For Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), suffering and need were never an abstract problem. For him it was always about the individual, a person with a face and a name, a child of God. It is easy to feel no personal involvement with a statistic, and a mere number means little to us. But the fate of an individual person with a face and a name is not so easy to distance ourselves from, for it touches us inwardly, is a direct appeal to us personally. On his many travels around the world Father Werenfried encountered so many people living in poverty and destitution, in whom he saw God himself as weeping. They had names - Anna, Pablo and John, Maria and Miguel. He had looked them in the eyes, and what he had seen was for him a cry for help. He asked himself - and all of us - the question: “How is it that we are so comfortably situated? These people live beneath the same sun and the same stars as we do. God also created them on the sixth day, to be kings of creation. Where then is their kingdom? This trampling of their human dignity is a mortal sin against nature, a crying injustice. And we too will personally share in this injustice if we do not do everything in our power to banish it from the world - everything in our power!”
Not too many people know that there are regions in Argentina where people live in the direst poverty. One such region is a diocese with the long name of “San Roque de Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña”. It is one of the poorest dioceses in the country and this, on paper, seemingly dry statistic is in reality a human crisis for those involved. Some of these people live in dirty, damp, unhealthy hovels or even under plastic sheeting. There are sick people barely being cared for, gaunt-looking mothers, emaciated children whom you would more readily expect to see in Africa, living off little more than a little flour moistened in water.
(A religious sister with needy children of the diocese © Aid to the Church in Need)
The diocese covers a vast area of over 70,000 km2 in the north of the country, characterised mainly by savanna and dry forest land. It is home to the descendants of various indigenous tribes who in the past used to live as nomads. Many still live as hunter gatherers. But now the large Agro industries, which are encroaching ever further on their traditional territories, are increasingly restricting their traditional lifestyle, grubbing up the forest and establishing vast soya bean plantations. At the same time the goats and cattle of settlers and small farmers are eating the forest bare.
The Catholic Church is the only organisation supporting these people. But the distances are huge and there are only very few priests. Hence the support of the religious sisters is absolutely vital. At present there are 38 religious sisters from various different congregations working in the diocese. They are supporting the people in many ways and bringing home to them the fact that they are indeed children of God. They visit the families in the villages, care for the sick and elderly, pray with the people and, while bringing them urgent and vital help, at the same time manage to introduce a little light and laughter into their poverty stricken homes.
ACN regularly help these sisters and this year once again the charity plans to support them in their modest lifestyle, for all the work that they do is offered entirely free of charge. We have promised a grant of $52,000 to support their life and ministry - just $660 per sister for an entire year.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929