Journey with ACN – Armenia

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:  ARMENIA




Mass Offerings for priests


 ACN International, Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada 


The Armenians are proud of the fact that Christianity was declared the state religion in their country as early as the year 301, thus making it, they say, the first Christian nation in the world. Almost 95% of the population belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church which, like the Coptic Church in Egypt, is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. However, there is also the Armenian Catholic Church which, while also celebrating its Liturgies according to the Armenian rite, remains in communion with Rome and loyal to the Pope.




In 1991 an eparchy (diocese) of the Armenian Catholic Church was established in the country, which today ministers to all the Armenian Catholic faithful in Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Europe. According to the Pontifical Yearbook, there are some 420,000 Armenian Catholic faithful living in these areas. In Armenia itself there are 48 Catholic parishes, in Georgia five, in Russia four.




Gifts from the faithful: acts of love


Archbishop Raphael Minassian tells us that he and his priests face major challenges. “Now, after the end of the Soviet era, the people need the constant presence of the priests”, he writes, “in order to bring them the Word of God in their everyday situations. They need to listen still, to speak, to ask questions, get answers and understand what it means to live their faith. But now there are many sects in the region, who exploit the difficult economic and social situation to lead the people astray“, he adds. But the truth is that, because of the dire economic situation, the Catholic Church herself scarcely has the resources to provide this much-needed pastoral care for the faithful – who moreover live scattered across a wide area.


And so, the archbishop has asked us for Mass Offerings so that he can at least provide some support for his priests. As in many other countries, Mass Offerings are the sole source of income that the priests have available to them. Having a Holy Mass celebrated for a particular intention, such as for the soul of a departed loved one, is already a long-standing tradition in the Church. The stipend, or financial gift, that the faithful give the priest in return is by no means a “payment”, but rather a gesture of loving support and gratitude for the priest who, through the words of Consecration, makes the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ once more present on the altar. For many priests, however, this small gift is vital to their survival. In his letter Archbishop Minassian writes: “If we do not receive help from you now, we are risking our mission in these countries.” We have given him 1080 of these Mass Stipends, given by our benefactors, so that he can help his 18 priests.









Press Release – Ukraine

ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, Friday, January 31, 2014 –. Catholic pastoral charities in Germany, Poland, the USA and the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” have responded to the critical situation in Ukraine.



“We want to strengthen the role of the Christian Churches as a peacemaking force in Ukraine, to show our solidarity and to support them, but not any particular position or party,” Johannes Heereman, Executive President of “Aid to the Church in Need”, explained after a meeting with representatives of the German, Polish and US Bishops’ Conference in Königstein, Germany.

Approximately 75.7 million (CAN) in aid was provided to projects in Eastern, Central and South-East Europe by the four pastoral charities in 2013. A major portion of these funds was allocated to promote initiatives by the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches in Ukraine.

Representatives of the aid initiatives meet once a year to co-ordinate aid programs and to exchange experiences on the current situation of the Churches in the various countries of the former Eastern Bloc.  In some countries, for instance in Albania and Moldova, the economic situation has deteriorated. And in Kazakhstan, where Catholics are a small but vital minority, the Church relies on support, Heereman claimed. “The collaboration between the pastoral charities is very close. After the transition the prime concern was to restore or build the Churches and church buildings. Today we mainly support the training of priests, people in religious orders and laypersons,” emphasized the Executive President. “Since the fall of the Iron Curtain a lot of work has been done on building up the Churches. Even so the Churches in Eastern, Central and South-Eastern Europe still need our solidarity today,” said Heereman in his closing statement.

Israel Building the wall in the Holy Land

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Bishop places his hopes on the Israeli Supreme Court


Montreal, Wednesday January 29, 2014 –  Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem hopes that Israel’s Supreme Court will find a just solution in the Cremisan case. The bishop imparted in conversation with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) last Monday.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court judges in the final court of appeal will hear the objections of Christian plaintiffs against the building of the Israeli security barrier. The court had originally set the date of the hearing for December 25, but after protests by the plaintiffs, the date it was moved to today, January 29.

The flame of hope is not extinguished

Bishop Shomali who is responsible for the Palestinian territories in the Latin Patriarchate, said: “My sceptical head tells me there will not be a decision that will benefit the people of Cremisan,  because Israel’s security is holy. But my heart refuses to resign and tells me there is still hope. After all, we have prayed a great deal and made a lot of effort. So the flame of hope is not yet extinguished.” 

Looming in the background,  is the threatened confiscation of the properties of 58 Christian families in the Cremisan Valley at Beit Jala near Bethlehem, in order to build a barrier between Israel and the occupied territories. Two convents in the largely agricultural district are also affected. The Israeli army emphasized that the planned course of the wall through the terraces of the Cremisan Valley, is strictly necessary for security reasons. The Palestinian plaintiffs do not see this as convincing and point to alternative routes. Most recently, an objection to the army’s plans was rejected last year by a Tel Aviv court.


Every Friday, those affected in the locality pray for a just solution. Last year the Catholic pastor of the community, Ibrahim Shomali, gave the auxiliary bishop a letter to be delivered to Pope Francis in Rome, in which the Pope was requested to help. But Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali dampened the hopes expressed by some of those affected that the Pope might make a public stand on behalf of Cremisan during his visit to the Holy Land in May. “The Catholic Church has intervened in various ways, for example through the US Bishops’ Conference. The Cremisan file is on the desk of Secretary of State Kerry,” said Shomali. “But with regard to a possible intervention by the Holy Father himself, I must remind you that there are many questions of justice in the world and in the Holy Land. Should the Pope involve himself, he will do so discretely, for example in private talks and through the Nunciature. Pope Francis wants results, not just confrontation.”




ACN Press Release – Ukraine


Bishop denounces violence against protestors

John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada


Bishop Borys Gudziak, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris

 Montreal, Monday January 27, 2014 – According to a local bishop, the “brutal” crackdown on demonstrators in Ukraine is acting as a recruitment agent for the protest movement. It is hard to imagine a more prayerful [protest] in 21st century Europe,” says Bishop Gudziak, describing the country as being engaged “in a battle for dignity.”

Bishop Borys Gudziak, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris, defended protestors on the streets under fire by government forces and repeatedly called that they not take up arms.

“It is hard to imagine a more prayerful manifestation in 21st century Europe.”

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity which for decades has supported the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Gudziak spoke out against the violent security response to the demonstrations, describing protestors as prayerful and non-violent people. “The people are not out on the streets to campaign for a party or candidate – they are gathering around principles. The country in somewhat traumatic ways is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being,” said the bishop on Friday, January 24, from his Paris location.

The bishop went on to accentuate the peaceful nature of the protestors, describing how each day the demonstrations begin with prayer, and that at times prayers take place on the hour every hour, with priests mingling among the crowds, hearing confessions. “It is hard to imagine a more prayerful manifestation in 21st century Europe,” he said.

Events in the last few months and days have been a pilgrimage in our battle for dignity. In the last two months, Ukraine has changed dramatically. The level of social consciousness has increased. The brutality of the special forces is rallying more and more of the population in an active role in this bid for dignity.”

Presentation by Fr. Borys Gudziak (right), rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, on the topic: "The Church and Society in Ukraine twenty years after the Fall of the Iron Curtain." Father Marko Tomashek (left) Director of Projects – ACN International.

Presentation by Fr. Borys Gudziak (right), rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, on the topic: “The Church and Society in Ukraine twenty years after the Fall of the Iron Curtain.” Father Marko Tomashek (left) Director of Projects – ACN International.

I believe that the dialogue will not be effective without international mediation.”

Bishop Gudziak, formerly rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, reasserted the calls made by religious leaders last December 10th including a request to the Ukrainian government to listen to the protestors’ demands, a denunciation of violence and an appeal for dialogue between the regime and the various groups involved in the demonstrations.

Bishop Gudziak then spoke about the need for dialogue and appealed to the international community to intervene to enable successful dialogue: “Dialogue is very difficult and has a very arduous methodology but there are no better alternatives… I believe that the dialogue will not be effective without international mediation.”

The bishop said: Amid increasing calls for the government to dialogue with opposition groups, Bishop Gudziak said: “We hope that reason and ethical principles will prevail and that authentic dialogue will begin.” He added that the government’s harsh treatment of protestors was undermining its authority, adding: “The legitimacy of the Ukrainian government is predicated by respect for human rights. That respect has been neglected and in some cases has been absent. Protestors have been shot and others have been beaten. The perpetrators of violence have not been brought to justice.”

ACN played crucial role in restoration of UGCC

The bishop said he hoped the country would not turn its back on the peace it has mostly enjoyed since emerging from Soviet domination and that this peaceful record was “miraculous” given the conflict in other countries emerging from USSR control.

The bishop, who was installed in Paris at a service in December 2012, highlighted the growth of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from 1989 when there were about 300 priests with an average age of over 70 to today’s 3,000 priests with an average age of 40; 800 seminarians from a Ukrainian Greek Catholic population of five million.

Bishop Gudziak also paid tribute to ACN, which he described as crucial in the restoration of UGCC in the post-Soviet era.  “I would like to express a particular word of thanks to ACN which has been the greatest benefactor of our Church. We are very grateful to all the staff in the organisation and its many generous benefactors who will always remain in our prayers.”  

Journey with ACN – Burkina Faso

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:  Burkina Faso


Support for a centre for young single and expectant mothers

In Burkina Faso women have a very low position socially. Only 14% of them can even read or write. The number of girls and young women bringing up one or more children alone is on the increase.

Media influence has led to an increase in sexual promiscuity, and when a girl does get pregnant the young father is, more often than not, unwilling to take responsibility for the child.

Sadly, it is also common that the young woman will not find support or help from her parents either.In fact, most are likely to kick her out of the house – often on the pretext of the traditional belief that it will bring misfortune on the family if a daughter gives birth in her parents home.

Many girls attempt to abort the child somehow or other, with great risk  to their own lives in the attempt. Others give birth, but will abandon the child somewhere on a street corner. Some bravely attempt to get by on their own with their child. Often these women fall into prostitution, simply to survive. This results in the continuum of a vicious survival spiral, since many become  infected with the HIV virus making their lives all the more difficult, and frequently, they often become pregnant again.

The Catholic Church in Dedougou has created a centre for pregnant girls and young mothers, where they are taken- in and given as much care and support as possible. They receive not only practical, material and pastoral help, but at the same time they can get vocational training and acquire a useful skill.

Elodie is one such young mother whose story has ended well. At the age of 17 she was married by her strictly Muslim family to a much older man whom she did not know and who already had several wives.

She was given no other choice, and had she not obeyed, she would have been thrown out by her family. The two months following her wedding were a living hell for her, and she decided to run away. She managed to find her way to the capital, nearly a hundred miles away, but she knew absolutely no one there. Spontaneously, the idea came to her  to seek shelter with Catholic nuns, who did indeed lovingly take her in.


They quickly noticed that Elodie was pregnant and put her in touch with the “Carmen Kisito”  centre in Dedougou. “I harboured great hatred in my heart towards my family and towards the man I had been forced to marry. I wanted never to see them again. I also felt unable to accept my daughter, Djami, since in my eyes she was responsible for my misfortune. But the more I came to know Jesus, the more I realised that I had to forgive them all. After a three-year long journey, I was preparing to receive Baptism at Easter. I was full of joy at the thought that God would forgive me all my sins and renew me. It was then that I realised that I must also forgive all those who had harmed me. Hatred and revenge could no longer have any place in my life. In my heart I forgave them, therefore. My Baptism was a moment of immense joy for me. I was immersed in a joy that I had never known before and there was a sense of deep peace in my heart.”

After her baptism, Elodie went to visit her family to be reconciled with them. “It was not easy for me, but rather an inner struggle. But through the grace of God I was able to meet them. My father was both astonished and very happy to see his daughter again after almost 5 years, and the reconciliation with my family took place in great joy.”

She did not again see the man whom she had been forced to marry, but she has forgiven him too, in her heart. Today Elodie is able to stand on her own two feet. She has trained as a hairdresser and now earns enough to support herself and her little daughter.

 ACN has been supporting the work of this centre, and is doing so again this year with a grant of $29 400 .

Zanzibar Jubilee “150 Years of Catholic Faith” – and the growing concern about radical Islam

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada



To the Spiritan Fathers working on the two main islands of Unguja (or Zanzibar) and Pemba, which together make up Zanzibar and which since 1964 have also formed part of the East African nation of Tanzania, the words of Father Liebermann have been a source of comfort and enabled them to confront every difficulty – both then and now. On January 19th , 2014, the diocese honoured the commitment of these first missionaries with a special Jubilee celebration, marking “150 Years of Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Zanzibar”.

While it is true that Portuguese missionaries had already reached these East African islands by the end of the 16th century, they had subsequently been expelled again. It was not until the end of 1860 that the Catholic Faith took permanent root here. The then ruler of the islands, Sultan Sayyeid Majid bin Said, welcomed the new arrivals with these words: “You are welcome! My house is your house, my people are your people, I am your brother.” In 1863, Zanzibar was established by Rome as an apostolic prefecture.



Today, according to the Church’s pontifical yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, there are some 13,600 Catholics living on Unguja and Pemba, thereby representing roughly 1% of the population. There are 20 priests involved in the pastoral work of the diocese. Bishop Augustine Shao, himself a Spiritan (CSSp), has been in charge of the diocese since 1997. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting the pastoral work of the diocese for many years now. Traditionally, the Catholics have always lived in great harmony with the overwhelmingly Muslim population; however, sadly – and for some years now – the open attitude of Sultan Sayyeid Majid bin Said has no longer been shared by all his fellow Muslims. In recent years the climate of tolerance on Zanzibar has sharply changed, and although the charitable initiatives of the Catholic Church extend to include everyone, and indeed mostly Muslims, there are some extremist groups that are virulently hostile to the presence of Christians on Zanzibar and which express their opposition in more than simply words.


This was again made evident very recently, in September 2013, when in the parish of Mpandae an elderly Catholic priest was attacked with acid and severely burned. He survived the attack, but suffered severe acid burns and is currently being treated in India. For his parish it was not the first, but the fourth such violent attack. As Bishop Augustine Shao observed, “This has triggered fear – in me, in the priests, the religious and the parishioners. We are living like wanted criminals. It is sad enough that not one of the attackers has been arrested by the police, quite apart from the fact that this criminal act took place in broad daylight, in a market place.” Earlier, at the end of May 2012, the parish church in Mpandae had been attacked, and parts of the building and its furnishings had been set on fire and burned, before the attackers could be chased away.

ACN has already agreed to help towards the cost of repairing the damage.

Although the authorities in Zanzibar are now starting to move against the extremists, the situation remains tense and unpredictable. Bu,t the Catholics of Zanzibar are not going to let this spoil their joy in the Jubilee of their faith.

Press Release: Syria – A plea for peace from a Patriarch

John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, Tuesday January 21, 2014 – The leader of Catholics in Syria has issued an urgent appeal to the faithful in Syria – and people throughout the world – to pray for the success of next week’s all-important Geneva II peace conference.




Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III has called on every Syrian Catholic, whatever their circumstances, to pray for an end to the hostilities that have prompted almost nine million Syrians to flee their homes since the conflict began almost three years ago.

Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (Bishops) in Syria, the leader of the world’s Melkite Greek Catholics issued a statement Thursday, 16th January, defining his plea for prayers from “my beloved bishops, all our children, priests, monks, nuns, faithful, confraternities, youth movements, families and young people.” In his statement, he appeals to the West to join him and his community in prayers for peace:  “Let there be a global prayer campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world.”

Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end to the violence comes as latest UN figures show that nearly two-fifths (40 percent) of the country’s 22.5 million pre-war population have now fled their homes – 2.3 million living as refugees abroad, and a further 6.5 million displaced within the country.  In his document, a copy of which was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Gregorios states: “We implore [God] to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of the victims, and grant us the gift of peace.” He also addresses the mounting humanitarian crisis – exacerbated by one of the worst winters on record.


Also in his appeal, Patriarch Gregorios, who is noted for his peace advocacy work, states: “We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.” In a separate document released alongside his peace appeal statement, the patriarch emphasizes the need for unity among the international community in calling for peace, and a halt to the influx of weapons to armed groups in Syria.

Initially scheduled for May 2013, the much delayed Geneva II Middle East Conference  in Montreux, Switzerland, is due to begin January 22nd, and involve up to 30 other countries including the US, the UK, France and Germany as well as Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia – the participation of Iran is disputed. The conference is expected to gather representatives of Syria’s Assad regime and the opposition in a bid to end the country’s civil war and pave the way for a transitional government.

Support from Pope Francis

With the hope for a widespread undertaking of his appeal, he states: “We long and pray for the peace to be Syrian though we are grateful to all those countries who are working for that Syrian peace. “The [international community’s] efforts should be concentrated on obtaining a peace that is really Syrian, for that would be true peace and the best and most suitable for all parties to the conflict and for all Syria.”

Credit: Grzegorz Galazka

Credit: Grzegorz Galazka

Patriarch Gregorios has repeatedly praised Pope Francis for his September 2013 prayer vigil for Syria. At the time, the initiative was hailed as a turning-point in the bid to prevent a sudden escalation of conflict in the region with the possibility of direct Western military intervention. The Patriarch also congratulated Pope Francis’ address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on Monday January 13, when he highlighted his hopes for the success of Geneva II.

“It is unacceptable that unarmed civilians, especially children, become targets. I also encourage all parties to promote and ensure in every way possible the provision of urgently-needed aid…,” stated Pope Francis.

In line with its priority commitment to helping persecuted and other suffering Christians in the Middle East, in December, ACN, dispatched another series of aid packages for the Syrian people, including assistance for 215 displaced families in Damascus under the care of Patriarch Gregorios – and emergency support for people from Sadad, a majority Christian town devastated by violence in November and the ‘massacre’ of 45 of its people, as well the mass exodus of thousands of people.

Finally, ACN continues to fund the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters whose clinics such as: the St Antoine Dispensary in Beirut, Lebanon – used by Syrian refugees.  The organization has also provided food, fuel and shelter for displaced Christian families from Syrian towns and cities such as Homs and Marmarita.