As many popes and saints have told us, whoever wants to change the world must first start with his own heart. For it is in the heart that our real life decisions are made; the heart is the true place of faith. Scripture similarly sees godlessness not as a matter of the intellect, but of the heart. “The fool says in his heart, there is no God”, as Psalm 14 tells us. Wisdom of heart is not something we learn, like mathematics. It is a question of the inner life. This is why the one-year formation course for young people aged 18 to 30 at the Jeunesse Bonheur School in Cotonou, Benin, rests on the four pillars of contemplation, education, community and mission. It is the first school of its kind in Africa and is based on the principles behind the Jeunesse Lumière Mission school, originally founded in France by Father Daniel Ange.

One year formation course for young people in Cotonou, Benin.

One year formation course for young people in Cotonou, Benin.

The idea is that by the witness of their lives, these young people should become prophets for their own generation. For Father Cyrille Miyigbena, the head of the school, it is above all a programme of humanity. “You can learn anything”, he says: “joy, a smile, respect for others, punctuality, love for work well done, justice, a sense of community, cleanliness, tidiness, patience, forgiveness, self-control – in short, all the virtues the lack of which is so painfully obvious in today’s society. All these things are learnt in the school of Christ, the true Master of the interior life.” Consequently, it is hoped the young people graduating from this school will take these virtues into society, through their Christian way of life. At the end of her year in Cotonou, Vicentia is firmly convinced. “I have realised that by abandoning ourselves totally to the spirit of love, we can come to see other people as a gift of God, with all their strengths and limitations.” Fabrice now sees their mission in the following light: “Just as a scientific experiment proves the validity of a thesis, so our mission testifies to the truth of the Gospel. Without this testimony, the Christian is lacking an essential dimension.”

Patrons of the school: Mgr. Roger Houngbédji, Archbishop of Cotonou, and Père Daniel Ange, the founder of the Jeunesse Lumière.

Patrons of the school: Mgr. Roger Houngbédji, Archbishop of Cotonou, and Père Daniel Ange, the founder of the Jeunesse Lumière.

The fruits of the school are self-evident. Just three years after opening its doors to students, the school has seen 12 young men enter the seminary, whilst five others have discerned vocations to religious life and a number of others now work in various dioceses across the country. The school is growing at such a rate it needs to relocate and is now set to leave the minor seminary in Cotonou. Young people from Malawi, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Mali and Ivory Coast are already applying for places. The school has become a beacon of humanity for Africa. The land is available and the plans are also ready. Now they need help, so they can begin building. We have promised €50,000.

In her private diary, Mother Teresa writes: “Once, I was speaking with a priest about the kind of friendships that can take us away from God. He confessed to me: ‘Mother, for me Jesus is everything. I have neither time nor space for any other friendships.’ For me this was the explanation why this particular priest had brought so many people to God. He was always united with Him.” This is the secret of the saints. They are always closely united to God.

Filled with the spirit of this relationship, they are able to perform works of mercy. Don Luigi Orione, the founder of the “Little Work of Divine Providence” (“Piccola Opera della Divina Provvidenza”), was, in the words of Pope John Paul I, “a strategist of mercy”. He himself saw himself as the “servant of Divine Providence”. He did not ask many questions, but simply acted. His guiding motto was this: “Do not ask who he is, what he is, or what he believes. Ask only about his pain.” In this spirit he founded orphanages and vocational schools. For he knew that the future of the young and abandoned depends on how and what we teach them. Inspired by this same spirit, and for over 20 years now, the congregation of Don Orione has been running mission stations for hundreds of Catholic families in Bardhaj, at the foot of the mountains in the diocese of Shkodra, in northern Albania.

Canonised 15 years ago: Don Luigi Orione, the founder of the “Little Work of Divine Providence”.

Canonised 15 years ago: Don Luigi Orione, the founder of the “Little Work of Divine Providence”.

After the collapse of the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, they had emerged from the craggy mountain villages, where they had hidden away from the tyranny of the atheist regime, and come down into the valleys – in rags and tatters, emaciated, but with God in their hearts. Today three missionaries, Don Rolando, Don Dorian and Don Giuseppe, care for these four thousand or so souls. They also run four other mission stations in the mountain regions, all of them inaccessible an all-terrain vehicle. “We travel around 400 km (250 miles) a week”, they tell us. They do not ask questions, they act. They ease the bodily pain with medication, still the thirst for God with catechesis, the physical hunger with bread, and the spiritual longing with prayer. They bring God to people and the people to God. Roughly 60% of Albania’s close on 3 million inhabitants are Muslims. Catholics make up around 10%. They have maintained their faith throughout the decades of atheist dictatorship. And one of them, of course, was Mother Teresa, who at an early age travelled to India. Many of these Catholics hardly know their catechism. But, up in their mountain villages, they eagerly look forward to the visits of Padres Rolando, Dorian and Giuseppe.

Looking to his future: an orphan in one of Don Orione’s vocational workshops.

Looking to his future: an orphan in one of Don Orione’s vocational workshops.

However, when they are late – since the roads here are really barely worthy of the name – they begin to fear that the old Jeep has broken down again, as it has often in recent years. For without a vehicle, the mission and its work would grind almost to a standstill, and that would be painful for everyone. We have promised them €14,000 for a new vehicle.

Adeeb Nakhla, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt last January. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or condition.

On January 17, 2019, around 9am, Nakhla, 55, was traveling from Ismailia to Al-Arish to visit relatives, when a militant Islamic group stopped the minibus he was riding in and checked the national identity cards of those on board. The cards state religious affiliation, and when the militants saw that Nakhla was a Christian, they asked him to get out of the vehicle. He was taken away.

Nakhla had fled Al-Arish two years ago, as did dozens of Christian families who moved to Ismailia after receiving death threats. A relative, who spoke to Aid to the Church in Need on condition of anonymity, said that many Coptic Christians who chose to stay were slaughtered: “We left Al-Arish in 2017, after terrorists killed seven of our neighbors. Among the dead were a father and son; they burnt their bodies and their home, and the mother, Nabila, was forced to watch. She is severely traumatized.”

Portrait of ADEEB NAKHLA, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt in January 2019. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or conditio.

Portrait of ADEEB NAKHLA, a Coptic Christian, was kidnapped by an ISIS affiliate group in Sinai, Egypt in January 2019. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts or conditio.

Last year, Nakhla’s family returned to Al-Arish, where family members work and own property; Nakhla stayed in Ismailia for his job. Nakhla’s relative said: “We had to return to our home and work. We were unemployed in Ismailia, and we lived on aid from the Church. Conditions in the city have improved thanks to the Egyptian army’s stepped-up campaign against terrorist groups, though it is still dangerous on the road.”

He continued: “Militants affiliated with ISIS have staged ambushes on the highways and launched attacks on civilians and security forces. The Muslim driver of the communal taxi Uncle Adeeb rode in said that militants clad in khaki stopped the vehicle and started to check national identity cards. When they saw that Uncle Adeeb was a Christian, they asked him to get out. Our biggest fear is that they may abuse, torture, and kill him, just as savagely as they have other Copts.”

Violence towards Coptic Christians in Egypt has increased since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Most attacks have occurred in northern Sinai, where, according to the Gospel, the Holy Family entered Egypt. In 2012, unknown assailants issued a handwritten statement demanding that all remaining Copts leave the border city of Rafah; since then, a number of local Copts have been kidnapped and killed by terrorist groups.

The “Bethlehem Mission” (Missao Belem) is a lay spiritual community of people who devote themselves above all to caring for the homeless, the addicts, the lonely and all those facing a crisis or some other difficult situation. The members of the community, who describe themselves as “missionaries”, share their lives full-time with these homeless victims, often even living on the streets with them. In doing so they are endeavouring to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to these people on the margins of society and make His teachings living and tangible for them.

The community is still very young, having been founded only in 2005 in Brazil, yet it already has 160 mission houses and another 7 intermediate centres in 70 different cities of Brazil, Haiti and Italy.

Brazil: Catechetical materials for pastoral work with socially marginalised groups.

Brazil: Catechetical materials for pastoral work with socially marginalised groups.

Right now some 2000 or so homeless people are being cared for by members of the community in Brazil, which includes 70 consecrated members and 200 full-time voluntary members. They all live together in the various communities, like one big family. People who have until now been living on the streets slowly become accustomed to living an orderly life in community and are able to begin to discover the potential in themselves. The community also offers them the opportunity to have therapy where necessary. And they can also take advantage of the chance to gain practical and professional qualifications or become re-accustomed to the world of work. Wherever possible, the street children are encouraged to return to or at least make contact with their families. Where this is not possible, they are helped to find loving homes with foster parents or adoptive families, in collaboration with the relevant authorities.

So far around 50,000 people have been taken in and helped by these communities. Roughly half of them have since been able to return to normal life. Many have found their way to faith and sought baptism. It is a particularly moving sight to see grown men, some advanced in age and after years of homelessness and addiction, dressed in a white baptismal robe, standing there with a baptismal candle in their hand, or going forward like little children to receive their First Holy Communion. In such cases it is quite evident that baptism has been the start of a new life for them as children of God.

The community is still very young, having been founded only in 2005 in Brazil, yet it already has 160 mission houses and another 7 intermediate centres in 70 different cities of Brazil, Haiti and Italy.

The community is still very young, having been founded only in 2005 in Brazil, yet it already has 160 mission houses and another 7 intermediate centres in 70 different cities of Brazil, Haiti and Italy.

Also very popular and very successful are the evangelising courses run by members of the community. More than 1400 people have so far taken part in these courses, which are aimed at training them for the mission of reaching out to people who still far from the Church, and especially to the marginalised in society, and proclaiming the Gospel to them. At the same time the participants are equipped with appropriate catechetical material, which they can distribute to those who are interested.

ACN is happy to help this wonderful initiative, and we have promised 46,100 Euros to help provide the necessary teaching materials for the coming four years.

Code: 212-07-49

The profoundest truth of the Gospel is this: God is our Father, and we are his children. This thought from Pope St John Paul II belongs at the beginning of every work of mission and new evangelisation. In Eastern Europe, above all in the region of the former Soviet Union, people need to be made aware once again of this and other such fundamental truths of faith and love. In his new parish, not quite two years old, in Hrodna, Belarus, Father Henryk Jablonski is starting with the young families with children. They are being drawn in from the countryside, into the city outskirts, close to where there is work and schools. His parish, named after St John Paul II, is currently in the process of building a parish centre with a large chapel and small flat for the priest, so for the time being Sunday Mass is usually celebrated in the open air, while the catechetical sessions take place in the family homes. Father Henrik himself is living for the time being in a room in a tower block some 10 km away from his parish. Every day he travels to the hospital to celebrate Holy Mass and visit the sick. Often he also helps out in neighbouring parishes. He regularly travels to Poland to raise money for the church and for a car. But it is still not enough. And the young families are poor, and the sick and elderly are happy simply to be able to get by somehow. The new evangelisation can be a challenging task. We have promised him €10,000 for a car.

Until the church is built, Father Henryk must continue to celebrate Holy Mass in the open air.

Until the church is built, Father Henryk must continue to celebrate Holy Mass in the open air.

In Ukraine the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are also working in support of the new evangelisation. They organise catechesis with the young people, offer pastoral care in the workplace, visit children’s and old people’s homes, offer retreats for adults – in short, an all-round programme. One particular problem for the families is when one, or even both, of the parents goes abroad to work, thereby dividing the family. Months of separation like this can burden the relationship, and doubts can creep in. To walk faithfully through time is the name of love, according to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Not all couples hold out against the inevitable temptations. When this happens, strength is needed to forgive. What sounds so simple can be extremely difficult in practice. Through their retreats for married couples, the Sisters are striving to help the spouses to find this strength. Ultimately, it is the strength of trust in God. “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, …. then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others”, writes Pope Francis in “Amoris Laetitia”. Sometimes, however, it is simply the daily routine, the absence of romance in life, the bad habits that creep in, the lack of communication and the living without thinking about God that can burden a relationship. The Sisters have asked our help (€4,000) for their retreats, so that they can help couples to make a new beginning in their marriage, find the grace of loving forgiveness and a new dawn of love for themselves and their children.

“The attacks have reminded many people of the time when the state of emergency was declared during the civil war. The general public and especially all of the Christians in Sri Lanka are still in a state of shock.” This was the résumé of Veronique Vogel, head of projects in Asia for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), upon returning from a visit to the country under her oversight to take stock of the situation exactly four weeks after the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday that killed or injured hundreds of people all over the country.

Sri Lanka: Christians still in a state of shock.

Sri Lanka: Christians still in a state of shock.

She spoke of palpable tensions throughout the country, recurring unrest and fear. “The security measures throughout Sri Lanka were very strict during our visit; security forces and the military were everywhere. But fear persists, particularly among the Christian population. Everyone is well aware of the fact that more assassins were involved on Easter Sunday than were identified and arrested. Therefore, everyone knows that somewhere out there extremely dangerous people are running around who could attack again at any time.”

The archbishop of the diocese of Colombo, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, is now appealing to the public to remain calm and to refrain from carrying out acts of revenge. “During our trip, I repeatedly got the sense that the Christians were thankful for the words of their archbishop and were taking them to heart,” Veronique Vogel reported. Over a period of just a few days, the small delegation from ACN visited mainly the regions around the capital city of Colombo and the neighbouring city of Negombo, where most of the attacks on churches and hotels had taken place. “This trip was arranged so that we could see for ourselves the state of the Catholic parishes and to assure them of our solidarity. After all, the terrorist attacks were specifically targeted at Christians,” Vogel continued. “It is important for us to provide the benefactors of ACN with first-hand information about the situation on site to ensure that we don’t forget to pray for Sri Lanka and we can give the country our support.”

Over the last 15 years, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has invested more than 8 million euros in projects for Sri Lanka.

Over the last 15 years, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has invested more than 8 million euros in projects for Sri Lanka.

Veronique Vogel reported that although the churches in the country have been accessible again to the faithful since 21 May, exactly one month after the series of attacks were carried out, many Christians are severely traumatised. “Many told me that they are afraid to enter a church at the moment or feel fear when they hear the bells ring. Saddening testimony of just how stressful the memories of Easter Sunday must be for them.” However, she also discovered that many who had themselves become victims or had lost family members felt that their experiences had strengthened them in their faith. “Since the situation in the country had been comparatively quiet over the last few years, many people are having trouble understanding why they in Sri Lanka had to endure such suffering. But their will to live and faith remain very strong. The Christians and the people in Sri Lanka do not want civil war, but are actively working to maintain lasting peace,” the head of projects in Asia for ACN emphasised.

Veronique Vogel was especially impressed by their visit to a Franciscan convent in Negombo. She explained that the convent is located directly across from the Catholic Church of St. Sebastian. During the attacks, at least 100 people were killed at this location alone. She spoke of how the Franciscans showed them videos of horrible scenes from the day of the attacks and how they had immediately rushed to the scene after the explosions to care for the wounded and help recover the dead. “In spite of these traumatic experiences, they are models of lived charity and have not let terrorism and violence detract them from their faith and their willingness to help others.”

The island nation of Sri Lanka is situated in the Indian Ocean and has about 22 million inhabitants, 70 per cent of these Buddhists, 12.5 per cent Hindus, 9.5 per cent Muslims and 8 per cent Christians. A large number of people were killed or severely wounded during a series of attacks on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, that were mainly targeted at three Christian churches and three hotels in the capital city of Colombo, the neighbouring city of Negombo and the east coast city of Batticaloa. The latest figures estimate nationwide casualties of at least 253 dead and about 500 wounded. The authorities have made a local, radical Islamist group and jihadists responsible for the attacks.

 Over the last 15 years, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has invested more than 8 million euros in projects for Sri Lanka. Among other projects, these funds were used for the building of Christian facilities, for Mass stipends for priests, for theological education and to ensure the local availability of Christian literature. Following the latest terrorist attacks, ACN is even more strongly committed to strengthening long-term pastoral aid in the country to help heal wounds and bring back hope and confidence to the parishes.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT Aid to the Church in Need, VISIT http://www.churchinneed.org
logoacnwhy2

ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.