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.
Nigeria is not the only country suffering from the terror of Boko Haram. Its neighbour, Cameroon also suffers from the violence of Islamist terror groups in the northern part of the country. It is true that the organised armed attacks by Boko Haram have now decreased in the face of a united military offensive by several African countries, but there continue to be suicide bombings, murders and abductions in the affected areas. Many people are living in fear.
The Catholic diocese of Maroua-Mokolo in the Far North Region of Cameroon faces many difficult challenges. Not only is it situated in one of the poorest parts of the country, but it also has to take in large numbers of Nigerian and Cameroonian refugees.
Help for the training of priests in a diocese threatened by Boko Haram terrorists in Cameroon
There is a positive side to this, however, for the people‘s faith is unbroken and despite the fear of attacks, people continue to flock into the churches. At the same time the number of vocations is also growing. At present there are 32 seminarians training for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary, plus another 18 youngsters at the minor seminary and four more who are studying in their so-called „propedutic year“ – a form of educational foundation year in preparation for entering the seminary proper. This is an astonishingly high number, given that there are only around 84,000 Catholics in the diocese. Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo is naturally delighted at these vocations, but he desperately needs financial help in order to be able to give these young men a solid and thorough formation. He has asked ACN for help and we are planning to give him 27,000 Euros.
On Dec. 8, 2018, the Diocese of Gizo—located at the furthest corner of the world in the center of the South Pacific—celebrated with great joy the ordination of Deacon Thomas Patavolomo in his home community of Voru Voru, located on the northern part of the island of Choiseul, which is part of the Solomon Islands.
This is the first ordination produced by the vocation campaign started by the diocese 11 years ago in a very coordinated effort to recruit an adequate number of candidates to the priesthood to run the seven parishes scattered around Choiseul Island as well as in the territory’s western province.
Four of the seven parishes are still run by the Dominicans, who recruited a good number of priests in the region about 40 years ago, when the diocese was first established, in 1978, almost at the same time as when the Solomon Islands obtained independence from the United Kingdom.
After 11 years of effort: new local priest ordained in the Solomon Islands
The remaining three parishes are run by foreign missionaries. The very isolated Gizo Diocese had until now only two diocesan priests and 12 priests on loan. The ordination of Father Thomas and the fact that three more diocesan candidates from Waghina, Sirovanga and the Shortland are close to ordination represent a major step for the diocese toward having its own local clergy.
Voru Voru was already proud of contributing to the Church a second priest: Father Kobakina, who joined the Dominicans; and now there is a diocesan priest, Father Patavolomo.
An expression of high expectations and big plans, a celebration and speeches by government officials and representatives of other Churches marked the occasion of Father Patavolomo’s ordination. Already some years ago, the 12 tribal chiefs of the Voru Voru region formally agreed to give a portion of their land to the Catholic Church where a pastoral center will be built.
The ordaining ordinary, Bishop Luciano Capelli, has underlined the role of the priest in today’s society as being at the service of the people by uniting them, forming them, and encouraging them to dream big—while also challenging them to do their part for the mission of the Church: a mission to serve the people.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has supported the formation of Father Thomas and the other seminarians in the diocese. ACN also supports priests in the diocese of Gizo with Mass stipends.
After 11 years of effort: new local priest ordained in the Solomon Islands
On the morning of 21 April 2018 a hearse drawn by black stallions came to a halt on the square in front of the Prague Castle, and six seminarians lifted the coffin of Cardinal Joseph Beran onto their shoulders and carried it into St Vitus Cathedral. The band struck up with the Czech national anthem, and thousands of people joined in, singing „Where is my Homeland?“ And so, 50 years after his death, the great Cardinal and Confessor, whose cause for beatification is now proceeding, had at last returned to his homeland and final resting place in the city of Prague.
Cardinal Josef Beran
The day before, his mortal remains had rested temporarily in the archdiocesan seminary in the Dejvice quarter of Prague, where Joseph Beran had been rector when he was arrested by the Gestapo. For three years afterwards he suffered in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt (Terezín) and Dachau.
His liberation from Dachau was something of a miracle, in fact. On 29 April 1945, the commandant of the camp, aware of the rapid advance of the American troops, had decided to execute all the prisoners. However, the Americans arrived just in time, before the SS were able to carry out this command. So it was that Joseph Beran and his fellow prisoners were liberated. The Cardinal attributed this miracle to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the Infant Jesus of Prague, to whom he and all his relatives and friends in Prague had fervently prayed, asking their help and protection. After his liberation from the concentration camp, his first action was to go to the altar of the world-famous image of the Infant Jesus of Prague and celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving there.
His freedom did not last long, however. In 1946, when he was appointed as Archbishop of Prague by Pope Pius XII, he resolutely opposed the communist regime. In 1949 he was arrested by the regime, just a few hours after uttering these ringing words in his homily: „We will never bow to any regime that does not bow before God!“. For 16 years he remained in internment and isolation in various different places, sharing the fate of thousands of priests and religious similarly suffered prison for their faith.
Woman praying at the tomb of Josef Cardinal Beran(1888-1969)
In 1965 he was created a cardinal by Pope Paul VI and summoned, or exiled, to Rome on the condition that he never returned again. He lived in Rome in exile until his death in 1969 – which was yet another heavy cross for him to bear. Not even after his death would the communists allow him to return, and so he was buried in 1969 in Saint Peter‘s in Rome. This was an exceptional honour, in fact, and the Cardinal was the only Czech ever to have been buried alongside the Popes in this way. But now, 50 years after his death, his most heartfelt wish was at last granted, and the Cardinal returned home in a triumphal procession like none before it.
The 19 young seminarians who are training for the priesthood today at the archdiocesan seminary in Prague, where Joseph Beran once taught, never experienced the times of persecution themselves. Instead, they face other challenges today. The Church in the Czech Republic is now free, it is true, but a majority of the population have grown up in atheism and are far from the faith. And yet at the same time there are more and more young families who are discovering the faith, and more and more young adults seeking baptism. Good priests are urgently needed to help the people find their way to God, who for many generations under communism was denied to them or torn from their hearts. We have promised 9,500 Euros towards the formation of these future priests.
In Northeast India the Catholic Church is still – relatively – young. In 2016 it celebrated 120 years of ministry here. However, in many parts of this region Catholic missionaries were only able to enter the region during the second half of the 20th century. This is an isolated and underdeveloped region, marked by political unrest and conflicts, by deep poverty and many other problems. But the Church here is very much alive and vital, and by now there are almost 2 million Catholics in the region, while the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is growing.
Help for the training of 28 young religious women in India
The Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod have been working in Northeast India for 37 years now, and recently they established a new regional province for the congregation in the city of Guwahati, in the state of Assam. The congregation has 18 convents in the region, with 96 professed sisters. They care in particular for physically and mentally handicapped children and for sick people generally. They also help young girls from poor family backgrounds who are unable to continue their school education, teaching them useful practical skills such as needlework, sewing and darning, including handmade decorations, so they can later support themselves financially. They also help families and women, giving encouragement and counselling and striving to convey the love of God for all by their lives. Precisely because the Church in this region is still so relatively young, there is a great deal still to be done to help the faith become deeply rooted in people‘s hearts and souls.
At present there are 28 religious sisters still in formation. Like most of the Catholics in this region, they too come from poor families and from the ethnic minorities. The congregation needs financial help in order to be able to provide them with a solid spiritual and vocational formation. Some of them will even pursue university studies, to help them better confront the many challenges they face. ACN is proposing a contribution of 16,800 Euros.