In recent times the people of Sierra Leone have gone through a great deal of suffering. To this day the consequences are still evident of the bloody civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002, claiming innumerable human lives and devastating large portions of the country‘s infrastructure. The economy has been totally wrecked and over 70% of the country‘s 7 million or so inhabitants are living in poverty today. The Ebola epidemic of 2014 and a string of grave natural disasters have only further exacerbated the situation. And now, in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has also erupted, making life still more difficult for people, especially given the dire poverty already existing in the country.
As always in such grave situations, it is the Catholic Church once again that is standing by the people. For over a hundred years now the Church has been supporting the faithful in the country, not merely pastorally but also in very practical ways, providing basic medical care, feeding the hungry, providing development aid and accompanying families in all their many needs. It is particularly active in the field of education. Until very recently, the Catholic schools were the only educational centres existing in Sierra Leone, and this despite the fact that 78% of the population are Muslims. The Catholic Church is greatly respected by the people for its many works of charity, and for the fact that it helps all the people, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
At the same time, however, the Church cannot neglect her primary mission of proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments and bringing souls to God. Needless to say, however, the many activities she is involved in have to be paid for somehow. And since the local church is extremely poor, there is an urgent need for financial support from abroad.
This is the situation in the archdiocese of Freetown, the national capital. Here too, the 40 priests of the diocese are helping the people in all their spiritual and material needs. Many of them are working in parishes where there is neither electricity nor running water, no vehicles and no other means of communication. The archdiocese itself is very poor and cannot help its priests with all the funding they actually need. The coronavirus has only made things worse. For now that all public Masses have been suspended, even the little support that came in on the collection plate has also dried up. And so, to compensate to some extent, ACN International has agreed to helpthe 40 priests of the archdiocese with Mass stipends, for a total of 17,160 Euros – or just about 430 Euros for each priest – for the entire year. The priests will celebrate these Holy Masses for the intentions of the benefactors who have made these offerings.
The Mass offering, or stipend, as it is also known, is a gift freely given by the faithful as a gesture of gratitude and love and material support for the priest, who in return offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the intentions of the benefactor – for the soul of a departed relative, for example, or for a sick person, or for a private intention known to the benefactor alone. As the Canon Law of the Catholic Church makes absolutely clear, the offering is in no sense a „payment“ for the celebration of the Mass. However, in many parts of the world such offerings represent a vital contribution to the support of our priests, who in any case more often than not use them not just for themselves but also for the wider needs of their people.
Father Emmanuel is one of the priests in Sierra Leone who have received these Mass stipends. He writes: „Every day, during the crisis, I had to go out after Morning Prayer, working with the fishermen to earn my daily bread. My church is close to the beach. I am so grateful for the Mass stipends you have sent us. May the Lord continue to bless you abundantly!