The former Czechoslovakia was one of the countries in Eastern Europe where the Church was most brutally persecuted during the communist era. The Catholic faithful were subject to repression and reprisals, many priests were imprisoned or sent to labour camps, the convents were dissolved in 1950 and in a covert police operation, male and female religious were forcibly deported to "concentration convents" - isolated centres where they were deprived of all contact with the outside world. Church historian Vaclav Vasko has described these places as "nothing else but supervised concentration camps for religious". Nuns and sisters were urged to throw away their religious habits, in which case they were offered freedom and a chance to study. But almost all of them refused and remained faithful.
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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.