God is at work in the House of Evangelisation

‘We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20).

The Sisters of Divine Providence in Utena, Lithuania truly live these words of Peter and John. They organise regular retreat days for young people and adults, care for women who have had abortions, and generally help believers and unbelievers alike.

For they want everyone to see and hear how God works in their lives. And there are many who come to their ‘House of Evangelisation’, including many young people, seeking spiritual counsel or simply wanting to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The house is becoming a beacon of hope in the region.

But it has become too small and needs to be extended. We have promised our help for this purpose – how can we remain silent and not respond when divine Providence calls?


This article can be found in Mirror 0417.


New life in an old monastery

God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord’ (2 Tim 1:7-8).

St. Paul’s words to Timothy also apply to our time. It takes courage to profess Christ in a heathen or secularised environment. The ‘Chemin Neuf’ community is doing just that. It was founded as a Catholic community in 1984 in Lyon, France.

Today its priestly and religious wing is formally recognised by the Vatican as a clerical religious institute of pontifical right. The association is present in many Eastern European countries and works for unity among Christians, unity within families and the unity of each individual soul with God. In 1998 the former Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Vlk gave the community the former Jesuit monastery in Tuchomerice (not far from the Czech capital). Here they welcome married couples to a ‘Cana week’ where, through prayer and dialogue, they can rediscover the grace of the sacrament of marriage.

Likewise, there are retreat days for young people and young adults, prayer groups – and a Bible school is run on seven weekends each year, bringing new life to the old monastery. The demand for these is growing.

After decades of godless communism and soulless consumerism, many people are seeking for meaning and purpose in their lives. They come into contact with the missionaries during their street missions in Prague and other cities, and afterwards many visit the monastery. They are drawn by the commitment of the young people to Christ. It is a commitment that has consequences, and not just for the people involved but also for the monastery itself. The community has already invested considerably in the building: the roof timbers have been renewed, the facade renovated, the gas heating repaired, windows replaced, the chapel refurbished and the drainage system overhauled.

Now the 45-year-old electrical wiring, and the plumbing and heating system have to be completely replaced – an expensive undertaking. And the income from the courses is only sufficient to cover the basic day-to-day running costs. We have promised help to those professing Christ with such power and love. ACN has promised help to those professing Christ with such power and love.


This article can be found in Mirror 0417.


Nothing is wasted - Religious Sisters

‘The works of mercy are handcrafted’, Pope Francis writes.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the service given by religious sisters around the world to their fellow men. They are the embodiment of God’s creative mercy, the face and hands of Mother Church.

The handiwork of mercy carried out by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary in Pakistan helps many girls and young women. Socially speaking, women have practically no rights in a society dominated by men and corruption – particularly if they are non-Muslims.

Christian girls and women are frequently molested sexually or even raped. In court they rarely find justice and it often happens that after being raped or forced into ‘marriage’ with a Muslim man, they are rejected or abandoned even by their own family. One way to counteract this discrimination is through education, and this is what the sisters provide.

They take in the poorest girls, including orphans and street children, aged 4 to 16 and offer them a new home in their Sacred Heart convent in Lahore. But now they are also in need of help, as their meagre resources are almost entirely exhausted, by the cost of medication for the ten frail and elderly sisters of the congregation among other things. And they also have to find the means to renovate their small bathrooms, as there are leaks everywhere and the pipework throughout their 80-year-old building is rusting through.

Of course, the medication for the elderly sisters – aged between 75 and 95 – has to take priority, as they cannot afford both. So we have promised help for essential repairs.

Many other elderly sisters, in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, are frail and tired after giving their lives in the service of mercy. But there is no such thing as retirement or pensions for those engaged in this handiwork of mercy. Uncomplaining, they bear their final years with joyful serenity.

‘Mercy gives rise to joy, because our hearts are opened to the hope of a new life’ (Pope Francis). All their lives they have opened other people’s hearts to hope; now they themselves continue to hope, pray and work in the mother houses of their congregations – whether in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil or in Cameroon, Rwanda and Nigeria. They continue to serve, but now in a different way.

Their younger sisters take over the work – catechesis, youth apostolate, serving the liturgy, caring for the sick and elderly, teaching in the schools, caring for orphans and handicapped, parish bookkeeping, running rural clinics and providing basic medication – to say nothing of the consolation they so often bring by their mere presence. None of these services of love would be possible without the financial support we provide – thanks to the generosity of you, our benefactors.

Sometimes it is just enough to survive on. And when they have a little more than that, they pass it on to the poor. Nothing is wasted in this beautiful service of love.


This article can be found in Mirror 0217.


Sent from Heaven - Contemplative Sisters

It is not simply a matter of ‘praying from time to time, when I feel like it. No, Jesus says that we ought “always to pray and not lose heart”.’

For the 21 Trappist nuns in the convent of Our Lady in Murhesa, Democratic Republic of the Congo these words of Pope Francis about praying at all times describe the programme of their daily lives. Prayer is the most important thing. Here, in the region of Bukavu, they have seen so much suffering, destitution, robbery and murder – indeed many people have experienced it firsthand.

But they know, as Pope Benedict XVI says, that ‘Our prayers reach the heart of God. We may be sure that there is no such thing as superfluous, unnecessary prayer; not one prayer is lost.’ That is why they never give up hope. And now that the fighting is dying down, they want to start anew and, as Sister Hortense writes, ‘take up our little industries again’. This means rabbit farming, candlemaking, beekeeping, knitting and soapmaking.

They already have much of the equipment for these activities, but what they don’t have is storerooms and workshops. Doors and windows are expensive, so are the foundations and steel reinforcement which cost far more than they could ever afford.

With our help the younger sisters will be able to set to work to support their community. But they also need medicines for the elderly sisters – not to mention educational resources for the younger ones. We are also helping with their general upkeep, and this aid is also ‘heaven sent’ according to Sister Hortense. They see it as an answer to their prayers. Though we might say that the sisters themselves are an answer to prayer, sent by Providence.

The Poor Clares in Brestovsko, Bosnia Herzegovina make use of every available minute in order to support their community, what with digging, hoeing, planting, needlework and baking unleavened bread for the Mass. The sisters work very hard, help their many visitors – but above all they pray. For them the words of Pope Francis are a daily reality: ‘Faith is not a theory, not a philosophy, not simply an idea; it is an encounter. An encounter with Jesus.’ 

They seek to encounter the Lord every day despite the difficulties of their situation – in a country still suffering the consequences of war. This is why they have been unable to finish the second part of their convent. The basic structure is complete, but the rooms are empty and the bathrooms still unfinished.

They need these rooms as there are many young women wanting to join the congregation. They could live with the simple, basic furnishings – a table, chair, cupboard, bed, crucifix – but not without heating. They plan to install a small solar heating system which will also help keep costs down in the future. ‘We humbly ask your help’, writes Sister Hijacinta. For to us too faith should be an encounter with Jesus and not a mere theory.


This article can be found in Mirror 0217.


God’s Messengers Among Us - Seminarians

One in every 10 seminarians around the world is supported by ACN. Most of them are studying in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Without this help there would be fewer priests in the world. Our aid covers many aspects, from scholarships, via construction aid through to help with the cost of printing religious literature.

In a message of greeting to the candidates at the Benedict XVI Interdiocesan Seminary in Kendoumayah, GuineaConakry, given to mark the consecration of the newly opened seminary chapel, Emeritus Pope Benedict wrote as follows: ‘In December 1944, when I was called up for military service, the company commander asked each new recruit what his chosen profession would be. I replied that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The recruiting sergeant told me I’d better choose a different profession, since in the new Germany there would be no need for priests any more. 

But I knew even then that this new Germany was finished and that after the terrible devastation it would need priests more than ever before. Admittedly, the situation today is altogether different, but there are still many people who believe we no longer need priests any more; that it is a calling without a future. What an error! The priest is not a manager of the community’, Pope Benedict told them, ‘He is God’s messenger among us.’

It is this same outlook that infuses the prayer and studies of the 73 seminarians who are currently training here in Kendoumayah. The first ordinations to the diaconate have already taken place and the first messengers from here will be sent out this year to bear witness to God’s love for his people.

How greatly the world needs this message today! And there could be still more of these messengers, including here in Kendoumayah. For there is not enough space at present; one of the dormitory buildings is still unfinished, with the result that some of the seminarians have to sleep in one of the classrooms.

A makeshift solution that needs to end as soon as possible. We have promised to help so that the work can be finished and that this world may be blessed with more Catholic priests. They come from every corner of the globe:

  • In Papua New Guinea you are supporting 17 seminarians,
  • in Ecuador another 40 in the seminary of San Pedro in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo,
  • another 34 in the seminary of St. Pius X in Istmina, Colombia,
  • 105 in the seminary of Fenoarivo in Madagascar, and
  • 49 seminarians of the Basilian Fathers in Ukraine – to name just a few.

They will be a source of renewal in the Church and in the world for they know, thanks to a thorough formation, that ‘the true success of our mission is a gift of grace’, as Pope Francis has reminded us all.


This article can be found in Mirror 0117.


God always answers our Prayers

The life story of Fr. Gereon Goldmann is extraordinary. During World War two Goldmann was a young German seminarian studying to be a priest in the Franciscan Order, when he was conscripted into the SS aged 22 and served as a medical orderly. As well as nursing the sick and wounded, he also gave Communion to dying soldiers.

In 1943 Goldmann went home on brief leave to Fulda from the battleground. There he met Sister Solana May, an elderly nun who had taught him to be an altar server as a child. She calmly told him that he would be ordained a priest the following year. Goldmann replied that it was ‘impossible’, pointing out that when he was drafted he had four more years’ study in the seminary.

Unperturbed, the nun stated, ‘On the day of your mother’s death [when Goldmann was eight], I began to pray for you, that you should become a priest at the end of 20 years. The entire convent joined me in this devotion and for two decades we have appealed to the Lord on your behalf…Since Holy Scripture assures us that our prayers are heard, there is no doubt that you will be a priest next year.’

Goldmann was still sceptical, saying there was a war on and that Church law would not permit it. Sister Solana made short shrift of this: ‘War? The Bible does not say “Prayers are answered except during a foolish war, in which event God is powerless”… The matter is very simple. You will see the pope. He made the laws, he can also dispense from them.’

She then directed Goldmann to ‘pray to the Mother of God in Lourdes. Then you will see the Pope in Rome and you must ask him boldly for your ordination.’

By some ‘coincidence’ some months later, the seminarian was given special duties in France, at Pau, near Lourdes. And later that year, en route to the Front, he found himself in Rome and the highly improbable circumstances predicted by his elderly spiritual benefactress came true: he was ordained in 1944.

Fr. Goldmann’s story illustrates what all Christians should know: that prayer is powerful and God always answers it, though sometimes in unpredictable ways.

It also shows us that God is present even during the most evil or tragic events, such as a war, a world war.

Francis Phillips

 

Adapted and edited from Frances Phillips, ‘The gripping graphic novel that teaches us that God always answers our prayers,’ Catholic Herald Friday, 27 May 2016.


This article can be found in Mirror 0716.


The Catechism as a ‘Handbook for Life’

The Bible is the revealed word of God. It tells us of the relationship between God and man. In it we find every feeling and emotion experienced by our human-condition – suffering, love, hatred, humility, arrogance, lust, hunger, greed and betrayal.

The Catholic Catechism is the book that tells us how to understand the Bible and live and die by its word. For the Catechism is a ‘Handbook for life’, a summary of the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of the Church – and there is a great need of it, above all in countries facing major political crises and social upheavals.

Like Venezuela, for example, which today suffers one of the highest crime rates in the world, together with food shortages and violent unrest. Amid all the confrontation it is the Catholic Church that is appealing for peace, above all to the younger people. Her message is one of love and hope, and she is conveying this message through a prayer book, designed to complement the now widely-read youth catechism, YOUCAT.

Bishop Jaime José Villarroel of Carúpano in northeast Venezuela has asked our help. He already has the ACN Child’s Bible, and the Rosary booklet, but the current crisis is causing confusion to many young people and has now even led some people to a crisis of faith. The bishop’s aim is to tackle this, with the help of his catechists, through a major catechetical campaign. For this he needs the books of the YOUCAT series.

In the past they would have printed these themselves, but paper is now scarce in Venezuela and books in general have become prohibitively expensive on account of the galloping inflation. And so we are supplying him and his neighbouring diocese with over 10,000 copies of the YOUCAT, the YOUCAT Prayer Book and also the YOUCAT Confirmation Book. They will be distributed personally by the sisters and lay catechists in all 33 parishes to the participants in their prayer circles and faith-based learning centres.

The Catholic Church in Venezuela has already withstood many crises, thanks to the courageous women and men who have remained faithful to the Word of God and who knew and lived this Word. Today this Word – the Good News of the Gospel – is as urgently needed as ever by the people of Venezuela.


This article can be found in Mirror 0616.


On receiving and offering mercy - Madeline’s Story

‘The first memories of my mother were also my last. As I was to learn, she and I had travelled from hostel to hostel for the first 3 years of my life. I remember seeing her lying by the doorway in the half-light of evening. Her eyes were open but she seemed asleep. Her medicine, as she called it, was still hanging out of her arm. I tried waking her but there was no response. I had thought her asleep. 

As the night drew on and the room darkened, I took a blanket and placed it over her chest and placed a cushion beneath her head. I lay down beside her. She felt like ice. I snuggled close to her to try to make her warm. When I awoke the next morning, I was very hungry. I made us both cereal, when leaving the bowl beside her I’d hoped she’d wake for breakfast because I thought she must be hungry like I was. 

Another night and another morning came. I talked to her and brushed her hair. I placed her arm around my body. The only fear I felt was when a Garda looked through the door as another sunset came. He broke a window in the door, opened the latch and then saw me. From his look, I knew something was wrong. I lost my childhood the moment I realised I’d lost my mother. 

Garda Seamus hugged me and I cried as he carried me away from my mother. I called out for her hoping she’d wake up to take me back. I never felt anything other than love for her. I miss her dearly. I hope we meet again someday.’

 

Madeline was 3 years old when Garda Seamus found her mother dead from a drug overdose. As the effects of the trauma gradually manifested itself over the course of her childhood, by 15 years of age Madeline suffered from chronic depression and suicidal ideation.

Living through a succession of foster homes left Madeline with a loss of identity and she struggled to find meaning in her life.

Late one evening, she was on a long walk and happened upon a Church. She went in and poured her sorrow and misery out before our merciful God and so over time and with prayer she came to find healing – knowing that her mother was in a better place.

Madeline now helps others who suffer from grief and addiction and is happily married with a daughter of her own. Like so many anonymous Christians around the world Madeline has found Hope and Joy in her life and is being God’s Mercy to other poor souls in need.

There are in fact quite literally millions of Madelines around the world who are mercifully giving Hope and Joy to others and many millions more who are in need of such lasting Hope and Joy which can only be found in Christ Jesus.

It is ACN’s great privilege to be able to help the world’s Madelines, Marthas, and Martins be God’s Mercy.

Michael Kinsella

 

Michael Kinsella Phd is a close friend of ACN Ireland and is helping the YOUCAT foundation establish a YOUCAT Development Centre for the training of English speaking catechists.


This article can be found in Mirror 0516.


Deed, Word and prayer – The fullness of Mercy

They come from the ends of the earth. But without your help, many of them would not make it to the World Youth Day in Cracow.

Young people from the Middle East are particularly dependent on help to get to WYD and ACN is there to help. 25 young Syriac-rite Catholics and the 65 Coptic Catholics from Egypt, the 22 young Syrians, and the 30 young Roman Catholics from South Sudan, as well as the young people from Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Uruguay and Ecuador – to mention just some of them.

When in Cracow young people will have frequent opportunity to across ACN in Cracow, whether in the pilgrim’s handbook or in the youth catechism YOUCAT.

Now too, thanks to your generosity, there will also be the DOCAT – a compendium of the Church’s social teaching and a course in mercy, applied to society, written and presented with young people in mind.

‘Blessed are the merciful’, for they shall have mercy shown to them (cf Mt 5:7) – So runs the slogan for Cracow. That means putting mercy in to action.

So, the message for Cracow is precisely what Jesus said to Sister Faustina: ‘I give you three ways of showing mercy to your neighbour – 

  • first by deed
  • second by word and 
  • third by prayer.

In these three acts is contained the fullness of mercy.’ 

Word, prayer and deed – this is a call to us as well.


This article can be found in Mirror 0516.


Living their faith openly once more

The history of Christianity in Kosovo goes all the way back to the Apostle Paul. In his Letter to the Romans (Rom 15:19) he writes that during his travels he has proclaimed the Gospel to the people of this region.

History has not always been kind to the Kosovans; they have suffered persecution, oppression, expulsion. But many remained faithful to Christ throughout the centuries, even during the worst times of the Ottoman Empire, and again later under the communists. Today the Catholic Church in Kosovo has around 66,800 faithful, 57 priests and 87 religious sisters in its 24 parishes.

Bishop Dodë Gjergi knows many of them personally. He has observed a very special form of the new evangelisation here. ‘It is a re-Christianisation’, he says.

‘For many people were once baptised, and now they want to publicly return and openly profess their Catholic faith. It is not that they are leaving Islam behind them, but rather they realise that they were never truly Muslims. But only now can they openly say this.’

During the centuries of oppression, the majority of Kosovo Albanians were pressured to outwardly convert to Islam. All that was required of them was to publicly recite the first sura of the Koran. Yet within their own homes many of them secretly continued to practise their Catholic faith, clinging to the hope that one day they would once again be able to publicly pray the Our Father and openly attend Holy Mass. They are known as ‘crypto-Catholics’.

Now they want to bring their hidden religious practice out of the twilight of history and into the daylight. This hidden religious life has forged a particular characteristic of the national identity in Kosovo, in their special understanding of religious freedom and tolerance. But during the war of independence a more radical strand of Islam was introduced, promoted by Saudi Arabia, which is now leading to new tensions.

Blessed Mother Teresa embodied this tradition of tolerance and love of neighbour. As a young woman on the threshold of life changing decisions, she came to the shrine of Our Lady of Letnica in Kosovo. ‘We want to raise awareness of her message of love and tolerance’, says Bishop Dodë. ‘We see all men as our brothers, including those who see the world differently.’

In the face of the refugee crisis in the Balkans, his words do not just apply to the Kosovans. This is bringing new challenges to the impoverished Church in Kosovo – and ACN is standing by the Church in her mission.


This article can be found in Mirror 0416.