A presbytery for the newly established parish in Barsherki
The congregation of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate is young, having been established only in 1998, in India. However, it has many vocations. It currently has 118 priests, and another 350 young men are now preparing to receive ordination and take their permanent vows. No fewer than 50 of its priests are working in Africa, providing their pastoral service in Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
In South Sudan there are 24 priests of the congregation, who care for seven parishes. These missionary priest are also working in the schools, a task that is particularly difficult, as Father Albert Amal Raj explains, since for a quarter of a century people have known only war, and now, after a brief glimmer of hope, the country is once again sinking into violence and chaos. “The only game many children play is war”, he tells us. “They pretend they have a gun and shoot at each other. When we ask the pupils what they want to be when they grow up, they often tell us, ‘We want to be policemen, so that we can shoot and kill people.’ They know nothing else but violence. Many have actually witnessed their own family members being murdered. Human life is worth little here.” Now the missionaries are trying to teach the children to treasure life, to respect other people and to take responsibility for their own lives, for society and for a peaceful future.
The people are very happy that the missionaries have come to them. The parishes they serve are situated above all in underdeveloped, disadvantaged and inaccessible regions. In many villages Holy Mass is still celebrated in the open air, under the trees. But again and again, the people say to the priests, “You are our father, and we are your children”, or else, “You are a priest. God has sent you to us!” The people look to the priests for everything – not only for consolation and hope, but also for their material needs. Many have lost everything as a result of the war, while others have been forced to witness their own family members being murdered in front of their very eyes. To bring healing, reconciliation and new hope to places like this is a challenge that can only be taken on with God’s help.
In Barsherki, in the diocese of Wau, many people have waited for years for a priest to provide them with regular pastoral care. Today there are three priests working in the newly established parish of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate. But there is no house for the priests themselves, who instead have to live in a small rented hut that does not even have running water or electricity. Not only this, but it is also dangerous for the priests, since there are many desperate people and they have been attacked and threatened in the past. And the house is so insecure that anyone can wander in at any time and attack and rob the priests.
ACN is planning to give 80,000 Euros, so that the congregation can build a presbytery where its priests can live in security.
Mass Stipends for 20 Jesuit priests in Assam
When people hear the name Assam, the first thing they think of is the famous tea of the same name. And indeed, the state of Assam in northeast India is still the largest single tea growing area in the world. Sadly, the reality is that the thousands of Indians who work here as tea pickers do so in conditions of near slavery. Many of them belong to the minority tribal groups and ethnic minorities. They are disadvantaged, for the most part illiterate, and widely exploited. So often the parents are working from dawn to dusk on the plantations and barely have time to care for their children – and since they themselves never went to school, they likewise would never think of sending their own children to school.
The Jesuit missionaries in the region have made it their goal to offer these children the chance of a better future. “I have been working here for 18 years”, says Father Xavier Lakra. “From the very first day I have seen for myself the misery in which these people live. The key to a better future lies in a better education. We are trying to persuade the parents to send their children to school”, he adds. And in fact many of the parents are themselves learning to read and write, thanks to the commitment of the Jesuits. “Before, they couldn’t even write their own name, but had to witness documents with their thumbprint – and they were often cheated and exploited as a result. In the meantime many of them have learned to read and write, and as a result they are no longer so hopelessly exposed to exploitation.” But what the people need most of all is pastoral support. They love the Church and have a profound natural piety. Yet at the same time they have to come to the realisation that as children of God they truly have an inherent human dignity, for they often feel themselves to be worthless since they are right at the bottom of society. Hence, conveying to them an understanding of the love of God is a vital task.
Last year our benefactors helped the 20 Jesuit priests involved in the pastoral ministry to the tea pickers in Assam with 800 Mass Stipends, a sum of 6,400 Euros altogether, which represented a vital help, enabling them to continue their precious apostolate among these poor and disadvantaged people.
A car for the apostolic prefecture of Huautla
Bishop Josè Armando Alvarez Cano has written to thank all the benefactors of ACN who by their generous giving have enabled the Church in the apostolic prefecture of Huautla to obtain a car for its pastoral work.
The prefecture serves an area of great poverty. The 130,000 or so inhabitants belong above all to the indigenous Indian groups. Over two thirds of them do not even have enough to eat, and very few of them can even provide for the basic needs of their families. As a result, many are leaving the region and moving away into the towns and cities, where they often end up stranded in the misery of the slums.
There is an immense need for practical charitable help and pastoral support here – but the Church faces enormous challenges, since there are too few priests and many of the people live in remote and inaccessible villages in the mountains. When it rains, many of the roads turn into vast mud pools. The prefecture was urgently in need of a suitably rugged vehicle, simply in order to be able to reach the faithful in the first place.
Now Bishop Alarez Cano writes: “We give endless thanks to God for his generosity, which is always revealed in so many generous human hearts, and we would like to thank ACN for having helped us in our needs. We pray to God for you all, and we commend ourselves to your prayers also.”
The Orthodox Metropolitan of Kemerovo thanks ACN for supporting his seminarians
Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of ACN, always led from the front, with the famous phrase: “Somebody has to make a start – we do!” In 1991, when Pope John Paul II asked him, after a long life as a bridge builder, to look now for ways of dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, he embraced the idea with enthusiasm. After all, the Orthodox Church in Russia was forced at the time to begin from almost nothing, following decades of persecution. The numbers speak for themselves: just 20 years after the October revolution in Russia, of the 60,000 or so churches in which the Sacred Liturgy had previously been celebrated only 100 were left standing. In the first two years of the revolution alone, around 15,000 Orthodox priests were murdered; over 300 bishops were executed or died in prison. The possibility, following the collapse of the communist regime, of helping our Orthodox sister Church not only with fair words but also with practical deeds of love was one that Father Werenfried, now aged almost 80, described as the “last and greatest joy of my life”. The challenge of building bridges and promoting reconciliation had always been the great mission of his life, and right from the start, taking the first step had been the defining characteristic of his charity ACN.
Over the course of the past 20 years or so this “ecumenism of solidarity” has fostered many friendships between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia. The Orthodox eparchy (diocese) of Kemerovo and Kusbas is a particularly beautiful example of this.
In April 2015 the leadership of ACN was welcomed by Metropolitan Aristarch, who expressed his heartfelt thanks to ACN for the help the charity had provided for over 15 years. He welcomed every single one of his Catholic guests with the words “Christ is risen!” And he expressed his particular thanks for the support given by ACN for the formation of his young priests. For his part, the president of ACN, Johannes Freiherr Heereman spoke of his joy at the cordial ecumenical climate in Kemerovo and expressed the intention of ACN to continue and expand its fraternal dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church. “We wish to go on helping the Russian Orthodox Church in this region and so contribute to the advancement of Christianity on this earth”, he said.
This year the benefactors of ACN helped with a contribution of 37,800 Euros for the formation of the 126 seminarians in the diocese of Kemerovo – or 300 Euros per seminarian per year – a small contribution, yet a gesture of friendship and fraternal solidarity that has achieved great things.