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Thousands of South Sudanese find refuge in Cathedral

August 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Wau, South Sudan, Aug 20, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the civil war in South Sudan heightens, millions are fleeing their homes for safer ground, which many have found at St. Mary Help of Christian’s Cathedral in Wau, the country’s second largest city.

“Those who flee believe that even rebels still fear God and would not slaughter civilians in the backyard of a church,” said Fr. Moses Peter, a priest at St. Mary’s, according to IRIN News.

“Many other churches have also taken in hundreds of people,” he said.
South Sudan has been in the middle of a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years, which has divided the young country between those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Since the beginning of the war, around 4 million citizens have left the violence-stricken country, in hopes of finding peace, food and work. This week, neighboring Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, highlighting the crisis as the world’s fastest growing refugee epidemic.

For those who have not fled the nation, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) are seeking refuge in churches – including St. Mary’s Cathedral, which is the country’s largest church and is located Wau. Over 10,000 people now seek shelter there.

The city of Wau, in the northern part of the country, had gone years without being touched by the brutality of the war, which originally drew IDPs to the area. But that changed this spring, when the conflict widened its reach to the area.

Among the IDPs are usually women, children and those who have lost most of their families in the war. Many are too fearful to stay in their homes because they know they could be killed, tortured, raped or even forced into fighting.

“Soldiers burned our houses, took our cattle, and almost murdered my whole village,” said Maria, a disabled, elderly woman who has been living at St. Marys for the past year.

“I don’t know why I was spared, but I was left alone and helpless,” Maria said.

A blind man named Juda, who is also staying at St. Mary’s, said that he “has nothing to return to, so I will wait here in the church.”

While the 61-year-old church welcomes those seeking refuge, it is running low on food supplies. It has been four months since the last food distribution from the World Food Programme.

Local bishops have also called for food aid and peace negotiations in the country, voicing their frustrations that their pleas have not been heard.

“Those who have the ability to make changes for the good of our people have not taken heed of our previous pastoral messages,” stated a Fed. 23 message from the South Sudanese bishops.

Despite successful partnerships between the local church, aid agencies and government, the refugees are still in need of a proper supply of food. However, the church has made recent upgrades, including water pumps, toilets, classrooms, and health offices, which were set up by international aid agencies.

While St. Mary’s may feel like a safe haven for many, the war rages on only 20 miles from the city. Local relief workers have faced various threats, and security at the church consists of only one guard.

“Between hunger and insecurity, people face a lot of pressure here,” Fr. Peter said.

One local businessman, Hasan, said that the famine in the country is not due to food shortage, but rather a result of corruption, inflation and lootings.

“There could be enough for all,” he told IRIN, saying, “if people had money, food would be available to them.”

The refugee crisis will persist as long as the bloodshed and violence in the country continues. However, international peacemaking efforts have stalled and neither side of the conflict have made advances towards a truce.

“I am not confident about peace,” said Juda, the blind man at St. Mary’s. “If it doesn’t come, I don’t know if I’ll ever have a place to call home again besides this church.”


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Kenyan bishops decry post-election violence

August 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 19, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With violent protests and several deaths in the wake of Kenya’s Aug. 8 presidential election, the nation’s bishops have lamented the  violence and called for respect for the democratic process.

The re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta was announced Aug. 11, and international observers called the vote free and fair. Kenyatta’s challenger, Raila Odinga, claims the election was rigged.

At least 24 persons have been killed during violent protests in the wake of the vote, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Anti-riot police shot protesters, and some children are reported to have been struck and killed by stray bullets.

“Dear Kenyans, to lose even one life because of elections is abominable,” the Kenyan bishops wrote in their Aug. 17 statement signed by Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chairman of the bishops’ conference.

“To injure and maim anybody is unacceptable. This must never be allowed in any civilized society like Kenya.”

The bishops castigated the riot police who confronted protesters, saying their actions resulted in “painful loss of life, the barricading of roads and the destruction of property.”

They said the violence was a reminder “of the post-election violence of 2007/2008 that we, as a Nation, had vowed never again to experience.”

Kenya’s 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced as many as 700,000. Odinga was also the challenger in that election.

Odinga has called for peaceful protest and strikes, and has said he will mount a legal challenge to the results in the courts. He claims computer fraud had given extra votes to Kenyatta.

The choice was welcomed by Kenya’s bishops, who said, “All the aggrieved parties should use the legal means as provided in the Constitution to seek redress. It is only by respecting and having recourse to the established Constitutional institutions that we, as Kenyans, are able to enhance and strengthen the rule of law and the democratic process in our country.”

“As we await the determination of the disputed Presidential elections by the Supreme Court, we call upon our Government leaders, beginning with the President to take the lead in uniting the country.”

They urged “all Kenyans to avoid anything that incites others to violent protests.”

At a press conference presenting the bishops’ message, Bishop John Oballa Owaa of Ngong stressed the need for the courts not to rubber stamp automatically the election outcome, saying: “We call upon the judiciary and other constitutional institutions to jealously protect their independence and discharge their mandate justly, in a fair and impartial manner, to act without any favour and not to give in to any form of coercion or intimidation.”

This, he said, “is the only way these institutions will earn the trust and confidence of all Kenyans.”

Bishop Anyola added that the “ugly divisions that we witness every election year, the tribal voting pattern that emerges, the hatred that is triggered by the winners and losers syndrome, and the win-it-all mentality that characterizes Kenyan politics are pointers to an electoral system that needs to be reviewed.”

The bishops’ statement commended citizens’ participation in the election, saying it reflected a “sense of patriotism and love for our nation.”

“We commend this country to prayer for peace, justice and prosperity,” they concluded.


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A bishop’s plea: Don’t forget victims of war and cholera in Yemen

August 11, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Aug 11, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A deadly cholera outbreak in Yemen could continue indefinitely without an end to the civil war, says a bishop in the region who has pleaded for the faithful to pray and for an end to arms sales to the parties.

“As I believe in the power of prayer, I can only ask the faithful around the world, to keep in mind the suffering people in Yemen – Muslims as well as the few remaining Christians, including the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa.” Bishop Paul Hinder told CNA Aug. 8.

Bishop Hinder heads the Abu Dhabi-based Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen.

The Church in Yemen is “a tiny group without any structure” that can do little in the face of the situation, he said.

A cholera outbreak provoked by the war has infected a suspected 350,000 people, with over 1,800 people dying from the disease. Over 600,000 could be infected by the end of the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said.

The latest outbreak began in April. Within a few hours of infection, the disease causes vomiting and diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration that can be deadly without rapid intervention. At the same time, most cases can be treated with simple rehydration treatments.

Even simple treatments are hard to come by.


#Yemen #Cholera update: 474K suspected cases & 1’953 deaths. For the 1st time in 2 months, weekly cases dipped below the 40K mark. Good news

— Robert Mardini (@RMardiniICRC) August 9, 2017


More than 3 million people have been displaced since the conflict began in March 2015. Over 20 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.

Revenue shortfalls mean 1 million civil servants, including 30,000 medical staffers, have gone unpaid since September. About 45 percent of the country’s hospitals are operating, and only 30 percent of the needed medical supplies can reach the country.

Bishop Hinder stressed the difficulties the war is causing.

“We all should know that the blockade of the country hinders the reconstruction of the destroyed sanitary system in the country,” he said. “As long as the minimal infrastructure in many parts of the country is not functioning, we cannot expect that the cholera can be stopped, other sick people get the proper treatment, and the starving people be fed properly.”

“Whatever help is possible through the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and other reliable channels remains limited as long as sufficient security is not guaranteed,” he added.

The Yemeni civil war involves the internationally recognized government, and its Saudi-led coalition allies, fighting Shiite Houthi rebels.

“We have to keep in mind that in the Yemen conflict there are no pure angels on one side and pure devils on the other,” Bishop Hinder continued. “Without bringing people again around the table and getting to a cease-fire, there will be only killing and destruction with disastrous consequences for the civilian population and the country as a whole.”

“I think that the people in the so-called West should be aware that their powers are not innocent in what is going on in Yemen,” he said. “The deal of the present U.S. administration with Saudi Arabia regarding weapons will not help to make peace.”

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, similarly stressed that countering the outbreak depends on peace.

“The great tragedy is that this cholera outbreak is a preventable, man-made humanitarian catastrophe. It is a direct consequence of a conflict that has devastated civilian infrastructure and brought the whole health system to its knees,” Maurer said July 23. “Further deaths can be prevented, but warring parties must ease restrictions and allow the import of medicines, food and essential supplies and they must show restraint in the way they conduct warfare.”

U.N. agencies were caught by surprise at how fast the disease spread, George Khoury, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, told the Associated Press. After an initial mild outbreak in October appeared to have ended, funds had been cut and health monitors put their attention elsewhere.

“It’s a cholera paradise,” Khoury said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

In March 2016 an attack on a Missionaries of Charity house in Aden left four sisters dead. The attackers kidnapped Indian-born Salesian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil. The priest’s whereabouts are not known, and no groups have claimed responsibility for his capture. An unauthenticated video posted to YouTube in May of this year showed him with a sign dated April 15, 2017. He appeared thin, with overgrown hair and a beard.

The priest appealed for his release and claimed his health was rapidly deteriorating.


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After years of exile, Dominican sisters return to Iraq’s Nineveh Plain

August 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Erbil, Iraq, Aug 9, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After three years in exile from Iraq’s Nineveh Plain while it was occupied by the Islamic State, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena are returning to their homeland to face the daunting challenge of rebuilding their destroyed communities.

“Three years ago, we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning,” stated an Aug. 6 open letter from the Dominican Sisters in Erbil.

“Despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books,” the letter continued.

In 2014, the Nineveh Plain was overtaken by the Islamic State, forcing tens of thousands into exile and displacement. The Nineveh Plain territory lies between the city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the fall of 2016, two years after the Islamic State claimed the Nineveh territory, Iraqi forces made significant military gains and liberated the Nineveh Plain. Many scattered families were able to return to their towns with hope for the future.

“God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated, one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated,” the Dominican Sisters wrote.

While the territory is now seemingly safe from Islamic State forces, the Sisters said that it “does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality.”

Upon returning to their homes, many found graffiti on the walls in their towns that read “we’re going to break your crosses,” and “you have no place with us.” Some churches were found to have battle instructions etched on the walls, with piles of deadly chemicals in the corners.

In addition, the physical damage left behind is overwhelming. Upwards of 6,000 homes are in need of repair or complete rebuilding just in the city of Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh. The families who still have standing houses are few and far between.

“We were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was badly painful to see all that overwhelming destruction,” the sisters said.

“We immediately realized that it was not military forces or smart weapons that caused all the damage, but hate,” the sisters wrote, saying “hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply winded.”

Some towns, such as Batnaya, were left 90 percent destroyed and the process of cleaning up has only begun. Another town, Bakhdida, was only 30 percent destroyed, but the NGOs who are helping with its repairs “are not enough compared to the destruction.”

Volunteers and locals hope to rebuild or repair as many homes as they can by September, which would be the beginning of the school year. However, the sisters noted that only the Church and some NGOs are actively involved in the long and expensive rebuilding process.

Many families have decided not to return to their communities due to the overwhelming loss of their homes. Others don’t return because they can no longer trust their neighbors. The sisters said that “we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm, even before ISIS did.”

“It is not easy to decide whether to go back,” the Sisters continued, saying that their own convent in Bakhdida was also partially destroyed.

However, the sisters have decided to return to the Nineveh Plain, and they will be living in a family home in Telskuf until their convent has been repaired. The sisters also need to rebuild the orphanage which had been burnt down, and hope to start a kindergarten by the fall.

Although the aftermath of Islamic State’s occupation of the Nineveh Plain is significant, the sisters are hopeful for the future. Some families have been able to return to their homes, and the sisters are grateful that some of the rebuilding process that has already begun.

“Today, we see the marvelous work of God,” the sisters reflected.

“God is with us and will not leave us. We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives.”


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Vote wisely, seek peace, bishops say ahead of Kenya’s elections

August 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 4, 2017 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With Kenya’s elections fast approaching, the country’s Catholic bishops are asking voters to choose wisely and encouraging all Kenyans to pray for peace.

“We are calling upon all Kenyans to seize this opportunity to exercise our constitutional right and give ourselves leaders of integrity,” Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chairman of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, said on behalf of Kenya’s bishops July 28.

“We need to create a peaceful environment, to demonstrate our patriotism for our wonderful country, and ensure that all parts of Kenya are in peace,” he added.

The bishops’ letter ahead of the Aug. 8 elections takes its title from Jeremiah 29:7, “Seek Peace and Prosperity.” They called on all Kenyans to join in prayer for their country, and a novena for peaceful elections will take place July 30-Aug. 7.

“Peace, Peace, Peace,” the bishops repeated.

Voicing appreciation for the relatively peaceful manner of the political campaigns, the bishops urged candidates to continue to conduct themselves “with decorum and sobriety” in the interests of national unity.

Kenya’s 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced 700,000.

The bishops appealed to young people “to restrain themselves from violence and instead be the agents of peace.”

“We exhort them to uphold to the culture of peace and engage in activities of peace-building,” they said.

The bishops pledged to work closely with election observers, state agencies, and non-state actors involved in the election.

The bishops praised the achievements of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and encouraged it to secure just, fair, credible and peaceful elections.

The run-up to the election has been marred by the apparent torture and killing of Chris Msando, a systems development manager at the elections commission, the Catholic News Agency for Africa reports. He had been scheduled to test the technology involved in voting and tallying the election results on July 31. His body was found on the outskirts of Nairobi.

The killing was denounced as “barbaric” by the bishops.
“Life is sacred and only God who gives it freely should take it away when He so desires,” they said.

The bishops also addressed the media, calling them a “very crucial actor” in the electoral process, and encouraging the media to show continued professionalism and commitment to fulfilling its duties.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is seeking re-election.

In his 2013 race for the presidency, he and his deputy William Ruto had been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. His campaign prompted warnings from the U.S. and U.K. governments if he were elected, BBC News reports.

However, the warnings did not have much consequence. He mobilized many African leaders to pressure the international court. Both cases were dropped due to a lack of evidence, with the International Criminal Court saying prosecution witnesses were intimidated and the cases could resume.

Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, has portrayed his 72-year-old opponent Raila Odinga as an agent of foreign governments who works to serve former colonial powers. He has also portrayed Odinga as an “analog generation” of politicians who must make way for the younger “digital generation.” His family owns a TV channel, a newspaper, and a number of radio stations, among many other business interests.

Odinga, a son of Kenya’s first vice-president, is making his fourth bid for the presidency. He has had different policies alliances in his career and is now running under the National Super Alliance, a coalition of Kenya’s main opposition groups. He aims to win drawing from his ethnic community, the Luo, as well as the Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba groups.

Odinga studied to be a mechanical engineer in former East Germany, and was MP for Africa’s biggest slum, Kibera. He was imprisoned for attempting to stage a coup in 1982 against a one-party dictatorship. Though he initially denied the claim, he admitted his central role in a 2006 book. He was imprisoned from 1982-1988 and 1989-1991.

He has promised to serve only one term in office and has convinced many potential rivals to back his candidacy instead.


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Malawi’s government encourages local Catholic media

August 3, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Karonga, Malawi, Aug 3, 2017 / 10:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Mawali’s information, communication and technology ministry praised the country’s Catholic media this week for their evangelization efforts as part of the 51st Communications Sunday.

Information Minister Nicholas Dausi, a Catholic, extended this support to the Church after touring the offices of Tuntufye FM, the Diocese of Karonga’s radio station.

Later in the day, he addressed Catholic media outlets at St. Mary’s parish in Karonga. In doing so, he challenged them to not be brought down by negativity in their coverage.

“We should not thrive on bad news or something that is defamatory to our colleagues. Using Church media is crucial for the evangelization drive,” he said.

He praised the groups and affirmed the government’s support.

“I am impressed with the way Tuntufye FM of Karonga diocese is doing. They are doing fine, and we will support them,” he said.

Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga then said Mass, and both issued a challenge and stated his gratitude to those gathered.

“I would like to challenge our media houses and those working in these (media) houses to be more professional. We thank God for the gift of all communication tools. However, we are challenging ourselves to use them effectively. We can do much better than what we are doing with our television stations, radio stations and newspapers,” said Bishop Mtumbuka.

“Let us offer the message of faith for the glory of God and the development of this nation. We are the ones to champion this, and this can be done based on the way we do things. Let’s do things in a coordinated manner and be innovative,” he added.

At the same celebration, Bishop George Tambala of Zomba, the Malawian bishops’ social communications chair, reflected on Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day.

“Pope Francis challenges us all to break the various circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear that results from a constant focus on bad news such as war, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure,” said Bishop Tambala.

He also noted that Francis’ message challenges that “all media practitioners should search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glorify evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipient.”

Malawi’s Catholic media outlets include the bishops’ social communications commission; Radio Maria Malawi; Radio Alinafe; Tigabane Radio; Tuntufye FM; Luntha Television, Montfort and Likuni Press.


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Catholic schools are a pillar of Church in Sudan

August 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Khartoum, Sudan, Aug 1, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Dust and mud brick houses everywhere – as far as the eye can see. The houses are indistinguishable in color from the ground on which they stand. Trees are few and far between.

The road leading northwards from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum shimmers in the burning heat. The temperature tops 110 degrees. At a certain point the car turns off into an unpaved road with deep potholes, entering a residential suburb.

“Welcome to the St. Kizito School of Dar es Salaam,” says our host, Father Daniele, as we stand in the courtyard of the school, which is named after the youngest of the Ugandan martyrs. This Italian priest is a member of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Khartoum. His fluent Arabic enables him to communicate with the people of his parish in their own language.

“I belong to the Neo-Catechumenal Way and I studied at our seminary in Beirut. I’ve been living in Sudan now for more than 10 years” – a move he has never regretted, he tells his visitor from international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“But it is an extremely difficult pastoral challenge for priests here,” he adds. This has to do more than anything with the life circumstances of his parishioners.

Fr. Daniele explains: “They are totally uprooted people. The parishioners here are for the most part come from the Nuba mountains in the south of Sudan. Their lives there were marked by the customs and traditions of their villages. But here, far from their homeland, they are completely lost.”

Many of the people many years ago came to the Khartoum area, in search of work or in order to escape the fighting in their homeland. But most of them can only survive as day laborers, and this eats away at the men‘s sense of self-worth.

“Many of them simply drift around idly when they don‘t have any work,” says Fr. Daniele, and many have no work at all. “In their traditional view of themselves, they are herders and warriors. But since there is no fighting no herding to be done here, all the work falls on the shoulders of the women.”

Unlike 90 percent of the Sudanese people, who are Sunni Muslims, the people of the Nuba mountains are Christians. There are often syncretic tendencies, with belief in magic rubbing shoulders with the Christian faith. For this reason Fr. Daniele attaches great importance to helping people grow in their faith. He says: “I want to show people above all that, despite their poverty, God loves them – and each of them individually.”

This is not always easy to understand for people imbued with a tribal way of thinking, he explains. But at least he has no concerns about church attendance. “The people come in large numbers to church. On Sundays our church is full,” he tells us.

“It is extremely important that the church be a beautiful and worthy place,” Fr. Daniele stresses, “as it is undoubtedly the most beautiful place in the lives of these people, who otherwise know only their own poverty-stricken huts and homes.“

Fr. Daniele has a particular concern for the children, and the parish school is his most important resource in this respect.

“Many of the children would spend the whole day roaming around the streets if they didn‘t come to us in school,” he explained. “Their parents show little concern for them. Attention, and even tenderness, is something most of them have never experienced, and above all not from their fathers.”
Fr. Daniele works hard to convey to the children a sense of their own self-worth. He says: “We want to show them that they are respected, precious people, loved by God. We do so by listening to each one of them and showing them respect.”

Precisely because the circumstances of the children are so difficult and their families so large and so poor – eight children or more is by no means unusual – the priest places great hope in the schools, saying that “however modest our means are here, without education the children will have no chance of a better life.”

Indeed, the Catholic school system is one of the pillars of the small Church in Sudan. For one Church official, who requested that his name not be used, the Church educational system is crucially important.

The official explains: “Our schools gain us acceptance among the majority Muslim community, and above all with the state. The state is strongly Islamic, but – because of the rapid population growth, the number of people moving into cities and limited public resources – its budget is overstretched and insufficient to provide enough schools. Hence, the government is happy to see the Church involved. As a Church we maintain almost 20 public schools in the city of Khartoum alone, and permission to build schools, unlike permission to construct churches, is something that is always granted to us.”

The schools are attended both by Christians and by Muslims. The Church official acknowledges that the quality of the schools is not the best. He says: “after all, we hardly have money for teachers and books, and nor do our students.”

But no pupil is refused admittance, even if he or she cannot afford the school fees. “For the children of the poorest families the school is the only possibility of bringing a little order into their lives,” the official stresses.

ACN is committed to support the Catholic schools in Sudan.

“The Church in Sudan has asked us for help,” says Christine du Coudray-Wiehe, who oversees ACN-funded projects in Sudan.

“It is an urgent necessity to respond, as the majority of the pupils are from Catholic families from southern Sudan,” she added. “It is vital for these families that are children be able to attend a Christian school – for this is the only way we can prevent them from being Catholics at home and Muslims at school.”


Oliver Maksan writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. (USA); (UK); (AUS); (IRL); (CAN)