The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN will at the same time renew its consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over the past 25 years it has funded more than 400 projects related to this Marian devotion.
During the current year, in which the Church is celebrating the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady to the three shepherd children in Fatima, the international Catholic pastoral charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to The Church in Need (ACN) is making a special pilgrimage to this, the “Altar of the World”, from 12 to 15 September. While there, the charity will renew the consecration it first made 50 years ago to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with whose message to the world ACN’s work has long been particularly closely identified. At the same time the charity will be commemorating the 70th anniversary of its own foundation in 1947, by Father Werenfried van Straaten, as a work of service for Christians in need.
This pilgrimage, which will be joined by hundreds of benefactors, staff and co-workers from the headquarters and national offices of ACN around the world, will be led by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the President of the Pontifical Foundation.
ACN continues to respond, directly and indirectly, to Our Lady’s call for conversion and a return to God. “This international pilgrimage is an unrivalled opportunity for all the friends and co-workers of ACN to gather together at the feet of Mary and renew their commitment for the persecuted and suffering Church. This persecution and suffering are very much central to the Third Secret of Fatima and Mary has taught us how through prayer and sacrifice, born of love, we can alleviate and even overcome these trials. Under the guidance of the Mother of God, we wish to continue being a sign of love – for the Church need, for persecuted Christians, for the poorest of the poor and the downtrodden, for priests and religious who continue to bring the presence of God, so often almost empty-handed, to the most remote and inhospitable corners of the world, to the most forgotten communities”, explains Father Martin Barta, the International Spiritual Assistant of the Foundation.
A piece of the Berlin Wall, which will be placed at the shrine, perfectly symbolises and encapsulates the close bond between the message of Our Blessed Lady to the shepherd children in 1917 and the work to which ACN has dedicated itself for the past 70 years in coming to the aid of the persecuted or oppressed Church in so many countries around the world. Following in the footsteps of the first ACN pilgrimage to Fátima on 14 September 1967, whose principal aim was to pray for the persecuted Church, ACN will be presenting seven testimonies from around the world, bearing witness to the sufferings, hopes and needs of the Church – among other places in Syria, Niger and Venezuela, to name just three. (The speakers will include Bishop Raul Biord Castillo of La Guaira in Venezuela, Father Firas Lutfi from Aleppo in Syria, Father Rolando Montes de Oca, from Camaguey in Cuba, Sister Persévérance Catherine Kingbo from Niger in Africa; Cardinal Archbishop John Ribat, MSC, of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, Ukraine, and Archbishop Forrosuelo Du of Palo in the Philippines).
Popular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is among the most widespread Marian devotions in the world, a fact reflected in the more than 400 projects supported by ACN in relation to Our Lady of Fatima over the past 25 years. These include not only the countries of Eastern Europe, which suffered so much under the communist yoke, but also those in Latin America and Africa, above all in the Portuguese-speaking nations such as Brazil, Mozambique and Angola, where dozens of the projects received from religious congregations and parish communities bear her name. And even in places far distant from the renowned Cova da Iria in Fátima – places such as Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia and the Philippines – ACN has supported requests from the local Church for the construction of chapels, churches and shrines dedicated to the message of the Blessed Virgin in Fatima.
One of the most recent such requests has come from Bangladesh, where the parish of Baromani has become an annual place of pilgrimage for over 30,000 people each year, including even Hindus and Muslims. Their great desire is to construct a permanent shrine here, since for the present there are simply two temporary pergolas to provide a measure of shelter for the pilgrims who come here to venerate Our Lady of Fatima and seek her intercession. The diocese of Mymensingh, in which the shrine is situated, is a young diocese founded only in 1987. It has 80,000 Catholics, some 80% of whom are members of the Mandi-Garo, a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group within Bangladesh – a minority, both as tribal peoples and as Christians.