ACN Projects July 2018

Mozambique

MOZAMBIQUE / NACALA 
Construction of Chapels destroyed by the cyclone in January 2018, Parish of “Nossa Senhora da Assunção”, Netia-Natete

 

Help to rebuild two village chapels destroyed by a cyclone

In January 2017 the coastal region of northern Mozambique was battered for five long days by a severe cyclone. The tropical storm brought heavy rainfall and devastated large swathes of the countryside in two of the coastal provinces of this country in southeast Africa, which is already one of the poorest in the world. Thousands of homes were destroyed and countless people left homeless.

Many of the properties of the Catholic Church were also severely damaged, especially in the mission parish of Netia-Natete in the diocese of Nacala. This parish covers a vast and predominantly rural area, which is also very poor. It has no fewer than 120 outstations with their own very modest little chapels where the faithful gather for prayer and catechesis. More than half – some 66 – of these chapels were destroyed by the cyclone.

Now Father Antonio Gasolina has turned to ACN for help, for his Catholic faithful in these villages are dismayed at having lost their familiar places in which to worship God and hear His Word proclaimed. For God is first and foremost in their lives. Now they are hoping, above all in two of the remotest and most inaccessible villages of the region, to rebuild a small chapel where they can gather to pray. They plan to make a start on these two chapels at least. The Catholic faithful here already live from hand to mouth, but have nonetheless made their own modest contributions to the building work and have also promised to pay the carpenters who will complete the roof. But the parish still needs our help to pay for the costly building materials. So we have promised them 15,000 Euros.

 

Philippines

PHILIPPINES / SAN JOSE 
Diocesan Commission on indigenous people of the Diocese of San Jose de Nueva Ecija. Photo: Formation and activities with the children

 

Success Story: a vehicle for pastoral work among the indigenous peoples of the San Jose Diocese

For the past seven years Sister Anita has been working among the indigenous peoples of the diocese of San Jose, supporting them with wise counsel and ministering to their needs. She looks after the children in the primary schools, making sure they have enough to eat, helping them with their studies and teaching them the Catholic faith. She helps and advises the women and organises all kinds of different activities for the young people. „It is a joy and a blessing for me“, she says, speaking of her work.

But for some time there has been a problem. For she has to travel to visit the people in the villages where they live, and the distances in this mountainous region are considerable. The only transport, just twice a week, is a so-called „Jeepney“, a public minibus, that travels through the various villages and back into the city. But it is constantly impossibly overcrowded. People cram in, with their sacks of rice and cement and bulky cardboard boxes, and some passengers even have to sit on the roof. And the journeys take forever, because at every stop there are things to be offloaded and then onloaded onto the minibus, as some passengers get off and new ones get on. And if you miss one Jeepney, you have to wait three days for the next one. Needless to say, this made Sister Anita‘s work extremely difficult, and so she turned to ACN for help.

Now, thanks to the generosity of our kind benefactors, we have been able to provide 25,000 Euros for the purchase of a sturdy vehicle that can cope with the untarred roads and the rough and often muddy tracks. Sister Anita is overjoyed and writes, „Your help is a blessing and a great support for our apostolate among the native peoples. Many thanks! We are so happy! And now we are all the more eager and determined to go out to the faithful and serve the Church.“

 

Colombia

COLOMBIA / SONSON-RIONEGRO 
Formation of 92 seminarians in the diocesan seminary Ntra. Sra. de Marinilla, 2017: Meeting of diocesan seminarians
used as Illustration for Internet-Project

 

Help for the training of 91 seminarians in the diocese of Sonson-Rionegro

It is not easy to fit in all these 91 young men on a single photo… They are the seminarians currently studying at the diocesan seminary of Our Lady in the diocese of Sonson-Rionegro in the south of Colombia. Evidently, it is a diocese rich in vocations. In fact, from 1980, the year it was founded, to the present day the diocese has produced 500 priests! And this despite the fact that being a priest in Colombia is by no means risk-free – for again and again there are reports of priests being murdered in the country.

At the same time, this wealth of vocations has greatly benefited the universal Church, since today there are no fewer than 200 priests from the diocese of Sonson-Rionegro working as missionaries abroad, in 18 different countries where there is a shortage of priests. Again and again the bishop receives letters from all over the world, begging him to send priests from his diocese.

But of course priests are needed in Colombia as well. After 50 years of civil war there are many wounds that remain to be healed. Reconciliation and forgiveness are urgently needed if the country is to move forward into a better future. During his visit to Colombia in September 2017, Pope Francis spoke in front of the „Reconciliation Cross“ – a monument to commemorate the victims of the killings in Villavicencio. (It is a bare cross with no body on it). Christ, he told them, „no longer has his arms, and his body is no longer present among us, but his divine countenance remains, he gazes on us and loves us. The broken and amputated Christ is ‚still more Christ‘ for us, for he shows us once again that he has come to suffer for his people and with his people, and also to teach us that hatred does not have the last word, that love is stronger than death and violence. He teaches us to transform the pain into a source of life and resurrection, so that we may learn, with him and from him, the strength of forgiveness and the greatness of love.“

It is also the role of the priest, of course, to help people transform their pain into the joy of the resurrection.

ACN supports the seminary every year for the formation of its seminarians and this year we will be helping once again, with 22,750 Euros, so that these 91 young men can follow their vocation through to ordination.

 

Ukraine

UKRAINE / NATIONAL 
Existence Help for 4 contemplative nuns of the Redemptorists in the Ukraine for 2018

 

Support for the life and ministry of four Redemptorist sisters in Lviv

In the 1930s a dozen or more Ukrainian girls travelled to Belgium in order to prepare for the foundation of the first Redemptorist convent in their home country of Ukraine. However, it was not until 80 years later that this dream was finally able to see its fulfilment. The outbreak of the Second World War, and the subsequent Soviet tyranny made their return impossible, and believers faced decades of persecution by the communists. It was not until 2016 that three Redemptorist sisters finally succeeded in establishing the first ever Redemptorist convent in Ukraine.

The sisters had to start from zero, initially establishing their convent temporarily in a family home. They worked hard and long to cultivate the wilderness that had grown up around the house. Soon, another professed sister will join them, but for the present she is still in Poland. In addition there is one young candidate. Meanwhile, the convent has been granted formal permission to admit young women who wish to consecrate their lives to God, and there are already a few interested in doing so. However, they have to wait for the time being, because the house is only able to accommodate eight people.

A number of ordinary Catholic faithful also come to pray with the sisters at the regular prayer times and the other liturgical celebrations. Many come seeking the prayers and counsel of the sisters and a sympathetic ear to listen to their problems.

The sisters are grateful for their vocation and overjoyed that the long awaited foundation in Ukraine has finally become a reality. Nevertheless, despite their frugal lifestyle, it is very difficult for them, as enclosed religious, to support themselves in Ukraine, especially against the background of sharply rising prices.

We have promised them 2,000 Euros for the support of their life and apostolate.

 

ACN International

A picture of helplessness on the Venezuelan frontier

Since the recent controversial presidential elections in Venezuela (in which President Maduro was re-elected in a manner deemed fraudulent by his opponents), the flood of migrants seeking better prospects in other nations has continued to grow, creating an emergency in which thousands of Venezuelans are in need of help as they attempt to cross the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia.

 

Border Venezuela-Colombia in 2018
Since the recent controversial presidential elections in Venezuela (in which President Maduro was re-elected in a manner deemed fraudulent by his opponents), the flood of migrants seeking better pro

 

On the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, which links the two cities of San Antonio del Táchira (Venezuela) and San José de Cúcuta (Colombia), the security checks are strict for everyone attempting to leave Venezuela, a country that is undergoing a grave political, economic and social crisis. Many people do not succeed in crossing over the frontier, and as a result they are forced to wander the streets of this frontier town in search of humanitarian aid.

That is what happened to Fernando and Marisela and their two children Luis and Camila, aged three and seven respectively. They travelled from Caracas, hoping to cross the frontier with the aim of travelling as far as Ecuador, but owing to difficulties with the children’s papers, they were unable to leave the country.

“Life is difficult in the capital; it’s better to emigrate”, says Fernando. But now, with dwindling funds, they have to spend the nights in the town square, along with other would-be migrants, and do casual work while trying to find a solution to their problems and continue their journey.

A report published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on 14 May this year indicates that the number of Venezuelan migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean grew from 89,000 in 2015 to 900,000 in 2017 – a growth rate of over 900%. And that is without counting the Venezuelan citizens who cross the border illegally into Colombia or Brazil.

For Bishop Mario Moronta of the diocese of San Cristóbal in Venezuela, the situation on the frontier here is “a picture of the helplessness of so many Venezuelans who cannot obtain even the most basic necessities for daily life – food, medicines and other suchlike things”.

Faced with such a situation, the bishop assures us, “The Church, moved and guided by the Holy Spirit, is trying to address the situation with her charitable work, doing whatever lies within her power, humanly speaking, to help the migrants.”

Hundreds of people cross this bridge every day on foot – as it has been closed to vehicular traffic since August 2015. Some people use this crossing in order to travel on to other countries of South America, while others head for the city of Cúcuta, hoping to buy food or medicines and then return. A few people decide to stay on at the frontier, seeking casual work of one kind or another.

Like young Andrés Vargas, for example. Aged 18, he travelled from Barquisimeto, hoping to get to Chile, but his money ran out, so he decided to stay at the border. “Here I manage to earn a little money taking other travellers to the ticket sales office, and that’s enough for me to eat and from time to time pay for accommodation”, he explains.

Some people, after a long journey, find themselves unable to cross over because they have arrived at the wrong time, since the crossing is completely closed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. That is what happened to the Fonseca family – father, mother and their three young daughters – after travelling for 12 hours by bus from Valencia. When they arrived at San Antonio, the crossing was closed, so they had to spend the night in the street in the open air. “It was an adventure. That unpleasant night was like nothing we had experienced in the last few years”, Carlos Fonseca explains.

Father Reinaldo Contreras, the rector of the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, which is just a few metres from the frontier, explains that the Church is responding to this situation through her social outreach – but “with great difficulty, given the shortages and the high prices of food and the lack of any infrastructure for providing adequate care for the migrants”, he adds.

Nevertheless, the parishes on this major frontier crossing run regular daily feeding programs so as to be able to provide the most vulnerable migrants with at least one square meal. Father Reinaldo also explained how they are investigating the possibility of doing up some kind of a centre as a migrant hostel, so that they can offer a more comprehensive form of aid.

Many of the migrants who succeed in crossing the frontier into Colombia also receive help from the “Casa de Paso Divina Misericordia”, the Divine Mercy overnight shelter belonging to the diocese of Cúcuta, which provides them with medical services, pastoral support and also gives out over a thousand meals daily.

Bishop Victor Manuel Ochoa of Cúcuta, who has recently been in contact with the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), described the situation as “a drama of suffering” and asked for our prayers. “The Church is present here on the frontier. We wanted to be a helping hand to accompany our Venezuelan brothers and sisters in their suffering. I recall how Father Werenfried, the founder of ACN, provided food for the refugees in 1947. We want to follow in his footsteps. I ask you all to pray for Venezuela and for Colombia, that we may be able to find a way of peace and reconciliation.”

Aid to the Church in Need recently visited the town of San Antonio de Tachira, in Colombia, in order to offer support and show solidarity with the dioceses on the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia in the present difficult situation and to study the possibility of providing support in the future for the planned migrant hostel, the Casa del Migrante.

 

ACN International

Wartime in Aleppo: ‘many days were like living in a movie’

Jad Abed is a 10-year-old Syriac Orthodox boy living in Aleppo, Syria. He is in fifth grade. In this interview, he reflects on his life in the city that saw some of the most intense fighting in his country’s civil war. Though normal life is slowly resuming, for Jad the pain of suffering and deprivation endures.

The pontifical Foundation ACN accompanies Christians in Syria from the beginning of the crisis, trying to alleviate their suffering and their need. Some of the projects that Jad Abed mentions in his narration—such as Christmas aid, food packages, scholarships or the reconstruction of the sports club—are initiatives that ACN supports thanks to donations from benefactors in many countries around the world.

JAD ABED is a 10-year-old Syriac Orthodox boy living in Aleppo, Syria. He is in fifth grade and asks us all to pray for the children of Syria who were forbidden to live their childhood.

 

“Nowadays, I go to a new school because my old one was destroyed in the bombing. We moved to another location, and it certainly is not like our first school, for it is an underground facility lacking heat and power. However, with the help of those who look after us, we made it through the cold weather and were able to feel warmth to a certain extent, and the power returned to light up our school and homes.

“I love basketball. It is my favorite sport, and I am a member of the Al Jalaa Sport Club, where I play all the time and have earned many medals. I wish to represent my country in international games, and I really want Syria to participate in international games.

“What’s beautiful is that sports and music did not stop throughout the war. I love music as well. I think that the bad people do not sing, and that is why music has been so important throughout the war.

“I have two older brothers, both of whom have gone abroad, the first as an immigrant to Canada, and the second is waiting in Lebanon for his papers so that he can go to Europe. Now, my mother, my father and I are living together, hoping for their return.

“Honestly, I feel that Europe has stolen from us friends and loved ones; has robbed us of the sight of them. Yet, my faith is great, and I feel that all will return, even after many years have gone by.

“I also lost a close friend who died in a bombing; he was waiting for the school bus. Now we have an intercessor in heaven who will tell God about what is happening with us.

“Our home has also had its share of bombings. I remember the sound of the bombs getting nearer, and as one of them hit the roof, a part of it collapsed; my dad got us out at right away, then drove us to the place where we are still living today. We cannot go back home, for a large part of it has been destroyed. I wish that my toys weren’t damaged. At our old home there were many pictures and memories that we could not get out—things that the fire of war has eaten.

“We have endured many days that were like living in a movie. One Christmas, we were under siege and the markets were half empty. I remember that we could not find any bread. One day, we heard the sound of a whistle at night in our street. They were calling people down from their homes. My siblings and I were terrified.

 

Christmas gift for the children and the people in Al Hassekeh and Aleppo

 

“However, soon we realized that they came with cars full of bread, with a ration for each home. It was one of the hardest Christmases. However, I remember really well that the Church helped us, provided us with clothes, and gave candy to the children. In fact, all the children got to pick out seven pieces of clothing, according to their taste.

“Our Church has played an effective role in the past years. My dad collects a package of supplies from the Church each month, and students receive a monthly stipend to cover their school fees.

The Church always answers our questions, especially in tough conditions. I have started to ask some difficult questions related to God; asking if He really exists; whether He is satisfied with what is happening to us; why He has chosen us to live in such times of conflict; what His message is; whether He really is with us and if He really loves us.

“The Church answers all these questions in Sunday school, and, in addition, through some meaningful activities and games that introduce us to the Word of God—showing us how much He loves us.

I thank you for giving me the chance to speak out. They normally do interviews with adults, not children. However, children always have plenty to tell.

In the end, I ask all who read this article to pray for us; to pray for the children of Syria who were allowed to live their childhood. We ask the Lord to grant us peace and happiness, and to fill all our hearts, so that we can heal our wounds, and return to our normal life as soon as possible.

 

ACN International

 

The Good Samaritans of the Valley of the Christians in Syria

Mzeina Hospital is situated in the small town of the same name, one of several that make up the Valley of the Christians (Wadi Al-Nasara in Arabic), a rural region of Syria, close to the frontier with Lebanon and roughly halfway between the city of Homs and the Mediterranean coast. “The hospital has been open for four years now and for the past two years the number of admittances, operations and basic treatments has been growing steadily” the hospital director, Dr Sam Abboud, assures us.

 

The war which continues to tear this country apart seems a long way from this region, yet the doctors and their co-workers at the hospital assure us that the situation is still as bad as or worse than before. “People come to us asking for help and tell us that in other hospitals they couldn’t get treatment because they did not have enough money. We don’t simply tell them to go away; we try to help them in every way we can”, says Toni Tannous, the head of the physiotherapy team.

 

The doctors themselves and the other employees at the hospital have themselves had personal experience of the consequences of the war. “I myself had to flee from Homs because of the war”, Toni continues, “and now I am working here. All of us feel a sense of responsibility in one way or another to help in whatever way we can.” This hospital, which treats thousands of people every month and has almost 500 inpatients, works in collaboration with the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre run by the Melkite Catholic Church in the nearby town of Marmarita.

 

“From the health centre run by the Melkite Church in Marmarita we attend to over a hundred urgent medical cases a month, in addition to other cases where we pay for medicines. We take the families to the hospital and have a working agreement with the Mzeina Hospital to treat them there”, explains Elías Jahloum, a volunteer and coordinator of the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre. “In the Valley of the Christians there are no public hospitals; the closest ones are in Homs or Tartus, an hour or more away by car on account of the Army security controls. That is why the healthcare service offered by the Church in this region is greatly appreciated by those displaced by the war, who have few financial means.”

 

Elías accompanied a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), who visited some of the inpatients in the Mzeina Hospital. Their care is paid for by the Saint Peter’s aid centre with the financial support of ACN. “Thank you for coming to see us, Elias, and thanks also to your benefactors”, said Najwa Arabi, a middle-aged mother of a family who had just undergone surgery on her stomach. “We know that there are people in many countries around the world who are helping us. Every day we pray for them and give thanks to God”, she added.

 

On the next ward is Maryam Hourani, the mother of Janadios, a little boy barely more than a year old who is recovering from bronchiolitis. “He was very ill and could hardly breathe when we brought him to the hospital”, she explains. “We contacted Elias and he assured us that the Saint Peter’s Centre would pay his costs. I can only say thank you.” Equally grateful is a young woman by the name of Shasha Khoury, who is recovering from surgery for a breast tumour. “I’m five months pregnant”, she says. “It is a boy and he’s going to be called Fayez, which means ‘winner’”, she smiles.

 

Dr Abboud, who is an ear nose and throat specialist, explains that some of the operations they perform are free and that they have a special programme for children and young people with hearing problems. “Many of these cases are caused by bombs and other explosions during the war”, he explains, adding that the biggest difficulties they face are the lack of infrastructure, obtaining new medical equipment with which they can operate better, and the constant power cuts. “Although in this last year we have managed to obtain medicines which until recently it was impossible to find in Syria”, he concedes.

 

As we leave the hospital, Elías and Toni say goodbye with a big hug. Both men are very heavy built and look almost like brothers. “Whenever a difficult case crops up in the hospital, with a patient who has very little money, we always try to help by giving a discount and extending the payment period. When such cases occur, we call the Saint Peter’s centre, knowing that Elias there or Father Walid, the parish priest of Saint Peter’s Church, will always respond to our requests”, Toni tells us. The presence of the Church and its work on behalf of the displaced by the war and the local poor is quite literally saving many lives.

 

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need sends around 50,000 Euros each month to the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, a large part of which is to cover the cost of essential medicines and the medical care of over 4,000 individuals. “We continue to need your aid. You are the hope of all these people, and a wonderful example for our society”, says Dr Abboud, as he bids us farewell.

 

 

ACN International

In Pakistan, God shines a light into Catholic girl’s fearful existence

Dolly Sarwar Bhatti is an 11-years old Catholic girl. She is a fifth-grader in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and her place of birth. In this interview to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, Dolly speaks of the everyday concerns of a young Christian girl from a poor family, living in a country where Christians are targeted by Islamic radicals, either through violence or by way of the country’s infamous blasphemy law.

 

“Last year I was very unhappy because my father fell ill; he suffered hepatitis, and because of that he lost his job. Therefore, we have no money to pay our school fees; our teacher has taken our school bags into her custody. This is the saddest moment I ever experienced, because I love to go school and study, but along with my younger sister and brother, I just can’t right now.

 

“Even though we passed our exams, we have to stay home. The teacher has told us we can’t even get our exam results and we might even miss the start of new classes next year; we also have no money to buy books. My maternal grandmother used to help us with food and also with our school fees, but she passed away. I pray to God that her soul may rest in peace.

 

“However God always help us and gives us strength. Even in this time of darkness, I can see the light by going to the church and reading the Bible. I regularly read the Bible and I go to church every afternoon. Those are moments of joy and happiness, because I know that God does good things for us; and He helps us through His people. My mom and dad are always involved in this happiness. We pray regularly as a family. It is always my family that is my strength; I always feel that  God  is with me and He has never ever forsaken me or my family—even though we are passing through hard times. I always keep my Bible with me and read passages, which always gives me strength and happiness.

 

“The area where we are living is not safe at all, because the majority of the inhabitants of this area are Pathan people, and many of them are involved in both terrorism and drug trafficking. This country is not safe because of all the terrorism and bombings.

 

“These days, Christians are not safe in Pakistan, particularly girls, who are often victims of rape and murder. For that reason, we never leave the house without our parents and we do not get to play outside at all.

 

“I don’t personally know anyone someone who has been accused of blasphemy but I was very touched by the news of that Christian couple who were burned alive by the mob; and I just heard a story about a Christian boy named Sajid who was tortured by Muslims. This is very bad news; more such news comes from our school friends and relatives. I am often afraid; I fear that someone might accuses my father, mother, or myself, because it is an easy way to target someone in this country.

“We can freely worship in our church in the area and we haven’t experienced any violence, but at the gate of our church there are always two youngsters checking that no one who enters the church creates violence.

 

“Often, in the area where I live with my family, and also at school, I experience discrimination, even though it is a missionary school. Muslim boys and girls always treat Christian girls as ‘cheap,’ which means they don’t not want to drink water from the same tap from which Christian girls drink and they don’t want to sit anywhere near me or other Christian girls.

 

“At the previous school I attended, one run by the government, I felt very uncomfortable because of some of the textbooks; they referred to non-Muslims in ways that upset me. For example, there is the word kafir, which means non-believer, referring to someone Muslims don’t want to sit close to or eat with. But still I love my county because my family and my uncles and aunts live in here. I wish we could all move to another country, where we can be more respected and enjoy free education; where my family and I would be safe.

 

“I want to become a stewardess. I still have faith that my life will be a successful life, because I’m a good student and I’m a child of God. Yes, as a Christian I have hope that the world will become more peaceful and I so wish that for my country as well.

 

“Other countries and our own leaders show little interest in helping solve our problems. No one is helping solve the problem of poverty and lack of education. If they would help us in the field of education, there would no double standard. The level of education in government schools is very poor, compared to private schools whose fees are so high that only the wealthy can afford to go there. Even the fees for missionary schools are high.

 

“There are Christians in the West? I thought that only Muslims were living in the West; but if that is so, why do those Christians not come here to relieve our problems? If Christian children don’t get a good education they won’t be able to apply for respectable jobs and they will be obliged to do very humble jobs, like sweeping streets and cleaning gutters.

 

My favorite prayers in scary times are “Our Father in Heaven” and “Hail Mary.” These prayers always give me strength. If I would get a chance to talk to world leaders, I would only ask them create peace in the world. No one in the world should be killed by bombs or blasphemy accusations!”

 

ACN International

 

In a Rio favela, a 12-year-old girl has bullet-proof faith

LAÍS MARIA PEREIRA da Silva, 12, was born and raised in a part of Rio de Janeiro called Complexo da Maré, which comprises one of the biggest set of favelas—or shanty towns—in this Brazilian mega-city. Despite her youth, this girl is already well acquainted with violence, despair, and death. Her part of town is home to 17 separate communities with a total of 130,000 inhabitants. In addition to horrible living conditions—where a piece of bread often makes up a meal—the people live under the constant threat of violence.

The favelas of Rio are controlled by various criminal factions that each run drugs through the alleys that make up the neighborhood infrastructures that serve as closely-guarded transportation networks. Complexo da Maréis among the most dangerous areas in the city because it is run by two major criminal groups, Comando Vermelho (“Red Command”) and Terceiro Comando Puro(“Pure Third Command”), with each dominating opposite sides of the area. They are engaged in a constant batt in efforts to expand their respective territory.

Laĺs lives in a favela called Baixa do Sapateiro, on a street called Divisa Street, which means border—and the street got its name precisely because it marks the border between the territories controlled by the two criminal organizations. “They stay in the alleys, exchanging gun fire. We have to lay down on the floor in our homes because no room is secure. The shots come from the front and from behind,” says Viviane Pereira, another resident of Complexo da Maré.

The violence does not only make Laís’ daily life difficult—it also clouds the outlook for her future. The schools in the area often need to cancel classes for security reasons. When there are no gun fights close to school but there is shooting going on near her house, her mother, says the girl, “has to call the teachers to warn us that we cannot leave the school; we’re often asked to study for tests another day.” The girl dreams of studying to be a doctor so she can help people—and so that she can make it possible for her family to move to a safer neighborhood.

The facades of the houses show the evidence of the state of war residents of Complexo de Maré have to contend with. Bullet marks of different sizes are evidence of the gangs’ firepower. In an effort to protect themselves, some people board up their windows with bricks to guard against stray bullets; others build underground rooms to shelter their families during shoot-outs. But no one is really safe. “When the shooting suddenly erupts, we run to the first house we see. Everyone around here knows everyone and understand the fear of these moments,” says Laís, who adds: “I’m afraid to get shot.”

It was precisely at home that Laís’ family lived through one of the most harrowing moments of their lives. It was a typical afternoon; her cousin Ian, who was 12 at the time, was playing on the home’s small patio, as children are rarely allowed to play outside the confines of the home. Laĺs remembers: “Suddenly, a shooting started. Before Ian could run inside, he got shot. My aunt, Ian’s mother, ran downstairs and found her son on the ground, with a puddle of blood around his head.”

The bullet reached the right side of his brain. Family members had to wait for the shootout to end before they were able to take him to the hospital. He survived. But his injury required many surgeries, one of them included removing part of Ian’s brain. As a result, some of his motor skills were impaired; the surgery also affected his ability to talk.

“I was very sad, very touched when everything happened to my cousin,” says Laĺs, adding: “today, seven years later, he plays with us, but he cannot run.” Ian is confined to a wheelchair and remembers very little about what happened that day. But his family will never forget it. Laís, along with all her friends, live under a shadow of fear of getting hurt themselves, with even a worse outcome.

“I like to play… run with my friends,” Laís continues, although, she adds: “when we are in the streets or alleys near here, I’m afraid of getting hit, or that a shot hurts one of my friends.” In these almost unbearable circumstances, it’s faith in God that keeps Laís and her family going. It would be easy to lose hope and give way to despair under the constant threat of violence.”

 

However, speaking with the purity of a child, Laís teaches those who would hear an important lesson: even amidst the shootings, she says, “it’s possible to keep a bullet-proof faith and to be a sign of hope to the others. I always pray to God to support Ian’s parents, my uncle and aunt, and that nothing bad will happen to my friends.”

The Pontifical Foundation ACN supports with different projects the formation of diverse missionary communities, many of which work in the peripheries of Brazil’s big cities. One of them is the community “Mercy alliance” (“Alianza de la Misericordia”) which, with more than 2,000 volunteers and 337 social workers, brings the mercy of God’s Love to the poorest. They work in the favelas of Brazil and the most abandoned areas of the poor neighbourhoods where the situation reported by LAÍS MARIA PEREIRA da Silva is lived daily.

In the last ten years ACN has helped with more than one million euros to 47 projects so that newly born missionary communities can dedicate themselves to the evangelization of the peripheries and help the youth in those neighbourhoods and all those who live on the margins of society.

“Bishop Romero was a student of Paul VI. It is significant that they are being canonised together,” says Cardinal Rosa Chávez

In order to properly understand the miraculous significance of the canonisation of the Blessed Paul VI and the Blessed Bishop Romero, it helps to go back in time several decades. A young seminarian from El Salvador by the name of Oscar Arnulfo Romero came to Rome in 1937 to continue his theological studies in the Italian capital. He received his licentiate degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1943. He was also ordained to the priesthood in Rome. During his years in Rome, Romero met Giovanni Batista Montini, then a monsignor, who was one of his professors. One of Montini’s primary concerns was helping the poor. At the time, no one would have thought that 30 years later, Montini, then Pope Paul VI, would appoint Oscar Romero auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and in 1977 archbishop of the same diocese. And no one could have known that several decades later, they were destined to be united once more – and for nothing less than their inclusion in the canon of saints.

Pope Francis signed the decree for both canonisations in March. On 19 May, during the ordinary public consistory, the Holy Father will announce the exact place and the exact date when the historic event will take place.

“Teacher and student, a saint of the world and a saint of the word.” This is how the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador, Cardinal Rosa Chávez, described his companion and friend, “the man who was a student of Paul VI”, in an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “This is very beautiful and significant,” the auxiliary bishop emphasised.

A spiritual earthquake

Cardinal Rosa Chávez admits that the process of canonising Bishop Romera has been a “turning point” for his country. “For a long time, people spoke badly of him. He was criticised even though he was not well known, even though his sermons had not been read, and even though no one was listening to what he had said. More people became aware of him after his beatification. The people began to understand the work he did, what he fought for. Now we are experiencing a spiritual earthquake.” In the interview, the cardinal explained to ACN that this has given El Salvador “great hope”, especially now, at a time when the country needs it most. “We are a very small country that has suffered a great deal. We have a long history of violence. We are a young democracy. It is a country of enormous social differences, outrageous poverty, widespread migration, broken families and many other problems. This is why the canonisation of the first saint from El Salvador fills us with great joy. It brings us the peace we are so in need of.”

Romero is the “Saint of the Poor”. Pope Francis has frequently urged us to “call for his intercession, follow his teachings and emulate his example” in order to gradually improve the instability that prevails all over the world.

Bishop Romero and Cardinal Rosa Chávez met at the “minor seminary” in El Salvador when the cardinal was still an adolescent. Years later he became Bishop Romero’s assistant. They worked together and a deep friendship gradually developed out of this. “Sometimes I pause for a moment and think to myself, ‘My God. My friend Romero should be canonised!’” The cardinal describes the Blessed Romero as “a shy and reserved, but very dedicated person. He suffered greatly when he saw that he was losing friends.”

Priestly formation

The cardinal from El Salvador invites all to read the writings and sermons of Bishop Romero – an almost complete collection of them is kept at San Miguel Seminary in El Salvador. He feels “they are very good at communicating the things of God.” In addition, they offer insight into his personality and the topics that inspired him the most – such as the protection of the weakest and priestly formation. “This was very important to him, it was a matter near and dear to his heart.” Bishop Romero taught aspiring priests at the seminary. He often told them about how he had been called to the priesthood, which had been a moment of deep communion with God for him.

In keeping with the example set by Bishop Romero, the international Catholic pastoral charity ACN is currently reviewing several projects that support priestly formation in El Salvador. These include funding to build the large seminary “Bishop Oscar Romero” in the diocese of Santiago de María and the diocesan training centre “St. Romero of the Poor”.

ACN has also supported other projects that developed out of the harsh reality of life in El Salvador during the 1980s, such as the construction of a memorial chapel for the victims of the civil war and a documentary in memory of the martyrs of faith who were murdered during this period.

 

ACN International

The eleven of Marmarita: young volunteers coordinate aid for 2,000 families displaced by the war in Syria

Several of the volunteers are themselves displaced persons, but do not hesitate to help others: “What motivates us is Jesus”

ACN (Josué Villalón, Marmarita). Eleven young people make up the team of volunteers of the parish centre of St. Peter, the Greek Catholic church in Marmarita, which is located in the heart of the Valley of Christians, a region in Syria close to the Lebanese border. Many of the people in this region were displaced by the war and came here from all over Syria: Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, etc. This team of volunteer workers coordinates the distribution of the aid that is donated to about 2,000 families each month by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). They are the messengers, but also the message.

“What motivates us is Jesus. It moves us deeply to be able to help people in need. For me personally, it is also the reason to remain in Syria,” comments Elías Jahloum, coordinator of the parish centre, whom everyone calls “Ili”. His mobile never stops ringing the entire time he is speaking with a delegation from ACN. “The families trust me implicitly, many of them see me as part of the family. I take them to the hospital when they are sick and later visit them at home.”

The financial aid that the pastoral charity ACN provides through the local Church is primarily intended for two purposes: the first involves rent payments. “The displaced families have long since used up all of their savings to pay for a place to stay. The few who were able to find work can hardly survive on what they earn,” comments Majd Jallhoum, Ili’s sister and secretary of the parish centre. “The second big project focuses on paying for health care and medicine. There isn’t even one public hospital in the entire Valley of Christians. It is very expensive to get treatment, as are medicines.”

ACN donates 280,000 euros for these two projects every six months. “We are supporting 340 families with rent subsidies. Each family unit receives a monthly subsidy of about 25,000 Syrian pounds (50 euros). You have to realise that the median income in Syria is currently just under 60 euros.” The average rent in the Valley of Christians is 150 euros a month. The rents increase in the summer months because the region is considered a “tourist” area due to its cooler climate.

None of the young volunteers is paid for the work they do. However, several of them are themselves displaced persons and receive aid to meet their own needs. “I, for example, receive financial aid to travel to the university and back. The university is in Homs, which is about an hour away by car. Thanks to the help I receive from ACN, I did not have to give up my studies because of the war,” Issam Ahwesh explains, who is 22 years old and is studying computer engineering. He will finish his degree this year. “My mother would be very happy if she could see how I am helping here and that I will finally be able to complete my degree. Unfortunately, she died several years before the war started.”

 

An ecumenical team

The eleven young volunteers at the parish centre of Marmarita are members of various Churches that celebrate different rites. “Some of us are Greek Catholic, others Syriac Catholic and still others Orthodox. We do not discriminate; all of us help wherever we can and assist Father Walid.” Walid Iskandafy is a Greek Catholic priest and currently the parish priest of the church of Saint Peter.

After finishing their work, the volunteers stay to play football. Raja Mallouhi, who is studying economics in Homs, talks about how he used to play on a football team in his city. “My favourite club here is Al-Karama, the best football club in the country before the war. Outside of Syria, I am a fan of Atlético Madrid.”

They laugh when Father Iskandafy compares the eleven of them with the team of Real Madrid. “They are the players and I am their coach, Zinedine Zidane.” They are a very good team. The priest is proud of how they always discuss any new request for help or problems with one of the families with each other and try to find a solution together.

 

Inspired by the Pope

Lama Jomia has just completed his degree in tourism and currently spends his time visiting displaced families. “Several years ago, Pope Francis told us young people to have the courage to swim against the tide and be faithful to Jesus. These words encouraged us to continue our work, even though war and hate prevail in our country.”

For the volunteers, faith is the most important reason to stay in Marmarita and help those who are most in need. Another young volunteer of the group, Rafic Assi, says at the end, “I would like to tell young people in Europe and all over the world that material things are not what is most important, that they should do something with their lives and be grateful that they are able to live in peace. We also did not imagine that our lives would turn out like this, but we have not completely given up hope!”

 

ACN International

“My mother was killed by a terrorist when she was helping him”

Testimony of the daughter of one of the victims of the attacks in Cairo last December.

Gunmen attacked worshippers leaving a Coptic Orthodox church on the southern outskirts of Cairo on Dec. 29, 2017. Subsequently claimed by ISIS, the assault—which took place some 10 minutes after the conclusion of Mass at St. Mina Church—killed nine people. One of the victims was a young mother, Nermeen Sadiq. Her 13-year-old daughter Nesma Wael was at her side when she was shot. Nesma gave the following account of the ordeal to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need:

“After Mass ended, I left the church with my cousin and my mother. My mom wore a cross around her neck, and all three of us were not wearing veils. In poorer neighborhoods, Muslim women often wear veils so they are distinguished from Christian women.

“As we turned into a side street, we saw someone on a motorcycle heading toward the church. The next thing we knew, the man crashed his bike after hitting a pothole. My mother ran up to him to help, reassuring him, as she said: “In the name of the Jesus Christ, are you okay?” He got up quickly and in a blink of an eye he opened fire on us with an automatic weapon he pulled out from under his vest.

“As soon as my cousin and I saw the weapon, we hid behind mom, who shouted at us to run away; the terrorist first shot her in the arm, while she was trying to protect us; as we ran away, she fell down and could not escape with us. The distance between us and the terrorist when he first took out his machine gun was no more than a few feet. My cousin and I ran into a small supermarket, where the sales girl hid us behind the refrigerator; from our hiding spot, we watched the attacker looking for us. When he couldn’t find us he turned to mom again and fired more shots at her.

“All this happened in few minutes. After the gunman left, we ran to my mother. Many people had gathered, but they all refused to touch my mom, to turn her over, even though she was still alive. I kept screaming for someone to help me, but no one did. I reached my uncle, who came right away.

“An ambulance pulled up, but the emergency workers refused to move mama into the ambulance until they got permission from the security officials who were out in the streets, hunting for the terrorist, as well as another shooter who had attacked people in front of the church.

“A gun battle erupted, and people fled. My cousin, my uncle and I stayed with my mother. She looked at me, saying: “Do not be afraid, I’m with you. Obey your father and take care of your sister.”

“My mother remained laying in the street for about an hour. After the shooting stopped, I went back to the church to fetch my younger sister Karen, who is eight and had remained in church because the service for children had not finished yet—I saw three people I knew laying in pools of blood in front of the church; I knew they had been killed.

“By the time mom was taken into the ambulance she had died.

“Today, I do not walk the streets alone anymore. My father always goes with me anywhere. Despite the pain inside my heart—I miss my mother desperately—I am happy because she is a martyr and I don’t feel afraid of the terrorists anymore. I was with her at the time of the attack and did not even get injured: it was God’s will to specifically choose her to go to heaven.

“I do not want to leave my country, but I certainly want to find a better chance to live and study, especially since our financial situation isn’t good. My dad, who is 35, works as a driver, but he has no regular work; my mother provided the main source of income for our family; she was a nurse at the Cairo Kidney Center. I hope to become a doctor of nephrology; that was my mom’s dream for me.

“This is my message to all the persecuted people around the world: ‘Do not be afraid! Our lives are in God’s hands God and we have to adhere to our faith.’”

 

ACN International

The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

Father George Maamary, parish priest of the church of the Assumption, which is close to the fortress, is asking our help to rebuild their church so that the families can return there soon.

ACN (Josué Villalón, Qalat’al Hosn).- Qalat’al Hosn is a village in western Syria in a region known as the Valley of the Christians, best known for the imposing fortress the Krak des Chevaliers, which dominates the area. The castle is a World Heritage Site, one of the historic jewels of Syria and a place which before the war attracted tourists from all over the world.

“A group of Salafists and Muslim extremists arrived here, many of them from Lebanon, crossing over the border, which is only about 30 km (20 miles) away. They seized control of the fortress and the village”, explains Father George Maamary, parish priest of the local Catholic community. “As soon as they arrived, they came to the church where I was living, forced their way in and abducted me. They beat me up, so thatafterwards I had to have an operation on my shoulder. Thanks be to God, my imprisonment did not last long; they exchanged me for a jihadist fighter who had been captured by the government.”

At that time the village had around 25,000 inhabitants of various different religions, most of them Sunni and Shia Muslims. There were also around 300 Christians, living around the only Christian church, that of Our Lady of the Assumption, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Church.

As soon as news of the abduction of Father Maamary came to the ears of his Christian neighbours, they all abandoned their homes for fear of suffering the same fate. “It was a warning. Since then not one Christian family has returned to live here.” That was six years ago.

The rebel groups had wanted to turn the fortress into a second Palmyra. A world-renowned historic site, and also one of great strategic and sentimental importance for the Syrian people. The fortress was damaged by the rebel groups and by the fighting to recover it, along with a considerable part of the village itself. In 2014 the castle and the village were reconquered by the Syrian army. This was the only place in the Valley of the Christians where there was fighting. For the rest this region has become a place where many refugees now live, since it is one of the more peaceful parts of the country.

But before this there was looting, and among the places that were looted were the church and the homes of the Christians. “The life of the community used to revolve around the church”, Father George explains to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We had a basketball pitch and rooms for catechesis and other gatherings. You can see how everything is now”, he adds. The church is also linked to various other buildings, and there was formerly a hotel named after John Paul II, which welcomed tourists who had come to visit the fortress. They also had other centres, with up to 17 shops, a restaurant, a cafe, and various souvenir and gift shops.

After the fighting, the conflict continued. The vengeance against the Sunnis was terrible on the part of the government troops, linked to the Assad government and pro-Shiite. Father George had to hasten back and mark the houses of the Christians with black crosses, so that the soldiers did not burn them down also.

“Before the fighting, life between Christians and Muslims was good”, said Father George. Now the war has left a terrible wound that will take years to heal. “It is safe again now in this region, but there is still no electricity or water”, he adds. As a result the Christians have been unable to return, despite the fact that the village was liberated all of four years ago. “The sense of helplessness of these families is very great; they are still uprooted and living in other villages of the Valley of the Christians, such as Marmarita and Kafra, only 10 km away from here, and yet they still cannot return.”

Around the church of the Assumption there are a few houses that people have begun to rebuild. One of them belongs to the family of Bassam Maamary, a cousin of Father George and himself a priest. “I have begun to rebuild the house with my own money, in order to show my neighbours that it is possible to return, that there is still hope”, he says.

He is being helped with the electric wiring by a young man named Wagdi Yazzi. He too is from the village of Al Hosn. “It won’t take much for us to return; but first we need the government to reconnect the water and electricity”, he says, adding, “Life here was very pleasant and peaceful. We had contact with people from all over the world and we were a very open village.”

Another neighbour appears, walking up an alleyway. He is Samir Bashur and he explains that he is also working on his house and that he comes here from time to time, little by little repairing the damage. He thinks that if people are to return here permanently they will first have to rebuild the church. “It is a place that is very important to us, where we celebrate the most important feasts together, where we meet and pray together, along with our parish priest.”

Father George assures that he has not lost contact with the other families. “We are doing the impossible to help them on a daily basis, and so that they will be able to return to their homes.” He thanks ACN for the aid provided for the care of these refugees, and he is also hoping to be able to begin soon on the rebuilding of their church.

“We are praying for peace in our country. And also for all the people who are helping us from other countries. You are all very welcome to come here. We need the people and the tourists to return.”

And finally Father Maamary expresses his gratitude for the support of Pope Francis, who has sent aid directly each year for the families and the priests. “He is a humble man, he is doing great things for Syria, including through his prayer and his messages of peace.”

 

ACN International