INTERNATIONAL: Compassion in a time of COVID

Aid being distributed in Hazaribag Diocese, India (Images © Aid to the Church in Need)
Aid being distributed in Hazaribag Diocese, India (Images © Aid to the Church in Need)

Benefactors of a leading Catholic charity responded to the pandemic by donating more in 2020 than the previous year, as the organisation rushed out emergency COVID-19 projects amid growing persecution.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) thanked supporters, who helped priests, Sisters and lay workers tackling the coronavirus crisis, as the charity released its annual accounts today (Friday 18th June) – highlighting a global increase of €16.4 (£14) million in support in 2020.

Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN (International), said: “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.”

Dr Heine-Geldern added: “In this emergency, however, ACN’s benefactors remained true to the charity. This great generosity leaves us feeling profoundly grateful.

“It was quite unforeseen, especially since the crisis has inflicted profound economic insecurity and difficulties on us all.”

According to the charity’s international annual accounts, ACN’s 23 offices around the world raised more than €122 (£104) million in 2020.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need’s UK office – which raised £11.3 million (including accrued legacies) in 2020 – also thanked benefactors for their outstanding generosity, but stressed that there was still a challenge to support the persecuted Church.

He said: “We are so grateful to our benefactors, who came to the aid of their suffering brothers and sisters when the global coronavirus pandemic was casting its shadow over everything in 2020.

“Many priests, particularly in Africa and Latin America, relied our benefactors’ Mass stipends – for some pastors this was their only source of income during lockdown.”

In 2020 Mass stipends rose from 15.9 to 22.8 percent of the charity’s total aid.

Mr Kyrke-Smith added: “ACN also focused on supporting Sisters who have been carrying out vital pastoral work in very difficult circumstances, bringing the compassion of Christ to those suffering because of the pandemic.

“In so many cases they lost all their income because of the coronavirus crisis – how could we not help them to continue their ministry of love?”

Aid to the Church in Need said there had been changing regional priorities in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

Aid for Africa increased to 32.6 percent (from 29.6 in 2019), caused not only by the coronavirus crisis but also by the growing threat of Islamist extremism.

Dr Heine-Geldern said: “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”.

Asia was another priority region, receiving 18 percent of the charity’s aid in 2020.

According to one analysis, there were 327 incidents of discrimination or persecution against Christians in India last year, despite several lengthy coronavirus lockdowns.

A total of 4,758 projects worldwide were supported by ACN last year. The UK office of the charity supported 394 projects in 82 countries.