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.
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.
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.
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.
The Sisters of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus are a native African congregation which was founded in 1929 and which today ministers in Malawi and Zambia in southern Africa. The congregation has 168 fully professed sisters and is still growing, as young African women continue to join the community.
In Malawi the congregation runs its own primary school and kindergarten. In Zambia they run a school for older children, offering education to girls who would otherwise have no chance of attending school. This is one important aspect of the sisters‘ work. Other sisters care for the sick and for expectant mothers in rural areas where there is no other form of health care and often not even clean water available. They sometimes have to travel long distances to reach these villages. At the same time, they also care for albinos among the population, who on account of their lack of skin pigmentation find themselves at the mercy of the fierce African sun. In fact albinos not only suffer physically but are also socially discriminated against and even excluded from society.
Malawi: Completion of a retreat house for religious sisters.
The sisters take them in and care for them, attending not only to their special medical problems but also and especially to their spiritual needs. In fact the sisters care for all those in need, and especially for malnourished children. Many of them work in the parishes, giving catechetical instruction and helping the priests in their pastoral work. The great majority of the sisters receive no pay but simply work for the love of God, wherever their presence is needed.
At the same time, however, it is important for the sisters themselves to be supported in their spiritual life and strengthened in their vocation. The congregation aims to give them the opportunity, at least once a year, to take part in a retreat and recharge their batteries with a time of quiet contemplation. They also need to have an opportunity for ongoing formation. Until now the novice house has been used for this purpose. However, the community is growing and the novice house is needed for the novices and the new vocations. And the rooms that are still available there are not suitable for the needs of such retreats.
The Sisters of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus are a native African congregation which was founded in 1929.
The congregation has therefore decided to build a separate building, specifically for retreats and ongoing formation sessions. The sisters have already baked their own bricks and carted sand for the building work, and in fact a considerable part of the building is already standing. But now they need our help in order to be able to finish the work.
So ACN has promised 15,000 Euros for doors and windows, sanitary facilities, corrugated sheeting for the roof and other necessary items.
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.
The Catholic parish of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan was established in 1990.
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.
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.
The present parish church was completed in the year 2002.
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.
It‘s the fulfilment of a long-standing dream for them. At last, after so many years, the Catholics of Pawi, in northwest Ethiopia, have a „proper“ church of their own. And it was thanks to the 50,000 Euros contributed by our benefactors that we were able to help see their dream fulfilled.
The people living here today have seen hard times in the past. Around the middle of the 1980s, under the brutal communist dictatorship of Haile Mariam Mengistu, they were deported here from the south of the country. Carried out under the guise of a humanitarian measure to alleviate the famine in that region – a famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of human lives – it was in reality a brutal mass deportation and resettlement of around 1 ½ million human beings. For thousands of elderly people, sick people and children the suffering was unendurable and they died as a result.
At the time around 15,000 people were deported to Pawi, among them 3,000 Catholics. They found themselves in an inhospitable region, facing extreme heat and drought such as they had never experienced before in their lives. These harsh living conditions were still further exacerbated by the regime, which banned any form of religious expression. So the people were deprived even of the consolation of the sacraments and the life of the Church. At most they could only practise their faith in secret and at the risk of severe punishment. Yet despite this, they remained faithful to their beliefs.
Following the collapse of the regime, which was ultimately responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2.5 million people, the Christian faithful were at last free to live their faith openly once again. They got together and built a small mud chapel with their own hands, but it collapsed again in the next rainy season. Again and again they tried to build a permanent chapel, but they were never able to raise the money to do so. And of course the mud chapels they were able to build were far too small for the ever-growing number of Catholic faithful.
But now, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, they have at last been able to build a beautiful and solid church in which Holy Mass can be worthily celebrated and they can all gather together to pray. They send their heartfelt thanks to all who have made this possible!
Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. However, until recent years Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional African religions continued to live peaceably together, as they had for centuries. However, this situation came to a bloody end in 2012 when war broke out in the northern part of the country, much of which lies within the Sahara Desert region. Tuareg rebels had formed an alliance with radical Islamists and sought to establish an independent Islamic state in this part of the country. Initially the jihadists gained control over the northern half and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee as a result.
But then in 2013, when the Islamists attempted to conquer the south of the country as well and turn the civil state into an Islamist theocracy, France and the UN intervened militarily in the conflict and rapidly defeated the Islamist rebels.
However, in practice Mali has been a divided country since 2013. A fact that has also impacted the lives of Catholics in the country, who today make up around 200,000 faithful in the midst of a total population of some 18 million.
Project: construction of the roof of the parish church of Yasso.
Whereas in the north of the country it is all but impossible for the Church to function normally, and the great majority of her structures there have been destroyed, the situation is somewhat better in the south of the country – although even here there are occasional violent assaults. Nevertheless, the Catholic community is even growing here, although almost all her new members are former animists, rather than Muslims.
In the south of the country, in the diocese of San, lies the very lively parish of Yasso, which is dedicated to Saint Therese of Lisieux. It has some 5,000 active faithful and includes around 40 villages. And the number of Catholics is growing steadily. So far they have only a small and somewhat temporary chapel, which is far too small for the community and at risk of collapsing when the rainy season comes. But now they have been able to start work on a large and permanent church, big enough to accommodate 2,000 people. The walls are already standing, but they do not have the money for the roof. So they have turned to ACN for help, and we have promised them 48,000 Euros so that they can finally complete their church.