The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is calling for all children worldwide to take part in the joint campaign “One Million Children Praying the Rosary”. This year’s theme is mission, as Pope Francis has designated the month of October as the Extraordinary Missionary Month. With the motto “Baptised and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World”, the intention is to revive the missionary spirit worldwide through pastoral and spiritual initiatives. For this reason, missionaries and new missionary vocations will be the focus of the prayers spoken with the children.

This year’s prayer campaign will once again take place on 18 October. “Traditionally, after all, October is the month of the rosary and we also celebrate the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist on 18 October. He was the only evangelist to write about the childhood of Jesus and is traditionally thought to have had close ties to the Virgin Mary,” Father Martin Barta, the Ecclesiastical Assistant of ACN International, explained. On this day, at 9 o’clock in the morning – or at any other appropriate time – thousands of groups of children worldwide will pray the rosary together.

Children worldwide pray for peace and unity in the world.

Children worldwide pray for peace and unity in the world.

“Each year we receive reports back from all over the world, telling us how children celebrated the day of prayer,” Father Barta was pleased to note. “It has truly become a prayer campaign of the World Church, which not only moves the hearts of children, but also those of adults and blazes a trail to peace!” How the celebration is held varies widely: some participants pray the entire rosary, others just a part. Some not only pray, but include a catechesis on praying the rosary, short readings and children’s hymns. Others invite the children to draw the Mysteries of the Rosary in addition to praying. In some places, teachers stop their regular lessons to pray with the children.

The campaign was initiated in 2005 in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas after a number of children prayed the rosary at a wayside shrine, leading the women who were present to deeply experience the presence of the Virgin Mary. In keeping with the promise of Saint Padre Pio – “When one million children pray the rosary, the world will change” – the campaign is intended to strengthen the faith in the power of children’s prayers.

On the homepage, ACN has made a wide selection of materials for the campaign available as a free download in many different languages as well as some background information. The materials include a poster and a four-page prayer leaflet with texts, meditations on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and instructions on how to pray the rosary. In addition, there are reports and pictures from past campaigns as well as colouring pictures for children.

“The fundamental question of our priestly life is this: Where is my heart directed? It is a question we need to keep asking, daily, weekly. Where is my heart directed?” Pope Francis.

This question lies at the heart of every vocation. It was what Jaroslav, now at the seminary of Vorzel in Kiev, Ukraine, first asked himself when, more from curiosity than devotion, he began to prepare for his first Holy Communion. Before then he had found “everything boring: going to church; the sermon by a man I didn’t know; praying to a God I couldn’t see…” Now he recalls, “It was curiosity that opened my heart. I asked myself, How can it be that people devote their entire lives to God? That was the way God chose to knock on the door of my heart. And then came the moment when I said ‘Amen’ – an Amen from the depths of my heart. It was the beginning of my vocation, the beginning of a journey of discovery with God throughout my life.” Now he is at the Sacred Heart Seminary, preparing – with 23 others – for a life following the Lord. Pavlo is another of the seminarians who felt the same questions burning within him: “Where is my heart leading? Which road does it long to follow?” He was on retreat when he realised: “The priesthood is the path for me.” But there was still a slight sense of uneasiness. It was only when he entered the seminary chapel, where the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was taking place and they were chanting the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

A journey of discovery with God.

A journey of discovery with God.

“I was overcome by a feeling of profound peace and I knew: this is my heart’s true home.” However, Pavlo, Jaroslav and the others need our help to continue their journey to the priesthood. We have promised the seminary €600 for each of these 24 seminarians for the year ahead. It costs less to train the 23 seminarians who belong to Bongaigaon Diocese, in northeast India. This young diocese is growing fast. First founded, just 19 years ago, with 14 parishes, it now has 34, along with numerous outstations. Priests are in short supply.

Vocations are plentiful, but their training is still costly for this poor diocese – and yet the diocese will not compromise over the quality of their formation. Bongaigaon is classic mission territory. Many people in the villages and tribal groups are hearing the Good News of God’s love for the first time. The seminarians also visit the people, and then share their experiences with one another back in the seminary. They need our help, and we have gladly promised them €9,200 for the current academic year. In Pakistan, in the diocese of Multan, similar experiences of community are vital. Confident of your generosity, we immediately said yes to Bishop Benny Travas when he asked for help (€7,500) to hold weeklong retreats and days of recollection for his 33 seminarians. These are essential for Christians living in such a hostile environment, so they can reflect on their future priestly journey – and find rest for their hearts in God.

ACN was actively involved in the recent independent report

A report commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary has been published showing the scale of persecution of Christians around the world and the response of the United Kingdom Government to their plight.

The report is the first of its kind to be requested by a national government minister and produced with the cooperation of government civil service and other officials. The review was overseen by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Reverend Philip Mounstephen. The full report, which follows an interim report released in May, is being officially launched today (Monday – 15 July).

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK national office of ACN.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK national office of ACN.

In his introduction to the report, Bishop Mounstephen points out that Christian persecution is not an isolated incident, but rather a “global phenomenon”. In the report, he also remarks that the focus on Christianity is “not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit”. Reflecting on the findings of the report, he states that Christians are the religious group who suffer the most persecution. The Church of England Bishop expressed regret that Western nations “have been blind to this issue” and expressed the hope that the report would be a wake-up call “not to be spectators but to be actors”. He emphasised that the persecution of Christians is a question of universal human rights and should be seen as such.

The report was drawn up by a commission composed of FCO staff, members of NGOs experienced in the field of religious freedom and other independent members. Among the bodies included was the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), which for over 70 years now has been supporting persecuted Christians around the world. ACN was closely involved in the information-gathering for the first part of the report – an investigation into the extent of persecution around the world over five years between 2014 and 2018. On behalf of ACN, John Pontifex and John Newton provided research materials including global assessments, regional and country analysis and case studies on incidents of persecution in countries including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria and Vietnam.

Report on the religious persecution of Christians urges to take measures to defend religious freedom.

Report on the religious persecution of Christians urges to take measures to defend religious freedom.

The second and third phase of the report, where ACN UK had no involvement, include a review of FCO response to persecution of Christians and recommendations for the foreign office.

The document, which runs to 176 pages, concludes with a list of 22 recommendations directed at the FCO. It calls for more government action in response to the violence against Christians, which it describes as having at times reached “near genocidal levels”. Among other things it calls on the British government to ensure that “freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains at the heart of the priorities of UK foreign policy”, and urges the country to become a “global leader in championing FoRB”.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK national office of ACN, underlined report’s importance, saying: “We are delighted to have been involved in this report. It is an incentive for our work that these problems should finally be recognised at the political level.” Mr Kyrke-Smith said he hopes that the “new Prime Minister may be that he will implement in full the recommendations of this report”. At the same time he stressed the importance of protecting Christian minorities in countries where they face persecution and oppression. “There is a vital need to support this Christian presence, given that the Christians are frequently bridge builders and agents of peace in many of these countries.”

111,100,000 Euros for the suffering, oppressed and persecuted Church throughout the world. This was the total raised in donations during 2018 by ACN International via its 23 national offices around the world and its international headquarters in Germany.

The resources raised, thanks to the generous donations of its more than 330,000 private benefactors around the world, have enabled the charity to fund no fewer than 5,019 pastoral projects in some 139 different countries.

“We are deeply moved by the generosity of our benefactors all over the world”, commented Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International, at the formal presentation of the charity’s Annual Report. “Once again their sacrifices and their faith have moved mountains!”

As in recent years, a major proportion of these donations went to support projects in Africa (27%) and in the Middle East (25%). In the last few years the region of the Middle East has witnessed a substantial increase in aid from ACN. Since the beginning of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, in fact, the Pontifical Foundation ACN has given a total of 99 million Euros, of which over 18 million were in 2018 alone. The charity’s emergency support for the thousands of uprooted Christian refugees in this region above all accounted for over 12% of the total aid granted last year. What should be underlined as particularly significant in this respect was the huge project of rebuilding the houses and homes of the Christian refugees in Syria and Iraq that was made possible by the support of ACN International. In fact no fewer than 1,479 Christian homes were rebuilt in these areas of the Middle East, thanks to the involvement of the foundation.

Not surprisingly, the country which saw the largest single amount of aid from ACN during 2018 was also in the Middle East, namely Syria, where the support given by the charity totalled a full 8.6 million Euros, 2.9 million more than given by ACN in 2017. And in second place in terms of the aid given was Iraq, also in the Middle East, where last year ACN funded projects to a total value of some 6.5 million Euros. These two countries were followed by India (5.2m), Ukraine (3.2m) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.8m).

ACN International – Annual Report 2018: Over 111 Million Euros raised for the Church in need worldwide.

ACN International – Annual Report 2018: Over 111 Million Euros raised for the Church in need worldwide.

In terms of the types of project supported, as in recent years, the first place was that of construction or reconstruction, with over 23.2 million Euros (31.9% of the total) attributed for 2,470 buildings, including private homes, chapels, churches, convents, seminaries and pastoral centres.

In second place were Mass Offerings (16.4%). During 2018 this particular form of support – absolutely crucial in the poorest parts of the world where priests have virtually no other form of support – brought help to no fewer than 40,569 priests, or roughly one in every 10 worldwide. In this way, last year, no fewer than 1,421,001 Holy Masses were celebrated for the intentions of the benefactors, or approximately one Holy Mass every 22 seconds.

Tied in third place in terms of the types of aid given were emergency aid projects and those providing support for the formation of priests and religious (12.4%). During 2018 ACN supported the formation of 11,817 seminarians, or approximately one in every 10 worldwide, in addition to the ongoing studies of 4,370 priests. In addition to this, the Mass Offerings given were able to support the life and work of 1,383 priests teaching in the major seminaries.

Also extremely important for ACN was the education of the lay faithful, which took fifth place in terms of the percentage (11.2%) of the total aid given. In this way the charity was able to support the formation of some 14,169 catechists and lay leaders last year.

In sixth place was the aid given for the means of pastoral transport (6.8%), with a total of 907 vehicles funded – 370 cars, 189 motorcycles, 342 bicycles, two trucks, two coaches and two boats. This was followed by support for the Catholic media and the publication of Bibles and other religious literature (4.6%). Including sacred texts and its own publications, the Foundation ACN was able to fund the publication and dissemination of some 1,103,484 volumes.

These figures illustrate a fundamental reality of ACN’s support for the Church throughout the world. It is a support given also and above all in a spirit of closeness to the oppressed and persecuted Church and with the capacity to react promptly and in practical terms to the attacks to which the Christian communities are ever-increasingly subject around the world. In the event of such tragic attacks as the recent bomb outrages in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, or the frequent attacks in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, ACN has always been able to react promptly and appropriately to help the wounded communities get back on their feet again and reaffirm their presence, even and especially in those countries where Christians are a small and oppressed minority. It does so by helping to rebuild their damaged churches, supporting the families of the victims and helping the priests and religious to continue in their pastoral mission. And thereby, ultimately, demonstrating that faith has the power to overcome hatred.

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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.