Catholics make up only a tiny minority of a little over 1% of the total population of Pakistan, which overall is over 96% Muslim. Generally speaking, Christians belong to the lowest levels of society and by most Pakistanis are not even viewed as full and equal citizens. They face abuse, discrimination and even persecution, not infrequently even including violent attacks.
Yet despite these difficulties, the Catholic Church in the country is very much alive and active, striving with all the means at its disposal to accompany and support the Catholic faithful and strengthen them in their faith.
Support for the marriage and family apostolate of the Catholic Church in Pakistan
One important element of this support is the help for married couples and families. For in Pakistan, just as elsewhere in the world, Christian marriage and the family rooted in Christian values face all kind of difficulties and challenges. And so the Church in Pakistan has devised a range of programmes to support and accompany young couples preparing for marriage and families with children. The National Committee for Family and Life is responsible for training individuals to work in the dioceses, preparing young couples for the sacrament of matrimony and family life. It also has a range of programmes which not only deal with the spiritual dimension of marriage but also help with practical problems of the kind that face most married couples and families. Questions such as: What does the sacrament of matrimony actually mean? What is the „Theology of the Body“ spoken of by Pope Saint John Paul II? How can a Christian family life be built upon the Sacraments? These are just some of the issues tackled by the programme. At the same time, issues such as natural family planning, conflict resolution, encouraging married couples to talk together and discuss their issues, education in responsible sexuality for young people, focusing on fidelity, love and mutual responsibility are also covered, along with many other topics.
Bishop Samson Shukardin, who is chairman of the National Committee for Family and Life has already run programmes of this kind for marriage and family life successfully in his own diocese of Hyderabad. And he rightly insists, „The welfare of families is decisive for the future of the world and the Church.“ We are helping with a contribution of 7,500 Euros.
Guamà is a municipality in the southern Cuban province of Santiago de Cuba, and Guamà II is a suburb within the municipality. For some 18 years now a team of lay missionaries have been travelling, Sunday after Sunday, into the remote villages of this Guamà II pastoral district to bring the Gospel message of Christ to the people. Sitting in the back of a borrowed truck, they travel for hours on end in all weathers, sometimes up to 150 km (95 miles) on bumpy and dangerous coastal roads, overhung by rocky outcrops. There is no question of comfort, and they even bring their own food and bedding, since the people they are visiting are extremely poor.
Success Story: help for a popular mission in Guamà II, in southern Cuba
This selfless commitment by these lay missionaries is a response to the acute shortage of priests in the region. Fundamentalist sects are spreading further and further and trying to woo away the Catholics from their faith. If the Church cannot be visibly present, it is often too late. And yet the people are very open to religious faith. Sister María Asunción Domínguez Castañeda, who belongs to the congregation on the Catechetical Sisters of Dolores Sopeña, and who runs the programme, writes: „The people are thirsting for God, and this is our way of coming to them as Church. Many people who have had never had any contact with the Church are now asking to receive the sacraments.“ A priest also accompanies these lay missionaries as often as possible, administering the sacraments to those who seek them.
The sisters‘ work includes training these lay missionaries in one-week intensive courses and additional monthly courses. Once they have completed their training, the missionaries act as community leaders, conducting Liturgies of the Word, helping distribute Holy Communion and giving catechetical instruction. They include people of all ages, and even several young people. „The Catholic faithful in the communities really appreciate the involvement of these young people“, Sister Maria Asunciòn remarks. „I believe that what we are able to do at this time for Cuba is really worth the effort“, she adds. ACN has provided 12,000 Euros for the support of this programme. Our heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed!
In 2017 Catholics around the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal. On six occasions, between 13 May and 13 October 1917, the Mother of God appeared to three shepherd children and gave them a message for the whole world. She told them that prayer – especially the Rosary – penance and interior conversion were the means to avert war and disaster from the world, and that men must stop offending God by their sins. On 13 October 1917 a crowd of around 70,000 people were witnesses to a solar miracle in which the sun above them began to spin rapidly and then plunge in a zigzag fashion towards the Earth, before rising back to its place again. The Fatima apparitions have been recognised by the Church, and several of the Popes have since visited the shrine in Fatima.
Many Catholic faithful, on every continent, have responded to Our Lady‘s appeal, consecrating themselves to her Immaculate Heart, praying the Rosary and striving to love God better. They include many people in Africa. For example, in the diocese of Ifakara in Tanzania, which has only been in existence for five years, there is already a lively Fatima apostolate, led by Sister Euphrasia. Their aim is to spread the message of Fatima among the families in all 23 parishes of the diocese, encouraging the Rosary and encouraging people to avail themselves of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, and the same time encouraging a spirit of active neighbourly charity in order to live this faith in practical deeds as well.
However, most of the parishes in the diocese are in rural areas and include numerous outlying villages. And at the same time, until recently, they were short of the necessary materials, notably rosaries and booklets. But now, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we have been able to give 1,700 Euros for 30 bicycles, thereby enabling the catechists to visit the many villages more easily, plus another 1,500 Euros for the rosaries and other items required. Thanks to this help, the Fatima apostolate in the diocese has been given new impetus and been able to extend still further.
Sister Euphrasia has written to thank us: „Dear brothers and sisters, we want to thank you for your great support, which has enabled our apostolate to be very active. We have organised a seminar for the community leaders from the various different parishes. And after that, in the presence of our bishop and the priests, we distributed the various devotional items. We are praying for you! May our Blessed Lady continue to intercede for us all!“
More and more Christians are leaving the Middle East. This Exodus is affecting not only Syria and Iraq, but also Lebanon. In the quite recent past this country was the only country of the Middle East with a Christian majority in the population, but now Christians are an ever shrinking minority. Already back in the civil war, from 1975 to 1990, some 700,000 Christians left the country, and the exodus continues today. Christians now represent just 34% of the total population, and indeed among young people under 25, only a quarter.
The mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East is frequently described as a „tsunami“. In August 2015 Patriarch Gregorios III, who was then still head of the Melkite Catholic Church, wrote an open letter to young people in which he said, „The general wave of emigration among young people, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq, breaks my heart, wounds me deeply and feels like a death blow to me. What future can the Church have in the face of such a tsunami of emigration? What will become of our homeland? What will happen to our parishes and Church facilities?“
In response to this crisis, in the 40 parishes belonging to the archdiocese of Zaleh, the Melkite Catholic Church is pursuing an intensive youth apostolate. For it is clear that the more firmly young people are rooted in their faith and in the life of the Church, the less likely they are to abandon their homeland. Weekly meetings and larger monthly events are helping these young people to grow in their faith, and every young person joining the groups is given a copy of the Holy Scriptures by the priests in charge. We have promised 25,000 Euros to cover the cost of an additional 5,000 Bibles.
For the past 30 years this little red book has conquered the world. The ACN „Child‘s Bible“, God speaks to his children has now been published in almost 51 million copies and around 190 different world languages. Father Werenfried, the founder of ACN, well understood that „Children need something like a Child‘s Bible, so that the image of Christ can become a living one in their hearts. And they will also be gripped by the Old Testament stories of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David. Yet for so many children in the Third World the Bible is something they can only dream of, for they are so poor that they cannot afford a book.“ And so he decided to make a gift of a Child‘s Bible to children throughout the world.
Even today, for some of the less widely spoken languages, the ACN Child‘s Bible is still the only printed book available.
Now the Jesuit Fathers working in the diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas in southern Mexico have translated this little book into the indigenous Tseltal language, which is spoken by around half a million people in this region. For most of them Spanish is their first foreign language – if they can even speak it at all, that is.
Thanks to our generous benefactors, we have been able to give 18,000 Euros to enable 30,000 Child‘s Bibles to be printed in the Tseltal language. So thanks to your help, the children in this region can now get to know the Word of God in their own mother tongue. This is an incalculable treasure for them. Many, many thanks to all who have helped!
“And the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). This truth is directly experienced by the young people visited by Father Gregorio, in prison – the inner freedom of the children of God.
For a year now Father Gregorio has been regularly visiting the youth prison in the diocese of Carupano in eastern Venezuela. “He was like an angel from heaven” says Alejandro. The 15-year-old is behind bars for aggravated theft. “It has completely changed us”, he says. The “it” is the word of God, which tells of the Lord’s love. Father Gregorio has brought it with him in the form of the Bible and YOUCAT, the youth catechism sponsored by ACN. His bishop requested these books from ACN for Father Gregorio. And many other dioceses are waiting for this kind of help.
“Father gave me this Bible and the catechism”, Alejandro recalls. “Before that I knew a few stories, but didn’t really want to know.” He takes a deep breath and looks at us with eyes full of hope. “Thanks to these visits, I have now made my first Holy Communion, and in a few days I will be confirmed.” Alejandro is one of 30 young inmates aged between 15 and 19. Before Father Gregorio, some of the Protestant sects came, but they only “preached and understood nothing”, their female warder tells us. “The sects could not supply the longing of these young people for understanding and love”, she adds. “And not being understood, they became still more aggressive.” But Father Gregorio speaks to them from the heart, she explains. “He brings them the love that they have never experienced in their lives.”
A new life, with YOUCAT in Venezuela
All the boys are from broken families. “At first I simply listened to them”, Father Gregorio tells us. “They were lonely, inwardly abandoned, but longing for meaning in their lives, for love, for friendship with God. So then they were able to read in the YOUCAT, and little by little we talked about it.” Alejandro confirms this: “We see life differently now. The words of Father Gregorio, the Bible and the YOUCAT, it all made us think a great deal. We’re going to live differently now.” His cellmate, who is also going to be confirmed soon, adds, “All this has shown us the way of truth, the way to goodness, to God. I’m so happy that Father Gregorio has shown us this path.” It is this joy in the truth that now liberates these lads and fills their hearts.
For Antonio José, the visits of the priest were a totally new experience. “I was only just baptised a few days ago, here behind bars. I didn’t know the Bible and knew nothing about Christ. Now it’s like I’m born anew; the past seems so far away. Father is helping me to look forward. I want to live with God.” Nor have these young inmates forgotten you, our benefactors. “We know where these good books have come from, which tell us about Christ and help us to overcome our bad habits and inclinations. We are very grateful to the people of ACN. Through the YOUCAT we feel we are united with them; it’s as though they themselves had come to visit us. Thank you.”