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.

The „Fédération Africaine d’Action Familiale“ (FAAF, or African Family Life Federation) is an initiative for the support of healthy families and the protection of life and involves doctors of various disciplines, theologians, priests, religious and lay pastoral workers. Its aim is to support families and help them to tackle their problems, offering Africa-friendly, family-friendly and pro-life solutions, as opposed to the alien Western-style solutions which many Africans have by now seen through as a „culture of death“. Instead, they seek to promote a „culture of life“ of the kind so frequently referred to by the late Pope Saint John Paul II.

Trainer Marie Louise TCHIKO from Togo.

Trainer Marie Louise TCHIKO from Togo.

In Togo, in West Africa, the programmes of the FAAF have been established since 2005. In the diocese of Aneho in the southeast of the country there are five people who have been involved up to now, for example in giving introductory talks and sessions in the parishes, so as to encourage more people to become aware of issues surrounding marriage and the family and train them to be able to accompany families and married couples. The meetings address such questions as, „What is God‘s plan for marriage?“ and „What does it mean to be a mother or a father?“ Couples are encouraged to talk together and grow in mutual love and respect. Another important aspect is natural family planning, which observes and respects the natural, God-given fertility cycle of the woman. Husbands also learn in this way to respect their wives and respect their bodies. The goal is an education in love, which emphasises the beauty and value of human sexuality and the human body and the importance of fidelity and responsibility and openness to life. It is the best way to counter such evils as abortion and the spread of AIDS. At the same time, the programme aims to help and accompany families and married couples in conflict and crisis situations.

In Togo, in West Africa, the programmes of the FAAF have been established since 2005.

In Togo, in West Africa, the programmes of the FAAF have been established since 2005.

There is a great demand for these talks and for personal counselling, and they are hoping to be able to train up 10 more female counsellors. Printed information materials are also needed. ACN has promised 11,700 Euros in support of this laudable initiative.

Code: 156-07-49

The youth apostolate is a major priority of the Archdiocese of Addis Abeba, for the challenges facing young people in Ethiopia are immense. Many of these young people face a future of poverty and unemployment and can only dream of fleeing the countryside for the capital, or even leaving the country altogether and emigrating to Europe. Most do not realise beforehand the dangers, both physical and spiritual, that can result from such a decision. At the same time they too are bombarded by all the influences of the modern world, with its many false values, since today the modern media are able to penetrate into even the remotest villages. As a result, many young people lose their way and with it a healthy perspective on life and family.

 Two young of Addis participating in the Awassa Youth Camps, July 2011.

Two young of Addis participating in the Awassa Youth Camps, July 2011.

To counter this, the Catholic Church is running programmes for young people in all 15 parishes of the archdiocese, which aim to train up young people as group leaders who can then work with other young people in their own locality. For most of the parishes are very large in area and, given the sense of isolation, it is important to be able to provide as many regular activities as possible. For it is above all in the more remote and underdeveloped regions, outside of the capital, that young people have few opportunities to grow and develop. Moreover, as experience in other countries and other areas has shown, young people who are closely involved in the life of the local Church are far less likely than others to try to leave their homeland and consequently much more willing to work for a better future in their own country.

One of the most important themes addressed is the issue of marriage preparation and the whole area of an integral and responsible sexual education. The programmes include Bible studies, musical events and choral singing workshops. There is also plenty of space for the young people to meet and have fun together with sporting activities and games. The programme also includes the chance to join in three retreat days each year, during which those involved can focus more closely on their relationship with God. Invitations are also extended especially to those young people who have not previously been actively involved in parish life.

ACN fully supports these initiatives and so we are proposing to help with a contribution of 10,000 Euros.

Code: 118-08-49

In principio erat Verbum – in the beginning was the Word; at the origin of everything is the creative reason of God”, said Pope Benedict XVI. Faith and reason are necessary for each other. “Without reason, faith degenerates; without faith, reason threatens to become stunted.”

Using our reason is essential for us as Christians, so that we can better understand our Faith. For Christians in Islamic countries, and especially in Syria, it is also needed for survival. Only well-educated Christians can defend themselves to their Islamic neighbours and flourish and thrive in this environment. A good education is also necessary for young Christians to have any chance in the job market. And only young Christians who are enrolled at university can avoid conscription in the army. Education is the key to peaceful coexistence among those of conflicting beliefs. That is one reason why Christians in the Middle East have always attached great importance to their children receiving a good education. It is also why their children’s schooling and university studies are so important to them.

Education is the key to peaceful coexistence among those of conflicting beliefs

Education is the key to peaceful coexistence among those of conflicting beliefs

For Christians who are now returning to Aleppo, or who have never left the city, issues such as how they will pay for their children’s studies are never far from their minds. Working with ten local Christian Churches ACN has drawn up a programme to support students. Under this scheme some 7,340 young people will receive €20 per month for the duration of the academic year (eight months) – to help with transport, food and other essentials. The Church also organises spiritual events for students, to support their souls in addition to supporting their studies. The students’ prayers, along with their studies, can help to build a peaceful future in Syria. Would you consider supporting one student for one year in Aleppo?

On different occasions Pope Francis expressed the wish that young people should pray for peace in the world. In order to respond to this request, ACN has offered to send rosaries as a gift to the young people gathering at the World Youth Day in Panama in January 2019.

Responsibility for supplying these rosaries has been entrusted to Caritas Jerusalem. In this way this charity has been able to provide work to many needy families, young unemployed, prisoners and refugees over many months in Bethlehem and its surrounding area. The rosaries, which can also be worn as an armband, have been produced at a cost of one US dollar apiece.

Bethlehem is a sort of microcosm of the situation of Christians in the region – their presence and survival is now at stake in the very place where Christ was born. “So that these rosaries can be a genuine instrument of peace, they have been made in the Holy Land, of local olive wood, and by the people of this very region, which is marked by such violent tensions and yet is at the same time a bearer of hope and peace. You could buy these rosaries cheaply in China – but if we made them in Bethlehem it is a sign of active solidarity with the people of the Holy Land”, says the initiator of the project, Emeritus Bishop Peter Bürcher of Reykjavik.

Msgr. José Domingo Ulloa (Archbishop of Panama Ciudad) meet olive wood workers in Jerusalem. They produce the rosaries, which Pope Francis will distribute to the pilgrims on the World Youthday in Panama 2019.

Msgr. José Domingo Ulloa (Archbishop of Panama Ciudad) meet olive wood workers in Jerusalem. They produce the rosaries, which Pope Francis will distribute to the pilgrims on the World Youthday in Panama 2019.

Archbishop Ulloa Mendieta of Panama underlines this ideas as well in a letter sent to the pontifical foundation ACN, one of the sponsors of the project: “On the one hand, it will encourage prayer and on the other, thanks to this initiative, it will sponsor an aid project that contributes to the support of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land”.

For months now the Christians of Bethlehem have been working to produce 1 million rosaries. For each of the 200 families involved in Bethlehem the project will yield enough to support them for a full year. And they too will be contributing by their work; they will be personally involved. Though trapped in the shadow of the warfare in the Middle East, they are not forgotten. And what is equally important to them is the fact that hundreds of thousands of young people will be praying for peace and thereby fulfilling a personal wish of the Pope.

Olive Woord Rosary with a photo of Pope Francis. He will distribute to the pilgrims on the World Youthday in Panama 2019.

Olive Woord Rosary with a photo of Pope Francis. He will distribute to the pilgrims on the World Youthday in Panama 2019.

It is expected that there will be at least half a million young people in Panama. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on us to pray this prayer, saying that with the Rosary nothing is impossible, since “the Rosary is the summary of the history of God’s mercy”. This is also very in the line of the theme of the World Youth Day: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Bethlehem remains a city of hope. And we are entrusting this hope, along with the rosaries, into the hands of the young people in Panama.

The Pontifical Foundation ACN supports the World Youth Day in Panama with several projects. The charity is also one of the sponsors of the rosaries included in the pilgrim’s kit, a project that it has helped with 100,000.- €.

 

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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.