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Why an International Catholic Charity Finds COVID-19 Projects in Africa “most impressive”

Regina Lynch, project director at ACN.

The Catholic charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International says that pastoral projects, which the Church in Africa is implementing during the COVID-19 crisis are the most impressive due to the devotion demonstrated by the religious in caring for the vulnerable groups who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

In an interview shared with ACI Africa Thursday, May 29 that highlighted ACN’s work across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation’s Project Director, Regina Lynch was asked which projects she found “most impressive” in the many places the charity organization operates.

“It is very difficult to pick out one project. There are the priests in the Diocese of Dolisie, Congo, who share the stipend from our Mass intentions with their poor parishioners,” says Ms. Lynch.

The ACN project director also highlights the situation of Burkina Faso where seminarians in the major seminary of St. Peter and St. Paul have seen their families become IDPs because of terrorist attacks.

“Now they (seminarians) have lost one of their formators due to the virus and four of their fellow students are ill,” Ms. Lynch says, and adds, “We have helped them and their families and are now also sponsoring a program to protect the rest of them from COVID-19. And we have to recognize the creativity of the Church.”

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In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bishop Willy Ngumbi Ngengele of Bukavu and the Rector from the Seminary of Buhimba in Goma, Fr. Gabriel Hangi wrote to ACN asking for financial support of 49 seminarians, 6 priests, 2 nuns and support staff at the Seminary, saying that the situation at the facility was dire owing to lack of support from the local Church.

The charity organization had received other alarming requests in mostly Muslim countries where Christians are segregated in government feeding programs.

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a Pontifical Foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever these Christians are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need.

A bulk of the ACN support, including the COVID-19 aid has benefited the Church in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.

The Church in Africa is the biggest beneficiary of the COVID-19 emergency program, which the Germany-based agency announced last month, setting aside €5 million (US$5.43 million) to help priests and sisters to mitigate effects of the pandemic in their respective institutions including parishes.

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“In the face of increased social distress worldwide due to COVID-19, this vital initiative will assist religious who lost their basic subsistence,” ACN International said in a Press Release Thursday, April 9 referencing the availing of the financial subsidy “to priests and nuns caring for the most vulnerable communities around the world.”

The leadership of ACN notes that while about one-third of humanity is in quarantine, the most vulnerable ones are exposed to new challenges that come with COVID-19 restrictions put in place by governments across the world to contain the spread of the virus.

In a poster publicizing the COVID-19 funds drive, the ACN leadership notes, “This virus will not only affect their (vulnerable people) health condition but also will devastate the economy leading these poor people into a worse situation.”

Through the emergency fund, ACN has managed to send out more than 385,000 Mass stipends amounting to more than €3.1 million (US$3.4 million) to over 10,500 priests all over the world, with more than half the grant for Mass intentions going to the Church in Africa.

Referencing the generous donation, the ACN leader describes Africa as “the continent where the Church and priestly vocations continue to grow but where the Church faces the challenge of an increasingly aggressive form of Islam, conflicts and natural disasters.”

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Additionally, the aid organization has made promises of €800,000.00 (US$883,000.00) as subsistence help to nuns in all parts of the world, Ms. Lynch says, adding that more requests for assistance are still coming in from all parts of the world.

In the interview shared with ACI Africa, Ms. Lynch observes that the work of ACN has shifted drastically from addressing general pastoral needs of the Church to addressing challenges that arise from COVID-19 restrictions.

“We are not so much hearing about medical needs but rather about the effects of the restrictions on the daily life of the Church. In most countries where Aid to the Church in Need supports the local Church, governments have applied the same restrictions as in our donor countries,” she says.

The restrictions, she says, meant no public Masses, no public gatherings, closure of schools and that more and more people are having difficulties in earning a living.

“The Church itself is hardest hit by the fact that there are no public Masses or the possibility to carry out the normal pastoral and social programs in the parishes,” Ms. Lynch says, adding that many parishes that initially relied on Sunday Mass collection to survive are now struggling.

“The money from the collection – or often instead it can be chickens, vegetables, rice etc. – guarantees that the priest can eat, pay the sisters serving the parish, buy petrol for his motorcycle for visiting the sick or even have a small sum to help the poorest of the parishioners,” she says.

The main focus of ACN in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Ms. Lynch notes, is to ensure that lack of finances does not stand in the way of evangelization.

“In Africa, where we support different initiatives of Radio Maria, the Church is encouraging the Catholic families to become a “domestic Church” during this time of COVID-19 and to pray even more intensively together,” she says.

“As a pastoral charity, ACN wants to help the local Church carry out its primary mission of bringing God’s Love and Word to people and ensure that it is not hindered in this mission by a lack of financial resources,” she further says, adding, “That means that we are providing subsistence aid to priests and to sisters, both active and contemplative.”