The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Pleven is an answer to prayer. In 1996, when Bishop Petko Christov of Nicopoli travelled to the Portuguese shrine of Fatima, together with the other Catholic bishops of Bulgaria, in order to consecrate their country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he made a special prayer and at the same time a promise to the Mother of God: “If I succeed in gaining permission to build a new church in Pleven, I will consecrate this church to you, Our Lady of Fatima.” At that time it was only seven years since the fall of communism in the country and the Catholic Church there was forced to start again virtually from scratch. At the same time the former communists among the civic authorities were doing all they could to block the building permit for this church.
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The diocese of Rio Branco covers a vast area of over 104,000 km2 in the west of Brazil. Large areas of the diocese lie in the rainforest; it is an impenetrable region, with vast distances and many places accessible only by river boat. Of the approximately 602,000 inhabitants of the region around 450,000 are Catholics. There is a grave shortage of priests here, with just 26 diocesan priests and 28 priests from the religious orders to minister to so many people.
Many people know already early in life what they want to be. At the age of five, young Jean-Thierry Ebogo from Cameroon was already sure that he wanted to be a priest. For him, being a priest was nothing less than “being Jesus”. So when he joined the Carmelite Order in 2003 at the age of 21, it seemed as though his dreams were tangibly close to fulfilment. But Providence decided otherwise. After just a year, a malignant tumour was discovered on his right leg. Even amputation was not enough to check the spread of the disease. By the time he was brought to Italy for treatment in 2005, the cancer had already metastasised.
The Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel have been present in Sri Lanka since 1959. Their congregation was founded in India in 1868, principally in order to provide young girls with a scholastic education, but at the same time with the intention of placing Christ at the very centre of their lives. The congregation is now widespread in India and Sri Lanka, with around 130 convents in India and 37 in Sri Lanka.
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!”