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

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

India

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

by Anto Akkara, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada

Posted to the web January 15, 2020

 

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

 

Courage alongside trauma

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Strength born of suffering and God’s blessings

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

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

 

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

“He has empowered me to serve others”

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

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

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

 


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

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

ACN News: Four seminarians abducted – Nigeria at risk of becoming a failed state

13.01.2020 in ACN PRESS, Nigeria, Peace

Nigeria

“The government must act now, before it is too late”


by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Posted to the web – Monday January 13, 2020

 

Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International, has learned with dismay of the abduction of four young seminarians in Kaduna, Nigeria.

Königstein/Montreal, Monday, January 13, 2020 – According to local sources, four seminarians were abducted from the Good Shepherd seminary in the city of Kaduna in northern Nigeria on Wednesday January 8. Shortly after 10.30 p.m. armed intruders broke through the fence surrounding the seminarians living quarters shooting sporadically and forcing their way into the student hostel. They then stole laptops and phones, and finally kidnapped four of the seminarians.

 

Who are these seminarians?

The four young men concerned are Pius Kanwai (aged 19), Peter Umenukor, (23), Stephen Amos (23) and Michael Nnadi (18). All come from various Catholic dioceses across northern Nigeria and had only recently begun to study for the priesthood. There has as yet been no news of them since their abduction and no information as to their whereabouts. Nothing is known thus far of the identity or background of their abductors.

 

Religiously motivated?

According to ACN, there has been no indication of the abduction being religiously motivated up to now.  No clear information about the demand for ransom has been made to the families.

What is concerning is the security situation of the whole of Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt – which includes Kaduna. The situation is already extremely precarious owing to the numerous and repeated attacks on mainly Christian villages by members of the nomadic Fulani people. Thousands of people have lost all their properties and been left as refugees. At the same time, Islamist Boko Haram terrorist group has continued to perpetrate its atrocities across the northeast of the country.

 

Marie-Claude Lalonde, director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada commented on the news of the abductions saying: “We are devastated.  It is so difficult to believe that these kidnappings have happened and continue to happen.  We feel so powerless in the face of this tragedy happening to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, to the priests whose role it is to guide and comfort God’s people. Worst of all, it seems that nothing is being done to put a stop to it!“

Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International, expressed his outrage at the abduction. “The security situation in Nigeria is appalling,” he said. “Criminal gangs are further exploiting the chaotic situation and making matters still worse.” It is time for the government to address the issue urgently, he said, and protect the lives and property of its citizens. It is the duty of government to guarantee the security of the country and its people, he added. Otherwise Nigeria would run the risk of becoming a failed state. “The murders and abductions remind me of the situation in Iraq before the invasion of the forces of the so-called Islamic State. Already at that stage, Christians were being abducted, robbed and murdered because there was no protection by the state. This must not be allowed to happen to the Christians of Nigeria. The government must act now, before it is too late,” Dr Heine-Geldern insisted.

 

“This violent abduction of innocent young seminarians is a horrific act,” he added. “Two of the victims are not even 20 years old. We appeal to the conscience of their abductors and urge them to release these young men. At the same time, we call on all people of goodwill to join us in praying that the four seminarians will soon be freed unharmed.” Dr Heine-Geldern also expressed his sympathy with the families of the abducted young men and with the remaining 268 students at the seminary in Kaduna. “They must be going through a terrible time,” he said. “For years now Nigeria’s Christians have been going through hell, but their faith remains unshaken,” the ACN president concluded.

 

ACN Interview: Christians in the Middle East

19.12.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Fionn Shiner, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
Photo: Iraq 30 November 2019
Candlelight vigil around the cross in Baghdeda

Christians in the Middle East

Fresh risk of genocide to Middle East Christians

by Fionn Shiner, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web December 19, 2019

 

Middle East Christians are at direct risk of a second genocide which threatens them with wipe-out from the lands of the Bible – according to an expert in the region who has coordinated emergency relief there for nearly a decade. 

 

Father Andrzej Halemba, head of Middle East projects at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), said that Christians could face total eradication from countries such as Iraq and Syria where they have existed since the time of Christ’s first apostles.

 

“I cannot imagine the Middle East without Christians,” said Father Halemba. “But the threat is real. Daesh (ISIS) wanted to eradicate Christians. The genocidal mentality is alive with Al-Nusra and other groups. If Christians can stay together and help each other they can stay in the Middle East. If they don’t, it may be like Turkey after the terrible genocide in 1915.”

Father Halemba said Christianity’s eradication would be tragic from a religious plurality point of view and because of Christians’ role as bridge builders in conflict zones.

“Christians are the soul of the country and they play a very important role in Middle Eastern societies. They are the peacemakers,” said the director. “Christians work for peace and peaceful co-existence and collaboration for the good of the country.”

 

ACN helps all Christians 

In 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, now there are less than 250,000 – with some reports putting the number as low as 120,000. Similarly, in Syria in 2011, there were 1.5 million Christians and there are now 500,000.

Fr. Halemba said all Christians must work together to ensure their survival in the region.

“Families which pray together stay together. We all need to work for the good of all. ACN helps all Christians – not only the Catholics. Christians should stay together and this is the desire of Jesus Christ. He wanted unity among His supporters,” stated the priest.

In Iraq and Syria, ACN has supported hundreds of different projects, helping Christians who wanted to stay in their homelands with food baskets, water in Aleppo, milk for children, education grants, reconstruction of houses and churches, and much more.

This year the charity has approved 147 projects in Syria. In 2018 ACN supported 40 projects in Iraq.“ACN is always trying to help Christians and others in need with both hands. In one hand we have bread to feed the people, and in the other hand we have the Bible,” Father Halemba recalled. “We provide material help and spiritual help in the form of the Word of God.”

Iraq, December 18, 2016 Mr Emab Kiryakos (Syriac Orthodox) visiting the Mart Shmony Church in Bartella (Syriac Orthodox Church) Mart Shmony Church It’s unknown when this church was first built, but it is old for sure. It was perhaps built after the destruction of Mar Aho Dama Church. It was renovated in 1807. Then brought down completely and rebuilt in 1869. The construction included the transfer of a piece that dates back to 1343 from the Assyrian village of Ba-skhraya. It was reinvigorated again in 1971.

ACN Feature Story: The Bethlehem Mission, Sao Paulo, Brazil

17.12.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Brazil, Brazil, by Rodrigo Arantes

Brazil

The Bethlehem Mission: Being family for those who have none.

by Rodrigo Arantes, ACN Brazil
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web December 17, 2019

 

In the city of São Paulo there are over 25,000 homeless people. To borrow from a phrase used by the missionaries at the Bethlehem Mission: They are our “brothers and sisters of the streets.” The Bethlehem Mission (Misión Belén), an outreach program founded by Fr Gianpietro Carraro and Sister Cacilda da Silva Leste in 2005 has a charism of living out the very first Christmas Night; “becoming incarnate in the midst of the poor, so that God can reach them in a more profound manner.”

 

The members of the Bethlehem Mission originally began their work by actually living on the streets with the poor. But they soon realized that what was needed was to give these people shelter. So began their work of welcome, bringing men and women, children and the elderly in off the streets. In most cases, it also meant delivering them from a life marked by drugs, violence and abuse.

“The person who does not give to God, gives very little.”

These words of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI are often on the lips of the missionaries of the Bethlehem Mission. Fr. Gianpietro tells us that it is like a wound to the heart when he hears people say that they are a social aid agency. “Of course, we do all we can to help these brothers and sisters of ours, but we are above all, a work of evangelization. Jesus healed, preached, blessed and lived among the people, just as we do at the Bethlehem Mission. Whenever someone comes to our shelters, it means that he has already been touched by God, because it is extremely difficult for anyone to get off the streets and off drugs for any other reason. Over these last 14 years 1,500 people have asked to be baptized.”

One of the people rescued by the Bethlehem Mission is Rafael de Jesús. His childhood suffering spiralled into a life of violence, drugs, robbery and spells in prison. He ended up in the centre of São Paulo at the point where he no longer wanted to live. He had been living on the streets for six years, a crack addict, eating out of garbage cans. His only prayer was that God would end his life; he wanted to fall asleep and never wake up again. “When I arrived at the Bethlehem Mission, nobody asked me about the bad things I’d done, but instead they embraced me, gave me the gift of a smile and offered me food, a hot bath and new clothes. I was still wearing the same clothes and hadn’t washed for at least two months. I knew that God was merciful, but I didn’t realize just how merciful. Because I had had many opportunities and had thrown them away, I was convinced that I was lost. I thought that God had withdrawn his hand from me and that I would die on the streets.” Today Rafael is an altar server and he is planning to get married. “I feel like a human being again,” he says.

It is mainly on account of this work of evangelization by the Bethlehem Mission among these marginalized people that ACN is happy to be part of its story.

 

Making a radical difference!

Every individual who is welcomed into the embrace of a mission refuge, is encouraged to go on a retreat and given a personal “spiritual diary”—a monthly leaflet with the Gospel of the day, a meditation on the Word and a space to write down how he is living this Gospel. At the same time, thanks to this diary, many people have been able to learn to read and write for the first time.

However, it was difficult to provide the necessary continuity of material. This is where ACN has come in to lend financial help and also provide copies of the youth catechism YOUCAT, which is given to every individual after a stay of six months.

“It is wonderful to realize that in the Church we are all one. We are on the streets while at the same time there is somebody, often a very ordinary person, far away, maybe someone who cannot even get out of the home, but nevertheless makes their own contribution. It is wonderful because this benefactor thereby becomes a real instrument of evangelization. If we did not have Bibles and catechetical materials, how would we go about our work?” asks Fr. Gianpietro, profoundly grateful for the generosity of ACN’s benefactors.

ACN is supporting “Misión Belén” with catechetical and other religious materials for the next four years—a promise it is able to make because it is backed by the generous donations of its benefactors. At Christmas time many people are looking for a way to help the neediest, and many would be happy to make a radical difference to the life of people living on the streets. This project is a great opportunity to do so, and your support can restore dignity to the lives of people who, like the Holy Family, have found so many doors closed in their faces, but now have the chance to experience the birth of the Divine Child in their hearts.

ACN PRESS – Red Wednesday in Canada

13.12.2019 in ACN, ACN Canada

Red Wednesday in Canada
A large draw in attendance

Montreal, December 12, 2019—Over one hundred events took place in Canada, mainly in the Montreal, Toronto and Calgary archdioceses, on Wednesday, November 20, to highlight the international Red Wednesday movement. The archdiocese of Calgary saw large numbers of Catholic school children involved in, participating in, and even organizing local activities geared to raising awareness, to prayer and many also wore the colour red.

One example, in Medicine Hat, Alberta about two hours south east of Calgary, three young students of Saint John Paul II school simulated a news report for their school news service.

JPII News—a student creation once a week. “It’s wonderful to see a growing dynamism around this event,” declared Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) National Director, Marie-Claude Lalonde. “I am very touched to see that in this second edition of Red Wednesday in Canada, and a sixth year in Montreal, about a dozen schools took part where students and educators took time out to talk about the phenomenon of Christian persecution and questions related to religious freedom,” explained Mrs. Lalonde.

School kids at Christ the Redeemer, Calgary (Photo – Courtesy Christ the Redeemer’s School)

 

A second-class right 

At the very beginning of the Mass celebrated at Mary Queen of the World Basilica in Montreal,

Marie-Claude Lalonde lamented the fact that religious freedom is often considered to be, “a second-class right, or less important than others.” As she does often during conferences organized by diverse groups, parishes, or speaking at a Sunday Mass, she recalled that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are intimately connected. “When we read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she continues, “in a single article, there are mentioned the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. If one does not have the freedom of thought and of conscience, how can you have religious freedom? These rights are interrelated and thus equal in their importance.”

In his homily, the archbishop of Montreal, Msgr Christian Lépine—also a member of ACN’s international council—invited the hundred or so people present to unite in prayer to reflect on the thought of Pope Francis on human fraternity so as not to become the persecutor or discriminator. “When we prayer for the victims of persecution, this should speak to us. So that never should we ourselves, exercise discrimination.”

Montréal: The face of Mary Queen of the World Basilica. (Photo : ACN/AED)

 

Toronto: “Lest we forget.”

In Toronto, the archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins, recalled that only recently in our country and in others we recalled the first World War and the second, the Korean war and and the Armenian genocide among others. The moto used on November 11 for Remembrance Day: “Lest we forget,” from Rudyard Kipling’s poem. “We think to day of the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, and offering their lives in witness to our Lord, Jesus.” Adding: “We are conscious also of other people who are persecuted for their faith, we think of the Muslims in China, persecuted for their faith and others of different religions. Our prayers are with them as well on this day.”

The ecumenical vigil brought together Christians from various religious confessions, as well as from different Protestant denominations.

Just like the Cathedrals in Montreal and Calgary, Toronto was also illumined in red. There were also dozens of other churches that marked the occasion in the same way.

 

The Christmas Campaign

Elsewhere, Aid to the Church in Need is currently fundraising with the ‘Gifts of Faith.

Campaign for Christmas. This great worldwide fundraising effort has as an objective to support Catholics by giving them the means to support the practice of their Faith. Whether it is to support the purchase of a boat to transport missionary teams in the Amazon regions, or to support the evangelization of young people by providing Bibles to children.

Give the lasting Gift of Faith, to suffering Christians!

 

Ghana, a Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

25.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ghana

Ghana

A Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

 

The town of Nkontrodo is one of eight smaller communities belonging to the parish of Saint Francis in Elmina. The town, located in the south of Ghana, has around 200 actively practicing Catholics who regularly attend Holy Mass and play an active part in Church life.

 

For many years the people of Nkontrodo have been waiting for a church of their very own. Only recently did Holy Mass and other forms of worship and liturgical services move from being celebrated in the dining hall of a local school. Not only was it a less than fitting setting for the celebration of the Eucharist, but the parish also had to negotiate with the school for its use for every event. Inevitably, there were constant clashes and conflicts in scheduling. Moreover, the town already had eight different sectarian groups and Pentecostalist groups, all of whom already had their own, solidly built places of worship, making it a real danger that members of the Catholic faithful might leave to join these groups out of sheer frustration with the situation.

 

To “pray” day and night

Father Martino Corazzin, their parish priest, had constantly exhorted the faithful to “pray day and night, with faith and trust, and the Lord will hear your prayers and touch the hearts of those who are able to help us!” They were not left disappointed.

 

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors we were able to contribute $75,000 to bring the dream of the Catholic faithful at last, into reality. In August 2019, the new church was finally consecrated. We helped with an initial contribution of $45,000, but the construction work ran into problems because of difficult soil conditions and other unexpected complications, hiking the cost higher than originally planned for. Thanks again to our generous benefactors, we made another contribution, this time of $30,000.

 

Father Martino has written to thank us: “We are all extremely happy and grateful to you for your generous support and for the confidence you have placed in us, and above all for the fact that you have made our dream come true. We ask God to bless you and the many benefactors who have helped us. The faithful of the parish of Saint Anne in Nkontrodo have also asked me to thank you on their behalf and they have promised to remember you in their prayers, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. They also asked me to tell you that more and more people are now coming to our church. And it is true, we are already seeing new faces.”

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

ACN Press Release: Red Wednesday 2019 – On November 20th, all across Canada Show your solidarity!

12.11.2019 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Julie Bourbeau and Amanda Griffin, RED WEDNESDAY, Violence against Christians

Red Wednesday 2019
On November 20th, all across Canada
Show your solidarity!

 

Montréal, November 12, 2019 – For the second year in a row, Aid to the Church in Need Canada (ACN) is organizing and coordinating Red Wednesday – #RedWednesday – a day of action to raise awareness of the plight of more than 300 million Christians around the world who live in countries where religious persecution is rampant.  On November 20th, support them!

 

“I invite people organizing an activity as part of this day to contact us so that we can announce it on the ACN Canada website,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director. One of the proposed activities is to illuminate in red an emblematic building, whether religious or civil. “This year, there are new participants: the Grand Séminaire de Montréal – which will be partially illuminated – and the pro-cathedral of The Assumption in North Bay, where prayers will be said at the 12:05 Mass  in solidarity with persecuted Christians.” Along with the liturgies that will be celebrated at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal, the Grand Seminaire de Montréal and St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto will also be illuminated. Finally, in the Diocese of Calgary, activities should be announced shortly. In this diocese last year, more than 50 activities were scheduled. To learn more about the 2019 edition and find materials to participate: https://acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/ .

 

Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19: A deepening crisis

In Canada, November also marks the release of a biennial ACN report on religious freedom around the world. “This year’s report, which documents exclusively the situation of Christians, does not have anything good to say. In Persecuted and forgotten? 2017-19, we fear for the survival of the historic Christian communities of Syria, but even more so those of Iraq,” explains Mrs. Lalonde. Since 2003, the number of Christians has decreased by 90%, from 1.5 million to less than 150,000. The most pessimistic speak instead of 120,000.

 

“Despite the efforts of our organization to rebuild Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh plains, we fear that the Christian presence in Iraq will be a thing of the past in only a few years. We’ve been talking about it for years, but it seems like the international community is giving no concrete answer to this threat of extinction,” said Mrs. Lalonde.

 

She also pointed out that between 2017-19, the situation in South and East Asia deteriorated the most. “In India, attacks on Christians took place in 24 of the 29 states of the subcontinent, and there are anti-conversion laws in nine states. Hindutva – Hindu nationalism – is partly responsible for this. It advocates the return of a purely Hindu India where only religious traditions derived from it (Buddhism, Jain, Sikh) would be recognized. On the contrary, Christianity and Islam are seen by the promoters of Hindutva as foreign elements that cannot participate in the construction of the country. ”

Photo: Cross desecrated in the remains of a burned church (Egypt).

Finally, sub-Saharan Africa is more than ever under attack. “Christians and moderate Muslims are victims of groups claiming to be Islamic State (IS). In Nigeria, 19 people who attended Mass – including two priests – were killed by armed men and responsibility for the attack was claimed by Fulani Islamist shepherds,” said Lalonde.

She concluded, “In 2020 I will have been National Director for 20 years, and I have not seen a decrease in the persecution against Christians. It’s very difficult. However, events such as Red Wednesday, and the growing interest of more and more Christian communities in Canada to organize an event, give me hope. It does not solve anything right away, but it may be the beginning of a better knowledge that people will have about this global phenomenon.”

 

Nigeria: Already in 2015, the diocese of Maiduguri was targeted by Boko Haram. In this photo, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme visits a church that was burned by terrorists.

  

 

To read the report Persecuted and Forgotten? 2017-19, visit the ACN Canada website at https://acn-canada.org/persecuted-and-forgotten/

 

 

*ACN’s articles and press releases are given freely for partial or full publication on condition that ©Aid to the Church in Need is mentioned as the source.

*ACN’s articles are given freely for partial or full publication on condition that
©Aid to the Church in Need
 is mentioned as the source.  If you would like to use an original photo, or for an interview with the National Director, Marie-Claude Lalonde, please contact us at the contact details above. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, is a Pontifical Charity, which has as Mission to provide assistance to Catholics, wherever the Church suffers from poverty or persecution. The international charity operates offices in 23 countries including Canada, who together support projects in 139 countries. (our Annual Report).

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

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

 Aid to the Church in Need – in History

The miracle of political change

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

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

42 years of waiting—and working for—political change

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

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

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

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

 

“Armed” for Peace

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

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

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

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

Humanitarian and Spiritual Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lived Ecumenism

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

 

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

From Aid Recipients to Helpers

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

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

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – India

07.11.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN Intl, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, MOTORIZATION

India

Success Story: A car to reach marginalized tribal peoples

For many years now, Sister Christine of the Merciful Sisters of the Cross has been serving the poor and oppressed in the East Indian province where her congregation is also located.  Members of the indigenous tribal peoples are the main group of people she tends to. She has a great deal of experience behind her and now coordinates the pastoral work in the various small Christian communities that have formed here, many of them places a priest very rarely is able to visit. The faithful generally gather with a catechist to pray together, celebrate liturgies of the Word and to share their life experiences.

 

 

Sister Christine must cover considerable distances to fulfill her pastoral work. She frequently faces travelling on poor roads leading into nearly inaccessible regions. Her old car served her well for eight long years. But, unfortunately, owing to the harsh conditions, it became increasingly unreliable, repeatedly leaving her stranded mid-route and becoming ever more expensive in repair costs.

 

Thanks to the help of our generous benefactors, we were able to provide $15,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle. Sister Christine is delighted with her new vehicle. She writes, “May God richly bless you all. I promise you my prayers and the prayers of all the people in our parishes!”

 

ACN News: Fate of Christians tied to deadly Iraq protests 

04.11.2019 in Iraq, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Violence against Christians

Iraq

Fate of Christians tied to deadly Iraq protests


by Xavier Bisits, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted Monday November 4, 2019
  Although Iraqi Christians, concentrated in the north of the country, lie far from the epicentre of deadly protests in Baghdad, their fate may be tied to the outcome of what demonstrators in Iraq are calling a “revolution.”

While protesters in Baghdad have emphasized interfaith unity, protests have in fact been concentrated in Iraq’s nine Shiite provinces, with limited involvement from the Sunni Muslim and minority-dominated north.

Most Christians live close to Mosul, Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab city, where the streets have been quiet. Mosul residents told ACN that after three years of war, people are tired of violence and “do not want war anymore.” Protesting, they also said, might lead to accusations that they are ISIS sympathizers trying to bring down the Iran-backed regime—leading to an even more violent reaction from the militias and security services who control the city.

Christians, meanwhile, largely live in towns where, because of the fraught security situation, protesting is banned by security forces and the Nineveh Provincial Council. At most, some churches have held services calling for peace. At Sts. Behnam and Sarah Church in Baghdeda (Quaraqosh), the largest Christian city in Iraq, Catholics gathered to pray for peace in their country, with altar servers carrying Iraqi flags for the occasion.

Mgr.-Yohanna-Petros-Mouche

Christians and other minorities: victims of political strife

Many of the issues highlighted by protesters in Baghdad are the same ones faced by young Christians: unemployment, corruption, and a government motivated by Iranian interests. In the Nineveh Plains, many Christians live under the control of Iranian-backed militias, who have been accused of extorting the local population, interfering with the economy, and intimidating minorities.

These factors explain why some Christians, mostly young, in the Nineveh Plains, have expressed solidarity with the protesters, some of them apologizing on social media for not being able to come out on the streets. On October 27, a group of Christian activists launched a campaign of solidarity, with the slogan: “We are Christians of the Nineveh Plains, in solidarity with our fellow protests. We apologize for not being able to demonstrate because in our cities we are not allowed to demonstrate.”

Other Christians express skepticism about how much the protests will achieve and concerns about violence. Since the protests began on October 1, at least 200 protesters have been killed at the hands of the Iraqi police. If the situation deteriorates, it would not be the first time that Christians and other religious minorities became the victim in the political strife that has characterized Iraq since 2003. Between 2003 and 2017, at least 1,357 Christians were murdered by hostile sectarian militant groups, according to the Shlomo Organization for Documentation—bystanders in a civil war that disproportionately affected Iraq’s ancient religious minorities.

The Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche, told ACN: “It is just and appropriate that the oppressed and others deprived of their rights demonstrate—provided that they will be listened to and respected.

deadly-protests-in-Iraq

Expressing their peace

‘This is not the case in Iraq. There is no government, no respect for the human person, and people may use these circumstances to take revenge on others. Moreover, in the Nineveh Plains, we have had enough. “I hope that prayer will, in some way, play a role, accompanied by an intervention that will make things calmer and bring different ideas together. In the end, it’s the people who will be the victim.”

In a statement, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Raphael Sako, who on October 28 cancelled a planned trip to Hungary and visited wounded protesters in a hospital in Baghdad, called on the government to listen to protesters: “We appeal to the conscience of Iraqi Officials, who are in charge, to listen seriously to their people, who are complaining of the current miserable situation, the deterioration of services, and the spread of corruption, leading to such crisis.”

“This is the first time for the Iraqi people, since 2003, to express their peacefulness away from politicization, breaking sectarian barriers and emphasizing their Iraqi national identity.