ACN News: Prayers for the repose of the soul of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Ortega

30.07.2019 in Uncategorized



A Shepherd to My People

With great sadness the international Catholic pontifical charity has received news of the passing of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino, who dedicated his life with such care and humble concern to the service of the People of God on the island of Cuba.

ACN had the privilege of working for many years with Cardinal Ortega who, thanks to his great spirit of cooperation, contributed to the realization of many important projects on behalf of the Church in Cuba and in the Archdiocese of Havana in particular.

Below we publish a tribute to Cardinal Ortega, written by Sergio-Lázaro Cabarrouy, a Cuban layman who has long been involved with the Church in his country and who knew the Cardinal since his own childhood.

“Mummy, can we talk to Monsignor Jaime and ask him to move the time of the Mass? I can never watch the cartoons on TV.” I can still recall the mischievous grin on my father’s face and the quick response from my mother: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” That Sunday, the Bishop of Pinar del Río arrived a few minutes late for Holy Mass for the seven Catholics gathered together in San Diego de los Baños. “The water has risen in the dam, and we had to make a detour,” he explained, as he began the celebration.

After Mass, as usual, the little community gathered together with our Bishop and parish priest to chat a little and drink some juice, which Bishop Jaime always thought very sweet. On that day, without beating about the bush, I put my “reasonable” concern directly to him. In response, in a solemn voice and looking me directly in the eyes, he told me: “It is a good thing that you have to give up the TV cartoons in order to come to Mass. In fact, you will have to give up much more important things than this in your life for the sake of Jesus Christ.”

I was thunderstruck, and for many months I kept going back over those words, and I wasn’t very convinced by them. However, life has since then proved to me overwhelmingly the truth of those words of this man of God, and I give thanks to Almighty God for having given me the light and the strength to freely give up those cartoons – since my father would never have forced me to go to Mass – because undoubtedly since then following Jesus Christ has involved much greater trials, and this was an early training for them.

I recall how the homilies of Bishop Jaime succeeded in overcoming the fears of many a San Diego resident – who found themselves first of all sitting in the park, looking towards the church, then at the church door, then in the last bench at the back, and then finally in the second or third row. I also recall how he endeavoured to engage in dialogue with the teachers and headmasters at my primary school, who were eager to get me to abandon my “obscurantist practices, relics of the past.”

The life of Cardinal Jaime Ortega was one of a caring shepherd who always took the path of dialogue with those of all faiths and none, and who attempted the difficult task of serving as a bridge. As he himself explained, a bridge is made of the same materials as a wall, but it serves to join both banks of the river, rather than being built up to separate people from one another. A bridge is built so that people can walk over it, unlike a wall, which towers above us. It is the only approach that could have enabled me, years after those “struggles” of the 1970’s, to go up to that same school teacher, who was awaiting news of her own daughter in the same maternity ward as my own wife, and say to her, “I have been praying for your daughter and her baby” and have the joy of witnessing her reply: “Thank you so much! We needed that.”

One Cuban bishop told me how he had never seen his brother bishop, the Cardinal, happier than when he was travelling with him to visit recently founded Catholic communities in remote places where the faith had previously been abandoned in his rural diocese. It was shortly before he retired as Archbishop of Havana. “He was as happy as a child!” And indeed he was a priest close to his people, a man of dialogue, a promoter of the unity of the Church and a fervent Cuban, committed to bringing the support of the Christian faith to society. In all this he made mistakes, in the view of some people, almost as great as his successes, but he never deviated from his course, like a navigator persevering in sailing out “into the deep” (Lk 5:4).

His courage enabled him to achieve things that were unthinkable at the time, such as launching publications and periodicals right at the beginning of the so-called “special period”, mediating in the sharp dispute between Cuba and the United States in order to re-establish diplomatic relations, and funding a centre for Higher Studies in order to bring continuity to the educational work begun by Padre Varela in the same building.

May the Lord, in his infinite mercy, receive the soul of this son of Matanzas, born in Jagüey Grande on October 18, 1936, the child of Adela and Arsenio, who responded to the call of God to the priesthood and to whom high responsibilities were entrusted. And who, knowing himself ultimately inadequate to the task, chose as his episcopal motto the phrase: “My grace is enough for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).


ACN asks your prayers for the repose of the soul of His Eminence Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

May the Lord grant him eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.

Aid to the Church in Need’s Children’s Bible celebrates anniversary

22.01.2019 in Uncategorized

A secret global bestseller turns 40

Aid to the Church in Need’s Children’s Bible celebrates anniversary

This year, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its children’s Bible, God Speaks to His Children. Since its release, more than 51 million copies have been distributed across the globe in 189 languages. “It is beyond human understanding just how many children as well as adults have opened themselves to God through the children’s Bible,” the executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, explained when asked about the anniversary. He pointed out that for many families living in the world’s poor regions, the children’s Bible is the only book that they will ever own.

Children’s Bible Relieves Longing for God

“The letters we have received over the past 40 years, in which children, families, bishops and pastoral workers have expressed their thanks for the children’s Bible, bear witness to the deep longing for God that this book continues to relieve today,” said Dr Heine-Geldern. Divided into 99 short chapters, God Speaks to His Children retells the most important texts of the Old and New Testament in a way that is easy for children to understand. The stories in the current edition of the children’s Bible were written by German theologian Eleonore Beck (1926-2014) and brightly illustrated by the Spanish religious sister Miren-Sorne Gomez (*1937). The illustrations have become popular in religious instruction and catechesis.

The “father” of the children’s Bible was the Dutch Premonstratensian Father Werenfried van Straaten (1913-2003), the founder of Aid to the Church in Need. When the United Nations proclaimed 1979 as the “Year of the Child,” this became the impetus for the realization of a long-cherished idea of Father Werenfried. He wrote at the time: “Children need something like a children’s Bible so that the image of Christ will become a living one in their hearts. The Church often does not have the means to acquire a children’s Bible written in the native language. Or the Church is being persecuted and is not allowed to publish literature of this kind. Many children are so poor that they cannot afford to buy a book. And so we would like to give them the Bible as a gift.”

In Great Demand From the Very Beginning

ACN presented the children’s Bible at the Conference of the Latin American Bishops that took place in late January 1979 in Puebla, Mexico, and was also attended by Pope John Paul II on his first foreign tour. The response was overwhelming: the bishops immediately ordered 1.2 million copies in Spanish. As soon as missionaries, bishops and catechists from other countries learned of its existence, additional translations became necessary. Today, the Bible is available in 189 languages, from Afar, which is spoken by around 1.5 million people of the same name in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, to isiZulu, a Bantu language spoken in southern Africa. New translations are regularly added. After all, more than 2,000 distinct languages are spoken in Africa alone. There, the children’s Bible continues to play an important role in fostering literacy today.

From the very beginning, ACN has distributed the children’s Bible in poor countries free of charge. In more affluent countries, it is sold at cost price. The version with the widest distribution are those in Spanish (around 14 million), Portuguese (10.3 million), English (2.5 million), French (1.2 million) and the East African language Swahili (950 000). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian version of the children’s Bible was mentioned by a Christian radio station. ACN was flooded with half a million orders within a short amount of time.

The popes also recognized the importance of the children’s Bible. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, handed out the ten-millionth copy of the children’s Bible during his pastoral visit to Brazil in May of 2007.

ACN News: A First #RedWednesday in Canada

05.12.2018 in Uncategorized

A First #RedWednesday in Canada

Close to 1,500 participants across the land

“This first edition of Red Wednesday – #RedWednesday – is a real success across the board,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN), a little over a week after the event which, from one ocean to the other, gathered close to 1,500 people in at least 8 Canadian dioceses with a total 65 different activities.

“A response for which we feel overjoyed and demonstrates to us the extraordinary desire people hold to be in solidarity with those whose fundamental right for religious freedom and freedom of conscience is not respected,” adds Mrs. Lalonde. “We are already asking people across the country to mark Wednesday, November 20, 2019, on their calendars.  Join us in this global movement aiming to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians and serious lack – in certain cases an extreme lack – of religious freedom in close to forty or so countries.”


Calgary: 58 Activities

The team at the Diocese of Calgary responded with great enthusiasm to the call launched by ACN and then by their bishop, Msgr. William Terrence McGrattan. “There were 51 activities organized throughout the region taking place throughout the day,” said Theodoric Nowak, director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries for the diocese.  “Essentially, times for prayer were scheduled, or in some cases, parishes decided to offer masses that day for the intentions of persecuted Christians and to subscribe to the objectives of #RedWednesday.  Mr. Nowak who was the principal promoter of the event of the diocese indicates, “people in our diocese hold religious freedom to heart and cannot conceive of people, including their brothers and sisters in the faith, would be obligated to practise in secret or worse, face imprisonment for simply professing their faith.  It is inconceivable to us!” he adds.  According to Mr. Nowak, another reason is also that in the parishes one can find “a large number of immigrant people coming from countries where religious freedom is under pressure.  They understand the situation all too well,” he concludes.


Braving a Storm

On November 21st, in the afternoon, snow fell abundantly and was accompanied by violent winds,” Robert Lebel, the priest who heads the ecumenical pavilion of Versant-la-Noel (roughly translated as Christmas Slope for it sits at the foot of a mountain slope in Thetford Mines, diocese of Quebec) and author-composer-singer of the well-known songs, among others the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. “The thick powder made travelling very difficult and the mercury quickly fell to zero! But the team of Versant-La-Noel chose not to cancel nor to reschedule the vigil anticipated for this Red Wednesday.”


In a message sent to ACN, he also wrote, “Despite the temperature, thirty or so people gathered in the ecumenical pavilion which was completely lit in red.  In the spirit of simplicity and as a symbol of solidarity people were wearing red and also wore the scarves provided by ACN.  We also used the presentation texts about the global situation prepared by ACN, as well as the suggested prayers.  Of course, we shared in our prayers spontaneously and our evening was punctuated with song: Intercession, Consolez mon Peuple, Rien jamais, Comme la Prunelle de tes yeux…. Thank you to the ACN team for this invitation to raise awareness in our world about these never-ending persecutions and in bringing us into solidarity through this chain of prayer.”


An Embassy That Went Red

Elsewhere in Canada, the archbishops of Toronto and Montreal both presided over events connected to #RedWednesday.  In cosmopolitan Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins presided at an evening interfaith prayer vigil broadcast live on Salt and Light television.  And in Montreal, Msgr Christian Lepine presided for a fifth consecutive year at a mass for persecuted Christians. The mass was broadcast over the radio waves of RadioVM, a Catholic radio station reaching a vast number of Quebecers.  In Ottawa, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) lit their offices in red, one way to give support to persecuted Christians.

Finally, the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa illuminated their building.  The Christians of Hungary, when living under a communist regime, benefitted from ACN support.  Today the government is contributing to the reconstruction of Christian towns and villages on the Nineveh Plain in Iraq.  In 2017, it was the first member country of the European Union to consult with Aid to the Church in Need with regard to the reconstruction of this region devastated by the Islamic State.

In all, 65 activities took place in at least eight dioceses: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Rimouski, Toronto, Saint Jerome and as far away in northern Ontario as Hearst.  “We are already making plans for next year!” said Mrs. Lalonde.  “The enthusiasm shown by the organizers for this activity of awareness raising, prayer and information is very encouraging.  We hope to see everyone next year!”

The archdiocese of Toronto was also very active this Red Wednesday with activities and spreading the word to all their parishioners. We invite you to read the homily given by Archbishop Collins of Toronto and also view the beautiful vigil in replay which was broadcast live from Saint Michael’s right here: Red Wednesday Vigil in Toronto.

For more information: www.acn-canada.org

Full 2018 Religious Freedom Report: www.religion-freedom-report.org

Executive Summary  (PDF Version) : bit.ly/RFR_ACNCanada

Key words: #ReligiousFreedom  #RFR2018  #ACN




Kazakhstan : ACN’s Success Story of the week !

15.03.2018 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Julie Bourdeau, Project of the Week, Uncategorized

ACN’s Success Story in Kazakhstan

Furnishing run by religious sister’s home for abandoned and orphaned children


In the town of Kapshagay 60 or more children have found a new home in a centre run by Catholic nuns. For in practice they have no families of their own. All of them have experienced trauma and suffering at a very early age. For some their mother has died or has gone off with another man and abandoned them, the father is an alcoholic or works on a construction site, far from home, and no longer cares about his children. For others the parents themselves are living on the streets as alcoholics or drug addicts, or else they are in prison.


In 2001, in order to help children like these, an Italian priest set up a sort of Catholic Centre in Kapshagay. He built a church on the outskirts of this city of 57,000 souls and managed to purchase a couple of houses. This is where the sisters have come to live, taking in children facing all kinds of difficult circumstances. And gradually a Catholic community has built up around the centre. The number of people from the city now attending Mass is growing steadily.

Working with children who suffered of familial violence and other abuses: a vocation that also needs, with the heart, equipment. 


Here at the centre the children are able to experience a sense of loving care and security, often for the first time in their lives, within the framework of an ordered life, like in a real family. They play, learn and pray together, and from time to time are taken on nice outings. The centre is close to a lake, and so these little ones are able to experience the beauty of nature practically outside of their own front door. This is a precious experience for children who have experienced only poverty and disorder in their lives.


Many of these sisters’ former charges have now themselves grown up and founded their own families. They continue to remain close to the Centre and the Catholic community here and themselves do what they can to help.


Now the sisters have been able to open another house, and three more sisters have come to join the community in Kapshagay and help care for the children there. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to give them $22,650 to buy furniture and electrical goods for the new house. Now the sisters have written to us, saying: “We are most grateful for your help. We are making every effort to do everything possible for these children and young people. May the Lord bless you and grant you his peace and joy!”


If you want to give for similar projects, please do so by clicking on the button Donate. THANK YOU! 

Kazakhstan: Equipment for the house of St. Clara for the establishment of the sisters of the Holy Family from Nazareth in Kapshagay, for their pastoral and social work with children.


ACN Feature Story – A call from the president of Aid to the Church in Need International

21.12.2017 in Uncategorized

Terror before Christmas


Christians under threat

A call from the president of Aid to the Church in Need International


Mr. Johannes Freiherr Heereman, president Aid to the Church in Need, Germany. Benefit Dinner held at the Top of the City, Makati City on Nov 14, 2016, to introduce ACN and its mission to potential donors, benefactors and partners.

Attacks against Christians have mounted over the last few days in three countries: in Nigeria, India and, on the 3rd Sunday in Advent, in southwest Pakistan. In Pakistan, two suicide bombers of the terrorist militia IS attacked around 400 Christians in Bethel Memorial Church in the city of Quetta – at least eight people died, more than a dozen were injured, including several children.


In response, Johannes Heereman, the president of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) expressed his concern, “This is a further cowardly attack on defenseless people who only came to attend Mass.” Baron Johannes Heereman condemned the brutal attack and emphasized, “We are mourning together with the victims. However, our prayers will continue. They cannot be shot down. Which is why we ask you to pray for peace now, one week before Christmas Eve, with even greater urgency. The God that makes himself small in the manger is a God of life and not one of killing.”


India: Christmas carolling leads to temporary incarceration of Christians

The weekend started off on Friday with bad news in India as well: in Madhaya Pradesh province, Hindu activists in the city of Satna assaulted eight Christian priests and set their vehicle on fire. Thirty seminarians and two priests had been detained the day before and the priests were coming to their aid when they were assaulted. Turmoil had broken out when the seminarians visited a nearby village to sing Christmas carols. As the priest George Mangalappally reported to the Indian portal ucanews.com, an enraged mob accused them of actively converting people to the faith and called in the police. According to this online news source, more than 650 attacks against Christians have been reported this year.


India, diocese of Berhampur – Inside the vandalized parish church of St Teresa of the Child Jesus parish in the background, in Muniguda, Orissa. 

Nigeria: three catechists killed in the diocese of Maiduguri

Little attention was paid to another piece of news last week: church media agencies reported that two women approached a catechist to embrace him in front of the church in the Nigerian town of Pulka in the diocese of Maiduguri. Since this was an unusual occurrence, helpers rushed to his aid, at which point the two suicide bombers detonated the explosive. Three catechists were killed, including a father of ten children. Others sustained injuries. Several church sources reported that Islamic extremists had carried out further deadly attacks only the month before. Aid to the Church in Need visited the diocese of Maiduguri this year and met with traumatized victims of violence and persecution, several of the victims were from Pulka.


Hands of the widows whose husbands were killed by Boko Haram

Unique documentation by the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need

“The danger is that we get used to such incidents and that this news will not be reported outside of church media. However, the events need to be considered in their respective contexts,” Johannes Heereman admonished. “At the moment, Christians all over the world are under pressure as never before.” This is also documented by the world’s only comprehensive and regularly published “Religious Freedom in the World Report”, which is compiled by Aid to the Church in Need.


For many years, the international Catholic pastoral charity has been comparing relevant information from all parts of the world. The data is updated every two years, while that pertaining to Christians is published annually in a second report, “Persecuted and Forgotten?”. “In this report, Aid to the Church in Need tenaciously points out the extraordinary extent and systematic nature of the discrimination and persecution of Christians.” Aid to the Church in Need will publish the next issue of the Religious Freedom in the World Report in 2018. “With this, our pastoral charity is making a statement: the right to religious freedom is non-negotiable. It is a fundamental human right.”


By Karla Sponar, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada





Cover photo: PAKISTAN / LAHORE 
Request for help to raise security measures in Lahore.



Iraq – Sister Ilham offers children a safe place

03.11.2017 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Jaco Klamer, Iraq, Uncategorized


Sister Ilham offers children a safe place near Mosul

“In 2016, around six thousand people had to leave Telleskuf. When I returned to this area, all the houses were abandoned and many of them were destroyed. In Telleskuf a lot of buildings have been reduced to rubble. The school and the children’s home have been obliterated, the doors of the convent were forced and the nuns’ residence was robbed.”


The Dominican Sisters started restoration of their convent in Telleskuf located 19 miles from Mosul, in May. “I worked from seven a.m. until seven p.m. to make the convent ready for the children.” This does not only refer to the place and equipment. It has also to do with the handling of emotions: “We have day-care for children who are three, four and five years old. From eight a.m. until one p.m. we host around one hundred and fifty children, aged six to twelve, and from five p.m. to seven p.m. we welcome the children who are twelve years old and older.

We also visit the people of the community at home and we give the children catechism: we prepare them for their first communion. Before the invasion of ISIS we worked in the convent with five sisters, but now there are just two of us. Luckily, we will receive backup soon.”


A safe place for the children

Instead of looking back, Sister Ilham now tries to look ahead: “I am glad to see people return to their houses and getting on with their lives,” says Sister Ilham smiling. “It is a shame that the government has barely restored the road – they should contribute more to the rebuilding of the villages and cities. However, our biggest concern is the safety in this area. Our first priority is the children. They have been changed by the control of ISIS:  by the increase in fighting, I can tell that they have become more nervous and more aggressive.” There is still plenty of what is missing but as Sister Ilham stands to leave she shares a final consolation in the midst of such destruction: “Everyone is trying their best to live with each other harmoniously. We try to help the children by giving them peace: at the convent, we offer them a safe place.”

ACN supported the restoration of Our Lady of Rosary convent in favour of the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena in Telusquf (Telleskuf) with $ 65 700.


Text and photos by  Jaco Klamer/ACN


ACN Project of the Week – A car to reach parishioners in La Serena, Chile

12.10.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, South America, Uncategorized


A car to reach the parishioners of La Serena


Archbishop René Rebolledo Salinas faces major challenges. His archdiocese of La Serena covers an area of over 40,000 km² – the size of Switzerland. Consequently, the distances he must travel are huge and the 500,000 Catholics of the archdiocese are widely scattered across this area. Many of the villages lie in valleys that are accessible only along rough, unmade roads.


This situation has worsened even more because of the devastating earthquake in 2015, the traces of which are still evident everywhere. In this archdiocese alone, there are no fewer than 60 churches, chapels and parish houses, which were damaged to varying degrees and many of these, totally destroyed.


Most of the inhabitants of the region are farming people, earning a modest living on the land. Employment opportunities are few and far between, and many people live from hand to mouth. Their faith, however, is strong and influences their entire lives.

Archbishop Salinas would like to be a good shepherd to his people. But if he is to support them, he must first be able to reach them. His old vehicle is now in a very poor state and simply cannot cope with the often catastrophic road conditions. The repair costs are constantly mounting and are a great burden for the archdiocese.

The bishop urgently needs a new, sturdy and reliable vehicle, so that he can go out to the people where they are.


ACN is happy to be able to promise him 18,980 dollars.



ACN Project of the Week – Supporting pastoral work in India

28.09.2017 in Uncategorized


A minibus for pastoral work


The major seminary of the Missionaries of Faith situated in Nadipalli, India has existed in the diocese of Eluru in the state of Andhra Pradesh since 1989. The provincial Superior, Father Prabhakar Vangala, has written to ACN to say thanks to all our benefactors for their “generous help,” enabling them to purchase a minibus for the seminary. He tells us that he has already blessed the vehicle, along with the Bishop of Eluru.


Until now, seminarians had to cycle 10 km every day to reach their study centre. Serious accidents involving heavy trucks have already happened. Thanks be to God, none of the seminarians has been fatally injured – yet.  It remains a risky situation.  A vehicle is also seriously needed for practical work since the special charism of the congregation involves ministering to the poorest and remotest missionary parishes. The seminarians themselves are also involved in this work even during their training, and help out regularly in the parishes. In fact, many of these future priests who have no parents, or who themselves come from very remote or distant regions – and who therefore cannot travel home to their families during the holidays – make good use of this holiday time, visiting and talking with the young people in the parishes and speaking to them about the vocation to the priesthood. Such conversations are often instrumental in encouraging other young people to reflect on their own vocation in life, and some of them feel within them the call of God and the desire to serve him in the priesthood.


A good example of this extra implication is that of the awakening of priestly vocation. The minibus has been an enormous help in all these activities and has enabled the seminary to intensify its missionary outreach. In addition to serving the seminarians and the priests responsible for their formation, it is available to help the 10 lay catechists and 15 volunteer helpers in their work.


Our heartfelt thanks to all our kind benefactors who have helped to deliver the Good News more rapidly and efficiently to remote areas!



An “Olive Tree Ceremony” launches reconstruction efforts in Iraq

10.05.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Uncategorized

Nineveh Plains (Iraq)

An Olive Tree Ceremony” launches reconstruction efforts in Iraq

On Monday morning, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need consecrated three building sites in the villages of Bartella, Karemlash and Baghdeda (Qaraqosh) for the reconstruction of the first 105 houses belonging to internally displaced Christian families. The owners of the houses were each given a small olive tree to plant in their gardens, to grow in their gardens as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan), May 9, 2017—As fragile as a young olive tree and as small as the mustard seed from the parable from the Gospels—here begins the reconstruction of the first 105 houses of Christian families in the villages of Bartella, Karemlash and Baghdeda (Qaraqosh) on the Nineveh Plains. Work on the first building site in Baghdeda will already be underway as of this Thursday (May 11).

The source of this newfound hope is the churches located in the villages—despite having been plundered and destroyed by the self-appointed Islamic State (IS). The attacks carried out by IS on the Nineveh Plains in August of 2014, forced close to 130,000 Christians to leave their homes and take refuge in Kurdistan. Y

Monday morning, Philipp Ozores, General Secretary of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), presented olive trees to 35 Syrian Orthodox families in the small church of Mor Shmuni, in the community of Bartella. The rebuilding of these homes, scheduled to take place over the next few days, was arranged by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC) made up of representatives of the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Chaldean churches as well as three consultants appointed by Aid to the Church in Need. They have had the task of planning the reconstruction of almost 13,000 Christian houses destroyed by IS on the Nineveh Plains.

In Bartella, 1,451 houses belonging to Syrian Orthodox families have to be rebuilt. Seventy-five of which were destroyed in their totality, 278 burned down and 1,098 partially damaged. Restoring water and electricity services was possible on a few days ago.

Returning: More difficult than fleeing

In his sermon during the Olive Tree Ceremony, Archbishop Timothaeus Mosa Alshamany of the Syriac Orthodox church of Antioch, who is also prior of the Monastery of St. Matthew, made no secret of the difficulties of this undertaking. “A few months ago, we were waiting for the liberation of our cities. Today, we are waiting for reconstruction. Returning to our cities is even more difficult than fleeing from them.”

Following the ceremony in Bartella, the little “convoy of hope” continued on to Karemlash. There, Philipp Ozores, Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need and interim chair of the NRC, as well as Father Salar Kajo, who is responsible for the rebuilding efforts in the Chaldean villages of Tel Skuf, Bakofa, Badnaya, Tel Keppe and Karemlash, presented olive trees to 20 additional families. The ceremony took place in the Chaldean church of Mar Addaii, which was also partially burned down by IS.


The suffering of leaving

After the ceremony, 76-year-old Habib Yuossif Mansuor recalled the suffering of having to leave his own village. “We looked the pain in the eye. We fled after midnight, leaving our houses and all of our possessions. I had a two-storey house here in Karemlash that was bombed to the ground. We all speak the same language, and so we would like to return to our cities on the Nineveh Plains as brothers, as though we have only one heart. We want to live and work together, as though we are just one body. We thank the Lord and Aid to the Church in Need.” In Karemlash, 754 houses need repairs. Of these, 89 are completely destroyed, 241 were burned down, and 424 partially damaged. The water supply has been up and running again since Monday: a small, but important sign of hope.

The last of the olive tree ceremonies took place in Baghdeda. Here, 6,327 houses belonging to Syrian Catholic Christians need repairs. Of these, 108 houses are completely destroyed, in addition to the 400 houses belonging to Syrian Orthodox Christians (7 houses were completely destroyed). However, there is no lack of enthusiasm or skills: 40 engineers have “signed on” to rebuild the city and about 2,000 workers are ready to begin work. Electricity is slowly coming on across the entire city.


Unity: The only means of achieving a shared goal

Althajra Cathedral, which is consecrated to the Immaculate Conception, was set on fire by IS to confuse American military aircraft with its smoke. There, Philipp Ozores and the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan Yohanna Petros Mouche presented olive trees to 50 families. The archbishop had to wait for the applause to end several times before he could continue with his sermon pointing out that unity was the only means of achieving their shared goal. “We do not want to pay attention to the voices of those who would discourage us because they want to prevent the reconstruction. We stand by our decision to return, despite all the challenges that await us. Christ is our tower of strength that gives us hope. We must persevere, because this is our soil and our heritage. I am very happy that we have an organization like Aid to the Church in Need at our side.”

Azhaar Naissan Saqat also thanked Aid to the Church in Need. Originally from Baghdeda, the 46-year-old assistant physician lived in Erbil for three years as an internally displaced person, where he manages two outpatient clinics for the displaced. “We had almost lost all hope, but after such a long wait, we were able to return to our city thanks to the support of Aid to the Church in Need and other organizations that helped us to rebuild our houses—first and foremost Aid to the Church in Need. This foundation made it possible for us to hope once more that we would be able to return to our homes and our churches and lead normal lives again.”

ACN’s General Secretary Philipp Ozores and Father Halemba pictured here, giving the gift of an Olive Tree


Philipp Ozores, General Secretary of Aid to the Church in Need, said, “Today, we would like to hold on to this small sign that we are once more at the point of departure—just as in the parable of the mustard seed from the Gospels. But, with God’s help and that of our benefactors, we hope that the Nineveh Plains will be able to welcome back the Christians who were forced to flee. We hope that this region may soon become a place of life and peace for all once more.”

Also to be held next weekend, the Olive Tree Ceremony will travel to Tel Skuf, a Chaldean village with 1,268 houses in need of rebuilding, but where the majority (1,123) have sustained only slight damages, meaning that the hope for a speedy resettlement of the village is more foreseeable. In fact, 500 Christian families have already returned to Tel Skuf.

By Daniele Piccini, Aid to the Church in Need International,

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada


Project of the Week in Bozoum!

14.12.2016 in Uncategorized

Joy in Central African Republic!

Celebrating the consecration of the newly enlarged and renovated parish church of St Michael

October 23, 2016 was a wonderful day of celebration, when the newly extended and renovated parish church of St Michael, in Bozoum in the northwest of the Central African Republic, was consecrated and blessed.

The Church was already packed for a full hour before Holy Mass began. A huge throng of people, children, young people and adults, had converged on the church, not only from the town itself but from all the surrounding villages to be part of this historic and long-awaited event.

The Mass itself lasted three hours, and it seemed as if the singing, praying and dancing would never end. In order to prepare worthily for this feast, there were three days of preparation in advance, with confession, prayers and catechesis, with several hundred of the faithful taking part. For as Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera, the parish priest was well aware, after the bloody violence that quite recently shook this country it is not just the external, physical structures that need rebuilding but above all the hearts, the lives and the consciences of the people.

“Our church is finished, and it looks beautiful! We want to thank everyone who has contributed to this marvelous event!” Father Aurelio tells us joyfully. ACN also contributed 58,400 CAN to the project, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors. Now the church can accommodate more worshipers – which is just as well since the parish of Saint Michael is flourishing, with over 100 baptisms every year and a number of spiritual vocations, and the old church was virtually bursting at the seams at every Mass.

A solidarity challenge for the house of God

At the same time – again thanks to the help of our benefactors – it was possible to repair the damage on the older parts of the church, where over the course of time several cracks had appeared in the foundations.

To successfully tackle such a large project in a country that has been ranked as the second poorest and most underdeveloped in the world is indeed a challenge. It takes strong faith, as well as help from abroad. But the local people of the parish also did all they could to help, within their limited means, in order to see the fulfillment of their dream of a larger and more beautiful parish church. “Some brought sand, stones and gravel, while others contributed whatever money or food they could afford, while others again gave their time and labour on the project. Every little gesture of generosity, however large or small, and whether by our benefactors abroad or our own Catholic faithful here in Bozoum, is now a part of this house of God for ever,” says Father Aurelio.

Father Aurelio himself was heavily involved in the building work as well. “Day by day, week by week, month by month we pressed on with this hard, difficult and sometimes dangerous work, and at every moment we felt the protecting hand of God over us,” this Italian Carmelite priest assured us.

On one occasion there was very nearly a serious accident. As Father Aurelio and the workmen were trying to lift a huge 12-metre steel girder into place, the structure, weighing hundreds of kilograms, slipped and fell, almost striking Father Aurelio himself. It was a very near thing. “But none of us was hurt, even though we were all working high up on a 25-foot scaffold. Once again we were reminded of God‘s protecting hand over us as we worked,” 54-year-old Father Aurelio recalls.




A “Da-Nzapa” for God

The parish of Bozoum is not only the oldest parish in the country outside the capital Bangui, but at the same time has come to be regarded as a symbol of peace. During the bloody years of the war in 2013/2014 Father Aurelio was tireless in negotiating peace with all the armed groups and with the various different ethnic groups, and in this way he succeeded in preventing a massacre in his adopted town. There was worldwide media interest at the time in the actions of this courageous priest, who undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives – and on several occasions very nearly paid for this with his own life.

Central African Republic, Bozoum, Fr. Aurelio Gazzera blessing the faithful with holy water

“Da-Nzapa“ (“House of God“ in the local Sango language), where they can praise and worship God. The two additional wings of the new building, each forming a semicircle on either side of the sanctuary and – as Father Aurelio explains – symbolizing “the embrace of God in the Sacraments, in prayer, the holy Scriptures and in the encounter with our brothers and sisters.” The beautiful cross that hangs over the altar was forged from steel bars recovered from the foundations of the old church, by way of commemorating the work of the early missionaries, who worked so hard to build the first church here over 60 years ago.

Now, Father Aurelio and all the Catholic faithful of Bozoum want to thank everyone who has helped to make this wonderful and long-awaited dream a reality. “We were only able to complete this work thanks to the help of so many kind people all over the world,” their parish priest tells us. “These months during which we worked on the building were a beautiful time, but it was still more beautiful, on the day of the consecration, to witness the joy and pride of the faithful in their beautiful new church. We wanted this to be a beautiful church, because beauty speaks of God. We thank God, and all our benefactors!”


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