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One in ten priests worldwide supported by Aid to the Church in Need

By Cian Molloy - 09 July, 2018

"Our job is primarily to support the Church in those places where it does not have the material resources to carry out its pastoral activities or where Christians are suffering from oppression, persecution and violence.”

Aid to the Church in Need received more than €124m in donations and legacies last year.

More than 82 per cent of this income was used to finance 5,357 aid projects in parishes in 149 countries.

The remaining balance of income was spent on administrative services, fundraising campaigns, communications and marketing – categories where spending has been kept to a minimum, says the charity’s annual report for 2017.

According to the report, which was presented in Rome last week, ACN funding supported 1,212 construction projects, involving the repair or rebuilding of chapels, churches, cathedrals and seminaries, many of them in regions devastated by natural disasters.

One in ten priests worldwide, a total of 40,383, received help from the charity in the form of Mass stipends. This help was provided mainly in Africa, where 15,440 priests were beneficiaries, and Asia, where priestly beneficiaries numbered 10,748.

Additionally, 13,643 seminarians, equivalent to one out of every nine seminarians worldwide, received support from ACN in the form of stipends – this is the largest number of seminarians to have ever been supported by the organisation. Living expenses were also given to 12,801 women religious, the majority of them members of contemplative orders. Many women religious also received funding for their formation.

To support the pastoral mission of the Church, ACN also paid for 424 cars, 257 motorcycles, four trucks, three buses and three boats.

A large portion of aid once again went to the Middle East, where ACN sent well over a fifth of the total in aid – more than €17m. Much of this was spent on projects in Syria and especially Iraq, where ACN has been on the forefront of helping Christians resettle on the Nineveh Plains, from where they were ousted by ISIS in the summer of 2014. Only Africa topped the Middle East in spending, garnering close to €25.5m in funding.

With more than €9m in funding, Iraq is at the very top of the list of countries that received aid from Aid to the Church in Need in 2017. India ranked second on the list of recipient countries with €5.6m, followed in third place by Syria (€5.8m), in fourth place by Ukraine (€4.6m), in fifth place by Brazil (€3.8m) and in sixth place by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (€3.4m).

ACN is particularly concerned about the plight of Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. A century ago, Christians accounted for 20 per cent of the population of both countries, but now they account for less than four per cent.

Speaking at a press conference in Rome on 4th July 2018 to present the annual report, ACN’s new executive president Thomas Heine-Geldern said: “In 2017, the regional focus of our aid projects was the Middle East as well as Africa. We believe that our job is primarily to support the Church in those places where it does not have the material resources to carry out its pastoral activities or where Christians are suffering from oppression, persecution and violence.”

ACN traces its roots back to the end of World War 2 when many active Catholics were expelled from Eastern Bloc countries by the new Soviet-backed communist governments. The plight of these refugees, especially those coming from East Germany, came to the attention of Dutch priest Fr Werenfried van Straaten, who formed Aid to the Eastern Priests, which shortly afterwards became Aid to the Church in Need. In the early days, many of those supporting the organisation donated goods and food, rather than money. These included sides of pork, earning Fr Werenfried the nickname “the bacon priest”.

In December 2011, Pope Benedict XVI recognised the importance of ACN as an organisation by making it a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church. He appointed the Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy as ACN’s international president. Earlier, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became pope, Benedict had identified ACN as one of the most important Catholic charities, describing it as “a gift of Providence for our time”.

ACN Ireland is based at St Joseph’s parish in Glasnevin, Dublin 9.

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