A new chapel for a village in the north of the country
The parish of Saint Monica in Touroua im northern Cameroon is thriving and growing. One of the villages belonging to the parish bears the name of Koza II. There are already 250 baptised Catholics in the village and another 350 catechumens preparing for baptism. The villagers are people who have migrated here, in search of fertile land, from areas still further to the north of Cameron or even from neighbouring Chad. And so the Christian community in Koza II is growing.
At first the people built a simple chapel of bare wooden stakes, thatched over with grass. But now it looks as though a strong gust of wind could simply knock it over. In fact the entire construction is quite unfit to serve the faithful as a chapel in the long term. And so, at the cost of many sacrifices, the people have worked to build a new and permanent chapel. The walls are already standing, but what is still missing is the roof.
Father Ludwik Stryczek writes to us: “We would like to have some protection, when we pray, from the sun or from the downpours of the rainy season. We would be most grateful if, thanks to you, we can succeed in our plan to build this house of God. You may be assured of our prayers.” We have promised him 5,000 Euros.
A chapel for a school for partially sighted and hearing-impaired children
Exactly 40 years ago the Saint Francis School for visually and hearing-impaired children was founded in Ahileijime, a village in the so-called Middle Belt of central Nigeria. It is run by the sisters of the congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, and it has changed the lives of many children. For before the school was established, many people looked on such handicapped children as to all intents worthless. They were frequently neglected by their own families and by society, and often even mocked and derided. So when the Catholic Church founded the school, it was a courageous step that brought many changes. Many of its former pupils are working today and earning their own living. Some are even working in their former school. And it is also noticeable that there has been a complete change in the attitude of parents towards their partially sighted or hearing-impaired children.
At present the school has 92 pupils, aged between 4 and 18 years. Most of them are hearing-impaired. The parents are also being encouraged to learn sign language, so that they can communicate with their children. Many of the surrounding parishes contribute with gifts of food in order to help maintain the school. But most people cannot afford to give money to support the school, since as small peasant farmers they already struggle even to support their own families. And the diocese of Gboko, in which the school is situated, is also poor, having been established only recently in 2012 and still struggling to build itself up and cope with the growing economic, political and social challenges around it.
But now the Saint Francis School urgently needs a new chapel. The parish church is 4 miles (6 km) away, and in order to get all the children to the church, the minibus has to travel there and back six times. As a result, the children can generally only get to Mass on Sundays. When it is possible, a priest comes to the school and celebrates Holy Mass there; but if no priest is available, then the pupils, teachers and other ancillary staff of the school say Morning Prayer together at the beginning of the day and the Rosary in the evening. But the school chapel is far too small and can only fit 60 people – whereas they now need space for at least 120. The ventilation is also poor, and so as a result they often pray and celebrate Mass outside, under the trees.
The school is continuing to grow, and in addition many people from outside also want to take part in the prayers, so now the sisters are planning to build a new chapel that will have space for 160 people. ACN is helping with 25,000 Euros.
A car for religious sisters in a deprived region of Northeast India
For more than 50 years now the missionary sisters of Mary, Help of Christians have been working in the north-east of India, the poorest region of the country and a place where many ethnic minorities live. This entirely Indian congregation, founded in 1942 in the state of Assam, has a broad apostolate. The sisters work above all with women and young girls, who are often victims of violence and even human trafficking. They also teach the children in village schools and run boarding homes so that the children from the remote and inaccessible villages can also have the opportunity to attend school. In addition, they run “mobile clinics”, going out into the villages and treating the sick there. They care for the elderly, orphans, street children and the handicapped, minister to the sick and at the same time instruct the people in the Catholic Faith.
The second oldest mission station of the congregation is situated in Golaghat in the diocese of Dibrugarh. It is here that the sisters have been working for over 50 years now. The mission station has 33 outstations, serving a total of around 8,000 Catholics. There are nine sisters working here. With the exception of the eldest sister, who is now 87 years old, all the other sisters until recently had to walk on foot to the often distant villages in order to carry out their apostolate. But this took a great deal out of the sisters in terms of time and energy, and in addition some of the sisters suffer from various health problems, so making these long journeys on foot yet more difficult. Besides, the journeys are dangerous, and in the twilight wild elephants often come very close to the villages. And so the congregation turned to ACN for help. Thanks to your generosity, we were able to help them with a contribution of 8,000 Euros.
Sister Mary Sebastian has now written to thank us: “The sisters were overwhelmed with joy when I brought them the good news from you. Thank you! We don’t know how to express our joy to you all. Needless to say, we have promised you our prayers, and we are keeping this promise. Every Friday we have Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which we offer for every single one of you.”
Help for the catechetical centres in the Melkite archdiocese of Homs, Hama and Yabroud
Homs is in western Syria, just over 100 miles (162 km) from the capital Damascus. Prior to the civil war this city was one of the principal industrial centres of the country, along with the still more important centre of Aleppo.
The Old City of Homs was once a jewel and the people of the different religious faiths lived there peacefully together. In March 2011, however, the situation escalated, with protests against the governor. On Good Friday blockades were erected in order to prevent the demonstrators from moving freely through the streets, and shortly afterwards seven demonstrators in Homs were shot dead. On this one day, apparently, over 1,000 demonstrators were killed, throughout Syria.
In the bloody civil war that followed, and which has now lasted four years, Homs became a central battleground of the conflict between the rebels and the government troops. Father Andrzej Halemba, head of ACN’s project section for the Middle East, explains: “Homs became a veritable hell; day after day the city saw heavy fighting, with casualties on both sides. Homs became a bloody battleground, which many people have even compared with the Battle of Stalingrad.”
In May 2014 the opposition capitulated. The thousands of people who, two years earlier, had fled from what was once dubbed as the Syrian “capital of the revolution”, returned to their homes to find a scene of apocalyptic destruction in the city – burned out buildings with nothing but the walls still standing, other buildings reduced to nothing but dust and twisted metal, and everywhere rubble and the burnt out skeletons of vehicles.
The Greek Melkite Archbishop of Homs, Hama and Yabroud, Mgr. Jean Abdo Arbach is now doing all he can to continue the pastoral work of his diocese, despite the civil war. He is particularly concerned to help the children and young people to grow in their faith, and also to help the adults to face up to the many challenges to their faith in Syria today. For he knows that this is the only sure basis for a better future.
Some of the catechetical centres of the diocese were destroyed by the bombing; others were looted and have lost their entire furnishings. But there are still 10 centres where work is continuing, and the number of participants ranges from 480 in Yabroud down to 100 in Kara. At the moment there are three hours of instruction, three times a week. Altogether there are 3,300 young people and 350 teachers. The catechists and priests work for nothing. Each centre is under the supervision of the parish priest, who is helped by religious sisters.
Bishop Arbach is asking our help to refurbish the buildings and re-equip them with the necessary teaching materials, so that the instruction can take place once again. We are helping with 70,000 Euros.
Success Story: Solar panels for a mission boat in the Amazon region
In a large proportion of the Upper Amazonas Region, where Brazil, Peru and Colombia meet, there are scarcely any roads. People either live in the big cities, like Manaus, or else on the banks of the Amazon and its tributaries, including the Jacuraçá, the Acuruí and the Içá. Many places can be reached only by boat.
The centre of the parish of Santo Antônio de Lisboa is the town of Santo Antônio do Içá. It has a population of 17,000 and is situated at the confluence of the Rio Içá and the Rio Solimões. Within the city, the Italian missionary, Frei Gino Alberati ministers to 5 smaller communities, with the help of two other Capuchin missionaries and two novices. But at the same time they also care for 34 riverside communities along the Rio Içá and another six on the Rio Solimões. 12 of these settlements are entirely indigenous communities of the Tikuna tribe. They all need pastoral care, but the Tikuna in particular also need support and development aid, including medical care, education and help in developing some form of agriculture…
For the first 20 years of their mission the Capuchin Fathers still used wooden boats in order to reach the people, but these were unwieldy, heavy and in frequent need of repair. Major work had to be done on them every other year. And besides, with the new measures to protect the Amazon rainforests, the price of timber has soared to dizzying heights. And so, in 2003 a new era in their mission began with a new, aluminium boat, the Itinerante, which they were able to buy thanks to the help of the benefactors of ACN.
Since then, Frei Gino has had the Itinerante cut in half and a new 4.5 m long section added in the middle in order to extend it. Now the boat is 20.67m long and as a result it no longer sits so clumsily in the water, with the additional bonus that the fuel and oil consumption has been considerably reduced. For even though Frei Gino drives very gently, at a speed of just 6 knots (12 km/h – he could travel at more than double that speed – up to 26 km/h) he still needs 600 litres (120 gallons) of diesel for the 340 km journey up the Rio Içá and back. In fact when the river level is low he uses as much as 800 litres, owing to all the additional twists and turns in the river.
Only when there is an emergency does Frei Gino turn up the speed. Once, for example, he was able to save the life of a child who had been bitten by a snake and could not be treated at the health centre, by taking him quickly to the hospital in São Paulo de Olivença. Another time, an 18-year-old girl with appendicitis was also saved, thanks to the mission boat.
Thanks to the refitting, the boat can now carry up to 40 people. And this is a real gain. For many activities, such as the training of catechists or community leaders for example, and also development help projects, take place in Santo Antônio. With the boat he can carry all the participants there and back. And there is also a largish multipurpose room on board the boat, so that Holy Mass, marriages and baptisms can be celebrated on the spot and also meetings held. Sometimes Frei Gino also takes development aid workers with him or members of the Equipe Itinerante from Tabatinga. On other occasions he is helped by a missionary sister from the Hallel Community or by missionaries from other regions.
One journey up the Rio Içá takes 20 days. Each year he undertakes two such journeys, plus an additional 48 shorter, weekend journeys. Last year in fact he even made four such major journeys. Frei Gino and his confreres certainly do not give themselves an easy life. Thanks to the help of our benefactors, however, who have given 14,000 Euros, we have been able to somewhat ease the rigour of these difficult journeys by helping to install an efficient solar energy system on the Itinerante. So now they have an electricity supply on the boat and can run a refrigerator, for example, which is a great bonus on these weeks-long journeys. They can also use a satellite phone, a source of greater safety and security. Frei Gino says a heartfelt thank you to all the benefactors and asks God’s blessing on all who have helped.
A solar electricity system for a parish without electric power
Haiti is one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world, and a politically unstable one to boot. It is still only slowly recovering from the terrible earthquake that devastated the island in 2010. In many areas the infrastructure still has not been restored and many buildings are still not yet rebuilt. The electricity supply is inadequate, to say the least. So too in Marmelade, a small town 20 miles (32 km) south of the port city of Cap-Haïtien, electricity is a rarity. While in Haiti generally, electricity is something of a luxury, for the 30,000 or so inhabitants of Marmelade it is quite simply unthinkable. Marmelade is extremely poor; its people just about manage to make ends meet through land work and livestock rearing.
Since September 2013 Father Méhu Charles Joseph has been in charge of the Catholic parish of the Immaculate Conception in the Platon quarter of the town. Parish work is somewhat limited however, since there is no electric lighting. For example, at the morning Masses and at the evening events in the parish, as Father Méhu explains. He is asking ACN for help to install a solar generating system that will provide a reliable 24-hour supply of electricity. This will not only make it easier for the morning Masses and the evening activities, but will also make life considerably easier for many of the schoolchildren, who sometimes have to study after dark. “We are very conscious of the importance and value of light. Not without reason, it is a synonym for life”, Father Méhu writes in his request to ACN.
We are hoping to be able to help him to install solar lighting panels, with a contribution of 26,000 Euros.
Help to repair the roof of the convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Shortandy
For 15 years now the Sisters of Mercy (also known as the Vincentian Sisters) have been working in Kazakhstan. They care for the elderly and infirm and also especially for children from difficult home backgrounds. Poverty is on the increase in the country and many children cannot even do their homework at home, because there is no electricity or because their homes are unheated in the bitter winters – when the temperature often falls to -40°C. The children are able to come to the sisters in the afternoon and be given a hot meal; then they can play, and do their homework in peace. At the same time the sisters are preparing them to receive the sacraments. For many of these children the sisters’ convent is their real home. Often, their life story is an unhappy one. For example, one little girl had to come to church quite alone for the day of her First Holy Communion, since not one member of her family would come with her. At the very moment when this little girl was receiving the Lord for the first time, her mother was already drunk at home. In many cases it is through the children that the sisters are able to gain access to their families, who are also in need of help.
The first convent of the Sisters of Mercy was consecrated on 8 December 2000, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is situated in the town of Shortand, in the Archdiocese of Astana.
When the house was first built, the available building materials were of poor quality, which was a problem in Kazakhstan generally at the time. Given the extreme climatic conditions – the extreme heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter – the roof is now in urgent need of repair as a result.
“We would be most grateful for your support, and we pray for all your benefactors!” writes Sister Grazyna. We have promised them 4,000 Euros.
Help for the training of priests
The city of Uzhhorod is situated within the Greek Catholic eparchy (diocese) of Mukachiv in the West of Ukraine. Uzhhorod was the first city in Ukraine in which a new seminary was built, following the political changes in the country. There had in fact been a seminary here since before the Soviet era. It had been housed in the city castle. However, it was expropriated by the communists and the rooms were eventually given to the university. Even after the end of communism, they were not given back to the Church.
Right from the start – for over 20 years now, that is – ACN has been supporting this seminary, which is named after the martyred Bishop Theodor Romzha, who was murdered in 1947 and later beatified, in June 2001, by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Ukraine. ACN helped for the construction of the seminary and continues to help every year for the formation of the seminarians. Currently there are 84 young men here, training to serve the Lord at the Altar. This year ACN has promised 50,400 Euros – in other words 600 Euros for each seminarian – so that they can continue their formation throughout the year.