In yesterday’s article titled The Builders of Bridges, we summarized what took place at the evening of peace and gratitude, organize by the students of l’Institut de formation humaine intégrale de Montréal (IFHIM).

In this article, we told you about a choir whose song was the Prayer of Saint Francis, sung in the Portuguese language.  Today we have the pleasure of sharing this beautiful song.  Tomorrow, we will be sharing video of religious sisters dancing to a song called Magnificat Mési Bondye and sung by the same choir.




The Builders of Bridges for Peace

On April 6th, I had the privilege of attending an evening performance expressing the peace and gratitude of the students from l’Institut de fomation humaine integrale de Montréal (IFHIM) (Institute of Human Integral Training) to all of their benefactors, of whom you are included.  This week we would like to offer you this article about the evening I spent with them at the institute, which was also the subject of our show ‘Vue d’ailleurs’ last week.

 The above-mentioned evening gave me the opportunity to appreciate the extent to which these students, with their hearts filled with joy and with hope, are committed to this formation.  This joy comes from the gratitude of being able to live such an experience; and from this hope which they nourish by reflecting on the privilege they will have of transmitting to those who suffer, a capacity to become themselves and builders of bridges for peace.

Lead by Father Théodore Aimé Seck – a diocesan priest from Thiès Sénégal – in a cheerful and complicit way, the evening gave way to spiritual moments of great intensity that can only truly be inspired by altruistic love.  Songs, skits, and dance were on the programme for this evening of which the most touching moment, for me, was the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, sung in Portuguese by a choir of students which could have rivaled a professional choir.

Throughout the evening, I met many of the consecrated life with whom I had the joy of exchanging.  I even invited some of them to be interviewed on Vue D’ailleurs as I mentioned before.

Convincing testimonials

The first I came across were Sisters Leslie and Manette, two Haitian students in their third year with whom I recorded a radio program in September 2011. At that time, they shared with us their experience related to the terrible earthquake which shook Haiti in January 2010.  The transformation I noticed in them during this interval was surely tangible: more self-assurance in their remarks, sharp senses of humour and a contagious air of ‘joie de vivre’… The greatest joy for them came when these sisters had the opportunity to put into practice the principles assimilated during their formation by participating in a trip home – a third caravan of students to Haiti – between March 13 and 27.  They accompanied people and helped them rise from their trauma.  I invite you to listen to Vues D’ailleurs to hear more about their experiences.

Next, Sister Micheline, a Congolese sister from the Congregating of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Kongolo, who arrived at IFHIM in January 2010 and who was also one of my guests on last week’s show.  This sister, who is in her eighth year of consecrated life, and who looks very much like a novice due to her youthful appearance, came to do the formation following a recommendation from the bishop of her diocese.

In fact, the bishop’s suggestion was inspired because a sister from the same congregation underwent training at IFHIM some years ago.

Because of the way this other sister would go to the rescue of those who had lived a trauma such as rape, war and the like, and her notably similar  charism within her community, the bishop decided to invite the community to send another person to have the experience.

We must emphasize that the institutes’ mission corresponds very much to the types of projects that we support as it is meant as a formation destined as an end for pastoral work within countries of great need.

The last word

IFHIM SoiréeLastly, to close the evening festivities, Marie-Marcelle Desmarais, Director General of IFHIM, addressed the auditorium, warmly thanking all those present and inviting all the students to identify themselves along with their country of origin.  We went around the world!  Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Peru, Columbia, Haiti, India, South Korea… and more.

My inner joy was secured in the knowledge that all these people would eventually return to their respective countries, and transmit a message of love to all suffering people who will likely also one day become, one person at a time, a builder of bridges for peace.

Another evening entitled En route for peace will take place on May 11 at 8pm at the Sanctuaire Marie-Reine des Coeurs, situated at 5875 Sherbrooked East, in Montreal.  Come and take an International Voyage for Peace.

Brazil – Thanks to you, we were able to help!


Help for the training of seminarians 

Thanks to the generosity of ACN’s benefactors, eight seminarians from the diocese of Santarém are able to continue their studies. “The fact that we can count on such people who help us so generously, without expecting anything from us, fills me with great joy,” writes one seminarian. “I am praying for you and ask the Lord to bless you and accompany you. My heart is touched that you are helping so many young men to train for the priesthood. May God reward you a hundredfold.”

Most of the 500,000 or so people in the diocese of Santarém live in the city, while the rest live in the 11 parishes of the hinterland and can only be accessed by boat. “In order to visit one parish, the pastoral workers must plan for a boat journey of up to 40 hours. The shortage of priests, religious sisters and lay missionaries makes the pastoral outreach still more difficult,” explains Ulrich Kny, ACN’s section head responsible for our projects in Brazil. Currently there are 15 such “boat communities”, which are ministered to by 37 priests – too few, given the sheer size of diocese. An additional problem is the expansion of the sects, such as the Igreja da Paz, a movement that is widespread in Santarém.

These are also the sorts of challenges for which future priests of the diocese must be prepared. In order to study well, they will need: computers, teaching manuals, writing materials, food and a room to sleep in. However, the diocese only has the funds to cover a quarter of these costs, and so Bishop Esmeraldo Barreto de Farias has turned to ACN for help. Thanks to your generosity, we were able to commit to $5,000, a sufficient amount to cover the formation of his seminarians for the current academic year.

 Thanks to you, we were able to help!

Support for the apostolate of religious sisters 

In Grajaú, situated in the northeast sector of Brazil, the overwhelming majority of the population is very poor, compared with a small wealthy segment of the population. Within the diocese, 36 religious sisters from nine different congregations are working among the people, ministering to their social, pastoral and spiritual needs. Although Bishop Franco Cuter has made every effort to provide for their support, the funds available remain insufficient. Thanks to your generosity, we have been able to help with a contribution of $20,500. This help, has proven to be “very precious” as the Bishop Cuter assures us, “We are extremely grateful to all our benefactors for having supported these sisters, so that their life and mission in our diocese can continue.”

For Bishop Franco Cuter, these sisters are of vital importance since their pastoral work helps to compensate for a shortage of priests. The range of their collective contribution fulfills many functions and is as varied as the sisters themselves. They run children’s and youth groups, family and liturgy study circles, support missionaries, assist in parishes, visit the sick and elderly, host radio talks; organize conferences, mission weeks and teach in the schools and other Catholic establishments.  Their presence strengthens the Catholic faithful as they bring their knowledge to conveying teachings from the Bible and catechesis.… With all these gestures of love, whether big or small, they are putting the Gospel into concrete practice.

The Diocese of Grajaú is faced with many difficulties and problems – such as unemployment, prostitution and teen pregnancies – all are part of daily life in a world of great moral, material and spiritual poverty. “Young people face a bleak future,” write the catechetical Franciscan sisters, one of many religious communities working in to help this needy population. Some of the sisters run a mission among the indigenous tribes, while holding great respect for their particular culture and way of life. They baptize and teach, resolve disputes and give counsel, and participate in the cultural festivities. “We organize an “Indian Week” in April, with an exhibit about their way of life,” they explain. In Aramé, Sister Godelive of the Little Apostles of Jesus has been responsible, for the past eight years, for the preparation of young people for the sacrament of Confirmation. She, and her two fellow sisters, are extremely grateful for the support you have provided. “The challenges are big, and our work is little. Please pray for us and thank you for all the help you have given us, so that we can continue our work.”

Thanks to you, we will be able to help!

Giving young people hope for the future

The parish of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque stands proudly on a hill on the outskirts of the city of Belo Horizonte, in the suburb of Sagrados Corações. Beyond these roofs in the third-largest metropolis in Brazil, the poor of the city live – in the Favela São José. Since 1998, pastoral work in the parish has been carried-out by the lay community: Chemin Neuf who regularly visiting around 40 of the poorest families and providing practical help where needed. For example, with the help of the community, Claudia, a single mother living in the Favela with her three children, was able to move out of her miserable dwelling and into a more dignified apartment.

Over the years, Chemin Neuf has established a building complex right next to the Favela, in order to better help the poor. They have a school, a football field, a daycare, a hospital and a social centre – though as of yet, no church. The population of Sagrados Corações is exceptionally youthful, over 50% of the people are under the age of 21. According to Father Philippe Jacques and Father Philippe Robert of the Chemin Neuf community, 67.3 % of the population in Sao José earn less than 400 Reals ($200) per month. The two priests are particularly involved in the youth apostolate. “Many young people have no work,” they say. And so they hang around on the streets, without any hope or sense of direction, for they are growing up in an environment that offers them little chance of any future. The two priests often visit individual families in the favela, and organize Alpha courses and meetings for couples and families. Wherever they go, the message they bring is, “God loves you.”

Because of the extensive territory of this parish, the pastoral activities take place in four separate locations. In order to create a common space and meeting point for everyone, the Chemin Neuf community began working on a new pastoral centre two years ago, which is to have its own church and parish rooms. Their plan includes a four-storey building with an underground garage, a church, complete with an adoration chapel and sacristy. The ground floor will house the group activity rooms and services on the upper floors. The front of the building, with a tower-like appearance and ordained with a cross, was designed to signal the center’s Catholic identity. It is a major project. And much of the construction is still to be done. This pastoral centre is of great importance for the whole of this very lively parish. ACN is helping with a contribution of $77, 000.

All texts by Teresa Engländer, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

These projects are examples of our work. Your donation will be used for a similar project that accords with the pastoral priorities of ACN.

 Thank you for journeying with us through Brazil ,and for sharing these stories with those around you through your networks!

One million more YOUCATs for World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil

Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 In preparation for the World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s dioceses and new Catholic movements are given a million additional copies of YOUCAT, the new youth catechism published by the universal Catholic Church.

Jacinto Bergmann, Archbishop of Pelotas, chair of the Bible Commission of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference made the announcement in a letter to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) who has made major funding contributions to the project.

In his letter, Archbishop Bergmann expresses how “the investment will help satisfy a profound “need” in the young generation: to discover the first and last meaning of life through the encounter with Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.”YOUCAT

Aid to the Church in Need has been involved with the project by giving its support since October 2012 for the printing and distribution of 500,000 copies of YOUCAT throughout Brazil. At that time, José Correa, director of ACN Brazil, stated: “Since many in my homeland are looking forward enthusiastically to the World Youth Day 2013, we have arranged for YOUCAT to be printed in Brazilian Portuguese.” The most cost-intensive factor for the project became the distribution of the books throughout Brazil.

According to Correa, the upcoming World Youth Day scheduled to take place between July 23 to 28, this year in Rio de Janeiro, is an important topic among Brazilian young people, especially across the world-wide web, even for those having little or no affiliation to the Church.

“Young people are simply looking forward to it. They love celebrate together. And YOUCAT goes down well. It helps many to get to know the faith, to understand it better or to deepen it,” said Correa.  Statistically, just under 70 percent of the 190 million Brazilians in the country are Catholic. Furthermore, when speaking of its population – Brazil is young – the number of children and young people under the age of 24 is about 42 per cent.

Because the numbers printed of the first special Brazilian edition of YOUCAT was insufficient, additional copies have now been printed to fill the demand.

With the help of this little yellow paperback, hundreds of thousands of young people are preparing themselves throughout Brazil for a unified gathering in the spirit of faith and of youth, and for a much anticipated meeting with Pope Francis.

The printing and distribution of YOUCAT was first funded by ACN for the World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid and thus, there afterward travelling the world over, carrying its message of Faith to young people wherever they may be.

Syria: the battlefield


Syria: the battlefield


By John Pontifex, ACN UK

Adapted by ACN Canada


The head of an ancient Middle Eastern Church has described how “the whole of Syria has become a battlefield” and has appealed to world leaders to intervene in a bid to stop the fighting.


Montreal –April 17, 2013. In a statement, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham says that the country’s “suffering has gone beyond all bounds” and that the conflict “has mown down thousands and thousands” of people – both civilians and military.


SYRIE 1The Damascus-based patriarch estimates that, since the conflict broke out two years ago, up to 400,000 Syrian Christians – possibly more than 25 percent of the total – are either displaced within the country or have fled abroad. In the statement, which was sent Monday, 15 April to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios reports that since early 2011 more than 1,000 Christians have been killed, that “entire villages have been cleared of their Christian inhabitants” and that more than 40 churches and other Christian centres (schools, orphanages and care homes) lie damaged or destroyed.

He states that key to the country’s problems are chaos and insecurity, as well as an influx of “fundamentalist Islamists”.


The patriarch declares that the threat to Christianity in Syria has wider implications for the religion’s future in the region because for decades the country has provided a refuge for faithful from Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. He states that the conflict poses a severe threat to Muslims, pitting one Islamic tradition against another. Patriarch Gregorios believes that, in spite of the worsening violence, peace remains possible and, in his statement, calls for action from leaders of Arab nations, Europe, the Americas, world organisations and Nobel Peace Prize winners. He states: “We are sure that, despite our woes, all [of us] Syrians – government, political parties, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Alawites, Christians and Druze – are capable of engaging in dialogue…”


Saying that “there is no safe place left in Syria”, he adds: “The whole of Syria has become a battlefield… Every aspect of democracy, human rights, freedom, secularism and citizenship is lost from view and no-one cares.” He states: “Suffering has gone beyond all bounds. The crisis has mown down thousands upon thousands of soldiers, opponents, civilians, men, women, children, Muslim sheikhs and Christian priests.”


“…to die or leave”


The patriarch’s comments coincide with remarks by fellow Damascus prelate Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar who, as reported by Fides news agency, said that Christians in Syria “must choose between two bitter chalices: to die or leave”. Archbishop Nassar stressed the threat to both Muslims and Christians from explosives, car bombs, snipers and the lack of medical care following a mass closure of hospitals.


In his statement, Patriarch Gregorios goes on to say that Christians are especially at risk from extremists stirring up riots against them. He said Christians were particularly susceptible to losing their religious buildings to armed groups for use as “shields” in the conflict. The patriarch states: “The future of Christians in Syria is threatened not by Muslims but by… chaos… and the infiltration of uncontrollable fanatical, fundamentalist groups.”


He refers to large numbers of Christians suddenly being forced to leave their homes and livelihoods adding: “[They have been] able to salvage little if anything. “By and large, their houses and possessions have been looted, destroyed and damaged. All of this represents a loss of several million dollars.” He states: “In the face of all these dangers, sufferings and misfortunes that affect all citizens, we wonder whether there can be any other way of speaking or acting than that of war, weapons, violence, hatred and revenge. We very much need a solution.”





Egypt – Serious allegations following unrest in Cairo: “Police protected the attackers”


By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, April 17, 2013 – Following attacks on a Christian funeral service in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, representatives of the Catholic Church in Egypt have made serious allegations against the authorities.

Father Rafik Greiche, media spokesman of the Egyptian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “When severe inter-religious unrest took place in Khusus on 6 April and four Christians lost their lives, Islamic fundamentalists threatened to attack the church in Khusus if a funeral service for the dead were to be held there. Therefore the service was transferred to the cathedral in Cairo. The police must have been aware of the situation. So why were the police not in front of the cathedral? They only arrived two hours later, and then they protected the attackers.”

On 7 April, at the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, there were attacks on Coptic Christians attending the funeral of their brethren who had died the previous day in Khasus near Cairo. Unknown persons attacked the mourners with stones and Molotov cocktails. Two people were killed and more than 90 injured. Speaking to ACN, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Asyut, Kyrillos Samaan, condemned the assault: “Nobody could have imagined that anybody would attack such an important symbol for all Egyptians as St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. It is shocking. But we will never learn the real motives for these attacks.”

A visible rapprochement

A few hours after the attacks, President Muhammad Morsi, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, declared his solidarity in a telephone call with Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II. Father Greiche commented on this: “But what had the President done to protect the Christians?” Encouraging, in the words of Father Greiche, is the solidarity and sympathy of moderate Muslims: “All of our Muslim friends told us that the events make them feel ashamed. I recently visited Azhar University, the most important Sunni institution. Sheiks with whom we are in contact there assured us that such attacks are not compatible with Islam.” Father Greiche continued: “We are in permanent contact with the Protestant and Orthodox Churches. We find much agreement. That is a blessing.”

Especially significant, in the view of Father Greiche, is the rapprochement between the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Churches since the election of Tawadros II as the new Coptic Orthodox Patriarch at the beginning of November 2012: “The atmosphere between Catholics and Orthodox Copts has been completely transformed. Tawadros is very open. For example he attended the enthronement of the new Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac. That had never happened before. But in particular, the Coptic Pope intends to visit the Pope in Rome. There has been a real change here.”




Sowing the Word in Brazil’s rough interior

by Rodrigo Arantes, ACN Brazil

Luiz Gonzaga, a Brazilian musical icon, was born in a rough, rural area in the state of Pernambuco in north-eastern Brazil. He became famous in Rio de Janeiro. After 16 years, during which he never visited his parents, he returned one night to the north-east. He himself describes how he stood in front of their house and cried out:

– Hallo! Is there anybody home?

No answer.

Because nobody answered he shouted even louder. Then he remembered the “farmers’ password” and cried:

 – Praised be Jesus Christ!

 Immediately a light went on in the house. He heard his father’s voice answering:

– For ever and ever. Amen!

And that’s how father and son met again after more than a decade.

This incident illustrates the faith of the farmers of north-eastern Brazil. No-one, not even a thief, would have the courage to abuse the name of God. Of course his father couldn’t know that it was his son calling out, but he could be sure that the one using this “farmers’ password” was a good person.

The rough land in the Brazil’s north-eastern region is one of the country’s weakest regions. Although the soil itself is fertile, it suffers from an extremely dry climate and sparse rainfall. According to current data more than 10 million people suffer from the drought. In the areas most affected hunger, thirst and all kinds of deprivations are the order of the day. But in this region the people’s faith is constant. It is against this backdrop that “Aid to the Church in Need” operates.

Since the 1960s the rough areas in the north-east of Brazil have received support for large-scale projects, such as radio stations in rural areas preaching the Gospel to the people, live as they do hundreds of miles from the next chapel. But “Aid to the Church in Need” also implements a number of smaller projects in particular which directly benefit the modest smallholders from this area in Brazil’s interior.

Don Neco has great respect for the Mother of God and in particular for Saint Francis. He lives in Serra Talhada, in the interior of the north-eastern state of Pernambuco. The community is called “Nuestra Señora de la Salud” (“Our Lady of Health”), but the only sign of this Christian community was the image of the Holy Virgin which Don Neco possessed.

Members of this community would walk kilometres to get to Don Neco’s land. They gathered there to pray under the blazing sun to pray in the shadow of a tree. They celebrated a liturgy of the Word before the image of the Holy Virgin. When the priest joined them he celebrated Holy Mass. The community decided it was time to build a chapel. Don Neco donated a piece of land to enable the church to be constructed. For this man of faith it was more important to sow the Word of God than to sow food. The members took a number of initiatives to raise funds to build the chapel, for instance by holding bingo sessions – everyone donated something as a bingo prize: cooking pots, chickens and even goats could be won. The desire to build the chapel was so great that a single goat served as a prize seven times: each person who won it put forward as a prize for the next game.

Even so the money collected wasn’t enough to build the chapel. The priest Orlando Bezerra, who had accompanied the initiative, asked “Aid to the Church in Need” for support, but only to buy building materials. The labour was being provided by the members of the community themselves.

And today the chapel is finished. Don Neco can see that the faith sown on his land has borne fruit. “I thank God for all this. In the whole region there is not a single child that hasn’t been baptised and received First Communion.”

The community “Rosa de los Vientos” (“Rose of the Winds”) is one of the 46 places looked after by only two priests from the area of Serra do Ramalho, in the interior of the State of Bahia. This area also suffers from a prevailing drought. Whenever anybody came and asked the inhabitants for something to eat or drink, he would be given a piece of “palm”, a type of cactus typical of the north-east of Brazil and which is also used to feed cattle. “Here people only get something to eat every two days,” says farmer Pedro de Andrade. Even the water used in the houses comes from the water the cattle bathe in and where they leave their excrement. The community has neither running water nor electricity.

In view of such deprivations the only thing there was a surplus of was faith. A benefactor of “Aid to the Church in Need” wanted to provide the funds to build a chapel. Even now the community only wanted money to buy building materials. They intended to carry out the construction work themselves. Now the chapel to “Saint Eulalia” has been built the community is more united. They now also have electricity and running water. The word from the scriptures came true: “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

These are only two of the hundreds of projects which “Aid to the Church in Need” supports in this rough region of Brazil. “Aid to the Church in Need” has also supported nuns in helping to preserve and enrich the people’s faith, because the region is also one of the areas targeted by the sects. But farmers like Don Neco are excellent examples of how a firmly rooted faith cannot be overturned by the wind. “I receive everyone in my home. But one day I heard that people with an alien religion wanted to visit me. Since I knew what they were I answered: Look here, thank them on my behalf. But ask them to stay away from me. I don’t wish to receive anyone who claims that my Mother (the Mother of God) is not important for the history of our salvation,” Don Neco declared.