Paraguay faces many major challenges. The gulf between rich and poor is growing ever greater, and many people, above all in the rural regions, can see little future for themselves and are migrating to the major cities, where more often than not the hoped-for improvement in their living conditions turns out to be little more than a dream. Not infrequently in fact, the country people are even evicted from their land by large landowners wanting to extend their holdings. The Catholic Church is for many people the only credible institution in a country racked with all kinds of economic and political problems.
Traditionally, the Catholic faith is deeply rooted among the majority of the people, with over 90% of its 5 million or so inhabitants professing the Catholic faith and – in contrast to its larger neighbour Brazil and a number of other Latin American countries – they are much less inclined to be drawn away by the sects. The Church in the country is poor, however, and goodwill on its own is not enough. Resources are needed in order to be able to pursue the pastoral and evangelising mission of the Church, and as a result the Church is very much dependent on outside support.
Paraguay: Mass stipends for 20 Franciscan priests.
The Franciscans have been present in Paraguay for 67 years now. Today they number 47 brothers, of whom 20 are priests. They are working in eight parishes and four schools and also run four centres for street children in which they care for around 500 young boys and girls who are otherwise homeless or abandoned by their parents.
The Franciscan provincial, Father Miguel Angel Cáceres has written to ACN. „We rejoice in our pastoral work, which the good God has always abundantly blessed“, he writes. „We want to continue this work, but the harvest is great and the workers are few.“ He is particularly grateful for the Mass stipends our generous benefactors have provided, to a total value of 8040 Euros, by means of which we have been able to help the work of his 20 Franciscan priests in Paraguay. These Mass stipends are not only for the benefit of the priests themselves, but are also used to support the training of the upcoming younger vocations. We pass on to you his heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed!
“The fundamental question of our priestly life is this: Where is my heart directed? It is a question we need to keep asking, daily, weekly. Where is my heart directed?” Pope Francis.
This question lies at the heart of every vocation. It was what Jaroslav, now at the seminary of Vorzel in Kiev, Ukraine, first asked himself when, more from curiosity than devotion, he began to prepare for his first Holy Communion. Before then he had found “everything boring: going to church; the sermon by a man I didn’t know; praying to a God I couldn’t see…” Now he recalls, “It was curiosity that opened my heart. I asked myself, How can it be that people devote their entire lives to God? That was the way God chose to knock on the door of my heart. And then came the moment when I said ‘Amen’ – an Amen from the depths of my heart. It was the beginning of my vocation, the beginning of a journey of discovery with God throughout my life.” Now he is at the Sacred Heart Seminary, preparing – with 23 others – for a life following the Lord. Pavlo is another of the seminarians who felt the same questions burning within him: “Where is my heart leading? Which road does it long to follow?” He was on retreat when he realised: “The priesthood is the path for me.” But there was still a slight sense of uneasiness. It was only when he entered the seminary chapel, where the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was taking place and they were chanting the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
A journey of discovery with God.
“I was overcome by a feeling of profound peace and I knew: this is my heart’s true home.” However, Pavlo, Jaroslav and the others need our help to continue their journey to the priesthood. We have promised the seminary €600 for each of these 24 seminarians for the year ahead. It costs less to train the 23 seminarians who belong to Bongaigaon Diocese, in northeast India. This young diocese is growing fast. First founded, just 19 years ago, with 14 parishes, it now has 34, along with numerous outstations. Priests are in short supply.
Vocations are plentiful, but their training is still costly for this poor diocese – and yet the diocese will not compromise over the quality of their formation. Bongaigaon is classic mission territory. Many people in the villages and tribal groups are hearing the Good News of God’s love for the first time. The seminarians also visit the people, and then share their experiences with one another back in the seminary. They need our help, and we have gladly promised them €9,200 for the current academic year. In Pakistan, in the diocese of Multan, similar experiences of community are vital. Confident of your generosity, we immediately said yes to Bishop Benny Travas when he asked for help (€7,500) to hold weeklong retreats and days of recollection for his 33 seminarians. These are essential for Christians living in such a hostile environment, so they can reflect on their future priestly journey – and find rest for their hearts in God.
The Catholic Shalom Community was founded in 1982 in Brazil. Its members include young people, families, married couples and priests, who live in so-called „life communities“ and are dedicated to the work of evangelization and Christian instruction, above all among young people. Central to the life of the community and its 3,000 or so members in 20 different countries is the daily celebration of Holy Mass, together with personal prayer, meditation on the Sacred Scriptures and the radical decision to follow Jesus Christ.
Last year ACN gave Mass stipends for a total value of 9,200 Euros for the 19 priests of the community living in Brazil. The Mass stipends are individual offerings by our benefactors, in the form of money or other small gifts, in return for which the priest agrees to celebrate Holy Mass for the benefactor‘s intentions. There is no suggestion here of „paying“ for the Holy Mass, but rather of a fraternal Christian gesture of gratitude and support for our priests, who do not shrink from difficulties or sacrifice in proclaiming Christ and offering Him in the Eucharist for our sakes.
Brazil: Mass stipends for 19 priests of the Shalom Community.
One of these 19 priests is 46-year-old Father Jairo Barbosa Leite. He has been a member of the Shalom community for 25 years. However, in October 2015, while inspecting the renovation work being done on his parish church, he fell nearly 20 feet and has been paralysed ever since. Yet he refuses to speak of the accident as a „disaster“ or a „blow of fate“, but declares instead, „Naturally it was a shock, when I realised that I would be permanently paralysed from now on. Then I understood that this was no burden, but rather a grace. Many people think that you can only be happy if everything is going well. But I am happy, and I feel I have been given a special grace – precisely because I now find myself totally dependent on others. And I can even reach out to people who are far from faith, for they inevitably ask themselves how it is that I can still be happy. But I see it as God‘s Providence. Even while sitting paralysed in a wheelchair, I can recognise what value my service still has, through my life of prayer, the night vigils, the celebration of the Eucharist, hearing Confessions and the educational courses I am still able to offer. I am happy to know that God can use my priesthood in this way. How good it is, despite my weaknesses, to be able to entrust my sins to God and witness to his intervention!“
On behalf of all his fellow priests, Father Jairo thanks us for the Mass stipends offered by our benefactors. „I want to thank all the benefactors of your charity and to assure them that their donations are helping to save souls, through the Church and the men of the Church whose ministry continues throughout the world.“
Although Latin America as a whole is described as a „Catholic continent“, in fact Uruguay, the second smallest country in Latin America, actually has a long secular history behind it. In the 19th century all public expression of religion was banned, banished to the private sphere, and the secularist government of the day engaged in numerous deliberate provocations against the Catholic Church. For example, on Good Friday of all days – for Catholics a day of strict fasting and abstinence – the government would deliberately offer free barbecues for all the population.
Ever since 1917 there has been a strict separation of Church and State, formally enshrined in the Constitution. No religious festivals are acknowledged in the public calendar. So it is not surprising that not even half the population of 3.3 million people declare themselves Catholics today.
Uruguay: not even half the population of 3.3 million people declare themselves Catholics today.
As a result, the Church struggles to maintain itself without outside support. The statutory requirements imposed by the state for the maintenance of Church properties are extremely high. Meanwhile, most priests live on the bare minimum. Consequently, your Mass stipends are of enormous help to them.
The diocese of Tacuarembo lies in the northern-central part of the country and covers an area of around 24,000 km². It has 20 priests, who minister to around 100,000 Catholic faithful in 16 far-flung parishes with a total of 85 churches and chapels and a number of different charitable institutions as well. The area is sparsely inhabited and the faithful live widely dispersed.
Uruguay: Mass stipends for 20 priests in Tacuarembo.
We are therefore planning to help these 20 priests with Mass stipends, to a total value of 11,980 Euros. This works out at just 600 Euros per priest for an entire year. These priests will celebrate these Holy Masses for the intentions of those benefactors who have given them.
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.
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.
“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.
Few people have summarised the importance of the priesthood more trenchantly than Saint Jean Marie Vianney, the famous Curé of Ars: „Without the sacrament of ordination, we would not have the Lord. Who placed him in the Tabernacle? The priest! Who welcomed your soul at its first entry into life? The priest! Who nourishes it in order to give it the strength to complete its pilgrimage? The priest! Who will prepare it to appear before God by washing it for the last time in the blood of Christ? The priest; always the priest.“
There are over 400,000 priests in the world in whose hands the bread and wine of the Eucharist are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Many of them are now old and sick and barely have strength in their hands to elevate the Chalice. Nonetheless, they continue to faithfully and tirelessly celebrate the Sacrifice of Christ. Among them are 18 frail and elderly priests now living in a retirement home for priests in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
The Catholic Church in Uruguay has considerably less influence in society than it does in other countries of Latin America. Only a little over half the population claim to be Catholic and religion has been largely banished to the private sphere. Uruguay, the second smallest country in Latin America, has a long history of secularism, a process that began already in the middle of the 19th century. In 1859 the Jesuits were banished from the country and 12 years later all the cemeteries were seized by the state. Anticlerical, liberal elements engaged in constant provocations, for example deliberately providing free barbecue grills on Good Friday of all days, and inviting all the population to them. Finally, in 1917 the strict separation of State and Church was enshrined in the Constitution. Officially, there are no Christian feasts in Uruguay. Consequently, instead of Christmas, the official calendar has a „Day of the Family“ and Holy Week is a „Week of Tourism“. And needless to say, many aspects of the law are likewise in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching.
Many Catholic priests in Uruguay live on the edge of poverty, especially those who are elderly and sick. The 18 elderly priests in the priests‘ retirement home in Montevideo have spent their lives faithfully serving God and the Church. Now that they have come to the evening of their lives, they deserve to receive loving care and gratitude for their service. We therefore propose to help them with Mass stipends. They will celebrate Holy Mass for the intentions of our benefactors, and with the Mass offerings you give will be able to contribute something towards the Church-run retirement home where they now live, and at the same time provide for their own simple personal needs, such as medication, etc. We are giving a total of 14,580 Euros, so that each of these elderly priests will receive 67.50 Euros a month as an expression of our love and gratitude for their lifetime service.