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ACN International

 

ACN IVIEW – Beirut, Lebanon: “Christians in Lebanon can count on help from ACN”

11.08.2020 in ACN International, ACN Interview, By Tobias Lehner, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Lebanon, Middle East

Beirut, Lebanon

“Christians in Lebanon can count on help from ACN”

The charity is funding food parcels for survivors of the explosion in Beirut

 

By Tobias Lehner, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

The international Catholic pastoral and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) has been working for decades with numerous different project partners within Lebanon – above all in the areas of pastoral care and help for refugees. This has proved to be a great advantage in the aftermath of the recent catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut.

 

ACN has immediately sent $ 362,500 in emergency aid of starving Christian families, many of whom are facing real hunger. There is a great deal more still to be done. For example, the Christian quarter of Beirut has been extensively damaged. Tobias Lehner has spoken to Regina Lynch, the Director of Projects for ACN International, about the situation in Beirut and what further aid the charity is planning.

 

What news do you hear from the project partners in Beirut? What is the situation in the city?

 

Beirut is in a state of crisis. There is hardly any electricity and in some places no means of communication (telephone, Internet etc.). Some 90.000 homes and houses have been destroyed or damaged. The international aid of US$297 million promised on Sunday falls far short of what is needed to rebuild the district affected by the explosion.

 

What is the local Church doing to help those who have survived the disaster?

 

Already before the explosion, the Catholic Patriarchates (Maronite, Greek-Catholic, Syriac-Catholic, Armenian) in Lebanon had got together with local parishes and institutions such as Caritas, St. Vincent de Paul and the Pontifical Mission Societies, and created a committee to see how to help the Christians who were already facing soaring inflation, coupled with spiraling unemployment. Many families were on the brink of starvation and Christians were already talking of leaving the country.

 

Regina Lynch: “Christians in Lebanon can count on help from ACN”

Since an aid distribution plan had already been set up, this now means that the Church is in a good position for distributing the aid that is being provided by foreign NGOs, e.g. food, medicine, blankets. It is inspiring to see the role that the Catholic young people are playing in helping with the distribution of the emergency aid.

 

For what purpose will the aid from ACN be used?

 

The initial aid of $362,500from ACN will be used for supplying food packages to 5,000 families, most of whom were affected by the explosion, but also for those Lebanese and refugee Christians, who were already struggling to survive before the explosion. Some of Lebanon’s main grain silos were destroyed in the explosion, resulting in even higher food prices.

 

What other relief efforts is ACN planning?

 

Some 80% of the Christian district of Achrafieh has been among the areas worst affected by the explosion – the lower part of it nearest to the port has disappeared. Hundreds of Christian families have lost their homes and livelihoods. Numerous Catholic hospitals and dispensaries are in urgent need of repair, so that they can continue to function. Countless Church structures have been destroyed or badly damaged, e.g. St. George’s Maronite Cathedral, several parish churches, the Middle East provincial houses of various congregations, convents. Aid to the Church in Need is working with our local Church partners to see which of these needs can be addressed immediately and which subsequently, in the next few months before winter sets in.

 

Christians in Lebanon may be sure that they can count on the prayers and financial support of ACN’s benefactors.

 

To learn more and to donate to projects helping the people of Lebanon, please visit our website: https://acn-canada.org/urgent-call-for-lebanon/


 

ACN NEWS: Pakistan Discouragement and hope in cases of kidnapping

15.07.2020 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Asia, John Pontifex, Pakistan

Pakistan
Discouragement and hope in cases of kidnapping

A 15-year-old young Christian girl, kidnapped and victim of sexual slavery, becomes pregnant

By John Pontifex and Massimiliano Tubani for ACN International
Translation and adaptation by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada Information

 

The lawyer of the young girl’s family declared to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Huma became pregnant because of sexual slavery and is not allowed to leave.”

 

Huma Younus

Abassum Yousaf, an attorney at the High Court of Sindh—the Pakistani province which has as capital the city of Karachi—is currently representing the parents of Huma Younus, a young Catholic of 15 kidnapped in October 2019, by one Abdul Jabbar, and forced to convert to Islam. In conversations with ACN, the attorney revealed major news about the personal and judicial circumstance of the adolescent.

 

“Huma called her parents and informed them that she had become pregnant because of the forced sexual slavery she suffered. Following a request from her father to leave the house of the kidnappers and come home, the minor responded that she was not allowed to leave and that her life was becoming more and more difficult for she is locked in a room,” reported Tabassum Yousaf.

 

Recently, the brother of the abductor, one Mukhtiar Jabbar, employing a security force, threatened Huma “He called Huma’s parents through videoconferencing and, showing them weapons, threatened them saying that he would kill them if they attempted to find their daughter. Mukhtiar also added, this time by an audio message, that if all the Christians unite together to retrieve Huma, he would kill the parents and all who try to help them.”

 

Hearing was supposed to be on July 13

On a judicial level, the lawyer representing Huma’s family explained, the Tribunal of First Instance Third Judicial Magistrate di Karachi East summarily dismissed the case for lack of evidence. A call was deposed with the same judge requesting a new review of the legal evidence, and the magistrate consulted the public prosecutor, NADRA, in order to obtain the adolescent’s birth certificate. The next audience was scheduled for July 13, 2020. The attorney of the young girl’s parents had, however, already provided during one of the audiences, two official documents attesting to the age of the young minor: a schooling certificate, and a baptismal certificate from the Catholic parish of Saint James in Karachi. The two documents are proof of Huma’s date of birth: May 22, 2005.

 

As for the High Court of Sindh, it is still closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic and is likely to reopen in August. Only later will an audience be scheduled with the same Court.

 

A Race Against the Clock

The kidnapper, Abdul Jabbar’s attorney, explains Huma’s attorney, aims to gain time by taking advantage of all the judicial arguments for in three years the adolescent will be 18 and the case, in all probability, will be closed definitely. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, the same that acquitted Asia Bibi, could theoretically examine and judge the case in very little time, but the radical Islamic society of Pakistan will not allow the judicial system to be autonomous. Furthermore, when religious freedom is in play, there is a tendency to procrastinate for it is not considered as an urgent priority. The aforementioned case Bibi case represents an eloquent precedent from this point of view.

 

Concerning the development of the type of act to which Huma was victim, attorney Tabassum Yousaf reports that numerous Non-Governmental Organizations provide estimates as to cases registered and reported to the public, but indicate that not all are reported “therefore, according to my reading based on the experience, there are 2,000 similar cases per year, recorded and unrecorded,” she esteems.

 

According the attorney of Huma’s family, “a differed justice is a refused justice, thus all delays in the decisions concerning the rights of religious minorities present a denial of these rights. The tribunal has delayed and continues to delay justice in favour of Huma simply because she is a Christian minor. If a similar case took place and concerned a Muslim minor, efforts would be made by all authorities.

 

I am sure, as an attorney, that the president of the Supreme Court of Pakistan could guarantee justice for the parents of the young girl and for Huma for herself. At all other levels inferior to the judicial system, justice for minorities will not be possible,” concludes the attorney bitterly.

 

 

The Grand Mufti’s Fatwa of Hope

A Christian family in Pakistan fighting for the return of a 14-year-old girl reportedly abducted from her home have had their hopes rise after the Grand Mufti of a local mosque issued a fatwa.

 

Finally, ACN has learned that Muhammad Asad Ali Rizvi Efi, the Grand Mufti, issued the Islamic ruling on behalf of the Sunni Rizvi Jammah Mosque, Jhung Bazar (city of Faisalabad) condemning as false (batil) a marriage certificate produced in court by Mohamad Nakash, who claims he is legally wedded to the abducted girl, Maira Shahbaz, another young kidnapped girl.

 

Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court had decided in Mr Nakash’s favour, back in May but Maira’s family hope the Grand Mufti’s intervention will be crucial in an appeal hearing to be held at Lahore High Court.

 

Maira’s mother, Nighat Shahbaz

Speaking from her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, Maira’s mother, Nighat Shahbaz, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians that she was longing for her daughter’s return.

 

ACN News – Coronavirus in DRC – ACN grants aid also to religious Sisters

23.06.2020 in ACN International, by Christophe Lafontaine, Mass Offerings, RDC CONGO, Sisters

ACN News – Coronavirus in DRC

ACN grants aid also to religious Sisters



by Christophe Lafontaine, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, June 23, 2020

 

A loss of wages that were meagre to begin with. No further material or financial support from parishioners. Abject poverty. The Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) have had a severe impact on the Church. In addition to the support already approved by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for priests and seminarians, the pontifical foundation has now granted emergency subsistence aid to almost 70 communities of religious sisters in Bukavu, an ecclesiastical province located in the eastern part of the country, as part of a special Coronavirus project package.

 

On June 22, there were 5,826 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 130 deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the arrival of the pandemic, life for religious Sisters in Bukavu, an ecclesiastical province located in the eastern part of the country, became a veritable nightmare. Even in normal circumstances, the situation there is extremely difficult. In a region stricken by ethnic conflicts, in which life is marked by uncertainty, armed incursions by neighbouring countries, kidnappings and rape, the religious sisters attempt to make a living by teaching catechism and working in schools and health centres. However, the health measures imposed to protect against Coronavirus have cut them off from their supplies, making their situation extremely precarious.

 

Wages stopped being paid when a state of emergency was proclaimed by the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 24 March. What is more, medical workers, a group that includes many religious sisters, are compensated depending upon the number of patients they treat. However, out of fear that they will become infected with Coronavirus, the people are currently reluctant to go to the hospitals for care. This means that the religious have suffered drastic cuts or even a complete loss of income. Those religious who work in the schools depend upon the contributions towards their living expenses they normally receive from the parents of their pupils. In a time of school closings because of the Covid-19 pandemic, these contributions are also no longer forthcoming.

 

Supporting those who give support: an essential

To ensure the survival of the religious even in the face of these hardships, ACN has approved aid for 69 communities of Sisters from six different congregations serving in the six dioceses of the ecclesiastical province of Bukavu in response to a call for help from François-Xavier Maroy, Archbishop of Bukavu. The $174,000 donated by the charity will benefit a total of 464 religious Sisters.

 

“It is our duty to give them comfort in the face of these privations, a comfort that they will cause to multiply many times over to benefit those who have even less than they themselves,” explained Christine du Coudray, head of the section for ACN projects in the country. “While all of the non-governmental organizations have fled because of the ongoing conflict, the Church and in particular the religious are still there, close to the most severely disadvantaged groups, like good souls, unrecognized but fully in the spirit of Mother Teresa!” the head of the section continued before adding, “This conflict has been smouldering for 20 years; how often have I visited them after yet another attack by rival gangs, after they became victims of rape and massacres that spared no one, after they survived earthquakes, landslides or awe-inspiring floods, as has just happened in Uvira [located more than 100 km south of Bukavu]; catastrophes that obliterate everything in their wake and cut a wide swathe of destruction.”

 

The aid for the religious Sisters is one more act of ACN support following assistance given to priests through Mass offerings at the onset of the crisis. The priests are also dealing with severe financial difficulties. Without Sunday collections or the other sources of income that are no longer available to them because of the suspension of pastoral and community work, many priests can neither earn a living on their own nor carry out their pastoral work. “In normal times, the faithful support the priests with food and other donations,” the bishop of the diocese of Mbuji-Mayi, located at the centre of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, explained and then continued, “Now that their sheep all have to stay at home because of the lockdown, all of a sudden, everyone’s life is much more difficult than it was before because the majority of the people are affected by the very high unemployment rate (almost 96%) and are just somehow muddling through from one day to the next.” In a letter to ACN, Bishop Bernard-Emmanuel Kasanda expressed his gratitude that, at the beginning of the crisis, the organisation had donated numerous Mass Offerings to support the 289 priests and religious of his diocese.

 

A large number of Mass Offerings have also benefited 25 priests of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Workers. The stipends truly are “relief”, wrote one of the beneficiaries, Father Alain Mwila Wa Ilunga, who decided to share the financial aid “with the poorest of the poor and the destitute sick so that they may have daily bread to eat.” The novice master of the order, Father Clément Mwehu Muteba, is also pleased to have received financial aid. He will use it for petrol, so that he can carry out his apostolate at the chapel he has been assigned. Thanks to the Mass Offerings, he can also “buy some sheets of paper, which are necessary to teach the young people” he works with in Lubumbashi in the province of Upper Katanga.

 

Further beneficiaries of the Mass Offerings were 40 priests in the diocese of Kilwa-Kasenga, which is located in the eastern part of the country. The Mass Offerings “secure our livelihood and safeguard the lives of thousands of believers who, through our humble efforts, hear the Holy Word of God and can receive the sacraments,” explained Father André Mpundu, who is delighted that the aid he received has enabled him to carry out his pastoral duties. Father Mpundu is vicar in the parish of the Blessed Anuarita in Kasenga. He reported that an 80-year-old former sacristan recently thanked him for his visit (a visit during which measures were of course taken to protect health). She confided in him, “A nurse regularly comes to visit me to treat my rheumatism, but when you visit me, Father, you who come with Christ, so that I may receive Holy Communion, my joy is vast and boundless.” “We often hear these and similar sentiments,” the priest joyfully reported. He continues to visit the sick, the elderly and those who are lonely, and said in conclusion, “This is very encouraging for my service as a priest.”

 

Let us continue together in supporting the poor and persecuted Church!

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN News – The case of an abducted girl in Pakistan

22.06.2020 in ACN United Kingdom, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, RED WEDNESDAY, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

The case of an abducted girl, 14, taken to High Court by her Christian family

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

A Christian family in Pakistan has gone to the High Court in their fight to win back their 14-year-old daughter. The man, they claim abducted her and then forced the girl to marry him, demanding she abandon her faith.

 

On June 2, Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu confirmed to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) his submission of a petition to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan for the appeal in the case of Maira Shahbaz.

 

The family wants to overturn the ruling of Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court declaring on May 5 the Catholic girl Maira now being 19 and, as such, is validly wedded to the Muslim man—Mohamad Nakash—who is already married and with two young children.

 

Abducted at gun point

Witnesses described how on April 28 Maira was walking close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, when Mr. Nakash and two armed accomplices drew up in a car, abducted her and fired guns into the air as they made off at speed.

 

Mr. Sandhu told ACN: “I am trying my very best for the case. Maira’s mother [Nighat Shahbaz] is so very sad—in fact she is a picture of sadness. You cannot imagine the shock of losing your daughter and losing all contact with her.” He said that when Nighat Shahbaz saw her daughter at last month’s magistrates’ court hearing, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. She is making a slow recovery.

 

A very strong case

Mr. Sandhu added: “The case for Maira being a minor is very strong. There are so many gaps and weaknesses in the opponent’s argument.” He cites a birth certificate and other official documentation from her local church and school to prove that Maira is 14. Mr. Sandhu claims a marriage certificate Mr. Nakash produced in court is a fake. The document purports to show he wed the girl last October.

 

The systematic abuse of young innocent girls

Mr. Nakash argues that, in spite of law, which forbids marriage to minors, marrying Maira is sanctioned by Islamic custom which, he claims, says it is valid, provided the girl has had her first period.

 

Mr. Sandhu said: “In cases like this what we so often see is that, after two or three years, the people send back the girl to the family by which time they have satisfied their lust and have had enough of her.”

 

Motivated by faith

Mr. Sandhu, former Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, pledged to raise Maira’s case in the Punjab Assembly. A one-time university roommate of fellow Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in 2011 while serving as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Mr. Sandhu said: “What motivates me is my faith in Jesus and I am reminded of the Gospel passage where Christ reveals how he has been sent to set the captives free.”

 

 

As a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, ACN supports the National Commission for Justice and Peace and other organizations in Pakistan which provide legal and paralegal aid for minorities and help for those forced into hiding.

 

 

ACN News – Mozambique: Carmelite Sisters testify to the “barbarity” of jihadists

22.06.2020 in Abducted Clergy and Religious, ACN International, Mozambique

 Mozambique

Carmelite Sisters testify to the “barbarity” of jihadists

Three days of attacks in the village of Macomia

by Paulo Aido & Christophe Lafontaine
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

At the end of May, terrorist groups launched a merciless attack on the town of Macomia, in the province of Cabo Delgado, in northeast Mozambique, an area rich in oil and natural gas. The Theresian Carmelite Sisters of Saint Joseph have been present in Macomia for 16 years now and do important work in the field of education. Having fled earlier, they returned a few days after the attack and have now related what they saw. The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which has supported the sisters in the past and which visited their community in 2015, has expressed its alarm and concern at what has happened.

 

The attack began in the early morning of May 28. “It was fierce, cruel and lasted three days,” reported Sister Blanca Nubia Castaño of the Carmel in Macomia, on her Facebook page. Just a few days prior to the attack, she and the other Sisters, who were aware of the imminent danger they were in, abandoned their central mission station, which includes a school and boarding house.

 

 

“For the past two and a half years,” Sister Blanca writes, the Macomia region and indeed the whole of the province of Cabo Delgado, have been “terrorized” by the savage attacks of these armed jihadist groups, whose motives, according to some experts, may have something to do with the discovery of rich submarine deposits of natural gas just off the coast of the province. The operations of the terrorists have intensified since the beginning of this year, and they are sowing terror among the population, burning towns and villages and attacking civilians on the roads or those travelling by public transport.

 

On Thursday, June 4, the Sisters decided to return to Macomia to assess the extent of the damage done by the terrorists, “even though the danger had by no means receded.” But they were hoping, “at the very least to be able to visit (our) employees and their families and help them and give them new courage.”

 

According to Sister Blanca Nubia Castaño, the destruction was violent. “As a result of this barbarism, the town centre was completely destroyed, the majority of the administrative infrastructure was damaged and the commercial and shopping centre was reduced to ashes.”

 

Quite apart from the material destruction, what is still unknown is the number of human victims. “We still don’t know the number of civilian victims or those of the security forces. On June 3, people slowly began to return to their homes, some of which had been burnt, others had been looted… You may remember that it was only a year ago that we suffered the destructive force of Cyclone Kenneth…” – the tropical cyclone that particularly affected the province of Cabo Delgado, causing widespread destruction.

 

Fortunately for the Theresian Carmelite Sisters, their mission of Saint Joseph was spared during the attack, seemingly only because it was situated somewhat outside the area attacked by the terrorists. “Our mission was saved because it is situated in the hills, close to a military base.” For their own security, however, the sisters had to leave again that same day and return to the mission where they had taken refuge, since it was not safe for them to stay in Macomia.

 

Little known crisis, ignored by the international community

Since the end of 2017, the violence in the region has claimed the lives of over 1,100 people, including 700 civilian victims, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). The violence has also caused the displacement of some 200,000 people since the end of 2017, according to UN data. According to the same sources, this new attack on the town of Macomia, which was already sheltering some 30,000 refugees before the attack, has now occasioned yet another exodus.

During his Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi message in April, the Holy Father himself mentioned this little-known crisis, bringing it to world attention.

In 2015, a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need International visited the Carmelite Sisters in Macomia and also funded a vehicle for their pastoral work. “I am deeply saddened by the situation in Macomia, and especially so since I personally met with the Carmelite Sisters during my most recent visit to Mozambique,” said Rafael D’Aquí, head of the charity’s international desk for projects in Mozambique who said he was particularly impressed by the work of these Sisters, since “their commitment extends not only to the boarding school they run but also to the entire population in the surrounding area.”

In addition to looking after the pupils in their care they also help the families and the teachers themselves; they run a healthcare program, aimed at helping young mothers learning to breastfeed and providing basic primary health care for their babies.

Let us unite in prayer for Msgr Moses Costa, of Bangladesh

19.06.2020 in ACN Canada, ACN International

COVID-19: Bangladesh

Let us unite in prayer for Msgr Moses Costa,  a great friend of ACN’s, diagnosed with COVID-19

We recently learned that Msgr Moses Costa, archbishop of Chittagong au Bangladesh, is seriously ill with  COVID-19.

For the last twenty years, Msgr Costa has been a friend of  Aid to the Church in Need.

Véronique Vogel, head of section which includes Bangladesh wrote the following:

“We were able to help him build churches or chapels in remote areas, presbyteries and convents so that priests and Sisters might live close to people.

He takes great care of the growth of vocations in the archdiocese and of the formation of priests, Sisters and of the faithful. His social commitment to the needy and the outcasts also impressed us during our last trip to his archdiocese. Our charity is very concerned about the news of the sickness of Msgr. Costa and we pray for a good and quick recovery.”

Thank you for joining your prayers to ours for the recovery of Msgr Moses Costa.

ACN Project of the Week: Pastoral summer activities for children in Egypt

18.06.2020 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Pastoral work, Youth Apostolate

Egypt

Pastoral summer activities in Alexandria

by ACN Projects Department International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online June 17, 2020

In Alexandria, a city founded over 2,000 years ago and home of a new library recalling the mythical and legendary institution of Antiquity – 290 children and young people in Alexandria have been looking forward to what this summer has in store.

In fact, for the months of June to September, the Coptic Catholic (diocese) of Alexandria has organized a variety of interesting activities for their summer program for young people of all in ages to take part in at the parish church of El-Khsou.

From primary school to university age, those participating will have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of their faith, gain a better knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, enjoy the comaraderie with others of their own age and experience what it means to be a part of the universal Catholic Church, when in their regular context in Egypt, Catholics normally see themselves as a tiny minority within the larger Egyptian society. Pictures from last year’s event show just how much joy these kids experienced!

 

Adapting programs for online use

But just like here at home, this year the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of all organized summer activities for kids. However, the organizers put on their thinking caps and have come up with some resourceful and inventive ideas to make sure they don’t miss out entirely on the program by adapting their activities to an online format.

ACN is supporting the diocese with its summer program with $6,750.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make this, or a another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

 

ACN PRESS RELEASE – ANNUAL REPORT 2019

17.06.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS

PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Release

Aid to the Church in Need – 2019 Report
Praying, informing and giving, more essential than ever before!

by ACN  International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published online June 17, 2020

Königstein-im-Taunus-Montreal, Wednesday June 17, 2020 – Close to 160 million dollars raised by Aid to the Church in Need last year.

 

With its 23 national offices and over 333,000 benefactors worldwide, the international pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), collected over $157.95 million in donations for persecuted Christians in need around the world in 2019, maintaining roughly the same level as in 2018.  To this is added a balance of $7.58 million carried over from the previous year, making it a total of $165.2 million, allowing for the funding of the total ensemble of activities for the international organization. Of this total, $132.8 million funded projects directly, the balance being divided among administrative costs, fundraising activities and information work.

 

Senegal : a Dominican Sister of the Immaculate Conception in Diassap. We support her community so they can concentrate on their work of helping young people.

In Canada, a modest player, although recognized year after year as a vital international organization, 5,000 benefactors contributed to the collecting $1.9 million, an amount that provided the financing for several programs, including urgent needs, mass offerings, and the special ‘Drop of Milk’ project in Syria.

 

“It is a tremendous challenge to continue, year after year, to speak about our brothers and sisters in the faith who are living in situations of great distress, whether because of religious persecution or material poverty,” explains Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of ACN Canada.  “I rejoice in the fact that more and more people are joining in solidarity, the younger generation in particular.”  In that respect, in Alberta, elementary school students have been learning about the issue of religious discrimination and persecution for the last two years. “They are impressive!” rejoices Mrs. Lalonde.

 

“Incidentally, with the COVID-19 pandemic, forms of discrimination and persecution have not taken a break,” she explains.  “So, along with continuing to support these Churches as we usually do, we help them to meet the needs of their community in this time of pandemic.  Pakistan is a sad example, where some Imams have called for a stop to helping the Christians affected by the effects of confinement.  So we were there,” relates Mrs. Lalonde, who relates that $7.5 million have already been dispatched by ACN to different corners of the world. “Support that will continue,” she assures.

 

Today, ACN estimates there are some 200 million Christians around the world who are unable to practice their faith freely, and there are over 80 countries in the world where the fundamental right to religious freedom is not guaranteed. At this moment in time, Christians are persecuted, oppressed or actively discriminated against in over 40 different countries.  In 2019, ACN continued to give voice to Christians experiencing persecution from institutions such as the UN and the European Union.

 

In Ukraine, children pray the Rosary for the International prayer campaign – One Million Children pray the Rosary

Support in over a third of all dioceses worldwide

With the additional help of some $7.28 million in donations carried forward from previous years, the charity was able to fund activities for a total of $165.2 million. Some 80.4% of these – or approximately $132.8 million – were spent on the three areas regarded by the charity as the main “pillars” of its mission: direct financial support via various aid projects, providing information about the situation of Christians in different countries, and encouraging Christians to pray for their suffering brethren.

 

Altogether, the charity supported 5,230 projects – an increase of 211 from 2018 – providing assistance for a wide range of different needs in 139 countries, above all in Africa and the Middle East, for a total value of $112.7 million benefitting 1,162 different dioceses, over one third of all the Catholic dioceses in the world.

 

Once again, Africa was the region in which most of ACN’s projects were located, with 29.6%, or almost a third, of the project funds allocated, making possible a total of 1,766 projects. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), owing to its vast size of over 2 million km² and the grave conflicts it is suffering, including international indifference, was the single country in Africa in which the greatest number of projects were realized in 2019, and the third worldwide. Here ACN funded 268 projects to a total of $4.9 million.

 

And, some 22.1% of the project aid allocated went to the support of the Christian minorities whose existence is threatened in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. In Syria, which is still suffering from the terrible civil war, ACN funded 132 projects for a total of almost $11.3 million, for the most part focused on basic emergency and survival aid. The other major beneficiary was Iraq where, following the rebuilding of over 6,000 homes in previous years, a new phase has begun for the reconstruction of places of worship and monasteries. Among the 50 major projects approved by the charity, for a total of $8.3 million in Iraq, was the rebuilding of the Al-Tahira cathedral in Qaraqosh, the largest Christian church in Iraq.

 

Syria : a family says ‘Thank you !’ to benefactors

 

Another country affected by warfare and grave economic poverty, yet at the same time spiritually rich, is Ukraine. This has been the priority country for ACN in Eastern Europe, with a total of almost 300 projects and over $5.9 million allocated in funding in 2019.

 

In Latin America, Venezuela has become the country in receipt of the most aid, after Brazil. Here, ACN funded 108 projects providing vital support for the Church in Venezuela and its people, for many of them the sole support in a country suffering from a profound political and economic crisis, social upheaval and the almost total lack of healthcare provision. Similarly in Asia, ACN’s priority has included aid for Pakistan and India, where Islamic religious fanaticism in the one, and extreme Hindu fundamentalism in the other, are bringing daily discrimination and danger to the ordinary lives of the Christian minorities there.

 

Venezuela: The Catholic Church stays one of the only institution to care for the population, on spiritual and material matters, in the midst of social, economical and political crisis with no precedent.

 

Outside of the geographical context, ACN has also supplied aid in the form of 1,378,635 Mass Offerings, which were celebrated in 2019 for the intentions of its benefactors representing some 15.9% of total donations. This has allowed the charity to support 40,096 priests – roughly one in every ten around the world. Most of the stipends were used not simply for the support of the priests themselves, but also for the benefit of the people by supporting their pastoral and social work.

 

For more information – please visit ACN Canada’s website: acn-canada.org.

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ACN Feature Story: The “Miracle of Vinkt” “

04.06.2020 in by Volker Niggewöhner

 

ACN Feature Story — 80 years of the “Miracle of Vinkt”

Hate, Conquered with Love

By Volker Niggewöhner, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

On 27 May 1940, the village of Vinkt, located near the Belgian city of Ghent, was the scene of one of the great crimes committed on the Western front during World War II. Eighty-six civilians were executed during a massacre carried out by German troops. Dutch Premonstratensian Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, recognized the dangers of a Europe divided by hate and dedicated his life to restoring love. Also in Vinkt, where ten years after the disastrous events, something worth remembering happened.

World War II had come to an end. As agreed upon by the victorious powers at the Yalta Conference and in the Potsdam Agreement, fourteen million Germans were driven out of the eastern provinces beginning in 1945. In western Germany, the majority of the displaced persons, among them six million Catholics, lived under inhumane conditions in bunkers or camps. The suffering of the millions of displaced persons reminded Father Werenfried van Straaten, a Premonstratensian priest born in 1913 in Mijdrecht in the Netherlands, of the story of the Nativity, when there was no room at the inn for the Holy Family because human beings, regardless of who they are, sometimes go unloved.

 

No Room at the Inn

The young priest appealed to the Christian conscience of his fellow countrymen, calling upon them to love their enemies and neighbours. In the article “No Room at the Inn,” written for the 1947 Christmas edition of the magazine of Tongerlo Abbey in Belgium, he called upon his countrymen, who were still mourning relatives killed by the Germans, for gestures of reconciliation.

And the incredible happened: the response to the article was overwhelming, unleashing a wave of giving among the Flemish people. As the three thousand Catholic priests who were among the displaced persons had taken on the task of distributing the aid to those in need, the new charitable organisation was given the name “Iron Curtain Priest”.

 

“God preserve us from hate”

The name “Werenfried” means “warrior for peace” and this soon became his mission. In 1948, Father Werenfried collected donations of bacon from Flemish farmers, an initiative that was hugely successful and gave him the nickname of the “Bacon Priest”.  Then, in 1950, exactly ten years after the massacre described above, he travelled to Vinkt to preach. In his memoirs, Father Werenfried wrote that he was apprehensive about giving this sermon. “I was never quick to feel fear, but at the time I was afraid.” He certainly had cause, considering that the resentment and hatred in the hearts of the people had yet to be vanquished. The oldest of the victims had been 89 years old, the youngest 13. Almost all of the families had suffered a loss. Even the local priest advised Father Werenfried against taking this risk.

 

“I drove to Vinkt a day earlier to take stock of the situation. I arrived at the parish house on Saturday evening. Distraught, the priest raised his hands and exclaimed, ‘It will not work, Father, the people do not want it. They are saying, “What? This priest is coming to ask for help for the Germans? For those despicable people who shot our men and boys? Never! Not one living soul will come to hear his speech. He can preach to empty chairs, if he feels like it. And he should consider himself lucky that he is a priest. Otherwise he would be in for a beating!”’

 

What was I supposed to do? After discussing it with the priest, I decided to prepare for that evening’s speech by giving the sermon at all of the divine services held that Sunday. And so, to everyone’s surprise, I was the one standing in the pulpit the next morning, for fifteen whole minutes, preaching about love. It was the most difficult sermon I had given in my whole life. But it worked,” Werenfried van Straaten later recalled.

 

“Human beings are better than we think!”

“And once I had spoken the Thanksgiving prayer after Holy Mass and the church had completely emptied – because the people are ashamed to show how good they really are! – a woman shyly came forward. She did not say anything, but gave me one thousand francs and then left before I could ask her anything. Fortunately, the priest had just come out of the sacristy and saw her leave. He told me that she was an ordinary farmer’s wife and that her husband, her son and her brother were all murdered by the Germans in 1940. And she was the first,” he continued.

 

“That evening, the meeting hall was full. For two hours, I talked about the desperate situation of the rucksack priests and the desolation of their faithful. I did not beg them for bacon, money or clothing. I only begged for love and at the very end I asked whether they would join me in praying for their suffering brothers in Germany. They prayed with tears in their eyes. And late that evening, at eleven o’clock, when it was dark and no one would recognize them, they came, one after the other, to the parish house to deliver envelopes with one hundred francs, with five hundred francs, with an accompanying letter. And early the next morning, before I left, they came again to the parish house (…) I was given seventeen envelopes with money. They transferred money to my postal giro account. They collected bacon. They adopted a German priest. That was Vinkt! Human beings are better than we think!”

 

“Europe’s Ship of States”: Only a Christian life can save us

Werenfried van Straaten realized that peace and reconciliation would never return to the world while hatred lived on in the hearts of the people. “We are all sailing on a ship and that ship is called Europe! […] When this ship springs a leak, everything else becomes irrelevant. And Europe’s Ship of States is taking water. So now we all have to pull up our sleeves and start pumping, or else we will all go under, no matter what side we are on.” He continued, “Neither the atomic bomb nor the Marshall Plan will save us, only a true Christian life. Only through love, the mark of a Christian, can order be restored.”

COVID-19: Have you still no faith?

28.05.2020 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, COVID19

Ukraine: Sister ­Magdalena consoles those in need.

COVID-19: Have you still no faith?

“Cum Petro per Mariam ad Jesum”– this was always the path taken to God by Christians of all times. It is no less so during this time of the coronavirus. 

by ACN  International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online May 28, 2020

 

The virus has shaken the world. Like a sudden storm, it has upended all our certainties. The situation is like that of the disciples in the boat, when Jesus asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mk. 4:40).

The gestures of loving concern on the part of all those we have been helping for many years in their necessities and in their service for God are a living response. For example, the Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo in the Philippines going out with food packages for the poorest families living in quarantine behind their walls. Or the “Small Christian Communities” (SCCs) in India who are going out, along with their bishops and deacons, giving water, protective masks and disinfectant handwash to the needy in the streets. Or Sister Magdalena in Kiev, who is visiting the sick and elderly, responding with concrete acts of love. And Bishop Désinord Jean in Haiti, calling the faithful to prayer with his church bell to plead for an end to the pandemic.

 

So many shining examples of loving charity! In Haiti, the people themselves have nothing; over half now live below the poverty threshold and four out of five Haitians are unemployed. Public life has come to a standstill. An outbreak of the epidemic here would plunge this, the poorest country of the Western hemisphere, into an abyss of suffering. The situation is little better for the poor in India. Sister Christin Joseph, who heads the SCCs, is organizing the response to the Coronavirus crisis and the Indian government lock-down. “We have introduced a special family prayer initiative.

 

Every evening at seven, the families gather in their own homes and pray the Rosary in solidarity with the coronavirus victims all over the world,” she says. She knows that most of these Christians are day labourers without any social security, and the lock-down has taken what little they had. Many are looking anxiously to the future. But their faith is still alive.

 

The same response of faith has been seen in the many priests, all over the world, who have fulfilled their priestly ministry to the victims of COVID–19, even to the point of death. They believed. The disciples in the boat cried out in fear, “We are perishing,” for their faith was weak. But after Easter, they strengthened one another. Peter and Our Lady were the visible pillars of the young Church – and they continue to be so today.

The invisible pillars are those who bear loving witness to their faith in this crisis, our brothers and sisters.