Faith, Hope and Charity
We are pleased to present our fall magazine in which we will travel, through images and stories, through various regions in the Americas. From the Caribbean, and through mountain ranges, we will travel south to meet up with our project partners, exceptional people, bearers of the values of the Gospel in their communities. Their stories are filled with hope and courage, even though they are among the poorest peoples in the world.
In Psalm 103:30 it is written: Thou shalt send forth thy spirit, and they shall be created: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. This verse seems to me to fit perfectly with the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity demonstrated by our partners in Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, and Mexico. In fact, thanks to their steadfast perseverance and the passion they devote to their missions, the world in which they serve is renewed.
The challenges of violence, glaring social injustice and natural disasters are significant. What can we do without invoking the Holy Spirit? Very little. Fortunately, the people we present to you are bearers of His Breath, wherever they are.
Happy reading. And may your meeting with some you are helping in the Americas, bring your heart the same joy it gives to mine.
A Boat Made of Generosity Glides Through the Heart of the Amazon Like a Prayer
By Rodrigo Arantes, ACN Brazil
Translation and adaptation Evellyne Lemos and Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
The Amazon. The largest river on the entire planet, extending downstream through jungle rainforest for hundreds of kilometres. A friar, who practically lives on the Upper Amazon, maintains his precious boat with great care because he knows that within the structure of the boat are the donations of each benefactor who believed in, and supported his work.
Capuchin Friar Gino Alberati, an Italian missionary who has lived in the Brazilian Amazon since 1970, tells us a story: “A child, who was already dying from a snakebite, had a fever of almost 42 degrees Celsius. The father needed a day and a half to take him to the clinic, but the clinic did not have the snake antivenom because it did not have electricity to keep it cool. The other clinic was 70 kilometres away. We got in the boat, crossed the river at high speed and arrived in time for him to take the anti-venom. It was already around midnight.”
“We Save Lives”
Over the last 50 years, he has served dozens of communities on the Rio Solimões (a section of the upper Amazon River), which flows westward from the Brazilian-Peruvian border to where it meets the Negro River near Manaus. He was only able to help the boy—and deal with so many other emergencies—because ACN made it possible for Friar Gino to have a sturdy aluminum boat. “My vessel was very precarious, I knew when I was leaving, but I never knew when I would come back—or if I would come back. With this boat, and with all pastoral work, we save lives.”
Those who live in big cities usually find it easy to participate in celebrating Mass. For this reason, it may be hard to imagine that, in the Amazon, many Catholics only receive a visit from a priest once a year. There, a priest like Father Gino often has up to 80 communities to visit and many of them are days away from the parish by boat, along the long river. The people who populate the villages along the Rio Solimões are the Ticunan people, indigenous to this land throughout Brazil, Peru and Colombia.
The Child’s Bible Project: A First Contact
Since ACN’s first visit to Brazil in the 1960s, the Amazon has been at the heart of the pontifical charity’s work. One of the most significant projects in the history of the work was right in this region. In 1973, aware of the difficulties missionaries faced in bringing the Gospel to the Amazon, ACN sent 320 trucks to Brazil.
The Gospel now had wheels! The local clergy could hardly believe it when they saw the trucks arriving at the port of Belém do Pará, also in the Amazon region, and from there departing for the various dioceses in the Amazon. And at that time, Friar Gino was already in the Amazonas, helping to unload the trucks. He was also one of the few in the region who had a driver’s license. The project was crucial to boosting the presence of the Church in the Brazilian Amazon. It was from that moment on that many people received visits from a priest for the very first time.
“When I came to Brazil, it did not matter to me who I was—because the other was Christ. It did not matter [what had happened] in the past, nor what I was going to do in the future—since the important thing to do was to live day by day, and in the present moment. After all, that is the only way we can love concretely. Also, in the hard times, I saw the crucified Christ,” says the Capuchin who turned 80 years old, of which 50 were lived in the Amazon.
His way of overcoming hardship helped Friar Gino surpass the challenges of the Amazon rainforest: the hot and humid temperatures, the insects, the distances and the lack of communication. Having a broken boat in the middle of a river in the Amazon can often be fatal. It is not uncommon for ships to get lost, sink or otherwise run out of supplies for days. The paradisiacal landscape also hides within it the dangers of poisonous and wild animals.
However, beyond his own difficulty, Friar Gino always shifted his attention to the problem his neighbour had. Many of the indigenous people of this ethnic group had fallen victim to alcoholism. Sadly, there were also many suicides among young people in the community. And that is how he also came up with the idea to translate the Children’s Bible—another ACN project—into the indigenous language of the Ticunas. “ACN benefactors make it possible for many missions to happen.” The catechists themselves collaborated on the translation with priests who knew the Ticunan language.
The project was completed in 2019, bringing with it enormous benefits to these people. The Child’s Bible arrived as the seed of the Gospel being sown in the hearts of the new generations. The result of this grand initiative is already evident. In March 2020, the first deacon of the Ticuna ethnic group was ordained. In his hands, he held the little Child’s Bible.
Father Gino: “I am happy.”
When Friar Gino felt the awakening of his vocation at the age of 15, he believed that becoming a priest was impossible because he came from a low-income family. When he discovered that his social status was not an impediment, he felt such joy that Gino even forgot to say goodbye to his parents when he entered the seminary.
Today, he remembers his origins and uses this connection to help those who need it the most. While thanking those who support him: “I am the son of a peasant, the son of someone who had nothing, neither a house nor a field. So I always looked at those in need with affection. I have always felt most at home with the people in need and, to the ACN benefactors, I would like to give my thanks. I am happy because I see a people behind these benefactors who are the Church, together with those who are far away. This union in the mystical body of Christ, this communion is wonderful; it goes beyond race and colour. So, through my gratitude, I also would like to mention the gratitude of the people who benefit from this boat and other projects funded by ACN. When I go on a trip, I visit homes with nothing, not even tears to cry, so I also help these people because I can get there with the boat. May God bless all ACN benefactors and their families. Thank you very much.”
Father Gino Alberati has been a project partner of Aid to the Church in Need since very early on and is affectionately known by many, including ACN staff, as the “the singing priest of the Amazon.” A man of great compassion, who supports the Amazon community in a significant way.
A Sunny Voice in the Midst of Darkness
By Mario Bard, ACN Canada
Haiti is often in the news because of the adversities occurring there. Yet we should also be talking about the resilience, perseverance and zest for life that are deeply rooted in the hearts of the Haitian people. We bring you a Haitian story of happiness, which evolved in the darkness of the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
The island of Hispaniola finds itself in one of the most significant seismic regions in the world. The most recent natural disaster occurred on August 14th, when an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit the southern part of the country.
The situation is still being assessed in this region. For the Catholic Church, the price is very high: the roofs of many churches collapsed, as did the façade of Cathédrale Saint-Louis-Roi-de-France de Jérémie, not to mention the hundreds of church buildings that were destroyed or damaged. The damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was still visible, and now this diocese is, once again, in crisis. However, in the midst of these misfortunes, there are also unforgettable stories of courage, solidarity and determination.
In 2010, Radio Soleil, the Catholic radio station in Port-au-Prince, found itself at the heart of a similar story. “Personally, I was at the heart of this experience and I saw this success as a light in the midst of the darkness we experienced,” said Bishop Désinord Jean by phone. At the time, the current bishop of Hinche was director of Radio Soleil. The station collapsed. We were in a building that was very close to the archdiocese of Port-au-Prince where the archbishop, Msgr. Serge Miot, was killed,” he explained.
“The station lost everything,” he says. Thanks to an engineer who cobbled something together, we were able to get back on the air and resume operations, but you had to have seen how! By that time, many other radio stations had also collapsed. The staff rolled up their sleeves and continued to work, providing essential information to the population. “With the bare minimum, we were able to support the people, their hope and their faith, during those difficult times. And soon, very, very soon, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) joined us,” says Bishop Jean.
“I remember Regina Lynch, ACN’s Project Director, to whom we explained the situation. At that time, we were broadcasting from a minibus that had broken down; that was our studio,” says Bishop Jean. “This made us realize that the strength of radio is not the large infrastructure, but rather—with a minimum of technology—the content that really helps people. So we came into contact with the population in distress. For me, this was fundamental. Later on, we received testimonies [of great satisfaction]. And, get this: after the return to more normal living conditions, the population was very supportive of Radio-Soleil.”
Radio Soleil Becomes a Meeting Point
Bishop Jean says that at one point he saw no other choice but to shut down the station. “We asked ourselves: how can we continue? We had to continue! You know, my first reaction in the aftermath of the earthquake was to fire all the staff, because we couldn’t afford to keep them. I shared this with Ms. Lynch, who said, ‘No way! These people have families too. And we need them to generate content.’ She said, ‘We’re going to support Radio-Soleil for one year.’
For Bishop Jean, 2010 is paradoxically among the most beautiful years of his life. ‘What an experience we had with the listeners!’ The station was called upon to find missing persons. ‘Radio-Soleil was that meeting point. So messages would come in and we would broadcast them. Relatives and people who were looking for [loved ones], and who could finally be reunited.’
On the spiritual side, Radio Soleil was able to set the record straight about rumours about God. ‘In the aftermath of the earthquake, there were rumours that God was punishing us. We had to quash this false theology. So we invited theologians on some really good shows that really addressed the concerns of the people at that time.’
Catholic media play a role that often goes beyond the boundaries of the Church. Many are able to go out to the fringes and serve the common interests of a whole society.
‘Without ACN at our side, Radio Soleil might have disappeared,’ says Bishop Jean. ‘The population of Haiti would have lost this instrument. And please be aware: it was the whole population that benefited from Radio Soleil, not just Catholics,’ he insists. ‘This experience has been a light in our times of darkness,’ he adds.
In the heart of darkness, there is always a ray of light, however small. In the midst of horror stories, there are also stories of happiness. The story of Radio Soleil, a Catholic media in Port-au-Prince, is one of these.
* Regina Lynch is Project Director for ACN International
The Spiritual Embrace of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico
Original text by Guadalupe Esquivias, ACN Mexico
Translated by Gustavo Sequeira Aguilar, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Oaxaca. A state in Mexico which stretches up from the breathtaking Pacific coastline and into the interior of Mexico where one can marvel at structures and pyramids made a long time ago by the ancient peoples of the land. It is located in the southern part of Mexico where the stunning Eastern and Southern Sierra Madre mountain ranges merge. It is a place teeming with life, both in the ocean and on land, its peoples equally represent an amazing diversity.
Some of the ancient and remarkably enduring dwellers of this land are the Zapotecs and Chinantecs who inhabited the Central Valley of Oaxaca possibly as early as 500-300 BCE—the Indigenous keepers of these territories, who still live with and on these lands today.
In a way, the people have become family to Fr. Rodrigo Castro who starts his pastoral work very early, every day. He begins with morning prayer and breakfast, and then a tour of one of the 13 indigenous Zapotec and Chinantec communities who are part of the Archdiocese of Antequera, more specifically the Territorial Prelature of Mixes, spanning 10,000 square kilometres in the upper and interior part of the state of Oaxaca. The area has a population of 134,501 Catholics representing 81.7%. This is a very big Catholic family!
According to data from the Conference of the Mexican Episcopate, the Prelature of Mixes, serves 165,000 inhabitants with 21 parishes where 33 priests, 15 permanent deacons and 45 professed religious. In this area, 85% of the inhabitants are Christians and the rest belongs to sectarian groups. Unfortunately, these groups often uproot the people from their customs and traditions, making it quite common for some indigenous people to find their way back, to the Catholic Church.
The roads Father Rodrigo must travel through amazing and difficult terrain, are the roads less travelled—and not at all easy! Yet, Father Rodrigo is galvanized by his mission to bring the joy of the Gospel to the people, through the celebration of the sacraments, offering sanctification and leading the people to God. The good father is a very busy man. In total, more than six thousand people benefit from his work.
Lessons from The Zapotec and Chinantec Peoples of God
The indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca he works with speak one of a few mother tongues: Zapotec, Chinantec and Mixtec. The people, though deeply generous of spirit—are in very great need. They are largely marginalized, poor and isolated communities. Even so, Father Rodrigo has observed that they also love God above all things. They have their own rites and apply their own wisdom as they face whatever life brings.
“They like closeness, the laying on of hands is a way of feeling that through the priest they are close to God, evangelization is based on Christian actions and the liturgical celebrations are extremely solemn, it is an encounter between the Lord and the soul,” says the priest who also serves as the parish priest of the San Juan Bautista Church in San Juan del Río Choápam, Oaxaca.
For these people, flowers and candles combined with religious images are a demonstration of spiritual embrace and closeness to God. Every Sunday, the priest celebrates anywhere from eight to nine Masses, travelling from one community to another. “Our Holy Mass is always very emotional, people participate with great pleasure, and it is an honour for them to receive Jesus through the Eucharist”, says Father Rodrigo who is captivated by his mission with the native peoples. “Winning their affection is a challenge. However, I think I am on the right track to achieving it. Once, I underwent emergency surgery and when I returned to my parish, the people received me warmly and took care of my health, as a true family would. Another demonstration of trust and closeness was when they sent me a document that stated that I am accepted as a citizen of the indigenous people with all the obligations and rights.”
Father Rodrigo’s mission requires lots of travelling and covering living expenses. Thanks to people of goodwill, like ACN Benefactors, he receives Mass Offerings that help him get to where he needs to go to live the Gospel. We are very thankful to Father Rodrigo for all the good he has done in his community!
Argentina – Training Police Officers in Service Uniforms
By Maria Lozano, ACN International and Mario Bard, ACN Canada
In December 2020, Pope Francis addressed the members of the Vatican security service, which was celebrating 75 years of existence. “Dear officials and agents, I thank you very much for your valuable service, which is characterized by diligence, professionalism and a spirit of sacrifice,” he said.
In Argentina, where he was born, the first pope from the Americas might also have had these kind words for the police force in the province of Córdoba. At a time when many law enforcement agencies around the world are experiencing an unprecedented crisis of confidence, Father Nicolás Daniel Julián is developing a new concept of pastoral care.
In this profession, which is often misunderstood, misrepresented and unappreciated, the police officers that Father Julián accompanies every day live under a great deal of stress. So they need a specific type of accompaniment, different from a parish. This has become the motto of the chaplaincy: To provide specific support. “Quite often, when they receive an emergency call, they don’t know what they will find. It may be an old lady who has lost her cat which has climbed a tree, or a house where the father has killed his wife and is holding his children hostage and eventually commits suicide in despair. Such is the life of a police officer; sometimes two leave and only one comes back alive. The life of a police officer is always very stressful,” says Father Julián.
To help and support each and every one of them, the chaplaincy puts a great deal of emphasis on training. “We have found that a well-trained police officer always knows what to do. We work on the basis of social doctrine and Catholic ethical principles,” he explains.
Putting people first
Initially trained to enforce law and order, apprentices should also receive training in which “the emphasis should be on service. This is a very positive orientation, because it contributes to life,” says Father Julián. The professional ethics and morals that he wants to develop are even found in a prayer: Lord, help me to carry out the most difficult tasks without hardening myself, the most noble services without vanity. “This is the fundamental point,” he says. “We talk about ‘serving’, never about ‘being served’. Finally, it’s about what Jesus Christ said: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is definitely true for the police. When there is no love and conviction, it is easy to be a mere public servant; it is very easy for police officers to succumb to all kinds of temptations, because they have the authority, a weapon and the power to decide on the life and freedom of others. In our accompaniment work, we work a great deal on training: intellectual, professional, but we also put a lot of emphasis on spiritual accompaniment.
Where Father Daniel works, police officers will spend a third of their lives in uniform. “They start work at a certain time and never know when they will be able to return to their families.” There are also the economic problems that Argentinians are going through. This forces police officers to work much longer hours. “We try to train them not to neglect what is so important to them. I once saw a policeman touch the image of the Virgin at the entrance to the police station and I asked him, “What are you saying to her?” He replied: “Lord, take care of mine, because I have to take care of others.” A wonderful request! We have incorporated it into our policeman’s prayer.
The family is the “great shield of protection that police officers have,” he believes. It could be said with certainty that Father Daniel’s accompaniment is also a great shield that allows these men and women to find the welcome and respect they need to continue this very difficult profession. And this, with the values of the Gospel.
The full interview with Maria Lozano of ACN International and other stories from Argentina can be found at: