Through global project work, ACN reaches millions of Chris-
tians all over the world. However, more is needed to improve their political environment. One means of leverage is to inform and motivate transnational and public bodies to influence local governments. In this way, ACN acts as an advocate for altruism and for Christians in need.
ACN operates independently of any government funding or influence. However, our foundation can bring together governments, that would like to advocate for religious freedom and Christians in need, with reliable local partners. In this way, we often succeed in sensitising political decision-makers to the increasing persecution of Christians around the globe and in explaining the background behind the issues.
Our commitment in 2022 was primarily focused on advocating for persecuted Christians in two countries: Nigeria and Pakistan. Nigeria is now one of the countries where the most Christians are killed worldwide. The government in Abuja remains silent, as do many political leaders in the West. Moreover, for the first time in ten years, the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the USA’s list of “Countries of Concern” without stating a reason.
The Diocese of Makurdi in Benue State, led by Bishop Wilfred Anagbe, is a hot- spot of violence in Nigeria. About two million of the state’s five million inhabitants have been displaced. During the reporting year, to draw more attention to the violence in Nigeria, we focused our efforts on bringing increased awareness to these issues by highlighting them at various international gatherings.
In Pakistan, too, religious minorities suffer. Christians and Hindus, in particular, continue to be victims of human rights violations there. These include abuse of the blasphemy laws, sexual violence, forced conversion and forced marriage, to which young girls and women are often subjected. Discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan is also evident in the violation of the freedom of education, which is severely restricted through the Islamic-based “Single National Curriculum”. In cooperation with project partners in Pakistan, ACN has been able to draw attention to the ongoing viola- tions of religious freedom and the persecution of Christians, particularly at EU level.
In all our activities, we always concern ourselves with achieving synergy effects and reaching multipliers in order to inform opinion leaders about the plight of Christians and to mobilise them for dialogue and action.
In Strasbourg, ACN gave a seminar to members of the European People’s Party who have been campaigning for the protection of Christians for years. The representatives had asked our foundation to organise a seminar on the topic “How to respond to Christian persecution and document abuses”.
In a letter to the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, 40 delegates of the European Parliament called for the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Freedom of Religion and Belief. Information from ACN was also cited. Together with other Catholic organisations, ACN was invited to the U.S. Mission to the Holy See in Rome for a meeting with the U.S. Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Increasing violence and numerous kidnappings, especially those involving priests and religious sisters, were the impetus be- hind the meeting. ACN arranged a Zoom speech by project partner Sister Nkiru from Nigeria.
ACN organised the visit of a Nigerian delegation including Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi and other Nigerian representatives to the three bodies of the EU: Parliament, Commission and Member States. During this meeting, the near-daily assaults on Christians, the plight of internally displaced persons and the looming threat of famine were discussed. Another topic was the establishment of an election observation commission in view of the national elections in Nigeria in February 2023. The aim was to involve the Catholic Church in this commission, as it has experience in monitoring electoral transparency.
During a government meeting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava on religious freedom, Nigerian Bishop Wilfred Anagbe met with national government representatives for religious freedom from Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Austria. The Bishop received pledges of support for his requests. All participants were able to send messages to their respective foreign ministers. The Slovakian Parliament then passed a resolution denouncing violations of religious freedom. The resolution also cited ACN’s Religious Freedom Report.
ACN participated in the first meeting of the G20 Engagement Group on religion, in Bali, which consisted of 60 people from different countries and religions. Strategic planning for the future of religious freedom was discussed.
At a meeting with the European External Action Service on the topic “Violation of religious freedom in Pakistan”, ACN presented documents motivating delegates to advocate for greater religious freedom.
January–February In the run-up to the Pope’s visit to Iraq, ACN’s information material reminded policymakers of the many continuing needs of Iraqi Christians and encouraged member states to continue to participate in rebuilding the infrastructure. Close cooperation with French Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon enabled ACN to take up contact with the French government. This culminated in a visit by President Macron to Iraq and the handover of 1.5 million euros for the reconstruction of the Church infrastructure in Mosul.
April The month was marked by the publication of the Religious Freedom Report 2021 and the subsequent presentation of the publication and findings at various events and platforms initiated by the ACN national offices. The publications generated unprecedented media coverage and reached a potential readership of over 1.2 billion people. Over 50 presentations were made via webinars and in-person conferences to media, policy, legal and advocacy groups worldwide.
July In Washington DC, an international gathering of policymakers, stakeholders and victims of religious persecution took place at the International Religious Freedom Summit in July with some 800 participants. This was convened by the former U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. ACN was represented by Father Joseph Fidelis from Maiduguri, Nigeria, whose testimony was heard in two panels. ACN also organised bilateral meetings for him with international and US religious freedom groups and other stakeholders.
August During the annual conference of the International Catholic Legislators Network (Frascati, Italy), a gathering of over 200 international politicians and experts, ACN took the lead in briefing the working group on persecuted Christians in Nigeria. Mark von Riedemann and Marcela Szymanski were also able to present the Religious Freedom Report 2021 to Pope Francis at a special meeting for the ICLN at the Vatican.
October Due to pandemic restrictions, a face-toface visit by Cardinal Joseph Coutts of Pakistan with EU representatives was cancelled, and was instead transformed into a series of online meetings.
November–December On the occasion of Red Wednesday in Prague, ACN took the opportunity to meet with the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. The current foreign minister and leading members of the Christian Democratic Party also attended the meeting. The aim was to take action on the trade agreement with Pakistan and the appointment of a special ambassador for religious freedom.