The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is launching a Christmas campaign of prayer, aid and solidarity for the people of Syria, entitled Candles for Peace in Syria. The campaign formally begins on the first Sunday of Advent, 2nd December, with the symbolic lighting of a candle by the Holy Father at the end of the Angelus prayer.

In the last few days the initiative has involved over 50,000 children, of different religions, from several of the Syrian cities most severely affected by the war, including Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Hassaké, Tartus and Latakia. The children have prayed and decorated candles with symbols of peace– crosses, doves and messages of hope – to convey to the world their longing for peace. For all too often the prime victims of the conflict, which is still ongoing, have been these little Syrian children .

ACN International is calling on people of goodwill all over the world to respond to this cry of peace from the children of Syria, among other things by lighting a candle, as the Holy Father will do on Sunday, in order to amplify the resonance of this clarion call for peace from the children of Syria and send out a strong message of hope during the season of Advent.

The candle which the Holy Father will light was decorated by a local craftsman from the Bab Touma quarter of the Old City of Damascus and also bears the photos of some 40 children, most of them from Aleppo, together with the logo of the campaign – a dove with outstretched wings in the shape of a child’s hand and the message “Peace for the Children of Syria 2018” – plus the regular logo of ACN International.

This is not the first time that ACN has spoken out for the children of Syria. Back in 2016 the charity made an appeal to the European Parliament, conveying to it pictures drawn by the children, expressing their longing for peace.

In response to the critical humanitarian situation in Syria and in order to prevent the disappearance of the Christian presence in the country, ACN is accompanying its Candles for Peace initiative with an international fundraising campaign over Advent and Christmas, organised through its 23 national fundraising offices. The campaign envisages a package of emergency aid, reconstruction aid and pastoral support for a total of 15 million Euros. This comes on top of the 29,350,000 Euros already donated by the charity since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

The ambitious programme involves the distribution of food parcels and other basic essentials, including medicines, milk powder for babies, support with rent and heating costs for the refugees, rebuilding of the homes of the Christian refugee families as well as their churches and religious houses, support for the priests and religious who are ministering to them, spiritual and psychological support for the traumatised, help with school and education fees for school children and young students and, last but not least, simple Christmas parcels for over 15,000 of the poorest and most destitute children.

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ACN International presents its latest report on “Religious Freedom in the World” 2018

Madrid, 22 November 2018. 61% of the world’s population live in countries where religious freedom is not respected; in other words, 6 out of every 10 people around the world cannot express their faith with total freedom.

This is one of the key conclusions of the report on Religious Freedom in the World”, which was officially made public today in Rome by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International, with simultaneous worldwide launches also taking place in many other locations such as London, Paris, Santiago, Manila and New York.

The report looks at all 196 countries of the world, examining the degree to which the basic right to religious freedom, as defined in Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is respected with regard to all the world’s major religious faiths.

Grave violations of religious freedom were found to occur in a total of 38 countries. In 17 of these, serious discrimination on grounds of religious faith prevails, whereas in the remaining 21 countries, there is outright persecution of religious minorities, in some cases to the point of death.

As the Report reveals, in some of the most wanting countries from the point of view of religious freedom, the situation has only deteriorated over the past two years. And on the global level in general, overall respect for religious freedom has also worsened.

In reaction to this development Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of ACN recalls that “Pope Francis, as well as his immediate predecessors, have all stressed that religious freedom is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of man” and therefore, “as a papal foundation, we see it as our duty to draw worldwide attention to this intrinsic link between religious freedom and human dignity through proper information.”


ACN Launch and Press Conference of the Religious Freedom Report 2018 in Rome

ACN Launch and Press Conference of the Religious Freedom Report 2018 in Rome


According to the report, in Africa’s Middle Belt, religious freedom is threatened by the advance of jihadist Islamism, , whereas in countries such as India there is real concern at the growth of Hindu “ultranationalism”, which has resulted in a marked decline in religious freedom in this country over the past two years.

As the study shows, in 22 countries the reason for the attacks on religious freedom are rooted in radical Islamism, while in other countries the dominant causes are rooted elsewhere, notably in the authoritarianism of States or governments which pursue policy of extreme nationalism.

Such authoritarian or extreme nationalist states number 16 in total, though at the same time they account for a very large population of over 3 billion people, since they include such countries as China, India, North Korea, Burma (Myanmar) Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan among others.

On a more positive note, the level of religious freedom appears to have improved both in Syria and Iraq. Following the military defeat of Isis/ Daesh, the religious minorities have begun to return to their former homes, most notably in the case of Christians from the towns and villages of the Niniveh Plains in Iraq.

On the basis of the information gathered in this report it is estimated that some 327 million Christians live in countries where they face religious persecution and 178 million in countries where there is discrimination on religious grounds. As a result, one in every five Christians around the world lives in a country where there is religious persecution or discrimination.

“Unfortunately, a perceptible improvement in religious freedom is still far off,” concludes Thomas Heine-Geldern. “Therefore, even this 14th report on religious freedom will not be the last one that our ACN Foundation will have to prepare in fulfilling its mission of information.”

Yesterday, ACN illuminated Venice in red and Pope Francis declared that he is hopeful that “timely initiatives”, such as this one, to raise awareness about the critical situation of persecuted Christians around the world can “attract well-deserved attention of all.”

The Holy Father has expressed the hope that the “timely initiative” launched under the title of “Venice in red” and organized by the patriarchate of Venice and the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) has called “the well-deserved attention of all people to the grave problem of discrimination facing Christians in so many parts of the world”. The Pope, in a message to the Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, conveys his “warmest greetings” to the young people who participated in the diocesan pilgrimage, which preceded the main “Venice in red” event. Yesterday were illuminated in red the Basilica of the Madonna della Salute, the main section of the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, along with other symbolically significant buildings of the city of Venice.


A message from Pope Francis for the event “Venice in Red”

As the Pope’s message makes clear, the purpose of these events is to “raise public awareness about the critical situation of so many Christians who are persecuted on account of their faith.” The message also recalls that “indeed there are countries where a single religion is imposed, and others where we are witnessing a violent persecution or systematic cultural denigration of the disciples of Jesus”. This is why it is vital to organize events like this one in Venice and all the other similar events held by ACN, including the lighting of important historical monuments such as the Colosseum (Rome), Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro), the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre (Paris), the Cathedral of the Most Precious Blood of Christ of Westminster (London) and others in order to draw world attention to the many violations of the right to religious freedom. A “fundamental human right” which, as the message makes clear, “must be respected, because it reflects the peak of human dignity” adds the Pope.

ACN alerts the world to religious discrimination – new report on religious freedom worldwide

On 22 November this year in Rome, the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International will be publishing its latest report on “Religious Freedom in the World“. The presentation of the report will be accompanied by a series of publicity campaigns, prayer meetings and conferences around the world, scheduled to take place between 22 November and 4 December. Once again this year a number of iconic public buildings will be illuminated in red in order to draw attention to the situation of people suffering religious persecution.

„As an organisation committed to helping persecuted Christians, ACN has a particular duty to uphold the basic human right of religious freedom“, explained Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of the foundation. „Sadly, there are more and more infringements of this basic human right, which affect all religions. We are therefore inviting people throughout the world to stand up together with ACN in defence of religious freedom and make a visible gesture of solidarity“, he continued.

Focus on the situation in over 190 countries

This is now the fourteenth ACN report on Religious Freedom in the World. It examines the situation in over 190 different countries and documents not only the current legal situation but also the abuses against the right to religious freedom over the time period 2016 – 2018. The report also details developments and changes in the situation in a number of the most critically threatened countries.

On 22 November this report on Religious Freedom in the World will be formally presented to the world media in the Vatican. It will also be presented on the same day in other major international cities, including Madrid, Paris, London, Manila, Santiago de Chile and São Paulo. The launch in Rome will be carried out in the presence not only of the President of the Foundation, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza but will include among others invited guests from Egypt and Pakistan – both countries where Christians and other religious minorities suffered particularly severely from attacks on their religious freedom.

In recent times the case of Asia Bibi has garnered particular international attention. This Catholic woman, initially condemned to death on allegations of blasphemy, was finally acquitted after more than seven years in prison – leading to violent protests by extreme radical Islamist groups in a number of Pakistani cities. Human rights defenders in a number of European countries are currently campaigning for this mother of 5 to be allowed to leave the country and be granted asylum elsewhere.

„Red Wednesday“ and allied campaigns in cities around the world

ACN Italy is planning a spectacular campaign on 20 November, to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians. In Venice, the Rialto Bridge, sections of the Grand Canal and other important buildings will be illuminated in red.

The idea of illuminating iconic buildings in red was initiated by ACN some years ago as a way of creating a striking and visible sign to protest against religious discrimination. Since then, the idea of a „Red Wednesday“ has become established in many places. Campaigns of this type will be held in the following cities among others (though not always on a Wednesday): Paris (22 November), Barcelona (23 November), London (28 November), Sydney (28 November) and Washington (28 November).

In Barcelona the iconic „Sagrada Familia“ church will be illuminated in red, as will the „Sacré Coeur“ Basilica in Montmartre, Paris. A special dimension has the action in the Philippines: over 1300 churches and 30 schools will follow the call for Religious Freedom” and will be illuminated in red.

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Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.