Donations increase despite the pandemic
In the financial year 2020 the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) succeeded in raising 122.7 million Euros in donations for suffering and oppressed Christians around the world. This was 16.4 million Euros – or 15.4% – more than was raised in the previous year by the charity, via its 23 national offices.
ACN International presented this year‘s annual report on June 18 via a digital press conference. “Not only did the pandemic turn our own work upside down, but it also dramatically worsened the plight of Christians in many regions of the world, who found themselves literally, almost overnight, without work, pay or food. And many priests and religious were also left not knowing how to make ends meet”, explained Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International.
“In this emergency, however, ACN‘s benefactors remained true to the charity. This great generosity leaves us feeling profoundly grateful”, said Dr Heine-Geldern. “It was quite unforeseen, especially since the crisis has inflicted profound economic insecurity and difficulties on us all. We were particularly pleased to note that the number of our benefactors has also increased worldwide”, he added.
4,758 projects supported in 138 different countries
Thanks to the donations received, the charity was able to support a range of activities to a total value of 102.1 million Euros. Owing to delays related to coronavirus restrictions, a further 20.6 million Euros could only be paid out in the first six months of 2021.
79% of the funds allocated in 2020 were spent on project work, information, media support and prayer campaigns. In this way a total of 4,758 individual projects were supported. Around 8% of funds were spent on administration and 12.5% on awareness raising and finding new benefactors. ACN is funded exclusively by private donations and receives no public monies either from Church or secular sources.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic the charity has supported no fewer than 401 coronavirus-related projects to a total value of over 6.2 million Euros, in order to alleviate the most pressing needs. This included, among other things, supplying priests and religious with essential PPE, helping them to continue their pastoral work and bridging the most urgent financial shortfalls resulting from the pandemic.
Changing regional priorities as a result of the pandemic
Roughly one third (32.6%) of the total project aid supplied by ACN International in 2020 went to Africa. “We are greatly concerned, particularly for the countries of the Sahel region, where there has been an explosion of terrorism. The pandemic has made the situation of the uprooted refugees yet more difficult, and in many cases the Church is the only institution still remaining to support the people”, Dr Heine-Geldern reported.
Whereas for many years the Middle East, and in particular Syria and Iraq, headed the list of countries supported by ACN, this region fell back last year with just 14.2% of the aid monies allocated. “This had much to do with the pandemic – many structural rebuilding projects came to a standstill because it was simply impossible to deliver the necessary building materials. But this region nevertheless remains profoundly important to us”, ACN‘s executive president added.
Following the explosion in the port of Beirut, the Lebanese capital, on 4 August 2020, ACN International launched an emergency aid programme for this country, which has the largest single Christian community in the Middle East. In this way it was able to supply basic food aid immediately after the explosion. And subsequent aid projects have focused on the reconstruction of the Christian quarter in Beirut, which was particularly hard-hit by the explosion. Among other things the charity has helped in the repair of damaged churches and religious houses in this part of the city. Altogether ACN provided close on 4 million Euros in aid for Lebanon in 2020.
Asia was another priority region for ACN, with 18% of the total project aid given in 2020. Most of this – around 5.4 million Euros – went to India. The whole continent has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, and in many cases the Christian minority was deprived of access to state supplied aid. In Pakistan, for example, ACN helped provide basic essentials for Christians who had lost their livelihoods as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
From church construction to pastoral vehicles – ACN‘s support
Top of the list in terms of the type of project supported worldwide was construction aid. Thanks to ACN‘s help, some 744 churches, parish houses, convents, seminaries or community centres were either new builds, renovated or rebuilt/restored after destruction through war or terrorism. Among these were the Maronite Cathedral of Saint Elijah in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which was badly damaged by rocket attacks between 2012 and 2016. It was finally rededicated in July 2020.
“Above all during the coronavirus crisis Mass stipends were a sign of our solidarity in prayer and for many priests their sole means of survival financially. Altogether we were able to send them 1.7 million Mass offerings”, said Dr Heine-Geldern. Worldwide, one in every nine priests was able to benefit from this form of direct financial and spiritual support.
In the case of seminarians, one in every eight worldwide received support from ACN for their studies and living costs within the seminary. In this way ACN last year helped 14,000 of tomorrow‘s priests.
The crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on the sources of income for religious women in many regions of the world. In 2020 ACN was able to support over 18,000 women religious with basic subsistence for livelihood, training aid and help for the spiritual apostolate.
Another vital area supported by ACN is, and continues to be, that of pastoral transport, by means of which priests and catechists are able to reach the faithful even in remote and inaccessible areas. The list of vehicles supplied with the help of ACN included 783 bicycles, 280 cars, 166 motorcycles, 11 boats, two buses and one lorry.
“The pandemic and its consequences will continue to occupy us in the future”, Dr Heine-Geldern concluded. “And at the same time the terrible situation on the African continent, where terrorism and violence are spreading ever further, is a matter of great concern to our charity. Just as important as addressing the outward material need is the need to give these oppressed and persecuted Christians a voice and a face. We do this at ACN International through information, prayer and direct practical help. We are happy and grateful to be able to count on the generous support of our friends and benefactors around the world in this work.”