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International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 

ACN News – The case of an abducted girl in Pakistan

22.06.2020 in ACN United Kingdom, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, RED WEDNESDAY, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

The case of an abducted girl, 14, taken to High Court by her Christian family

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

A Christian family in Pakistan has gone to the High Court in their fight to win back their 14-year-old daughter. The man, they claim abducted her and then forced the girl to marry him, demanding she abandon her faith.

 

On June 2, Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu confirmed to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) his submission of a petition to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan for the appeal in the case of Maira Shahbaz.

 

The family wants to overturn the ruling of Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court declaring on May 5 the Catholic girl Maira now being 19 and, as such, is validly wedded to the Muslim man—Mohamad Nakash—who is already married and with two young children.

 

Abducted at gun point

Witnesses described how on April 28 Maira was walking close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, when Mr. Nakash and two armed accomplices drew up in a car, abducted her and fired guns into the air as they made off at speed.

 

Mr. Sandhu told ACN: “I am trying my very best for the case. Maira’s mother [Nighat Shahbaz] is so very sad—in fact she is a picture of sadness. You cannot imagine the shock of losing your daughter and losing all contact with her.” He said that when Nighat Shahbaz saw her daughter at last month’s magistrates’ court hearing, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. She is making a slow recovery.

 

A very strong case

Mr. Sandhu added: “The case for Maira being a minor is very strong. There are so many gaps and weaknesses in the opponent’s argument.” He cites a birth certificate and other official documentation from her local church and school to prove that Maira is 14. Mr. Sandhu claims a marriage certificate Mr. Nakash produced in court is a fake. The document purports to show he wed the girl last October.

 

The systematic abuse of young innocent girls

Mr. Nakash argues that, in spite of law, which forbids marriage to minors, marrying Maira is sanctioned by Islamic custom which, he claims, says it is valid, provided the girl has had her first period.

 

Mr. Sandhu said: “In cases like this what we so often see is that, after two or three years, the people send back the girl to the family by which time they have satisfied their lust and have had enough of her.”

 

Motivated by faith

Mr. Sandhu, former Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, pledged to raise Maira’s case in the Punjab Assembly. A one-time university roommate of fellow Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in 2011 while serving as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Mr. Sandhu said: “What motivates me is my faith in Jesus and I am reminded of the Gospel passage where Christ reveals how he has been sent to set the captives free.”

 

 

As a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, ACN supports the National Commission for Justice and Peace and other organizations in Pakistan which provide legal and paralegal aid for minorities and help for those forced into hiding.

 

 

COVID-19 in Africa Catholic radio stations broadcast hope!

17.04.2020 in Africa, Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Malawi, Mozambique, RDC CONGO, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia

COVID-19 in Africa

Catholic radio stations broadcast hope!

 

More than 14,500 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Africa. The virus has cost the lives of almost 800 people there. Public institutions such as churches and schools are closed in numerous countries on the continent. Many Africans do not have access to the Internet or to television, and the radio remains the best instrument for the Church to reach and support its faithful. In this, the Church is taking its mission as a “church on the go“ seriously.

 

By Christopher Lafontaine, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web April 17, 2020

 

“In these days of social distancing and confinement measures, the radio has become an area of life necessary to many people.” Father Apollinaire Cibaka Cikongo discussed the situation that he is currently experiencing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with ACN International (Aid to the Church in Need). The country is also affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The priest from the diocese of Mbujimayi founded Radio Ditunga with headquarters in Ngandajika, a city in his diocese that is centrally located in the country. The radio station was founded ten years ago with the support of ACN.

“Since the churches are now closed due to the health concerns we are all familiar with, Radio Ditunga has adapted its programme to allocate more air time to the celebration of the Eucharist, prayer and spiritual exercises held by priests from Ngandajika,” Father Cibaka Cikongo explained. He also emphasized that all of the spiritual exercises and liturgical celebrations are broadcast live, as was the Easter Triduum.

 

This station has a broadcasting range over an area with about five million inhabitants. However, it did not observe its traditional day of silence on Holy Saturday this year. “In view of the competition that exists between the communities of faith, which other local radio stations use to spread false messages, one example being that several of them are giving the pope and the Catholic Church the spiritual responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic,” Father Cikongo continued, “we decided that the period of silence might lead our listeners to turn to competitor stations, with all the risk of manipulation this involves.”

A new challenge: school lessons live on the radio

In response to the schools closing on March 19, the radio station decided to broadcast lessons live to maintain the connection between teachers and their students. “This is a completely new experience for us,” the priest acknowledged. “We started working with the Catholic education centre La Robertanna (Centre éducatif catholique La Robertanna). As we have a total of 153 families with children, we bought small transistor radios to distribute to each of these families. Other families are interested in the project and will be able to participate because radio is accessible to all. Two hours of lessons are arranged for each day.”

 

“The teachers come to the radio station and the plan is to broadcast questions and answers live for 30 minutes during the time of the evening lesson.” One of the challenges will be “to make sure that the parents participate, particularly those who are illiterate,” while the other challenge is a financial one, the priest explained. “Because of the school closures, it is difficult for the parents to make spontaneous payments.”


Messengers of hope

The medium of radio has proved to be a critical hub for Christians in these times of health crisis, and not only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A large number of project partners of ACN have turned to the radio stations for even more intensive use.

 

One such example can be found at Radio Sol Mansi in Guinea-Bissau, which has also extended its broadcasting programme. This was done not only to raise awareness among the population of the measures being taken against the coronavirus epidemic, but also to continue their evangelisation efforts, now more than ever, by broadcasting divine services, catechesis and the various hours of prayer, Sister Alessandra Bonfanti, assistant manager of the Portuguese radio station, explained to ACN. She then continued, “In the current times, it is our mission to act as ambassadors of hope for a society that fears the pandemic. We have to help keep burning the flames of faith in hope – the hope that the world will return to normal if everyone does his or her part.”

 

ACN supports a number of radio stations in Africa. Over the past five years, the pontifical charity has not only helped stations in Guinea-Bissau and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. ACN has made financial contributions to 35 projects for the acquisition of new technical equipment and five projects for the production of new radio programs.

 

Together, let us continue to support our suffering brothers and sisters.  In these times of crisis when the needs are greater than ever, we should be in solidarity all the more.  To give a donation or to offer a prayer, visit our website: www.acn-canada.org/covid-19

 

 

Project of the Week – Support for pastoral outreach in Ethiopia

19.02.2020 in ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

Ethiopia

Support for ongoing pastoral outreach to the Borana people

By ACN Projects Department and ACN Canada
Published on the web February 19, 2020

 

Holy Cross Parish is based in the village of Dhadim, in a remote and underdeveloped region of southern Ethiopia. Its people are members of the Borana tribe who were until very recently, nomadic. Today more and more of them are becoming settled, although some continue their traditional pattern of migration with their herds of cattle.

 

At present around 5,000 of the 9,000 people in the area are Catholics, however a growing number of people are also seeking baptism. The parish itself is alive with catechetical classes and Bible study circles and in addition, the vocations apostolate is now starting to bear fruits. Two girls have expressed a desire to become religious Sisters, and five of the boys are showing an interest in the priesthood.

 

The youth are very active with around 250 young people regularly involved in the parish. Thanks to assistance supplied by ACN somewhere between 65 and 100 young people are able to take part each year in a three-day pastoral program in another diocese.

 

Father Kenneth Iwunna, the parish priest and a missionary from Nigeria, reports: “Most of them have never been anywhere except their own village. So for them it is an important new experience to meet together with young people from other ethnic backgrounds and share their life experiences with them. They don’t speak the same language, but we make sure there is someone there to interpret. The young people are able to grow in their faith and enjoy an important new experience of being Church. And it is not only they themselves who benefit from these days, but the whole community, for when the young people come back home, they talk about their experiences in church. And the older people are also very interested to hear about it.”

 

 

Overall, the involvement of the Church has tangibly changed the lives of these people. In the past there were intermittent feuds between members of the various local tribes, but the reconciliation work done by the Church has made a major contribution to the calming of the situation. At the same time, the situation of women has greatly improved in the society. Traditionally, the women of the Borana had no voice and were not permitted to do anything outside the home. But things have changed now, thanks to the work of the Church, and today more and more girls are attending school. And now women can even work as catechists.

 

As we did last year, ACN is proposing to support the pastoral work in the parish with $7,500. These funds will be used for the training of catechists, for the youth meetings and wedding ceremonies for couples wishing to marry in the Church following their Baptisms. The money will be also used to fund retreat days and other pastoral activities in the parish.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN Feature Story: Religious Sister and sexual assault survivor rebounds to ‘bring her people hope’

15.01.2020 in ACN Canada, ACN International, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom, Sisters

India

Religious Sister and sexual assault survivor rebounds to ‘bring her people hope’

by Anto Akkara, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Posted to the web January 15, 2020

 

In August 2008, the Odisha state’s Kandhamal district witnessed the worst eruption of Christian persecution in modern Indian history. It was sparked by the murder of a local Hindu leader. Hindu radicals labeled the killing “an international Christian conspiracy,” blaming the Pope, Europe, and the United States. They called for revenge on Christians, which led to the deaths of 100 people and the destruction of 300 churches and 6,000 homes. Seven Christians, falsely accused of the murder of the *Swami, spent 9 years in jail. In early December, the remaining five Christians were finally released on bail.

 

Courage alongside trauma

Kandhamal district in Odisha where in 2008 riots by radical Hindus took place against Christians.

During the wave of violence that swept through the Kandhamal district, Sister Meena Barwa was raped and paraded half-naked through the streets. After years of trauma and legal proceedings—which are still ongoing—Sister Barwa decided to enroll in law school and work on behalf of the marginalized. She recently spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

“The trauma was nearly unbearable, and I moved several times for my own safety, sometimes to places where I could not speak the language. I even wore disguises. For years, I was separated from my family. And the nights were especially bad. I dreamt of the assault often. The knowledge that Kandhamal’s Christians were suffering only added to my pain.

“From time to time, I returned to Odisha for court proceedings. The first trial traumatized me all over again. I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards; I was humiliated, offended, and mentally tortured. I developed a serious aversion to India’s legal system.

“But this did not keep me down. I decided to act on behalf of the people who suffered with me, to pursue justice for them. In 2009, I anonymously enrolled in a college outside of Odisha; I was just one of the girls living in a convent hostel. In 2015, I began a three-year law program, while continuing to attend to my duties as a nun.

 

 

Strength born of suffering and God’s blessings

“Many things have changed in the last decade. Today I lead a normal life, and I have become much stronger. The people I’ve met have helped me forget my pain; I consider them blessings from God. They were angels sent to guide me, so that I did not wallow in misery. Instead, I rose from my trauma and found a way to bring my people hope. I’ve become more humble, more patient, and more human.

“I pray the Lord’s prayer every day. The prayer is only meaningful when I forgive. How can I pray Our Lord’s Prayer if I do not forgive? By forgiving my attackers I have become free of my trauma, fear, shame, humiliation and anger. I feel I am living normal life and am happy because I forgave them. Otherwise, I would have gone mad. I have no ill feeling towards my attackers. I only wish that they become good people.

 

Tribal Catholics in Kandhamal district in Odisha where in 2008 riots by radical Hindus took place against Christians. These villagers have been expelled from their lands, losing all their goods, and have been resettled, often after living for months in the forest or in refugee camps, in another part of the district.

“He has empowered me to serve others”

“I am grateful for my life, my strength, and my sense of purpose, all of which were given to me by God. He is my strength, even as my trial drags on. And He has empowered me to serve others.

“The people of Kandhamal have suffered so much, but they are putting all their trust in the Lord. Suffering in itself is a grace. I see it as a challenge to grow out of it. The Christian community’s attitude towards what happened in Kandhamal in 2008 is not negative. They are hopeful and have a deeper faith. The tragedy has made them stronger. He words of St. Paul come to mind: ‘Who can separate us from the Love of Christ?’ The people of Kandhamal are living this.

* Meaning of ‘Swami’ – a teacher – in Sanskrit language: “One who knows.”

 


Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) published a book called ‘God’s Initiative’ co-authored by Marie-Claude Lalonde and Robert Lalonde, made-up of interviews conducted in 2015 of religious Sisters around the world.  Among them can be found Sister Meena’s story.

Please contact ACN Canada if you would like a copy: suggested donation is $20.  Please call (514) 659-4041 x227 or write to info@acn-canada.org.  All proceeds go to supporting pastoral projects supported by ACN in 140 countries around the world.

Press Release  – #RedWednesday, November 20, 2019 – Stones and Prayers

18.11.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN PRESS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Press Release, RED WEDNESDAY

Press Release  – For Immediate Release

 

#RedWednesday, November 20, 2019

Stones and Prayers

A show of solidarity with persecuted Christians!

 

The face of at least five monuments will be illuminated in red this year across Canada.  Of them: Mary-Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal and Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto.

 

Montréal, November 18, 2019 – This Wednesday, November 20, Aid to the Church in Need Canada is inviting all Canadians to participate in Red Wednesday events (#RedWednesday).  For the occasion, five stone monuments will be lit up in red:  Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, the entrance of the Grand Seminaire de Montreal and the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa located in the historic Chateau Birkett building. 

 

In the diocese of Calgary, more than 80 activities are already planned. “I believe that more and more Canadians are aware of the problems connected to the lack of religious freedom in the world, and in particular, of the situation of over 327 million Christians living in  persecution stricken countries,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada.

 

 

A Great International Movement

 

The events planned in Canada open an entire week of events taking place across the world until November 27.  In at least 15 countries, moments of prayer and information sessions have been organized along with monuments and buildings to be lit in red. To date it has been announced that there will be over 2,000 in Philippines and 120 in the United Kingdom in order to bring awareness to questions related to religious freedom and the persecution of Christians.

 

In Canada, there are several ways to offer a show of solidarity:

  • Participate in one of the planned events listed at this address acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/ or call : 1 (800)585-6333 or by email at info@acn-canada.org.
  • Find out more about the situation of Christians through the Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19 Report https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/
  • Share the information on social media using the hashtag: #RedWednesday
  • Wear red on November 20th
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world in small or large groups and for all who suffer because of a lack of religious freedom.

 

Among the many scheduled activities taking place Canada-wide we would like to highlight a few:

  • Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 pm at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal,
  • An ecumenical prayer vigil will be held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, also scheduled for 7:30 pm.
  • Mass will be celebrated at Saint Mary’s Parish in Banff, Alberta at 6:30pm.


 

 Aid to the Church in Need in History: The miracle of political change

12.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Father Werenfried van Straaten, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 Aid to the Church in Need – in History

The miracle of political change

By Tobias Lehner & Volker Niggewöhner, ACN-International
Revision: Amanda  Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A crucial milestone in the events leading up to the collapse of Communism in Europe. It was a dream come true for a great many people, not only those in East Germany. Dedicated Christians of all denominations and many organizations had worked tirelessly for decades to achieve this political change. One of these was the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and its founder, the Dutch Premonstratensian priest Father Werenfried van Straaten (1913–2003).

42 years of waiting—and working for—political change

For the pastoral charity, the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall did not come as a surprise. ACN had worked towards this end from the very beginning. “After waiting 42 years for this change to happen, our credibility will be at stake if we are not twice as willing now to make sacrifices to help the persecuted Church. Even in those places where the Church has been freed from its chains, it stands bereft of all means of survival. Its liberation will have been for naught if there are no priests, broadcasting programs and [distributing] books,” Father Werenfried wrote to the benefactors of ACN. The challenges that the charity now had to overcome were reminiscent of those that faced the pioneers in their day.

Looking back in time: in 1947, in response to an initiative of Pope Pius XII, Father Werenfried van Straaten launched a relief campaign for Germans who had been displaced and expelled from the East. After receiving reports of human rights violations and the persecution of the Church in those countries newly under Communist rule, he extended the relief efforts to these regions in 1952. For this reason, the name of his charity was, for the first few years, “Aid to the Eastern Priests,” before being renamed “Aid to the Church in Need” in 1969.

Very different conditions prevailed in the countries behind the Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union itself was considered inaccessible territory. It was only possible to spread the Good News there via radio broadcasts from outside the country—or by smuggling. More aid could be provided to other countries, particularly to Poland and Yugoslavia.

Another important activity of the charity was the dissemination of information. Father Werenfried believed that the Western world needed to know about what was happening in the East. He therefore preached hundreds of sermons in which he talked about the situation of the persecuted Church in Eastern Europe, giving a voice to those who were repressed and without one.

 

“Armed” for Peace

Beginning in the 1960s, ACN extended its aid efforts to other regions throughout the world such as Latin America and Africa; however, relief for Eastern Europe remained one of its most fervent concerns. Its efforts were inspired by the words of Pope Pius XII, who once said to Father Werenfried, “Everyone is currently taking up arms for war, but hardly anyone remembers to get ready for peace, should this suddenly come upon us.” And that became Father Werenfried’s goal, to have everything in readiness when that day came.

In response to Mikhail Gorbachev’s political reforms in the Soviet Union, ACN increased its aid for the republics of the Soviet Union from less than one million US dollars to 3.5 million US dollars between 1987 and 1988. Father Werenfried also began to collect money for the recruitment of priests in the Eastern bloc states. Both of these initiatives proved to be extremely helpful as events unfolded.

Behind the Iron Curtain in Poland Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Saint John-Paul II, visits the building site of Nowa Huta (1977). The communist regime wanted a new city without God: the people decided otherwise. 

The day ACN was waiting for finally arrived with the fall of the Berlin Wall and other revolutionary events. Whereas up until this point, the aid had always been distributed in secret, it could now be granted openly—in some cases it was even requested by the government. In all cases, it was absolutely essential. As of 1990, the aid for Eastern Europe increased to more than 22 million US dollars and would reach almost 30 million dollars by 1994/95. This was equivalent to more than 40 percent of all aid granted by ACN worldwide. The amount remained constant until the turn of the millennium.

Humanitarian and Spiritual Aid

To highlight a few particularly remarkable relief projects carried out in the years following the fall of Communism: during the Romanian Revolution, in December 1989, Father Werenfried travelled to Bucharest one day after the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife. Prior to this, he had been one of the first to organize deliveries of relief supplies for the suffering Romanian people.

ACN had a special relationship with the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. When the leader of the Church, Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, returned to his native Ukraine from exile in Rome on March 30, 1991, he was accompanied by Father Werenfried. While celebrating Holy Mass in Lviv, Father Werenfried made a solemn promise: “In the name of our benefactors, I promise that everything humanly possible will be done to help you, the bishops, the priests and religious sisters, the seminarians and all of the faithful, in the re-evangelization of Ukraine.”

ACN again kept its promise. The construction of a large seminary in Lviv became one of the greatest projects undertaken by the charity. Today, with around 200 students, the seminary in Lviv is one of the largest in the world.

A focus on priestly formation, convents and monasteries, spreading the Good News

Funding for the formation of young priests was a primary concern in other Eastern European countries as well. The contemplative orders were another issue, many of which had survived the years of Communism under inhumane conditions or were now being newly founded. In many countries, the Church was on the brink of ruin, having had all of its buildings expropriated under Communist rule and lacking an organizational structure. ACN granted aid here as well, particularly to smaller local Churches, such as those in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania or Kazakhstan. In these countries, the Catholics are in the minority and have hardly any advocates in society.

The first chapel boat navigating on the Volga was inaugurated on May 22nd 1998

Lived Ecumenism

A special assignment for the spiritual rehabilitation of Eastern Europe came from the highest authority: Pope John Paul II first mentioned the idea of initiating a more intensive dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church to ACN in 1991. And with Father Werenfried, this seed fell on fertile ground. He travelled with a delegation to Russia for the first time in October 1992. There, he met with Patriarch Alexy II and other Orthodox dignitaries. After Father Werenfried personally delivered his report to the Pope in early 1993, the charity not only distributed aid to Catholic communities, but also extended its efforts to projects supporting the Russian Orthodox Church. The best known of these projects were the so-called “chapel ships”—converted boats used by priests to visit communities that no longer had a church. Father Werenfried was convinced that “the vital task of re-evangelizing Russia was the mission of our Orthodox Sister Church.” In his opinion, the Orthodox Church was also in need of assistance after suffering persecution during Communism and having to start again from zero.

 

Regina Lynch, Director of Projects at the opening of an ACN national office in Slovakia

From Aid Recipients to Helpers

Since 1990, ACN has granted more than 750 million dollars in aid to the Church in Eastern Europe. Although the focus of its relief efforts today has shifted to the Near East and Africa, the organization has not forgotten the Christians in Eastern Europe. The small, poverty-stricken Church in Ukraine is therefore ranked fourth among the countries that receive aid from ACN.

However, the communities in the former Communist countries were never just aid recipients. Soon after the Iron Curtain collapsed, solidarity campaigns developed among the Catholics in different countries who had recently been the victims of persecution themselves. Poland played and still plays a major role in this. One of the national offices of Aid to the Church in Need is now located there—another in Slovakia. The miracle of political change is also at work here.

 

 

ACN Interview: The Synod for Amazonia – “The indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time”

11.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Brazil, ACN International, Amazonia, by Rodrigo Arantes, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Vatican, World

The Synod for Amazonia

“The indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time”

Interview conducted by Rodrigo Arantes for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

The Synod for Amazonia has been underway since October 6, and will continue through to October 27, at the Vatican. It is a synod that has caught the attention, not only of Catholics but of the entire world.  Msgr. Neri José Tondello is Bishop of the diocese of Juína, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, and one of the 18 members of the pre-synodal Council. In this interview with the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he relates the recent history of the Church in relation to Amazonia and speaks of the experience of the Gospel among the indigenous peoples. He also explains the consultative character of the synod.


 

You have been part of the pre-synodal Council. This synod has caught the attention not only of people within the Church, but also of all the major media. To what do you attribute the great interest in this particular synod? 

Bishop Neri: The Synod for Amazonia has a long history. It is evident that it has awakened great interest, because it is tackling the theme of an integral ecology. This includes not only the original inhabitants living there, especially the indigenous peoples, who are the first and legitimate proprietors of the Amazon region. It also includes the communities living on the riverbanks, the quilombolas (descendants of former African slaves), the colonists and so many other people who are now living in the region in search of a better life.

 

Bishop Dom Neri Tondello celebrating Mass at a poor straw-chapel

The aim of an integral ecology is to seek to consider our “common home” in all its complexity, and Pan-Amazonia is a region which serves the whole planet with its benefits. This region, within this context of being a common home, is currently affected by problems that are having a grave and far-reaching impact. To this, one can now add the forest fires that have been started; this is also a serious problem and a threat. Previously people did not pay much attention to the impact of these fires, but they lead to deforestation and illegal logging, agribusiness, poisoning of the rivers, and consequently to the killing of the fish within them. The hydroelectric dams and the mining industry – with its toxic byproducts such as mercury – are likewise killing off the fish stocks. We are speaking of the basic food supply for our indigenous peoples. All these things end up by gravely harming the Pan-Amazonian region in all its biodiversity.

 

This then is the general context, which in consequence is not restricted solely to the internal debate within the Church but which in fact involves the whole world, because Amazonia is not a separate issue – everything is interconnected, everything is interrelated, and that is why the region is of crucial importance for the world. Pope Francis is also posing the question as to what the world can do to save Amazonia.

 

What does the Amazon synod mean to you?

I would say that the synod is a Kairós 1. I know that there has been much talk about the subject around the world and that the synod has met with widespread publicity. Even though there are some who speak ill of it, who condemn it and say ugly things about the synod, the great majority take a positive view of this special assembly for the Pan-Amazonian region and for the whole Church. As someone involved in the preparation process, one is very aware of this. There are those who don’t like it, who criticize it, but in general the synod is a Kairós for the Church. We are going to have to ask for many prayers so that we can have the gift of discernment.

We have listened to the reality of the situation in Amazonia and to the clamour of its peoples, who are expressing their unhappiness. During the course of the synod we will be listening to the scientists, and above all we will be listening to what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to the Churches in the Amazon region.

It is important to remind ourselves that the synod is not a deliberative body; according to its guidelines it is a consultative organ. But let us nonetheless not be lacking in courage to propose new ways for the Church and for an integral ecology. May this great event help Pope Francis to take the necessary decisions and give us sure guidance that will be appropriate to this blessed place that is our beloved Amazonia.

 

Project supported by ACN: Purchase of 2 solar energy generator systems for the “Itinerant” boat: Father Gino Alberati

What is needed if the Church is not to be solely a “visiting Church” throughout Amazonia?

Evangelization was brought to us by men and women who came from abroad, who gave their lives, many of whom are martyrs of Amazonia. But many of the things that were imported were not always the best; they were often schemes of colonization, of domination, which disregarded the potential already existing there. In other words, they did not take account of the true face of the Amazon, a face that had the capacity to become the protagonist of its own form of evangelization, through the inculturation of the Gospel, incarnated in the reality of the “seeds of the word” already present among the indigenous peoples, the riverside dwellers, the settlers and all the other people who inhabit this region. And consequently, in order to achieve a more permanent Church, more effective and more present, and closer to the people themselves, their communities and their groups, there is a need both in religious formation and also in the organization of the community, to draw more deeply on these gifts, these charisms, ministries and individuals. Of course we have to acknowledge baptism as the starting point for everything, a baptismal and collegial Church, different from a clerical Church. In saying this I want to make it clear that our document, the Instrumentum laboris, (working document) presents the Pope with an opening to this call.

 

Celibacy will never disappear, because it will always be a gift for the Church. But I also believe that the Church can reflect, from the point of view of the theology of spirituality and pastoral considerations, on the need for other new forms that will help to assure a more continuing presence alongside the People of God that will go beyond this idea of a “visiting Church.” We need to be closer, more present, and for this reason we need to explore the ideas on which people have been working for so long – for example the idea of a community priest, someone with a community face, an Amazonian face, someone who lives on the spot and knows all the members of the community and can help to make the process of evangelization much more effective.

Brazil, August 2019: a burned field in the Amazon forest.

 

Colniza is one of the towns in your diocese and at the same time one of the towns in the country that is suffering most from the forest fires. What is the situation like there at the moment?

The fires have been terrible. They have always happened, but this year they were excessive. The region of Colniza and Guariba are among the towns that have statistically seen the most fires during this year. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this culture of using fire to clear the pastures. It seems to me that we cannot admit that the use of fire is becoming something cultural, because it is far more destructive than it is beneficial. I have been in the Mato Grosso region for 17 years and I have been able to see that this year the fires have been worse than in other years, by a wide margin.

Some of the burnings are even criminal, whereas others were accidental, but they have caused great damage in the region. There is even a “day of fire” organized by one particular group of delinquents. Now the region is fearing reprisals in its international commercial relationships. We are trying to develop a sense of awareness, in collaboration with the members of IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute for the environment and renewable natural resources (Instituto Brasileño de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales Renovables), with the members of the forestry workers’ union, and with the firefighting agency, which is always organizing campaigns to guide and warn people. We are joining forces with them and we are also using our powers of evangelization in order to draw attention to people’s responsibility in the face of this grave risk, involving the destruction of nature by means of fire.

 

ACN supports the use of green energy alternatives

ACN has been supporting pastoral projects in Amazonia for over 40 years now. Your diocese of Juína is also one of those that have received our help. What kind of benefits have you seen from these projects for your people?

Our diocese has benefited enormously from the projects in which ACN has been involved. Whether in catechetical formation, the family apostolate, youth apostolate and children’s apostolate, the 2,000 Bibles supplied in your Bible distribution campaign, the evangelization materials, the children’s rosaries or the help for our solar energy project. After all, in the Amazon synod we cannot think only about the destruction of the forest and the construction of hydroelectric dams to obtain energy. No, we need to create alternatives, and solar energy is one of these. ACN has helped us greatly in this respect.

Brazil, August 2019: a burned field in the Amazon forest.

 

As to the importance of formation, we recently held some ethics classes with the group from the training school, with the idea of establishing permanent deacons in the near future. We already have 10 deacons exercising this ministry. It is a mixed school, ethnically. We have over 20 indigenous students and 15 non-indigenous. Within this formation school we have people with close links to the riverside villages who are leaders in our communities. Thanks to the aid of ACN we feel very much a part of this Amazonian reality and really appreciate this support, amplified by your help with evangelization projects and at the same time with projects which aim to build up and train individuals for the work of evangelization within the region.


  1. Kairos: definition according to Myriam-Webster dictionary: is – a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment.

 

ACN News: Religious Freedom in India

04.10.2019 in ACN Canada, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious freedom

Religious Freedom in India

“We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity”

by Matthias Böhnke, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada

 

“The circumstances are difficult for the Christians in our diocese – we often come up against restrictions in the practice of our faith,” Dr Stephen Antony explained. The 67-year-old bishop of the diocese of Tuticorin in southern India and 53 other Indian bishops recently met with Pope Francis during an ad limina visit to Rome.

According to the bishop, the Indian government is working to transform this immense, primarily Hindu, country into a homogenous country with one language and one set of policies. A difficult to impossible undertaking in a heterogeneous country with 29 federal states and the second most populous country in the world at 1.37 billion inhabitants. Some forecasts even predict that India may already overtake top-ranking China next year.

 

Policies favouring the wealthy

The situation has worsened after this year’s parliamentary elections, which the nationalist governing party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi won with a surprising majority. “Our situation at the moment isn’t very encouraging. The government makes a lot of rash decisions, which makes things unpredictable. Politics only benefits the wealthy part of the population. The poor are left with nothing,” Bishop Antony deplored.

 

Project supported by ACN – Transportation for pastoral & social work, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at St. Charles Convent, Vilathikulam, Tutcorin Dist. – Eastern Province.

The bishop explained that about 450,000 Catholics live in the diocese of Tuticorin, which is equivalent to about 17 per cent of the population. Besides the attacks targeting the faithful and groups of pilgrims, he reported that the circumstances were becoming more and more difficult in his diocese, particularly for the hospitals and the more than 200 schools operated by the church. According to the bishop, high unemployment is a problem not only affecting teachers, but the lack of support from the government has led many of the small farmers and factory workers to feel its effects as well. In fact, Bishop Antony said, many people in the region were so desperate that they felt that suicide was the only option left open to them.

 

However, he does believe that there are signs of hope, one of which being the visit to Pope Francis in Rome. “We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity,” said Stephen Antony. “We hope that Hindus and Christians will soon become more tolerant of each other and that the readiness to use violence will decline throughout the country. I am deeply grateful to ACN and all the benefactors who help us meet our needs in all areas of pastoral care and accompany us in their prayers.”

ACN Success Story – Belarus

25.09.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN Success story – in Belarus

Getting around – an essential for a priest!  

This week, our story unfolds in Belarus.  First of all, we learn in this country of close to 10 million people, the percentage of Catholics is a little less than 8%, whereas the Orthodox are close to 50%.

Given the context, it is interesting to observe that new Catholic parishes continue to see the light of day.  One of them was founded in 2017 on the outskirts of Grodno a village of 370,000 inhabitants. The parish is dedicated to Saint John Paul II and serves many young families and their children to serve the many young people who are moving into the towns because there is work there and they can guarantee their children a better education than they can in the countryside. The result is the number of the Catholic faithful in the towns is growing. Though most everything in the parish is still under construction, all the catechetical instruction is given in the houses and homes of the faithful. Holy Mass is currently celebrated out in the open, on the site where the Church will eventually stand. Swindled! Parish priest, Father Henryk Jablonski, is still living in a one room flat 10 km from the site. He is constantly on the road between the building site, the homes and dwellings where the catechetical instruction is given and to the hospital where he regularly visits the sick. The priest urgently needs a car for his work. Previously, he managed to purchase a secondhand vehicle, but it was confiscated by authorities since the previous owner had forged documents related to it. So he lost not only his money, but the vehicle as well.

Our kind benefactors have provided $ 15,000 to help Father Jablonski buy a new car for his work. He is delighted, and immensely grateful, and asks us to thank all of you who have made it possible!


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ACN Project of the Week – Training of future catechists in Pakistan

11.09.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Catechist, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Pastoral care

Pakistan—Success Story: Help for the formation of 42 catechists

The work of catechists is of immense importance for the life of the Church in Pakistan. The parishes here are often vast and with numerous outlying settlements, and consequently the catechists are an indispensable support for the priests playing a major role in passing on the Catholic faith. In many cases the life of the parishes would virtually come to a halt without them.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Khushpur’s national catechists’ training centre, in the diocese of Faisalabad, which has existed since 1965, has now become the “beating heart” of the Church’s pastoral outreach in Pakistan. In this country where men dominate the social stage, these lay people from all over the country come here to train in order to bring this vital ministry back to their own home dioceses.

 

Those candidates who are already married and have families are provided with accommodation for the duration of their training. At the same time their wives also attend a range of courses, including healthcare, needlework, and a foundational knowledge or basic Scripture. It is the norm in Pakistan for the worlds of men and women to be segregated. Consequently, the catechists’ wives will also have a vital role to play in ministering to the women in their own communities. Meanwhile, any children they have will at the same time attend kindergarten or school for the duration of the course.

Great emphasis is placed on practical activities. So the catechists in training will also visit the local parishioners to talk and pray with them. They will also accompany the fully trained catechists in their work for a week or so as to acquire a feeling for their own future apostolate.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has long supported the training of these catechists. Last year 42 trainees were able to put $12,600 provided by ACN benefactors, toward the cost of their training.

To all our generous benefactors who provided this help, we pass on their grateful thanks!