Pontifical foundation focuses on dialogue, prayer and therapy in the fight against murder, violence and expulsion
In response to the unprecedented attacks on Africa carried out by Islamic extremists, the pontifical foundation ACN International has approved aid amounting to more than eight million euros for the victims of fanaticism.
“Africa was on a harrowing Via Dolorosa in 2020 and became the ‘continent of martyrs’. Violence against Christians, their expulsion and murder have increased dramatically. I hope that the aid we provide will assuage the suffering of the people and enable them to experience a little Easter hope,” Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of ACN, explained.
During the last few years, Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists in many countries in Africa. In no other region have so many priests, religious and church workers been murdered in the last three years. “The Catholic Church in Africa is itself often one of the victims, but more than anything is an important source of support, reconciliation and healing for all who are suffering violence. For this reason, ACN considers the aid it provides to the Church of the ‘continent of martyrs’ one of its most crucial missions, now more than ever,” Dr Heine-Geldern continued.
ACN’s campaign “Heal the wounds of religious extremism in Africa” supports a number of concrete measures. One of the top priorities of the African Church’s mission is the promotion of interreligious dialogue to further understanding and fraternity on all sides. In the predominantly Islamic country of Mali, for example, ACN is helping the Institute for Islamo-Christian Formation erect a building on the premises of the university in the capital of Bamako. The goal is to make interreligious courses accessible to more students.
However, true peace is only possible once the trauma experienced by those deeply wounded by Islamic terrorism has been healed. To assist in the rehabilitation of the people, ACN is sponsoring several projects focused on spiritual and psychological training. In the diocese of Maiduguri (Nigeria), the terrorist regime of Boko Haram left two thousand traumatised widows and several thousands of orphans behind in its wake. ACN has helped set up a centre for the training of trauma therapists to assist those who have been scarred by suffering.
Priests and religious sisters need assistance in order to live their vocations under these dangerous conditions. For this reason, ACN provides funding for spiritual retreats and training courses. Not only in Burkina Faso, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced by Islamists and large numbers of Christians have been killed over the last few years, but also in Cameroon, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, ACN sponsors regular seminars for the spiritual strengthening of priests and religious.
Additionally, ACN helps them earn their livelihoods through Mass stipends and by donating means of transportation and communication. This ensures that religious sisters and pastoral workers are able to provide ongoing assistance to the victims. For example, 26 religious sisters in the diocese of Pemba in northern Mozambique are the recipients of this form of aid. They serve in a region that is one of the primary targets of Jihadist militia groups sympathetic to the cause of IS. Terrorism has already displaced more than 750,000 people from the area.
Another factor crucial to keeping the faith alive is helping parishes rebuild their churches and the religious infrastructure that has disintegrated under Islamic terrorism. In the predominantly Islamic country of Niger, for example, funds have been granted for the rebuilding of a parish church in the city of Zinder. It was destroyed in 2015 in retaliation for the publication of Muhammad caricatures by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
ACN President Heine-Geldern feels encouraged by Pope Francis in the work ACN is doing in Africa. “The Holy Father called for active solidarity with Africa on Easter Sunday. In particular, he prays for the people of Africa who see their future compromised by internal violence and international terrorism and places his hopes in fraternal dialogue in a spirit of reconciliation. ACN is doing everything in its power to realise the pope’s mission for Africa.”