Saint John the Merciful was renowned for his extraordinary love of the poor. Wherever he saw need, he endeavoured with all the means at his disposal to alleviate it. By the time he was finally appointed as Patriarch of Alexandria, he was already feeding 7,900 poor people daily. He died around the year 619 and is revered as a saint both by Catholic and by Orthodox Christians.

The apostolic vicariate of Chaco Paraguayo is situated in western Paraguay. There are 11 different indigenous ethnic groups living within the vicariate, each speaking its own language. The region covers an area of some 96,000 km2 - almost the size of Austria - and is only sparsely populated. The 30,000 or so inhabitants of the vicariate are thinly scattered and lived mainly from whatever the saline and often boggy soil will produce. Many young people see little future for themselves here and many fail to complete their schooling, instead emigrating to other parts of the country in search of work or, in some cases get caught up in urban street gangs. There is widespread breakdown of traditional family structures and many parents seem incapable of giving guidance and direction to their children. 

The diocese of Nebbi is situated in northwest Uganda. For 30 years the north of the country was plagued by armed conflict and terrorism. And though the situation has been more stable for almost 10 years now, the deep wounds of that time are still evident today - a time of armed attacks, burnings, abductions, rape and murder - including in the diocese of Nebbi. Entire villages were destroyed, schools and health centres burnt down. There is widespread poverty here today. Most families can only afford one meal a day; for the rest of the day they must go hungry. The average family income is not even $14 a month. 

Again and again there are horrific terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Christians are not the only victims of these terrorists, but Christian churches and other institutions are particularly at risk. One of the places that has suffered most in this respect has been the archdiocese of Lahore in northeast Pakistan. In March 2008 the Sacred Heart Cathedral was seriously damaged, along with several Catholic schools. 30 people were killed and almost 250 injured. The bookshop of the Sisters of St Paul, which stands on the same site, was also almost completely destroyed. Then at Christmas of the same year, in another planned attack on the cathedral during Midnight Mass, a bomb detonated prematurely, so that a disaster was prevented only at the last minute.

The region of Benishangul-Gumuz lies in the far west of Ethiopia, on the border with Sudan, and is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions in the country. It has a population of almost 990,000, a little over one fifth of whom belong to the Gumuz ethnic group. Culturally, the Gumuz people are more closely related to the peoples of Sudan than to the other ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In the late 19th century and even into the first third of the 20th century many of the Gumuz fell victim to the slave traders.

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