Three quarters of the population of the eparchy (or diocese) of Ivano-Frankivsk in Western Ukraine are members of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome but celebrates the Liturgy in the Byzantine rite. That makes this diocese the largest community of this particular rite in Ukraine, in terms of the number of faithful. And with 400 priests, averaging only around 35 years in age, it also has the highest number of Greek-Catholic priests in the country.

Ukraine: Help for the formation of 213 seminarians in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Ukraine: Help for the formation of 213 seminarians in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Nor is the flow of vocations drying up. At present there are no fewer than 213 young men training for the priesthood at the seminary in Ivano-Frankivsk. They come from five different dioceses of West Ukraine.

Ukraine: Help for the formation of 213 seminarians in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Ukraine: Help for the formation of 213 seminarians in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk.

The seminary building itself dates back to the 19th century. During Soviet times, when the Church faced persecution, it was used as a training school for communist cadres. When the building was finally returned to the Church, after the collapse of communism, it was in an appalling condition. The seminary opened again in makeshift conditions and the seminarians of the time rolled up their sleeves and set to work to clean up and renovate the building, with support from ACN. And more recently, ACN has again helped the seminary to carry out essential repair and extension work to accommodate the growing number of students. Once again, the seminarians have rolled up their sleeves and helped, in order to keep costs down as far as possible.

For the 213 young candidates, this comes to a total of 127,000 Euros.

For the 213 young candidates, this comes to a total of 127,000 Euros.

At the same time ACN is also providing regular support, year on year, for the formation of these future priests. For the cost of living is rising sharply and gas, electricity, water, food supplies and other basic essentials are becoming so expensive that the seminary cannot cover the cost alone. So this year ACN is planning to help once again, with a subsidy of 600 Euros per seminarian, so that they can complete their studies and be ordained to the priesthood. For the 213 young candidates, this comes to a total of 127,000 Euros. Can you help us?

Code: 438-79-02

According to Pope Francis, a priestly vocation is like a “diamond in the rough”, which needs to be “carefully polished with respect for the conscience of the candidates and with patience, so that they may shine among the People of God”. In the seminary of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Saint Petersburg, Russia there are six of these “rough diamonds”. One of them has come almost from the ends of the earth – from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east of Siberia, some 11 hours away by plane. Kamchatka belongs to the diocese of Irkutsk. Yevgeni studied tourism, and it was as a tour guide that he met a Catholic priest who became “an example for my life”. Later, in the army, he saw how many soldiers had lost all inner peace and were deprived of spiritual nourishment. He prayed with them, as he had learnt from his priest friend: the Our Father, the Rosary, the Creed. He felt God was calling him. “I could have done every possible thing in the Church”, he says, “but there is one thing that only the priest can do, namely forgive sins in the name of Christ and make Christ truly present in Holy Mass.” This is what he felt called to do. “By the grace of God, I am now the only seminarian from the largest diocese in the world”, he says. Gregor also felt the call. He was an electrical engineer and loved to party.

Proto-Cathedral; it is alongside the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Apostles Seminary St. Petersburg.

Proto-Cathedral; it is alongside the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Apostles Seminary St. Petersburg.

One morning, after a night’s heavy drinking, he was sitting on the bus, bleary-eyed and late for work – and worried that he would be fired for being late. Then he remembered his Bible, opened it and read: “… from now on you will be catching men…, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:10-11). But Gregor still hesitated, wanting to see a sign. A mishap atwork meant that his late arrival went unnoticed in the chaos. He took this as a sign and soon afterwards, Gregor was on his way to Saint Petersburg. Each of the six seminarians has his own story to tell, as have the six men who are preparing for the permanent diaconate. They all represent the latest chapter in a greater story, that of the seminary itself. Founded in 1879, and confiscated by the Bolsheviks in 1918, for decades it was used by Communists as an administrative building, then finally it was returned in a dilapidated state to the Catholic Church after the end of the Soviet Union by a decree signed by the then vice mayor, Vladimir Putin. It is more than a seminary, it is a place of profound symbolic importance, a historical treasure.

Celebrations on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the seminary "Mariya Tsaritsa Apostolov" in St. Petersburg in November 2018.

Celebrations on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the seminary “Mariya Tsaritsa Apostolov” in St. Petersburg in November 2018.

700 priests have passed through its doors, many died as martyrs, two have been proclaimed saints. Since it reopened in 1993, 64 priests have been ordained. A seminary is the heart of the diocese, as then Apostolic Adminstrator of Moscow, Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz once said, “This seminary is the heart of the Catholic Church in Russia.” In short, it is a treasure in need of renovation. We are contributing towards the cost, which will run into millions. We have also assumed the running costs of €79,000 per year for the entire complex. But they will decrease once the pilgrim house they are setting up opens its doors. “Mariya Tsaritsa Apostolov” – Mary, Queen of Apostles – is a symbol of religious freedom and the eternal youth of the Church. As Pope John Paul II said, it symbolises “the Springtime that blossoms from the hand of Providence”.

“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.

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.

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.

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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.