“We will bow to no regime that refuses to bow to God.“ In 1951, just a few hours after uttering these words to the Catholic faithful in Prague‘s St Vitus Cathedral, Archbishop Josef Beran of Prague was abducted by the secret police and interned for the next 16 years. Thousands of priests and religious in what was then Czechoslovakia shared a similar fate and suffered in prisons and labour camps. The building that had housed the archdiocesan seminary in Prague was turned into a centre for a communist propaganda newspaper. For many long years, men who felt called to the priesthood were unable to follow their vocation and not allowed to study. Later, they were only able to do so in the underground Church. Many were secretly ordained, often in neighbouring countries. The official formation of priests was controlled by the Secret Service, and priests who were not acceptable to the state were denied permission to exercise their priesthood and were often forced to work in factories or as window cleaners, simply in order to support themselves. 

Ethiopia is an ancient Christian country. “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” So says the Ethiopian to Philip in the Acts of the Apostles (8:36). This spontaneous decision, just a few years after the death of Jesus, marks the beginning of Christianity in Africa, and Ethiopia is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa in which Christianity put down permanent roots. 

The monks and nuns of the Trappist order live a strict, enclosed life of prayer and penance. They are particularly known for spending the majority of their time in silence, with ears for God alone. The order includes both a male and a female branch, though their lifestyle is to a large extent identical. 

Mexico is a land of deep contrasts. Some areas are popular holiday destinations, yet at the same time the country is in the throes of bloody drug warfare and plagued by abductions, extortion, robberies and murders on an alarming scale. The Catholic Church is likewise a victim of this crime wave and there is no other country in the world where so many priests are murdered, year on year, as in Mexico.  

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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