The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has launched a Lenten and Easter campaign to strengthen its support for religious sisters in those countries worldwide that are most affected by war and poverty or in which Christians are a minority. The campaign bears the title “Extraordinary women. Thanks to God. Thanks to you.”
The executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, commented at the start of the campaign, “Religious sisters are the heroines of the church. They show us a way to holiness and set an example for a happy and meaningful life. This can also be the way to healing for a society marked by ongoing discussion about the role of women.”
Each year, the pontifical foundation receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.
Among others, ACN supports over 4,500 religious sisters to ensure that they can continue their monastic lives as well as carry out their pastoral and social work caring for the sick, orphans or older people even in those regions where they do not have any way of earning a living. For example, this is the case in Ukraine, Russia and in crisis-ridden Venezuela.
A large number of convents have been destroyed or severely damaged, not only in war zones such as Iraq, Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, but also after natural disasters such as the earthquake in Mexico. It would be virtually impossible for religious sisters to carry out their work in these regions without rebuilding aid from ACN.
According to the figures published in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, there are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need. The charity gives direct support to more than 11,000 sisters. In addition, there are other religious women who benefit from assistance for construction, transport and pastoral projects.
Even though the number of vocations to orders is declining most notably in Europe and America, the number of vocations continues to grow in Africa and Asia. This is why more than 80% of all projects supported by ACN in the area of formation for religious sisters and novices are on these two continents. This aid benefits more than 5,700 sisters.
In accordance with their charisma and their history, the foundation pays particular attention to the contemplative orders. As is written in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere issued by Pope Francis on the contemplative life of women, this life “is rooted in the silence of the cloister; it produces a rich harvest of grace and mercy” and represents “the praying heart” of the church. According to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, there are about 40,000 religious sisters in contemplative orders throughout the world; half of these are living in Europe. For this reason, 80% of the aid granted by ACN to contemplative orders supports cloistered sisters in eastern European countries who continue to find themselves in dire economic and spiritual need due to their communist past.
During the Lenten season, ACN and its 23 national offices would also like to express their appreciation for all of the religious sisters who fulfil their mission in dangerous situations or who have sacrificed their lives for the people entrusted to them. A few examples are the four religious of the “Missionary Sisters of Charity” who were murdered by jihadists in Yemen in 2014 or the two religious sisters who were killed during the extreme violence that was unleashed in Haiti and South Sudan in 2016. And not to forget the Columbian missionary Cecilia Narváez, who has been held hostage by Al Qaeda in Mali for two years.
“Through their work, religious sisters convey the loving proximity of God to millions of people each day,” declared ACN President Heine Geldern. “Supporting religious sisters often involves helping an entire community or even an entire ethnic group.” He explained that, in addition to personal signs of appreciation and prayer, this includes providing financial assistance to religious. “This is why the motto of the campaign also includes a reference to our benefactors: ‘Thanks to you.’ This is an appeal: become a part of the mission of courageous religious sisters worldwide!”
A website on the Lenten campaign provides information about the lives of religious sisters on different continents and highlights ACN’s main areas of assistance. The website can be found at the address: https://sisters.pontifical.acninternational.org/