The Good Shepherd, Seeking and Saving Souls

The Good Shepherd Sisters have a fourth vow: ‘to work for the conversion of sinners and to save souls’. This is the work they do, all over the world, including in Lebanon.

‘Consider, dear sisters, how ennobling for us is the sacrifice that we make in our fourth vow, for the salvation of souls. This offering makes us worthy to collaborate in the work of divine Mercy.’ For Sister Pascale these words of the foundress of her congregation have long since become second nature. It goes without saying that she is working for the salvation of souls. She goes into the prisons of Beirut and helps traumatised women. ‘She has travelled her path alone’, she says of Fatmé, a young Muslim woman, forced into marriage at the age of 14 to a man who already had children older than she was. The man beat her often and beat her hard. She was not even allowed to look out of the window, let alone leave the house. At the age of 19 she already had two young boys. When her husband was murdered, Fatmé was blamed and charged with his murder. No one stood up for her, she had no chance of a fair trial and was condemned. Sister Pascale got to know her in the prison, visiting her twice a week, helping to heal her soul by simply being there, talking with her. For years. After 12 years Fatmé was finally released from prison. Her children were in an orphanage by then, quite estranged from her. Pascale continued to visit her, teaching her knitting and ceramics craftwork, so that she could earn a little money from home. Fatmé knows the Koran; Pascale gave her the Gospels. The Good News heals.

Viviane, a young Christian woman, was also married young, at the age of 15. Her husband constantly cheated on her, took drugs, beat her up. Often she ended up in hospital. She became pregnant, had a child. Finally, the drugs took their toll on her husband. He became depressive, decided to kill himself – and her as well. He made a meal for the two of them, laced with poison. But she only ate a little, and survived. She was accused of murder; the police beat her to force her into making a ‘confession’. While on remand, she told her side of the story, but no one believed her. Her child is with her husband’s relatives, in a ‘living hell’, as Sister Pascale puts it. Her father-in-law is an addict, her sister-in-law mentally disturbed, she describes her mother-in-law as evil and false. Sister Pascale visits the family and the young boy, now nine years old, says, ‘I want to go to mummy.’ Viviane has now been on remand for seven years, without trial. She doesn’t have the money for a lawyer. Her mother cleans apartment blocks, to make ends meet. Pascale has found a lawyer willing to take on the case. A priest, who believes Viviane’s account, has made a written account of the whole affair and passed it to the lawyer. Now the whole case is being re-examined. ‘She has endured everything, because she believes’, says Sister Pascale. She continues to help Viviane, who is also a soul in need of healing. ‘Every soul is precious’, she says. ‘The Good Shepherd wishes all to be saved.’

Sister Pascale is grateful to you, the benefactors, for without your help she could not do this work. And Fatmé and Viviane are just two examples among many.

This article can be found in Mirror 0812.

Ethiopia – His Faith Means Everything to Him

Joseph Andreas really does not know just how old he is. Here in Pawe, a remote village in north-west Ethiopia, such numbers mean very little. But one thing this parish elder does know is this: his faith means everything to him.

It has always been this way. Indeed, in the 1980s, during the terror of the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, he was even arrested for his faith. The charge was gathering to pray together with other Catholics. Joseph somehow survived, but countless others paid with their lives for their fidelity to Christ. Joseph explains: ‘We were kept under constant observation and had to work all the time, even on Sundays. And so we met together early in the morning, in a secret place. They had taken our Bibles away, torn them up and thrown them in the fire. They told us that anyone who preached was teaching people to become idlers. We had no priest, and so we had to preserve the Christian spirit by ourselves.’ Those who could manage to do so took their children to the town of Bahir Dar to have them baptised there. But it was a long journey. Even by car it takes more than four hours.

When the dictatorship finally ended in 1991, priests were last able to visit the remote villages once more. But these sporadic visits were not enough for Joseph Andreas. ‘We needed a priest to be with us constantly, and also a chapel of our own. The Protestant sects were immediately active, trying to woo away the faithful. And so I travelled the nearly 400 miles, at my own expense, to Addis Ababa to see the Archbishop and ask him for a priest and a church.’

The first chapel built by the faithful had a thatched roof, just like all the other huts in the region. In the pitiless drought of the dry season it caught fire and the chapel burned down. But the people did not let themselves be discouraged and built a chapel of wood instead. This time fate struck an even harder blow – termites ate through the timbers and the church collapsed. Two people died, and another man was so severely injured that he has been paralysed ever since. Six children were left without one of their parents. ‘The two men who died were among the most committed members of our community and constantly encouraged us to strengthen our spiritual life and do more. We regard them as martyrs’, says Joseph, deeply moved. Now at last they have begun to build a solid and permanent church. Despite their great poverty, the faithful have contributed greatly to the building. Once again they have made great sacrifices. Now ACN is hoping to help them, so that the chapel can very soon be consecrated. Their misfortunes have actually strengthened the people in their faith. ‘We say that our new chapel has been built by the blood of the martyrs, and that gives us strength’, the father of seven declares proudly. The Church is very much alive in Pawe. Every Sunday large numbers of the faithful flock to Holy Mass, and on Pentecost no fewer than 30 children made their First Holy Communion. The seed that Joseph Andreas and his other nameless fellow Christians have sown is now bearing rich fruit.

Eva-Maria Kolmann

This article can be found in Mirror 0612.

For Nothing Less than the Future of the World

For Saint Augustine, love is the “first  movement of the will”, the source of existence. In marriage and the family the reality of love comes to life. That is why the German poet Novalis says that “Children are love made visible”. For in them the mystery of creation is renewed.

This connection between Creator, love and human nature is universally valid. But it is not immediately obvious to people today; rather it must be learnt. And so, in the diocese of Bouar in Central Africa, Father Marcello Bartolomei has established a “School of Life and Love” to help young people prepare for and live the lifetime partnership of Christian marriage. It is proving a success. Faustine had problems. “My daughter became pregnant, and my husband blamed me and sent our daughter to live with her mother-in-law. It was only as a result of the marriage course that we got back on good terms and brought our daughter home.” Caroline had been on the pill. “While on the course, I realised what it meant; I stopped taking it and now I use natural methods. Now we live in harmony.” Tatiana rediscovered “her dignity as a housewife” while on the course, and as for Daniel, he is quite clear: “If I find a woman who can put up with me, then we’ll get married in church.” You are helping to fund these courses.

In the diocese of Natitingou in Benin, Bishop Pascal N’koue runs three-year training courses for couples, who will then pass on the teaching of the Church about sexuality, marriage and the family to others in their parishes. The courses are very popular. The couples are enthusiastic, he writes, and keen “to lay bare the lies with which the media are trying to divide our families”. You are helping this bishop with an annual contribution. And it is not only in Africa that you are helping to enlighten people, in the broadest sense, as to the truths of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. In Latin America, Asia and Europe as well you are supporting programmes, courses and initiatives – faithful to the words of Blessed John Paul II, who said, “The future of the world passes by way of the family.”

This article can be found in Mirror 0312.

Winning friends for Christ – in Tunisia

Christians in Tunisia are a tiny minority, and their situation is precarious. There are fears about where the country, or society, is heading under the current Islamist dominance.

It’s the old story of the mustard seed. They have to remain discreet and yet effective. They do this by their example, bearing witness to the Good News by the testimony of their lives, building bridges between cultures, welcoming others with open arms and showing them that Christ is both their friend and their hope – for only in this way can the non-Christians come to know the God of love. Their archbishop has encouraged this in his pastoral letter, but to do this they also need places to meet. They need them for the parishes themselves, for special occasions, for pastoral work. We are helping the archbishop and his faithful co-workers by part-funding the construction of a multipurpose hall in the pastoral centre. It will be a place of the Good News.

This article can be found in Mirror 0212.

God Sees Things Differently

The “unworldliness” of which Pope Benedict has spoken is at the same time a personal choice. It takes shape in the response to the quiet call of God. Sister Marie Catherine Kingbo was one of those who heard and responded.

Even as a child she had always been more inclined to pray with a listening heart rather than by speaking. At the age of 25, in Dakar, Senegal, she made her temporary vows, and at the age of 32 her final vows. Later she became the Superior of the congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Later still she was elected president of the Association of Religious Superiors for the region of West Africa. Then in Paris, after hearing a lecture on Christianity and Islam, she felt Our Lord calling her to something new: “You know my face; make it known among the Muslims”. The words were engraved on her heart; she founded the congregation of the Handmaids of Christ and asked the Bishop of Maradi, in Niger to find a home for her in his diocese. It is the only home-grown congregation in Maradi. Very soon the first postulant was knocking at the door of the new congregation. Today there are eight of them, and Sister Marie is seeking our help for the formation of her novices.

There are some 40,000 Catholics living in Niger today, in an environment dominated by Islamand a proliferation of sects. But this new congregation is already highly regarded, because these young women bear shining witness, helping and teaching with selfless devotion – the essence of unworldliness. St Therese of Avila put it like this, “How much better the world would be if there were no chasing after fame and money. Then I am sure the world would be back in good order.”

But for now we cannot dispense entirely with money. In the convent of Our Lady of the Angels run near Canelones in Uruguay, the 14 Contemplative Sisters of the Poor Clares have to endure freezing temperatures. Most of them are aged over 80 and some are even over 90, and the winters are cold in these mountains. The little they earn by the work of their own hands is not enough to pay for the necessary repairs in a convent that was never really even finished, let alone to pay for the heating. But they cannot and will not cut back on their prayers. For this is their most important contribution to the life of the Church in this highly secularised country. We have promised them our help.

This article can be found in Mirror 0112.