Whether media relations, world meetings, conferences or campaigns – every year ACN puts the concerns of the suffering Church in the public eye. Unfortunately, many events in 2020 had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, we are proud that together with our project partners, we were able to carry out some events, which were organised by ACN headquarters or by some of the 23 national offices and which we would like to present here.
One million children praying the rosary
The “One Million Children Praying the Rosary” campaign, organised by ACN, was launched back in 2005 in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. This campaign is mainly about praying together for world peace. In 2020, we achieved record participation: On 18 and 19 October, children from 136 countries on all continents united for the prayer initiative. The most children participated in Poland and Mexico, followed by India, the Philippines and Slovakia. On the Nineveh Plains in Iraq, a large group of children gathered in front of a statue of Mary in Tesqopa to pray the rosary for world peace, for all those who suffer and for an end to the pandemic. Due to coronavirus restrictions, children in many countries could not gather in larger groups, so they prayed with their families.
In Europe, the campaign was once again enthusiastically taken up by the children. For example, hundreds of schools across Spain, Great Britain and Slovakia participated in the prayer. In South Korea, children from the Diocesan School in Seoul were only able to join the rosary prayer on 22 October; it was not possible to do so earlier as a result of the government’s pandemic measures. The rosary prayer with children from Fatima in Portugal, the location of the Marian Shrine, was particularly symbolic. The live broadcast on Catholic television channels enabled thousands of faithful around the world to follow the initiative.
In 2020, ACN set up a homepage for the first time, where participants could conveniently and easily register. From the homepage, the campaign went viral, gaining enormous reach. Via social networks, it became clear that a good deal of people received the invitation from friends, parishes or dioceses. The only bad news was that the website where families and groups could register was the target of a cyberattack two days before the rosary prayer, stopping the counter at 509,771 participants. However, ACN is aware of thousands of faithful who wanted to register but unfortunately were not able to do so because of the cyberattack.
Set your captives free
To mark #RedWeek this year, ACN published “Set Your Captives Free”, a report prepared by the aid organisation’s British office, in several countries around the world to raise awareness about wrongfully imprisoned Christians. During the report’s launch event in England, Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl whose case is covered in the report, gave a video testimony from Pakistan. Maira described how she was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry against her will, and how she was “blackmailed, tortured and abused”. After escaping from her captor, she now lives in a secret location. “Our lives, mine and my family’s, are in danger in Pakistan. We continually receive death threats. We are extremely scared and worried for our safety.”
Around 250 million Christians around the world live in environments where they are violently persecuted, discriminated against or prevented from freely practising their faith. In 2015, ACN launched the #RedWeek initiative, also known as “Red Wednesday” in some countries, to draw attention to this appalling state of affairs worldwide. The aim is to draw public attention to the fate of persecuted and disadvantaged Christians. To this end, well-known cathedrals and public buildings in many cities around the world are illuminated in red.
Between 18 and 25 November, hundreds of buildings in Australia, Canada, Colombia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, the Philippines, Ireland and the United Kingdom were illuminated in red. These included the cathedrals of Montreal and Toronto (Canada), Manila (Philippines) and Armagh (Northern Ireland), the Elisabeth Bridge in Budapest (Hungary), the Slovak National Uprising Bridge and Bratislava Castle (Slovakia) and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). In the Netherlands alone, 119 buildings took part in the action, more than twice as many as in the previous year.
The campaign culminated on the final day on 25 November, when Great Britain and the Philippines stood out with special actions this year. In the Philippines, this year’s #RedWeek was marked by the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, the campaign wanted to draw attention to all priests and nuns who are on the frontline of services to those who are ill, and who are constantly exposed to the risk of infection. So this time, in addition to churches and schools, hospitals were also invited to participate in the action.
“Red Wednesday” was celebrated in Amsterdam, in several places in Canada and Australia, and for the first time also in Budapest. The monuments and churches were bathed in deep red light, becoming a sign of solidarity for persecuted Christians all over the world.
In addition, attention was drawn to the worrying situation of Christians in Nigeria during #RedWeek in various countries. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja requested prayers for Father Dajo Matthew, who had been abducted just two days earlier, and also remembered many other victims of abduction among members of the Christian community.