ACN Feature Story – Celebrating the restoration of a church in Syria

11.10.2019 in Peace, Persecution of Christians, Reconstruction, Syria


Celebrating the inauguration of the newly restored church of Haret Saraya, destroyed by jihadists in 2012

by Marta Garcia, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


Marmarita/Königstein. —Evening is falling in the Valley of the Christians. From its high vantage point the Crusader fortress, the Crac des Chevaliers, built in the 11th-12th century, looks down impassively on the arriving visitors. Today is a day of festival in the church of Haret Saraya in the village of Al-Husn. The band of trumpeters and drummers plays on unceasingly.

The church, which is dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, looks resplendent with its freshly painted white walls and brightly coloured iconostasis. “They’ve rebuilt it just as it was before,” says local Archbishop Nikolas Sawaf, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Latakia.

In 2012 this church was ransacked and burned by the jihadists, who dominated the valley from their position overlooking the village in the historic Crusader fortress the Crac des Chevaliers, built by the Knights Hospitaller. They tore down the cross, profaned the holy icons and smashed and disfigured the statues. Nor did they spare the parish premises or the presbytery, even ripping the electric wiring from the walls of the house.

But seven years later—exactly on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross—the day becomes a feast for the faithful and the little church is packed with people during the re-dedication ceremony. Both Catholic and Orthodox priests from the region are present for the occasion. It is a scene of great joy. Outside in the courtyard, in front of a rejoicing crowd, the Orthodox choir of Our Lady of Al Wadi sings hymns of hope, peace and forgiveness, at the same time remembering those who disappeared, were killed or exiled by the war and calling on the Christians to stand fast and remain on their lands.

“Now that the church has been renewed, it is time for us to renew the living stones, our own hearts,” urges Father Andrzej Halemba to the faithful during the celebration. The head of the project section for the countries of the Middle East of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) says: “Our hearts have been broken by the violence, divided and unsettled by the events in our lives. Now is the time to renew them with the love of Christ. Let us pray for peace in Syria.”

ACN helped not only for the renovation of the church of Haret Saraya, but also for the repairs to the parish buildings and the presbytery. And at the same time it was possible to add on additional guest rooms and small business outlets in the village, so close to the historic tourist attraction of the Crac des Chevaliers, which will soon be welcoming visiting tourists once again. In this way it has been possible to some extent to help guarantee a longer term future for the Christian legacy here, where it has such ancient roots.

“ACN is like Simon of Cyrene for us, supporting us and helping us to carry our cross,” said Archbishop Sawaf, at the end of this day of celebration.


The projects for the rebuilding of the Christian structures in the village of Al-Husn were supported by ACN with grants totalling over $255,000. They are part of a broader program by the charity, for the reconstruction of the Christian infrastructure affected by the war in the various dioceses of Syria.

Iraq – Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits! – ACN-News

26.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Marta Petrosillo, By Marta Petrosillo, Communiqué, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Reconstruction

Aid to the Church in Need in Iraq

Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits!

Montreal, February 26thThanks to a donation of 300 000 dollars from the Holy Father, following the auctioning of the Lamborghini that was given to him last year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be able to fund two new projects on behalf of the Iraqi Christian families and other minorities who have returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

Marta Petrosillo for ACN-International and Mario Bard, ACN-Canada

On 15 November 2017 the Holy Father decided to give ACN part of the proceeds from the auctioning of the Lamborghini Hurricane that had been donated to him by the famous Italian carmaker. Now ACN will give concrete form to the Pope’s gesture by funding the reconstruction of two buildings of the Syriac Catholic Church, destroyed by the war. They are the nursery school (kindergarten) of Our Lady and the multipurpose centre of the parish of the same name.

Both buildings are in the village of Bashiqa, just 30 km from Mosul. The village was badly damaged during the war, but the Christian community has returned, and in large numbers. In facts by now, 405 of the 580 homes that were destroyed here have already been rebuilt and around 50% of the Christians, or 1,585 people, have already returned.

The Parish Hall was totally destroyed.

The two projects funded with money from the Lamborghini will also benefit the other minorities in the town, since the multipurpose centre, which has capacity for over 1,000 people, will be used for weddings and the religious feasts of all the different communities. It will be the largest such centre in the area and will be available for use to over 30,000 people of all different faiths and ethnic groups.

The Return of Iraqi Christians: An Unexpected Success!


Just a little over two years since the liberation of the villages of the Nineveh Plains, the number of Christians who have been able to return to their homes has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. By January 11th this year at least 9108 families had returned to their villages, almost 46% of the 19,832 families dwelling there in 2014 prior to the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (IS). This is thanks above all to the immense work of reconstruction – to which ACN have greatly contributed – that has made it possible so far to rebuild or repair some 41% of the 14,035 homes
destroyed or damaged by IS.

This intervention, in which the pontifical foundation ACN has played a major role in collaboration with the local Churches, has also found a generous benefactor in the person of the Holy Father. Already back in 2016 Pope Francis gave 150,000 dollars in support of the “Saint Joseph Charity Clinic” in Erbil, which provides free medical assistance.

This most recent gift by the Holy Father will be a further help to local Christians, enabling them to live their own faith and offer a future in Iraq to their children. At the same time it is a powerful message and an invitation to peaceful coexistence between the different religions in a region where fundamentalism has sadly damaged interreligious relations.


Since 2014 and up to the present day ACN has given over 60 million dollars for the support of Iraqi Christians.
Thanks to you, Christians in Iraq can return home.
Thank you!

Iraq: New hope for Christians in Iraq!

ACN In-Depth Story – Forgiveness without limits in Columbia

10.08.2018 in by Martha Suárez, Peace, Prayer, Reconciliation, Reconstruction

An In-depth Story from Columbia

A story of forgiveness without limits


Pastora Mira García from Colombia.
Through acts of Christian love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence, she has become one of Colombia’s best-known women of faith as her nation is still grappling with the aftermath of decades of unrelenting violence.

PASTORA MIRA GARCÍA, through acts of Christian love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence, has become one of Colombia’s best-known women of faith as her nation is still grappling with the aftermath of decades of unrelenting violence. The past 60 years saw an armed struggle involving Marxist guerillas, government troops and extreme right-wing militias. By the time a controversial peace deal was struck with the largest guerilla group in 2016, by some estimates as many as 900,000 people had died in the conflict and seven million Colombians were displaced.

In September 2017, when Pope Francis visited the country, Pastora was chosen to address the Pope and the nation at large to give a testimony of her commitment to Christ’s commandment to “love one another”. She tells her story in an interview with the Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need. From the beginning, it has been the charism of the charity to promote reconciliation and forgiveness.


Colombia, Medellin 2017 – Meeting with Priests, Religious, Seminarians and their families at the Macarena Event Center in Medellín regarding to the Pope Francis visit to Colombia in September 2017

Learning to live again

“On April 4, 1960, my father, Francisco Mira, was killed by political rivals. I was 4-years-old when his nine children were forced to see his murder. Pushing my mother aside, they shot him and then beheaded him in front of us.

“In 1999, my mother suffered a heart attack and died when militants of one of the country’s warring factions knocked down the neighbours’ front door.

“Although not everyone goes to college, we are all attending the ‘University of Life.’”

“In 2001, my daughter Paola took her 5-year-old daughter along when she went to work at a rural school; they were captured by militants; two days later, they returned the girl, that is, my granddaughter. The family entered a very dark night, wondering what had become of Paola. We managed to recover her body after more than seven years of walking through fields and up and down mountains. I had insisted that de-mining equipment was brought in so that we could conduct our search safely.

“My younger brother was also seized on a highway and neither he nor the people who traveled with him have ever reappeared.  On May 4, 2005, an illegal armed group took my 18-year-old son into captivity for 15 days. Then they murdered him and left him lying in the road. At that time, I said: ‘Lord, I am giving him back to you.’ Although not everyone goes to college, we are all attending the ‘University of Life.’

“Before my mother’s death, I went to work in a village where I heard the name of my father’s murderer and asked my mother if he was the man who killed dad, and she replied: ‘Yes, my daughter, but we have no right to do anything about it, nor to hurt him.’ It took me some time to investigate and when at last I came to that house far away, I did not meet a man, but a wreck of a human being.

“I understood that guilt is worse than pain.”

“It would have been very easy, given the circumstances in which he lived, to poison his food or use some other method to end his life—but fortunately I had received that message from my mother. I sat crying on the way back and made the decision to frequently visit him, along with some people who visited the sick; to help him heal, to bring him food and clothes. We did so for a long time.

“I had learned a very important lesson; when the mother of my father’s murderer asked her son one day, ‘Do you know who that person is who has been taking care of you? She is one of the many orphans you have left behind. She is the daughter of Pacho Mira.’ He never looked me in the eye again. I understood that guilt is worse than pain.


“On May 19, 2005, attending to my son’s vault in a mausoleum I felt a need to look up, and I saw a sculpture depicting of the Pietà. I said to the Virgin: ‘Madrecita (dear Mother), forgive me for crying for my son, when I should stay calm because I had the blessing of being a mother.’

“I begged my dear God that it not be with a mother’s heart that I would be feeling, nor be listening to the boy with a mother’s ears—that He help me.”

‘Three days later, on my way home, I saw a young man who belonged to one of the illegal armed groups. He was hurt and crying out in pain. We brought him home. He was hungry; I gave him some food and coffee, plus a pair of shorts and a shirt that had belonged to my son. A friend who was a nurse came and we washed his wound.


“This young man lay down on my son’s bed and, seeing his pictures on the wall, asked: ‘Why are there photos of that dude we killed few days ago?’ We were all shocked, my daughters and I, and the boy started crying and talking. I begged my dear God that it not be with a mother’s heart that I would be feeling, nor be listening to the boy with a mother’s ears—that He help me.


Love One Another

“In the end, I told the young man: ‘This is your bed and this is your bedroom.’ The boy cried and talked— it was as if we were giving him a beating. I passed him the phone and told him: ‘There is a mom worried about you somewhere, please call her.’

I went to talk to my daughters, who said: ‘Mom he cannot get out of here alive!’ I answered them: ‘Tell me what you want me to do, but the only thing I ask of you in return is that, when I finish being a murderer like him, you guarantee that my child is going to be sitting here with us.’ They understood that it should not be an eye for an eye, nor a tooth for a tooth.

“Lord, to the one who has hurt me, forgive him; heal me”

“I went back to the boy: ‘Look, you cannot stay here anymore, go to a hospital.’ He left and returned that same year in August, now demobilized and disarmed. When he used to meet me, he greeted me saying, ‘Mom.’ That December he died in a drug-related incident.

“His mother came to collect the body and I had the opportunity of helping her take the body back to her municipality. There is a fundamental principle: ‘Love one another.’ Lord, to the one who has hurt me, forgive him; heal me and make it so that, through your forgiveness, I can look him in the eye as a human being with the right to make mistakes—and to know that in his mistakes it was he who has failed.’”

COLOMBIA / GRANADA Construction of the church Santuario a la Memoria de las Víctimas, parish San Antonio María Claret

Today, Pastora is dedicated to CARE, the Spanish acronym loosely translated as the ‘Center for Getting Close to Reconciliation.’ She founded it 13 years ago to discover different ways to promote the reconciliation of victims and perpetrators. Pastora is convinced that the way to bring reintegration is to fully understand what has happened; that is the foundation for genuine emotional and spiritual healing.

ACN supports reconciliation projects in different parts of the world. In Colombia, ACN has just approved a project to rebuild a church in Aquitania. In this village, both the church and the rectory were destroyed by the guerrillas. Because of the location and the surrounding forests, the fighting had been very intense there. Many people died in the fighting or by stepping on mines left by the insurgents. Finally, the village was abandoned. People gradually returned after the government regained control and the area was de-mined. The people found only ruins and a church in very bad condition.

In order for Aquitania to come to life again, the parish priest has asked for help to rebuild the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. ACN is providing $30,000 for this project.


Press Release – Meeting in the United Nations with ACN, KofC and UNDP

27.02.2018 in ACN International, By Mark von Reidemann, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Reconstruction


High-level meeting to channel more help to suffering Christians in the Nineveh Plains

NYC-Montreal, February 27 – Representatives of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Knights of Columbus (KofC), were received on Monday by Mr. Mourad Wahba the Assistant Secretary General, at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to brief the UN on the situation of Christians and minority populations in the Nineveh Plains.

ACN and KofC drew attention to the ongoing challenges for Christians seeking to return to their homes, highlighted the urgency for a coordinated response to preserve these minority communities, and offered their expertise on the ground. These Catholic charities are the single largest contributors to the preservation of the remaining 95,000 Christian internally displaced in northern Iraq with over $50 million USD since the 2014 ISIS – Islamic state – invasion.

During the meeting in New York, at the UN, on Monday­. 




Mr. Mourad Wahba, who reports directly to the UN Secretary General, outlined the anticipated expansion of UNDP programmes in the Nineveh Plains, stating: “We recognize the need for greater cooperation for the stabilization of the Nineveh Plains, and the need to support religious diversity as a bulwark against the return of ISIS”. Mr. Wahba highlighted the importance of Christians and other minorities and welcomed more cooperation in Iraq between public and private sectors.

Secretary General of ACN, Mr. Philipp Ozores, stated: “We welcome the increase of urgently needed institutional involvement to end the ordeal of the Christians of Nineveh. Too long this help has been resting on private donors alone”.

Between 2014 and 2018, ACN gave $38 million US dollars in emergency aid for the needs of the Christian internally displaced in the Nineveh Plains. Today, with the desire of these populations to return home, ACN will provide an additional $5 million US dollars to renovate 2,000 houses more of the approximately 13,000 damaged or destroyed homes in an effort to resettle these ancient Christian populations.

From left to the right: Philipp Ozores ( Secretary general of ACN International),
Mr. Mourad Wahba (Assistant Secretary General at the United Nations Development Programme- UNDP), Mark von Riedemann (ACN’s Public Affairs representative and Managing Director of CRTN),
Father Andrzej Halemba (Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects’ coordinator)


Get more information on ACN’s work in Iraq:

To make a donation for the reconstruction in Iraq
via the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need,
please visit our web page:

OR call: 1-800-585-6333.

Thank you!


ACN Project of the Week – Restoring after hurricane Irma in Cuba

08.11.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Cuba, Reconstruction



New roofs for hurricane effected homes and churches


In September 2017, vast areas of Cuba were struck by Hurricane Irma. The island was pounded by winds gusting up to 250 km an hour, torrential rainfall, tidal surges with waves of up to 30 feet and widespread flooding.

At least 10 people lost their lives and there was extensive damage across wide swathes of the country. And while hurricanes are no rarity in this region, Hurricane Irma was more powerful than anything people here have experienced for decades.

CUBA – Archdiocese of Camagüey – 17.09.2017 After the Hurricane Irma: The chapel of Palma City has been severely damaged.

Needless to say, many of the Catholic dioceses in the country have suffered from this natural disaster, and many of the people have been forced to stand helpless at the sight of their damaged homes and churches.


In the archdiocese of Camaguey, one chapel was completely destroyed, three churches were left in danger of collapse and five other churches and chapels suffered severe damage. The hurricane raged for nine hours, and thousands of people were evacuated from their homes.

CUBA – Archdiocese of Camagüey – 11.09.2017  Following Hurrican Irma: The chapel of Jiquí is completely destroyed.

Just as soon as the worst of the hurricane had passed, Archbishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez was out, examining the scene of the devastation. In the town of Esmeralda, which was particularly hard hit, he found the church totally destroyed. “It was painful to see our church razed to the ground,” he said, “with the benches tossed hither and thither and the holy pictures and statues smashed.”


Although it was still raining heavily, he stood on the spot where the Church had once been and spoke to a married couple there. The woman, whose name was Ismaela, said to him, “Well, Bishop, the chapel may have collapsed, but not the Church.” For of course the Church is not merely a building of stone, but the living Body of Christ, which no storm can destroy, even if the buildings collapse.

After the Holy Mass on the ruins of the chapel of Jiquí: Community members with Archbishop S.E.R. Mons. Wilfredo Pino Estevez and the Apostolic Nuntio S.E.R. Mons. Giorgio Lingua

Now the time has come to start rebuilding. Archbishop Wilfredo is concerned above all for the people who have been left homeless and consequently he has asked ACN to help him purchase 6,500 corrugated steel roofing sheets. 5,000 of them will be given out to those who need them, so that their families can once again have a roof over their heads. The rest he intends to use to repair the damage on some of the churches and chapels. We are planning to help him with $50,000.

To support a similar project to this 

please click ‘donate’



ACN Feature Story – Where priests double as master-builders

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

Nineveh Plains

Where priests double as master-builders

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

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

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

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

Fr. Salar Boudagh, from Iraq, Diocese of Alqosh

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

Reestablishing Christianity in the lands of the prophets

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

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

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


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



ACN Project of the Week – in Ecuador

26.10.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ecuador, Project of the Week, Reconstruction, Sisters


Help to renovate the convent of the Poor Clares


The town of San Miguel is situated in central western Ecuador, in the province of Bolívar, the name translates into Saint Michael (the Archangel). Since 1902 the town of San Miguel has had a Marian shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, including a grotto modeled on the one in the original shrine in France.

Just as in Lourdes, there is a spring here that is reputed to be a source of healing. In fact, this shrine has now become an important place of pilgrimage that is visited by pilgrims from all over the country. Particularly large groups of pilgrims tend to come in Mary‘s month, the month of May, and in September too when there is a great feast, lasting for two weeks and ending with the feast of the Archangel Michael on September 29.


Le travail de la terre inclut celui de l'apiculture, chez les Clarisses de San Miguel, Équateur.

Working the land includes beekeeping in Ecuador with the Poor Clares in San Miguel.


Close to this shrine dedicated to Our Lady, is a convent belonging to the Poor Clares.  Sixteen nuns currently live in the quiet of the enclosure, in a strict contemplative life of prayer. Their convent has also been dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.

The Sisters have chosen to live in poverty.  Nonetheless, they are still must facing the challenge of undertaking major renovations needed for the maintenance of their convent.


ACN is helping with 9,928 CAN for the renovation of six cells, and for the ceiling in the transept in need of repairs.  Thank you to all who helped support these Sisters of the Poor Clares Congregation!


donateIf you wish to support similar projects – it is as simple as clicking ‘donate’ and following the instructions.


If you prefer to give us a call – or to donate by mail – you can find our coordinates here. We always look forward to speaking with you!


Serbia: The impoverishment of Serbia

25.03.2015 in Pastoral aid, Press Release, Reconstruction, SEMINARIANS, Serbia, TRANSPORTATION


The impoverishment of Serbia 

Königstein/Montreal – March 24, 2015. “Serbia has visibly become poor. For this reason, many have also given up hope. The 40 to 50-year-olds are now leaving, people in their prime.”   The Catholic bishop of Zrenjanin, Ladislav Nemet, used these words to describe the current situation in Serbia during a visit to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

eveque serbieBishop Nemet also said, “Waging war costs a great deal; however, being bombed even more. Years of international sanctions and the damage inflicted by the NATO bombing in 1999, which has yet to be repaired, have been very hard on the economic basis, especially on industry and the transportation infrastructure. Serbia has been thrown back at least 50 years.”

The Church feels the effects of emigration

According to the bishop, the first wave of emigration hit the south-eastern European country in 1991. At that time, those leaving were primarily young Serbs who did not want to fight in the war. The second wave was triggered by the bombing in 1999. According to a 2011 Census, Serbia currently should have 7.16 million inhabitants. The World Bank estimates that the country has lost approximately 300,000 inhabitants over the last ten years.

The Church has also felt the effects of emigration Greek Catholic Church. Bishop Nemet commented, “Today, the diocese of Zrenjanin in Vojvodina in the northern part of Serbia has approximately 65,000 believers. In 1991, there were still 99,000.” Because many believers in Vojvodina have Hungarian, Romanian, Croatian or German roots, moving to one of the countries of the European Union is comparatively easy. According to the bishop, most of the Serbs move to Austria, Germany or the United States. Thus, Chicago is “already considered the second largest Serbian community after Belgrade.”

ACN has been supporting the pastoral work of the Catholic as well as the Greek Catholic Church in all five Serbian dioceses giving pastoral care following the diaspora – for years. In 2014, the aid was primarily used for pastoral programs to help children and adolescents; renovation as well as construction projects were also supported along with help to avoid damage from flooding. Mass Offerings were given to secure the livelihood of pastors, as were the acquisition of automobiles to carry out pastoral care in diaspora regions.

PHILIPPINES – One year later

07.11.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Philippines, Reconstruction

ACN International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde


©Aid to the Church in Need

On 8th November 2013, super typhoon Haiyan pounded the island of Leyte in the Philippines with winds nearing 315 kilometres per hour and a tremendous storm surge that bulldozed the countryside. 11 million people were affected by the storm. Over 6,000 people lost their lives.

The Minor Seminary of the Sacred Heart in Palo was almost totally destroyed. At that time, there were only four priests in the building: the rector, the vice-rector, the dean of the College of the Philosophy and the Prefect of Studies, Father Mark Ivo Velasquez. As the latter explains, there were no seminarians because they were gone on their annual retreat.


©Aid to the Church in Need

Father Velasquez recalls the frightful events of that night: “I woke up at four, as did the other priests because we could not sleep and we wanted to monitor the progress of the storm. We were watching as the strength of the wind increased and I was becoming increasingly worried because I could see the roof of the chapel being lifted up little by little. One of the dorms there, the walls exploded. The pressure was so great that it pushed one door to the other dorm. The high school building was destroyed. The auditorium it was totally flattened in a matter of minutes. Our carpentry shop which is at the back, it was completely destroyed”.

The wind damaged 80% of the Seminary buildings. Several months after Haiyan made landfall, the seminary has resumed operations.


Uganda – Renovation of the seminary in Alokolum

29.07.2013 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Pastoral aid, Reconstruction, SEMINARIANS, Uganda

by ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

At present, in the village of Alokolum, northern Uganda,  220 young men from various different dioceses of the country are training for the priesthood at the major seminary . This is good news of course, but it also presents the seminary with a major challenge,for now it is bursting at the seams. Therefore, there is an urgent need to renovate one of the seminary buildings housing the seminarians, to keep it habitable given the already very limited space available.

During the civil strife in Uganda, which lasted from 1988 until 2007, the seminary in Alokolum shared directly in the sufferings of so many of its people. During the war, and indeed for some time afterwards,  a refugee camp actually stood within the grounds of the seminary. As part of their studies, the seminarians are given special training in supporting and helping the traumatized population. Many people were forced to watch as their sisters, mothers, daughters or wives were raped and others murdered. Many mothers saw their children abducted and dragged off into the bush.

Significant trauma

The Church was not spared this violence either. For example, on May 11,  2003,  rebels of the notorious “Lord’s Resistance Army” overran the minor seminary in the diocese of Gulu and abducted 41 of its seminarians. The young men were taken off into the bush and forced to train as child soldiers. Twelve remain missing to this day. The people need help now to rebuild their lives. “Almost an entire generation has either been born in or grown up in the refugee camps. The whole culture of work has been destroyed, since each day the people simply took their food rations and now no longer know how to earn their own living,” explains Father Cosmas Alule, the rector of the seminary.

OUGANDAThis is where the Church has stepped in and is providing a great deal of support and counselling to people. It is true that the government is helping to some extent by providing some building materials and seed for people who are returning to their villages, but of course, this does not suffice. “It is a matter of helping the people to re-establish their lives in a psychological, cultural and spiritual sense as well,” the rector emphasizes. A number of priests were themselves abducted, imprisoned, wounded and in some cases even killed during the war.

One priest had his hands shot through with bullets as he was driving on his way to a church. Many seminarians from the current group have also suffered trauma. This presents a real challenge for the instructors. These spiritual directors address these problems intensively. “Yet at the same time, it is a good thing that these future priests have also shared the experiences of the people, for we need priests who know what suffering is. If someone has been through these painful experiences and still has the capacity not to be broken by them, then he can help others much better,” the rector concludes.

ACN is hoping to help with a grant of $27,000  for the renovation of the residential wing, to ensure the seminary will not be forced to turn away any of these young men who are willing to place themselves in God’s service, as good shepherds to their people.