Mgr. Ignacio Wolcan Olano Bishop of Tucareambó, in Uruguay, came to visit the Headquarters of ACN and send a message for you.
Fr. Georges Jahola
It is a great pleasure for me to address this message of thanks for what you have been doing for the Christians in the Nineveh plain, in Iraq. I am writing to you on behalf of tens of thousands of men, women, and children. ISIS has struck us with tragic violence. They have killed thousands of people and destroyed houses, schools, churches, convents and more in the attempt to erase the thousand-year-old Christian presence from the Nineveh Plain.
It has been terrible for us but our strength lies in the undeniable faith in Christ. The Lord has helped us to carry the cross by giving us courage and hope. It has been only a few months now since we were able to get back. Slowly we are rebuilding homes, schools, churches and other religious buildings. It would be impossible to resume life here without having proper places to pray and praise God. The reconstruction of buildings and everything else is only possible thanks to you, benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need. ACN has been among the major responsible of a “Marshall Plan” for the reconstruction of what ISIS destroyed in the Nineveh Plain.
Fr. Georges Jahola showing the font at the Syriac Catholic Mar Behnam Church. The church was heavily damaged by ISIS
Up to now, we have restored and rebuilt 2,242 houses, schools, churches and convents. We are aware that there is still a lot of work ahead. In fact, the next phase will be even harder because we will deal with the burnt houses. But with your support and prays we are sure that we are going to be able to complete the huge reconstruction work we have started.
We always count on your help and we feel united to each one of you by the faith in Christ that has performed so many miracles in our hearts. I beg God’s blessing on you and on your families,
Fr. Georges Jahola
Many people in Ukraine are destitute, especially older people and families. The armed conflict taking place in the eastern part of the country also continues to claim victims. The Catholic church helps those in need by providing them with both pastoral and material aid.
The church should not get so wrapped up in its charitable commitments that it forgets that its primary focus needs to be on the salvation of the soul, the Roman Catholic bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporyzhya, Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, emphasized during an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Although many church organizations and initiatives have been set up in his diocese to help those in need through concrete measures and material aid, it is also important “to pray with those who are suffering to keep them from losing their faith.”
The bishop, who was himself president of Caritas Spes for 20 years and thus oversaw the charitable activities of the church in Ukraine, emphasized that people often expect the church to be able to provide them with all the material aid they need. He explained that even though the church is doing a great deal, it cannot assuage every material need. “More than anything, the mission of the church is to bring God to the people and proclaim the truth to them. We should not only give them bread and forget the soul. It is not enough to just do good deeds, we should not cheat the people of the grace necessary for their salvation.”
According to the bishop, it is also important to teach the people to thank God and the benefactors who made the help they received possible and explained, “We approach the distribution of material aid not as a kind of grab-and-go service, but make sure it is done in a beautiful and dignified manner. We hold a reading from the Gospels and the recipients of the aid pray the Lord’s Prayer together for those who donated the gifts. We tell them that God is the one who is giving them the bread, but that He is doing so through their benefactors.”
Bishop Shyrokoradiuk pointed out that the witnesses to the miraculous multiplication of the bread in the Gospels primarily came to Jesus to hear the word of God. Jesus then gave them the bread. He believes that the church needs to “maintain the balance” and place the emphasis on the spiritual. For this reason, it is important to not only engage in charitable work, but also build churches. For example, all the children’s homes in his diocese have a chapel. “The children go there to discuss their problems with God,” he reported, stressing just how important this is.
Three years ago, the Catholic faithful of the parish of Our Lady of Consolation in Lwawu were devastated when torrential rainfall completely destroyed the roof of their church. Their community, in Zambia‘s North-Western Province, not far from the frontier with Angola, simply did not have the money to repair the roof from their own resources. This is an underdeveloped and neglected region where there is widespread poverty. The people love the Church, and their own parish church is the heart of their community, but the cost of replacing the roof was simply too astronomically high for them to contemplate.
Fortunately, and thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to come to the aid of the parish. Initially, we gave 4,400 Euros for the new roof and then, when that proved insufficient – since the steel roofing members had to be transported from miles away – we gave another 2,000 Euros.
Father Kennedy Musekwa has now sent us a letter of thanks, which we want to pass on to all our kind benefactors: “When this disaster befell us, my heart was almost broken. I did not know where to turn“, he writes. „I thought of all the people around our mission station, looking on despairingly. But your help has brought the Christian life back to our mission. Today we can once more worship God in our church. Every time I enter this church, I ask God to bless all our benefactors. I am humbled by this gesture of love. On behalf of all the people, I give you my heartfelt thanks. May the name of the Lord be praised!“
My name is Father Juan Gabriel, I’m Argentinian (diocese of Buenos Aires), currently a missionary in Mozambique, in the diocese of Xai Xai.
I’m writing to thank you for the money of the intentions of the Mass sent to me by my Bishop, Dom Lucio Andrice Muandula.
I am pastor of the Mangundze Mission. We have 42 communities, chapels. I am alone, as a priest, to attend to it. We are in a rural area. Some communities are more than 90 km away from the headquarters, my home.
My wish is to stay in this diocese for good. I do not want to go back to Argentina.
I tell you that I have a piece of paper in the sacristy, where I write down the masses I celebrate, to keep track.
It is six months now since the bombs stopped falling on the city of Aleppo in Syria. Although in the distance, at night time, you can still hear explosions in some still disputed zones on the outskirts of this large city which, before the war, was home to over 2 million people. The precise number of inhabitants at the present time is difficult to know with any certainty, since many people have fled to other parts of the country and others have even emigrated abroad, to nearby countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, or still further afield to Europe and America. For those who remain this will be the first summer since 2012 they will be able to spend in peace and even enjoy an occasional moment of rest outside the city. For this reason, the Syrian-Catholic Archbishopric of Aleppo has organized summer camps for them in the so-called Valley of the Christians, near Homs. The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is now stepping in to help, with a summer camp and a contribution of 30,000 Euros.
Among the beneficiaries are some 1200 children, young people and adults belonging to the Syriac Catholic parish of Saint Ephrem in the Old Syriac Quarter, a parish founded by survivors of the great Armenian genocide in 1915, Catholics from Turkey but of Syriac origin. But Father George Sabounji, the parish priest of Saint Ephrem’s parish states: “Our summer camp will include not only Syriac Catholics but also young people from the Orthodox and Greek Melkite communities. We are organising this project so that the young people can feel they are being accompanied and cared for and gain first-hand experience of God’s love for them and a sense of the communion that exists within the Church. And also so that they can have the opportunity to meet and communicate with other young people and not feel alone”.
This middle-aged priest has a seemingly inexhaustible energy. He is the only priest in charge of this community and also provides food, medicines and lodging for hundreds of families who have been left homeless by the war in Aleppo. For even though the fighting has stopped now, many people are still unable to return to their homes on account of all the destruction. “This is more than a church, it is our home”, is the cheerful comment from Magdalene, a young mother who acts as our interpreter and who is also helping Father George to organise the summer camps.
Magdalen is also going to take part in the summer camp, together with her husband and her three-year-old daughter. “This year, quite exceptionally, we have organised a summer camp for families as well. It will be the first time we have gone outside the city since the war began four years ago”, says Father George, adding that if it were not for the help from ACN to cover the various expenses, such as food and lodging, transport and rental of the various facilities, not one of these families could have afforded the cost of a few days holiday during the summer. “Being able to go out will be a great encouragement for them; it will help them to regain a sense of hope, so that they will not want to go away from here.”
The ages of the young people involved in the summer camp range from six, the age when they make their First Holy Communion, up to 18 years. There will also be a group of adult helpers, in addition to the family groups. For Amanda, aged eight, this will be the first time she has ever been anywhere except Aleppo. “I’d like to go to Kafroun, and see the Wadi Al-Nasara (the Valley of the Christians)”, she says excitedly. The area where the summer camp will be held is renowned as one of the prettiest regions in Syria, a fertile region close to the frontier with Lebanon, in a majority Christian area. “What I like most about the summer camps is that we will be able to grow deeper in prayer and in faith. And also, we will get to know new friends. Your generosity is helping us to understand that we are not alone”, adds Miriam, aged 15, who is a member of the Confirmation group in the parish of Saint Efrem.
“Sometimes the Christian children also find it difficult when talking to their Muslim friends, because they ask them to tell them about Christianity, and sometimes they don’t know how to reply. The camp is intended to give them an experience that will help them grow stronger in their faith”, says Father George, while thanking ACN for the indispensable aid it is providing. “You can be quite sure that the help you are giving is doing a great deal of good. We really feel as though we are your brothers, and we pray that the Lord may grant us the grace to be united in the same spirit so that you may live in the love of God. Please pray also for us.”
The parish of Saint Efrem is a place that is open to all. Among the parishioners there are various Focolare groups; in fact there are 120 people altogether belonging to this movement. And there are also various communities of the Neo-catechumenal Way. Among the pictures and photos in Father George’s office we notice photos of him meeting with the last three popes. “When I met with Pope Francis in an audience, I invited him to come to Aleppo. We know that he is a man of God and that even though his mission is a vast one, he is very close to Christ. And so I asked him to pray for us, and he told me that he never forgets Syria.”