Journey with ACN – India

© 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:   India

Two village chapels

The parish of Unai was founded almost 55 years ago by Spanish Jesuits. It is situated within an area of the diocese of Baroda, found in the northwest of the country where there are many members belonging to ethnic minorities. The priests, Sisters and lay catechists work very hard to support their people. The parish includes 28 villages, 24 already have baptized people, and in the remaining four many more people are preparing for Baptism.

Despite the Church still being young here, the people have a strong faith and they play a very active part in the life of the parish.


The villages all have small chapels where people can gather to pray. However, most of them are already around 30 years old and built, as they are, of only the most basic materials – mud, cow dung and bamboo – they have become quite dilapidated over the course of time. There are cracks in the walls, and the monsoon rains come pouring through the roof, and the foundations are also weak. It is not surprising then that their parish priest turned to ACN for help to build new chapels in two of the villages.

Thanks to the prompt and generous response of our benefactors, we were able to help with a contribution of $21,000 dollars.

INDIA / BARODA 12/00058Construction of 2 village chapels at Kap

Now the two villages of Mahuva and Kapadian have been able to witness the consecration of two beautiful new chapels. Both villages celebrated with a big feast. One of the chapels is dedicated to Christ, the King of Kings, the other to Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. In each of the villages the day of the consecration was commemorated with great festivity, a solemn Holy Mass, processions, Eucharistic Adoration, the Holy Rosary and solemn hymns – and with a shared festive meal. All the people of the neighbouring villages were also invited.

INDIA / BARODA 12/00058Construction of 2 village chapels at Kap


Father Lazarus D’Souza writes: “It was an unforgettable occasion in the lives of the children and also for the more elderly members of the villages. It was the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream for them. God has been good to them. The people of the village praised God for his wonderful deeds – and they are also very grateful to ACN for your generous support.”



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India: After the BJP election victory – “The Christian minority in India is under serious threat”

20081113_021by Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Königstein/Montreal, Thursday, October 16, 2014 –After the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)” as prime minister of India the country’s secular constitution is under threat. With these words Ajay Kumar Singh, Catholic priest and human rights activist in Kandhamal District in the East Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), warned of the growing influence of radical Hindu forces on the Indian subcontinent. “Especially under threat is the Christian minority because it is rejected by extremists as alien and because they regard the Christian message as endangering the caste system,” stressed Fr. Kumar Singh, who also works for the “Odisha Forum for Social Action” (OROSA), at a meeting with staff of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).


According to Fr. Kumar Singh, the aim of the “Bharatiya Janata Party” is to establish a state religion which excludes the lower castes and minorities. “They even want to impose only one language, Sanskrit, even though hundreds of languages are spoken in India,” the Catholic priest continued. The aims of the BJP, which has become the strongest political force in India in only a few decades, were underestimated by the faithful and even by Church personnel. Fr. Kumar Singh: “It is important for us to understand what is happening. As a Church we must think way beyond the bounds of the individual dioceses; we must act regionally, nationally in order to find responses to this challenge. Otherwise Orissa 2008 will be repeated, even worse than then because we learnt no lessons from it.” In August 2008, Hindu nationalists attacked mainly the villages of Christian Dalits, who are among the lowest of the castes and are often exposed to sheer arbitrary action. Previously, a leader of the Hindus had been murdered by persons unknown.


© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

According to official figures of the 2008 attacks, which were only the subject of legal prosecution in isolated cases, 39 people were killed. According to the description by the “National People’s Tribunal (NPT)” in 2010, an association of human rights activists in Odisha for the Kandhamal District, approximately 100 were killed. The NPT stated the attacks were prepared well in advance and more than 600 villages were looted, 5,600 houses, 295 churches and 13 schools were destroyed; 54,000 people were made homeless, and of these 30,000 were unable to return to their villages. As a result, approximately 10,000 children were robbed of the possibility of attending school because they were forced to flee and were displaced. 2,000 Christians were compelled to deny their faith. The plight of the innumerable women who were raped is documented in a report of the “National Alliance of Women – Odisha,” which was published in August 2014 under the title “Breaking the shackled silence: unheard voices of women in Kandhamal” and can be downloaded from the internet:  SelectedWorks of Saumya Uma



ACN supports the Catholic Church in the state of Odisha with various programs treating  traumatized people, with projects reinforcing  reconciliation and peace processes, and with measures to renew and deepen Christian communities. Projects intended for the reconstruction of churches and church institutions have been and are being funded.



PRESS RELEASE: India – “The expectations are naturally now very high.”

Reinhard Backes, ACN InternationalInde-1
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal – Thursday May 22nd 2014. Following the victory of the Hindu nationalist “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP) the Catholic Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in the east Indian state of Odisha expressed cautious optimism.

Archbishop John Barwa, who is currently in London, emphasized in a phone conversation with the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need”: “The first utterances by the prime minister-designate Narendra Modi give me reason to feel optimistic. Perhaps our worries and doubts were unfounded after all. Let’s wait and see. Of course we respect the vote of the people. The BJP has won an overwhelming victory, and the expectations are naturally now very, very high.”


In the state of Odisha, which was called Orissa until 2011, serious unrest occurred in 2008. About 50,000 Christians fled from the attacks by Hindu-nationalist groups and dozens of Christians were killed. Archbishop Barwa: “At that time the experience with BJP representatives was not particularly positive. The statements about minorities were not very friendly. Now, however, they bear responsibility for the whole country. Narendra Modi has now stressed that he wants everybody to be involved in the country’s continuing development. It would make me very happy if this were to be the case. It would then be clear that not only Hindus belong to this nation, but all the others as well, all the minorities. At the moment we have no other choice than to strengthen this hope within us.”



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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Jesus in the cake shop

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

Christine Kapadia comes from Gujarat in western India. Just like almost 90 per cent of the 60 million inhabitants of this state, she grew up as a Hindu, in a quite common Indian family. But what was rather unusual, was the lively interest she showed as a child in God.

“When my father took me to school on his scooter I often turned to God, a God I didn’t know, not even his name, and to whom I told absolutely everything that moved me as a child,” recounted Christine.

As a teenager, she sought God intensively. She looked into other religions. In retrospect, the now 34 year old says that as a young Hindu woman she knew little about Christianity at first (which is hardly surprising given in the Hindu-dominated state of Gujarat only nine per cent of the population are Muslims and the number of Christians is less than one per cent). So how did Christine’s parents react to their daughter’s great religious interest and her visits to places of worship of other faiths? “It didn’t worry them. They just let me get on with it,” Christine recalls.

Her discovery of Christianity came more or less by chance. “When I was 15, I got to know Jesus in a cake shop,” she explained, and laughed. While making her regular purchases she became engaged in conversation with a saleswoman who was only a few years older than she and who was a Catholic Christian. The young Hindu woman was fascinated with what she learnt about Jesus Christ. Christine asked the saleswoman to take her to church. It was the start of a friendship and her gradual rapprochement with Christianity. Christine regularly took part in prayer meetings. When she was 17 she asked to be baptized, but her wish encountered resistance. Her parents rejected a conversion outright. “As long as I only went to church, they had no objection. But as soon as I wanted to get baptized there was suddenly a cold war at home,” Christine said.

Her Catholic friends advised her to be patient: they said Christine should get baptized at the earliest when she reached the age of majority. Despite all the resistance, Christine stuck to what she wanted. In 2002 she was at last able to be baptized. Finally her parents respected her wishes. They had recognized that the new faith did not mean their daughter would move away from her home. On the contrary – Christine, who felt more and more drawn to a life in a religious order, took care of her parents and she even gave up her job in a bank to look after her mother when she developed cancer. A week before her death in 201, her mother was baptized as well.

The tensions between father and daughter didn’t totally subside, especially since she expressed her ardent wish to become a Carmelite nun. But once again Christine’s patience paid off: she has now belonged to a community of a total of ten, discalced Carmelites (OCD), for the last six months.

The Carmel, supported by Aid to the Church in Need, is located in Vadodara (Baroda), the third largest town in Gujarat. Christine Kapadia says “My father has long modified his negative attitude. When I entered the Carmel I was accompanied by 21 members of my family… all Hindus.”



India – “It is not the ‘I’ that matters, but the ‘We’.”

Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 Father Thomas Manjaly is from Kerala, found in southwest India. However, this Catholic priest lives and works in the northeast of the country in the Archdiocese of Shillong, about 4,000 km from his home. Following his ordination in 1971, he worked in a parish – in 1984 he began a course of studies relating to the New Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, obtaining his doctorate in 1991.

From 2009 onwards to present day, Father Thomas has been a member of the Pontifical Bible Committee, which meets regularly in Rome. He teaches seminarians and has for many years now been in charge of the formation programs of several Indian dioceses, as he explained during a visit to the headquarters of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“Education is a vital key for the building up of the Church,” Father Thomas explains. “That is true for priests, religious and the ordinary faithful, and not only in India,” he adds. “A priest should certainly understand something of organization and administration, but before anything else he is a priest. That is something that even the Hindus also expect of him. For them a priest is a spiritual person.” Father Manjaly continues: “A priest must be able to communicate with people and also possess a solid theological understanding. It is not the ‘I’ that matters, but the ‘we’.”, he tells us.

The formation of lay catechists

At the present time there are 40 young men in the Archdiocese of Shillong preparing for the priesthood, a number that has been consistent for years, according to Father Thomas. However, they are still too few for the growing pastoral work in the area, and so the archdiocese is also promoting the formation of lay catechists. “Those Catholics who take on a particular responsibility are given a thorough theological formation,” Father Thomas explains, adding, “They are then involved in spreading the faith and giving religious instruction on Sundays, for example, since the subject is not taught in the schools.”

The average parish in central, northern and northeast India generally comprises anything up to 60 village communities, Father Manjaly explains. For one priest to minister to them all, is difficult, and consequently many village communities – which can include anywhere from 10 to 200 families – are led by lay people; usually by men but occasionally by women.

The training of these lay catechists is a demanding one and generally lasts a year, in some cases even two years. “After this, the catechists help the parents to prepare for the baptism of their children and young couples to prepare for marriage. They also help in preparing adults and children for their First Holy Communion and Confirmation and in leading Liturgies of the Word.”

ACN is supporting all these educational initiatives aimed at advancing the pastoral outreach. They are a vital part of the pastoral work of the Archdiocese of Shillong, and last year alone we contributed $68,000 for this purpose.