Central African Republic
Help to print two catechetical books
The Central African Republic is a country that many people barely even know exists. And yet this landlocked country in the heart of Africa, with an area of around 240,000 square miles (622,984 km²), is roughly the size of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic put together! Yet with a population of only around 4.5 million people, it is very sparsely populated.
In the 55 years since its independence, the country has been plagued by an endless series of military coups and internal unrest. The one feature common to all these governments, however, was this: although the country possesses rich mineral resources, including gold, diamonds and even uranium deposits, yet it remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. On the UN human development index it ranks 180th out of 186.
The government invests next to nothing in education or in the health care system, or even in basic infrastructure, and so as a result it is above all the Church that cares for the needs of the population. And yet, the Catholic Church in this country is still young. It was not until 17 April 1894 that the first Holy Mass in the region was celebrated in what is now the capital of the country, the town of Bangui. Today roughly 66% of the population profess Christianity, and roughly half of these are Catholics. Muslims account for around 15%, with the remainder belonging to traditional African religions.
The most important mission of the Church consists in preaching the good news of the Gospel. Following the terrible excesses of violence over the past two years or so, which plunged the country into chaos, the situation has stabilised again to some extent and the time has now come to rebuild wherever possible. However, this is not merely a matter of the external physical structures, but above all of the hearts and souls of the people.
FatherMarcello Bartolomei, an Italian Carmelite missionary working in the country, is above all concerned to provide catechesis and religious instruction. For there are so many adults and young people preparing for baptism – and even those already baptised are very much in need of religious instruction to strengthen them in their faith and enable this faith to take deep root in their hearts. Many of the traditional ideas and attitudes are difficult to overcome. For example the belief in witchcraft is deeply entrenched, and even baptised Christians find it hard to shake it off completely. For many people the mentality is such that they are unwilling to accept natural explanations for death, disease or natural disasters but instead go looking for a scapegoat, who they believe must have caused the misfortune by means of witchcraft. Thus, the task of the Church is to help people to truly understand and live the Gospel of Christ.
It was during the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI for 2012/2013 that Father Marcello became aware of the need to improve the catechetical materials he was using.) Way back in 1963 a catechism for children, young people and adults had been created in the national language, Sango. His idea is to update this and produce it in a new and revised edition. “It consists of questions and answers, with explanations, and is very valuable for the preparation for the sacraments, especially for our catechists who work among the communities in the bush”, says Father Marcello. He plans to print 1000 copies of this little book. At the same time he has compiled a summarised version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, again in Sango, which contains the entire teaching of the Catholic Church. The book additionally expounds themes that are of particular importance for the Church in the context of the Central African Republic. The intention is to print 400 copies of this book. ACN is supporting the publication of both books, with a contribution of 5,800 Euros.
Sucess Story: Completion of a parish centre in Deir El Ahmar
Almost everywhere in Lebanon you can see the picture of Saint Charbel Makhlouf. Numerous miracles and answers to prayers are attributed to the intercession of this modern Lebanese saint. Saint Charbel, who died on 24 December 1898 at the age of 70, is seen as the epitome of the monk, having lived a life of strict asceticism, penance and contemplative prayer. Even during his lifetime he was reported to have healed the sick, and it is even claimed that he raised two dead people back to life.
Not surprisingly, then, the parish ofDeir El Ahmar in the Baalbek plain is dedicated to this revered Lebanese saint. This mainly Christian village, which is surrounded by overwhelmingly Muslim villages and towns, has a population of around 10,000 souls. The people here live in very simple and humble circumstances. Most of them are ordinary peasant farmers, just like the parents of Saint Charbel himself, who were poor. His father died young, so that as a young boy he already had to work, herding the flocks of goats, before finally entering the monastery at the age of 23.
The young people of Deir El Ahmar have little in the way of life prospects. Unemployment is high, and more and more young people are sliding into drugs and addiction. Almost half of all the school pupils leave school early because they can see no future for themselves.
In response to this situation, the parish of St. Charbel sent us an urgent appeal for help, to enable them to build a parish centre where these young people could be given help and encouraged to to occupy themselves meaningfully. It would be a place where they could do their homework, learn a range of manual skills, and also study and learn about their faith. And the centre was to be not only for young people, but would also offer programmes for all age groups – from children to engaged couples, through to elderly people. ACN immediately agreed and stepped in with 25,000 Euros to fund the project.
Now the parish priest, FatherHanna Rahmé has written to thank us. He writes: “On behalf of all the Catholic faithful of our parish, I would like to thank you and salute you. We are praying for all your generous benefactors who have helped us here in this region to bear witness to Christ, despite the difficult political situation and the uncertainty.”
Help to restore the church and other buildings in Quseir that were damaged or destroyed in the war
Quseir was once an important strategic town in Syria. It is situated not very far from the city of Homs, but at the same time it is quite close to the border with northern Lebanon and the route through to the Bekaa Valley. During the fighting for control of Quseir, almost all its 60,000 inhabitants – Christians and Muslims alike – fled the city.
Once there were 5,000 Greek Melkite Catholics living here. Some 40 of them were murdered and another eight remain unaccounted for to this day. The town was liberated two years ago, on 20 March 2013. And yet 80% of the houses in Quseir are either destroyed or uninhabitable. Of the 750 Christian families who once lived here, just 340 have now returned, after the Syrian army recaptured the town.
Now the bishop wants to repair some of the essential structures of the Church here, including the church, the parish house, the catechetical centre, parish centre and some other religious houses.
This repair work is essential in order to prevent further destruction of these properties, and above all so as to send a signal to the ordinary faithful. The visible rebuilding and the revival of Church life are the best way of reassuring the people and encouraging them to return to their former homes to live.
ACN has promised to help with a contribution of 24,000 Euros.
Help for the renovation of the chapel of the Brothers of Saint Albert in Zaporyzhya
Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of the Latin-rite Catholic diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporyzhya comes originally from Poland. As a young priest, he had actually intended to stay for just a year in Ukraine in order to help out. That year has now turned into almost a quarter of a century. Particularly close to Bishop Sobila’s heart are those people living on the fringes of society – the drug addicts and alcoholics. He has understood that it is not enough to simply help these people with a piece of bread, a bowl of soup and a little extra clothing. Instead they need spiritual and psychological support and counselling in order to help them break with their addiction. “So many of these young people used to come to our soup kitchen, and yet too many of them still come to an untimely end”, the bishop says. If they can only break with their drug addiction and find their way to God, then wonderful things can happen, he explains. So it was that Bishop Sobila was able to ordain a former drug addict to the priesthood. Today this man is responsible for the youth apostolate in the diocese.
In Zaporyzhya there are two Albertine Brothers who care for the poor and homeless. Close to the cathedral they run a soup kitchen, to which more and more people are flocking, who cannot afford even one hot meal a day. Many are homeless; others are pensioners who, given their meagre pensions and the constantly rising prices, simply cannot make ends meet. The brothers also shelter some of the homeless in their own house. Many of these men, who have been living out on the streets for a long time, have health problems, especially with their legs and feet. They also need to address many different personal issues before they can find their way back to living a normal disciplined life in society. The Brothers of Saint Albert help them in this. They also offer the men the opportunity to learn the baker’s trade and at the same time, under expert guidance, to produce tasty and appealing bread. Often it is the case, once the initial external problems have been resolved, that the inner fears and pains now come to light. It is here that a great deal pastoral help and counsel are needed. And yet at the same time the brothers are often astonished at the abilities and even the human depths of these men who come to them for help. For example Leon, a young man staying with them, who has proved to be a gifted painter of religious images. It may even be that he has a vocation to the religious life.
The Brothers of Saint Albert are currently in the process of renovating their monastery. And the heart of this monastery is their chapel. We are giving 4,000 Euros towards the cost of renovating it.