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.

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.

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.

Code: 238-01-masses

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.

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.

Ever since 1948 an on-off conflict has been dragging on in the state of Balochistan between the Pakistani government and rebel groups fighting for autonomy of the province, which lies in the southwest of the country. Baloch rebels are demanding an independent Balochistan, and are supported in this by the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. Ordinary people are living in constant fear, and in some areas every building has a separate rear exit as a means of escape.

The largest province in Pakistan, with an area of around 136,000 square miles (347,188 km²), Balochistan is almost the size of Germany and covers almost half of Pakistan‘s entire territory. At the same time, however, Balochistan is the most sparsely populated province in the country, with just 8 million people. Some 30,000 of these are Catholics, half of whom live in the provincial capital Quetta, while the rest are thinly scattered across the entire region.

 

Mass stipends for priests in Quetta

Pakistan/Quetta

 

In Quetta itself there are numerous checkpoints, and in many areas of the city you can only travel with a special permit, which has to be requested several days in advance. Even the bishop cannot travel everywhere freely and is subject to constant police checks. His cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, is situated in the same area as an army barracks, which means that a special permit is required to enter it. As a result, many of the Catholic faithful cannot even get there for Holy Mass. Even Bishop Victor Gnanapragasam himself requires a special permit in order to gain access to his own cathedral and has to ring up the authorities in advance every time and request permission. And he is again and again stopped and searched by the security forces at the checkpoints.

For the priests, none of whom belong to the Baloch ethnic group, the situation is getting more and more difficult. Previously they could travel anywhere, but today the area within which they can move freely is becoming ever smaller. On account of the fighting between the rebels and the government, many places are completely off-limits. „As soon as the fighting stops, we endeavour to visit our Catholic faithful“, says the bishop. „In doing so, however, we risk being killed by landmines and rocket propelled grenades. It saddens us greatly that we cannot visit the people more frequently.“ But part of the reason why the priests cannot regularly visit many places is also down to the vast distances. The fact that many of the Catholic faithful live scattered right across the vast area of the province in very small communities is a major headache for them. In one town maybe three families, in another just one, in another perhaps four. Hence it is extremely hard to establish any kind of regular Church life here. Some Christian communities live as much as 800 or even 1000 km from Quetta, which of course means that every journey is very expensive too.

Consequently, the Mass offerings you give us are a huge help for the bishop and his five priests in Quetta. We were able to send them Mass stipends to a total value of 10,100 Euros. All these Mass will be celebrated for the intentions of our kind benefactors, while the offerings you have made will help them carry out their priestly ministry in these difficult and dangerous circumstances.

They have dedicated their lives to God and to their fellow men, following a path of great renunciation. They are seven priests who, many decades ago, left behind their own home territory in the South of India to work as missionaries in the North of the country. A thousand miles and more from home, both in geographical terms and in terms of their faith, these priests may not have changed their country, but they did have to learn a new language and new customs in this vast and immensely richly varied subcontinent that is India. And now they are living in a small home for retired priests. But if their bodies have suffered the ravages of time, their spirits have not. They continue to burn with the desire to incarnate the very essence of their vocation by serving God in their fellow men, right up to the hour of their death.
“My mission has been and still is to suffer with Christ”, says Father Joseph Mattathilani, summing up a life marked by grave illnesses, including a brain tumour. “I was left paralysed for months, and at one point they gave me just three days to live”, he explains. Yet he radiates peace and serenity, despite his fragile health. “My mother died when I was a child. Our Lady was the one to take care of me and bring me to the priesthood. I wanted to give my life for other people. The miracle was to get so much love back from other people.”
In a similar way, speaking with some difficulty, Father George Theruvan recalls other sufferings. Now aged 87, he vividly recalls one of the attacks on their mission, when guerrillas put a pistol to his temple and he thought his last moment had come. “I began to pray and I offered my life to God, asking to be able to embrace this moment in peace. Those were two terrible hours. But then, after destroying everything, they left again. Not everyone welcomed us with open arms; many times we had to start over again. But all of us can truly say that it was worth the trouble and that we have been treated with great affection and gratitude by the ordinary people.”
“We travelled from one place to another, spending a night in each village, where we explained the Gospel and celebrated the sacraments”, recalls Father Sebastian Puthenpura. He also tells us about the beginnings of his missionary work. This priest, who has just celebrated his 85th birthday, quickly discovered “that our work would have been in vain if we had not educated the women. The Church cannot progress without those who will be the future pillars of their society, namely the mothers”, he insists. At that time it was not easy to convince the fathers to send their daughters to school, nor is it easy even today in the poorest rural areas of the state of Bihar. The South of India has centuries of Christian tradition behind it, whereas in the region of Bihar the archdiocese of Patna will only just be celebrating the first century of its existence in 2019.
But “always and in everything I find my support in the Lord”, he adds. Even during the times when the ordinary cultural difficulties were exacerbated by the instability in the region due to the presence of terrorists and armed gangs. “Once I went to a village where there were 11 girls and nobody was willing to send them to school; they thought it too dangerous. The school was empty. But then it occurred to me that Saint Joseph was the guardian of the Child Jesus and looked after him and cared for him. So I entrusted the school to his care, and within two months we had 400 children.”
At the age of 90 Father Aloysius Sequeira is the oldest of the group. “I became a priest because I wanted to be a missionary. To do so I travelled over 2000 miles (3000 km) to give my life for the people. I knew that the Lord would do the rest. This year I will complete my 60th year in the priesthood, and I have never regretted it even for a single day.”
Father Sebastian picked up the thread of the conversation here and told us how he had a good job and everything he could possibly need to live a comfortable and happy life in the South of India, until one day he heard a bishop from the North of India speak about the missions. He asked himself, “What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God? Everything else is in vain.” Still full of vitality, he recalls how “I went to my father and told him, I’m going to be a priest. I’m going to leave work and travel with the bishop. It’s been over 50 years since then, and I am still helping as much as I can, above all hearing confessions, and they call me up from the charismatic spiritual centre as well to help them, because they can’t cope with the demand.”
Many of them have health problems now, especially their hearts which seem to be worn down after having battled and cared so much for the simple ordinary people in so many villages and rural corners of the dioceses of Patna and Buxar. Thanks to the Mass stipends channelled to them by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they are able to cover at least some of their medical expenses. They are immensely grateful to ACN and to all its generous benefactors: “We are missionaries and we are on the front line, but you are supporting us from your own home countries with your prayers and your financial support, thanks to the Mass stipends that come to us through ACN. And so you too have become missionaries, so that we can work together for the glory of God.”
ACN provides a significant part of its financial aid to priests in the poorest parts of the world (above all in Africa and Asia) in the form of Mass intentions, which they celebrate for the intentions of our benefactors. A total of around 1.5 million Masses are celebrated in this way each year – or one every 22 seconds. For places like the archdiocese of Patna this represents an indispensable support, since in many such poor areas of the world the priests cannot count on the support of the people but on the contrary even have to support them instead.

They have dedicated their lives to God and to their fellow men, following a path of great renunciation. They are seven priests who, many decades ago, left behind their own home territory in the South of India to work as missionaries in the North of the country. A thousand miles and more from home, both in geographical terms and in terms of their faith, these priests may not have changed their country, but they did have to learn a new language and new customs in this vast and immensely richly varied subcontinent that is India. And now they are living in a small home for retired priests. But if their bodies have suffered the ravages of time, their spirits have not. They continue to burn with the desire to incarnate the very essence of their vocation by serving God in their fellow men, right up to the hour of their death.
“My mission has been and still is to suffer with Christ”, says Father Joseph Mattathilani, summing up a life marked by grave illnesses, including a brain tumour. “I was left paralysed for months, and at one point they gave me just three days to live”, he explains. Yet he radiates peace and serenity, despite his fragile health. “My mother died when I was a child. Our Lady was the one to take care of me and bring me to the priesthood. I wanted to give my life for other people. The miracle was to get so much love back from other people.”
In a similar way, speaking with some difficulty, Father George Theruvan recalls other sufferings. Now aged 87, he vividly recalls one of the attacks on their mission, when guerrillas put a pistol to his temple and he thought his last moment had come. “I began to pray and I offered my life to God, asking to be able to embrace this moment in peace. Those were two terrible hours. But then, after destroying everything, they left again. Not everyone welcomed us with open arms; many times we had to start over again. But all of us can truly say that it was worth the trouble and that we have been treated with great affection and gratitude by the ordinary people.”
“We travelled from one place to another, spending a night in each village, where we explained the Gospel and celebrated the sacraments”, recalls Father Sebastian Puthenpura. He also tells us about the beginnings of his missionary work. This priest, who has just celebrated his 85th birthday, quickly discovered “that our work would have been in vain if we had not educated the women. The Church cannot progress without those who will be the future pillars of their society, namely the mothers”, he insists. At that time it was not easy to convince the fathers to send their daughters to school, nor is it easy even today in the poorest rural areas of the state of Bihar. The South of India has centuries of Christian tradition behind it, whereas in the region of Bihar the archdiocese of Patna will only just be celebrating the first century of its existence in 2019.
But “always and in everything I find my support in the Lord”, he adds. Even during the times when the ordinary cultural difficulties were exacerbated by the instability in the region due to the presence of terrorists and armed gangs. “Once I went to a village where there were 11 girls and nobody was willing to send them to school; they thought it too dangerous. The school was empty. But then it occurred to me that Saint Joseph was the guardian of the Child Jesus and looked after him and cared for him. So I entrusted the school to his care, and within two months we had 400 children.”
At the age of 90 Father Aloysius Sequeira is the oldest of the group. “I became a priest because I wanted to be a missionary. To do so I travelled over 2000 miles (3000 km) to give my life for the people. I knew that the Lord would do the rest. This year I will complete my 60th year in the priesthood, and I have never regretted it even for a single day.”
Father Sebastian picked up the thread of the conversation here and told us how he had a good job and everything he could possibly need to live a comfortable and happy life in the South of India, until one day he heard a bishop from the North of India speak about the missions. He asked himself, “What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God? Everything else is in vain.” Still full of vitality, he recalls how “I went to my father and told him, I’m going to be a priest. I’m going to leave work and travel with the bishop. It’s been over 50 years since then, and I am still helping as much as I can, above all hearing confessions, and they call me up from the charismatic spiritual centre as well to help them, because they can’t cope with the demand.”
Many of them have health problems now, especially their hearts which seem to be worn down after having battled and cared so much for the simple ordinary people in so many villages and rural corners of the dioceses of Patna and Buxar. Thanks to the Mass stipends channelled to them by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they are able to cover at least some of their medical expenses. They are immensely grateful to ACN and to all its generous benefactors: “We are missionaries and we are on the front line, but you are supporting us from your own home countries with your prayers and your financial support, thanks to the Mass stipends that come to us through ACN. And so you too have become missionaries, so that we can work together for the glory of God.”
ACN provides a significant part of its financial aid to priests in the poorest parts of the world (above all in Africa and Asia) in the form of Mass intentions, which they celebrate for the intentions of our benefactors. A total of around 1.5 million Masses are celebrated in this way each year – or one every 22 seconds. For places like the archdiocese of Patna this represents an indispensable support, since in many such poor areas of the world the priests cannot count on the support of the people but on the contrary even have to support them instead.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT Aid to the Church in Need, VISIT http://www.churchinneed.org
logoacnwhy2

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.