Church Tag


ACN’s Interview – Sever discrimination in the heart of Europe

26.04.2018 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Bosnia Herzegovina, by Tobias Lehner, Discrimination, EU, Europe, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Violence against Christians

Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Open war against the Catholic Church”


The guns have been silent in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 23 years. However, according to Bishop Franjo Komarica, the country is like a powder keg. Head of the diocese of Banja Luka in the northern part of the country, the 72-year-old does not believe in beating about the bush, particularly when the discussion turns to the Catholic Croat minority. He believes that Catholic Croats are still being kept from returning and that they are disadvantaged economically, socially and religiously. He is making serious charges against the governments of Europe: they are turning a blind eye to the religious discrimination.


In an interview with Tobias Lehner during a visit to the headquarters of the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Germany, Bishop Komarica discusses why a growing number of Catholics are leaving the country, but how, in spite of everything, the church is living reconciliation.

Bishop Franjo Komarica, bishop of the diocese of Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina), in visit the Headquarter of Aid to the Church in Need, Germany. 








Tobias Lehner: Bishop Komarica, the Bosnian War officially came to an end in 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Accords. But how are things really?

Bishop Franjo Komarica: The guns may be silent, but the war continues in other arenas. “Controlled chaos” reigns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is my impression that neither the government nor the international community is interested in building up a constitutional state that guarantees equal rights to all ethnic groups and human rights also for minorities. Bosnia and Herzegovina are effectively still a semi-protectorate of the United Nations. A part of the state authority is exercised by a “High Commissioner” (since 2009, Austrian native Valentin Inzko; editor’s note). But he claims that his hands are tied in terms of the political developments in the country. The country remains divided into three ethnic groups: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. The smallest of the ethnic groups, the vast majority of Croats are Catholic. They lean more towards Europe. The Serbs, most of them Orthodox, are very much under the influence of Russia. And the Muslim Bosnians are turning more and more towards Turkey and the Islamic world. This gives rise to dangerous centrifugal forces. And that is not only damaging to the country, but also to Europe!


What do you mean by this?

The hostilities between the Serbian and Bosnian people are purposefully being kept alive by forces outside of the country. The country continues to be a powder keg! And the Croats are caught in between. Hundreds of thousands of them were displaced during the war, and today, more than twenty years after the fact, they still cannot return, even though the Dayton Accords guarantee them the right to return. The opposite has happened: many are still leaving for other countries. The Conference of Bishops has repeatedly asked for the Dayton Accords to be amended to give the Croat minority more security. They have yet to be accorded equality.


Why is the Catholic minority receiving unequal treatment?

The Croats are not being treated as a constitutive ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many foreign governments also recognize only two ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Serbs and the Bosnians. This has grave consequences, as is shown by the example of the Republika Srbska (the Republika Srbska was established by the Dayton Accords as the “second entity” of the federal state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is made up of extensive areas of land in the northern and eastern parts of the country; editor’s note). Only about five per cent of the Catholics who once lived in the 69 parishes that existed in this region before the war have returned. In other parts of the country, Catholics are still leaving. The Croats receive neither political, nor legal, nor financial support. It is almost impossible for them to rebuild their homes or find work. They are the subjects of systemic discrimination. This is badly damaging the entire country. The other religions agree, by the way. I recently talked with the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. He also says: “It is imperative that the Croats remain here!”

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Financial support for pastoral activities of the archiepiscopal youth ministry Ivan Pavao II in Sarajevo.


The highest-ranking Muslim in the country thus recognizes the problem. Do his brothers and sisters in faith do so as well? It is currently being reported that the Muslims are becoming radicalized in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well…

Yes, this development does exist. But the threat to our very existence is even worse than the religious discrimination. To be explicit: we can maintain our faith even during persecution – and we have done so. But when the Catholics have no right to their homeland and to their property, this is even more destructive. One example: the mayor of one town in my diocese said to me, “You may not build a church here.” Even though a Catholic parish had been located there before the war! He did not have the right to do so, because religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And so I lodged a protest. But it was turned down by the next highest authority as well. Finally, I went to the representative of OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, responsible for coordinating the reconstruction process; editor’s note). He said to me, “Bishop, I forbid you to build a church!” I showed him pictures of the old parish church as well as a picture of its priest who was murdered during the war. He neither apologized, nor approved the church-building project. This is an open war against the Catholic Church. I was repeatedly told, “You Catholics need to get out of this country!”


Outside of the country, little is known about the dire circumstances of the Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What are they asking the international community to do?

Politicians need to finally acknowledge what is happening and condemn the severe discrimination that is taking place right in the middle of Europe. This is particularly true for the Christians. I expect anyone who is serious about their faith to support the disenfranchised people of my homeland – in word and deed. Our appeals have not been heard up until this point. And there have been so many of them! Quo vadis, Europe? Quo vadis, Christianity in Europe? If we just look the other way and tolerate this kind of development on our own doorstep, how do we want to help other people understand our Christian values?


So much hate and discord has been sown in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In spite of all of this, what can the Catholic Church do to reunite the society?

We Catholics are the oldest community of faith in the country. We feel it is our duty to help our homeland restore a just and permanent peace! Most of our reconciliation work is carried out through our social services and education, particularly our Catholic schools. And that despite being punished politically for our commitment! That is why I am so grateful to Catholic charities such as Aid to the Church in Need, because they draw attention to our circumstances and support us. I will continue to give voice to the truth, even though I have already been physically assaulted because of it. Our opponents will win if we remain silent!

Bosnia and Herzegovina: diocese of Banja Luka. ACN supported this activity for young people in the diocese.


The worldwide pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has been helping Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina for more than three decades. Most of the aid it has provided has been used to rebuild churches, convents and monasteries that were destroyed during the war and renovate a seminary. ACN also provides funding for the acquisition of vehicles for pastoral care, the development of pastoral centres, the training of priests and religious and for subsistence aid for contemplative orders. Church youth and press work are also among the projects it supports.





ACN – Project of the Week – Haïti – Construction a Parish Church

07.03.2018 in ACN PROJECTS, Haiti, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN


Construction of a parish church in a new and growing suburb


Even before the devastating earthquake of January 2010, which focused world attention on the plight of the country, Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Natural disasters, violence and political unrest, poverty and hunger all played their part, so that it has sometimes seemed that the Haitian people were spared almost nothing in the way of suffering. However, they are incredibly resilient.


The majority of Haiti‘s population consist of the descendants of former African slaves. Today, almost 7 million of the country‘s 8.6 million or so inhabitants are Catholics – though syncretistic and pagan rituals and especially the voodoo cult are still very widespread among the population. However, the Church is working very hard to instill an authentic Catholic faith in people‘s hearts. And there are many very lively parishes in which the faithful live their faith with great devotion and deep piety.


One such parish is the parish of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in the “Village Créole”, a new suburb in the town of Hinche in the east of the country, on the border with the Dominican Republic. This suburb has grown rapidly over the past 25 years and now has a population of around 70,000 Catholics! And yet until now it does not have a parish church of its own, and Holy Mass is celebrated in temporary accommodation. Clearly this is not an acceptable situation, and in any case there is not enough space for the congregation.

Haiti: Construction of the parish church of  Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse, Village Créole (Photos: Patronal feast celebration mass on 27th November 2017).

The Catholic faithful are poor, yet they have made great sacrifices in order to be able to purchase a plot of land on which to build a church. Of course they have nowhere near enough to pay for its construction. And so ACN is helping with a contribution of$105,000.

Thank you to help! 


ACN Project of the Week in Philippines

17.05.2017 in ACN Canada


A church for the parish of St. Anthony


The island of Basilan belongs to the Mindanao group of islands in the southern Philippines. Whereas in the Philippines as a whole Catholics form the great majority of the population, here on the island of Basilan Muslims make up around two thirds of the population.

This is part of a region where the Islamist terrorists of the Abu-Sayaf group have been trying to establish a breakaway “Islamic State of Mindanao”. Though they describe themselves to be “Islamic fighters,” they are regarded by the international community and by the rest of the Filipino population as terrorists and common criminals. They continue to try and spread fear and division through bombings and abductions.

“We would like to build a solid and permanent church that will convey a message of stability and solidarity and of the strong faith of the people of God.”

The parish of Saint Anthony in Lamitan City is a vigorous and thriving parish, despite these circumstances. There is a regular Sunday congregation of 700 Catholic faithful. The parish church has stood here for 40 years, but over the course of time it has become increasingly decrepit and is moreover far too small for the growing Catholic community. There is an urgent need for a new and larger church, but the parish is too poor to raise the funds for such a project.


Bishop Martin Jumoad supports this project, dear to his heart. For one thing, the need for the church is obvious.  And, at the same time it will be a powerful sign of the presence and identity of the Catholics in this town. He writes, “We would like to build a solid and permanent church that will convey a message of stability and solidarity and of the strong faith of the people of God. The Muslims respect people who are united and strong and who live a life of prayer.


A solid church will earn their respect and will hopefully also help to bring peace to our land.” ACN is helping with a contribution of $43 500 .


ACN PROJECT OF THE WEEK IN INDIA : Rebuilding their church

01.03.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marie-Claude Lalonde, CONSTRUCTION, India, Journey with ACN, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

ACN Success Story 

An immense and fascinating country, the Indian sub-continent is home to over 16 million Catholics.  The great majority is poor and does not have the funds to support the development of their parishes.  Aid to the Church in Need is there to respond to the needs of bishops, community superiors and others who are tasked with Church responsibilities who ask us to help them to strengthen the faith of Indian Catholics.  Here are some stories of projects – successful ones – which have seen the light of day thanks to you!


In the district of Kandhalma, situated in the diocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar,

the Christians were particularly touched by the inter-confessional violence of 2008.  Villagers fro Bakingia were relegated to camps for the displaced for between 3 months to 2 years and not everyone returned.  For the sixty families who did return, houses needed to be rebuilt in the place of the destroyed ones.  Once that was done, they turned to Aid to the Church in Need to get help for the reconstruction of their Church which was also destroyed.  Thanks to donations from our many benefactors, the villagers can rejoice at having a church of their very own!


We have supported them with an amount of $26,775 – but their great joy is worth so much more!



Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!




Project of the Week in Bozoum!

14.12.2016 in Uncategorized

Joy in Central African Republic!

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

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

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

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

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

A solidarity challenge for the house of God

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

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

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

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




A “Da-Nzapa” for God

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

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

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

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


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ACN Interview – Father Halemba on Syria

30.09.2016 in ACN International, ACN Interview, By Aleksandra Szymczak, Construction, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Syria


“We are never safe”

Father Andrzej Halemba, Head of the Middle East Projects Department of the international Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need recently returned from a trip to war-torn Syria. In this interview with journalists from within the organization, he speaks about the current situation.


What does the situation look like in Syria right now?

“Right now everybody is holding his breath because the situation looks promising, but on the other hand we are facing a humanitarian crisis on an enormous scale. That is why people say “ok, we have hope, once again we have experienced a little bit of peace,” but this is of course not a complete peace. Damascus, for example, during the time I was there was quiet for two days, but on Sunday there were eight explosions in the outskirts of the city. DAESH, Al Nusra and other Al-Qaida groups want to destabilize the situation and show that there will be no peace in Syria without their engagement.

Syria has changed completely in just 5 years. From a rich country which was enjoying peace and where business was going very well, to suddenly being completely destroyed.

Syria September 2016 The celebrations of the Feast of the Cross in Yabroud, September 2016. School children carried on their shoulders the Cross, the image of Christ, etc. After the Mass the Cross is being burnt as the symbol of the light and the warmth which comes from the Cross to the whole World.

Syria September 2016
The celebrations of the Feast of the Cross in Yabroud. School children carried on their shoulders the Cross, the image of Christ, etc. After the Mass the Cross is being burnt as the symbol of the light and the warmth which comes from the Cross to the whole World. An essentiel in the middle of the darkness of the war. 


How did the war change the life of Syrians?

The population of Syria has dropped from 24.5 million to little over 17 million. Nearly 6 million people are outside the country. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries and 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian help inside Syria. Many areas are extremely difficult to reach. Food is very expensive. For example, in the area controlled by the government the price of rice rose from 2010 nearly 250%, but in the rebel areas its price rose 28 times! So if basic food is so expensive, what kind of a miserable life is it? Over 57% of people are not able to find jobs. They make their living by begging and from humanitarian help. And, 4.6 million people are in hard-to-reach areas.

Everybody is afraid of the possible division of the country and of the prolongation of the conflict due to new factors like actions of Turkish army on the territory of Syria against so-called rebels and against Kurdish people. The situation is extremely complex, but certainly for the first time in several months there is a small flame of hope.

Syria September 2016 Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing with Father Andrzej Halemba (ACN) and Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing with Father Andrzej Halemba (ACN) and Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral.


Which experiences during your trip to Syria saddened you the most?

First of al the ruins that you can see around Damascus – It is a lovely city and still the people refuse to be in [a state of] despair there. Despite the difficult situation they try to live a “normal life.” But the landscape of the surroundings of the city is terrible. When we went to Homs, we had to use side roads because the motorway was blocked by snipers. The streets are dirty, people are poorly dressed, the prices are very high and there is a lot of suspicion. A growing number of checkpoints have definitely an impact on people’s mentality: “We are always in danger because there are so many soldiers checking on every car and every person.” Due to constant pressure on them caused by bomb attacks everybody is extremely tired, especially the police.

In Homs we’ve been passing through a place where few days before there had been an attack by Al Nusra. They drove the car into the city centre and at the checkpoint they triggered off the bomb, killing themselves and six soldiers. With this terror people are very deeply traumatized. “We are never safe” they say. And that makes them really tired.

The families are in a dramatic situation as they can’t sustain themselves. They have no work or are being very much underpaid. And the displaced people who had to leave their homes – 6.5 million of them to be more precise – need to rent rooms, but the rental prices are extremely high. Without having the income this becomes a big challenge for them.

Last but not least the question of the young people who are very afraid to be taken by the army or by the rebels to fight. They are the most vulnerable, that is why they run away. That is also why amongst the refugees in Europe there are so many young people.


Were there any situations at all that you could describe as beautiful ones?

The moment they come and say to us: “We cannot thank you more” or very often without words they burst into tears because nobody is helping them in such a way as they need. It is very emotional for us. They are so grateful. But this help has not only a material aspect. It gives them so much more: strength through the gesture of solidarity which they experience. People in Marmarita told me: “Father, it is so important for us that we don’t feel forgotten.”

We should remember that Aid to the Church in Need is one of the biggest donors who contributed emergency aid in Syria, especially for Christians. According to the analyses, we have learned that at least 195,000 Christians and other people were helped by Aid to the Church in Need. The help was in the form of food baskets, electricity, gas, medicines, scholarships… we were able to identify nearly 17 different ways of helping Syrian people in 2015.

I also always ask people in Syria to pray for benefactors and for their families. And they say, “We pray daily for them.” And in fact, they are doing just that. Very often they carry the rosaries, pray together in the churches, and also individually. This is, in fact, an exchange of love through a bridge of prayer.

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs shows the inside of the destroyed Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. ACN helps to rebuild the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach of Homs shows the inside of the destroyed Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. ACN helps to rebuild the Cathedral.

Is there a story from one of the project partners that you would like to share?

There is a teacher from Damascus. She went abroad twice: once to the USA and once to Europe and she says: “I cannot live over there. I have to come back to Syria. I have to help children in the schools. I want to grow old here and I want to die here.” This is a person who really loves her country despite the difficulties and despite the temptation of having an easy life.

I also remember two young people from the Valley of Christians. They were extremely well educated; both spoke very good English. With their qualifications they could easily find work in Western countries. Furthermore, their parents lived in the USA and call every day for them to come. But they refuse to go. They say: “We have to help others. There are so many who depend on us.” Indeed, they are helping a few hundred families. They work as volunteers. This is amazing.

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross with Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing. ACN is helping in reconstruction of the Cathedral. SYRIA / HOMS-MLC 16/00057 Cathedral renovation "Our Lady of Peace" in Homs

Holy Mass on the Feast of the Cross with Archbishop Jean Abdou Arbach, 14th September 2016, in front of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Homs destroyed by the bombing. 


Since the eruption of the war in Syria in 2011, Aid to the Church in Need hassupported emergency humanitarian projects and pastoral aid projects
with an amount of close to 19 million dollars CAN. 



By Aleksandra Szymczak, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada




05.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Aid to refugees, Central Africa, Central African Republic, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need


If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.






How far can the suffering go?” 


Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Joy broke out and the people danced in the streets when the news of the resignation of interim president Djotodia was announced on January 10. Just two weeks later, the Séléka ex-rebels withdrew from Bouar. “They were armed to the teeth, and they set off in a convoy in the direction of Chad,” reports Father Beniamino Gusmeroli after the days of fear and severe unrest. But the initial joy did not last long: on the same day, the retreating rebels entered Bocaranga with 31 vehicles. There they attacked the mission station of the Capuchins, where some 2,500 refugees were sheltering at that time.

120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house



“It was an apocalyptic day,” Polish Capuchin priest Robert Wnuk describes what happened. “Shooting and detonations could be heard everywhere. There were numerous groups of 10-15 rebels each. They forced their way into all the rooms. The refugee women were sitting there on the floor with their children.  The rebels threatened the priests and also fired on the church,” Father Robert reports. “They fired and fired and fired as if they were crazy.”

The bullets left large holes in the walls and floors and later, 120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house. A woman and a man had died, and one of the friars was wounded. A doctor was struck in the face, and a bullet narrowly missed his head.  The rebels stole all the cars and took money, computers, telephones and cameras.  Then they moved on to the Sisters’ convent where the same scenario was repeated. Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye On the same day, rebels also attacked the mission in Ngaoundaye, where they took a locally-born friar hostage, but later released him. The following day they looted the Capuchins’ mission station in Ndim.

Father Robert cannot believe what took place in his mission station amidst the many helpless refugees: “These are war crimes, crimes against humanity! Crimes against defenceless women and children! The perpetrators are now in Chad, which although it has closed its borders evidently lets armed criminals enter the country in cars that they stole from the missions and aid organizations.”Ngaoundaye Ngaounda


And in his desperation and disappointment he asks himself questions. “Protective troops have been in the country for some months. But in reality they are only in Bangui. They supposedly came to protect the civilian population. For many days we have asked the military authorities in Bangui and Bouar for help, but we always get the same answer: ‘Let’s see, we’ll see what happens, we have made a note of it…’ They give replies like this during a military intervention? They ask us on the telephone for information about the situation on the ground, and then nobody responds. Nobody! How far can the suffering go?” 

 A climate full with hate and violence explodes

Meanwhile, the Séléka have also withdrawn from Bozoum. Even shortly beforehand, the rebels had burned down 1,300 houses in the close vicinity, making 6,000 people homeless. In the now empty Séléka barracks there are slogans on the wall such as: “This is the law of Hell,” signed by somebody calling himself, “The Devil Incarnate.”

“The UNO decision in favour of a military intervention came too late,” criticizes Father Aurelio Gazzera who has been working in the Central African Republic for twenty years. “The eight-month reign of terror by the Séléka has created a climate of hatred and vengeance which has exploded into mad and demonic rage that is directed against everybody: against the Muslims, many of whom had profited from the Séléka and let themselves be protected by the rebels to avenge themselves, and the rest of the population, who are often seen by the Muslims as accomplices of the Anti-Balaka.”

The Italian Carmelite priest explains that to present the Anti-Balaka as “Christian militia,” as is often done is a mistake. “There is not much about them that is Christian,” he explains. “They carry fetishes and amulets for protection, and they are full of anger after having to endure long months of assaults and violence. An explosion of madness has taken place. There are arbitrary killings; disabled people are left behind, and so on. We need a strong military presence in the whole district to stop the crazy murders!”


The missionary, who conducts peace negotiations with all population groups in Bozoum, reports that the discussions have been made more difficult by the fact that many supporters of the Anti-Balaka have drunk a lot of alcohol and thus become unpredictable. In many places the Church is now also protecting the Muslims who are living in fear of vengeance. Thus for example, Father Aurelio is providing the Muslim refugees with drinking water and rice at his own expense, and attempting to prevent the Anti-Balaka from massacring the Muslims, and at least sparing the women and children.

During the Séléka’s withdrawal, Father Aurelio Gazzera himself was almost killed when several outraged Muslims attacked him with stones and weapons. But a Séléka rebel and another Muslim protected him and saved his life. Meanwhile, in the city of Bozoum, rumours were spreading that the priest was dead. When he reached his mission in the evening in his smashed-up car, the people cried for joy. “They spread their clothes in front of my car, and greeted me almost as if I were the Messiah. It was unbelievable. We gave thanks by saying an Ave Maria – also for those who commit evil.” 

Many more prayers will still be required for those who commit evil. In Bossemptélé, where 80 people were killed this week and the Séléka even looted the hospital of the Camillian Fathers, the Anti-Balaka has meanwhile demanded ransom money from the Carmelite Sisters. The Sisters have been told that if they fail to pay it within two days they must hand over the Muslim civilians who have sought shelter in the mission. Otherwise the members of the Anti-Balaka themselves will force their way into the convent premises and kill the Muslims.

The violence spirals faster and faster. And a humanitarian disaster looms, because the situation in the country is resulting in many more malnourished children .

ACN-20140130-04723And yet, there are hopeful moments: “In Bozoum the children are now able to go back to school again,” says Father Aurelio happily. And there are also small miracles: A catechist had fixed a rosary to a door lock. The rebels didn’t dare to break the door open during their looting debauchery. But the greatest miracle is the courage with which, day by day, Catholic priests and members of religious orders set their own lives against the whirlpool of violence. They try to save what can be saved.

“Ciao, now I must go to the refugees,” says Father Beniamino Gusmeroli. Because for the missionaries, their brave service is the most normal thing in the world.

Coming up:

And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to give hope.  An even where union reigns within disorder, where the celebration of Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.

 Chronicle of a love story



20.12.2013 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, CONSTRUCTION, Ethiopia, Journey with ACN, Uncategorized

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.  

Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:  Ethiopia

A simple house for the priest in a remote outstation of the parish of Itang 

The apostolic vicariate of Gambella lies in the extreme west of Ethiopia close to the border with South Sudan. It is a remote and underdeveloped region, where there is great poverty. Many of the children here are visibly undernourished. The Catholic Church is greatly welcomed in this region. Many people say to the priests, “When the Catholic Church comes, everything becomes fruitful!.” And they remark with wonder, “Wherever the Church is, there is water. The government gives us bad water, but the Church brings good water. We love your God; please come to us also!.”

 © ACN


In fact the Church not only brings water, but hand mills for grinding corn; sets up kindergartens and support in agricultural matters. The Church also seeks to promote reconciliation between the tribes since bloody feuds erupt on a consistent basis, especially between the tribes which practise cultivation and those which live a pastoral, nomadic lifestyle. The flocks come and eat the farmer’s crops, and the farmers take over the grazing lands of the pastoralists.

In the village of Puol, the people would like the Church to be present with them. However, this village is in such a remote area that one could literally say it is at the other end of the world!  The “road” leading to it is difficult to negotiate even in the dry season. And when the river Baro, floods its banks in the rainy season leaving the village in total isolation for up to 4 months of every year. The people cannot even reach the neighbouring villages. During the wet season the only way that Father Desalegn Desale, their priest, can reach them is by motor boat.

Thanks to help from ACN, a chapel has already been built in the village and was consecrated at the beginning of this year, 2013.  The Catholic faithful meet here for Holy Mass, for prayer and religious instruction, for educational programs and other activities. Over 120 people in the village are preparing for baptism for until recently, they simply sat under the trees when the priest came.

Father Desalegn Desale travels regularly from the town of Itang to these remote regions in order to visit and minister to its people. But given the poor state of travel, it would make things so much easier if he had a place to stay in Puol where he could stay for several days and minister much more effectively to the people in Puol and the surrounding villages.

The good Father has turned to us for help. Traditionally, the people in this region build huts of wood and mud. But although cheap to build, such huts quickly deteriorate as a result of the rain and the floods and the termite activity. Consequently, there is a need to build something more permanent. We are hoping to be able to help with a contribution of $36,000, so that a simple and modest house can be built for the priest and the parish.

To make a donation by  please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333  or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.


We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very blessed Christmas and joyful New Year.  May 2014 be one of Peace in our world.

Children's nativity play in Uruguay. AC

Children’s nativity play in Uruguay.

Turkey – Santa Sofia to become a mosque

02.12.2013 in ACN International

“The elections are approaching, and the idea of converting the church of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a topic of great interest to a particular section of the population. Yet it is unimaginable that it could be turned into a mosque – despite the fact there have been changes to other secular aspects of the Turkish Republic that also seemed untouchable.”

ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada



The words are those of Father Alberto Fabio Ambrosio, a Dominican friar who has been in Istanbul for the past 10 years and one of the greatest Christian students of mystical Islam. He was speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about rumours surrounding the possible return of the Basilica of Santa Sofia in Istanbul to a place of Islamic worship. Built from the year 532 onwards, this Byzantine basilica was turned into a mosque in 1543, and then later turned into a museum in 1935 by the first president and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

What brought this issue to the top of the agenda was the recent declarations of the Vice Prime Minister, Bülent Arınc, who expressed himself in favour of reopening the Hagia Sophia to the Muslim faithful. “There is a widespread opinion”, Father Ambrosio explains, “that Arınc is close to resigning and that he wants to form a new political party. The Vice Prime Minister seems to be a Conservative and his declarations would appeal to the Islamic and nationalist section of the electorate which he could enlist to gain an electoral seat.”



Hence the idea of converting the ancient Byzantine basilica back into a mosque might simply be an electoral ploy, although two other churches, in Trabzon and Iznik, have already been turned into Islamic places of worship. “The museum of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is visited by millions of tourists every year, and I believe that they would prefer above all to exploit its high symbolic importance. It is undoubtedly a striking fact, but we must not forget that in recent months journalists have been provisionally arrested in Turkey and that, following the protests in Gezi Park, laws have been passed under which it is sufficient merely to be found close to a demonstration, in order to end up in prison.”

The future of Santa Sofia needs in fact to be seen in the context of a series of recent measures and possible future provisions approved by the Turkish government that are seen by many as an Islamist change of course on the part of Prime Minister Erdogan. These include a strict law regulating the consumption of alcohol, the reintroduction of the freedom to wear the Islamic veil in the public offices and the possible future division of university residences into male and female sections. “It is clear that the decisions taken by this government are tending towards a more Muslim society; not necessary an Islamised one but Muslim in culture,” Father Ambrosio concedes.

Nonetheless, the Turkish leadership has never openly related such measures to a policy of a religious character but has preferred to present reasons of a juridical or public order nature in justification of them. It is also possible to view in the same light the education reform that has established the higher religious schools as equivalent to the state secondary schools. Formerly, someone attending a Koranic Institute was able to have access only to a limited number of university courses, whereas now even those living in areas without secondary state schools – as for example in some regions of Anatolia – and who instead studies in a religious institute, can now freely choose what course to study at university. Many people have interpreted this reform as a means of favouring the Imam Hatip Lisesi, or Islamic schools however. “It is true that they now have the possibility of studying at university; but it is a markedly religious opportunity.”

Following the recent months of internal disorder – exemplified by the protests in Gezi Park – Turkey is now looking towards the forthcoming elections in March 2014, which could bring about a major political shakeup. “It has always been the case that the instability of the country has caused the emergence of nationalist and religious tendencies, and Erdoğan might well soon be the face of the moderate wing.”


02.12.2013 in ACN Canada, egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Prayer, Syria


While parents here run to buy Christmas presents for their children, parents over there, in far too many countries, run under threat to protect their children from danger.

The arrival of Christmas is good news! – So the hymns tell us – news which bears the promise of peace and of love.  However, Christmas has become a threat in innumerable countries for many Christians, some of which are in the very cradle of Christianity itself.  Though it is difficult to do an exhaustive assessment of all the countries where conflict is being lived, or whose dramas have taken the stage at Christmas time, we cannot silently over-look any of them.


Let us think about the conflicts in Syria which forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee to safer areas and leave behind all of their belongings.  What kind of future do you believe Syrian children are destined for? What kind of Christmas will they have?

And what of their neighbouring country Iraq – 10 years ago they Christians numbered 900,000, and today their number has dwindled down to 200,000.  Perhaps you recall the massacre of a Syrian church in Baghdad, on October 31, 2010 last – which left 46 dead, and among the fatalities, two priests.  This also foreshadowed events that would follow. Another attack was to take place during the Christmas season, and numerous bombs were placed close to Christian homes in Baghdad killing two people and injuring dozens more.  This year, will these children be surrounded by gifts or surrounded by threats?

295- copieWhat shall we say of Nigeria, where Christians became the victims of murderous attacks three Christmases running, for these, the Islamic sect – Boko Hararm- claimed responsibility for the last two.  In 2010, bombings left at least 32 dead and 74 injured in Jos, in 2011 – Boko Haram perpetrated several attacks against churches killing dozens of the faithful; and in 2012, armed men attacked a church in the North during Midnight Mass, killing six people – a priest among them – before setting the building aflame.  Do you believe that these children: Yakubu, Murtala and Olusegun will be surrounded by gifts this year?  Or rather, is it more likely they will be surrounded by threats?

20121011_002In Pakistan, 50 extremists Muslims armed with sticks and axes, attacked church buildings in Chak while a film was playing called ‘Jesus’; and while in Pakistan – how can we forget Asia Bibi? This woman stagnates imprisoned in a confined space, her only visitors being her lawyer, her husband and her five young children.  Add to this list: the Philippines. In the chapel of the Sacred-Heart in Jolo, a bomb explosion injured 11 during a morning Christmas Mass. And in Sri Lanka, again on Christmas day, bombs fell from the air destroying a Christian center which cared for orphans and disabled girls. Do you believe that these children will be surrounded by presents of by threats this year?

20130208_034In BosniaHerzegovina, the faithful saw the Orthodox Cathedral’s flag burning on Christmas Eve by unidentified arsonists.  Do these kinds of acts allow them to believe that they will be surrounded by presents or by threats this year?We could extend our list with a situation in Egypt, when at the end of Midnight Mass – several Copts were gunned down. And in China, while a wave of persecution swept over Christians of Uyghur and Han ethnicity, between Christmas and the New Year – or again in Bangladesh, when the popular Democratic Front ordered Church leaders not to hold Christmas celebrations.



If we are to rejoice for children for whom Christmas will bring presents in a joyful way, perhaps might we all, all the same, commiserate with those for whom Christmas might transform into threats, injustices and sadness?  Let us take of leave of the vengeance wishing to take up residence in our hearts, and let us call on forgiveness to assuage the pain.

Certainly, this requires a living faith to traverse the challenges of persecution.

Similarly, if Christians are people of faith, faith does not protect from suffering.  Each action posed on their behalf signifies to them that we are thinking of them, and that they are not alone.

Does this accompaniment not give them access to forgiveness and to allowing for an opening on to the path towards hope?

Pray for those, everywhere, who are in need of YOU, to stay true to their faith;

Inform all those here who wish to help THEM too, they who fortify us in our faith;

Let us give, to all those who are in need of US, hope for a better life.

To make a donation by  please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333  or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.