Journey with ACN – Latin America

13.06.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Brazil, FORMATION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have been brought into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week :  Latin America


By ACN International

El Salvador

acn-20140331-06630Help for the training of eight novices of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception 

The Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception was founded in 1874 in Mexico City. Today it has over 1,100 Sisters. They have close to 150 convents in various different Latin American countries as in some African and European countries. The Sisters’ principal charism is the education of the young, the teaching of catechesis and the care of the sick and elderly.

Happily, the number of young women ready to join the congregation has been plentiful. The congregation in El Salvador currently has eight novices preparing for the Consecrated Life.

acn-20140331-06627For decades now life in this, the smallest country of Central America, has been lived against a backdrop of violence. From 1981 to 1991 a bloody civil war cost thousands of human lives. To this day, the country is plagued by violence and has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Gang warfare is a major source of insecurity, as are murders, abductions, extortion, robberies and other forms of violence which leave these people in a state of constant fear for their lives. And, as if this were not enough, the country is frequently struck by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides. Many young people see no future for themselves, and feel that life is meaningless. The Sisters have an important task here in helping young people find their way to a better future.


We are helping this year with a contribution of $5 330, for the training of eight novices who have chosen to place their lives at the service of God and their fellow men.





 Help for the training of 31 seminarians in Feira de Santana

People living in the northeast of Brazil are generally poor and often have to contend with drought conditions. As a result, many are leaving the area in the hope of finding a better life, however modest, somewhere.. elsewhere… generally finding their way to the big cities, which are growing rapidly as a result of the influx.

acn-20140124-04588Often these disillusioned and uprooted people are easy prey for the many sects that are springing up like mushrooms in the suburban slums. In some cases one can find a dense network of as many as 50 or so of their temples in a relatively small area. Their message can be an attractive one – often too good to be true – and as a result many people fall for their easy promises of instant salvation. On Mondays, there is a prayer service for material prosperity, on Tuesdays another for a good job, on Wednesdays one for health, and so forth. But so often, hope springs eternal… and so many people living in these slums continue to cling to this last illusion.

The Catholic Church is trying to address not only the visible, material needs, but to help people out of their spiritual poverty, a frequently far more urgent and devastating problem. But of course, there has to be someone there to proclaim the Good News in the first place. For the millions of Catholic faithful in Brazil (estimates vary widely, from around 130 million to 155 million) there are only 18,000 or so priests available. Generally, the parishes are enormous and some even serve over 100,000 Catholic faithful. As our Lord tells us in the Gospels, “The harvest is great, but the labourers are few” – and this is especially true of Brazil. That is why here, as in numerous other countries, helping for the formation of priests is a priority for ACN.

In the archdiocese of Feira de Santana in north-east Brazil there are currently 31 young men preparing for ordination. Archbishop Itamar Vien has their formation very much at heart. He is already looking forward to this year’s ordinations and is delighted that the number of vocations in his diocese is growing. He has once again turned to ACN for help for the studies of the 31 seminarians, counting as always on the goodwill and generosity of our benefactors. We share his confidence in you, and so we have already promised him $13 250.



Sudan – Pressure mounting for Mariam to convert to Islam       

12.06.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN UK, Persecution of Christians, Prayer, Press Release, Sudan

  John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by, Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


Montreal, Thursday June 21, 2014 – Sudanese Christian woman Mariam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam, still refuses to abandon her Christian Faith – despite ongoing calls for her to convert.

 Exactly a month after she was sentenced to death, the Archdiocese of Khartoum, north Sudan, issued a statement describing her current predicament. “There are many people trying to persuade Mariam to renounce Christianity in order to be freed but she is refusing. Some people are pleading with her husband to convince her to abandon [her] Christian faith in order to save her life but to not avail.”

The statement issued yesterday ( June 11 ) from Fr. Mussa Kacho, Episcopal Vicar of Khartoum region, aimed to correct media inaccuracies and “pleaded” with authorities to resolve the case.

Describing the present situation, Fr. Kacho said: “Mrs Mariam is still in Omdurman prison, practically on death row, breast feeding her child in chains. Her case is currently in the court of appeal. No one knows when the appeal court will decide on it. According to the concerned authorities, Mrs Mariam can only be released on the condition that she renounces Christianity and gets divorced from her husband ‘Daniel’ to embrace Islam and gets divorced from the husband.

“The only way to save their marriage, supposing that Mariam abandons her Christian faith, is for the husband ‘Daniel’ to embrace Islam and be remarried according to Islamic religion.”

The couple were married in the Catholic Church on December 19, 2011. Her husband, Daniel Bicensio Wani, is a life-long Catholic and Ms. Ibrahim converted from Ethiopian Orthodox to Catholic shortly before her marriage. Although her father was a Muslim, she was baptized and raised in her mother’s Orthodox Faith.

The statement from the Archdiocese of Khartoum stressed: “Never in her life did she embrace the Islamic religion nor renounce it. She has never been a Muslim in her life.”

It also drew attention to the fact that the 2005 interim constitution of Sudan guarantees freedom of religion: “no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.”

The Church statement concluded: “Therefore, in light of the facts that we have provided above, and to honour Mariam’s steadfast position to maintain her Christian faith, we are pleading with the Judiciary and other concerned authorities to review the case against Mrs. Mariam and to bring it to a reasonable end.”


Ivory Coast – Promoting Reconciliation

10.06.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Ivory Coast



Father Alphonse N‘guessan, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Ivory Coast

The Catholic Church needs to continue promoting the reconciliation process

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada 

Ivory Coast needs to be in a continual process of reconciliation. This was the message of Father Alphonse N‘guessan, the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Ivory Coast, during a recent visit to the international headquarters of the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Since the mid-1990s there have been a succession of civil-war-type conflicts in this West African nation, most recently following the presidential elections in 2010. However, there is an “effort at reconciliation,” adds Father Alphonse. “Even during the war there were contacts between representatives of the churches and the Muslims, and there continue to be regular, ongoing meetings; there are also informal contacts with politicians, which help to serve the cause of peace.”

Despite all these efforts however, more needs to be done in order to achieve a genuine reconciliation, says Father Alphonse. “The conflicts in the country are political in nature, so they are not religious clashes. The Catholic Church can and should continue making her contribution towards finding a solution, because she enjoys widespread respect in the country,” he adds. According to Father N‘guessan, approximately 35% of the 20 million Ivorians are Christians, while roughly a third are Muslims and the remaining third belong to traditional African religions. However, there are no reliable official statistics. “The last national census was over 10 years ago,”  he told ACN.




The Catholic Church in Ivory Coast is divided into 15 dioceses, manned predominantly by native Ivorian clergy. The task of the pontifical mission societies in Ivory Coast, which is coordinated by Father Alphonse, is the promotion of pastoral initiatives for the proclamation of and formation in the Catholic faith. ACN is supporting its work with a contribution of $35,400 .






Central African Republic – “Peace is still a long way away”

04.06.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Peace

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by, Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada


CENTRAFRIQUE-1Montreal, June 4, 2014 –

The Prior of the Carmelite Monastery in Bangui, Father Federico Trinchero, calls for a quick resolution of the conflict in the Central African Republic.


Talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” he said: “The people of the Central African Republic are awaiting a truly political solution. But such a solution will only yield a positive result if it does not involve any compromises with anyone who uses violence or propagates the spirit of vengeance.” The people were “tired and discouraged” and they no longer believed in promises, the Italian Carmelite Father explained.  Foreign troops, he said, were not able to act effectively and often came too late.


“Reconciliation may take years” 

The attack on the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in the capital Bangui on May 28, killing at least 18 people; that the fate of more than 40 abducted hostages remains uncertain, has proven that peace is “still a long way away.”  The attack took place only a few kilometres from the Carmelite monastery. The situation around the monastery was relatively calm at the time, but the attack had again led to a growth in the number of refugees. More than 7000 refugees turned the site of the monastery into one of the largest refugee camps in the capital.


“We hope that the refugees will soon be able to return home, but there is no end is in sight.”  Babies were even being in the monastery’s refectory, the first on December 30.  At times there were up to 15,000 refugees on the monastery site.


“I’m afraid the process of reconciliation may take years. The country has undergone a very profound break. But I hope that it will be possible to mobilize the vital energies of the young people to enable them to take the future of the country into their own hands,” Trinchero said.  “The Church is not looking on passively, but is continuing with its mission. Nevertheless this may trouble many of those who do not love peace.”

Journey with ACN – The Pope visits the Holy Land

30.05.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pope, Pope Francis

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have been brought into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week :  The Pope’s Visit to the Holy Land 

“Aid to the Church in Need” and the dialogue with the Orthodox Church

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

With more than 100 million members, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest and most influential of the Orthodox Churches. Following the wish of Pope John Paul II, “Aid to the Church in Need” has made special endeavours since 1992/93 to establish a dialogue with the Orthodox Church in Russia. Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of “Aid to the Church in Need,” traveled twice to Russia at an advanced age in 1992 and in 1994  he met Patriarch Alexy II and numerous Orthodox bishops, to whom he promised his prayers and active assistance.

After all, the Orthodox Church in Russia, like the Catholic Church, had to start from scratch after 70 years of persecution.  After the end of the Soviet Union it was the order of the day to remind Catholic Christians that the “dialogue of love” between the two Churches which the Second Vatican Council had described years beforehand as “Sister Churches” does not take place primarily on a theological and academic level, but that there is also an “ecumenism of solidarity,” as Father Werenfried called it.



Recreating Peace

The principle was clear: “After 1000 years full of misunderstandings and mutual enmity, we must all now be aware of our unity and be willing to restore it. The unity of faith and the sacraments, which was never lost. And the unity of prayer and love which we now have to achieve.” The Pope asked for detailed reports after Father Werenfried’s two Russian trips and laid great store by being kept personally informed of all developments. Pope Benedict XVI repeated this instruction to “Aid to the Church in Need”.

It was also Pope John Paul II who returned the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church.  In the turmoil of the October Revolution the icon disappeared and reached the west in 1920. After an odyssey it turned up at the New York World’s Fair. The “Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima”, now known as the “World Apostolate of Fatima”, acquired the icon and took it to Fatima. In 1993 the icon reached the Vatican as a gift to Pope John Paul II. The Pope kept it in his private quarters and showed it the deepest reverence. During the devotion on the departure of the Kazanskaya he said: “How often since that day have I called on the Mother of God of Kazan, asking her to protect and guide the Russian people who venerate her, and to hasten the moment when all the disciples of her Son, recognizing one another as brothers and sisters, will be able to fully restore the compromised unity.”

As its representative at the funeral ceremony of Pope John Paul II on 8 April 2005, the Moscow Patriarchate delegated its “Minister of External Church Relations,” Metropolitan Kirill, who was to become Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia only four years later. In the same year he also attended the enthronement on 24 April of Pope Benedict XVI, during whose pontificate contact between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate become ever closer. Numerous Russian bishops visited Pope Benedict, and high-ranking cardinals travelled to Russia. In the summer of 2006 there also appeared in Russia a translation, supported by “Aid to the Church in Need”, of Joseph Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity”. This was intended to give the Russian public direct access to Ratzinger’s theology. The Russian translation was received with great interest.

A First for Russian Television

One of the high spots in the relationship between the Vatican and Russia was on 16 April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI’s 81st birthday, when for the first time a state television channel in Russia showed a documentary film about the Pope. The highlight of the film is an address by the Holy Father in which the Head of the Catholic Church turns to the Russian people for the first time in the history of television to express his great esteem. The message of greetings is directed at Patriarch Alexy II, the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Christians, the Catholic bishops and the Catholics in Russia, as well as all people living in Russia. Benedict XVI stresses in his address, delivered partly in Russian, the need primarily for internal Christian dialogue. The documentary film, the making of which was suggested and supported by “Aid to the Church in Need”, also showed important stations in the life and work of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI; the Russian public have to date known little about his life.

Russia: The Icon of Our Lady of Kazan (also known as "Kazanskaya

The significance of the film also became evident when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was at that time Cardinal Secretary of State of the Vatican, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, the then President of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, arranged to be given personal reports a month after the broadcast on the positive reactions which the film had provoked in the Russian media and society at large.

AFP_061130pape-patriarche-turquie_nA letter of congratulations from Pope Benedict XVI

In 2008 a hand-written letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Patriarch Alexy II also attracted considerable attention, including in the media. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the Archbishop of Naples, delivered the letter when he visited Moscow from 30 September to 3 October at the invitation of the Patriarch. The Patriarch was evidently “much moved” by the Pope’s letter. In his reply he found warm words to say and expressed his “deepest respect and sincere good will” to the Pope. Furthermore he wrote that he was “happy about the growing perspectives for the development of good relations and a positive collaboration between our two Churches. The firm basis for this is provided by our common roots and the positions which we share with respect to the many problems the world faces today.”

On January 27, 2009 Metropolitan Kirill was elected Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. His enthronement on 1 February 2009, which took place in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, was also attended by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Catholic Archbishop of Moscow, Paolo Pezzi, and the Bishop of Regensburg Ludwig Müller, who is today Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The representatives of the Catholic Church conveyed the letter of congratulation from Pope Benedict XVI, in which the Pope expressed his “fervent hope” for a continued collaboration “in order to find ways and forms for promoting and strengthening the community in the body of Christ”, and stressed his wish for a further strengthening of the “good relations” between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. He sent the Patriarch the gift of a chalice as “a pledge of the desire to achieve complete unity soon.”

20120529_008 HilarionA Strategic Alliance 

In the following years the concept of a “strategic alliance” formed steadily in the collaboration between the two Churches. This notion is based on the fact that both Churches see themselves confronted in the modern world with numerous challenges which they must face together. These include the plight and persecution suffered by Christians in countries where they are a minority, the need to deal with the matter of  Islam, a growing hostility towards Christianity even in Europe, the spread of secularism, relativism and materialism, and the dwindling respect, also in the political domain, for human life and the Christian family. These and numerous other ethical questions render it essential for Christians of different denominations to raise a common voice. At a large number of meetings between senior representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches over the past few years, both sides always emphasized and still emphasize complete agreement in the area of ethics and Christian values.

One of the first meetings between Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Chairman of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) took place on 19 March 2011 at a congress organised in Germany by “Aid to the Church in Need.” In retrospect the Cardinal stressed that this meeting had been “very positive” and “important” in “emphasizing the public dimension of the dialogue with the Orthodox Church and rendering the dialogue publicly visible.”

In January 2014 Cardinal Koch highlighted in a conversation with “Aid to the Church in Need” the significance of the year 2014 for ecumenism. The meeting planned for May between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew in Jerusalem was, he said, of “the utmost importance.”

Talking about the initial large steps in the direction of unity at the time of the Second Vatican Council, he said: “When today I read the texts from that time I am amazed at the passion for unity they express. This passion must be maintained and we must reawaken our awareness of it this year.” The President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity praised the commitment of “Aid to the Church in Need” to the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church and highlighted the importance of the founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, who had “dedicated himself throughout his life to the Church in Eastern Europe in particular. The fact that he extended this commitment to the Russian Orthodox Church after the collapse of the Soviet Union is very positive.”

Cardinal Koch encouraged the Catholic pastoral charity to continue cultivating the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church.



Journey with ACN – The Pope visits the Holy Land

23.05.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pope, Pope Francis

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have been brought into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week :  The Holy Land – “Pope Francis is a real model of the priesthood”

By Oliver Maksan



When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land, Auxiliary Bishop Marcuzzo was still only a seminarian. But to this day he remains impressed by the visit. Now, 50 years later, other seminarians are preparing for the visit of a new Pope.

Returning to the sources – this was the goal Pope Paul VI had set himself when in 1963 he revealed to the astonished Council Fathers his plan to visit the Holy Land. “The pilgrimage of Pope Paul VI was the key to the understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and conversely, it is not possible to understand his visit without the Council. The return to the beginnings, to the Holy Places of the Faith, to the simplicity of the Gospel – all these things are expressed in his pilgrimage and in the Council.” This is the conviction of Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, who was speaking recently to ACN.

A Joyful Chaos

He is the Vicar General and Representative of the Latin Patriarch in Israel, and he resides in Nazareth. An Italian by birth, he decided while still a seminarian in his home country that he wished to serve as a priest in the Holy Land. When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land in 1964, Bishop Marcuzzo was still studying at the Catholic seminary in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. “It was a bitterly cold January day. The wind was icy. But that didn’t bother us in the least, since we were so full of joyful anticipation”, Bishop Marcuzzo recalls.



“Jerusalem had been waiting for three hours for the arrival of the Pope. It was already growing dark, and Pope Paul VI was considerably delayed. We waited for him at the Damascus Gate. My task was to carry the processional cross that was to precede the papal procession through the Old City along the road to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Eventually, he arrived.

The jubilation was really indescribable. Everybody, regardless of whether they were Christian or Muslim, rejoiced immensely at his arrival.” But things did not go quite as planned. The Jordanian police – for East Jerusalem and the Old City at that time still belonged to Jordan – had prepared everything carefully, and the procession was to have wound its way solemnly through the city. “But that’s not what happened”, says Bishop Marcuzzo with a smile. “Suddenly, chaos broke out. But not from ill will, but from joy. Everybody wanted to see the Pope and touch him. The planned, orderly procession fell apart. I was walking ahead, but at some point I turned round to see where the Pope was.”

The bishop still recalls vividly how, by the time they had reached the Third Station of the Cross, there was complete confusion. “Cardinals had heart attacks, so dense were the crowds; the Pope himself was literally being suffocated by the mass of people.” Then somebody decided to take the Pope to the convent of the Little Sisters to recover his breath, the bishop recalls. “For at least three quarters of an hour the Holy Father rested there, prayed the Rosary and spoke about the Way of the Cross. I was standing nearby with my processional cross, and I waited to see what would happen next.”

Eventually, the situation calmed down. “Suddenly, the Holy Father emerged and we continued on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – calmly if somewhat chaotically.” Finally, the Pope arrived, very belatedly, at the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. There, in front of the Holy Sepulchre, he celebrated Holy Mass. Bishop Marcuzzo is still moved today by the memory. “During the celebration of Holy Mass I realised: What a man of faith and prayer this is! He appeared quite unconcerned by all the turmoil around him. The most important thing was the encounter with Jesus. He lived in an inner world. For me his homily remains unforgettable. It was a prayer to the Risen Lord.” The priestly example of Pope Paul VI that he then experienced still remains with him today, Bishop Marcuzzo told ACN.

 “This is the first time I will have been so close to the Holy Father”



Today, 50 years later, seminarians from the Holy Land will be again standing near the altar of the Pope. Joseph Sweiss is a Jordanian from the vicinity of Amman. Just as Bishop Marcuzzo once did, he too is studying theology at the seminary in Beit Jala. Along with 11 other seminarians, he was chosen by the rector of the seminary and the papal master of ceremonies to serve at the altar during the Holy Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis in Bethlehem. “This is the first time I will have been so close to the Holy Father”, Joseph tells ACN. “For us seminarians Pope Francis is a real model of the priesthood. He gives the example of a good shepherd. For me this is very important on my personal journey to the priesthood.” His fellow seminarian, Salam Haddad, agrees with him. This young man is likewise from Jordan and is in his third year studying theology. “Pope Francis is greatly loved here in the Holy Land. I am looking forward to the privilege of soon being close to him as an altar server.” Of course he is excited, Salam admits. “After all, this is the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church. One cannot not be thrilled at the prospect of meeting him and serving with him at the altar. This is a blessing, especially with this Pope whom the whole world admires.”

Already, for months now, they have been praying the Rosary in the seminary for a successful outcome to the now imminent visit, the two seminarians reveal. Patriarch Fouad Twal, their bishop, has expressly urged them to do so, they tell us. And they are likewise including the Pope in their own personal prayers. Though of course they are not alone in this. “Everywhere, in the Holy Land, people are praying for Pope Francis”, Joseph says. “We are so greatly looking forward to welcoming him. We Christians are only a small minority here in the Holy Land. Hence it is important to know that the Pope is thinking of us. He will teach us how to live in respect and peace with others, how to be the salt of the earth.”



Boko Haram: “They wanted to hurt the heart of Nigeria”

13.05.2014 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Malta, Boko Haram, Nigeria, Persecution of Christians

Maria Lozano, ACN International

On the night of 14–15 April 2014, approximately 275 girls were kidnapped from a Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Boko Haram admitted responsibility for the kidnappings.

Aid to the Church in Need spoke to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, during the charit´s international Religious Freedom Conference in Malta, May 13, 2014.

This interview was conducted by Maria Lozano of ACN’s International Communications Department.


Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria

ML: Archbishop Kaigama, this is not the first time that Boko Haram has perpetrated violence against innocent victims in in Nigeria but this time the blow has shocked the world.

Archbishop Kaigama: They wanted to hurt the heart of Nigeria. I am very worried. These girls have never been outside of their village, and now they are in the bush. I just pray that the religious values that Boko Haram promotes are sufficient to influence them to respect the dignity of these girls. They are just innocent girls and every human being feels bad about this. Life is sacred.


ML: Surely, it is tragic that something so horrific has to occur to attract the attention of the world.

Archbishop Kaigama: Yes, Boko Haram has already perpetrated a lot of attacks and killed thousands of people since 2009. In my own diocese of Jos, we have suffered several attacks, e.g. St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in which 14 people died. In February, the group killed more than 100 Christian men in the villages of Doron Baga and Izghe, but the international community did not respond. This time was different, I think, because they are innocent young girls and also because it touches directly the suffering of women, the mothers of these children. And women can identify themselves more with the pain of others. The women started holding demonstrations – both Christian and Muslim women.


ML: Although Boko Haram is persecuting Christians and trying to Islamize the whole country, isn´t it true that more and more of the persecution and violence are affecting the Muslim community too?

Archbishop Kaigama: Yes.  At the beginning, it was more the idea to destroy Christianity, so-called “Western values” and implant a Sharia State in the North of Nigeria. So they targeted Christians as well as police stations and other institutions representing western values. But now one cannot say that they are only attacking Christians. Boko Haram has killed Muslim clergy as well. It is no longer about north or south, nor about Muslims or Christians. It is about human beings.  Nigerians are standing up together for freedom and dignity; a common voice is growing up, a voice that says: “violence is never the way.”


ML: How many of the girls are Christian and to what extent were they targeted because so many of them are Christian?

Archbishop Kaigama: Most of the girls are Christian. The majority of the girls who escaped were Christian, so we can presume that this applies to those still being held. But it is also true that there are some Muslims who were also kidnapped. So this incident is further evidence to show that Boko Haram is also targeting Muslims to some extent.


ML: There have been criticisms about the government’s reaction to the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, especially in the wake of the kidnapping of the school girls. Are these criticisms justified?

Archbishop Kaigama: The government underestimated the Boko Haram crisis and was therefore slow in reacting. Part of the problem is that resources were not used in the right way to provide adequate care of the security agents and the proper equipment they need to combat the violence, perhaps because of some corrupt practices. Some security sources are claiming that Boko Haram’s weapons are more sophisticated and more developed than those of the military and police. The resources have to reach the right people. Also, soldiers have been killed trying to defend people and their families have not received enough help.  It is important that these families receive assistance.


ML: What is the Catholic Church doing in response to the kidnappings?

Archbishop Kaigama: We tried dialogue and it didn’t work; the government used force and it didn’t work. At this stage, what we need to do is to pray: only God can move the heart of these people. We pray and we request your prayers. As President of the Bishops’ Conference, I wrote to all the Catholics in Nigeria to have an hour of adoration, asking all the bishops, priests and faithful to offer prayer.


ML: What are you praying for?

Archbishop Kaigama: I am praying for three things: The first is that they release the girls soon and without harm. Secondly that Boko Haram stops these attacks and abandons violence. And then that the government benefits from the help of other countries around the world: that countries come together and fight terrorism, hunger, poverty to create an authentic unity, not just to serve political – hypocritical – interests.


ML: This problem has been going on now for five years. Are you hopeful that the international community can solve this problem now?

Archbishop Kaigama: We have to stand together, this is the only solution. Boko Haram has weapons but how are these weapons getting to the terrorists? Where is the money coming from? Who is training them? I believe the international community can deal with this. I am a priest, it is not my task, but I feel that the international governments working together can do it. Nigeria plays an important role in Africa and the world. It is better to help now rather than wait until it is too late and even more complicated.

Nigeria, diocese of Jos in March 2012  Women from the crater of a bomb at the headquarters of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in Jos, Plateau State (Boko Haram)  Project trip of Roberto Simona and Corinne Zaugg

Nigeria, diocese of Jos in March 2012
Women surround a crater caused by a Boko Haram bomb at the headquarters of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in Jos.








Russia: “I am God’s witness, not a public prosecutor.”

09.05.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Pastoral care, Russia

The Orthodox priest Igor Pokrovskij has been involved in prisoners’ pastoral care for 16 years. In this time he has baptized almost 400 prisoners. 

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

Seven-hundred thousand prisoners are being held in the 755 prisons and labour camps throughout the vast territory of the Russian Federation.  When FatherWerenfried van Straaten, the founder of “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN), travelled to Siberia in 1994 at the age of 81, he visited such a prison. He promised the prisoners from the bottom of his heart that he would pray for them every day, and he gave them the flowers he himself had received. He wanted to show them that they were not alone and that there was also love and joy for them.

Father Werenfried believed for the whole of his life that people “are better than we think.”  It was a special joy for him to see how God’s kingdom spread to the prisons by way of a religious book or radio program and souls who appeared to be lost were saved and enlightened.

ACN supports prison pastoral work in Russia by helping to build chapels and by supplying religious literature. Peter Humeniuk, the Head of the charity’s Russian Section, explained: “The Orthodox Church is one of the few institutions in Russia performing good work for the prisoners. Not only the chapels, but the religious books are received with much gratitude as well, and provide great comfort in this harsh environment. It is wonderful that people find their way to God by this means.”


The most important challenge in prison pastoral work

One of the priests doing prison pastoral work is Father Igor Pokrovskij. He reported on the beginnings of this apostolate in Nizhny Novgorod: “When we started our pastoral work in the prison in 1998, we only had a small room in the washhouse to pray in. We bought some paint and coated the walls. Prisoners who were artistically talented then painted icons on the walls. In a separate chamber I heard confession. I soon noticed many changes in the souls. Six months later a group of them already met separately for morning and evening prayers. When I came on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Liturgy they had prepared themselves for confession and Holy Communion during the week by fasting and praying.” Prisoners are also responsible for sexton duties and good order in the chapel. This is a task that demands a high degree of dependability.




The most important challenge in prison pastoral work is in his experience to get the prisoners to confess their guilt in order to change their lives effectively. Many are afraid to admit their crime even to the priest. “Then I say to them: I am God’s witness, not a public prosecutor. I have the authority to absolve you of your sins in His name. But to enable me to do this you must confess your guilt before God. This is essential if your soul is to be healed from sin.”



The prison where Father Igor works now has a proper chapel. Over the course of time the priest has baptized almost 400 prisoners, though he doesn’t know the exact number. Many of the former prison inmates Father Igor cared for over the years have now been released. He is still in contact with many of them. He has married them and baptized their children, and many come to church Sunday after Sunday. “We had someone here from a local authority who was serving time for corruption. He had previously been hostile to the Church. If someone wanted to build a place of worship in his district, he would refuse permission. Since his release he has been seen regularly at divine service.”


Finding their way back to the right path

Some people who have successfully built up a new career also support the Church financially and have become genuine benefactors. Others show their affection in the form of small gestures: “We had someone in the prison – his name was Aleksandr – who was serving time for manslaughter. He was also a talented artist. Aleksandr was converted in prison and was released early for good conduct. He married, moved to a village, now has three children and every year at Christmas he brings me two geese.”

There are also prisoners however, who only come to the chapel to obtain a certificate of good conduct or other advantages. But they can’t pull the wool over this experienced priest’s eyes: “I recognize such people straight away. You can see that they are deceitful.” Father Igor even had a case where an inmate threatened to kill him. But basically his experience has been positive: “In fact many people who have offended are well disposed towards the Church. In my experience, in their sin they think a lot about the meaning of life. People whose lives run smoothly often think they don’t need God.” Although it may appear surprising at first glance, it’s what Jesus said in the Gospel: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”



Father Igor regrets that some people who in fact have a many talents and gifts which they could employ for the good of society go off the rails and make wrongful use of their intelligence and abilities. He attributes this to the spiritual vacuum which reigns in many people. The time in prison with pastoral care is an opportunity for many to find their way back to the right path.





JOURNEY WITH ACN in the Holy Land

18.04.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Holy Land, Israel, Journey with ACN

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which is regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with various projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week again:   The Holy Land



By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin




It was at the Latin Patriarchy of Jerusalem that we met Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR), a project supported by Aid to the Church in Need.  After greeting us, she gave an animated presentation followed by a question period which was no less interesting.

The JCJCR is a non-profit organization established in 2004 to respond to the challenges of the unique and complex encounter of an empowered Jewish majortiy in Israel and the Palestinian Arab Christian minority in the Holy Land.  The Center promotes peace through programs that overcome ignorance and prejudice and foster understanding and empathy between Jews and the local Christians in the Holy Land.

All of the Center’s activities are planned and implemented in accordance with a two-part strategic focus:


Developing and implementing projects and programs that combat prejudices and negative stereotypes; contribute to understanding and appreciation of the other’s religious/cultural/national narrative, traditions and practices; create a spirit of cooperation by drawing on shared values to work toward common goals.

Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR)

Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR)


To reach wider circles of society, JCJCR strives to network with other organizations and institutions, in order to enhance awareness of the significance of Jewish-Christian relations to peace-building in the Holy Land and to ensure the welfare of religious minorities in the Holy Land.

The JCJCR consistently seeks to work with multipliers, such as school teachers and other educators, guides, facilitators, leaders in the local communities, young adults training for leadership, and governmental representatives. To date, JCJCR has collaborated with over 100 Jewish, interfaith, educational and public bodies.

Journey with ACN – Holy Land

11.04.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Holy Land, Journey with ACN, MOTORIZATION

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which is regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with various projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:   The Holy Land


A car for the parish priest in Nablus

Nablus is the largest city in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories and it has a long and honourable history behind it. It is here, among other things, that the tomb of the patriarch Joseph is situated, one of the most sacred places of Judaism, and also a place of pilgrimage for Christians, Muslims and Samaritans. It is 63 km by car from Jerusalem. This city, which has almost 300,000 inhabitants, is today a centre of trade and industry. Soap and sweets are made here, among other things. The average age of the population is young, with over half of the people aged under 20.

The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim, but there are also around 650 Christians in Nablus, of whom 250 are Catholic. Father Johnny Abu Khalil ministers not only to the Catholics living in the city itself but also to those in 3 sub-parishes. There is also a Catholic school in Nablus.

Given the size of this territory,  and in order to fulfill  his many duties, a car is an absolute necessity for this priest . Unfortunately, last winter his car caught fire and was completely burnt out. It has not yet been established just how this fire was caused, but the fact is that he now has no car. And while the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has temporarily given him the use of a car to help him continue with his apostolate and minister pastorally to the faithful, the car is also needed elsewhere.


Despite this generosity, Father Khalil still needs a car of his own and has turned to ACN for help – and we have promised to help him with a contribution of $18,250.