The Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple are an Italian congregation, founded in the 19th century. Their particular mission is the care of children and young girls, and the congregation is present today in Italy, India, Djibouti and Somalia, running schools, boarding schools, orphanages and leprosy centres and also caring for the elderly.

The Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple are an Italian congregation, founded in the 19th century.

The Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple are an Italian congregation, founded in the 19th century.

In India for example, in the town of Dhabhagudam in the diocese of Eluru, the sisters run a boarding school where they teach between 140 and 150 children from the remote villages of the jungle region. For children such as these, this is the only way they can possibly attend school. The people of the region are extremely poor, often working as day labourers and living precariously from hand to mouth. Very few of them can even read or write, and alcohol abuse is widespread, causing devastation to the lives of many families. The children too would be condemned to an equally precarious existence but for the presence of the sisters, who have given them the opportunity to attend school and learn. The fruits of their apostolate are very evident, with falling illiteracy rates, less child labour and a decrease in the number of child marriages. All in all, the awareness is increasingly gaining ground among the people that education is the key to a better future, at least for their children.

India: a new water well for a boarding school run by Italian sisters in the diocese of Eluru.

India: a new water well for a boarding school run by Italian sisters in the diocese of Eluru.

The sisters had a problem, however. Their one and only water supply was being used not only by themselves and the boarding school but also by the surrounding population, and above all by elderly people from the neighbourhood who were dependent on the sisters‘ water supply, leading to a situation that was becoming increasingly problematic. Now, thanks to our generous benefactors, we were able to provide 7700 Euros to provide the sisters with an additional water supply. They send their heartfelt thanks to you all.

Code: 317-05-19

Despite her 88 years, Sister Halina does not just sit around twiddling her thumbs. She has surely earned the right to do so, after a long life of daily service on behalf of the poor. And yet she continues to this day, tirelessly visiting the sick and sewing quilts and pillowcases for newborn babies. And her equally elderly fellow sisters also still want to make themselves useful – listening to and counselling those who come to them for advice, helping children with their homework and comforting the sick and needy. Some of them even continue to instruct and give talks.

Brazil. Support for 12 elderly and infirm religious sisters.

Brazil. Support for 12 elderly and infirm religious sisters.

The sisters are delighted to see that there are many young women who also wish to join their congregation. At the same time, however, seven of their elderly sisters are already in need of constant care, while another five are very advanced in age. Since the congregation has very limited sources of income, we help every year for the most elderly and infirm, with a contribution to the cost of their care and support. This year we are giving 4,600 Euros.

Code: 212-05-39

An average age of 41 is something that most convents in the West can only dream of. But the Poor Clare Sisters in Brestovsko in Bosnia and Herzegovina are indeed still young. Only one of them is aged over 60, and the two youngest are just 24 and 26 respectively. The convent was founded in 1989, immediately after the collapse of communism in the country, at a time when the old Yugoslavia still existed. Four religious sisters came from Split, now part of Croatia, to establish a new convent in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina

Today there are seven sisters in the convent. They live a life of poverty and seclusion and ceaseless prayer. They grow their own vegetables in the convent garden and in order to support themselves they bake hosts and sew Mass vestments for the diocese. But even then, the little they earn is not enough to cover even their own very modest needs. Above all, their healthcare is a heavy financial burden for them.

Existence aid for 8 contemplative of the clarissian sisters in Brestovsko.

Existence aid for 8 contemplative of the clarissian sisters in Brestovsko.

ACN has always given special priority to the support of the contemplative religious, who pray in quiet seclusion for the needs of the Church and of the whole world – even though they are widely disregarded by many people today, who see them as doing „nothing useful“ in society. But Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of ACN, knew better and has found beautiful imagery with which to describe their hidden ministry. He compares them with „Pure snow, high in the mountains in the sunlight of God‘s love. Snow that melts, disappears and is seemingly useless. But see! Little rivulets come rushing down, growing broader, merging together into foaming torrents, into waterfalls which drive power stations, machines, factories and entire industries, conjuring sparkling seas of light and flowing on, transforming arid plains into fertile fields and filling a grey world with trees, plants, grain, flowers, fruit and beauty, and carrying shiploads of food and everything else needed for a life of human dignity to distant shores…“ This, he adds, „is the essence of all contemplative life, of all resting quietly in the presence of God, all loving listening to the Word of God.“

Every year we provide a small sum for the support of the sisters in Brestovsko, and the 2,100 Euros we are sending this year is no exception. Rest assured that these sisters are praying for everyone who is helping them!

Bolivia has long been the poorest country on the South American continent. And even though the economic situation has slightly improved recently, there has been little sign of any benefit for large sections of the population. All this applies equally to the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia‘s fourth-largest city. For although it has grown to become an industrial centre, nevertheless many of its inhabitants continue to live in deep poverty, and at the same time the continuing flight from the rural areas has led to more and more people flocking into the city.

Sister Griselda with the children of the school "Nuestra Señora de Urkupiña".

Sister Griselda with the children of the school “Nuestra Señora de Urkupiña”.

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart have been working since 2005 in two parishes in Quillacollo, a western suburb of Cochabamba. Unlike the Discalced Carmelites, their better-known sister congregation, which is an enclosed, contemplative congregation founded by Saint Teresa of Avila, the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart are an active religious community. The five Carmelites in Cochabamba have opened up an educational centre for children, young people and women, where among other things they offer literacy courses and teach the women basic skills with which they can earn a living and support themselves and their families. They also prepare the children for their First Holy Communion, accompany the children, young people and adults on their path of faith, organise retreat days and – in an area where there are very few priests and the parishes very large – they play a vital role in spreading the Catholic faith. They also support and counsel women who are victims of domestic violence.

The sisters have turned to ACN for support for their life and ministry, since by themselves they cannot make ends meet. They also have to find money for transport, medical provision and so forth, as well as for their own general upkeep. We have promised them 2,170 Euros.

United in their concern to “avoid still greater suffering and pain for the people” and in their hope for a change in the course of the political and democratic situation that Venezuela is currently going through, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference have launched a joint communiqué, together with the Conference of Male and Female Religious and the National Council of the Laity in Venezuela, published on Monday 4 February in Caracas.

The statement expresses the “determination and hope” with which the signatories urge the search “for a political transformation via a process of transparent and peaceful transition that will lead to free and legitimate elections and the resumption of a democratic course, the restoration of the rule of law, the rebuilding of the social fabric, the revival of economic production, the restoration of the morale of the country and the coming together of all the Venezuelan people.” They speak of the difficult situation that is currently being written in the annals of Venezuelan history and one that both the Venezuelan people and clergy and also the international community are witnessing with great hope, and yet at the same time with great concern.

The Venezuelan bishops during ad limina visit to Rome: Group photo of the bishops with the venezulean flag at St. Peters Basilica in Rome.

The Venezuelan bishops during ad limina visit to Rome: Group photo of the bishops with the venezulean flag at St. Peters Basilica in Rome.

In their communiqué, the presidents of the three bodies which most fully represent the Catholic Church of the country denounce “the growing, politically motivated repression, the violation of human rights and the selective and arbitrary detentions” of individuals and they insist that this path of democratic change be allowed to unfold peacefully and with the National Constitution in hand.

They express their appreciation of the work of the activists who are defending and promoting human rights at a time of crisis and despite the risks, and they urge them to continue in their concern for “the victims who are suffering injustices”. They state: “We call for personal and legal respect and security for those who are exercising this worthy service in Venezuela.” In this way they remind people that the Catholic Church is committed to helping those most in need, “acting in accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and humanity” and at the same time they request “the necessary permissions to have access to humanitarian aid as a means of mitigating the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable of the people. Caritas Venezuela and the various other social support institutions of the Church which have a wider outreach throughout the national territory commit themselves to continuing the service we have been providing, with equity, inclusivity, transparency and effectiveness.”

The communiqué ends with a call for prayer in “every church, every home and every community, calling on the Lord to grant us peace, reconciliation, liberty and health of body and spirit.”

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. "Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right".

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. “Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right”.

An unprecedented situation

The current political situation in Venezuela is the result of the presidential elections held in May 2018 which, according to the official government version, were won by the incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, but which were widely qualified as “illegitimate” by the majority of countries in the international community, including other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia, as well as by Canada, Spain and the United States on account of the numerous irregularities in the way in which they were held. Hence, given the illegitimate nature of the elections, President Maduro would thereby cease to be the legitimate president as from the conclusion of his previous mandate, on 10 January, and therefore no longer be recognised as President of the Republic. Instead, and in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, the acting president of Venezuela would be the president of the National Assembly of the country, who in this case is Juan Gerardo Guaidó. And so, on 11 January 2019, Guaidó announced that he would be invoking article 233 of the Constitution and calling new national elections, and on 23 January he was sworn in as acting president of Venezuela.

ACN is funding two aid projects for the local Catholic community as they return to a scene of utter devastation

The number of people who have died as a result of the terrorist attacks of 15 November last year on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the diocese of Alindao and on the refugee camp right next to it, continues to grow, and has now reached over 80, according to information given to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). What is the reason behind this sudden upsurge in violence against Christians in the south of the Central African Republic? In the report below the local Church analyses the situation and explains the consequences of these terrible events.

“The people, who almost all fled into the forest, are now returning, hoping to be able to find a few grains of rice that they can eat and foraging among the ashes for any beans that have been only partially burnt”, says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao, describing the dramatic scenes in his town. The number of those who have died since the attack has now increased to over 80, including two priests and two Protestant pastors, according to hospital sources.

A local Church source reports that the refugee camp, which once sheltered over 26,000 people and was supervised by the priests of the diocese, has now been totally destroyed. “The old people and the handicapped were simply burned alive, if they were not already shot dead or beheaded”, Bishop Yapaupa added. “In their panic, many parents were forced to leave one or other of their children behind in order to save the others. The attackers simply fired indiscriminately on the people.” Quite apart from the loss of human life, “the fire tore through the reception centre and several of the Church buildings. The cathedral lost its roof. The terrorists stole cars, motorcycles, solar panels, food from the storeroom, money and fuel…”

The cathedral of Alindao after the massacre.

The cathedral of Alindao after the massacre.

A country torn apart

At the present time there are over 14 different armed groups scattered across the Central African Republic. The president of the country, Faustin Touadéra, does not have the resources to control the activities of these groups, the remnants of the civil war initiated in 2013, and which dissolved into clashes between the Seleka rebels – an almost entirely Muslim coalition – and the so-called “anti-balaka”, initially a self defence militia (a contraction of the phrase “anti-balas AK-47”, or “anti-bullets AK-47”) which ultimately degenerated into gangs of animist or nominally ‘Christian’ youths.

The authors of this particular terrorist attack were a Muslim militia, an offshoot of the Seleka, ironically named “Unity and Peace in Central Africa” (UPC). So why have the tensions suddenly increased just here in Alindao?

Alindao, “a cow to be milked”

According to the UPC, this was a legitimate act of defence because the Anti-balaka in Alindao had killed two Muslims on 14 and 15 November. However, our source informed us that it was rather the desire to compensate for a lack of means on the part of the UPC, which saw Alindao as “a flourishing commercial centre, and a cow to be milked”. After being expelled from Bambari in October, the UPC was forced to abandon its local commercial support base and the gold and diamond mines it controlled. “The weekly collections extorted from local traders in order to feed their troops” had led to big protests, and so they had had to go in search of another source of income, “Alindao and its war booty.”

The Church as a target

“Organised and structured as she is, the Catholic Church plays a fundamental role in responding to the local humanitarian crisis”, this African bishop explains. The Church maintains relations with the humanitarian agencies, with the president and the UN mission MINUSCA. At the same time, however, she is an “object of covetousness” and an institution that the men of war would like to bring down. Was this the reason for the inaction of the Mauritanian UN forces during the terrorist attack on Alindao, who “in this way smoothed the path for the attackers by not fulfilling their mission of protecting the refugee population”? Our source also provided a further piece of information, explaining that “two days before the tragedy, the leader of the UPC was received by the Mauritanian contingent.” The diocese sees this meeting as having been possibly one of “consensual planning”, or outright collusion. The leaders of the three main faith communities in the Central African Republic – Cardinal Nzapalainga, Pastor Guerekoyame Gbangou and Iman Omar Kobine Layama – have called for an investigation by the international community.

 

Bischof Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa von der Diözese Alindao in der Zentralafrikanischen Republik.

Bischof Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa von der Diözese Alindao in der Zentralafrikanischen Republik.

“We have lost everything, except our faith.”

“We have lost everything, except our faith”, Bishop Yapaupa concludes. “We can still look into the eyes of our enemy and offer him our sincere pardon, without giving way to a spirit of vengeance or fear.” ACN is proposing an emergency aid for the diocese of 45,000 US dollars, to help rebuild the community, and also Mass stipends to help the local clergy in this situation of total desolation.

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