Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the highest HIV/AIDS figures in the world. More than a million children are AIDS orphans. They are among the most vulnerable and defenceless in society. The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Africa take them in and care for them in their Youth Alive centre.

Obert is one of these orphans. Until recently he lived on the streets. After his parents died, an uncle took him in, but he did not get along with his uncle’s three wives. He worked hard in the fields for them, and going to school was only a dream. ‘Ndaishandiswa se dhongi’, he said – ‘they used me like a donkey’. He didn’t find it difficult to leave them; life on the streets seemed to offer him more hope. He was 16 at the time.

Years of begging and stealing followed, and soon he was addicted to alcohol and marijuana. Then he met the sisters and came into the Youth Alive programme. ‘It changed my life’, he says. He no longer saw himself as ‘worthless and born to suffer’. Today he lives as a trader, earning a wage and has a room of his own, where he lives.

Many other children and young people like Obert, aged between seven and 35, attend the Youth Alive programme in the diocese of Mutare, Zimbabwe. Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Mutume who’s its chairman, sees its holistic educational and training work as an effective weapon not only against HIV/AIDS, but also as a way of preventing violence, prostitution, human trafficking and teenage pregnancies. ACN will helps fund this grace-filled initiative.

As the worldwide survey initiated by Pope Francis has shown, knowledge about Christian marriage and the family is very basic. It has all but disappeared among young people in the Former Soviet Republics. These countries are morally devastated and apathetic: abortion is seen by many as just another lifestyle choice. Here the Church has to start from scratch.

In Georgia a group of lay people are trying to rebuild a sense of morality, with the help of religious sisters, by teaching young people how to defend human life and the true meaning of married love. It is about dealing with emotions; the psychological differences between men and women; mutual consideration and responsibility – in short the anthropology and the theology of the body. ACN is assisting with the cost of materials.

In Slovakia they are providing real, practical help as well. In the family centre near Presov married couples are studying to be trainers for other couples, and courses are held for couples- to-be and also for the spiritual strengthening of divorcees. But now that winter is coming, the wind is blowing through the Church hall’s rotting window frames. ACN has promised to help fund essential repairs.

‘The family is the way of the Church’, wrote Blessed John Paul II. As these projects in Zimbabwe, Georgia and many other countries show, love takes many paths, and sometimes it is the Church who must substitute for the lack of the family, the domestic church. That is where ACN assists.

This article can be found in Mirror 0214.