Nicaragua: There is no way out of the current crisis without the involvement of the church

Nicaragua: There is no way out of the current crisis without the involvement of the church

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Latin America section of Aid to the Church in Need, visited Nicaragua in November. The objective of his trip was to learn more about conditions in the country first-hand and to assess how the pontifical foundation has worked with the local church up until this point and how they can continue to work together.

 Last year, Nicaragua experienced a series of intensive and violent clashes between the government and opposition groups that lasted for about three months from 18 April to mid-July. During this period, the clashes claimed hundreds of lives – most of them young protesters. However, the exact number of victims is disputed: the government has estimated 150 dead, other sources say the figure is over 500.

 The Catholic Church played a decisive role in ensuring that the clashes between the armed government forces and the protesters – most of them students – did not cause even more casualties, both dead and wounded.

 “One of the things that the Nicaraguan Church has said time and again is that the only way out of the crisis is through dialogue and by supporting a process that guarantees legal certainty, and channels the energy of young people for the good of the country. It is important to avoid starting new conflicts and to involve all of the relevant social actors in the country,” Mencaglia said in an interview after he returned from his visit to the Central American country. “I would even go so far as to say that there is no peaceful way out of the current situation without the involvement of the Church. At a spiritual and social level, the Church continues to play a decisive and unique role in Nicaragua as it moves along the difficult path to healing the deep wounds left by the conflict that raged from April to July.”

 Mencaglia also addressed the difficult situation that young Catholics face. He was often told during his visit, “Young and Catholic is a dangerous thing to be in Nicaragua today.”

 The following is a transcript of the interview:

 What is the current situation in Nicaragua?

Although officially, there have not been any further violent clashes since July, the political climate in the country remains extremely tense. At this time, the fate of the young people has yet to be decided. Hundreds of them are still incarcerated in prison for political reasons relating to the suppression of the protests. Less blatant forms of discrimination also have a negative impact on life in the country.

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Latin America section of Aid to the Church in Need, visited Nicaragua in November.

Marco Mencaglia, head of the Latin America section of Aid to the Church in Need, visited Nicaragua in November.

What role did the Catholic Church play during this time?

Many people deplore the absence of the basic requirements for democracy. The Catholic Church is playing a decisive role in finding a peaceful solution for the conflict because it is an institution that is deeply rooted in society.

After the first protests, the government asked the Church to play a mediating role. However, the dialogue was aborted by the government after eight meetings. A fierce campaign was initiated by government circles to discredit the Catholic Church. Strong allegations were made against Church leaders and the Catholics were called “putschists” and “terrorists”. At the same time, measures were taken to keep tabs on everything the priests said and did. Thus, for example, the content of Sunday sermons is monitored closely and passed on to the government by agents. In addition, it is said that concrete and in part violent measures are being taken at a local level to discriminate against persons who are suspected of having provided some form of material support for the protests, even if they were not directly involved in the clashes. Over the course of our visit, one sentence came up again and again: “Young and Catholic is a dangerous thing to be in Nicaragua today.”

What impressed you most during your trip?

The courage of the Church as it worked to prevent even more violence during the months of conflict. The protest organisers closed off the main roads in many regions of the country, bringing life to a standstill in the country for weeks. We saw many photos showing priests in, particularly tense situations, standing with arms raised between armed government forces who were about to take down blockades by force, and protesters who had resolved to show resistance. By risking their own lives, these priests, most of them young men, saved the lives of many young people on both sides of the conflict. They prevented the street blockades from ending in violence. Many of the churches took in hundreds of wounded, converting church buildings into makeshift field hospitals.

In spite of the campaign to discredit the Church, recent, independent surveys have shown that the Church as an institution continues to enjoy a very high level of credibility. The number of vocations to the priesthood continues to rise practically everywhere in the country. Each year, new parishes are founded in different dioceses. Others are adding to the number of centres for lay education. The number of applications received from people interested in taking part in educational courses offered by the Church is also growing. The last diocese to be founded in Central America is located in Nicaragua: the diocese of Siuna, established in late 2017.

Mgr Jorge Solórzano Pérez, Bishop of Granada, during the distribution of a meal for the poor of the city - Poor man wearing a T-Shirt with the slogan "Nicaragua loves Jesus".

Mgr Jorge Solórzano Pérez, Bishop of Granada, during the distribution of a meal for the poor of the city – Poor man wearing a T-Shirt with the slogan “Nicaragua loves Jesus”.

Is there a way out of the crisis?

The Nicaraguan Church has said time and again that the only way out of the crisis is through dialogue and by supporting a process that ensures that the fundamental rules of democracy – free and fair elections – are respected, and that channels the energy of young people for the good of the country. It is important to avoid starting new conflicts and to involve all of the relevant social actors in the country. I would even go so far as to say that there is no peaceful way out of the current situation without the involvement of the Church. At a spiritual and social level, the Church continues to play a decisive and unique role in Nicaragua as it moves along the difficult path to healing the deep wounds left by the conflict that raged from April to July.

What does the Nicaraguan Church need?

First of all, the local Church has to remain unified. In spite of the great differences in personal biographies, attitudes and pastoral contexts, the bishops have always been able to show a remarkable solidarity with one another. It is necessary to pray for the people who have distanced themselves from the Church for political reasons, that they may return to the community of the Church. These are difficult processes that quietly continue to move forward in spite of the many problems. During these precarious times, the Nicaraguan Church needs to feel the solidarity of the world Church in prayer and its ongoing attention.

Chapel in Nicaragua.

Chapel in Nicaragua.

What help can ACN provide through the involvement of its benefactors?

In response to the remarkable increase in vocations, beginning in 2019 the Church in Nicaragua has decided to set up new philosophical seminaries for candidates to the priesthood at a regional level. These will be in addition to the existing diocesan seminaries in Managua and Granada as well as the national seminary in Managua, where students from the five other state districts can continue their theological studies. The new, improvised seminaries will need worthy facilities to be able to accommodate the young students.

Furthermore, ACN is assisting in the process of founding new parishes in various dioceses of the country by building small churches and parish houses. These are being built in isolated areas and the communities are happy to finally have a priest living among them. Quite often we have witnessed how the presence of a priest can change the life in a village in Nicaragua: in addition to his liturgical and sacramental duties, the priest is often a point of orientation in the day-to-day life of the entire community.

ACN also offers support for the formation of young lay people. As we mentioned above, during the protests young Catholics became the targets of the most severe attacks. They were robbed of their rights, threatened, thrown into prison and beaten. Many of them fled the country to seek refuge abroad. Many others lost their jobs because of the economic crisis and have no prospects for the future. We have to reach out to these young people so that their wounds can heal and they can discover the love of God in spite of all their suffering and anger.


A message of peace from Mgr. Antonio Javellana Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

A message of peace from Mgr. Antonio Javellana Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

Two bombs exploded during Sunday Mass in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Philippines. According to local police, 20 people were killed, and dozens more were wounded. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack that happened within a week of a referendum in which the Muslim-majority region of Mindanao voted for greater autonomy. Since 2000, there have been at least ten attacks on or near the cathedral. The Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro Mgr. Antonio Javellana Ledesma spoke to ACN: “I am concerned about the incident, because it may disturb the peace process that started with the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro.”

Haiti: Interview with Mgr Launay SATURNÉ

“What Haiti needs is a ‘new man’ who lives a Christian life in today’s society”

Interview with Mgr Launay SATURNÉ, Archbishop of Cap-Haïtien since 23 September this year and president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference, during his visit to the international headquarters of the international Catholic pastoral charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Mgr. Launay Saturné ( Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Haiti and president of the Haitian Bishop´s Conference)

Mgr. Launay Saturné, Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Haiti and president of the Haitian Bishop´s Conference.

His country, which was struck once again by an earthquake this October, is also plagued internally by cases of corruption extending to the highest levels of the state. On Monday, 22 October President Jovenel Moïse sacked two members of his cabinet, including the Chief of Cabinet (akin to a Prime Minister) due to involvement in scandals for their own personal enrichment.

The vast majority of the 11.5 million inhabitants of Haiti regard themselves as Christians and Catholics, with only 2.7% agnostics and 2.7% animists.These figures however by no means reflect the complexity of the religious picture, in which the influence of voodoo is a powerful force within society.


How did the bishops react to the recent cases of corruption which have convulsed the country?

The Catholic hierarchy in Haiti, including the Haitian bishops’ conference, has always accompanied the people, both in their faith and in their daily struggle for human dignity. The reaction of the bishops should be seen in this context. In an official statement, the bishops have publicly denounced the corruption, because it is a scourge, an evil in society. I quote: “It tends to become widespread in society, to develop into a system and it causes damage that is difficult to repair. This situation is nothing new, but this time it has reached a level and a scale that are unacceptable and unsustainable.” We have observed a positive reaction within society in the face of this scandal. “What is very interesting is that this scandal is causing a collective awareness that is strong and healthy. The people are demanding justice with one voice, fully aware that corruption is a radical evil which endangers their collective future.” Everything appears to indicate that funds intended for development, for bringing growth to the country and freeing us a little from the poverty of every kind, has instead been misused and misappropriated. Everyone knows just how useful this money would have been for the reconstruction of our country and for improving the socio-economic conditions of our people. As bishops and pastors we must walk together with the people of God, who have been entrusted to our fatherly and pastoral care.


What steps is the Catholic Church in Haiti taking in this context?

The Church must always remain faithful to her Divine Founder. It is by means of this fidelity that we can continue to grow in love and hope, as the Gospel tells us to. In this context our first action as the hierarchy of the Church is to continue walking with the people as we must do as their shepherds. In addition, we must help the people to become better educated in the social teaching of the Church, so that they can be more aware of its role and implication in the responsible management of public life for the good of all. Finally, the preaching of the Gospel is intrinsically a form of leaven that can change hearts and situations from within, like the yeast in the dough in St Matthew’s Gospel (13:33). All this is part and parcel of the overall plan of evangelization, education and formation, which the Church seeks to place at the disposal of all believers, in order to train and motivate them to assume their responsibilities within society and within the country.

But all of this has to take place first of all within the family and in the schools. These places are extremely important to us. Over and above the intellectual formation, the family and the school have to inculcate in children and young people the love of God, love of neighbour, love of country, respect for the common good, civic responsibility and patriotism. For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school, in which the Church can distribute the “bread of education” to the most disadvantaged children in the remotest areas of the country, where the State is absent. A great many priests and bishops have emerged from these schools – to which we should also add the schools run by the religious communities, which have a reputation of being the best in the country, and which are indeed the best. To tell the truth, we are making up for many of the deficiencies of the State, both in this and in many other areas.


For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school

“For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school”


At the same time we are engaged in many one-off programs to help our fellow citizens in difficulty. This is exactly what we have been doing for the victims of the recent earthquake on 6 and 7 October this year, helping to rebuild their homes and recover their psychological equilibrium.

The archdiocese of Cap-Haïtien owns over 80 hectares of good agricultural land, which we want to use in an environmentally friendly manner, in the spirit of the encyclical Laudato si’ of Pope Francis. The students at the faculty of agronomy at the UDERS in Cap-Haitien (a branch of the Université de Notre Dame de Haití) can carry out some important experimentational work there. Additionally, working this land can help to reduce unemployment, increase local production and persuade workers to stay at home and work to earn a living. The borehole we have on one of these pieces of land can provide water and this means that we have every possibility of success on our side. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Laudato si’ that we must combat poverty via the protection of the environment. This is what we literally intend to do.


Do you have good relations with members of the other Christian groups?

We have good relations with Haitians of all Christian confessions. For some time now we have been accustomed to working together with them, and our relationship is based on the important values we share. This is particularly evident in the ecological field, because we share the same environment, and here we are all affected. Inspired by the publication of the encyclical Laudato si’, we organised a ceremony which brought together representatives of the Protestant communities, atheists and followers of voodoo. Ecology has no religion, it concerns us all!

Environmental problems frequently affect us here in Haiti and are a wake-up call. Our country is very vulnerable to natural disasters. However, I refuse to hear it called a cursed country. The Lord gave the earth to the children of Adam to till and cultivate it. Our happiness comes from something beyond, originating in the loving heart of the Creator. Geography alone cannot determine our happiness or unhappiness. On the contrary, we see ourselves as children blessed and loved by God.


We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis

“We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis”


What is the situation of the Church in Haiti?

We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis. We are fortunate in having many vocations. In our major national interdiocesan seminary we have 102 students in philosophy and 182 in theology. The future of the Church in Haiti, in terms of human resources, is well assured. The bishops of Haiti and the seminary formators are accompanying the seminarians and helping them to develop into priests who will work in harmony with the heart of God. The earthquake of 2010 destroyed the two buildings of the major seminary of Notre Dame of Haiti. Today the bishops are still seeking funds for the reconstruction of this national major seminary, all together in one place, which will cost 9 million dollars. We are seeking economic aid from various organisations and sister churches, episcopal conferences and dioceses, here and elsewhere, in order to make possible this project, which is currently one of the principal and most urgent priorities of the Church in Haiti. We still need 3 million dollars in order to be able to begin work on rebuilding this formation centre in 2019 – the project which the Haitian Bishops’ Conference regards as the first priority.


Would you like to say a few words to the benefactors of ACN?

Thank you, of course! Thank you for your donations, but thank you also for the visit by the representatives of ACN to Haiti, and to my archdiocese, to help us rebuild what was destroyed by the earthquake of 2010. We pray every day for the physical and spiritual health of the benefactors of ACN and for those working in your foundation. The reconstruction has still not been finalised and meanwhile, new misfortunes have befallen us. The Church in Haiti needs loving and generous hearts to support her pastoral and evangelising mission. We are most grateful to ACN for your great spiritual closeness and your effective and practical solidarity towards Haiti and the Church here.

5,000 Bibles for the youth in Lebanon

5,000 Bibles for the youth apostolate in the Archdiocese of Zahleh, Lebanon


More and more Christians are leaving the Middle East. This Exodus is affecting not only Syria and Iraq, but also Lebanon. In the quite recent past this country was the only country of the Middle East with a Christian majority in the population, but now Christians are an ever shrinking minority. Already back in the civil war, from 1975 to 1990, some 700,000 Christians left the country, and the exodus continues today. Christians now represent just 34% of the total population, and indeed among young people under 25, only a quarter.

The mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East is frequently described as a "tsunami". In August 2015 Patriarch Gregorios III, who was then still head of the Melkite Catholic Church, wrote an open letter to young people in which he said, "The general wave of emigration among young people, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq, breaks my heart, wounds me deeply and feels like a death blow to me. What future can the Church have in the face of such a tsunami of emigration? What will become of our homeland? What will happen to our parishes and Church facilities?"

In response to this crisis, in the 40 parishes belonging to the archdiocese of Zaleh, the Melkite Catholic Church is pursuing an intensive youth apostolate. For it is clear that the more firmly young people are rooted in their faith and in the life of the Church, the less likely they are to abandon their homeland. Weekly meetings and larger monthly events are helping these young people to grow in their faith, and every young person joining the groups is given a copy of the Holy Scriptures by the priests in charge. We have promised 25,000 Euros to cover the cost of an additional 5,000 Bibles.

Addiction in Russia: From the darkness to the light

Aid to the Church in Need supports a Catholic-Orthodox conference on addiction

At the beginning of October an international ecumenical conference on addiction and pastoral care for addicts was held in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need supported this event both with content and financially. It was organized by the department for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow and various Catholic and Orthodox organisations concerned with the problem of addiction.

Under the heading “The theological understanding of addiction problems: the Orthodox and Catholic view” participants of both denominations from Russia, the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belarus, Romania and other countries conferred. This, the second conference on the subject, was chaired by the representative for addiction matters at the Moscow Patriarchate, Bishop Mefodiy (Kondratiev). There had already been a Catholic-Orthodox exchange of views on the subject of addiction and prevention in the Catholic seminary in Saint Petersburg.

Collaboration in the protection of life, addiction therapy and aid for Christians in the Middle East

“The conference was an important forum at which representatives of both Churches not only discussed the subject theoretically, but also exchanged their practical experience,” the head of ACN’s Russian section, Peter Humeniuk, said. The most recent meeting was another result of the Catholic-Orthodox working group initiated by ACN. This had emerged as a consequence of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in February 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This working group already met a number of times to discuss the protection of unborn children and the fight against drug addiction. Addiction in particular is a difficult subject which affects pastoral care in the eastern and western Churches, Humeniuk explained. “We hope that the ecumenical exchange and collaboration will help those concerned and their family members to emerge from the darkness they have fallen into because of their dependence.”


Russia: "We want to join together to help people find their way out of the darkness"

Russia: “We want to join together to help people find their way out of the darkness”


According to information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) more than 250 million people worldwide consume illegal drugs at least once every year, Humeniuk claimed. The WHO has issued figures showing that every year 200,000 people worldwide die as a result of drugs and around 3 million people die from alcohol consumption. “The number of drug- and alcohol-related fatalities is the equivalent every year to the population of a metropolis like Madrid. Addiction is a global problem,” Humeniuk stressed. “The Catholic and Orthodox Churches can do a lot on a local level, such as providing contact points for those seeking help and hence creating an infrastructure whose effect goes beyond the merely cosmetic. This doesn’t only apply when it comes to addiction. Such concrete concerns give the Church of Christ as well as other religions an opportunity to combine their wealth of possibilities and experience, specifically on a local and practical level. State institutions alone are not able to cope with these problems and they adopt a different approach.”


The Vicar General of the Roman-Catholic archdiocese of Moscow, Father Kirill Gorbunov, presented the document “The Church: Drugs and Drug Addiction “, which was published in 2002. He said that this working instrument could also serve the Orthodox Church as a starting point, especially as regards the recommendations to priests on how to deal with addicts. “The ability to accept people and listen to them is important,” Gorbunov said. It had been his experience that people suffering from addiction often felt a strong need for a spiritual life. “The priest must respond to this need,” according to the Vicar General. The most important part of the pastoral approach is “to give help to hope”.

An ecumenical helping hand for those training as priests on handling addicts

The Rector of the Catholic seminary “Mary – Queen of the Apostles” in St. Petersburg, Father Konstantin Perederiy, mentioned that the Catholic-Orthodox collaboration is already in progress in this field. One particularly important project was to create a programme for the seminaries of both Churches to prepare the seminarians more effectively in how to deal in their future pastoral work with the problems faced by addicts.

The participants also included the Russian-Orthodox priest Sergei Belkov, who has successfully managed a facility for drug addicts in the Saint Petersburg area for about twenty years. Many of them have found salvation here in a family atmosphere and a regular life routine permeated by prayer and spiritual life, individual care and work. ACN has supported this project from the beginning. For 25 years the pastoral charity has been committed to establishing a dialogue with the Russian-Orthodox Church. This part of ACN’s mission was originally inspired by Pope Saint John Paul II.

Success Story: Spiritual & material aid in Tanzania

Success Story: Rosaries, books and 30 bicycles for the Fatima apostolate in the diocese of Ifakara, Tanzania

In 2017 Catholics around the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal. On six occasions, between 13 May and 13 October 1917, the Mother of God appeared to three shepherd children and gave them a message for the whole world. She told them that prayer – especially the Rosary – penance and interior conversion were the means to avert war and disaster from the world, and that men must stop offending God by their sins. On 13 October 1917 a crowd of around 70,000 people were witnesses to a solar miracle in which the sun above them began to spin rapidly and then plunge in a zigzag fashion towards the Earth, before rising back to its place again. The Fatima apparitions have been recognised by the Church, and several of the Popes have since visited the shrine in Fatima.

Many Catholic faithful, on every continent, have responded to Our Lady‘s appeal, consecrating themselves to her Immaculate Heart, praying the Rosary and striving to love God better. They include many people in Africa. For example, in the diocese of Ifakara in Tanzania, which has only been in existence for five years, there is already a lively Fatima apostolate, led by Sister Euphrasia. Their aim is to spread the message of Fatima among the families in all 23 parishes of the diocese, encouraging the Rosary and encouraging people to avail themselves of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, and the same time encouraging a spirit of active neighbourly charity in order to live this faith in practical deeds as well.

However, most of the parishes in the diocese are in rural areas and include numerous outlying villages. And at the same time, until recently, they were short of the necessary materials, notably rosaries and booklets. But now, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we have been able to give 1,700 Euros for 30 bicycles, thereby enabling the catechists to visit the many villages more easily, plus another 1,500 Euros for the rosaries and other items required. Thanks to this help, the Fatima apostolate in the diocese has been given new impetus and been able to extend still further.

Sister Euphrasia has written to thank us: „Dear brothers and sisters, we want to thank you for your great support, which has enabled our apostolate to be very active. We have organised a seminar for the community leaders from the various different parishes. And after that, in the presence of our bishop and the priests, we distributed the various devotional items. We are praying for you! May our Blessed Lady continue to intercede for us all!“

Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa

A bookbinding machine for the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Institute for Philosophy and Theology run by the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa is the only Catholic higher educational institution in central and southern Ethiopia. All the dioceses and all the religious communities in this country of Eastern Africa send their seminarians for their studies there.

The Institute also includes a Capuchin Research and Retreat Centre, which provides religious formation for adults, spiritual accompaniment and retreat days for religious and laity alike. These facilities are likewise open to Orthodox and Protestant believers, and every other week there is an ecumenical seminar devoted to various different topics drawn from the fields of religious art, philosophy and literature. National conferences are held four times a year and every three years there is also an international congress.


A bookbinding machine for the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

A bookbinding machine for the Capuchin Fathers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


The centre also publishes books, among other things translating spiritual classics from the European languages into Amharic and also publishing the contributions to the conferences, making them available not only to specialist readers but also to a wider public. At present the centre can print the books itself, but not bind them. This results in great delays in publication, and in addition it is expensive to have the books bound externally – which naturally also increases the price of the books. The centre, which is nonprofitmaking, would like to be able to offer the books at affordable prices. And so the Capuchin Fathers have asked ACN for help. We have promised 18,000 Euros for a bookbinding machine.

Burkina Faso: A fragile oasis of peace

Interview with Bishop Diébougou (Burkina Faso), 23.10.2018
By Thomas Oswald (ACN France) CONTACT:


Burkina Faso: A fragile oasis of peace between Mali and Niger

An interview with Bishop Raphaël Dabiré, President of the Episcopal Commission for the Clergy and Bishop of the diocese of Diébougou, in the southwest of Burkina Faso. His country, which borders on both Niger and Mali, is subject like its two neighbours to the pressures exerted by jihadist groups on all the peoples of the Sahel. Nonetheless, it can still be seen as an oasis of tolerance between the various religious communities. Christians account for 23.9% of the population, whereas 54.2% is Muslim and 21.3% animist.

How are relations between the various faith communities within Burkina Faso?

Our country has a tradition of religious tolerance which we do our best to maintain. I am regularly invited to the religious celebrations of the other communities. For example, on the most recent feast of Ramadan I went, at their invitation, to a Muslim place of prayer. I did not take part in the sacrifice of the sheep, but I shared their joy with them and wished them a good feast. In the same way the imams and the customary chiefs are invited to our Catholic Mass on the major feast days, and they join in a part of the celebration, generally leaving at the moment of the homily. These are symbolic acts of presence, accompanied by little acts of recognition as expressions of fraternity among us. When a priest dies, to give you another example, the imams never fail to express their sympathies to me.

How do you explain this general climate of good relations, at a time when the Sahel is shaken by ethnic and religious conflicts?

Our country has a solid tradition of tolerance and good relations between the faith communities. Almost every family has members who are Muslims, Christians and animists. It is something acknowledged by everyone.

This familiarity enables us to approach each other’s religion without any taboos, and even with a degree of good-natured irony. I think that the good relations between the communities in my country can be explained to a large extent by what we could call the propensity for teasing. It involves taking the liberty of making good-natured fun of my neighbour’s religion, on the understanding that he will do the same in regard to mine.

Does that mean that Burkina Faso has no problem in relations between the religious communities?

Sadly, no. Our capital city was attacked by terrorists last March, leaving around 30 people dead. The police and military are regularly attacked by jihadist groups, using antipersonnel mines and in organised ambushes. Naturally, the cowardice and violence of these attacks affects us deeply.

These attacks appear to be directed from outside the country, by groups from Niger or Mali. But are the Burkinans – the Burkinabé – themselves ever tempted by jihadism?

We don’t know the whole story, and undoubtedly there are some isolated individuals from our country who are involved in these actions, but overall, our society is resisting those who are seeking to divide us.

Three weeks ago certain individuals smashed the statue of Our Lady in a church, along with four other statues. They left a somewhat enigmatic message, giving to understand that Christians should not worship statues. During the Mass of reparation I urged my parishioners not to jump to hasty conclusions. We should leave it to the law to do its work. This act of desecration was an isolated act, fortunately, and I hope it will remain that way.

Burkina Faso is regarded as one of the poorest countries in the world. Do you see any development in the situation?

It appears to me that the economic situation is stagnant, and I’m afraid that, once again, it’s the actions of the terrorists that have a lot to do with it. They discourage investors who might otherwise take an interest in our country. Youth employment in particular is a major cause for concern.

This poor economic situation is a threat to the stability of the entire country. The opposition to the present president Kaboré, who is a Catholic and was elected in 2015, is playing on this instability in order to undermine his government. But it needs to be said that there is no religious conflict behind this agitation, and besides, there are also Christians among the opposition.

How is the Church faring in your country?

Our community is fervent in its faith. The churches are filled, from Saturday until Sunday evening, and we have a very lively liturgy. There are plenty of priestly vocations, and plenty of demand for baptism. But we have to remain vigilant and accompany this fervour. We need more catechists, and we need more resources to support our seminarians.

This is a vital task, without which people’s faith will remain fragile. In the villages, for example, we see Christians going back to pagan practices when they find themselves facing difficulties. This is a challenge which we must respond to through religious formation.

Do you have a message for the benefactors of ACN?

A huge thank you. Thanks to the support of your association we are dealing precisely with this great need for education, among our young Christians. You are supporting us in building the essential infrastructure, such as the seminaries, the parish offices and catechetical facilities. You have also helped us obtain vital means of transport, including bicycles, mopeds and cars, which are essential in many of our far-flung parishes where it is absolutely crucial to enable the priests and catechists to reach the people!


Thanks to the generosity of its benefactors in 2017, the pontifical foundation ACN supported more than 60 projects in Burkina Faso for a total of almost 750,000 Euros.

Syria: Houdaib family return to home

Feature Story, 30.10.2018 Syria/Homs/Family Houdaib by Josué Villalón


The Houdaib family return to their home in Homs


“Thanks to the support of ACN International, we don’t feel alone”


The Houdaib family is an extended family, like so many other families in Syria. Evon is the mother and grandmother of the tribe. At the age of 80 she is still the head of the family, and especially now, since her husband George died of heart problems a few years ago. “We have 11 children, all of them still alive, thanks be to God. I know that this is somewhat unusual given the times we are living through in Syria today. Many families have lost children, parents, brothers or sisters.”


The family welcomes a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) to their recently refurbished house in order to share with them their joy in returning to the family home. The Houdaibs had lived in this house since they were newlyweds. But in 2012, during one of the worst bombardments to hit the city, part of the roof came down, blocking the entrance to the house. The family home is on the ground floor of a block of flats in the Al Hameedye quarter, close to the historic centre of Homs. Until recently, in order to get to their home, you had to climb over a series of rubble barriers blocking the streets, barricades built during the fighting.


Today all this rubble has been cleared away from the streets, and although access is still difficult for vehicles, it is possible to come and go on foot with a degree of normality. Standing out among the buildings nearby is the Haiyar Palace, once one of the architectural jewels of Homs. People in the neighbourhood have put up some images of the Way of the Cross as well asa large cross in front of the building, which is surrounded by ruins. “Formerly this was a mainly Christian area, and we want to preserve this atmosphere, even though many of our neighbours still haven’t returned”, says Marwan, Evon’s eldest son.


Marwan expresses his thanks for the support of the local Church which, with financial help from ACN, has funded the repair work on his mother’s house. “We still rely on help, because we don’t have the money for medicines or to pay for an operation that my sister has to undergo. The fighting has moved on northwards from Homs, towards the Idlib region, but now we suffer from an enormous economic crisis- There is no work and the power cuts still occur.”


The local Church gave 500,000 Syrian pounds – or 1,500 Euros – to the Houdaib family. “It may not seem like much money in other countries, but here it’s a small fortune today. Of course we know that people outside Syria are helping us in a spirit of disinterested generosity. I don’t know how to thank them, we no longer feel alone, thanks to them”, says Ragaa, one of Evon’s daughters.

There are a number of grandchildren belonging to the third generation also gathered in the house,. Among them are Wael, aged 20, who works as a delivery man in a restaurant, and Joudi, 13, who is still at school and wants to go on and study pharmacy in the footsteps of her aunt Ragaa. They tell us that the most difficult thing to bear in these last few years was having to flee from one place to another, and suffer separation from their cousins and friends.


“Yes, it has been a great trial”, Evon confesses. “We had to go from here to Feiruzy, a small town on the outskirts of Homs, then from there to Hanessa, another place just outside the city. Then in 2016, after Homs was liberated, we returned here, but we couldn’t come back to the apartment until a few months ago, and that was thanks to the help of ACN.”


Despite the fact that many Syrians were forced to flee, some even abroad, the Houdaib family tried hard to remain united, and now they are very happy to be back together again. “The reason why we wanted to come back to our former home was to fulfil the wishes of our father George”, Marwan tells us. Evon nods in agreement, goes out of the room and returns with a photograph of her husband. “I’m so sorry that my husband was not able to see this house rebuilt; it was his great dream”, Evon adds.


Marwan now works as a driver for the archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the seat of which is the church of Saint Mary of the Holy Belt. This church is built over an ancient crypt which was a place of prayer for Christians dating back to the year 50 A.D. According to tradition, this church contains a belt once belonging to the Virgin Mary and given by her to Saint Thomas the Apostle upon her Assumption into heaven. It is a relic kept with great devotion and bears witness to the profound Christian roots of Syria. The Houdaib family is one of the many who come to this place to ask Our Lady’s protection and for peace in their country. “We have lost everything, but we have not lost our faith. We remain united, we go to church and celebrate Mass together. That is where we draw the strength that we need”, Evon tells us.


Theirs is one of the first 100 families who – thanks to the support of organisations like ACN – have so far been able to return and rebuild their homes after years of war and destruction. They know well that they still have many challenges ahead of them and a great deal of work to do, but they assure us that they will never leave this land, and that their home is open to anyone in need.


In May 2018 ACN supported the restoration of 100 houses in Homs, with a total of 300.000 Euros - SYRIA / NATIONAL 18/00370     

Breaking news: Asia Bibi Aquittal

ACN News, 31.10.2018 / Pakistan: Asia Bibi’s  Acquittal
by John Newton & John Pontifex CONTACT:


Asia Bibi’s family thanks God for her acquittal

Asia daughter says “I can’t wait to hug my mother”


Asia Bibi’s husband and daughter have today described news of her acquittal as the “most wonderful moment” of their lives – and thanked God for answering their prayers.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court this morning (Wednesday, 31st October) overturned the death sentence hanging over the Catholic labourer from Punjab who in 2010 became the first woman in the country condemned to death for blasphemy.

Speaking within a few minutes of the announcement today, Asia Bibi’s daughter, Eisham Ashiq, 18, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “I am so happy. I want to thank God.

And, speaking through an interpreter, she told the charity for persecuted Christians: “This is the most wonderful moment. I can’t wait to hug my mother and then celebrate with my family. I am grateful to God for listening to our prayers.”

Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, said: “We are very happy. This is wonderful news.

“We thank God very much that he’s heard our prayers – and the prayers of so many people who have longed for Asia Bibi’s release over all these years of suffering and anguish.”

Close family friend Joseph Nadeem said that on hearing the news the family immediately “danced for joy”. He added: “There were many tears – tears of indescribable joy.”

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Today is like the dawn of new hope for oppressed minorities.”

Saluting the courage of the judges in acquitting Asia Bibi in the face of fierce opposition from Islamist protestors, he added: “It is important that justice is not just seen to be done but is done.”

And Father Emmanuel Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, which supports people accused of blasphemy with support from organisations including ACN, said: “I am glad that justice has finally been served.

“In the current developing situation and protests by extremist groups, May Our Lord bless and protect Asia and her family and keep all our Christian brothers and sisters safe here in Pakistan.”

The Supreme Court’s decision today overturns the 2010 sentence Asia Bibi received for insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable by death according to Article 295C of Pakistan’s Penal code – part of the so-called Blasphemy Laws.

The charge was brought against her following an altercation with Muslim co-workers who said that, as a Christian, she had contaminated a common water cup by drinking from it.

Throughout, Asia Bibi has protested her innocence and on 8th October the case had its final hearing at Pakistan’s Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad.

At the time of the hearing, Asia’s daughter, Eisham, and husband, Ashiq, were in the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need, raising awareness of the case.