families each month by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). They are the messengers, but also the message.

“What motivates us is Jesus. It moves us deeply to be able to help people in need. For me personally, it is also the reason to remain in Syria,” comments Elías Jahloum, coordinator of the parish centre, whom everyone calls “Ili.” His mobile never stops ringing the entire time he is speaking with a delegation from ACN. “The families trust me implicitly; many of them see me as part of the family. I take them to the hospital when they are sick and later visit them at home.”

The financial aid that the pastoral charity, ACN, provides through the local Church is primarily intended for two purposes: the first involves rent payments. “The displaced families have long since used up all of their savings to pay for a place to stay. The few who were able to find work can hardly survive on what they earn,” comments Majd Jallhoum, Ili’s sister and secretary of the parish centre. “The second big project focuses on paying for health care and medicine. There isn’t even one public hospital in the entire Valley of Christians. Treatment is very expensive, as are medicines.”

ACN donates 422,800 dollars for these two projects every six months. “We are supporting 340 families with rent subsidies. Each family unit receives a monthly subsidy of about 25,000 Syrian pounds (75,50 dollars). You have to realize that the median income in Syria is currently just under 96,60 dollars.” The average rent in the Valley of Christians is 226,50 dollars a month. The rents increase in the summer months because the region is considered a “tourist” area due to its cooler climate.

Syria March 2018: From right to left, Raja Mallouhi and Issam Ahwesh, volunteers in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians.

None of the young volunteers is paid for the work they do. However, several of them are themselves displaced persons and receive aid to meet their own needs. “I, for example, receive financial aid to travel to the university and back. The university is in Homs, which is about an hour away by car. Thanks to the help I receive from ACN, I did not have to give up my studies because of the war,” explains Issam Ahwesh, who is 22 years old and is studying computer engineering. He will finish his degree this year. “My mother would be very happy if she could see how I am helping here and that I will finally be able to complete my degree. Unfortunately, she died several years before the war started.”

 

An ecumenical team

The eleven young volunteers at the parish centre of Marmarita are members of various Churches that celebrate different rites. “Some of us are Greek Catholic, others Syriac Catholic and still others, Orthodox. We do not discriminate; all of us help wherever we can and assist Father Walid.” Walid Iskandafy is a Greek Catholic priest and currently the parish priest of the church of Saint Peter.

After finishing their work, the volunteers stay to play football. Raja Mallouhi, who is studying economics in Homs, talks about how he used to play on a football team in his city. “My favourite club here is Al-Karama, the best football club in the country before the war. Outside of Syria, I am a fan of Atlético Madrid.”

They laugh when Father Iskandafy compares the eleven of them with the team of Real Madrid. “They are the players and I am their coach, Zinedine Zidane.” They are a very good team. The priest is proud of how they always discuss any new request for help or problems with one of the families with each other and try to find a solution together.

 

Inspired by the Pope

Lama Jomia has just completed his degree in tourism and currently spends his time visiting displaced families. “Several years ago, Pope Francis told us young people to have the courage to swim against the tide and be faithful to Jesus. These words encouraged us to continue our work, even though war and hate prevail in our country.”

For the volunteers, faith is the most important reason to stay in Marmarita and help those who are most in need. Another young volunteer of the group, Rafic Assi, says at the end, “I would like to tell young people in Europe and all over the world that material things are not what is most important, that they should do something with their lives and be grateful that they are able to live in peace. We also did not imagine that our lives would turn out like this, but we have not completely given up hope!”

Syria March 2018: Majd, left, with a family in need in Marmarita, Valley of the Christians.                                         


 

ACN Feature Syria: The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

19.04.2018 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Construction, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Syria

Syria

The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

Father George Maamary, parish priest of the Church of the Assumption, which is close to the fortress, is asking our help to rebuild their church so that the families can return there soon

ACN (Josué Villalón, Qalat’al Hosn).- Qalat’al Hosn is a village in western Syria in a region known as the Valley of the Christians, best known for the imposing fortress, Krak des Chevaliers, which dominates the area. The castle is a World Heritage Site, one of the historic jewels of Syria and a place which, before the war, attracted tourists from all over the world.

 

“A group of Salafists and Muslim extremists arrived here, many of them from Lebanon, crossing over the border which is only about 30 km (20 miles) away. They seized control of the fortress and the village,” explains Father George Maamary, parish priest of the local Catholic community. “As soon as they arrived, they came to the church where I was living, forced their way in and abducted me. They beat me, so that afterwards I had to have an operation on my shoulder. Thanks be to God, my imprisonment did not last long; they exchanged me for a jihadist fighter who had been captured by the government.”

Syria: Father George Maamary, Parish priest of Al Hosn, town next to the fort. The Church was destroyed by jihadists who took the town and the fort. It was released in 2014. 

At that time the village had around 25,000 inhabitants of various religions, most of them Sunni and Shia Muslims. There were also around 300 Christians, living around the only Christian church, Our Lady of the Assumption, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Church.

As soon as news of the abduction of Father Maamary came to the ears of his Christian neighbours, they all abandoned their homes for fear of suffering the same fate. “It was a warning. Since then, not one Christian family has returned to live here.” That was six years ago.

The rebel groups had wanted to turn the fortress into a second Palmyra – a world-renowned historic site, and also one of great strategic and sentimental importance for the Syrian people. The fortress was damaged by the rebel groups and by the fighting to recover it, along with a considerable part of the village itself. In 2014, the castle and the village were reconquered by the Syrian army. This was the only place in the Valley of the Christians where there was fighting. As for the rest, this region has become a place where many refugees now live, since it is one of the more peaceful parts of the country.

But before this there was looting, and among the places that were looted were the church and the homes of the Christians. “The life of the community used to revolve around the church,” Father George explains to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We had a basketball pitch and rooms for catechesis and other gatherings. You can see how everything is now,” he adds. The church is also linked to various other buildings, and there was formerly a hotel named after John Paul II, which welcomed tourists who had come to visit the fortress. They also had other centres, with up to 17 shops, a restaurant, a café, and various souvenir and gift shops.

The war has left a terrible wound

After the fighting, the conflict continued. The vengeance against the Sunnis was terrible on the part of the government troops, linked to the Assad government and pro-Shiite. Father George had to hasten back and mark the houses of the Christians with black crosses, so that the soldiers did not burn them down also.

“Before the fighting, life between Christians and Muslims was good,” said Father George. Now the war has left a terrible wound that will take years to heal. “It is safe again now in this region, but there is still no electricity or water,” he adds. As a result, the Christians have been unable to return despite the fact that the village was liberated all of four years ago. “The sense of helplessness of these families is very great; they are still uprooted and living in other villages of the Valley of the Christians, such as Marmarita and Kafra, only 10 km away from here, and yet they still cannot return.”

Syria, March 2018: Fr. George Maamary, Samir Bashur (christian neighbor), and Fr. Bassam Maamary, cousin of Father George who is reapering his family house.

Around the Church of the Assumption, there are a few houses that people have begun to rebuild. One of them belongs to the family of Bassam Maamary, a cousin of Father George and himself a priest. “I have begun to rebuild the house with my own money, in order to show my neighbours that it is possible to return, that there is still hope,” he says.

He is being helped with the electric wiring by a young man named Wagdi Yazzi. He too is from the village of Al Hosn. “It won’t take much for us to return; but first we need the government to reconnect the water and electricity,” he says, adding, “Life here was very pleasant and peaceful. We had contact with people from all over the world and we were a very open village.”

Another neighbour appears, walking up an alleyway. He is Samir Bashur and he explains that he is also working on his house and that he comes here from time to time, little by little repairing the damage. He thinks that if people are to return here permanently, they will first have to rebuild the church. “It is a place that is very important to us, where we celebrate the most important feasts together, where we meet and pray together, along with our parish priest.”

Father George assures that he has not lost contact with the other families. “We are doing the impossible to help them on a daily basis, and so that they will be able to return to their homes.” He thanks ACN for the aid provided for the care of these refugees, and he is also hoping to be able to begin soon on the rebuilding of their church.

Father George Maamary, Parish priest of Al Hosn, town next to the fort shows the destruction made by djihadits.

“We are praying for peace in our country. And also for all the people who are helping us from other countries. You are all very welcome to come here. We need the people and the tourists to return.”

 

And finally, Father Maamary expresses his gratitude for the support of Pope Francis, who has sent aid directly each year for the families and the priests. “He is a humble man, he is doing great things for Syria, including through his prayer and his messages of peace.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Congo-Brazzaville: The Church is drawing new hope and strength

13.04.2018 in ACN Feature, Africa, Congo, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

 Congo-Brazzaville

The Church is drawing new hope and strength to overcome its problems

Having lived for a long time under a communist regime, the Republic of Congo for many years left its Christian faith aside. But today, the Catholic Church in the country is gathering new strength to deal with its problems – which are many – and move forward. Kinga von Poschinger, of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), heads the project section covering the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville). She recently travelled to the country to gain a first-hand impression of the situation there. She was interviewed by Monica Zorita about the challenges facing the Congolese people and the current and future aid projects of ACN in the country.

 

What were the main reasons for this visit? 

Little boy during sunday mass at St Brigitte, Epéna, diocese of Impfondo, Congo

The visit to Congo-Brazzaville was a priority for ACN for a number of reasons. After having been subjected to a communist regime for many years, its people have, to an extent, abandoned their faith, relegating it to something of secondary importance, so there is a need now to return to it, to revisit it, revive it. The last time ACN visited this country was in 2002. So with this visit and the new projects we are proposing to fund, we are hoping to give new impetus to the Church here and to Congolese society.

What is the situation here at the present time?

Like many other African nations, they are going through a very difficult economic situation. People are living in poverty in countries which could be very rich. The region in which the diocese of Impfondo is situated is in the north of the country, in the midst of the rainforest. Many of the houses here are simply mud huts; it is a region of rivers and high rainfall and the dense forest vegetation makes it difficult to get about, except by boat – or occasionally by car when the road conditions allow. This is the poorest part of the country. On the other hand, in the southern region – and specifically in the diocese of Pointe-Noire – there are extensive oil reserves, but the fall in world prices, combined with corruption, has plunged this African country into a profound economic crisis that has had severe consequences for everyone. Obviously, it is a situation that has brought great uncertainty, but this has been responded to by the optimistic spirit of the Congolese people – especially in the Catholic areas, where there is a strong family spirit and a spirit of ongoing mutual support.

What are the major religions in the Republic of Congo?

Despite the fact that the Republic of Congo is officially a secular state, a majority of the population is in fact Christian, while others follow local animist beliefs and a small minority follows Islam. Within the Christian population, the majority belong to Protestant Pentecostalist groups, while between 30% and 35% are Catholics.

 

Congolese Catholics have a very lively and joyful faith and tend to be somewhat calmer in their forms of worship. This is something very much emphasized by Bishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou of the youthful diocese of Dolisie, who reminds his Catholic faithful of the importance of silence and quiet inner prayer.

The Catholic Church in the Republic of Congo currently has nine dioceses, two of which were created in 2013, and is planning to establish more in the next few years, as the country is a vast one and it is very difficult to cover it with so few bishops.

Before building a new rectory, the priest lived in this house. He died some years ago, but his homilies and personal writings are still in the clay hut. Although this is not his bed, it might have looked similar.

What are the principal challenges facing the Church in Congo?

There is no lack of them… Poverty, the rapid increase in the Pentecostalist sects, masonry, exorcism, the disrespect shown by some of the local animist groups, with their fetishes, towards the Catholic faith – and also the fact that the parishes are so far from one another and so isolated that many of the priests feel very much alone and can sometimes lose their sense of vocation and mission. This is why ACN wants to help with various forms of spiritual retreats and other projects aimed at the training of priests and religious, especially the younger ones, in order to renew their strength and provide the example they need.

What other kinds of projects do you envisage as a result of this visit to Congo?

We want to sponsor certain projects in the national seminary – the only seminary in the whole of the country – to encourage the careful discernment of authentic vocations.

We also saw for ourselves the lack of financial resources for evangelization – both the lack of religious books, such as missals for example, and the lack of transport, such as boats, to reach all the Catholic faithful. And there is also a need to repair and renovate the houses and convents of the priests and religious sisters. Many of them are living in appalling conditions, and some without drinking water.

Congo – Brazzaville, February 2018 – Farell, 27 year old, never met a priest before he was 11 years old. Christened at 11, he comes from Kinkala diocese. He wants to become a priest because : ” I don’t want my little brothers to live the same thing as me – I mean – not to meet a priest during my entire childhood.”

In the Church’s year we have just celebrated the Resurrection of Christ. What kind of Paschal message, what message of hope has stayed with you since your journey?

We recall in particular the hard work, the inner light, the goodness and hope that shine forth from people like Bishop Manamika Bafouakouahou. He is filled with energy in his desire to help his people move forward and overcome, little by little, the problems they face. He has a very deep faith and a very clear vision. He goes out into the streets himself to talk with the people, and he organizes a regular “week of evangelization” that inspires thousands of people to come and listen to him.

What, for you, was one of the most moving or emotional moments of your journey?

We had a wonderful experience in the diocese of Impfondo, where they were celebrating the first Holy Mass of three new priests who had been ordained on January 6th of this year. It was a traditional ceremony, and afterwards they danced and sang with an exceptional spirit of joy. The priests were dressed in garlands of greenery over the top of their priestly dress, around their necks and around their waists, while the faithful themselves were dressed in their traditional garments and danced with a sort of broomstick made of branches – as a symbol of unity, flexibility and endurance. The happiness and also the pride of these people in their three new priests, and despite their many sufferings, were most impressive.

Sister Roberta is the rector of the catholic primary school in the diocese of Gamboma. The sisters painted the school in a very colorful way and use the pictures donated by ACN (above her head) for catechesis. Some of the families sending their children to this school are not even able to feed them. The sisters need to wash and shower the children and give them a breakfast before school starts. Some of the children come even on a Saturday and ask the sisters if they can help with some gardening, because they have nothing to eat at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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

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

India

A Church that goes to the poorest of the poor

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thank you! 


India: A love that doesn’t take retirement

23.03.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, By Maria Lozano, Feature Story, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Mass Offerings

A love that doesn’t take retirement

They have dedicated their lives to God and to their fellow men, following a path of great renunciation. They are seven priests who, many decades ago, left behind their own home territory in the South of India to work as missionaries in the North of the country. A thousand miles and more from home, both in geographical terms and in terms of their faith, these priests may not have changed their country, but they did have to learn a new language and new customs in this vast and immensely richly varied subcontinent that is India. And now they are living in a small home for retired priests. But if their bodies have suffered the ravages of time, their spirits have not. They continue to burn with the desire to incarnate the very essence of their vocation by serving God in their fellow men, right up to the hour of their death.

“My mission has been and still is to suffer with Christ,” says Father Joseph Mattathilani, summing up a life marked by grave illnesses, including a brain tumour. “I was left paralyzed for months, and at one point they gave me just three days to live,” he explains. Yet he radiates peace and serenity, despite his fragile health. “My mother died when I was a child. Our Lady was the one to take care of me and bring me to the priesthood. I wanted to give my life for other people. The miracle was to get so much love back from other people.”

Archbishop William D’Souza and Father Aloysius, 90 years old. In this diocese, 60 Novena Masses for 10 retired priests were distributed. 

In a similar way, speaking with some difficulty, Father George Theruvan recalls other sufferings. Now aged 87, he vividly recalls one of the attacks on their mission, when guerrillas put a pistol to his temple and he thought his last moment had come. “I began to pray and I offered my life to God, asking to be able to embrace this moment in peace. Those were two terrible hours. But then, after destroying everything, they left again. Not everyone welcomed us with open arms; many times we had to start over again. But all of us can truly say that it was worth the trouble and that we have been treated with great affection and gratitude by the ordinary people.”

“We travelled from one place to another, spending a night in each village, where we explained the Gospel and celebrated the sacraments,” recalls Father Sebastian Puthenpura. He also tells us about the beginnings of his missionary work. This priest, who has just celebrated his 85th birthday, quickly discovered “that our work would have been in vain if we had not educated the women. The Church cannot progress without those who will be the future pillars of their society, namely the mothers,” he insists. At that time it was not easy to convince the fathers to send their daughters to school, nor is it easy even today in the poorest rural areas of the state of Bihar. The South of India has centuries of Christian tradition behind it, whereas in the region of Bihar, the archdiocese of Patna will only just be celebrating the first century of its existence in 2019.

But “always and in everything I find my support in the Lord,” he adds. Even during the times when the ordinary cultural difficulties were exacerbated by the instability in the region due to the presence of terrorists and armed gangs. “Once I went to a village where there were 11 girls and nobody was willing to send them to school; they thought it too dangerous. The school was empty. But then it occurred to me that Saint Joseph was the guardian of the Child Jesus and looked after him and cared for him. So I entrusted the school to his care, and within two months we had 400 children.”

At the age of 90, Father Aloysius Sequeira is the oldest of the group. “I became a priest because I wanted to be a missionary. To do so, I travelled over 2000 miles (3000 km) to give my life for the people. I knew that the Lord would do the rest. This year I will complete my 60th year in the priesthood, and I have never regretted it even for a single day.”

“What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God?

Father Sebastian picked up the thread of the conversation here and told us how he had a good job and everything he could possibly need to live a comfortable and happy life in the South of India, until one day he heard a bishop from the North of India speak about the missions. He asked himself, “What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God? Everything else is in vain.” Still full of vitality, he recalls how “I went to my father and told him, I’m going to be a priest. I’m going to leave work and travel with the bishop. It’s been over 50 years since then, and I am still helping as much as I can, above all hearing confessions, and they call me up from the charismatic spiritual centre as well to help them, because they can’t cope with the demand.”

Visit of ACN Team in the residence for old priests – Father Sebastian: ““What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God?”

Many of them have health problems now, especially their hearts which seem to be worn down after having battled and cared so much for the simple, ordinary people in so many villages and rural corners of the dioceses of Patna and Buxar. Thanks to the Mass stipends channelled to them by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they are able to cover at least some of their medical expenses. They are immensely grateful to ACN and to all its generous benefactors: “We are missionaries and we are on the front line, but you are supporting us from your own home countries with your prayers and your financial support, thanks to the Mass stipends that come to us through ACN. And so you too have become missionaries, so that we can work together for the glory of God.”

 

ACN provides a significant part of its financial aid to priests in the poorest parts of the world (above all in Africa and Asia) in the form of Mass intentions, which they celebrate for the intentions of our benefactors. A total of around 1.5 million Masses are celebrated in this way each year – or one every 22 seconds. For places like the archdiocese of Patna, this represents an indispensable support, since in many such poor areas of the world the priests cannot count on the support of the people but, on the contrary, even have to support them instead.

 

If you want to pass via Aid to the Church in Need for your Mass intentions, please visit the following web address:
https://secure.acn-canada.org/product-category/mass-offerings/


 

Iraq – Visit of Mossul – Second and last part

21.02.2018 in ACN International, ACN PRESS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, by Tobias Lehner, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

Visit of Mossul, Iraq – Second and last part

A glimpse of hope for Christans 

This week, continue your visit wuith Nadia, inhabitan of Mossul who comebacks after more than three years in her city, Mossul. A mix of emotion, balancing between happiness and sadness, discouragement and hope. 

Nadia and Yohanna drive through the devastated Mosul to Nadia’s house. They pass a UN storage unit, of which only the building structure is still standing. “Until 1996, I worked for the UN, for the WFP, in Mosul,” says Nadia. “The world had sanctioned Iraq, but we were allowed to trade oil for food and medicine. In those days, I was responsible for Mosul’s food supply.”

 

Nadia has to swallow as she enters her house’s garden. In 48 degrees Celsius, the fig tree is begging for water, and the rose bushes have obviously lacked her loving care. “You would take care of the garden,” she snaps at Mothes, the temporary inhabitant of her house. “You promised.”

Damaged cross on St. George’s Monastery (Mar Gurguis) in Mossul.

 

With Mothes, Nadia assesses the damage: a couple of the rose bushes have not survived her absence. She tells us how she didn’t recognise the house when she and her mother first saw it back after the city’s liberation of ISIS. “Our home was damaged and dirty: all of our belongings had been thrown around. A beautiful painting of Josef, Maria and Jesus had been broken. We didn’t want to stay in Mosul for long and agreed with our neighbours that they would clean the house. I will sell the house as soon as I have the opportunity, in December me and my mother will decide what to do with it.”

 

Nadia is temporarily subletting the place to a Muslim family from Mosul: the forty-year-old Mothes and the thirty-three year old Zahra with their children Ufram, who is eighteen, Razak, who is fifteen, and the ten-year-old Ibrahim. During the occupation of ISIS, the family had fled to Basra, and they cannot return to their own home, because that has been destroyed.

 

Mothes was an officer in the Iraqi army. He tells us how he deserted after an attack from Al-Qaida. “I left Iraq and, after a journey through Samos, Greece, Germany and Denmark, I ended up in Sweden. My wife had stayed behind in Iraq and I did not receive permission to bring her to Sweden. After living in Sweden for one year, I returned to Iraq. My wish is to live in Mosul, but I will go abroad as soon as things are getting restless here again.”

 

Noah’s Ark

 

Nadia and Yohanna also enter the impressive church of the Holy Spirit. It appears that the church, built in the shape of Noah’s ark, has since the liberation in April been a shelter for four families from Zummar, which lies in the north of Iraq. Each family inhabits a separate room of the church, which was in the news in 2010 when the bishop was abducted and two priests and their guards were murdered. A third priest escaped, visited and took care of his colleagues’, his father’s and his brothers’ graves for years, and moved to Australia. “Long lives the caliphate!” The walls clad by ISIS seem to shout.

Holy Spirit Church in Mossul (built on the shape of a huge ark symbolizing Noah’s Ark) is shelter for 4 refugee families from Zummar. 

 

The new inhabitants of the church fled their houses from the increase in violence from ISIS three years ago. Abdullah, Mohammed, Mohammed, Muntaha, Nawaf, Raha, Raeid, Saher Yassur and Wassif are running excitedly through the large, empty hall of the church. “Due to the war, our children haven’t been able to go to school for three years,” sighs Khalil Hassan Mahammed (36). “We don’t know when this situation without a future will change.”

 

While his 35-year-old wife Helala Ali Saleh puts the finishing touch to the meal, Khalil tells us that they are Muslims and had to survive under ISIS’s reign for a long time. “We could not live in our own house anymore and had to stay in a refugee camp for one and a half years. Since January, the distribution of food has stopped: in the past months we received a food supply only once.”

 

Now the men try to provide for their families. “Sometimes I sell bottles of water, but it is hard for me to work because my leg is paralysed,” says Khalil. “Sometimes I can help restore houses that have been destroyed. That way, I can earn some money for my family.”

 

Khalil and Helala have no idea when they will be able to leave the church and return to their own village. “The Kurds have conquered our territory, but we heard that they have robbed our houses and destroyed them with bulldozers. The war with ISIS is over, but we still haven’t received permission from our liberators to return to our area. We don’t even know whether we’ll ever live in Zummar again.”

 

“Pay ransom or pay with your life”

 

“I can’t believe my eyes when I see what ISIS has done to my church,” whispers Nadia, while fighting tears, as she enters the Syrian Orthodox Church Mor Afraïm. “I remember sitting here, in the midst of my friends when the Mass was served very well. I remember being on the square outside with all the church members and using the rooms for meetings: the women in the rooms on the left, the men on the right. Thinking about that time saddens me deeply.”

 

“After the turn of the century, it was already getting worse for Christians in Mosul,” she recalls. “In 2008 and 2009, Christians were threatened, abducted and killed for their faith. I received a letter once that said I had to pay, or I would pay with my life. A well-known priest was abducted and slaughtered. His body was found back in pieces.”

 

“Now, the IS warriors have robbed every church, demolished them and covered them with texts: the marble plates are off the floors, the walls and arches have been broken and taken. Even the different floors have been damaged, to retrieve the threads of steel. I’m not sure my church will ever be fully restored,” Nadia sighs, as she walks past the church’s sanitary facilities that have been set outside to be sold. “The reconstruction of this church will cost a lot of money and energy, and for whom are we rebuilding it? All the Christians have left Mosul.”

 

“When I just looked up, I suddenly felt intense happiness. I saw that the blue dome with Jesus’ image had survived the occupation of ISIS reasonably well.  And, although not much of its beauty has remained, this image shows how beautiful my church was. The jihadists have only been able to destroy the edges of the picture. Seeing Jesus above me, in this destroyed church, gave me great joy.”

The international Catholic pastoral charity  Aid to the Church in Need is currently working to encourage the return of the Christians to their former homes in Iraq. With its Campaign “Return to the roots”, ACN is closely involved in an extensive program to rebuild the homes and churches of the uprooted Christians from the Nineveh plains region, not far from the city of Mosul. And indeed with some success – for already around a third of the Christian exiles have now returned to their homes on the Nineveh plains.

If you want to contribute to this collective effort for Christians in Iraq,
donate here. Thank you! 


 

 

Uganda: Birth of a new place of grace

09.02.2018 in ACN Feature, Africa, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Uganda, Uganda

Uganda:

Birth of a new place of grace

 

“Don’t go there, they worship the devil there,” the people warned Bishop Francis Aquirinius Kibira when he was ordained as bishop. This region in southwestern Uganda, at the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was considered a dark and dangerous place. Violence and crime were a normal part of everyday life, and drug use and prostitution were widespread. However, the area was especially known for its deep belief in witchcraft. A lot of damage was done by magic rituals and occult practices, with symptoms of obsession, suicides and destroyed families being just a few of the disastrous consequences.

 

However, the new bishop of Kasese did not let the warnings deter him: only two days after his ordination in July 2014, Bishop Francis Aquirinius Kibira drove out to this border region. He stopped at a chapel in the village of Kabuyiri. Upon entering, he found twenty young women between the ages of 16 and 20, all paralyzed. The catechist explained to the bishop that they had been “bewitched”. The bishop began to pray, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, You have sent me to this diocese, do good here. Heal these girls in Your Almighty Name.” According to Bishop Kibira, it was not long before the girls got up and were able to walk again.

 

The bishop was surprised to learn that the chapel had been built in 1982 by a police officer who, in response to the many problems afflicting the area, had understood that “Jesus was needed here”. “However, I did find it strange that there was no priest in the area,” commented Bishop Kibira. In an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he confided, “Deep down inside, I heard a voice saying to me that a priest needed to be sent there. I also suddenly realized that this would be a good place for a Shrine of The Divine Mercy.”

 

The bishop then visited the priest who oversaw the parish to which the chapel* belongs. The priest could not believe that the bishop was in fact serious about his idea. Up until now, all priests had refused to go there to work. Unperturbed, the bishop set a deadline for the foundation of a new Shrine of The Divine Mercy. He eventually found a priest who was willing to serve there.

 

The “Portal of the Divine Mercy”

Bishop Acquirino Francis Kibira of Kasese Diocese, at river Nile

The shrine was completed in 2016, the Holy Year of Mercy. This place has become a place of grace for countless people. The Eucharist is celebrated there every day, and at 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’s death, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy is prayed, as well as the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Hundreds of worshippers gather even on weekdays; on Sundays and holidays they number in the thousands. Moreover, every Monday, many worshippers receive the Sacrament of Penitence. Many confide their personal problems to a priest and find solace and counsel. Local priests have told the bishop that this has allowed for the reconciliation of many broken families.

 

Bishop Kibira is deeply moved, “I can hardly believe it! Every seat is taken on the day of the Feast of Divine Mercy; thousands of people came and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. That evening, as I lay in bed, I shed tears of joy. Before, everyone was saying, ‘You can’t go there, you could be killed, it’s a mistake’, but I replied, ‘Do you not believe in the power of the Blessed Sacrament?’ Today, they all say, ‘It was a good decision.’” Believers constantly speak of prayers answered and healings.

 

According to the bishop, many people have changed their lives. “There was a family in the village that was rumoured to worship the devil. People advised the priest not to go near them. In the end, this was the first family to have their child baptized in this shrine,” the bishop rejoiced.

Uganda, November 2017: 
Bishop Acquirino Francis Kibira with children at the St. Michael Divine Mercy Shrine in Kabuyiri.

“Even the local police officers said to me, ‘Thank you, we are so glad that we have a priest here now. There used to be problems here every day. Today, there are far fewer. That is the power of Jesus!’” The police officers themselves take part in the Eucharist and the Eucharistic adoration. As for the truck drivers who cross the border, they also find strength and solace in this shrine “in the encounter with Jesus Christ.”

 

The changes are also evident on other levels. Thus, about 300 fathers who had fallen prey to drug addiction have returned to their families. Unlike before, there are only a few suicides in the region; instead of destroying their lives, as in the past, with alcohol, drugs, sexual adventures and crime, adolescents regularly attend the Eucharist and the Eucharistic adoration. Even the number of traffic accidents has declined. Things have also changed for the prisoners in the two local prisons: they now receive pastoral care and some of them have started arranging time for devotions. And so the grace that emanates from this place goes beyond the locked doors and walls of the prisons, Bishop Kibira commented.

 

The bishop also notes that pilgrims come on foot from afar to pray in this shrine. “When we open our hearts, we act in the power of God. This particularly neglected place has become a portal of divine mercy for the diocese.”

Priest and altar servers at the St. Michael Divine Mercy Shrine in Kabuyiri.

 

Toni Zender, Project Manager for Uganda for the pontifical Aid to the Church in Need, recently paid a visit to the area and was very impressed, “I was deeply moved by this experience. It is overwhelming to see over a thousand people kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. We can see how a large number of people open themselves up to the grace of Christ and rejoice in the presence of the church in their area.”

 

Last year, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Catholic Church in Uganda with over $1,133 million, mainly to finance training of prospective priests and clerics. Furthermore, many priests were helped through Mass stipends. Finally, aid helped to purchase vehicles for use in pastoral care, as well as to renovate church buildings.

 

*In remote areas, rural or jungle, the Church often constructs chapels for people who reside far from the parish church.


 

Night of Witnesses – The testimony of Mother Mary Catherine KINGBO of Niger

11.04.2017 in ACN France, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Feature Story, Niger, Sisters

Night of Witnesses – Paris, France

The testimony of Mother Mary Catherine of Niger

It is early January 2015. There is a media flurry of the Mohammed cartoons in the satirical French Paris based magazine Charlie Hebdo, and tension is mounting in Niger.

On January 16 and 17, incensed crowds of Muslim demonstrators begin attacking churches and schools, convents and religious houses, as well as individual Christian citizens. The most seriously affected regions are those of Zinder and Niamey, fires are also burning in Maradi and in other regions. We, the Catholic religious Sisters who established ourselves here in Niger in 2006, prepare ourselves for the worst.

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016 – Emergency help for the refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: Woman receives  relief supplies

In some countries of Africa, people associate Christianity with the West. In some of the villages of Niger, people even thought I must have been white at birth, because I was Catholic! As you can see, what you do in the West has an impact on us Christians here – and all the more so since the population of Niger is 98% Muslim! During this time of suffering and uncertainty, my daily prayer is inspired by these words of the Prophet Micah: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me.” Yes, these people who have benefited from so much care, education and love from the Catholic Church in Niger, who have come knocking on our doors, day and night, asking for food and help in their poverty. These are the same people who have now turned against us. Throwing stones at us, burning our churches and trying to prevent us from wearing a cross.

Had it not been for the intervention of the police during that month of January 2015, we would not have been spared. In the community of which I am the Superior General we were a group of 20 or so Sisters and novices. Some were afraid. So I put this question to them: Do you want to leave or remain here? Not one of them left, despite their fear and insecurity. We remained barricaded inside the convent, unable to attend Mass, for three weeks. We adored, and prayed as usual. I trusted in God, and in the people whom we are helping.

Now that you know this, make my true face known in a Muslim environment.” That was how the Lord asked me to be his witness. The place of this mission came to me clearly in the course of my prayer: “Set out for Niger.”

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016 – Emergency help for refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: The plastic sheeting is covering the huts of the displaced and refugees 

You know, it has been 11 years since I came from Senegal to help the people of Niger, as God asked of me. One day in 2005, as I was following a course in Islam, I understood how the Muslims see Christ. Not as the Son of God, who died on the cross and was raised, but as a simple prophet. I was astonished, because they did not know this God of love and goodness. And then, it was if I was being challenged by Christ in these words: “Now that you know this, make my true face known in a Muslim environment.” That was how the Lord asked me to be his witness. The place of this mission came to me clearly in the course of my prayer: “Set out for Niger.”

In 2006 I left to begin my new mission, accompanied by a young Senegalese postulant, and we founded the first indigenous religious congregation there, the “Fraternité des Servantes du Christ (Fraternity of the Servants of Christ)”, with the approval of the diocesan bishop.

The objective was to show forth the tender face of the Lord, not to compel the Muslims to become Christians. We began by going through the villages, talking to the local people in order to get to know them better. We soon so many realized the precarious existence that a large proportion of the people were living in, especially the women and the children. Something had to be done to remedy the situation. For example, we met Absou, aged 27, with six children, a blind husband and no work. We invited her to come to our nutrition and healthcare centre for children and expectant mothers. We also discovered that young girls are sometimes given in marriage from the age of 11 to 12, and that some of them die as a result, in giving birth to their first child. And so we decided to organize teaching sessions for the mothers and young women, for the village chiefs, the young boys and the imams. We also wanted to get them to think about the radicalization of some of the young people, the preaching of some of the imams who incite people to violence, the consequences of the actions perpetrated by terrorists around the world.

“What unites us is neither religion, nor ethnicity, but love.”

In 2007, 24 participants attended our first session for the imams and village chiefs. It was incredible; we had never imagined that such people would respond to the appeal of a woman, a religious and a stranger! The most remarkable thing was when I asked the question, “Are you not bothered by a religious, a foreigner and a Catholic challenging your way of thinking?” One of them gave me this surprising and encouraging reply: “What unites us is neither religion, nor ethnicity, but love.” So without knowing it, he was already talking about God. Currently we have more than a hundred imams and village chiefs attending these meetings every year.

Night of Witnesses – France (Paris cathedral) 2017

Today, indeed, the mentality has changed very much for the better.  A Nigerian woman –formerly Muslim – has joined our community and wants to become a nun! At the age of 15 she felt the desire to turn to Christ, to convert and to enter into the Consecrated Life. However, her choice did not come without difficulty leaving her rejected by her family who no longer wanted to have any contact with her, but who came around in the end. Also, there is also a Muslim dignitary in our district who has entrusted us with his seven-year-old daughter and wants her to become a boarder and a Catholic. Her faith has begun to awaken in her, and she is currently attending our preschool.

 I would like to ask you to pray the “Hail Mary,” each of you in your own language, for all women who suffer.

There is still, however, some way to go to reach many hearts. Last December, a group of young men violently harassed one of our workers, just because he was working for us, the Sisters. More than once, we have been subjected to having stones thrown on our roof during the evening office. One Christmas Day, outside the doors of our convent, some children came to shout insults at us. In the face of such aggression, since October 2014, we have had two police officers posted 24 hours a day at the entrance to our convent.
We, the Sisters of the Fraternité des Servantes du Christ, who are all from different backgrounds – from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and from Chad – have left everything in order to reveal the true face of the Lord, who is only LOVE. We draw our strength these words of Christ: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

Conclusion
To all of you who support us, and to all the television viewers, I would like to say Thank you! Despite the increasing insecurity in Niger, it is thanks to your perseverance in prayer and your support that we will be kept safe and be able to lead men and women of all nations to Christ, the Alpha and the Omega. I would like to ask you to pray the “Hail Mary,” each of you in your own language, for all women who suffer.

 


 

Azerbaijan: A tiny community will be visited

15.09.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Azerbaijan, Feature Story, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Peace, Pope, Pope Francis

 Azerbaijan 

Pope Francis brings peace

 

Fourteen years after the visit of John Paul II, Azerbaijan is once again preparing for a pontifical visit. The pope will not only travel to the tiny Catholic community, but will also work towards peace in this long suffering region.  

Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Baku is a very beautiful city if you ignore the large blocks of Soviet high rises grouped together at its edges. With its mix of the Orient, the capital city offers a collection from several historical periods, beginning with the old city with its narrow alleys, classical buildings and old mosques, to the Baroque city from the time of the first oil boom in the early twentieth century, all the way to the ultramodern city of the new oil boom; here, the boldest architects on Earth have given their best.

Azerbaïjan 2016: market in Baku

Azerbaïjan 2016: market in Baku

 

 

The country is rich, very rich as a matter of fact, thanks to the oil that has made it possible to shift the focus to major projects.
The “Dubai of the Caspian See” was even planning to create artificial islands, as is common practice among the rich Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula. Ninety-five per cent of its resources stem from this energy source, which means that the country has not been left unscathed by the current drop in oil prices. Large-scale projects such as the extension of the subway have been suspended while the one or other budget problem has come to light.

 

 

When the Sisters of Mother Teresa arrived in the country in 2006 to serve the poor, they were told that there were no poor in Azerbaijan! However, there are those whom the system has forgotten; these are the ones who mourn Soviet times when everyone received a subsistence wage.

 

Baku, «the Dubai of the Caspien Sea», where the ultrmodern and traditionnal architecture meet.

Baku, «the Dubai of the Caspien Sea», where the ultrmodern and traditionnal architecture meet.

 

Sunnis make up a minority in Azerbaijan with an estimated 15% to 30%. The government keeps a very close watch on any attempts at radicalization. It has probably not only remained suspicious of religion as such, but is also aware of the dangers of its expansion in view of the current situation in the Middle East.  Even though it barely makes up more than 2% of the population (9.7 millions), the second most important religion is the Orthodox faith. In the past, its followers counted barely half a million, but their numbers shrank to 200,000 when half of the Russians left the country after independence. The Orthodox Church has an eparchy with approximately fifteen parishes and maintains good relations with the Catholic Church.

 

 

A tiny minority Church

 

A Catholic church was built in 1912 during the time of the first oil boom, but was closed again with the arrival of the Bolsheviks in 1920 a

nd then destroyed in the early 1930s. When the Catholic Church returned in 1992, only a dozen aged followers remained of what had once been 10,000 Catholics. Today, the community has 300 native-born members (often mixed marriages) and 1,000 foreign members including 300 Filipinos: when considered in relation to the entire country, an almost symbolic presence. On average, about 500 people come together each week.

Azerbaïdjan: 95% of the inhabitants are Muslims, but the religious practice is discreet.

Azerbaïdjan: 95% of the inhabitants are Muslims, but the way to practice the religion is discreet.

 

 

Since it was initially seen as an evangelizing sect, John Paul II’s visit did wonders for the Church. For example in response to the visit, the president gave a piece of land to the Church, which is now dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. A large statue of the Virgin Mary stands directly in front of the parish and draws many people, including many Muslims and particularly women. (picture of of the top)

 

The Catholic Church in Azerbaijan has only a single parish with a church and a chapel that is served by six priests. This small community also includes five Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity and two Salesian nuns who are under the direction of the apostolic prefect, Msgr. Vladimir Fekete, a Salesian from Slovenia.

 

On May 29, 2016, the future first Azerbaijani priest was ordained to the diaconate in Saint Petersburg: this is very good news for the Church in Azerbaijan. These can probably be considered the first buds of this discreet, but truly missionary presence.   

 

Children holding the ACN's Bible for children. We are there to help this tiny but active community.

Children holding ACN’s Bible for children. As organization, We are there to help this tiny but active community.

Trip to Azerbaijan of ACN France in 2016

Ultramodern towers in Baku. Pope Francis is visiting Azerbaidjan between September 30 and October 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Picture at the top: Catholic church in Baku, the statue of the Virgin Mary 

By Marc Fromager, ACN France
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada