Journey with ACN – Liberia

© Aid to the Church in Need

JOURNEY WITH ACN is  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:   Liberia

An archdiocese says “Thank you!”

 Thanks to your generous support, ACN has been able to help for the ongoing work of 27 Catholic schools in the archdiocese of Monrovia, with the purchase of a car. There are officially 140,705 Catholics in the archdiocese. In Liberia generally, Christians make up some 40% of the total population (Catholics 6%, Protestants 34%). Another 40% of the population are still adherents of traditional, animist religions, while Muslims account for a sizable minority of around 20%. The area of this region is very extensive (25,000 km sq); the roads are untarred, and a robust vehicle is essential for travel. Archbishop Lewis Zeigler wrote to tell us that the two vehicles then in use by the diocese already had around 70,000 km under their belts and, given the increasingly high cost of repairs, were coming to the end of their useful service. Needless to say, such vehicles are essential to the smooth running of the 27 Catholic schools in the archdiocese. “We need to visit each school at least five times in order to be able to supervise them effectively,” the archbishop told us.

© Aid to the Church in Need - Transportation Project

© Aid to the Church in Need – Transportation Project

The new car is used not only for the visits of the school inspectors, however, but also for transporting school meals, books and other teaching materials and equipment for the schools –  altogether serving some 15,500 pupils, for the most part from very poor families. Liberia is today only slowly recovering from the massive economic collapse that followed the 14 years of civil war, from 1989 to 2003. At the same time the population has now been hit by the frightening spread of the Ebola virus, which has already infected over 6,500 people in the country and claimed more than 2,500 lives to date. Father Sumo Varfee Molubah, who is responsible for school education within the archdiocese, wrote to us in November 2014 saying, „The ongoing crisis and the rapid spread of the Ebola virus has brought many of our activities to a standstill. We thank God that the vehicle has reached us nonetheless.” Because of the crisis, the teaching in the schools has been temporarily suspended. So the car is currently being kept in a secure place until the schools can be reopened again. Father Sumo writes: “We are most grateful for your support.”


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Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Father Werenfried van Straaten – also known as ‘The Bacon Priest’ – January 17, 1913 – January 31, 2003 © Aid to the Church in Need

“Someone must begin: Let it be us!”

Good news often gets drowned out by the tide of shock-horror stories. And yet the seed of peace and reconciliation is burgeoning in many places around the world. Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), dedicated the whole of his life to the service of reconciliation. He died on 31 January twelve years ago.

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International – Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

It often begins with a gesture of help. Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, followed the principle: “Someone must begin: Let it be us!” When Pope John Paul II asked him in 1991, after his long life as a bridge-builder, to now seek the means of creating a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, he couldn’t wait to get going. After all, this Church had had to start practically from scratch after decades of persecution. The figures speak from themselves: of the approximately 60,000 houses of worship in which the Holy Liturgy had been celebrated prior to the October Revolution in Russia, only 100 were left twenty years later. In the first two years after the October Revolution alone 15,000 Orthodox priests had been killed. More than 300 bishops had been executed or had died in prison. When he was almost 80 years old, he said that to give support to the Orthodox sister Church after the collapse of the communist regime not only with fine words was the “last and greatest joy of my life.”

“Ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit”

The “ecumenism of the martyrs,” the common confession of faith by the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians in the labour camps and prisons of the Soviet Union, was now to become transformed after the political turnaround into an “ecumenism of solidarity.”.Help in training new priests, the “chapel boats” which acted as floating churches visiting villages which had no houses of worship on the shores of the rivers Volga and Don, joint media initiatives intended to break down prejudices and to inform the faithful about the respective other Church and support in pastoral care for prisoners and drug addicts have all borne rich fruit, as has the support given to the first Orthodox hospice for terminally ill children. Numerous friendships and initiatives have emerged from these actions. The help given was not only one-sided since in Russia, where Catholic Christians are only a small minority, open-minded Orthodox clerics can be valuable helpers for the Catholic communities. Successive Popes have expressed the wish that this commitment be continued. Often mutual mistrust is based on ignorance and prejudices, and so it is important to get to know one another better and thus be able to come closer together.

“Ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not have hands or feet and so we Christians must become his hands and feet in the world.” With these words the young Protestant pastor Vladimir Tatarnikov from Belarus encapsulated what more and more Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians feel: that reconciliation is not just a theory, but something concrete. That it consists of words which are consciously spoken, of deeds which create facts, of steps which people take to come closer to one another. And that, in the final analysis, it is a gift of God.

In many countries there now exist successful ecumenical initiatives. For example, in Lutsk in the north-west of Ukraine an ecumenical benefit event is held every year. For this joint celebration, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants prepare a programme of Christmas carols, plays and dances.  The proceeds go to orphans. The programme is broadcast on state television. The fact that the Churches join together to help poor children also sets a good example to people who generally have nothing to do with the Christian faith.

“Not only a choice, but a duty” is how Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, describes the commitment to ecumenism. In many countries the collaboration between the different denominations and religions is, however, also a bitter necessity, since wherever hatred rules it can save lives if the representatives of the religious communities join together to advocate reconciliation and peace. In the spiral of violence into which the Central African Republic was drawn further and further in 2013/2014 it was the combined voices of Catholic, Protestant and Muslim religious leaders which could be heard opposing the law of vengeance and supporting reconciliation and reason. It is thanks to the joint intervention of representatives of the Churches and religions that it was possible to prevent massacres in many places; for example in Bozoum, a town in the north west of the country where the Italian Carmelite father Aurelio Gazzera joined with a Protestant pastor and an imam in January 2014 to conduct intensive peace negotiations and achieve the withdrawal of the Séléka rebels when it was feared there would be a massacre with hundreds of dead.

Always trusted in the power of God

 In view of the spreading persecution of Christians, collaboration is becoming more necessary than ever. Pope Francis said in December 2013 in an interview with the Italian newspaper “La Stampa” that, in view of the persecution of Christians, ecumenism was for him a “matter of priority” since in many countries Christians are being killed because they wear a crucifix or own a Bible. And before they are killed, they are not asked whether they are Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans or Orthodox believers. The blood is mixed.” It was the wish of Jesus that all should be one. Father Werenfried, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, who died twelve years ago on 31 January, always trusted in the power of God which opens the hearts of people to one another. The desire to build bridges and bring about reconciliation was the great mission in his life. Taking the first step in this direction was the major feature of Aid to the Church in Need  from the very beginning.



ACN News : Niger “The Christians must die, according to the disciples of Boko Haram”

© Aid to the Church in Need


“The Christians must die, according to the disciples of Boko Haram” 

By Dennis Peters / Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

The islamist terror group Boko Haram wants to massacre all the Christians in Níger. So writes a missionary Sister in a dramatic e-mail message from the country. As a result of the violence, this Sister was forced to flee, along with the rest of her congregation, and they are now living in hiding with a family in the capital Niamey. In her e-mail she describes the terrible violence in the capital and in the town of Zinder, the second largest city in Niger. To protect her safety, we are not revealing her name.

The violent protests in Niger last week in reaction to the French satirical weekly Charlie hebdo claimed the lives of at least ten people and left 173 wounded. According to the Sister, these attacks “were planned.” 


Love is stronger than hatred

“At Christmas time Boko Haram had threatened to burn down all the churches in Niger and burn us alive! But for some reason it did not happen; no one knows quite why. It was by coincidence that the cartoons in Charlie hebdo set the world on fire. The Christians must die; that way we will be able to go to paradise, say the disciples of Boko Haram. It’s diabolical. But we are not going to let ourselves be moved by fear. Love is stronger than hatred.”

But apart from the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, it was also “the social crisis in Niger” that was one of the reasons for these cruel protests, she writes. In her e-mail, headed with the word “peace,” the Sister asks: “Why so much hatred and violence? Peace is not simply a word. We know just how fragile everything is. We have to work so hard to achieve peace, and starting with ourselves. Why so much hatred, so much violence? We are weeping. The tears are flowing. O Jesus, save us!”

She relates what had happened: “It started in Zinder first of all – with five deaths, four people inside a church and one in a bar. The French cultural centre was attacked and totally burned out, as was the BRS Bank also. The church was also set on fire, where the White Fathers live, and next door to them the Sisters of the Assumption, their house, the cars and the school – everything was on fire. They have nothing left except their lives, and that alone is something to be grateful for. They were able to flee in time and took refuge on a military base. One of the White Fathers, Father Ghislaine, was injured and is in hospital, but not too seriously.”

According to the Sister, the violence in Niamey was “on a major scale.” She describes how a group of men on motorcycles looted “the churches, one after another,” then destroyed them and burned them. “They took away everything they could use and then set fire to them, with cans of petrol. They also burned the Protestant and Evangelical churches – altogether around 40 churches; it was incredible!” But then they also looted and burned down bars, restaurants and petrol stations. Afterwards, they went on to attack the orphanages. “Fortunately the carers were able to take the children to where the police were, where they were safe, but they stole all the supplies of food,” she writes. According to the Sister, the nuns of Mother Teresa were at least able to save their hospital, along with its patients. The violent demonstrators were about to set fire to the hospital, but the Sisters bravely asked them: “Can we first of all take out the patients before you set fire to it? These words gave the rebels pause for thought and as a result they did not touch the hospital, but nevertheless they still burned down the church.”


© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

“We had to flee immediately”

Continuing her account, the Sister writes: “When the bishop heard that the two communities of Sisters were being attacked, Msgr. Laurent phoned both communities and told them they must flee immediately and seek refuge. We had already had phone calls from concerned Muslim friends, who had urged us: ‘Come with us, they will not burn down the neighbourhood where they themselves live.’ You never know with these gangs. I went to the chapel with another sister to consume the Blessed Sacrament, because they also try to burn the Tabernacles. We locked everything up, hoping to find the others again.”

Between them the Sisters did all they could in the little time they had. In the midst of the drama there was one Sister in the community who was from Rwanda – and who knew what it meant to flee, having been through the cruel genocide in Rwanda in 1994. She put on all the clothes she could find. “She had on five skirts and five blouses, one on top of the other. We were in fits of laughter when she came out of her room, like a giant; she could scarcely walk, she had so many clothes on! One of the other missionaries had only just returned from Poland and had not even had time to unpack her things, but we had to flee immediately.


“Pray for us, for our people, for the world.”

What a shock it was for her! The neighbours came to say goodbye, with tears in their eyes. We entrusted the key of the house to one of them. It was very emotional. A Middle Eastern family took us in, with the hospitality that the people of the East are known for. On the way we saw a Protestant church that had already been totally burnt out. No, it was incredible in a country so peaceful as Niger… But no, now Niger is no longer peaceful. For now we are safe, and living with a family. We pray, keep silence; respond to innumerable telephone calls from friends who are concerned for us and from other sisters. On Sunday we did not go to church, but last night there were two priests who came to celebrate Mass in a small downstairs room. It was very moving, as it was quite unplanned. God does not desert us. He is balm for our hearts, and our faith grows stronger.”

ACN-20131214-03689“We are at peace again. We do not intend to let ourselves be moved by violence or fear. No one knows what the future will bring. Let us only hope it will be more peaceful and that we will be able to return to live in community.”

The Sister concludes her message by asking our prayers for the situation in Niger. “Pray for us, for our people, for the world. So that the Light of the Love of Christ may be able to shine forth!”












Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Day 8

Day 8: Witness

Prayer : God, spring of living water, make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives. Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well, and give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another. Transform our hearts and our lives, so that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News. And lead us always to the encounter with the other, as an encounter with you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need


Commentary (John 4:39): With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission, announces to her people that she has found the Messiah. The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Mission is not proselytism. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference. Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. The witness of the Samaritan woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation. If our word and witness are authentic, the world will hear and believe.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Day 7

Day 7: Testimony

Prayer : (Adapted from a prayer from an ecumenical conference in Brazil, calling for an end to poverty as the first step on the path to peace through justice) – God of life, who cares for all creation, and calls us to justice and peace, may our security not come from arms, but from respect. May our force not be of violence, but of love. May our wealth not be in money, but in sharing. May our path not be of ambition, but of justice. May our victory not be from vengeance, but in forgiveness. May our unity not be in the quest of power, but in vulnerable witness to do your will. Open and confident, may we defend the dignity of all creation, sharing, today and forever, the bread of solidarity, justice and peace. This we ask in the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our brother, who, as victim of our violence, even from the heights of the cross, gave forgiveness to us all. Amen.

© Aid to the Church in Need World Youth Day Madrid 2011.

© Aid to the Church in Need
World Youth Day Madrid 2011.



Commentary (John 4:7): Encountering and exchanging experiences with the other, even other religious traditions, can help us to reach into the depths of the well. Approaching those who are strangers to us with the desire to drink from their well, opens to us the “wonders of God” that we proclaim. God often meets our needs through others. As we call upon the Lord in our need, perhaps the Lord has already answered our prayers by putting into the hands of our neighbours that for which we ask. And so we need to turn also to them, and ask, “Give me to drink.”


Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Day 6

Day 6: Testimony

Prayer : Triune God, following the example of Jesus, make us witnesses to your love. Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity. May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity.  May walls be transformed into bridges. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need


Commentary (John 4:14): The dialogue that begins with Jesus asking for water becomes a dialogue in which Jesus promises water. When we are baptised we receive this water, this life from Jesus and it wells up within us to be given and shared with others. The water of baptism springing into life becomes an ecumenical witness of Christian love in action, a foretaste of the eternal life which Jesus promises. The concrete gestures of love and generosity practiced by ordinary people are what we need in order to grow in fellowship. They give witness to the Gospel and relevance to ecumenical relations.


ACN Press Release – Syria


“Young people were targeted”

Following a bloody terrorist outrage in Homs, Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal appeals for prayers for Syria 

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin

MontreHoms January 21al/Homs – Friday January 23,  2015 – Following a bloody terrorist outrage in Homs on Wednesday, Syrian Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal lamented the fact that the victims were overwhelmingly young people. “Most of them were students at the university, young people who had not left the city. So what sort of message does this attack send out now?  I believe they were deliberately targeted,” said Father Ziad on Thursday. He was speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“The killing was indiscriminate”

It was on Wednesday around midday when a car bomb was set off in a busy street in the centre of the town. According to Father Ziad, 15 people were killed in the attack, while another 50 or more were injured, some of them gravely. The killing was indiscriminate, and there were Christians among both the dead and the wounded. “The attack was staged very close to our church and our aid centre. We do not know who was behind it, but it is a tragedy. The pictures of the attack are horrifying. We are visiting the families of the victims and trying to comfort them. But what can anyone say in such a situation? We ourselves are all deeply saddened and devastated.”

Bishop of HOmsFather Ziad appealed for prayers for his war-torn country – “I call on all people, and especially on the benefactors of ACN, to pray for Syria and in particular for the victims of this terrible attack and their families.”

Father Ziad expressed that he was particularly dismayed at the lack of reaction on the part of the world media, “Where is the reaction in the rest of the world? After the attacks in Paris all eyes were on France. But here? As far as I am aware, there has not been any reaction by anybody. Not a word. Only silence. Syria and the daily sufferings of its people are forgotten.”

200,000 people believed to have lost their lives

Homs is the third largest city in Syria. This strategically important town was fought over for years by government and opposition forces.  Last year, it once again fell under the control of the Syrian government, but it continues to be rocked again and again by terror attacks.

Most recently in October 2014, when more than 50 people died in a double bomb blast owing to the fighting over the past year, a large number of the city’s inhabitants have been forced to flee their homes, among them more than 80,000 Christians.

According to some estimates, over 200,000 people are believed to have lost their lives since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. ACN is supporting Father Ziad in his humanitarian work on behalf of the suffering people of Homs and its surrounding area. Thanks to the aid centres run by Father Ziad food, clothing and items of basic hygiene have been distributed to thousands of victims, regardless of their religion or political outlook.