Benin: The John Paul II Institute

Giving people the ability to communicate values for strengthening the family in today’s society through education – that is the main mission of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute. The institute, which is headquartered in Rome, has branch campuses on every continent. The Benin campus is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Representatives of Aid to the Church in Need paid the campus a visit. The foundation offers more than 120 scholarships as part of its support of the African institute of theological studies.

The Kanga family from Cameroon is a good example of how the institute named after Pope Wojtyla works. Thanks to one of these scholarships, the married couple was able to make the trip from their country to Cotonou, Benin, with four of their five children. They are currently completing a master’s degree programme for lay people. After three years, they will return to Cameroon to help other families, offering them a professional orientation to help them deal with the problems of today’s society. The Seke family has already finished a course of study at the John Paul II Institute. The married couple has founded the “The Power of Love” centre, which offers engaged couples an orientation for marriage.

At the pontifical institute, both priests and religious as well as married or unmarried lay people complete courses of studies that are based on the principles laid out in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, which states, “All that you succeed in doing to support the family is destined to have an effectiveness that goes beyond its own sphere and reaches other people too and has an effect on society.”

“The John Paul II Institute in Benin is a kind of beacon for the African society, which is under the influence of a global trend that is attempting to push through cultural colonisation in the form of gender ideology,” explained Rafael D’Aqui, head of the Benin section of ACN, after his return from the African country. He added, “A society without a foundation is doomed to collapse.” Students at the institute are trained to deal with issues that “are based on the daily values underlying marital life, of men and women as well as in the parish and in civil society – not only from a Catholic standpoint, but from an anthropological one.” 

The pontifical institute would like to serve all of Africa. For this reason, more and more students are coming from all parts of the continent. In Africa, the family still has a high standing, in spite of a general decay in its structure.

Classes are held in French; however, plans have been made to introduce further languages such as English and Portuguese. The course offerings will also be expanded to include evening courses to open them up to working students.

Aid to the Church in Need has supported the pontifical institute from its very beginnings. The international pastoral charity carries out building as well as book donation projects. Furthermore, it has made available more than 120 scholarships amounting to over €1.2 million.

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Iraq: First Church rebuilt in Nineveh

For Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, who attended the ceremony in Telleskuf on Friday, December 8th 2017, the re-consecration of the church of St George was a symbol of hope and victory. “It is a message of hope and victory”, he said. “Daesh wanted to eliminate the Christian presence here, but IS is gone and the Christians of Telleskuf are back.”

The Chaldean Church in Telleskuf was severely damaged during the invasion by ISIS and was also ransacked and desecrated afterwards. The main structure of the church was not affected, but the repair work needed was nonetheless expensive. As the Archbishop explained to the Aid to the Church in Need, “The opening of the church of St George in Telleskuf will be a powerful incentive to the other Christian towns and villages.”

“I am moved by the fact that the church of St George has not only been reopened, but has done so still more beautiful and glorious than before”, he added. “That is the way God’s Providence works”, he commented to ACN, minutes after the ceremony.

Thanks to the outside support it received, the Chaldean patriarchate has been able to invest in the rebuilding of the village of Telleskuf, which numbered around 1,500 families before the invasion by so-called Islamic State. According to Archbishop Warda, “two thirds of the population have already returned, and so it was necessary to send out a clear signal that the Church too would be resuming her normal activities.” ACN helped with a contribution of €100,000 for the rebuilding of the church of St. George. And the charity is hoping to be able to support the repair and renovation of two other churches on the Nineveh Plains, one a Syriac Catholic church and the other an Orthodox one.

Archbishop Warda wanted to reiterate his thanks to the benefactors of ACN for their generosity. “A huge thank you to all who have made it possible for us to celebrate the ‘victory of our return’. IS thought they could eliminate us, and yet it is IS who have disappeared and we have returned to Telleskuf. The reopening of this church is and will be a powerful symbol to all the other villages and reinforces us in our determination to rebuild them. Thanks to you, we can once more praise God here and the Christian presence can be preserved in this place”, he concluded.

According to the latest information, the total number of Christian families who have returned to the Nineveh Plains has now risen to 6,330 families, which represents 33% of those who were forced to flee in 2014 when their villages were overrun by so-called Islamic State. During the month of November 1,147 families returned to their villages, over half of them (771 families) to Quaraqosh (Bakhdeda). However, of all the Christian villages, Telleskuf is the one to which the highest percentage (67%) have now returned to their homes.

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Benin: Little spokesmen for our Mother

The International children’s prayer campaign “A Million Children praying the Rosary”, which has been supported for several years now by Aid to the Church in Need, has had a particular impact in the country of Benin in West Africa. The campaign goes back to an idea of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, who in some way foresaw the great spiritual potential of these little ones when he said, “If a million children were to pray the Rosary, the world would change.” This year, for instance in the diocese Natitingou in Benin, the children there have proved him right.

At nine in the morning, in every one of the Catholic schools in the diocese of Natitingou in northwest Benin, you would have seen hundreds of children, aged between two and thirteen, gathered in groups to recite the Rosary – their aim this year being to pray for the children of Syria, the innocent victims of a seemingly endless war.

Thanks to the now well-established initiative “A Million Children Praying the Rosary” they were united in this with hundreds of thousands of other children all over the world who had likewise responded to the appeal launched by ACN. However, in Benin these groups of schoolchildren had produced an effect of remarkable unity – for here there were not only Catholic children praying at the same time, but also children belonging to various other religions, including Protestants and Muslims. All of them together praying for the grace of unity and peace in the world.

At the bilingual Holy Family Catholic primary school in the diocese Natitingou, the children gathered at the Catholic cathedral Cathédrale de l’Immaculée Conception around the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Atakora. Together with their teachers, they began with a Marian hymn and meditated on all five Glorious Mysteries. Each decade was interspersed with joyful singing and praises of Our Blessed Lady. Then afterwards, Father Servais Yantoukoua, the diocesan chaplain to the children’s apostolate movement in Benin (Mouvement d’Apostolat Des Enfants du Bénin), read from a letter specially written to the children for this occasion by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the President of ACN. He quoted the Cardinal’s words to them, saying that through prayer “we can build a society in which justice and peaceful coexistence are possible”.

Father Servais then went on to explain to the children the meaning of this prayer and the importance of unity and peace in the world, emphasising the example set by the three children who witnessed the apparition of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal.

The Catholic diocese of Natitingou was fully behind this initiative and supported it via its children’s missionary committee. Afterwards the children returned home “conscious of the fact that they need to become spokesmen for the Mother of God in this peace-starved world”, as Father Servais put it.

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Iraq: Santa's workshop for Nineveh children

Aid to the Church in Need is committed to ensuring that the Iraqi children from the Nineveh plains will not be without Christmas presents this year.

It is a large warehouse with white and grey walls. Dozens of boxes are piled up on the floor. It might seem to be a somewhat gloomy-looking building, but in fact it is a warehouse of dreams. Beneath the concrete beams and among the wooden pallets, dozens of pairs of hands work industriously and happy faces smile. In the last few days O’Neal, Santa, Reben and many other volunteers from the Chaldean Catholic parish of Erbil in Iraq have become Santa’s little helpers here in the warehouse.

Christmas is coming of course, and the Iraqi children of the Nineveh plains – like children all over the world – are looking forward with excitement and expectation to these very special days. For many of them this Christmas will be different, because it will be the first one they have celebrated in their own homes. For they had to spend the last three Christmases homeless, as refugees in their own country, following the invasion of their homes by the Islamist fighters of IS in August 2014. Just like the Child Jesus himself, who was born in a stable and had no place to call his home, the children of the Christian villages and towns of Nineveh spent the last few Christmases in refugee camps or in other accommodation rented with support from the diocese of Ankawa.

After immense effort on their part and thanks to the financial support of friends and benefactors from all over the world, over 6,330 families have now been able to return to the various different Christian towns and villages in this area and start to try and rebuild their lives. Many other families are still waiting their opportunity, however.

Christmas is the great gift of God to mankind and for this reason it is a message of hope for them all. ACN is committed to ensuring that the Iraqi children from the Nineveh plains – not only those who have been able to return to those homes but also those who are still waiting to be able to do so – will not be without Christmas presents this year. And as a result, the warehouse in Ankawa has been transformed into a sort of “Santa’s workshop” and the 20 or so young people who are helping the Chaldean religious sisters of the community of the Daughters of Mary are like those little helpers working furiously to bring joy and hope to the children. They are aiming to wrap up a total of 15,000 Christmas parcels which will then be distributed to the children of the different Christian rites in Qaraqosh, Karamless, Bartella and Bashiqua, and likewise to the large number of children who are still living as refugees in Ankawa, which is the Christian quarter of Erbil.

In their Christmas wish lists and letters to Santa, these children often say that their first wish is to have a stable place where they can live in peace. A second wish is to be able to continue attending school, and their third wish to have a place where they can play. Wishes like these are not so easy to parcel up and give them, as these young volunteers well know. But they are in no doubt that the children will also be absolutely delighted with these “material gifts which carry with them the Good News of the presence of God among us and are stamped with the love of God the Father”, as Sister Ni’am puts it. She is the project coordinator. The parcels will include “an anorak – something very necessary, because winter in this part of Iraq can be very cold and the temperatures often fall below zero – plus chocolates and, in order not to overlook the profoundly religious meaning of this feast, a Bible or another spiritual book in every parcel, depending on the age of the child concerned”.

The helpers here in “Santa’s workshop” in Ankawa are profoundly grateful to ACN for having sponsored and funded this initiative of “love and solidarity with the Christians of Iraq”.

“It will be a joyful and a painful celebration at the same time: Joyful because of their return to their birthplaces and houses; and painful because of the state of the villages: destroyed, burned and looted houses; stolen, burned and destroyed churches; neglected streets, almost non-existent services, friends who left the country”, Sister Ni’am explains.

A Christmas very close to that first Christmas in Bethlehem, where joy and suffering were mingled together in the lives of Mary and Joseph as they prepared for the birth of the God Child.

According to ACN the cost of each gift parcel is 20 Euros, so that the total cost of the whole project is 300,000 Euros. Similarly, ACN is also supporting a Christmas parcel project for the children of Aleppo (75,000 Euros) and another for the Syrian refugee families in Armenia (20,000 Euros).

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Syria: "But for you, we would disappear"

His Beatitude Ignatius Younan III, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholics worldwide, addressed a group of 30 representatives of European NGOs gathered to hear about the situation of Christians in Syria and Iraq after the departure of Daesh.

Having closely followed the EU policy toward Syria, he expressed hope to soon see an end to the sanctions causing such suffering to the Syrian citizens who, at the moment, completely depend on Catholic charitable organizations for their every need.

In the meeting co-hosted by Aid to the Church in Need and the Commission of European Bishops’ Conferences (COMECE), Patriarch Younan asked the participants, all witnesses to close to six years of war in Syria, to help his people “to be free of the three Ps: paternalism, pandering and profiteering” as he believes Syriac Catholics have been victimized for a long time by external forces. “We have been a loyal community serving the country where we were born, fully endowed citizens. We are the indigenous population”, said His Beatitude, “but because we do not have our own militias or territorial ambitions everyone thinks we agree with everything or we are easy to overrun. For us it is a matter of survival.  If it was not for the Church organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need we would be about to disappear”.

It comes after reports that up to two-thirds of Syria’s pre-2011 Christian population had fled within five years – down to 500,000 – with governments and parliaments accusing ISIS of genocide against Church communities and Yazidis. 

Patriarch Younan was accompanied by Archbishop Antoine Chahda of Aleppo, who described the situation in the city these days. “No more missiles, and it is quiet, but that does not mean the war is over. I mean that the signs of the destruction of the entire life of Aleppo are visible and painful, such as the empty factories where the rebels and their supporters stole all the machinery. We need the industrial leaders to come back and produce, to give a solid base to the reconstruction”.

Both Church leaders insisted for an end to the  economic sanctions, and asked the help of the NGOs present to remind the EU authorities that the high-level politicians do not suffer the consequences, but the thousands of orphans and widows that this war has left do.

Syria is a priority country for ACN aid with pastoral help and emergency support being rolled out in cities and towns al over the country. In Aleppo, thousands of people are receiving emergency food, shelter (rental costs), hot water (electricity subsidy) and up to 2,200 Christian families in the city are receiving medical aid.

This Christmas the charity is providing gifts for 1,500 Christian children in Aleppo including a hat, socks, trousers, a shirt and a pair of winter shoes. In azizieh, a mainly Christian district of Aleppo, ACN is helping with running costs for Our Lady’s secondary School which was bombed several times, and the Lord’s Care Orphanage, as well as repairs to the Al-Yarmouk Sports Centre, damaged by shells. ACN is also providing shelter for 340 families in towns and villages in southern Syria.

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Iraq: A "Bethlehem" for Iraqi Christians

Aid to the Church in Need begins Advent campaign “Back to the Roots”

Advent is a “time of expectation”. For thousands of Iraqi Christians, the wait after they were driven out by the terrorist organisation IS has stretched out to an indefinite period. Since 2014, many of them have had to leave their homes. They now want to go back to the places where their ancestors have lived since the beginnings of Christianity. However, since they were driven away, their houses have been destroyed, damaged and looted. ACN is bringing Christian refugees back home.

Aid to the Church in Need wants to enable around 8,000 families to return to their homes in Iraq. In order to do so, 5,000 houses have to be built on the northeastern Nineveh Plains. Two families often share a house. Only €2,000 are needed per house to replace roofs, doors, windows and sanitary facilities. In addition, 15,000 children and adolescents will be given a Christmas parcel containing coats and sweets – the gifts will be put together by religious sisters and catechists in the diocese of Erbil.

For this reason, Aid to the Church in Need is calling for more donations before Christmas so that the displaced persons can go “back to their roots”. This is the motto of the campaign. Father Andrzej Halemba associates it with the Advent season. “Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. We want to make sure that the Christians on the Nineveh Plains can once more have a ‘Bethlehem’, a dwelling that actually exists,” the head of the Middle East section of ACN explained.

According to the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, only 27 per cent of the families have returned to their neighbourhoods in northeastern Iraq. The situation there remains tense. More than 10,000 houses have to be renovated or rebuilt for those returning home. The reconstruction zone encompasses nine towns, among them Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), Bartella and Teleskuf. The total costs for the reconstruction, including infrastructure and the region’s more than 360 church buildings, are estimated to be €230 million. The Aid to the Church in Need campaign “Back to the Roots” is calling for people all over the world to contribute to this mammoth task.

Thanks to benefactors from all over the world, ACN has been able to help thousands of Iraqi Christians return to their towns. “We first funded emergency aid projects and set up containers so that the displaced persons had a roof over their heads and their children could go to school,” Baron Johannes Heereman explained. “Fortunately, in the meantime many have been able to move into shared houses,” the executive president of Aid to the Church in Need added. The charity also contributed rent subsidies, food parcels and subsistence aid to displaced priests and sisters and helped rebuild chapels.

Over a period of almost three years, ACN has collected more than €35 million to help Iraqi Christians return home. “However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Baron Heereman emphasised. Donations and prayers are equally important for these Christians who have suffered so deeply. Aid to the Church in Need wants to use this campaign to make the hope of a personal “Bethlehem” more obtainable for Iraqi refugees. “Their homeland is still deeply scarred from the war. However, in spite of everything, they want to return to their roots. That is brave,” the president emphasised and urged, “We cannot desert the Christian minority after the exodus.”

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Iraq: A Lambroghini to support those in Nineveh!

A brand-new, special edition Lamborghini Huracan presented to Pope Francis will be auctioned off and the proceeds donated to charity.  Part of the funds raised from the Sotheby’s auction will go to the “Return to the Roots” project run by Aid to the Church in Need . This project helps displaced Christians go back to their original villages and recover their dignity after the devastation caused by the Islamic State group.

“We have thanked the Holy Father and assured him that we will use his gift well – by bringing thousands more Christians back to Nineveh,” said Alfredo Mantovano and Alessandro Monteduro, president and director of ACN Italy, who were present on the  morning of  November 15th,  at the delivery of the sleek, white car with yellow-gold markings to Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

It is not the first time that Pope Francis has supported persecuted Christians in Iraq through ACN. In 2016, he donated €100,000 to the Saint Joseph Hospital in Erbil, where thousands of refugees are being treated.

The Pope´s words of encouragement for the ambitious ACN plan for the reconstruction of the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plains were also transmitted in September 2017 through the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. He took part in ACN’s international conference on the so-called “Marshall Plan” to help Iraq’s Christians.

“During today’s meeting we showed Pope Francis the first achievements of our project and the photos of the first families to come home,” Mantovano and Monteduro said. “We also want to stress, together with the Holy Father, that our plan is the result of a significant process of reconciliation and forgiveness, and the result of an agreement between local Churches, whose priests and religious collaborate actively, and work together to practically assist Iraq’s Christians”. ACN also thanked the sports-car maker Lamborghini. The president and director of ACN Italy said: “The gift to the Pope by the car manufacturer is a good example of how big companies can actually help Christians who suffer.”

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Western Congo: The impact of a cathedral

The position of the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is difficult, especially in the eastern part of the country, where war has been raging for decades over the coveted raw materials mines. The effects of this can also be felt by Bishop Joseph Mokobe Ndjoku in the northwestern diocese of Basankusu. For some time now, an impressive church building has towered over the surrounding countryside there. A project that Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting for many years. It is now taking on definite shape in the middle of green fields.

But the ailing economy, marked by corruption and inefficiency, has left its mark everywhere. For example, in many places the infrastructure is in a very bad state of repair or hardly existent. This means that when Bishop Joseph Mokobe Ndjoku and his employees go out to visit the parishes in his diocese of 77,000 square kilometres, they can often only travel by canoe on the rivers because the streets are impassable. It takes him more than two days to travel about 300 kilometres.

National elections are planned for late 2017. However, Bishop Mokobe reports that the preparations for these are stagnating, the round tables at which the church had time and again championed peace talks and the reformation of the bitterly divided camps that make up Congolese society have ceased to take place. The well-known exploitation of natural resources and its devastating impact on the people remains unresolved. One of the main demands of the church has therefore become “to hold the upcoming elections”.

However, symbols of hope continue to rise in the middle of this state of affairs. One example is the nearly completed cathedral of Basankusu. With it, more than just a building has become visible and tangible to the local people. A Congolese saying goes, “Without a roof over your head – there is no such thing as community.” As the cathedral begins to rise up out of the field, “this literally establishes the community of believers for the local people,” explains the bishop. After all, this is where they can gather in prayer or for educational programmes, for trade fairs and celebrations, on sunny and rainy days. “For them, the cathedral is a perpetual source of motivation carved in stone to do something for the common good. It symbolises being a part of the large family of believers that stretches beyond national borders.” And it is thus also a link to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need from all over the world who have contributed to the funding of this cathedral. At the same time, the new church represents the challenge “for Catholics in the Congo to become active in the Christian spirit for peace,” explains Joseph Mokobe Ndjoku. Which is why he describes the cathedral as the key for further campaigns of this sort – in spite of the austerity of daily life. The inauguration of the church is planned for the coming spring.

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Brazil: A funeral home for the poor

The month of November is devoted in particular to prayers for the deceased. What was supposed to be a work of mercy in the Amazonas region of Brazil became nothing more than a means of exploitation before the church took the initiative. Aid to the Church in Need helped achieve this transformation.

The diocese of Juína is located in the state of Mato Grosso in the central part of western Brazil, an area that is part of the Amazonas region. In this region, a young mother and her small daughter died in an automobile accident. The young woman was survived by a widower and two children. After the diocese of Juína became aware of the family’s situation, it founded a community funeral home called AME (Associação Ministério de Esperança), which rendered its first service for this family. Its staff of volunteers may not have had any professional training, but they were more than willing to help the family. Some of the team comforted and supported the widower. Others made arrangements for the coffins. No structures were in place, which made the task quite difficult. However, the entire process was fuelled by sympathy. Since the family did not have enough money, AME paid for the funeral expenses. The widower was a devout man who later joined the team as a volunteer.

Before AME was founded, there was only one funeral home in Juína and it charged exorbitant prices for its services. As witnessed by people who are close to the families as well as by Bishop Neri José Tondello of Juína, “people lost all their worldly goods, even their land, when they had to bury their family members. This was exacerbated by poor manners and a lack of professionalism.”

The first bishop of the diocese, Franco Dalla Valle, had the idea of founding a new funeral home. He understood that measures needed to be taken to help the people, not only during their lifetimes, but also in the hour of their death. And so he decided to found a community funeral home. The funeral expenses were not only supposed to be kept as low as possible through the work of volunteers, but family members were to be treated humanely and those who were mourning their dead were to be offered the solace of Christian hope.

However, the hour of his own death came while he was still developing the project: Bishop Franco passed away on 2 August 2007 before his dream could be realised. However, his project did not die with him thanks to the willingness of volunteers. When Bishop Neri José took over the diocese of Juína, one of his main goals was to continue the projects initiated by his predecessor. With the support of Aid to the Church in Need, the funeral home was one of the first projects to be realised. And so AME was founded.

At the beginning, volunteers divided up the tasks that needed to be done amongst themselves. The association took care of poor families, the destitute, indigenous communities, etc. with brotherly love and consideration. Word gradually began to spread about the excellent work of AME – not only in Junía, but also in the neighbouring cities, which began to use the services of the funeral home as well. Even people who would have had sufficient funds decided to use AME because of the emphasis placed by the association on human dignity.

Those who had been enriching themselves for years on the pain of others far beyond that which could be considered fair reacted with great displeasure. At the beginning, things were anything but simple. Some of the volunteers were harassed. However, they never stopped believing in the project.

AME was not only founded for professional reasons. Rather, it was motivated by the desire to bring peace and the hope of resurrection to those keeping vigil by a friend or family member. The premises of the funeral home consist of one room in which mourners can stay overnight, a common room for family members and a dining room. Even the basic funeral equipment can be used free of charge. Bishop Franco’s idea was so successful that it has been adopted by other cities such as Aripuanã and Colniza.

The Asociación Ministerio de Esperanza is a work of mercy. The benefactors of ACN played an important role in its foundation by funding the restoration of the building in which AME is located. ACN also bought a van to transport the coffins. The work of many people has made it possible to replace what was once exploitation with the hope and receptivity of those who volunteer their time to carry out this work with dedication and brotherly love.

ACN continues to support the diocese of Juína in Brazil, particularly in the areas of youth work and the pastoral care of the indigenous population. Nine different ethnic groups live in Juína, spread across 150 small villages.

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Sudan: Eritrean refugees see hope here

Sudan’s tiny Christian flock is being swelled by refugees from Eritrea. Sudan – we are speaking of the northern republic, officially the Republic of Sudan, which since 2011 has been separate from the breakaway country of South Sudan – is no longer a Christian country. In fact 90% of the population today are Muslims. In the last few years, however, the tiny Christian flock in the country has been swelled – albeit involuntarily – by tens of thousands of Eritreans, among whom are many Christians and many Catholics.

They are seeking refuge here since they can no longer bear living in their own home country. “The regime in Eritrea is forcing people to serve for years, and sometimes even decades, in the army under compulsory military service. During this time they are paid practically nothing and are utterly at the mercy of the regime. It is a situation fewer and fewer people are willing to accept”, explains one of the catholic volunteers who cares for the Eritrean refugees in the capital Khartoum. We are to call him Joseph, since we cannot reveal his actual name.

Usually, this western and northern neighbour is intended merely as the first stop on a route that it is hoped will end in Europe, and which will cost thousands of euros in payments to the people smugglers. From Sudan the journey to Libya costs around 1500 Euros, and from there to Italy the same again. But many of the refugees have no money to make the trip and so they end up stuck in Sudan. Often they have to spend years there before they can move on further. “Any thought of a return to Eritrea is unthinkable. There they will only face imprisonment or worse”, explains Joseph, as he shows us round a school on the edge of Khartoum. “Meanwhile, life must go on. For the children especially, the years they spend here must not be wasted ones. In fact many were actually born here in the country.”

This is just one reason Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the school, which is attended by some 1200 children, up to Year 8. “The people want their children to have a solid education, and they also want them to be brought up and instructed in the Christian faith. In this way the children will be at less risk of losing their Christian roots and at the same time they will have the possibility of a future”, explains Christine du Coudray-Wiehe, the head of ACN‘s project section that deals with Sudan. “The Eritrean refugees in Sudan have a very difficult time of it. They have fled a totalitarian regime in their own home country, and ended up living in an Islamist regime. We want to stand by them and help them by supporting their children and helping them to grow in the Catholic faith.”

ACN is helping to pay the cost of schoolbooks and teachers salaries, and also the cost of food for the pupils themselves. More often than not their families have very little money to help pay for their childrens schooling. Employers give priority to the Sudanese, so most of the Eritreans struggle to make ends meet in the black economy. They save up every possible penny in the hope of being able to pay for the journey to Europe or some other Western nation for not one of them wants to stay on in Sudan. “Our people are so afraid of the police”, Joseph adds. “We Christians are helpless and at their mercy.” And it is true that many of the refugees again and again fall victim to oppression by the police.

“Sometimes the police imprison our people and will only let them free on payment of a ransom.” And he tells us how, when this happens, the people willingly put together what little money they have in order to help their brothers and sisters in need. “Our people have a strong faith. It gives them the strength to endure everything that happens here.”

Undoubtedly, these refugee families have to endure a great deal. Close to the Eritrean church in one of the poorest suburbs of the city, we visit the family of Isaias, who live in one room in a corrugated steel roofed hut. Here, in this one room, the entire life of this family of five takes place. “Here is where we sleep, here we cook, here we eat, here is where our children play”, the father of the family explains. We are offered lemonade and sweets, as with typical generosity they share what little they have. The father of this family served for years in the Eritrean army before deciding a few years ago to leave his homeland, because he could see no hope either for himself or for his children. “We would like to go to Canada”, he explains. Asked if he is not afraid of travelling to this distant foreign land, he responds energetically, “With my faith and my Church I am not afraid of anything!”

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