ACN Canada


ACN Press Release – Pope Francis in Egypt

27.04.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN Interview, ACN PRESS, Africa, By Mario Bard, egypt, Jesuits, Journey with ACN, Pope Francis

Pope Francis in Egypt

“Re-knitting ties with Islam”


Montreal, April 27, 2017 – Father Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and specialist in Islam, and a professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome, visited the Canadian national office of Aid to the Church in Need last Thursday (20 April 2017). An Egyptian himself, born in Cairo, he gave us this interview in light of the forthcoming visit of the Pope to Egypt. We asked his views on the papal visit, on the importance of dialogue between Islam and Christianity and the fear of seeing the Middle East emptied of Christians. Here are some extracts from the interview.

Father Samir: Pope Francis wants to ”Reknit the ties with Islam”.


He spoke to Mario Bard of ACN Canada.


ACN: What would you say to Pope Francis in regard to his approaching visit to Egypt? Would you tell him to stay in Rome or to go ahead with his visit?

Father Samir: Being the man he is, I think he must go. He is not someone who is afraid. At the same time, considering the possibility of an assassination attempt, I believe that Egypt will do the impossible to protect him and ensure that there are no dangerous elements around – if only for their own sense of honour. Looking at it this way, I think that everything should go ahead normally.

And besides, there is the character of Pope Francis himself, who might well say, “I’m not afraid of anything and I am in the midst of the people. And if I should die, well, I am like anyone else, simply because I happen to be in this place [where there is an attack].” So that might explain why he has decided to go ahead with his visit.

Moreover, for a long time now he has wanted to reknit the ties between the Vatican and Islam. And this is what he told me personally when I had a half-hour conversation with him a few months ago. He told me, “Why is it that I insist on the fact that Islam is a religion of peace? Because we need, first of all, to rekindle our friendship with the Muslims and with Al Azhar.”


Why is it necessary to “re-knit our ties.” What has happened?

Let me recall the context: there was the attack in Alexandria on the Coptic Church at Christmas, six years ago. Someone blew himself up and there were dozens of deaths. A few days later Pope Benedict XVI, in a meeting with the ambassadors of the Holy See, said: “I call on the president of the Egyptian Republic to protect the Christians.” In response Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, the rector of the Al Azhar University, declared that it was unacceptable for the Pope to interfere in Egyptian politics and broke off relations with Rome. Today, after a number of fruitless attempts, relations have resumed. And it was the principal aim of Pope Francis to re-establish relations with Islam and with the Al Azhar University in particular, which represents the majority of Muslims in the world – 80% or so. It represents an unassailable moral and intellectual authority for them.


Father Samir, why is it important to maintain an interreligious dialogue with Islam?

First of all, because Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with over 1.5 billion Muslims scattered in almost every country of the world. We cannot ignore it. Second, because Islam is a monotheistic religion, alongside Judaism and Christianity. And hence we have to be able to engage in dialogue with them. That is the essential aspect, I think. It is not a question of a political goal. It boils down to saying: let us endeavour to understand one another. In just the same way as we maintain a dialogue with the Jews.


People are saying that the Middle East is in the process of being emptied of Christians. What can be done to change the way this pattern? Even many Muslims do not want this situation to come about.

Most Muslims say, “We need the Christians.” Recently there was a radio broadcast in Egypt which impressed everyone. The theme of the eight-minute programme was the Christian schools which educated the intelligentsia of Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries.

People can also see Lebanon, which is the only country in the Arab world with a certain degree of parity, precisely because it was the Christians who built it – even though today they represent no more than 35% of the population. In the Parliament the Muslims want to retain the balance of 64 Muslims and 64 Christians, because they maintain that this is essential. It is recognized by all Muslims who think about it.

Besides, as to the disappearance of Christians in the Middle East, in Egypt it is they who are, so to speak, the indigenous ones! People are aware that if they wish to maintain the national conscience, they cannot eliminate the Christians. Unfortunately, for reasons that are political, economic and religious, the Christians are leaving, more and more. And what is happening at the moment is what is wanted by ISIS/Islamic state/Daesh. But they are fanatics. Globally speaking, the Muslims are not fanatics. They lack the courage to say that these people should be arrested. Instead of that they say: ‘it has nothing to do with Islam’, which resolves nothing. But in their heart of hearts, the majority of Muslims say, “no, it is shameful!”

What we must do now, if they are to stay, is to help them so that they can stay in their own homes. In Egypt that is not a major problem, owing to the large number of Christians (almost 10 million). But in Iraq and Syria, where the homes of the Christians have been destroyed, it takes enormous courage to stay on in the country. That is what the patriarchs are doing, including Patriarch Sako of the Chaldeans, of Babylon. He is fighting with all his strength to prevent the Christians from emigrating, to encourage them to remain, to save the local Church. And it is the same thing in Syria.

We have to help them to stay on. To help them financially as far as we are able, but also to help them morally by supporting them and attempting to put a stop to this crime which is ISIS.”

Aid to the Church in Need is helping 3000 young people from all over Egypt who will travel on pilgrimage to Cairo to be present for the visit of Pope Francis on 28 and 29 April. Their visit began on Tuesday 25 April and includes liturgical celebrations in various shrines on the road to Cairo, celebration of Holy Mass, confessions and a visit to the hospitals in Cairo the day before the arrival of the Pope. The group will include 250 representatives from every Catholic diocese in Egypt, in addition to the 1,000 participants from the capital itself.



ACN Project of the Week in Peru : Expansion of pastoral activities in the Rain Forest

19.04.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Pastoral care, Pastoral work, Peru, Project of the Week


Expansion of the pastoral outreach program in the Amazon rainforest

Forty-five years ago Sister Maria Luisa Maduell left everything to follow Christ by joining the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus. A vocation that took her from Spain, deep into the Amazon region of eastern Peru into the apostolic vicariate of Yurimaguas, a region largely covered by Rainforest. She believes that it was Providence that sent her to the indigenous peoples of the Rainforest.


The living conditions of the indigenous peoples are very simple and they are very poor. Their huts have roofs made of palm leaves and most of the small riverside settlements are only accessible by boat. There are no roads, the only medical and educational help they receive comes from the local missionaries. The women cook their meals on open wood fires and grow a few basic vegetables in little garden plots. Their basic diet consists of yucca, plantain bananas and occasionally a little fish. “As a religious, I often sit with the women and cook alongside them. It is important to be close to the people, simply to be with them,” explains Sister Maria Luisa.


The apostolic vicariate of Yurimaguas covers a vast area of some 70,000 km². The Catholic faithful are thinly scattered across this area and there are far too few priests. Sister Maria Luisa works in the parish of Saint Thomas, or Santo Tomàs del Rio Paranapura, providing all the pastoral care, since at the present time there is no priest here. She has two other sisters and a few lay helpers to support her. The lay helpers in this work of evangelization are themselves very simple people, and Sister Maria Luisa speaks of them with enormous admiration: “They have only a minimal formal education, and yet in their own way they are theologians, mystics, people of great faith and above all of unbelievable generosity,” she says. Every month, each of them visits the people in the area assigned to him and prays with them, helping them to understand the Gospel message and grow in faith and in love for Jesus Christ. In this way they manage to visit three quarters of their vast parish area each month.

Bishop José Luis Astigarraga, who sadly died in January 2017, was delighted at their commitment and spoke of a “truly missionary undertaking.” He had been bishop of Yurimaguas since 1991 and was for many years a friend of ACN. Thanks to the continuing and faithful support of our benefactors, we were able to help him regularly and generously. Only shortly before his death he again thanked us and all our benefactors for the help they have given for his apostolic vicariate over the years. It was his cherished wish that the activities in the parish of Saint Thomas on the Rio Paranapura not only be continued but indeed intensified, and he wrote to us saying, “I not only approve this project but want to see it go further.” And he urged us to support Sister Maria Luisa and her helpers by providing catechetical material, training up more lay helpers and giving further in-service training to those already involved in this work, and also so that they could take part in retreat days.

We are delighted to report that we have been able to fulfill one of the last wishes of the late bishop and are planning to support the project with $21,750.



The Democratic Republic of Congo, an agony ignored by the world

12.04.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, DRC Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo

A death struggle forgotten by the world


The wave of violence that is currently tearing apart the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to affect the Church as well. However, there is still hope for peace. Representatives of the recently attacked seminary of Malole (Kasai-Central) ask for prayers for peace in the country and for solidarity so that they may return to their work. The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need plans to support the rebuilding efforts as soon as peace is restored.

On the left: Father Richard and Father Appolinaire

Father Richard Kitengie Muembo, rector of Christ the King Theological Seminary in Malole in DRC, (which was partially set on fire and destroyed on  February 18 by rebels fighting against the government) visited the international headquarters of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need in Germany  with Father Apollinaire Cibaka Cikongo, executive secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Kananga (ASSEPKA). The meeting was held to in order to report on the current situation and to ask for support in restoring the seminary in Kasai-Central, so that theology classes can begin again as soon as the situation in the Congolese region permits.

“We never thought that we would become the target of attacks. It happened because militia loyal to the late tribal leader Kamwina-Nsapu wanted to set up their headquarters on the premises of the seminary. We declined and tried to find a peaceful solution through dialogue. Unfortunately, the local authorities chose a military solution to end the conflict. This led the rebels to attack our seminary on Saturday, 18 February. Thankfully, since we had noticed that the situation was becoming very dangerous, we had already gotten the seminarians out,” said Father Richard.


Democratic Republic of Congo, 02. April 2017
On 31 March, a militia group attacked the city of Luebo, which is located 200 kilometres west of Malole. The rebels looted and burned down the Episcopal See

Dragging the Church into the conflict

“The 77 seminarians, ranging in age from 21 to 27 and originally from seven different dioceses in the country, have suffered terribly. They had to flee for two days, taking only what they were wearing with them. Families then took them in and had to stay with them for three weeks until they could be moved, which, in some cases, was only possible with the help of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). The media was informed of this,” Father Apollinaire who is on the faculty of Christ the King Seminary confirmed. The seminary itself was looted, destroyed and parts of it set on fire. The Carmelite sisters also had to leave their convent enclosure, which is situated about 400 metres from the seminary.

In July 2016, tribal leader Jean-Pierre Kamwina Nsapu Pandi contested the legitimacy of the central government. He called for a rebellion and attacked the local police, whom he accused of abuse of power, as well as rival communities. Kamwina Nsapu was killed by security forces on August 12. This led his followers to take up the fight against the central government. What began as a small opposition movement against the government has become an open battle. According to the latest MONUSCO reports, this battle has cost the lives of at least 400 civilians as well as a large number of law enforcement officers.

On March 31, a militia group attacked the city of Luebo, located 200 kilometres west of Malole. The rebels looted and burned down the Episcopal See. They set fire to the coordinating office for Catholic schools and the novitiate, which provides training to Sisters. Finally, they desecrated the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This is a new scope of the attacks: “The Catholic Church is highly respected in this country because it has never let itself be co-opted by any political group. Attempts are now being made to embroil the Church in the conflict. Since December of last year, the Catholic Church has been the mediator between government and opposition to find a transitional arrangement,” Father Richard explained.

In a communication published February 25, ASSEPKA accused the government of the poor administration of traditional forces, which have been manipulated and politicized. The assembly pointed out as well the disappointments suffered by the long-excluded region and the unemployment affecting large numbers of young people. Both are at the heart of the violence in the region. “However, we have also heard of superstitious rituals: they recruit children and adolescents, give them a potion and a ritual bath, and let them believe that they cannot be harmed by bullets, that they are immortal. And so they commit barbaric crimes, just as if they were under the influence of drugs,” Father Apollinaire added.

The crisis in Kasai caused by Kamwina-Nsapu militia in the southern part of the country is one of five armed conflicts in DRC. An appeal addressed to the Security Council of the United Nations by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference on March  20, 2017, described human rights violations taking place in four other parts of the country: the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) continues to cause problems in the North; North Kivu in the eastern part of the country; Tanganyika province, where fighting has broken out between the Batwa and Bantu, and finally the central part of the country, including the capital of Kinshasa, where political tensions have arisen through the general elections.

After the attacks to the seminar in Malole in Democratic Republic of Congo, 07. April 2017

Democratic Republic of Congo
Father Appolinaire preparing to leave the seminar after the attacks to the seminar in Malole

Rebuilding as soon as possible

Even though the current situation does not permit its implementation at this time, the two representatives of the seminary presented to the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need a project for the immediate reconstruction of the buildings damaged by looting and fire, to ensure that the seminary will be able to reopen as soon as conditions improve. “Hope keeps us going. We are not just going to wait and see, because we would like our seminarians to be able to complete the interrupted academic year. The next seminary is located 400 kilometres away. The lack of infrastructure, the state of the country and security aspects are such that we cannot send the students there. We would also like to ask all the benefactors and friends of the pastoral charity to pray for peace in our country.”

Together with this request for aid, Father Richard has also made an appeal to the international community, “The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in the same situation as all of the Congolese people. Parts of the population are hiding in the jungle. Schools have been closed, hunger reigns … We dream of an end to this pointless war. Looters from all over the world come here to exploit the country. Anyone who uses modern technology nowadays is in some way using the blood of the Congolese people,” the priest pointed out. With this, he is referring to Coltan, a black ore made of columbite and tantalite used, among other things, in the production of batteries for mobile devices, GPS and computers. Coltan is one of the so-called “blood ores” because its extraction involves human rights violations and is used to finance armed groups and thus to continue existing conflicts.

After the attacks to the seminar in Malole in Democratic Republic of Congo, 07. April 2017

“The suffering of the Congolese is the suffering of the world. Together, we can end this war. It is necessary to stop being indifferent, to end the silence. To say NO to violence, to the industry of death, to the arms factories and the arms trade. Technology should make lives easier, not end lives. We should use it to discuss the hard reality of the Congo, to ask for prayers and international support to uphold life and human rights,” Father Apollinaire continued.

In 2016, Aid to the Church in Need granted more than 4.8 million to fund projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last year, the pontifical charity supported 41 seminaries in RDC, which benefited 1,229 seminarians.


By Maria Lozano, ACN-International
Adapted by: Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need  Canada


Night of Witnesses – The testimony of Mother Mary Catherine KINGBO of Niger

11.04.2017 in ACN France, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Feature Story, Niger, Sisters

Night of Witnesses – Paris, France

The testimony of Mother Mary Catherine of Niger

It is early January 2015. There is a media flurry of the Mohammed cartoons in the satirical French Paris based magazine Charlie Hebdo, and tension is mounting in Niger.

On January 16 and 17, incensed crowds of Muslim demonstrators begin attacking churches and schools, convents and religious houses, as well as individual Christian citizens. The most seriously affected regions are those of Zinder and Niamey, fires are also burning in Maradi and in other regions. We, the Catholic religious Sisters who established ourselves here in Niger in 2006, prepare ourselves for the worst.

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016 – Emergency help for the refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: Woman receives  relief supplies

In some countries of Africa, people associate Christianity with the West. In some of the villages of Niger, people even thought I must have been white at birth, because I was Catholic! As you can see, what you do in the West has an impact on us Christians here – and all the more so since the population of Niger is 98% Muslim! During this time of suffering and uncertainty, my daily prayer is inspired by these words of the Prophet Micah: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me.” Yes, these people who have benefited from so much care, education and love from the Catholic Church in Niger, who have come knocking on our doors, day and night, asking for food and help in their poverty. These are the same people who have now turned against us. Throwing stones at us, burning our churches and trying to prevent us from wearing a cross.

Had it not been for the intervention of the police during that month of January 2015, we would not have been spared. In the community of which I am the Superior General we were a group of 20 or so Sisters and novices. Some were afraid. So I put this question to them: Do you want to leave or remain here? Not one of them left, despite their fear and insecurity. We remained barricaded inside the convent, unable to attend Mass, for three weeks. We adored, and prayed as usual. I trusted in God, and in the people whom we are helping.

Now that you know this, make my true face known in a Muslim environment.” That was how the Lord asked me to be his witness. The place of this mission came to me clearly in the course of my prayer: “Set out for Niger.”

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016 – Emergency help for refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: The plastic sheeting is covering the huts of the displaced and refugees 

You know, it has been 11 years since I came from Senegal to help the people of Niger, as God asked of me. One day in 2005, as I was following a course in Islam, I understood how the Muslims see Christ. Not as the Son of God, who died on the cross and was raised, but as a simple prophet. I was astonished, because they did not know this God of love and goodness. And then, it was if I was being challenged by Christ in these words: “Now that you know this, make my true face known in a Muslim environment.” That was how the Lord asked me to be his witness. The place of this mission came to me clearly in the course of my prayer: “Set out for Niger.”

In 2006 I left to begin my new mission, accompanied by a young Senegalese postulant, and we founded the first indigenous religious congregation there, the “Fraternité des Servantes du Christ (Fraternity of the Servants of Christ)”, with the approval of the diocesan bishop.

The objective was to show forth the tender face of the Lord, not to compel the Muslims to become Christians. We began by going through the villages, talking to the local people in order to get to know them better. We soon so many realized the precarious existence that a large proportion of the people were living in, especially the women and the children. Something had to be done to remedy the situation. For example, we met Absou, aged 27, with six children, a blind husband and no work. We invited her to come to our nutrition and healthcare centre for children and expectant mothers. We also discovered that young girls are sometimes given in marriage from the age of 11 to 12, and that some of them die as a result, in giving birth to their first child. And so we decided to organize teaching sessions for the mothers and young women, for the village chiefs, the young boys and the imams. We also wanted to get them to think about the radicalization of some of the young people, the preaching of some of the imams who incite people to violence, the consequences of the actions perpetrated by terrorists around the world.

“What unites us is neither religion, nor ethnicity, but love.”

In 2007, 24 participants attended our first session for the imams and village chiefs. It was incredible; we had never imagined that such people would respond to the appeal of a woman, a religious and a stranger! The most remarkable thing was when I asked the question, “Are you not bothered by a religious, a foreigner and a Catholic challenging your way of thinking?” One of them gave me this surprising and encouraging reply: “What unites us is neither religion, nor ethnicity, but love.” So without knowing it, he was already talking about God. Currently we have more than a hundred imams and village chiefs attending these meetings every year.

Night of Witnesses – France (Paris cathedral) 2017

Today, indeed, the mentality has changed very much for the better.  A Nigerian woman –formerly Muslim – has joined our community and wants to become a nun! At the age of 15 she felt the desire to turn to Christ, to convert and to enter into the Consecrated Life. However, her choice did not come without difficulty leaving her rejected by her family who no longer wanted to have any contact with her, but who came around in the end. Also, there is also a Muslim dignitary in our district who has entrusted us with his seven-year-old daughter and wants her to become a boarder and a Catholic. Her faith has begun to awaken in her, and she is currently attending our preschool.

 I would like to ask you to pray the “Hail Mary,” each of you in your own language, for all women who suffer.

There is still, however, some way to go to reach many hearts. Last December, a group of young men violently harassed one of our workers, just because he was working for us, the Sisters. More than once, we have been subjected to having stones thrown on our roof during the evening office. One Christmas Day, outside the doors of our convent, some children came to shout insults at us. In the face of such aggression, since October 2014, we have had two police officers posted 24 hours a day at the entrance to our convent.
We, the Sisters of the Fraternité des Servantes du Christ, who are all from different backgrounds – from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and from Chad – have left everything in order to reveal the true face of the Lord, who is only LOVE. We draw our strength these words of Christ: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

To all of you who support us, and to all the television viewers, I would like to say Thank you! Despite the increasing insecurity in Niger, it is thanks to your perseverance in prayer and your support that we will be kept safe and be able to lead men and women of all nations to Christ, the Alpha and the Omega. I would like to ask you to pray the “Hail Mary,” each of you in your own language, for all women who suffer.



ACN Feature Story – A crucified people

06.04.2017 in ACN International, ACN KOREA, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, North Korea, Persecution of Christians, Religious freedom

In March, from the 23rd to the 27th, our colleagues from the French office of Aid to the Church in Need held an event called ‘Nuit des témoins’ (Night of Witnesses) held in Paris.  Here are the stories of some of these witnesses.  Here is the story of Philippe Blot, a missionary from the Foreign Missions of Paris dedicated to refugees from North Korea.


North Korea

A crucified people

As we know, for the past 60 years and more the « Land of the Morning Calm » has been cut in two, following a particularly bloody fratricidal war…

Earlier, I was able to travel to North Korea and, despite the constant surveillance by the police, I was able to verify the truth of various reports and hear numerous witness stories from North Korean refugees.

First of all in the hospitals: the situation is critical – no antibiotics, no dressings, not even any soap. To give you just one example, instead of bottles of serum for the transfusions, they use beer bottles filled with boiled sugar water!

I was able to visit some schools. They illustrate the chronic malnutrition of the entire population – with the exception of the apparatchiks of the regime of course! One needs to know that a North Korean child, aged seven, measures on average 20 cm less and weighs 10 kg less than a child in South Korea. The refugees were unanimous in telling me that in North Korea, « you have to bribe some member of the party or of the army in order to obtain basic necessities ». Hence corruption is the order of the day.

I was also surprised not to see any disabled people… The truth is that the North Korean regime, racist and eugenicist, is obsessed with the notion of racial purity in which those designated « abnormal » have no part. And, consequently, expelled from the major cities.

How to describe this communist regime in a few words? North Korea is a country so closed that no one can enter or move around without a visa… “Including God,” as the refugees, add with a touch of black humour. The two principal pillars of the repression are, on the one hand, total control over all the movements of the population and on the other, the ignorance of the outside world… So much so that the North Korean refugees who have succeeded in escaping discover to their astonishment a reality that is totally different from what they have been told ever since birth.

North Korea Monument to Party Founding

They describe all the unbridled Marxist propaganda inflicted on the people in order to make them zombies, submissive to the Communist Party. The dictator is presented as a veritable “god”, an idea unfailingly promoted in every speech, in all the teaching, all the information… The Kim dynasty – from grandfather to the grandson currently in power – is the object of a frenetic propaganda, with its 30,000 giant statues and portraits in every town and village and it slogans inscribed on vast billboards on every street and road… The North Koreans are taught to spy on their neighbours and colleagues and denounce one another for any failing in their duty towards the “Great Leader”. After the arrest of the transgressor, the whole neighbourhood and family are rounded up in order to criticize the transgressions of the supposed delinquent. Then, he is either deported, or everybody witnesses to his execution.

Speaking of the deportation camps, this gives me the opportunity to report on the Christian presence in the country. The gathering of witness statements and the observations of Western satellites enable us to estimate the number of persons detained in these veritable concentration camps – anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals. The brutality of the camp guards is the daily bread of these prisoners, who work 16 hours a day, suffer atrocious tortures, to say nothing of the public executions of those deemed to have been recalcitrant.

Among these “political prisoners”, those who suffer the worst treatment are the Christians, since they are regarded as spies, as “anti-revolutionaries of the first class.” According to the regime, there are around 13,000 of them, but according to humanitarian organizations, there are 20 to 40,000 – and they are singled out for the cruellest treatments of all – they are crucified, hanged from bridges or trees, drowned, or burned alive… Some witnesses describe tortures so horrible that decency prevents me from describing them to you…

For the rulers of North Korea every form of religion must be banished – in other words, both Christianity and Buddhism – since, as the Marxist “catechism” tells us, religion is the opium of the people. North Koreans do not know what a Bible is, nor consequently who God is. A few years ago, with great fanfare of propaganda, the government opened a Catholic church, a Protestant temple, and an Orthodox church in the capital – but of course, they are nothing but mere showpieces!

Yet despite all this, there is indeed an underground Church in North Korea, which is the object of continued persecution. When I asked North Korean refugees “ Have you heard mention of or have you seen a neighbour arrested for having been caught in the act of praying, either at home or in a secret place?”  many people answered in the affirmative. And, some information does manage to filter through; for example, two years ago, a pregnant woman aged 33 was arrested in possession of 20 Bibles. She was beaten severely, then hung by her feet in public. In May 2010, some 20 Christians were arrested; they were part of a clandestine Church. Three of them were immediately put to death and the rest were deported. It is thought that since 1995 at least 5,000 Christians have been executed, solely because they were praying secretly or distributing Bibles. Many North Koreans have become Christians thanks to the presence of foreign missionaries on the border. It is also known that some American and Canadian pastors of Korean origin are currently imprisoned in the political prisoners’ camps for having helped the refugees.

I met with some refugees in a country bordering on North Korea who, if arrested, risk being forcibly repatriated – which means prison, torture, the camps and death. If they are not repatriated, they risk falling into the hands of criminal organizations which traffic in human organs. Women and young girls risk being kidnapped by gangs and sold to peasants or, still worse, to brothel owners. A young Korean girl can be sold for $800-$1,2000…

For over 60 years, thousands of North Koreans have attempted to escape to a free country, but it is not so easy. They have to pass through China, which refuses to recognize the refugee status of those whom it persists in describing as « illegal immigrants ». Without papers, and therefore clandestine, there are numerous such people, who find work however they are able: ill paid, ill treated, without any rights and at the mercy of their employers…

Willing to extricate these refugees from this impossible situation are the people traffickers, who risk their lives but make sure they are well paid. They will smuggle people to South Korea if they wish it, or to Canada, or the United States and other countries, via Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand… To smuggle someone from North Korea to a third country, you need around 4,000 to 5,000 Euros for a false passport, transport, food; to pay the smuggler and the bribes to customs officials and police… And of course such “contracts” are entirely arbitrary, and it can happen that at the last moment the smuggler demands more money.

The longest Ways of the Cross in human history

In my meetings with North Korean refugees, I have heard stories that were so unbearable that tears of suffering and shame were pouring from my eyes… How is it possible for human beings to commit such atrocities? How can so many human lives be trampled underfoot in the midst of such total indifference?


And so, as a missionary and as a Catholic priest, I am speaking here on behalf of all those Koreans who for over 60 years have been living one of the longest Ways of the Cross in human history. I speak on behalf of those who have had an eye torn out, or another organ, without anaesthetic, so that they can be transplanted into rich Chinese, Japanese or others! I am speaking on behalf of all those North Koreans who are victims of the slave traders!

The attempts by these thousands of men, women and children to flee are a fact of major importance, and we need to emphasize the political and diplomatic aspects of it. Unfortunately, the countries closest to North Korea, and those further afield in Europe or America, are demanding no more than a few changes, in the name of “human rights,” without actually challenging the status quo – seemingly for the sake of “maintaining international relations,” they tell us – in reality to guarantee a “peace of compromise.” In effect they are postponing indefinitely the liberation of North Korea, and hence also the reunification of the country.

In conclusion, calculating things on a strictly geopolitical basis, the 21 million North Koreans risk having to wait a long time before seeing any radical improvement in their lot… Barring an intervention of God, that is, something we pray for ardently every day for this crucified people.


Merciful Lord Jesus,

I beg you to deliver our North Korean brothers and sisters from the chains that have held them captive now for over 70 years already.

Turn your loving gaze upon this suffering people …

Teach peace to the Korean nation, cut in half, north from south, by a fratricidal war. Help us to contribute to reconciliation and do not let us be carried away by despair.

Good Shepherd, reunite in your arms all our North Korean brothers and sisters, one by one. Envelop them in your tender saving love.

May Our Lady of Fatima bring down the wall of communism and help them to discover the freedom and joy of living as children of God.






ACN Project of the Week in Syria: Food aid for 1,500 refugee families

05.04.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to refugees, Persecution of Christians, Syria
Photo: Syria February 2016
Melkite Cathedral Sunday Divine Liturgy in Damascus

Our Project of the Week: in Syria

Food aid for 1,500 refugee families  

March 13, 2017 – was a tragic anniversary. Exactly 6 years ago, the terrible war began that has since devastated Syria. By this anniversary, 6.3 million people have been displaced within their own country that means 13.5 million people are now dependent on humanitarian aid. This represents roughly 2/3 of the population of the country. About 5 million people have officially registered as refugees in neighbouring countries. Many of the younger children have known nothing but war, nothing but exile from their homes.

We understand your aid as a sign of solidarity and love for the poorest of the poor, and it is also a gesture that will give hope to these suffering brothers and sisters of ours and show them that they are not forgotten.”

The Melkite Catholic patriarchate in Damascus has asked us to help to provide food for around 1,500 refugee families living in rural areas on the outskirts of the capital of Damascus. The idea is to provide the basic necessities such as milk for children, lentils, sugar, tea, oil canned goods and other basic necessities for the next three months. Fifteen volunteer helpers will distribute the food from three centres. The most needy families will be contacted individually to ensure they know exactly where and when they can collect the food.

Father Maher Masour who is in charge of the project, writes to us: “It is so sad to see these families living in such pitiful conditions and robbed of their dignity, full of fear for today and for tomorrow – the adults, and above all the children. We understand your aid as a sign of solidarity and love for the poorest of the poor, and it is also a gesture that will give hope to these suffering brothers and sisters of ours and show them that they are not forgotten.”

Thanks to you, we are supporting this project with 246 500 dollars – that is close to $54 per family, per month.

Thank you for helping us help these families!


Nigeria- Visit of solidarity at the very heart of the violence

04.04.2017 in ACN Feature, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Nigeria


Visit of solidarity at the very heart of the violence

A delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) composed of national directors and members of the communications department travelled two weeks ago to Nigeria.  The delegation visited dioceses situated in the North of Nigeria to the states of Borno, Jos and Kaduna, in order to visit projects supported by benefactors of the international organization and as a show of solidarity with the Christians of the region who are suffering tensions and acts of violence perpetrated by the terrorist group: Boko Haram.

Nigeria, March 2017
At the seminary of Kaduna

The delegation travelled by air to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, the birthplace of Boko Haram, still one of the states known today to be most severely affected by fundamentalist Islamist terror. Maiduguri itself is now under the government’s control that has driven the terrorists out of the town and as far as the swamps of Sambisa. The city has nevertheless suffered repeated suicide attacks in recent weeks.

Borno state has no fewer than 20 government refugee camps, for example Dalori, with over 14,000 people in it. There are also an estimated 500,000 refugees living in the state capital, where they have been taken in by family members, friends or charitable institutions. The ACN delegation visited 25 Catholic families from the community of Pulka de Gwoza, who have now been living as refugees for the past two years in an area made available to them by the Church in Maiduguri, and a non-government camp with 7,000 Christian refugees of various different denominations, run by the Christian Nigerian Association, CNA.

According to figures provided by the United Nations, Boko Haram has affected the lives of 26 million people, in Borno state and in five other states of Northern Nigeria. The Catholic diocese of Maiduguri alone has registered over 5,000 widows and 15,000 orphans. The ACN delegation was able to put faces to the statistics by listening to the terrible and agonizing testimonies of some of the victims. They listed to women speak of being forced to watch their husbands’ throats cut, priests who had to secretly evacuate dozens of children from the schools, people who had survived for weeks hidden in their homes in order to avoid being found by the terrorists.  There were also testimonies like those of Rebecca and Raquel, who were captured and tortured by Boko Haram. At the end of the visit, the Bishop of Maiduguri, Mgr. Oliver

The Good Sheperd Major Seminary in Kaduna
We help to build the new chapel

Doeme thanked the ACN delegation for the “uncommon courage you have displayed in taking the risk to come and strengthen our people. It was a wonderful and moving experience.”

Especially important for the information work of ACN was the visit to the diocese of Kafanchan, found in the southern part of the state of Kaduna.  Since the end of 2016, the state has suffered a spate of savage attacks by Fulani tribesmen, nomadic Muslim pastoralists, who have been destroying and annihilating Christian villages. Although these problems are ancestral and the Fulani are expanding across a number of African countries, in the region of Kafanchan there have been since 2011 no fewer than 71 villages attacked, with a total of 988 people killed, 2,712 houses and 20 churches destroyed, according to a report handed by the diocese to the ACN delegation. Above all, the lack of any protection or response by the security forces has created consternation in the Christian community here in the south of Kaduna state. The report documents cases of deliberate inaction and even collaboration by the state forces with the attackers.

The “joy and the faith” of Christians

The trip’s organizer, María Lozano, head of the international press department of ACN, summarizes the information gathered from various meetings with Church leaders and local political and press representatives in Jos, Plateau and Kaduna states: “The attacks by Boko Haram and the Fulani are only the tip of the iceberg, but in reality the Christians living in the states of northern Nigeria with a Muslim majority suffer constant discrimination and have been the victims of attacks and persecution in a cyclic and continuing manner for decades.

Bishop Oliver and his staff welcoming the ACN Delegation at the airport in Maiduguri

For example, in Kaduna in the 1970s the state government expropriated 17 Catholic schools without any form of compensation. Especially since the introduction of sharia law in the year 2000 by no fewer than 12 of the 19 states of North Nigeria, the civil and legal support for the Christians has been very feeble. This is something not widely known in the Western world. Nonetheless, the really moving thing about this trip, on a personal level, has been the joy and faith of these people. They are living in constant danger, yet their churches are full. When they ask for help in Europe to build churches, people often tell them, but it is very big, there is no need for such a big church… But they do need big churches, very big ones. It is difficult to understand from our perspective, but the people of Nigeria are truly thirsting for God. They are growing, and this is why they are being attacked, because the fundamentalists see them as a threat. They are proud and happy of their faith. Every Mass is a feast, every encounter a celebration of joy. And finally, the example of Christian forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of the attacks and harassment is a moving one.”

Nigeria, March 2017
After Sunday Mass at St. Rita in Kaduna (Pic taken by Dominik K.)

In addition to gathering first-hand information and visiting the communities who are suffering because of their faith, the ACN delegation took advantage of the occasion to visit some of the projects the charity has been funding in this part of the country, thanks to the generous support of its many benefactors. Among them were two churches and parish houses in Kaduna destroyed in attacks by Islamist fundamentalists and rebuilt thanks to the support of the charity as well as the major seminaries of Saint Augustine in Jos and the Good Shepherd in Kaduna, with 437 and 147 seminarians respectively.  Both are receiving annual support from ACN and now need help enlarging their premises, owing to the fact that the number of aspirants for the priesthood is growing and there is no physical space available to accommodate them.

Nigeria, March 2017
Brief meeting with Archbishop Kaigama in his office

A visit with a therapeutic effect

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, described the trip as the ‘Sacrament of Presence’ and summed up the effect of the visit by ACN to the dioceses of Maiduguri, Jos, Kafanchan and Kaduna with these words: “This visit brought to prominence the need for pastoral solidarity between the Church of other continents and Africa. Relationships should not be formed or based only on television, newspaper or radio reports or letters through posts or emails. Such a warm friendly visit by the fourteen men and women bound together by the mission and vision of ACN, who came to celebrate the “Sacrament of Presence” in Nigeria, is a veritable witnessing in love. The visit was therapeutic to a people traumatized by natural disasters, the menace of criminals and religious fanatics, persecution, discrimination and the challenges of daily life. They had time to learn about issues such as inter-religious dialogue (Muslim/Christian relationship in Nigeria), peace building initiatives, pastoral growth, etc.”


Meeting with Archbishop Ingnatius Kaigama and ACN Delegation


ACN is currently studying a package of emergency aid measures for those affected by the attacks of the Fulani in Kafanchan and for the victims of Boko Haram in the diocese of Maiduguri. At the same time, requests for help with the rebuilding of the minor seminary of Saint Joseph, which has been closed since 2014 after being destroyed by the terrorists of Boko Haram.


Nigeria, March 2017
Visit to Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) IDP Camp



By Maria Lozano, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian Office


ACN Project of the Week – A new dormitory for the seminary in Conakry

30.03.2017 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, CONSTRUCTION, Guinea, Journey with ACN, SEMINARIANS


A new dormitory for the seminary in Conakry

Guinea is an overwhelmingly Islamic country in which roughly 85% of the population of 11.6 million people are Muslim. Christians make up only around 8% in this country, while the remainder of the population adhere to the traditional African religions.

For decades, this country of West Africa was dominated by the regime of dictator Ahmed Sékou Touré, who ruled from 1958 until his death in 1984. After his death, the Senegalese newspaper Le Soleil spoke of the end of what it had once called the “longest and most murderous dictatorship on the continent.” Torture and executions were an everyday occurrence, and thousands of people disappeared without trace.

The Catholic Church, which opposed the regime, was forced into silence and Archbishop Raymond-Maria Tchidimbo of Conakry spent almost 9 years in prison where he suffered torture. His successor, the present Cardinal Robert Sarah, was on the dictator‘s death list, though in fact Sékou Touré died before he was able to carry out his plans.

During these years of dictatorship, the Catholic Church was barely able to develop. To this day, it still only has three dioceses. For many years, the seminarians training for the priesthood had to study in neighbouring Senegal and Mali.

The Catholic Church built its own seminary, the doors opened for the academic year 2012/2013 to new seminarians in Kendoumaya in the Archdiocese of Conakry. The seminary is named after Pope Benedict XVI and serves the seminarians from all three dioceses of the country.

In 2014, there were serious setbacks because of the Ebola epidemic resulting in the delay of opening the academic year. The seminary, although still in its infancy, managed to cope even with this challenge.

Until now, the seminarians have only been able to study philosophy here. For their theology studies, they have had to travel to Bamako in Mali. This is all about to change…

Completion of the construction of the chapel for the Grand Seminary Benedict XVI in Kendoumaya

Aid to the Church in Need has provided substantial support for the new seminary. We are contributing $58,000 for the construction of an additional dormitory wing for the theology students; we are also giving $43,500 for the training of the 69 seminarians to help them reach their goal of becoming priests, to be of service to the Church and the African population.


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ACN Interview – Haiti – The Church: an essential source of Hope

24.03.2017 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Haiti, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need



The Church: an essential source of Hope

Marco Marco Mencaglia (head of ACN Latin America section)

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Haitian section of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need recently travelled to the country. His goal: to take stock of the aid the charity has granted over the last few years, and determine the future needs of the local Church.

According to the “Fragile States Index”1, among all the countries on the planet where no war has recently been waged, Haiti is most in danger of failing and ranks tenth in this index, before countries like Iraq and Pakistan.


ML:  What was your first impression when you arrived in Haiti?


MM: Haiti is a country of extreme poverty. According to the latest statistics of the IMF, it is the poorest country in the world outside of Africa. Similar to other Latin American cities, the capital of Port-au-Prince is growing in a completely uncontrolled manner, especially at its newly created peripheries, where there are no basic provisions. Most people live from hand to mouth along the main roads, where they engage in black market trade, in hygienic and inconceivable humanitarian conditions.

The traffic, air pollution and population density are constantly on the rise in the capital – and have already become massive problems. The Haitian state is very weak. Its public presence is quite limited, especially in rural areas outside of the capital. In the language of its native inhabitants, Haiti means “Land of the High Mountains.” In many places, and especially in the remote mountain villages, the Catholic Church is the only institution that consistently reaches out to help the inhabitants, despite all of the difficulties.

Haiti, January 2017
One of the many rural chapels in Haiti. Under a very poor tent the faithful live all their liturgical celebrations along the year.


Has the generosity of the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need made a noticeable impact?

I was able to see for myself just how important our support is in the training of seminarians. Currently, 315 candidates for the priesthood are living in the provisional housing set up at the national seminary of Port-au-Prince after the seminary was destroyed by the earthquake in 2010. Our help has become decisive for one of the few riches, for one of the few hopes of the country: the vocations to the priesthood. The bishops’ commitment to priest training as well as to an improved and careful selection of the candidates through a propaedeutic year offer good prospects for the future.

“I was impressed that the church or presbytery was the only building in a 10 to 20 km radius with a stable supply of energy.”

I would also like to point out how successful our help has been in enabling the use of solar energy in remote parishes. I was impressed that the church or presbytery was the only building in a 10 to 20 km radius with a stable supply of energy. We saw how hundreds of people came to the presbytery in the mornings to charge their mobile phones. In the evenings, the entire village gathered around the presbytery so as not to be plunged into total darkness. Light plays a decisive role in making it possible for these communities to have hope. The priests working in mountainous regions are isolated because these are areas that can only be reached via paths that are in a deplorable state, over which one sometimes has to travel by foot for an hour. Thanks to solar energy, the priests can maintain daily contact to the diocese and to the world. Furthermore, the technical support and the quality of the equipment they have received from Germany have fully met the needs of the local church. Although the technology is simple, it is currently not available everywhere in the country.

Haiti, January 2017
Devotion in the Sanctuary of Saut d´Eau, a place of pilgrimage with growing importance at National level

What was the most poignant moment of your trip?

I was moved by the lives of the diocesan priests in Haiti. Their lives are, without a doubt, very difficult and they hold a great deal of responsibility. I was impressed by the dedication of many young priests, 25 to 30 years old, who have assumed their first positions in a parish. The conditions they live in can often be called dramatic and are beyond their abilities and strength. Despite this, they try not to lose their enthusiasm. As brothers and sisters in faith, it is our responsibility to not leave these young priests to their own devices by doing everything we possibly can to support the bishop as the shepherd of the shepherds. Haiti has many troubles; misery can be seen everywhere. These young men represent hope. Their enthusiasm and their love for the church are a light within the darkness that we need to keep alive.



You probably listened to many testimonials during your trip. Which of these would you choose as a sign of hope?

The football game held at the national stadium after the earthquake: police officers played against priests. The game found unbelievable resonance in the country’s media. Many still remember it. Despite the many difficulties, the Haitians have not lost their enthusiasm – especially not for football, the national sport. The recently appointed bishop of Hinche, Desinord Jean, was one of the players on the priests’ team. He promoted the game on the diocesan radio station “Radio Soleil,” which he managed at the time. He remained visibly moved when he told us that after the police officers had scored six goals, the overflowing stadium celebrated the only goal made by the priests with ear-splitting excitement.


You learn a lot from the local churches on a trip like this. Which statement do you remember best?

“The foundation of a new parish is a moment of hope, means joy for the entire village.” Said to us by Father Barthelemy Feuille, a priest at Fond Rouge in the Jeremie diocese. The growing presence of the Catholic Church is palpable all over the country. Thanks to the great number of vocations to the priesthood, each diocese establishes one to two new parishes each year. One example: the Jacmel and Hinche dioceses, both of which were founded in 1988, have grown from 9 to 29 and 10 to 44 parishes, respectively, in 30 years. The foundation of a new parish is a moment of great hope, not only for Catholics, but also for the entire population. Because the arrival of a priest also means access to basic provisions in places forgotten by the government: a school whose activities take place in the church building during the week, a vehicle for emergencies and for transporting the sick to the hospital, and a connection to the world outside… For thousands of communities in Haiti, the priest and the Church represent the soul and hope.


Haiti, January 2017
Fr. Montherlant Mathieu, parish of Dumont, isolated on the mountains around the diocesan see of Les Cayes, southwest Haiti. The solar system for the church (which is also a primary school during the week) is the only source of energy in an area of kilometers.

“Without exaggeration, we can claim that without the Church, many of these villages do not have any hope for the future.”

Repair of the roof of the parish church Sainte Cathérine de Sienne d’Arnaud: The parish church destructed by Hurricane Matthew, O5.10.2016


What are the next steps that the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need has planned for Haiti?


On 4 October 2016, the terrifying and powerful hurricane Matthew wreaked great havoc across the country – it was the worst in 50 years. The western part of the country was especially hard hit: the Jeremie, Cayes and partially also the Anse-à-Veau, Jacmel, Port-au-Prince and Port-de-Paix dioceses. In Jeremie and Cayes, 90% of the parish houses suffered damage to their roofs or masonry. More than 200 chapels located in mountain villages in the two dioceses were totally destroyed.  For the next few months, Aid to the Church in Need has made it a priority to work together with other organizations to provide emergency relief for rebuilding or for repair work. In most communities, the church is the only building in which not only pastoral events, but also social events can be held. Without exaggeration, we can claim that without the Church, many of these villages do not have any hope for the future.



  1. Fragile State Index 2016, Fund for Peace


Interview held by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada


ACN Interview – Czech Republic “A beacon of faith” disappears

23.03.2017 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Czech Republic

Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, archbishop of the diocese Praha, Czech Republic, on a 2003 visit to Aid to the Church in Need

Czech Republic

“A beacon of faith” disappears

Aid to the Church in Need mourns for Cardinal Miroslav Vlk

The international pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need mourns for Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, who passed away last Saturday (18 March) at the age of 84. “Cardinal Vlk was a beacon of faith in a country tested by communism, a country in which today, the ties that link people to the faith are the weakest in all of Europe,” said Father Martin Barta, the charity’s International Ecclesiastical Assistant.  

According to Father Barta, the former archbishop of Prague had to work for years as a window cleaner due to the anticlerical reprisals of the communist government, only carrying out his work as a priest in secret.  He “decisively influenced many people by faithfully bearing priestly witness under the most difficult conditions” and becoming an “iconic figure of the faith in a society that had to rediscover the path to God” after the political turnaround. The cardinal was also “a longstanding friend of our charity,” Father Barta emphasized. He returned the aid given to him by Aid to the Church in Need to rebuild the church in his Archdiocese of Prague “in a different currency – that of prayer.”


At the archiepiscopal seminary in Praha Czech/Republic

 “God alone was our light”

Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, archbishop of the diocese Praha in Czech Republic, during his visit at Aid to the Church in Need, celebrating the Holy mass with Father Joaqin Alliende- *

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need in honour of his 75th birthday in 2007, the cardinal focused on his experiences during the time of the persecution. “The persecution helped us to be more faithful to God. Who else could have helped us otherwise? In the beginning when the communists had seized power, many people in Czechoslovakia still thought that the Americans would intervene. That was, however, just an illusion. God alone was our light. During the persecution, there was no literature, no funds. One could only choose and look for God. For me, this was a great mercy.”  The communists have gone. “But God has not disappeared. He is still here!” the cardinal emphasized.

However, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk was also deeply concerned about the deterioration of the fundamental values in society: a lack of respect for other people, for life, a disappearing sense of honour. “A society cannot be built on selfishness,” he emphasized “but instead it is a part of our human identity to be open to one another. Above all, the church must bear witness, for living witness evokes respect and can trigger a response in the human heart.”

“The friendly ties the cardinal maintained towards us, as well as his witness, are a precious legacy that we will carry in our hearts,” Father Barta said. “We hope and pray that even after his death, his example will continue to lead people to find the faith that was radically destroyed through communism and that is only now gently beginning to blossom again.”

If in 1950, 76 per cent of the population living in the territories of today’s Czech Republic (at the time part of Czechoslovakia) was still Catholic, today it is only 10.4 per cent. Another 11 per cent belong to other Christian denominations. With 34 per cent of people self-declared as having no affiliation with a religion as well as another 44 per cent who do not specify their religious affiliation, the Czech Republic is considered as the country most atheist country in all of Europe. In communist times, the former Czechoslovakia was one of the countries in which the Catholic Church suffered the greatest persecution.

By  Eva-Maria Kolmann, AED International
Adaptated by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church Canada