The port town of Magadan in the Far East of Siberia was first established in 1929 as a concentration camp. During Soviet times it was the principal centre of the labour camp system of the Kolyma region and the port of entry for hundreds of thousands of deported victims. Right up to 1991 the area was a strict military exclusion zone. Today the town of Magadan has a population of around 96,000. The direct distance between Magadan and Moscow is around 6000 km (3750 miles) and the time difference between them is no less than eight hours!

The Catholic parish of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan was established in 1990, shortly before the end of the Soviet Union. It was one of the first Catholic parishes in the whole of Russia‘s Far East. Initially the Catholic faithful met together in a private home. The present parish church was completed in the year 2002.

Ever since 1994 Father Michael Shields, an Alaskan priest of the congregation of the Sacred Heart Brothers, has been parish priest of this extremely active community. There are catechetical sessions for all ages, and especially for children and young people, who represent the future of the Church. The children spend a lot of time in the church, since the climate is so harsh and cold that they cannot spend much time playing outside. Polish sisters of the Divine Mercy congregation also work in the parish, running children‘s and youth groups and organising Catholic holiday camps for the children in all the school holidays, aptly named „Holidays with God“. And there is a very lively prayer group which meets above all to pray the Rosary.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

Father Michael has also established an initiative for helping pregnant women and girls in conflict situations and encouraging them to keep their baby rather than aborting it. Over a hundred children have already been saved so far in this way. And the parish likewise cares for women who have already had abortions and now come seeking inner healing and reconciliation. Some of the women even come here from other towns, seeking help. In addition to this there is a parish-run spiritual and therapeutic outreach programme for those with problems of addiction, especially alcoholism and drug addiction. Today many former addicts have since become active members of the parish.

Father Michael also ministers to former prisoners of the gulags, and has actually produced a book in Russian with their life testimonies. Many of these by now very elderly people have spoken in it for the first time about the fate they suffered. In many cases even their own families had until then known almost nothing about it.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

 Code: 427-01-19

 

Around 20 years ago, a Carmelite convent was founded just outside the city of Florida, in the south of Uruguay. Today there are 12 Carmelite sisters here, living a life of perpetual prayer in accordance with the Rule of their foundress, the great saint, mystic and Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila.

Today there are 12 Carmelite sisters here.

Today there are 12 Carmelite sisters here.

This thriving community continues to attract young women, drawn by the atmosphere of holiness and the life of prayer. Sister Maria Belén received the habit only recently. „It was a simple and very moving ceremony, during which I made the commitment, with a heart overflowing with joy, to strive to unite myself more and more each day with Christ“, she tells us. Maria comes from a devout Catholic family; her uncle was a priest, and she herself used to give catechetical instruction and play an active part in the life of her parish. „I believed that what I was giving the Lord in this way was more than enough“, says Sister Maria. But then her uncle was killed in a road accident, and in her grief and pain she sensed more and more that God was calling her, that he „wanted her for himself“, as she puts it.

... she sensed more and more that God was calling her, that he „wanted her for himself“...

… she sensed more and more that God was calling her, that he „wanted her for himself“…

She began to seek the right way of doing this. Through reading the „Story of a Soul“ by Saint Therese of Lisieux, she came to the Carmel. „When I got to know the Carmel in April 2017, I knew from the first moment that this would be my home. I pray to God to strengthen me with his grace, that I may give myself each day in still greater freedom and generosity. I know that I can only travel this way if I am led by his hand. In union with Saint Teresa of Avila I say, ‚Let us go together, Lord, for wherever you go, I must go also‘.“

This thriving community continues to attract young women, drawn by the atmosphere of holiness and the life of prayer.

This thriving community continues to attract young women, drawn by the atmosphere of holiness and the life of prayer.

But now the convent has become too small to accommodate any more young women. And so the sisters want to build on another wing with five additional cells. But they do not have the money to do so, and so they have turned with confidence to ACN. We do not want any of these young women, who desire to give their lives totally to God, to have to be turned away for lack of resources, and so we are proposing to help with a contribution of 70,000 Euros.

Code: 238-06-19

The parish of Mlevela is still very young, having been established only in 2017. It is situated some 10 miles (15 km) west of Njombe, where the bishop resides, and has 11 outstations. These villages lie anything up to 20 miles (30 km) from the centre of the parish.

Without a car, the work of the parish is almost impossible. All the Catholic faithful, including those in the outlying villages, long to be able attend Holy Mass. Moreover, there are seven primary schools and two higher schools in the parish, where the priest and his catechists have to give religious instruction. And often there are sick and elderly people to be visited, funerals to be held and all manner of other tasks to be done as well in the villages.

ACN was able to contribute 24,700 Euros so that the parish could obtain a robust all-terrain vehicle.

ACN was able to contribute 24,700 Euros so that the parish could obtain a robust all-terrain vehicle.

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, ACN was able to contribute 24,700 Euros so that the parish could obtain a robust all-terrain vehicle, strong enough to cope with the difficult road conditions. The vehicle has now arrived safely in Mlevela and been joyously welcomed by all the people. The parish priest, Father Bruno Henjewele, and all the faithful want to say a heartfelt thank you to all our generous benefactors for their kind support.

Code: 154-01-29

In 2015 the Pope John Paul II Youth Pastoral Centre was first established in Sarajevo, the capital of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is open to all young people, without distinction as to faith or ethnic origin. It was formally blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II, for whom young people were especially important and who introduced many lasting initiatives for the young, most notably of course, the World Youth Days.

The centre has been a great success. Every year around 10,000 young people aged 10 and over have taken part in the pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities held there. The slogan of the centre is „Encounter and Reconciliation – Shaping Peace and a Future Together“. The centre has 20 full-time staff, working together with around 300 volunteers on the many pastoral activities offered. The foundation of the centre was supported by ACN with a contribution of around half a million Euros.

Every year around 10,000 young people aged 10 and over have taken part in the pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities held there.

Every year around 10,000 young people aged 10 and over have taken part in the pastoral meetings, training sessions and leisure activities held there.

The young people who become involved with the Saint John Paul II centre are often also very active in their own home parishes, further proof that it is possible to live together peaceably in this country, to find work, establish a family and build up a happy life. Part of the goal is also to promote interaction and cooperation among all the different ethnic groups and religions in the country, thereby building bridges for a peaceful future. Such youth work is especially important, not only for a better future but also for the survival of the Church herself. For as a result of the war in Bosnia (from 1992 to 1995) around half of all the 500,000 Catholic Croats living there were either expelled or voluntarily emigrated. Even today, around 10,000 people are leaving the country each year, among them many Catholics, because they find themselves discriminated against in the workplace, the schools and social life generally and can therefore see little future for themselves. But those young people who are deeply involved in their parish life tend to stay on and have faith in the future.

Now, however, the capacity of the centre in Sarajevo is not enough to cope with the high demand, and so a new centre has been opened in northern Bosnia, as a sort of branch centre. It can offer overnight accommodation to up to 10 people and likewise offers a wide range of activities, including such things as seminars for youth group leaders, interfaith and ecumenical initiatives and many more things besides. The grounds of the centre also have a farm, with animals and an orchard where the young people can work. The centre is already up and running, but there are still a number of finishing touches remaining to be done, especially in the bathrooms and toilet blocks. Additionally, there is a plan to set up a sort of outdoor stage, with seating for open-air performances and the like. ACN is proposing to help with a contribution of 20,000 Euros, so that the work on the centre can be quickly completed.

Code: 444-07-19

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.

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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.