With almost 1.4 billion inhabitants, India has the second largest population in the world. The Hindu majority population often discriminates religious minorities such as Muslims (14.5%) and Christians (4.9%). Church representatives have repeatedly called on the government to protect Christians and other religious minorities from attacks. ACN continued to support the Church in India with numerous aid projects in 2021 so that it can continue to meet a range of severe challenges.
Violent attacks against Christians have increased at an alarming rate in many parts of the country. More than 300 anti-Christian incidents were reported in 2021. Strict anti-conversion laws are in place in several states, requiring the authorities to authorise any change of religion. In October, for example, two Catholic sisters were accused of illegal conversions and forcibly dragged to a police station by angry mobs.
» It is a blessing that ACN is supporting us with emergency aid in this dramatic situation.«
Bishop Bhagyaiah Chinnabathini of Guntur
ACN is extremely concerned about the increasing violence against Christians. A major burden in 2021 was also the pandemic, which continues to have a firm grip on India. The second wave of infections hit the country with full force, and the existing infrastructure was unable to cope with it. There was a shortage of everything: hospital beds, oxygen, protective materials and vaccines. The Church in India fearlessly stood by those who suffered. At the same time, the Church itself was forced to mourn many victims. In the first half of the year alone, at least 520 priests and religious died of COVID-19 in India.
» We supported more than 14,800 priests in need with Mass stipends during the second wave of the pandemic. «
The economic consequences of the pandemic are also serious – for the Church as well. Thousands of priests had to forego collections during the lockdown, which are often vital for survival. ACN therefore supported more than 14,800 priests in need in some 100 dioceses in India during the second wave of the pandemic with Mass stipends totalling more than 4.6 million euros. In addition, we were able to provide protective materials such as masks, disinfectant gel, gloves and protective visors for priests, religious sisters and catechists.
In the year under review, we also continued our long-standing aid in the poor north and north-east of India. The believers there usually belong to disadvantaged ethnic minorities. ACN mainly supports priests and religious with material aid and training assistance, provides vehicles for pastoral care in expansive areas that are difficult to reach, and helps with the renovation and construction of church buildings.
ACN mourns the death of Father Swamy
On 5 July 2021, the 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy died in Mumbai. He had been in prison since 8 October 2020, accused by the Indian authorities of maintaining contact with Maoist and militant groups. The priest had spent decades working for disadvantaged people and reconciliation in tribal conflicts. “Father Swamy, an intrepid advocate for the poor and a passionate Catholic priest, has died,” said ACN Executive President Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern. “The martyrdom he endured in his final months is unimaginable.”