“Each new generation needs new apostles” – so wrote Pope Saint John Paul II in his message for World Youth Day 1989 held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It was the spark that inspired the Missionary Brothers of Saint Paul in Burma (Myanmar). For 28 years now they have been bringing the Gospel of Christ to the people.
Their charism is “ad gentes” – to the nations – and their motto is “I thirst” from St John’s Gospel (19:28). These two phrases frame the logo of their congregation and are intended to show their desire to imitate Christ and continue His redemptive work. And like their patron saint, Paul – the apostle to the nations, who spent three years preparing himself thoroughly for his mission, so too the Brothers of Saint Paul place great value on the formation of their novices, postulants and aspirants. The majority of them will go on to bear witness to the Gospel by their lives as brothers in the congregation. But right now, especially in the anti-Christian environment in which they live, they need a solid theological grounding, including Bible studies and liturgical training. Their formation also includes lessons in Church music and – an indispensable feature today – a basic grounding in IT studies. Once a week they visit the sick and they also regularly go out to the remotest villages. Today they are active in a number of dioceses in the country. There is no shortage of new vocations; currently they have five postulants and 42 aspirants in formation. For such a young congregation, which began with nothing, it is not easy to cope with the cost of their training, board and travel expenses. And, to put it bluntly, they cannot cope. Yet at the same time they do not wish to turn away any genuine new vocations, nor will they consider taking shortcuts in their formation programme. For the entire Gospel must be proclaimed, in season and out of season. So they have turned to CAN for help (€7,000) and we have promised our support. “For the labourer is worthy of his hire” (Lk 10:7). And as for us, is it not “more blessed to give”? (Acts 20:35)
In his first letter to the Christians in Asia Minor, Saint Peter writes: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5).
The Carmelite Fathers in the Central African Republic understand these words both literally and metaphorically. They see themselves as living stones in the Church and they also manufacture stones, or more precisely, bricks, with which they build schools, churches and hospitals. The very first missionaries here did the same thing over 120 years ago. Now it is a matter of trying to rebuild the country after decades of power struggles and civil war. “Our bricks will prove stronger than war and hatred”, says Padre Federico – and by that he means both the living stones which are the Carmelite Friars and the bricks for building the houses.
For while the old bricks, made of baked clay, eventually crumbled, the new bricks they are producing are made of earth, sand and cement, compressed in a special machine with just a little water. They will last practically forever, an image of the fidelity and perseverance of the Carmelites. Bodelo is 20 years old. A refugee, he sought shelter with the Carmelites, along with his family. Seeing the new bricks, he exclaims enthusiastically: “Mbi ye ti ga maçon – I want to be a bricklayer.”
For Bodelo and other refugees like him, there will be opportunities to work in brickmaking and rebuilding. The Carmelites will also be selling the bricks for other projects – like the centre for undernourished children that is now being built in Bangui at the Pope’s request. “Not a bad beginning”, laughs Padre Federico, “to have the Pope as our first customer!” But what matters most to him, and to the Holy Father too no doubt, is the steady trickle of young men knocking on their door. “They are the stones with which we are building the Church of Christ in this country”, he says. Except that while it takes no more than a week for a brick to be ready to build with, the formation of a young Carmelite novice will last from the first moment of his vocation until the end of his life, built into the walls of the living Church. “And whereas all the bricks are identical, each brother is quite different from the next. They all have the same goal and all burn with the same love, but each one builds different mansions with this love in the Kingdom of God.” For 10 years now, Padre Federico has been responsible for the formation of the postulants, novices and seminarians.
He has asked our help for the 38 young Carmelites in the monasteries and seminaries of Bangui and Bouar and also Yaoundé in Cameroon. A total of €22,800 will help these young hearts burn brighter and these young men become living stones in the spiritual house of the Church.
The Greek Catholic Order of Saint Basil in Ukraine certainly cannot complain of a lack of vocations. Currently there are 48 novices in formation at the seminary in Lviv. In all, the Basilian Order has some 340 members in 29 different monasteries. Their novice house is in Kharkhiv, in East Ukraine, and has its own land and livestock around it.
When one considers that the Catholic faithful were still being persecuted during Soviet times and were only able to live their faith in secret, this recent expansion seems almost miraculous. After all, the collapse of communism was only 30 years ago… During communist times, the members of the order were trained in Poland and then had to live their vocation underground.
Training aid for 48 seminarians of Basilian and 4 Orionists in the seminary of the Basilian in Bryukhovychi for 2018/2019.
In 2001, during his visit to Ukraine, Pope Saint John Paul II beatified 25 martyrs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who had given their lives in witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and their loyalty to the Church. Among the new Blesseds were four members of the Basilian Order who had died in the Soviet camps and prisons, including one bishop belonging to the order. Their sacrifice has borne rich fruit – as the wealth of new vocations testifies.
Nonetheless, the large number of young novices still in formation also poses a serious challenge for the order. The rector of the seminary of Saint Basil in Lviv has therefore turned to us once again this year for financial help, since prices are rising in Ukraine and the order has to find money to pay for electricity, gas, food, medicines, clothing and all the daily needs of the novices – which also include the salaries of the seminary teaching staff. In addition to the 48 seminarians of the Order of Saint Basil there are four young Redemptorist novices also undergoing training at the seminary, though not living there, since they continue to live in their own monastery. Altogether, we are helping with 31,200 Euros.
The life of a priest in Pakistan is by no means an easy mission. Most of the Catholic priests in the country have to minister to vast areas, and the threat of Islamic extremism is a growing and ever present danger. Again and again Christians are victims of violence and false accusations of blasphemy, and even in their ordinary everyday lives they face constant hostility and discrimination. Socially speaking, most Christians are on the bottom rung of society. They look to their priests not only for pastoral and spiritual help but also turn to them in every kind of need. Often, if a rural worker employed as an indentured labourer by a wealthy local landowner should die, his wife and children will find themselves suddenly thrown out onto the streets because their landlord has evicted them. Such people will naturally turn to their priest, as will the parents of sick children, the victims of violent attacks and all who are in need and despair.
Meanwhile, the priests themselves are often living in a state of constant tension. Most of them have already been the targets of threatening phone calls and letters, and even the bishops have received letters demanding that they convert to Islam. Almost all of them can also confirm that their telephones have been tapped and that they have received strange phone calls, for example by someone claiming to be a Muslim who wishes to convert to Christianity. If a priest should say the wrong thing at such a moment, he can find himself in all sorts of trouble.
935 Missae Ordinariae for 17 diocesan priests working in Multan Diocese – 2017: Prayer during celebration of the Eucharist.
Given this difficult situation, it is vitally important for the priests to be able to meet together regularly in order to encourage and strengthen one another and foster the fraternal spirit between them, while at the same time deepening their spiritual and theological knowledge.
In the diocese of Multan there are 18 diocesan priests and 19 priests belonging to different religious orders. Large parts of the diocese are in desert regions and there are numerous terrorist camps in these areas. The now deceased predecessor of the present Bishop actually himself survived a murder attempt in 1996, while in one of the churches in his diocese.
The Catholic Church in this region not only provides pastoral support for its own faithful but also supplies humanitarian aid in some of the areas where the government itself does not dare to venture, on account of the dangers. Many Muslims are also very grateful for this help and frequently ask the priests for their prayers.
The priests of the diocese meet together once a year for a joint retreat. There are also monthly meetings in various places. The fraternal spirit of communion between them helps to strengthen them and give new energy and impetus to their spiritual lives, so that they can return to their communities, refreshed and reinvigorated.
We have helped before, and this year we are helping once again, with 8,000 Euros so that the 37 priests of the diocese can continue to meet together. That represents a total of just 216 Euros per priest per year, to cover everything from travel costs to board and lodging.
After five years of marriage, Gulzar Masih and his wife, a Catholic couple, adopted a baby girl from a local hospital with the help of a family friend. The girl was named Meerab. Living in Sargodha, Pakistan, Meerab, who is 19 today, talks of the difficult realities of her life and her goals for the future to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need.
“My father was Gulzar Masih. My mother is Naasra Bibi. I have one brother, Shahryar Gulzar, who is eight. I belong to a Catholic family. My father worked for daily wages, building and painting; he earned 200 Pakistani rupees per day, which equals about $2. But some days he was unable to get work, so we missed the occasional meal. When it came to providing the necessities, my father always faced difficulties, but we were thankful to God for his blessings.
“One day, my father became very ill, and my mother took him to the hospital. The doctor diagnosed him with diabetes. We did not have the financial resources to arrange for proper treatment—as a result my father died.
Living in Sargodha, Pakistan, Meerab, who is 19 today.
“After my father’s passing, my mother, though experiencing great sorrow and pain, found work as a maid to meet our domestic and educational needs. Family income was low and expenditures were high, which eventually led to the discontinuation of my studies. But my mother encouraged me not to lose my faith in God, saying He would show us the way. All night, I would think about my father and our family’s needs. So I decided to help my mother, whose health was not strong. She is often sick and has high blood pressure.
“I told her that I would help her after school, that I would either join her at work or work on her behalf. One day, I went alone to work, and the owner of the home, about 40, asked me to make a cup of tea for him. When I went to serve him, he held my arm tightly and kissed me. I was so afraid to tell my mother; I thought that she would beat me. But when it happened again, I told my mother. I was no longer allowed to join her at work. I wondered if she faced the same harassment.
“I always prayed to God, hoping that He would help us and show us the way. Some people visited our home and offered their support. I continued my studies at St. Ann’s Primary School, which is run by the Catholic Church. My brother was also in school at the time, but due to our financial circumstances, he left school to work as a building painter.
“When I was in the eighth class, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, run by the diocese, began to help with costs. The initial monthly stipend was 500 rupees, and after two years, it increased to 1000. Later on, I was admitted to the local High School, which is operated by a Catholic organization and is one of the best schools in our city. I am thankful to our principal, who waived all fees so I could continue my education without disturbance.
“I continued my studies at St. Ann’s Primary School, which is run by the Catholic Church”.
Because of the good people God sent to us, I am able to participate in a pre-medical program at a college. I face religious discrimination there, as the school is Muslim, but I know that God is with me. I live in a seriously impoverished area; so in the evenings, I provide 200 children with free tutoring. It is my deep desire to become a doctor and help the poor, so no one dies like my father did.
In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need provided more than $900,000 in aid to the Church in Pakistan, which included support for seminarians and living expenses for women religious, as well as for a range of pastoral programs.
The far northeast of India is linked to the rest of the country only by a narrow corridor of land. It is one of the poorest regions in India and an area of frequent unrest.
In relative terms the Catholic Church is quite young here. It began to spread here only around the end of the 19th century – and in many regions only in the last few decades. There are around 2 million Catholics living in this region, most of whom belong to the ethnic minorities. Owing to an influx of Bengali migrants from Bangladesh, the proportion of Muslims in the population has grown much faster in recent decades in northeast India than in other parts of the country.
One of the more recent dioceses in northeast India is that of Bongaigaon, in the state of Assam. There are around 67,000 Catholics here among a total population of some 64 million. Most of these Catholics belong to the indigenous Bodo peoples. However, in the diocese as a whole at least a dozen different languages are spoken.
Whereas in the past it was foreign missionaries who first announced the gospel here, today the Church is increasingly represented by indigenous vocations. Currently there are 23 young men from the diocese of Bongaigaon who are preparing for ordination as priests. They themselves come overwhelmingly from poor, indigenous families who can do little to contribute financially to the formation of their sons. ACN has stepped in to help with a promise of 9,200 Euros.