ACN Lenten Campaign Extraordinary women

ACN launches Lenten Campaign for religious sisters in 85 countries

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has launched a Lenten and Easter campaign to strengthen its support for religious sisters in those countries worldwide that are most affected by war and poverty or in which Christians are a minority. The campaign bears the title “Extraordinary women. Thanks to God. Thanks to you.”

The executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, commented at the start of the campaign, “Religious sisters are the heroines of the church. They show us a way to holiness and set an example for a happy and meaningful life. This can also be the way to healing for a society marked by ongoing discussion about the role of women.”

Each year, the pontifical foundation receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.

Among others, ACN supports over 4,500 religious sisters to ensure that they can continue their monastic lives as well as carry out their pastoral and social work caring for the sick, orphans or older people even in those regions where they do not have any way of earning a living. For example, this is the case in Ukraine, Russia and in crisis-ridden Venezuela.

ACN receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.
ACN receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, building or transportation projects of religious sisters in 85 countries.

A large number of convents have been destroyed or severely damaged, not only in war zones such as Iraq, Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan but also after natural disasters such as the earthquake in Mexico. It would be virtually impossible for religious sisters to carry out their work in these regions without rebuilding aid from ACN.

According to the figures published in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, there are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need. The charity gives direct support to more than 11,000 sisters. In addition, there are other religious women who benefit from assistance for construction, transport and pastoral projects.

Even though the number of vocations to orders is declining most notably in Europe and America, the number of vocations continues to grow in Africa and Asia. This is why more than 80% of all projects supported by ACN in the area of formation for religious sisters and novices are on these two continents. This aid benefits more than 5,700 sisters.

In accordance with their charisma and their history, the foundation pays particular attention to the contemplative orders. As is written in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere issued by Pope Francis on the contemplative life of women, this life “is rooted in the silence of the cloister; it produces a rich harvest of grace and mercy” and represents “the praying heart” of the church. According to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, there are about 40,000 religious sisters in contemplative orders throughout the world; half of these are living in Europe. For this reason, 80% of the aid granted by ACN to contemplative orders supports cloistered sisters in eastern European countries who continue to find themselves in dire economic and spiritual need due to their communist past.

There are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need.
There are about 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world and have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need.

During the Lenten season, ACN and its 23 national offices would also like to express their appreciation for all of the religious sisters who fulfil their mission in dangerous situations or who have sacrificed their lives for the people entrusted to them. A few examples are the four religious of the “Missionary Sisters of Charity” who were murdered by jihadists in Yemen in 2014 or the two religious sisters who were killed during the extreme violence that was unleashed in Haiti and South Sudan in 2016. And not to forget the Columbian missionary Cecilia Narváez, who has been held hostage by Al Qaeda in Mali for two years.

“Through their work, religious sisters convey the loving proximity of God to millions of people each day,” declared ACN President Heine Geldern. “Supporting religious sisters often involves helping an entire community or even an entire ethnic group.” He explained that, in addition to personal signs of appreciation and prayer, this includes providing financial assistance to religious. “This is why the motto of the campaign also includes a reference to our benefactors: ‘Thanks to you.’ This is an appeal: become a part of the mission of courageous religious sisters worldwide!”

A website on the Lenten campaign provides information about the lives of religious sisters on different continents and highlights ACN’s main areas of assistance. The website can be found at the address:


Syria Appeal

More and more people in Syria are struggling to survive. This is the main finding of an Aid to the Church in Need journey deep into a country where we met family after family desperate for food, warmth, clean clothes, shelter and medicine.

In places racked by shellfire, bombblast and worsening poverty, we saw your charity in action with aid being distributed to young and old alike.

We met Sister Annie Demerjian, who spoke of her work leading a team providing aid in Aleppo, the epicentre of the conflict. She told us: “It is painful to see people without food and water. In them, Jesus is hungry and thirsty. What gives me joy is when I can help them and see the relief and happiness on their faces.” The need is especially acute for Christians who have fled persecution at the hands of extremists bent on destroying the Church whose roots date back to St Paul and the first flowering of our Faith.


In a predominantly Muslim country, extremists are using suicide bombers to cause carnage and instill fear within Christian groups and other minorities.

With your support the Church in Pakistan continues to grow – and we are working together with our partners in the country including Archbishop Joseph Coutts to provide Christian education and catechesis for children, emergency support for victims of persecution, training for seminarians and construction of churches.

Archbishop Joseph Coutts  of Karachi said: “We are not just grateful – more than that – we are joyful because your help enables us to survive and grow.”

Witness to a beautiful faith

“Our people suffer. Life is not easy but it is beautiful because we are here to give witness to our faith.”

After 35 years in Pakistan, Sr Daniela knows only too well the problems Christians and other minorities face, how they are verbally abused at school, denied jobs, put under pressure to convert to Islam and sometimes forced from their homes.

The 83-year-old Daughter of St Paul had to climb through the back window of her shop in Karachi to escape extremists angry at the crosses, statues, devotional music and other items she sells.

“I have been threatened in our bookshop,” she said. “They came and stole our CDs, cassettes and other items. Fortunately our bishop intervened and we got our stuff back.”

“Because so many of our people are so poor, we sell some of our items, like the children’s colouring books, at just a few pence each which makes people very happy.”

ACN provides a vehicle so Sr Daniela and other Sisters can visit parishioners scattered in distant regions and offer them catechesis, prayers, advice and a chance to talk.

“They are very glad to see us,” said Sr Daniela. “When we give them books and rosaries, they are overjoyed.”

Her courage and faith have inspired the small community of Sisters of whom she is superior, including novice Sisters Komal and Rukhsana.

Samson the strong seminarian

Like his biblical namesake, Samson the seminarian is a man of great strength and many parts.

At Christ the King Seminary, Karachi, he farms the lands, maintains the machinery and grows crops as well as keeping up his studies for ordination to the priesthood.

But at 29, his biggest challenge lies in the future. He said: “I want to go out to the people furthest from the Church and in the most difficult situations.” After ordination, Samson will go to the mountainous region of Quetta where the Taliban frequently threaten isolated Christian communities.

“The people are threatened, priests are threatened,” Samson explains. “They snatch or kill you.” “But the people are surviving so why can’t I?” He has been on placement in the region in mountains up to 13,000 feet high.

“I was very impressed by the people I met. They feel this religious sense that they want a priest among them and they are calling me back to serve them.”  “There is just one problem,” Samson added. “Almost everybody over there seems to like cricket but I prefer football.”

Aid to the Church in Need is sponsoring the training of Samson and 35 other seminarians at Christ the King, Karachi, funding everything from books for their library and seminary lecturers to an electricity generator  and a well providing fresh water.

Persecution and faith in the future

Four-year-old Divia – held by her proud father, Kamijee – wears a medal of devotion to the Virgin Mary, a precious symbol of faith.

But it is a faith that exists under the shadow of persecution in Pakistan, a country struggling with extremism. Christians number just three million in a Muslim country of more than 180 million where intolerance is fuelled by illiteracy of up to 70 percent.

An Aid to the Church in Need team visited Pakistan to find out what more we can do to help. We visited Lahore, where bomb blasts against Christians killed 17 and injured nearly 80 others. Many more would have died that Sunday morning but for Akash Bashir, 20, who was killed preventing a suicide bomber from entering his church.

Pakistan is a land of martyrs and a place where Christians and others live in fear of being accused of blasphemy. Prayers are urgently needed for mother-of-five Asia Bibi, who was put on death row for alleged disrespect to the Prophet Mohammed, a crime she did not commit.

As we travelled in Pakistan we saw plenty of evidence of ACN’s work in action: Christians rescued from persecution, children given catechesis and education, Sisters trained and active in schools and hospitals as well as new churches built for expanding congregations.

There is so much more to do – so many more people to help – seminarians coming forward for training, catechists wanting to reach out to new communities and Christian women waiting to learn basic skills to overcome oppression and intolerance.


Overview: Nigeria

Hundreds of thousands of people in northern Nigeria have suffered at the hands of militant group Boko Haram. Entire communities lie desolate as people seek sanctuary in places free of the Islamist threat. Many of them mourn lost loved ones; others are sick with worry about friends and family captured by the militants.

ACN’s work in Nigeria

With your help, Aid to the Church in Need is working with Church partners in northern Nigeria to offer pastoral help for victims of atrocities, trauma counselling, developing inter-faith cooperation, teaching catechesis, providing Child’s Bibles, training seminarians and helping poor priests with Mass stipends. In the enclosed report, ‘Hope amid the Horrors’ you will read about how the faithful are persevering in faith and how your compassion is offering the hope of Christ’s love to all those in need.



Christians in China now outnumber members of the ruling Communist Party – Yet Christians are unable to practise their faith without fear oppression and retribution. Demolition of churches, church-run buildings and persecution of the faithful is commonplace – forcing the Clergy and Christians to worship in secret. Although Aid to the Church in Need is unable to publicise many of the projects we fund, Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the suffering Church in China by funding the training of seminarians and repairing and rebuilding Church structures.

Please Pray

Remember those who have suffered because of thier Faith, with imprisonment, torture and even death. Below are just some of China’s Bishops and Priests we ask you to pray for.

Middle East

“Your help is essentially now all that stands between us and the end…”

Daesh’s destruction of Al-Qaryatayn, Syria.
Daesh’s destruction of Al-Qaryatayn, Syria.

Discrimination, injustice, assault, kidnap, forced conversion, torture and death are realities for Christians in the Middle East – and the situation is getting worse. Christians across the Middle East are in desperate need after years of persecution from Daesh (ISIS).

ACN is prioritising pastoral help and emergency aid for displaced and refugee families in the Middle East, as their needs are growing daily. With hundreds of thousands refugeesand displaced Christians, they turn to the Church for shelter and aid.

A young woman tells her story..

I am from Maaloula in Syria. My lovely village has been destroyed and burned by Daesh and Al Nusra.

They told us that we had to leave Maaloula or they would kill us and the other Christians there – so we left everything behind and we ran away.

My family’s loss is less than others’ who lost everything and now have nothing to live on. My family, like a lot of other Christian families from Maaloula, is now safe, but life is very hard. We ask Christians in the West to pray for us and to help us to live. Even a small thing from you will  make a big difference to us – it will help us to live.

I am going back to Syria. All of my family are still there and we all have faith that one day it will be better. Syria is our home.

My dream is to let the world hear my voice so that I can help this little place. People in Maaloula need help – many need medication because of what we have suffered.

A displaced family in their temporary home in Erbil

Don’t let them go without food and shelter

More than 60,000 men, women and children who escaped Islamic militants Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq are once again turning to Aid to the Church in Need, desperate for food and a roof over their heads.

For more than two years now, these families have relied on you for their daily needs ever since they fled their ancient Christian heartlands in Mosul city and the neighbouring Nineveh Plains.

But, with no breakthrough yet in the struggle to claim back their towns and villages, they still need your support in their places of temporary sanctuary in Kurdish northern Iraq.

With many organisations unable to keep up the provision of aid, ACN is the only charity consistently providing food packages for the displaced people.

ACN project partner Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in Kurdistan told us he felt ashamed to appeal again for help when ACN benefactors have already been so generous, but said he had no option but to do so because of the urgency of the situation.

Archbishop Warda told ACN: “With the continued failure of any meaningful government assistance, your help is essentially now all that stands between us and the end of any food aid whatsoever for the displaced families.”

ACN is also appealing for your support to provide shelter for 10,000 displaced Christians who urgently need rent money for accommodation in Kurdistan.

ACN is working with Archbishop Warda to fund 641 rented homes in and around Erbil. Each home is big enough to house three families. ACN Middle East projects coordinator, Fr Andrew Halemba said: “Without this assistance, all families would live in tents and caravans.”

Seminarians (Chaldean and Syriac Catholic) in the chapel IRAQ / NATIONAL 14/00248 Financial aid for the formation of 28 seminarians at St Peter Seminary, Erbil, 2014/ 2015 Iraq, 02-07.10.2014
Seminarians in Qaraqosh’s St Ephraim’s Seminary.

Refugee camp ordinations renew hope

An ordination in a refugee camp in Erbil, northern Iraq has given hope to displaced Christians – and more are planned.

Four young seminarians, who fled Qaraqosh on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains when Daesh seized the city in August 2014, were ordained in March 2016.

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutrous Moshe told ACN: “Such celebrations give the people hope – despite the situation we live in, we can continue to live our Faith”.

Archbishop Moshe of Mosul – another city being held by Daesh – ordained the young men with concelebrants from other Catholic Churches. Bishops from Orthodox Churches also took part in the ceremony.

ACN is committed to supporting the training of seminarians in Iraq, Syria and across the Middle East – providing Mass stipends for priests in the region.

Telling ACN that First Holy Communions were also being carried out, Archbishop Moshe said: “Life goes on as usual despite displacement – and another ordination is planned for late summer 2016.”


World’s worst place to be a Christian?

An Aid to the Church in Need staff member recently returning from the country called it “the North Korea of Africa”. As in North Korea, Eritrea’s Christians are imprisoned just because of what they believe and face harsh treatments while locked up – including torture. Many Christians have been jailed without trial or even formal charges. Sometimes they are arrested on the pretext of endangering national security. Up to 3,000 Eritreans are still in prison for religious reasons, two thirds of them are Christians.

Not only are Christians unjustly imprisoned in inhuman conditions but churches are subject to constant pressure and surveillance. The Eritrean Orthodox Church has been crushed in to submission. After its head Patriarch Abune Antonios was put under house arrest in 2007, for refusing to excommunicate 3,000 members who opposed the government, the state imposed a layman as leader of the Church to ensure its control. The Catholic Church has continued to maintain autonomy, resisting attempts to place it under state control – but the government still tries to subdue it.

Young priests and religious are being made to serve open-ended periods of military service – depleting the Church – and there have been attempts to confiscate Catholic schools and medical centres.

As it is illegal for Eritrean churches to accept overseas funds, we cannot reveal details about projects ACN is supporting without putting our partners in the country at risk. But we do highlight work we’ve been doing for Eritrean refugees in neighbouring countries. Because of its repressive regime no less than a third of Eritreans have fled the country. But your love is helping both those who have left and those in the country who remain faithful to Christ.

Seeing Eritrea in Secret

Recently a member of ACN staff visited Eritrea to see ACN projects – having been trying to get into the country for five years. We have been asked to keep their identity secret so that they can return to Eritrea.

“It was very risky going there, there was a real threat of being caught if they found out who we were. If they caught me, they could have put me in prison. The people who arranged for me would also be put in prison, accused of spying.”

“As we left we had to be careful to hide the notes we had taken and any photos to be sure that we got out without attracting the suspicions of the authorities.” At one point we travelled to an area where we didn’t have a permit and we thought security officials were going to catch us but fortunately it was a false alarm and we were able to pass by without being caught.

“The Catholic Church is unique in that it has refused control by the state. The Eritrean Orthodox have never recovered after Patriarch Antonios was forced from office and a government-approved substitute was put in his place. “In spite the relatively small number of Catholics, the Church plays a vital role in education, medical dispensaries, kindergartens, orphanages, home-craft centres (carpentry, knitting, craft, etc.) and other social work.”

In 1995 it was made illegal for religions to accept funds from abroad and because of this we cannot give details about Church projects in the country. “Rarely if ever have I seen such spirituality among people who in the face of so much pain and hardship are willing to offer up their suffering for God. I sensed this even among boys as young as 10 whom I met when I visited a school.”

Exodus from Eritrea

Islamist extremists in Libya routinely intercept refugees, killing any Christians they find. Two young brothers journeying to Europe from Eritrea described having to deny their Christian faith to survive. Haben, 19, said: “The men come round with Kalashnikov and they ask you what your faith is. If you are Christian they take you away and kill you. They cut off your head or shoot you. This is what they have done to hundreds of Christians.”

5,000 people leave Eritrea every month according to the UN, flooding into neighbouring South Sudan and Ethiopia. Among those fleeing are monks and priests from the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Aid to the Church in Need is backing Church-run projects to help those fleeing (see below and inside).

Most refugees end up in government-run camps, but many do not stay, complaining about the oppressive heat and the poor quantity of food, and leave for other countries – despite the dangers of trafficking and sexual exploitation. In the pastoral letter Where is your Brother? Eritrea’s bishops asked: “How much longer can this chaotic human exodus go on?… Given that so many of these stories end in tragedy, is there no other alternative solution?”

Eritrea: Tortured for their Faith

The “rules do not allow torture. However, there is no way to complain. To whom should you complain? You cannot oppose the authorities. The prison is isolated. There is no one there, so they can do whatever they want to do. There is a saying in prison: If you scream, only the sea will hear you.” This was the testimony of a former inmate given to the UN.

Former prisoners have described appalling conditions, including being locked in metal shipping containers for long periods of time – leaving them at the mercy of the burning African sun when temperatures soar during the day.

Christians are particularly targeted, being tortured to try to get them to renounce their faith. They are not permitted to pray aloud or sing and all religious books are banned.

Around 2,000 Christians are in prison for their religious beliefs – many of them Evangelical Protestants. Prisoners endure a litany of horrors including forced labour, deprivation of food and water, appalling hygiene conditions and refusal of medical care.

Former inmates have also reported being forced to walk barefoot on thorns or sharp stones and being  hung from trees by their elbows and knees for hours on end. As they continue to endure these terrible conditions please keep them in your prayers.