Journey with ACN – Columbia

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

This week :  Columbia


Support for the life and apostolate of 16 Poor Clare Sisters

Popayán, in the south-west of the country is the home of the Poor Clare Sisters. Two years ago, given the steady flow of new vocations, seven of the sisters left the convent here in order to establish a new convent in another part of Colombia. Since then there have been 16 nuns living in the convent of Saint Clare in Popayán. The eldest among them can look back over no less than 74 years of religious life since taking her permanent vows. She is now 94 years old! The youngest – a postulant – is just 17 years old.

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A time of ongoing crisis

Every year dozens of young Colombian men and women opt for a life of service of their fellow men, whether as a male or female religious, or as a priest. Some 96.7% of Colombia’s 46 million inhabitants are Christians, and one third regularly participate in Church life. The number of vocations is high. But at the same time the need for priests, religious and lay pastoral workers is enormous, for the people of Colombia are living through a time of ongoing crisis. Despite recent hopes for peace, guerrilla groups, drug cartels and paramilitaries continue to kill and do battle with police and security forces in a conflict that has now lasted half a century. Hundreds of thousands have been killed during this time, most of them civilians. In the 1990s alone there were around 40,000 victims. The Catholic Church is responding to the destruction and violence with initiatives for reconciliation and love, and with a special care for the needy and suffering population of the rural regions.

For their part, the Sisters of Saint Clare pray daily for those around them in a region that is marked by extreme poverty. Indeed, the economic situation in this region has grown still worse, following a particularly hard winter. But this poverty affects not only the ordinary people; the Poor Clares also struggle to support themselves from day to day. As their prioress, Maria Letica of the Child Jesus explains, their efforts to support themselves by their bakery, the embroidering of liturgical vestments and the manufacture of candles and other items are simply not enough. Humbly, she asks us for financial support to sustain the lives of the 16 nuns. They will need an extra $2,300 simply to be able to make ends meet.

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Contemplative sisters – of inestimable value

ACN has been supporting the Poor Clares in Popayán for many years now, and we will certainly help them again this year. The congregation has many new vocations, and there is a steady stream of young women wishing to join the sisters. In fact there have been so many that two years ago they were able to found a new convent.

“We pattern our lives on the poor, humble and crucified Christ, and on the example of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi, who lived the Gospel,” the sisters explain. Their daily life follows a structured pattern of contemplative prayer, silence, community life, joy, poverty and work. In fact their whole life is prayer.

For the diocese the presence of these contemplative sisters is of inestimable value. Their presence is a witness to living faith in a world marked by poverty and violence. The local people often come to visit the sisters and even bring them gifts from the little they themselves possess. So the presence of the sisters becomes a mutual exchange of love and charity and their enclosed community becomes “a hidden powerhouse of mission and of the Church” as the founder of ACN, Father Werenfried van Straaten described it. For Father Werenfried it was through the contemplative brothers and sisters that the “sacred and spiritual” is made visible “in a world that is losing the sense of the sacred.”

Like other contemplative communities, the Poor Clares offer up their trials and difficulties for the good of the universal Church and for their fellow men. Through their prayers they are helping the Church, the priests, all who are suffering. Let us not abandon these sisters, with their living faith and unshakeable trust in God. In return, they will not forget you, but well respond with the precious and priceless gift of their prayers for your own personal intentions.

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ACN Interview – Albania

Don Carlo Lorenzo Rossetti, a Fidei donum priest from the Diocese of Rome, has been based in Albania since 2003. He is Director of the “Redemptoris Mater” missionary seminary and he also teaches theology at the interdiocesan seminary in Shkoder. He also serves as a parish priest in Balldre-Gocaj-Kakarriq (Lezhe) and as a contributor to Radio Maria Albania. He spoke September 17th with Aid to the Church in Need, the international Catholic charity, on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Albania.

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International


  1. How would you describe the current situation in Albania, socially, politically and economically?

 

® It seems to me that Albania is like a “teenager” who suffered a difficult and painful childhood. It’s a country in a growing process.

Socially, it means a country that is trying to overcome the past, the horrible past of dictatorship, atheism and total isolation. The greatest temptation is now to give up, to renounce and to forget this country by escaping through emigration.

Politically, it is a country that is trying to learn democracy. (We have to remember that this kind of political system – that we consider normal in Western world, – never existed in this poor semi-Eastern country. Albania, after centuries long domination of severe Islamic-Osman Turkey, passed through rigid monarchy (king Zogu), Italian fascism, German Nazism, and immediately after the World war II, through one of the most inhumane communist regimes under the radical Stalinist Enver Hoxha. The reason the rule of law is not easily taking roots is also due to this difficult inheritance. The classical heritage of Greek philosophy, Roman civic culture and Biblical spirituality, which is the very foundation of human rights and modern democracy, was largely bypassed in Albanian history. Sincerely I do not think that we can manage an “implantatio democratiae” just by proposing free elections, under international supervision…

Economically, the country is growing, because the starting point was zero! The risks are corruption, exploitation, lack of workers’ rights, etc.

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  1. And how would you describe the situation of the Catholic Church in your country?

 

® Well the Church is rising again! You know that since the beginning of the communist regime, in 1945 the Communist Party (“Partia e Punes”) persecuted all kinds of religious denominations, but the Catholic Church was particularly hurt because of her links with foreign countries, especially Italy and the Vatican. The majority of the martyrs where executed in this period. Moreover, in 1967, religion and faith were even officially abolished from Albania with the first atheistic constitution. All churches were destroyed or transformed into sports halls or stores. My generation in Albania is religiously very uneducated. The result is that usually we have churches attended by old persons, children and teenagers, but very few middle-aged men and women. In the very first beginning of Church activity after the fall of dictatorship (I mean in the years 1991-1994) some older priests who survived captivity and torture visited a lot of villages (mainly in the North, where the Catholic presence was traditionally more conspicuous), proposing Catholic baptism without any catechism. You can easily encounter adults who claim to be Catholic, even “very Catholic”, while not knowing the basic Christian prayers. Often to be Catholic is more an ethnic or sociological issue than a spiritual or religious one. Nevertheless, the last 20 years the pastoral work has been great. Thanks to the personal intervention of St. John Paul II, a lot of congregations and new movements entered Albania and are now serving this country. Also priestly vocations have grown.

Overall, we have to say that despite those efforts, the Church and spiritual life remain in a burgeoning stage. The renewal of Vatican II has not yet had a full impact on the Albanian Church. There is a largely “clerical Church” with little or no lay participation. The cause is obviously a lack of Christian initiation.

 

  1. What are the hopes and expectations that the Albanian people associate with the Catholic Church?

® In the beginning, Albanian people just looked at the Church as a big charity. Maybe there is a risk that ecclesial identity is being misunderstood. But now it seems to me that generally the majority of the population is more open to the core of the Church’s message and has a largely positive opinion of ecclesial institutions. The Church is seen like a guarantor and guardian of human dignity and, henceforth, of human rights.

  1. And what are the hopes and expectations concerning the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis?

® I would distinguish Catholic and civic expectations:

  • Catholics hope that he might strengthen all pastoral workers, giving them courage and willingness to work in unity and in communion with the universal Church.
  • Civil authorities are hoping for a greater visibility for their country, which would make it easier for Albania’s future integration into the European Community.
  1. Can you describe the role of other religions in Albania, especially Islam?

® Traditionally the majority of Albanians (around 65-70%) have been Muslims, and they are not at all radicals or fundamentalists. A minority of Catholics live in the north and a similar Orthodox minority is present mainly in the south. In recent years Evangelical Protestants have seen impressive growth.

Generally, religions live quite well together. Even though I do not know to which degree this friendly coexistence is based on true friendship or only on common sense. Certainly, the spiritual character of Albania is not a fanatic one: the mainstream opinion is that there is a God in heaven. It is not by chance that the new democratic Constitution approved in 1998 mentions God in its preamble.

The coexistence of different religions (Sunni & Bektashian Islam, Catholic, Orthodox & Evangelical Christianity) is a buffer against secular atheism and a bastion to uphold the spiritual dimension of the human person.

  1. Is there an existing and steady dialogue between the different Christian denominations and religions in your country?

® Yes. I am personally very involved in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. As a professor at the seminary of Shkoder I can testify to the warm friendship that exists between Catholics and Orthodox in Albania. We have regular meetings with professors and students of the Orthodox academy of Durres. We have also started meetings with Evangelicals and Muslims.

  1. Are the religions and their representatives contributing to the development of Albania?

® They are. Catholic activity has been strong in the education and health realms: schools, hospitals. The Orthodox have founded important academic institutions and have build a wonderful cathedral in Tirana. (We must not forget that political atheism has let to the “aesthetic desolation” of Albania. I am speaking about the foolish project that covered the sweet hills of this country with around 500,000 bunkers!). There are also some Islamic schools that help promote human rights and civil integration.

  1. What are – in your view – the key challenges for the country?

® Family; education; honesty. Albanians have to protect one of their greatest gifts: the great esteem they have for the family. But the family is precisely under a terrible attack right now. Traditional values, often founded on machismo and patriarchy, are understandably called into question by the new generation; but in the meanwhile young people suffer excruciatingly from the contemporary temptations of hedonism, materialism and individualism.

Albania has to resist the two greatest temptations of contemporary world, i.e.: secularism and Islamic fundamentalism. In this sense, moderate religious thinking can be very useful in proposing a positive model of the family.

Another enormous challenge involves education and corruption. I connect those two topics, because corruption is an endemic evil that touches all of ordinary life:  education, justice, politics and healthcare. It seems reasonable to think that corruption might be overcome not only by laws and regulations, but, more profoundly, by a renewal of education.

  1. And what are – in this context – the most important challenges for the Church?

® We must improve Christian life through the rediscovering of the Church’s primary goal, which is to evangelize, to transmit the Good News of Jesus Christ, the New Man, who reveals the true identity of all human beings. We are sons and daughters of God, called to live in unconditional love, and destined to eternal life and joy.

As Pope Francis stresses, the Church has to concentrate her efforts on her own peculiar gift, the Gospel – the defence of the God-given dignity of man and woman and the splendid announcement of the victory over evil and death.

10.  What are the main needs of the Church?

® Everything that helps Christian education, that helps evangelization and formation based on biblical and Catholic doctrine.

To make a donation to ACN for refugees

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.

Ukraine: THE STORY OF KIDNAPPED PRIESTS

By Marta Petrosillo, ACN Italy

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

 

“I believe that my kidnappers had been watching me for some time already, because they had a lot of information both about me and about my parishioners,” says Father Sergey, one of the three priests kidnapped in Ukraine between July and August this year. He is talking to ACN about his 12 days of imprisonment. This Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, who belongs to the archiepiscopal exarchate of Donetsk, was abducted at the end of July while driving his car.

“Three men got out of a car next to me, belonging to the army of New Russia. I realised immediately that it was me they wanted. They forced me into their car and then knocked me out with a sponge soaked in chloroform.” When Father Sergey woke up, his abductors explained to him what he had done “wrong” – namely being one of the organizers of a day of prayer for peace and the unity of Ukraine. A prayer against New Russia. “If someone had prayed for the Soviet Union in Berlin in 1942, what was the Germans have done?”

Several times his abductors threatened to shoot the priest. “They told me to pray, because these would be my last moments,” he recalls; “then they fired into the air.” Father Sergey was not actually subjected to torture, but he was deprived of the insulin he needs to keep his diabetes under control. “As the days passed, my condition grew worse and I begged them to give me the medicine. After a week in prison, his abductors were joined by a man who spoke with a strong Muscovite accident – unlike the other kidnappers who were clearly from Donetsk – and who interrogated the priest for four days in succession. [“The man had a great deal of information about me and even knew the names of my parishioners…] On the 12th day of his imprisonment Father Sergey was blindfolded and forced to get into a car. He was convinced that he was about to be killed at any moment, but after a short journey his abductors left him, completely alone. He waited a couple of hours, and then began to drive to safety.

“I went through some frightening moments, but I always managed to find strength in prayer,” he recalls. “When my blood pressure went up, as a result of the lack of medication, I began to recite the Rosary. And, as though miraculously, my heart began to beat more slowly again.”

Don Victor, a Catholic priest of the diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporižžja, was abducted in similar circumstances. “Some men from the Army of New Russia stopped me at a checkpoint,” he tells ACN. “After checking my documents, they asked me to follow them for a brief interview, but I wasn’t freed again until eleven days later.” He too was subjected to numerous interrogations and more than one mock execution. [Initially, the separatists thought that Don Victor was a spy, because he was coming from central Ukraine.]

Inside the small room in which he was held prisoner, a room of less than 12 square meters, there were at different times more than 50 other hostages, to whom Don Victor was able to give spiritual support.

The third priest to be abducted, Don Pavel, is a Polish priest who has been working in Kazakhstan. He had gone to Ukraine to take part in the day of prayer for peace.

 

 

 

 

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako speaks out: PLEASE DON’T FORGET US

Dear benefactors and interested followers – The Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako spoke out at a recent conference on the question of Christians in the Middle East, which was held with financial support from “Aid to the Church in Need” on the fringe of the plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. We feel it is important to share his thoughts and very clear requests made to the international community with you. We urge you to share this message with those around you.


Geneva 16.9.2014

Blessed are those who work for peace,

They shall be called children of God

 

 

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am touched and grateful to you for your presence here. It shows that you are not indifferent to the tragedy of our people.

 

         ISIS is an extremist organization, guided with blind principles of brutality, well-funded, well-armed with sophisticated weapons, widely present in the social media. The daily practice of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of all those who are seen as nonbelievers is common. They are able to recruit fighters from across the globe. Isis is a potential threat to the entire world.

So in the name of all the persecuted I beg and urge all leaders to find a strategy – a road map to end the present tragedy and prevent also future threats.

Here are some requests –  what should be done right now and later:

 

  • To continue providing humanitarian aid of shelter, food, water, medicine and clothing to survive till the return of our people to their homes and villages.
  • To liberate not only the plain of Nineveh, but also Mosul by a comprehensive political solution. An international coalition with the mandate of UN is needed to protect and defend the rights of defenseless displaced thousands in this region. Airstrikes only will kill innocent people. There should be troops on the ground and why not from the Arab countries. It is necessary to train the Iraqi central army professionally and to equip it and also the Kurdish Peshmerga.
  • To support the safe return of the displaced people to their homes and villages and to ensure them of international protection. This should be guaranteed by a UN resolution otherwise we would have the same destiny like the Palestinians.
  • To guarantee that the displaced persons are given adequate compensation for their lost properties and destroyed houses by the Iraqi Government. Here other governments, aid organisations and NGOs can contribute a lot.
  • To put the Christian heritage sites which go back to the early centuries under the patronage and protection of UNESCO.
  • All the mentioned measures are necessary. But the protection of human rights of every single citizen is the best and only way to secure a peaceful coexistence. War is always evil and bringing misfortune to the people. Let us examine our conscience what we are doing to prevent war. What about the arm sales? Instead of selling weapons human rights and religious freedom of all should be promoted.

Thank you for your sympathy to the fate of our suffering people. Please take our case to your governments, to your political parties, to your institutions, to your churches and mosques.

#Wearechistians

 

PRESS RELEASE – Iraq/Syria

“Recognize genocide against Christians,” says the Archbishop of Mosul

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal/Geneva: Wednesday September 24, 2014 – “We Christians in Iraq have a future if the international community gives us immediate assistance. Don’t forget us.” With these words the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako addressed the community of nations while speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN).

The Patriarch was speaking on the occasion of a conference on the question of Christians in the Middle East, which was held with financial support from “Aid to the Church in Need” on the fringe of the plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “People are disappointed how little help has been received to date.” The Patriarch continued: “At present about 120,000 Christians are living in Iraq as refugees. They need everything because the ISIS terrorists have taken all they had. The greatest challenge at the present time is the provision of living accommodation. The winter, which can be very cold in Iraqi Kurdistan, is coming and the people can’t possibly stay in tents. We rely heavily on support here.”

Call for a protection zone

In his remarks to the conference participants, Louis Raphael I made a call to set up a protection zone for Christians in Northern Iraq. This should, he said, be placed under a United Nations mandate and should be set up with major involvement of Iraq’s neighbour states. “We need a resolution of the United Nations which will enable us to return,” the Head of the Chaldean-Catholic Church said. Sako warned that if the Iraqi Christians are not able to return to their places of origin in the Nineveh Plains near Mosul, they will face the fate of the Palestinian refugees, who have lived scattered over many countries.

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© ACN

Mosul’s Syriac-Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf said before the conference that the United Nations must recognize and condemn the expulsion of the Christians in Iraq as genocide. “The United Nations is quick to condemn anti-Semitism. We want to see the same when Christians are persecuted.” He was pleased about the visits of western politicians to Iraq. “But we need genuine humanitarian aid. Time is a major factor for us. More and more people are leaving the country.”

The Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignace III Yousif Yunan, a resident of Lebanon, also made a call at the conference for a greater commitment on the part of the international community. “With the capture by ISIS of Syriac-Catholic towns such as Qaraqosh tens of thousands of my faithful are fleeing. Aid from the international community would not only help them materially, but also show them that they are not alone and not forgotten.” The Christians of the Middle East were too few and too poor to attract the interest of the industrialised nations, the Church leader continued.

Patriarch Ignace also stressed that in the long term the Christian presence in the Middle East could only be guaranteed by separating state and religion. “As an international family we must work towards the separation of state and religion.” In this connection he called on Muslims to reinterpret their Holy Scriptures. “In the 21st century one cannot make an exegesis as though one were in the 7th century.”  Archbishop Sharaf criticized the inadequate reaction of Muslims to the actions of ISIS. “When the Mohammed cartoons were published a few years ago in Denmark, millions of Muslims took to the streets worldwide because this was something that was against Islam. ISIS is also seen as un-Islamic. But where are the demonstrations against it?”

The conference “Christians in the Middle East: Citizenship, Human Rights and their Future,” organized by the Vatican representation at the UNO in Geneva and held at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, was attended by delegations from the United States, Great Britain, Poland and Austria. Subsequently US Ambassador Keith Harper also received a delegation of Iraqi Church representatives for discussions.

 

PRESS RELEASE – Aid to the Church in Need nominated for the Sakharov Prize

Aid to the Church in Need nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament

Montreal/Königstein, 22 September 2014 –  The Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been nominated this year for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Prize is awarded every year by the European Parliament to honour individuals or organizations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief.

ACN has been selected among a group of agencies including l’Oeuvre d’Orient and Open Doors International coordinated by the French organization CHREDO (La Coordination des Chrétiens d’Orient en Danger). This proposal is promoted by Mr. Philippe Juvin, Member of the European Parliament (France, EPP), obtaining individual support from colleagues of different countries and political families.

The total of seven nominations for the Sakharov Prize includes that of the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, His Beatitude Louis Raphaël Sako along with Prof. Mahmoud Al-Asali who was murdered for defending the rights of Christians in Mosul on 20 July 2014. ACN encouraged greatly this proposal within the membership of the European Parliament to keep a spotlight on the suffering of the persecuted Christians in Iraq at this time. Two nominations in the defense of the fundamental right to freedom of religion and thought in the same year are highly unusual, acknowledging Europe’s growing awareness of the danger to religious minorities throughout the Middle East.

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Previous winners of the prize include Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, the Russian NGO Memorial and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his staff.

ACN Executive President Johannes Heereman said: “We understand this nomination as an acknowledgment from the international community to the terrible suffering of persecuted Christians around the world and as a recognition of the work of ACN in protecting and promoting religious freedom and thought. This would not be possible without the grace of God and the support of our benefactors.”

For more information please see:

The official EP press release:  http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20140919IPR66309/html/Nominees-for-Sakharov-Prize-2014-announced

The official Sakharov Prize webpage: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/00f3dd2249/Sakharov-Prize-for-Freedom-of-Thought.html

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Journey with ACN – Cameroon

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

This week :  Cameroon

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Help for the training of 11 novices of the Sisters of Saint Anne

The Congregation of Saint Anne was founded in 1834 in the Italian city of Turin. Today the Sisters of Saint Anne work not only in a number of European countries, but also in India, the Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, the United States and Cameroon, in central West Africa.

The sisters have been working in Cameron for 27 years now, and the congregation currently has 74 native African sisters in this country. They have nine convents in Cameron, in four different dioceses. But more and more bishops are asking if the Sisters of Saint Anne could settle in their dioceses as well. In fact, two more houses are already planned for the near future.

The sisters’ work is above all with children and young people, with single mothers and young girls who have broken off their schooling and who “bear only sadness in their hearts and are helpless in the face of the dangers of the world, which seeks to deceive them with false values”, as the sisters themselves put it in their letter to us. In addition to this work, they have also established a “Divine Mercy Centre” where they help people who have fallen victim to the occult and witchcraft – practices that are widespread in many parts of Africa. It is likewise a place of refuge and help for women who have been traumatised by abortion or whose families have been broken up. The sisters also care for young offenders, and in the remote villages, where there are no medical facilities, they look after people suffering from malaria and other tropical diseases, as well as the victims of HIV/ AIDS.

The congregation is rich in vocations. The formation house of the sisters is in the diocese of Bamenda, in Northwest Province. At present there are 11 novices undergoing training there. And there are also other young girls who would like to enter the community and devote their lives to the service of God and the needy.

It is not easy for the community to raise the necessary means to provide these young sisters with a solid formation. Yet this is an urgent necessity, if these young women are to remain firm in their vocation and also be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfil the many different duties they will have to tackle. In order to earn a little income, the sisters engage in small-scale agricultural activities, and at the same time they make rosaries and Christmas cards. But the income they receive from this is nowhere near enough to cover their costs. And so they have turned to ACN for help for the training of their 11 novices. We have promised them $5,660.

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