In 2020, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) succeeded in raising more than $146M in donations for suffering and oppressed Christians around the world. This was 15 percent more than was raised in the previous year by the organization, via its 23 national offices, a record amount—a remarkable result since ACN donors themselves also suffered from the pandemic.
ACN presented the 2020 annual report June 18 via a virtual press conference. “Not only did the pandemic turn our own work upside down, but it also dramatically worsened the plight of Christians in many regions of the world, who found themselves literally, almost overnight, without work, pay or food. And many priests and religious were also left not knowing how to make ends meet,” said Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International, in presenting the report
Thanks to the donations received, ACN was able to support a range of activities for a total value of some $102M million Euros. Owing to delays related to coronavirus restrictions, a further $25M could only be paid out in the first six months of 2021.
Of all the funds raised, 79 percent were spent on project work, information, media support and prayer campaigns. In this way a total of 4,758 individual projects were supported. Around 8 percent of funds were spent on administration and 12.5 percent on awareness-raising and finding new donors. ACN is funded exclusively by private donations and receives no public monies either from Church or secular sources.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic the organization has supported no fewer than 401 coronavirus-related projects to a total value of more than $7.3M to alleviate the most pressing needs. This included, among other things, supplying priests and religious with essential Personal Protective Equipment, helping them to continue their pastoral work and bridging the most urgent financial shortfalls resulting from the pandemic.
Christians in Africa
Roughly one third (32 percent) of the total project aid supplied by ACN in 2020 went to Africa. “We are greatly concerned, particularly for the countries of the Sahel region, where there has been an explosion of terrorism. The pandemic has made the situation of the uprooted refugees yet more difficult, and in many cases the Church is the only institution still remaining to support the people,” Heine-Geldern said.
Christians in the Middle East
For many years the Middle East, and in particular Syria and Iraq, headed the list of countries supported by ACN, but this region fell back last year with just 14.2 percent of the aid monies allocated. “This had much to do with the pandemic—many structural rebuilding projects came to a standstill because it was simply impossible to deliver the necessary building materials. But this region nevertheless remains profoundly important to us,” ACN‘s executive president added.
Following the explosion in the port of Beirut, the Lebanese capital Aug. 4, 2020, ACN launched an emergency aid program for this country, which has the largest single Christian community in the Middle East. In this way it was able to supply basic food aid immediately after the explosion. Subsequent aid projects have focused on the reconstruction of the Christian quarter in Beirut, which was particularly hard-hit by the explosion. Among other things the charity has helped in the repair of damaged churches and religious houses in this part of the city. Altogether ACN provided close on $4.8M in aid for Lebanon in 2020.
Christians in Asia
Asia was another priority region for ACN, with 18 percent of the total project aid distributed there in 2020. Most of this—around $6.4M—went to India. The whole continent has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, and in many cases the Christian minority was deprived of access to state-supplied aid. In Pakistan, for example, ACN helped provide essentials for Christians who had lost their livelihoods because of the pandemic.
Top of the list in terms of the type of project supported worldwide was construction aid. Thanks to ACN‘s help, some 744 churches, parish houses, convents, seminaries or community centers were either newly built, renovated or restored after destruction through war or terrorism. Among these were the Maronite Cathedral of Saint Elijah in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which was badly damaged by rocket attacks between 2012 and 2016. It was finally rededicated in July 2020.
Support for priests and religious
“Above all during the coronavirus crisis Mass stipends were a sign of our solidarity in prayer and for many priests their sole means of survival financially. Altogether we were able to send them 1.7 million Mass offerings,” said Heine-Geldern. Worldwide, one in every nine priests was able to benefit from this form of direct financial and spiritual support.
In the case of seminarians, one in every eight worldwide received support from ACN for their studies and living costs at the seminary. In this way ACN last year helped 14,000 of tomorrow‘s priests.
The crisis caused by the pandemic had a significant impact on the sources of income for women religious in many regions of the world. In 2020 ACN was able to support more than 18,000 women religious with basic subsistence for livelihood, training aid and help for the spiritual apostolate.
Another vital area supported by ACN was, and continues to be, that of pastoral transport, by means of which priests and catechists are able to reach the faithful even in remote and otherwise inaccessible areas. The list of vehicles supplied with the help of ACN included 783 bicycles, 280 cars, 166 motorcycles, 11 boats, two buses and one lorry.
Looking to the future
“The pandemic and its consequences will continue to occupy us in the future,” Heine-Geldern concluded. “And at the same time the terrible situation on the African continent, where terrorism and violence are spreading ever further, is a matter of great concern to our charity. Just as important as addressing the outward material need is the need to give these oppressed and persecuted Christians a voice and a face. We do this at ACN through information, prayer and direct practical help. We are happy and grateful to be able to count on the generous support of our friends and donors around the world in this work.”
This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org