WORLD CUP 2018 – ACN’s winning team


The World Cup is beginning! And all eyes are on Russia. The next few weeks will be of intense interest for players and football fans alike. And so we, in the Pontifical Foundation ACN, have decided to create our own team. They are men and women who represent many other ‘players’ from the 140 countries where ACN supports their pastoral projects – professionals who have dedicated their lives, away from the spotlight or the applause of the crowds and strive with all their hearts to gain the decisive victory. A victory that consists in bringing happiness to those entrusted to their care. And so let us introduce you to our team!   

HEAD COACH –  Sister Christine Joseph: Sister Christine is responsible for supporting the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in India.  In total, they number around 85,000 small local communities with 200,000 animators or lay leaders. These Indian Catholics frequently belong to the poorest classes of society, and it is for this reason that Sister Christine travels thousands of kilometres every year to support them. Like every good trainer, she is there to teach them, encourage them and help them to get the best out of themselves. This support is extremely important for the Catholics of India, who are facing growing and increasingly violent discrimination in many areas. The victory that Sister Christine is striving for is to ensure that none of them should feel alone. Her strategy is to create a network of relations between each individual and God, and likewise between the Christians themselves.


GOALKEEPER – Sister Annie Demerjian: Just as the basic task of the goalie is to keep out the goals, so with Sister Annie her vital duty as a defender is to fight off the strikers and “block the attacks”, to be agile and flexible in warding off the blows of destiny for hundreds of families in Aleppo, Hasake and Damascus. Her principal mission is to prevent hunger, solitude or sickness from overcoming their defences and defeating them since she is the last line of defence on the team. The Sisters of Jesus and Mary have to be technically and tactically on top of the situation to block these assaults of evil – whether with medical support or such basic necessities as food, clothing and footwear… Sister Annie maintains constant communication with her team of volunteers in order to carry off the victory against a war that has been raging for over seven years now, intent on crushing the spirit of the Christians of Syria.

CENTRAL DEFENDER –  Cardinal Nzapalainga: A vital position this – Archbishop Nzapalainga is the one devoting all his energies to neutralising the opposition. Where hatred and incomprehension seek to control the field of play in the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world, the Cardinal Archbishop of the capital, Bangui takes to the field, ready to put his life on the line and respond to the onslaughts of the Seleka rebels and the Anti-Balaka, both of them radical groups intent on inflaming interreligious conflict. With his message of peace and reconciliation, Cardinal Nzapalainga is holding back the evil that has struck at one of the most forgotten and neglected regions of the world. 

CENTRAL DEFENDER –  Bishop Oliver Dome: The Bishop of Maiduguri is a bulwark of the faith in Northern Nigeria, where he has defended and cared for his flock. His diocese has suffered among the most from the attacks of Boko Haram. Exercising good leadership and tactical intelligence, he has established aid projects for widows and orphans and rebuilt the diocesan structures, including the cathedral, which was the target of a bombing attack. His great tactical and defensive strength lies in prayer. Bishop Dome is repelling and warding off the attacks with one of the most proven and effective weapons in the history of persecution – the prayer of the Holy Rosary.

WINGER –  Mother María Luján: This Argentinian religious sister lives and works in Paraguay. Like all the sisters of the Congregation of Jesus Word and Victim, she plays on the wing in our team, with her ability to cover the ground and her spirit of sacrifice. Her role takes her to the margins of the playing field, where with her sisters every kind of difficulty assails them. Ready to step in and fill every gap, they respond in whatever way they can – on horseback, by car, tractor or bicycle – nothing can stop them from reaching those remote and inhospitable corners that no one else can reach… Swift and resourceful, inspired by grace and faith, their eye always on the ball, whether at 14,000 feet in the mountains or 1000 km downstream in the jungle…

CENTRE –  Father James Channan: Like all the players who occupy this position, this Dominican priest is creative, with a great capacity to link up with other players and outwit his rivals. And that is no easy matter in a country like Pakistan where Christians face discrimination and marginalisation. Father James is a skilled team player whose goal is to protect the besieged Christian minority in the country. As director of the Peace Centre in Lahore, he fights tirelessly to promote peace, harmony and dialogue between believers of different religions in his country, which at the present time especially faces so many challenges of violence, terrorism, extremism and discrimination in the name of religion.

MIDFIELD PLAYER – Father George Jahola: The central midfielder is very important in controlling and directing the pattern of play, and likewise fundamental is the role of Father George in organising the rebuilding of the Christian villages and towns in the Nineveh Plains. It takes a cool head, thinking ahead, deciding on positions, helping and encouraging tiring players and responding rapidly to unexpected situations. Dozens of different things for all these Iraqi Christian families who want to return to their original homes, which were destroyed by ISIS. Father George is handling the situation with great dexterity in his own field of play in the north of Iraq on the frontier with Kurdistan – ready to step in as a builder, architect, plumber or electrician… Like every good midfielder, you need to be able to step into any role.

ADVANCED MIDFIELDER –  Father Walter Coronel: This is the best way to describe the work of Father Walter in Ecuador. Ready to help his local Church team, wherever his bishop needs him. He is an “assist” or support player, always ready to come to the support of his teammates. A missionary in the Amazon region, in areas, remote from civilisation and threatened by flooding – until the earthquake struck in Ecuador in 2016, bringing the country to its knees and affecting above all the diocese of Portoviejo, his home diocese. His bishop asked him to coordinate the aid for the thousands of victims – and now that the worst has passed he is dedicating himself to repairing and rebuilding the chapels and churches, which are always the focus of new hope in the face of such suffering. So now Father Walter is also the “team physio”, getting his players back on their feet. Already he has managed to reopen more than half a dozen churches, with the help of ACN. A great organiser, he supplies the tactical balance to the whole team, guiding the tempo and not letting himself be deterred by the lack of means.

CENTRE FORWARD –  Archbishop Komarica: Archbishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka is a born fighter, dedicated to reclaiming the rights of the Catholic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He needs to stress the vertical dimension to find the spiritual depth, yet work on the horizontal dimension to keep the Catholic presence alive, while others are seeking only to sideline the Catholic community and force them to emigrate. He is not afraid to speak out clearly when necessary, or when fighting on what is by no means a level playing field. In a country that is a potential powder keg, Archbishop Komarica does not let himself be intimidated by the hostility and indifference around him. “I will keep fighting, although they have attacked me, even physically. If we remain silent, our opponents will win.”

FORWARD STRIKER –  Father Shields is on the frontline if anybody is. This missionary priest from the United States is the only Catholic priest in Eastern Siberia. He is over 800 miles away from the next nearest Catholic mission and has devoted his life to fighting for the forgotten ones. Ordained in Alaska, Father Shields has been working for the past 20 years in Russia, and his game strategy is based on contemplative prayer before the Eucharist. Once a week he spends an entire day, 24 hours, in prayer in his tiny hermitage. This is where he works out his tactics, draws in his opponents and establishes his gameplan. Then he goes out to meet his faithful and does not hesitate to cross vast distances – both physical and spiritual – in order to reach them.

FORWARD STRIKER –  Sister Catarina: This Italian missionary sister also plays as a Forward striker in Papua New Guinea, together with the four other religious sisters of her community. She not only makes the play but is also an outstanding finisher. For here in the heart of the rainforest in the diocese of Bereina, she has forged a team of specialists in the education of children and young adults. Many boys and girls have now learned their three ‘Rs thanks to the tireless work of these religious sisters, who know how to take the game to their opponents and finish cleanly, and who are here for the long term, undeterred by hard work and weariness. 

CENTRE FORWARD – You! (our benefactors): Without a rounded team, no one is going to be able to win the game. And while the rest of the team prepare the gameplan, work out their strategy and whether the attacks of the opposing team, there is one more thing that is so often needed – your help! Your prayer, your knowledge of our projects and your financial support can very often be the final touch needed for success. So let’s play together, join our team for this charity World Cup – and help them to win!


Maria Lozano – ACN International