In the day for audio-visual heritage, we remember that videos, documentaries, and TV productions are powerful tools for evangelization. “People nowadays don’t just want to listen anymore, but they want to watch. This is one of the reasons why television is an extremely important tool for evangelization. And we can communicate the good news of hope” says Fr. Winfield Kunda, secretary of the Bishop’s Conference in Zambia.
Watch the story of Rasha Draizy. On the day Rasha’s husband died her life changed completely. She was left alone with two kids in a place they had just moved in to. Her life is a testimony of the good your help makes.
In the region of Marmarita the local Catholic Church is working together with the international Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) to support the refugee families and help them return to their homes
Ghassan Abboud and his wife Maha Sanna used to live in Homs with their two sons, Joseph and Michael. But exactly five years and seven months ago their lives changed completely, on a day that will be forever burnt in their memories. “We were at home”, Maha recalls. “My son Michael was standing quietly in the sitting room, when we suddenly heard the sound of breaking glass. When we went to see what had happened, we found Michael lying prostrate on the ground. A stray bullet had gone through the window and straight through his head. He died instantly.”
The civil war in Syria had erupted in the city of Homs just a few months earlier, and the initial outbreaks of urban warfare had unleashed bloody bombings and sniper attacks throughout the city. The street protests calling for an end to the regime of President Bashar al Assad had prompted a hardline response and fierce political repression. Everything dissolved into a civil war which led to a division within the army and within society and to the appearance of numerous armed groups of a jihadist stamp. As of today, the death toll stands at around 500,000 people, and one of these victims was the youngest son of the Abboud family.
Hassan Abboud with his wife Maha Sanna and son Josef Abboud.
“Michael was a wonderful boy. He worked as a TV film producer and dreamt of becoming a film director one day”, his mother explains, sadly, yet with a tinge of pride. Following his death, and due to the outbreak of still worse fighting within the city, the family decided to leave. “We were planning to leave the country, but we were refused a visa. We didn’t have much money and so we gave up on the attempt. Instead, we came here to the Valley of the Christians”, Ghassan explains.
All these years the Abboud family have lived in a small rented house in the village of Almishtaya, one of the 20 or more villages that make up this region, which was known before the war as a local holiday destination for the people of Homs. Many of them used to come here from the city to enjoy the peace of its valleys and mountains. Maha explains that their economic situation was not good enough to be able to afford a rented home in another town where there was no fighting, but at the same time they couldn’t go on living in Homs, surrounded by so much violence. “Ever since we arrived here, we have been supported by the priests and the young people of the Saint Peter’s Centre in Marmarita”, she tells us. “Without their help to pay for this house, for food and the medication I need for my heart, I don’t know where we would be today.”
Her husband and her other son Joseph both lost their jobs when they left Homs. In the Valley of the Christians they managed to find work for a few months, but the economic situation of the country and the saturation of the refugees has caused the work to dry up, and the wages are in any case very poor. “I am self-employed”, Ghassan explains. “But now I’ve stopped working. I am over 60 now, but I don’t get any pension.” His son Joseph does have work, as an electrician, “but the employment situation here is very unstable. I would like to return to Homs and earn my living there”, he tells us.
The Abboud family is one of over 2000 families who are receiving monthly subsistence aid distributed by the local Church, thanks to the financial support of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Many of these families have recently expressed their intention to return to their former homes as soon as possible, and as soon as they can be rebuilt. “I am almost certain that we will be able to return soon”, Ghassan tells us. “We were able to return to Homs and see the state of our house. Although it is partially damaged, it is not that bad. But nevertheless it is still difficult to live in Homs, with all the ruin caused by the catastrophe and the many shortages of electricity and water, but nevertheless it’s always better to be in your own home rather than living here as refugees. Besides, having to pay rent is also very costly”, he acknowledges.
With this hopeful message about their return, Ghassan, Maha and Joseph say goodbye to the small visiting group from ACN who have travelled to Syria to learn about the situation of the refugee families and their needs. “What gives us hope is the support we receive from Iliash, the young man in charge of coordinating the aid at the Saint Peter’s Centre. The priests and the Catholic Church are supporting us in every way. Theirs is the only help we receive; it is a testimony to their generosity, and it is all the more precious to us, given that we are not Catholics, but Orthodox Christians”, Maha explains.
“My faith is what gives me the strength to continue, despite so much suffering. You tell us that many people in Europe and other countries feel strengthened in their faith when they hear about our story and our perseverance in the face of our difficulties. I can only say ‘Alhamdulillah’ (God be praised! in Arabic)”, Ghassan remarks. And as they lean over the balcony of their home and wave goodbye, they warmly add: “Shukran ktir ktir (Many, many thanks!)”
Father Andrew Yakulula of the parish of Todonyang in the diocese of Lodwar in western Kenya is delighted and profoundly grateful for the help of our generous benefactors, thanks to whom ACN was able to give him 15,000 Euros and help him purchase a new vehicle. So at last he could replace his old, 15-year-old off-road vehicle with which he had brought so much help and comfort over the years to so many people in this corner of northwest Kenya. For in the end this vehicle was spending more time in the workshop than in serving the needs of the people in this region, plagued as it is by poverty, drought and tribal conflicts.
The parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Todonyang was established nine years ago and serves a total population of 18,000 people. It is a thinly populated area and without a functioning vehicle it would be impossible to minister pastorally to them all.
A section of this population belongs to the Turkana tribe, originally a nomadic people who moved from place to place with their cattle herds, wherever they could find water and pasture. But the frequently recurring severe droughts have led to the death of many of their cattle, which are traditionally their most important capital and on which they depend for their milk, their meat and their blood as their main source of nutrition. So now they are increasingly beginning to supplement their diet with crops such as maize, peas and beans and consequently more and more of the Turkana people are becoming settled and giving up their nomadic lifestyle. This has led to bloody conflicts over land between them and the members of the Dassanech tribe, conflicts that have repeatedly cost lives. So the Catholic Church is working hard to promote peace and reconciliation and endeavouring to mediate between the two ethnic groups.
Quite apart from this, the Church here in the diocese of Lodwar is constantly striving to help all the people in their many needs, including the provision of clean drinking water, care of the sick, schools and kindergartens and also nutritional aid for malnourished children. All this is part of the service she provides. Consequently, the priest‘s vehicle also has to function as an ambulance, a water truck and many other things besides. But above all the work of the priest is to bring God to the people. In Todonyang itself and in the four outstations of the parish he brings them the sacraments and helps them to deepen their understanding of the message of Christ. So this vehicle that our benefactors have generously funded is also bringing help and hope to so many people. Our heartfelt thanks to all whose donations have made this possible!
Just a few days ahead of the presidential elections in Brazil, with the country sharply polarised between the two candidates, Fernando Haddad and Jair Bolsonaro, the Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer has warned in a pastoral message of the grave responsibility that this electoral process imposes on the electorate. “Voting should never be marked by hatred, anger or irresponsibility in regard to the common good. Voting is a matter of conscience, and the time has come for each one of us to play his part, so that Brazil may become a better nation following the elections. Ultimately, this is the one thing that matters.”
The Archbishop’s words have a particular relevance, given the fact that Brazil is numerically one of the most Catholic countries in the world (with 172 million Catholics), yet at the same time one of the most violent, with over 60,000 homicides a year – a figure that represents approximately 12.5% of all the homicides in the world.
The elections to be held on Sunday have created barriers, fostering a climate of discord that is dividing the population, setting family members, friends and even the federal states against one another. It is a time of uncertainty and fear. Yet at the same time the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference has reminded Catholics of the importance of this electoral process. Already back in April this year, the bishops published a document, “Involvement and Hope” (Compromisso e Esperança), in which they reflect on the 2018 presidential elections.
Brazil: Cardinal Archbishop of São Paulo warns: Voting must not be marked by “hatred, anger or irresponsibility
In one of the central messages of the document, the bishops urge “the Brazilian people to transform this difficult moment into an opportunity for growth, abandoning the paths of intolerance, apathy and cynicism.” To this end, the bishops call on “the ecclesial communities to embrace, in the light of the Gospel, the political dimension of the faith, in the service of the Kingdom of God.” In their message, the Brazilian Bishops emphasise that hope must always prevail, despite the day-to-day difficulties. “While keeping our feet firmly on the solid ground of reality, we are moved by the hope which commits us to transcending all the ills that afflict our people.”
ACN Brazil is very much involved in promoting the pastoral and social outreach of the Church in the country and is making the very effort to overcome the difficulties to which the bishops refer in their document Compromisso e Esperança. It is a task that dates back to the decade of the 1960s, when Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of ACN, sent copies of his famous book, They Call Me the Bacon Priest to various bishops around the world.
A copy of this book found its way into the hands of Cardinal Jaime Câmara, the then Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro. The Cardinal read the book and in thanking Father Werenfried he urged him to include Brazil in his pastoral mission. He wrote: “In Latin America we are not yet a persecuted Church, but this could well happen to us also. If one day we were persecuted, you would help us, because that is your mission. But if you help us now, it will work out cheaper.”
As a result of his appeal – and in response to a request from Pope Saint John XXIII – ACN’s work in Brazil began, almost as a response to a challenge. Father Werenfried himself travelled to Brazil, visiting the vast favelas, where he was deeply moved at the sight of so many hungry people living in such inhuman conditions. In his famous “Letter to Christ” – a kind of prayer written at the feet of the great statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro – he writes of the impossibility of remaining indifferent to all that he has seen. “What I have seen in this part of the world is a scandal. Your Church here is more vulnerable than anywhere else in the world.”
Since that time ACN has funded over 6000 pastoral projects in Brazil, many of which have at the same time brought direct social benefits. For example, the construction of churches and enclosed convents in some of the remotest and most disadvantaged regions, which are often the trigger for infrastructure projects supplying drinking water and electric power, or the provision of vehicles for priests and religious, who bring with them education and medical care into places where otherwise nobody is keen to invest.
Or again through providing modern river boats to navigate the immense river network of the Amazon basin. Before ACN stepped in to help, many priests were forced to travel in old and dangerous boats, in some cases having to make voyages of up to 100 hours duration in order to reach the many scattered riverside communities.
To this day – and thanks to the prophetic vision of Father Werenfried, who understood from his first journey to the country that it was essential to help this important big nation – Brazil is still one of the major priority countries for ACN and among those receiving most aid from the foundation, which thereby remains faithful to its founder’s commitment.