With creativity and trust in God against the crisis

ACN supports Church work during the Coronavirus pandemic

COVID-19 is not only a medical, social and economic problem, but also a pastoral one. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the international pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has received many statements of solidarity from project partners all over the world, but also learned of growing hardships and the heroic efforts of priests and religious in the battle against Coronavirus. In response, the aid organisation has initiated a special programme to promote these efforts. Tobias Lehner spoke with Regina Lynch, project director at ACN, about current relief initiatives and the efforts of the Church during the COVID-19 crisis.

What are we currently hearing from our project partners regarding the greatest needs in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic?

From our project partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe we are not so much hearing about medical needs but rather about the effects of the restrictions on the daily life of the Church. In most countries where Aid to the Church in Need supports the local Church, governments have applied the same restrictions as in our donor countries. That means no public Masses, no public gatherings, schools are closed and more and more people have difficulty in earning a living. And these in countries where, for the most part, Christians are a minority – sometimes persecuted – and belong to the lower social strata. The Church itself is hardest hit by the fact that there are no public Masses or the possibility to carry out the normal pastoral and social programmes in the parishes. In many of our partner countries, the collection at Sunday Mass ensures the survival of the parish. The money from the collection – or often instead it can be chickens, vegetables, rice etc. – guarantees that the priest can eat, pay the sisters serving the parish, buy petrol for his motorcycle for visiting the sick or even have a small sum to help the poorest of the parishioners.

Regina Lynch, project director at ACN.
Regina Lynch, project director at ACN.

What is the focus of ACN’s aid in response to the COVID-19 crisis?

As a pastoral charity, ACN wants to help the local Church carry out its primary mission of bringing God’s Love and Word to people and ensure that it is not hindered in this mission by a lack of financial resources. That means that we are providing subsistence aid to priests and to sisters, both active and contemplative. We have continued to help the seminaries, as in many cases the seminarians are in confinement and the rector has no means to look after them. For example, in the major seminary in Goma, Dem. Rep. Congo, the rector sent us an SOS, as he could no longer rely on the local population to help feed the seminarians. We are providing funds for masks and other protective clothing to priests, sisters and seminarians, for example in Chile or in Ukraine, where they continue to visit their parishioners, particularly the sick or the dying. And in order to bring the Holy Mass and the gospel message to the faithful at home via television or radio, we have funded the necessary technical equipment. For the Christians in Syria, who were already struggling to survive after nine years of war, we are launching a special programme enabling each family to buy food and some form of protection against the pandemic. In Pakistan, another country where Christians face discrimination and sometimes persecution because of their faith, we are working on a programme to come to provide aid because we heard from the Church that the Christians were not receiving emergency aid from the government.

ACN started an emergency programme in order that the priests and sisters could face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. What have you done so far and what are the next steps?

Thanks to the generosity of our donors since March, we have managed to send out more than 385,000 Mass stipends (more than €3.1 million) to over 10,500 priests. More than half of these went to the Church in Africa, the continent where the Church and priestly vocations continue to grow but where the Church faces the challenge of an increasingly aggressive form of Islam, conflicts and natural disasters. So far, we have made promises of some €800,000 as subsistence help to sisters in all parts of the world and more requests are coming in. This has always been a strong focus of our help for Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America in particular, where the sisters not only teach the catechism or prepare the faithful for the sacraments in isolated regions in Siberia or in the Andes, but where the sisters care for orphans, for the abandoned elderly or for girls forced into prostitution. One of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis is that we are being asked to help for the first time in dioceses where until now they have managed without our help. One example is the Diocese of Kamyanets-Podilsk in Ukraine, where normally the parish pays the sisters. With the absence of Sunday Mass and the growing poverty of the faithful, the bishop no longer can give the sisters what they need to survive.

What about aid to Asia, where the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged?

The Archbishop of Chittagong in Bangladesh sent us an urgent appeal for the sisters working in his archdiocese. With the schools, hostels and dispensaries closed, there is no income to pay the sisters. Even before the crisis, the little amount that the faithful could contribute to the upkeep of the sisters was not enough but now the situation has become dramatic. In Mymensingh, also in Bangladesh, the Holy Cross Sisters together with the bishop are putting all the money available into helping the people, who are suffering, but the sisters need to survive and that is where ACN can help. In normal times the Holy Cross sisters, like many sisters in the developing world, teach the Gospel and also teach the people the skills they need to leave behind their poverty.

With creativity and trust in God against the crisis.
With creativity and trust in God against the crisis.

From the very beginning, ACN has been dedicated to helping not only the active, but also the contemplative orders. How are they faring?

We should also not forget the contemplative nuns, who responded enthusiastically to our prayer campaign at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but who also depend on the generosity of the faithful and their own small income-generating initiatives for their survival. The Carmelite Monastery in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, have difficulty in surviving at the best of times by the production of hosts for Holy Mass but with the current restrictions there is no demand for the hosts and so the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz has appealed to generous donors of ACN to help the nuns through this difficult time. We expect to continue these projects of support for priests and sisters for the next few months, because even if in some countries public Mases are beginning to recommence, the economic situation will worsen and our help will be needed more than ever. In other countries the pandemic is still raging.

Which project, where priests and sisters respond to the COVID-19 crisis, has particularly impressed you?

It is very difficult to pick out one project. There are the priests in the Diocese of Dolisie, Congo, who share the stipend from our Mass intentions with their poor parishioners. I am also impressed by the devotion of so many sisters, who at risk to themselves continue their work. One example are the Hermanas Sociales in Cuba. While respecting the restrictions put in place, they still find a way to continue their pastoral work and their care of the elderly, who live alone, and their outreach to the homeless. There are the seminarians in the major seminary of St. Peter and St. Paul in Burkina Faso, whose families have become IDPs because of terrorist attacks. Now they have lost one of their formators due to the virus and four of their fellow students are ill. We have helped them and their families and are now also sponsoring a programme to protect the rest of them from Covid-19. And we have to recognize the creativity of the Church. Quite early on in the crisis, Bishop Dode Gjergji of Kosovo realised that he had to try to reach his faithful despite the ban on public Masses and asked us to sponsor equipment for broadcasting Sunday Mass from the Mother Teresa co-cathedral in Pristina. We gladly provided him support and just recently he has told us that during one Holy Mass broadcast online in Albanian there were more than 50,000 people logged on. This is where we should not underestimate the power of the media. In Africa, where we support different initiatives of Radio Maria, the Church is encouraging the Catholic families to become a “domestic Church” during this time of COVID-19 and to pray even more intensively together.

Bishop Dode Gjergji of Kosovo.
Bishop Dode Gjergji of Kosovo.

ACN is a pastoral charity: in public life the focus is on the humanitarian and medical sectors. How do we reconcile ACN’s response with these needs?

While a medical – and in many countries – humanitarian response to the COVID-19 crisis is absolutely necessary, this is first and foremost the responsibility of the local civil authorities. We know that in many countries where ACN helps, this does not happen and that NGOs and the Church do this work instead.  However, while the ministry of charity or diakonia is one of the ministries of the Church, the pastoral mission, the care of the soul precedes it and in this time of crisis the people need the Church more than ever. They are afraid and unsure of the future. The Church comforts and brings both spiritual and material help to not only its own flock but to all God’s people. We have just granted subsistence help to four elderly and sick Dominican Sisters in Subotica, Serbia. Their superior wrote to us, “The people of Subotica are grateful for the presence of the sisters, because they are the sign of God’s love for the people, the sign of everlasting life”.

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.

 

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.

 

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.

 

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.

 

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.