This year the Church is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima. It was in the year 1917 that she appeared there, on six separate occasions, to three shepherd children with an urgent message for the whole world. Before the October revolution in Russia had even happened, she warned them of the dangers for mankind of Russia and of atheist communism and revealed to them that prayer, penance and interior conversion were the only means to prevent wars and disaster from engulfing the world. On 13 October 1917 a crowd of over 50,000 people witnessed a miracle of the sun, in which the sun began to spin on its axis, then appeared to plunge down towards the earth in a zigzag course before rising back to its place in the sky again. 

The island of Basilan belongs to the Mindanao group of islands in the southern Philippines. Whereas in the Philippines as a whole Catholics form the great majority of the population, here on the island of Basilan Muslims make up around two thirds of the population. This is part of a region where the Islamist terrorists of the Abu-Sayaf group have been trying to establish a breakaway "Islamic State of Mindanao". Though they describe themselves as "Islamic fighters", they are regarded by the international community and by the rest of the Filipino population as terrorists and common criminals. They continue to try and spread fear and division through bombings and abductions. 

The Catholic priests of Sudan know all too well what suffering is - not from reading the newspaper or watching the television, but directly and personally, as part of the bloody Way of the Cross of the Catholic Church in Sudan. The younger priests grew up during the long civil war and completed their studies in the most difficult of circumstances. An entire generation has known practically nothing else but violence, persecution and poverty. The almost 25 years of civil war, which led to the formation of the new country of South Sudan, have still left many open wounds that mark the people of the country, here in the North. 

Father Joan Sole Ribas with catechumens and children from his parish
© Aid to the Church in Need

Togo is a country in West Africa with an ethnically diverse population of 6.3 million. The diocese of Dapaong lies in the far north of the country, in a region bordering on the Sahel zone. The desert is encroaching ever further into this area, making agriculture and the survival of the people increasingly difficult. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is one of the poorest regions of the country, with over 80% of the population living on less than $22 a month and 13% of them even on less than $15.

In the Indian diocese of Eluru, with its 1,150-plus Catholic villages, the lay catechists play a crucially important role. For it is simply impossible for the priests to be everywhere at once, so that it falls to the catechists much of the time to prepare people for the sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Matrimony. They also lead prayer services and liturgies of the Word, visit the faithful in their homes and pray with the families. However, there has been a notable increase in the influence of films and television on these families and with it a growth in the problems; hence the solid preparation for marriage and the counselling and accompaniment of families are becoming increasingly important. Once again, the catechists perform a precious service here.

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