“Building a bridge of love” – How Aid to the Church is Need is making a difference across the globe
Every year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) offers almost $200 million to fund more than 5,000 projects to support the Christian faith in countries facing poverty, persecution, war, or economic crisis.
Starting out as a charity to support Catholics fleeing Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II, ACN now supports Catholic communities in more than 140 countries across the globe.
“An important part of our work is listening to those communities, being in dialogue with the local Church, understanding their needs and how that fits into the work we do,” said Regina Lynch, Director of Projects for ACN International.
“By nature, we’re a pastoral organization but our first priority is helping those churches where Christians are persecuted or discriminated against. In some areas, we’re helping with emergency help and humanitarian types of aids in order to help the Christians survive or stay in their countries.”
ACN is an advocate for persecuted Christians across the globe, connecting donors to projects that will not only support the local Church, but improve the lives of many in the community.
“We like to say we’re a bridge of love between the donors and the beneficiaries,” said Ms Lynch.
“We encourage the donors to pray for the beneficiaries and the beneficiaries to pray for the donors. Very often a priest or sister will ask what they can give in return for the support, and we say, they can give us their prayers for people in donor countries.”
The war in Ukraine has become a key concern for the organisation, who are providing key aid following Russia’s invasion earlier this year.
“We’re very close to the two Churches in the Ukraine, being the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Latin Church,” said Ms Lynch.
ACN has been working in the country for decades since the fall of communism, assisting in the formation of thousands of priests in Ukraine.
“We’ve really tried to help them to emerge from the ashes of communism and accompany them. We’d got to the stage, after rebuilding seminaries and renovating churches, it was looking good,” said Ms Lynch.
“Today, we have the sad story of the war, and we have a lot of initiatives helping people, particularly in the east of Ukraine.”
ACN also maintains a strong presence in the Middle East, where countless Christians have been persecuted, particularly in areas such as Iraq and Syria. Economic crisis in Lebanon also threatens to expel a large proportion of the Maronite population there too.
Ms Lynch began working with ACN in 1980 and said over the past four decades, persecution of Christians had shifted from state actors, to radicalised religious groups.
“I see a big difference from when I first joined, when the persecution was done in the name of countries,” she said.
“You still have traces of that in places like China and Cuba, but now, it’s really a radicalism of Islam and nationalistic governments who are pushing towards totalitarianism. There are definitely greater attacks on religious freedom than there were 20 years ago, partly because of globalisation and the internet.”
ACN has been supporting projects in countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where the local populations were facing increasing attacks on churches and Christians.
“In Nigeria, we have our classic ACN projects, training seminarians, building churches, equipping the priests and sister with means of transport, and providing Catechist material,” said Ms Lynch.
“But on top of that, we’re doing more emergency projects with internally displaced people, rebuilding churches, helping construct a centre for training widows of men killed in violence, and helping with trauma healing, including with young woman who were kidnapped by Boko Haram.”
Ms Lynch is travelling around Australia with Cardinal Joseph Coutts, the former Archbishop of Karachi in Pakistan, where many people still face severe persecution for living out their Christian faith.
The pair are helping to bring the plight of Christians across the globe to people in Australia, meeting with key benefactors and imploring the faithful to help in whatever way they can.
“First of all, it’s important to be aware and donations are important, but prayer is also really important because there’s some places where the only hope sometimes is prayer,” said Ms Lynch.
“It’s also about listening to these Christians who bear witness to the faith and are willing to go to any lengths. We should be asking ourselves questions about what we would do?”
On Wednesday, 23 November, the Diocese of Broken Bay will join churches across the globe in hosting a Red Wednesday Mass, dedicated to raising awareness of the great work done by Aid to the Church in Need in supporting persecuted Christians.
“All around the world, in the middle of November, we have Red Wednesday to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world,” said Ms Lynch.
“It’s red because there are people shedding their blood, martyrs for their faith, and we want to be a voice to the voiceless and through this, draw attention to this.”
Ms Lynch said she hoped the witness and stories from people facing persecution for their faith would also inspire a re-evangelisation of Catholics in Australia.
“For me, its important to talk about those witnesses of faith and challenge all of us in these countries with freedom of religion to think about how far we’re willing to go to live and defend that faith,” she said.
“It’s a message for us, that thanks to faith, we can do things that humanly speaking, seem impossible.”
Most Reverend Bishop Anthony Randazzo DD JCL, Bishop of Broken Bay, will celebrate Mass for Red Wednesday at 7:30pm, 23 November 2022 at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Church, 94 Archer Street, Chatswood.
All are invited to Mass to remember and pray for persecuted Christians across the world, including our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.