AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED (ACN) has launched a Lenten campaign to strengthen its support for religious sisters in countries 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: “Women religious 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 discussions about the role of women.”
Each year, ACN receives more than 800 requests to support formation projects, subsistence aid, constructions or transportation projects shepherded by women religious in 85 countries.
Among other initiatives, ACN supports more than 4,500 women religious 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. This is the case, for example, in Ukraine, Russia and crisis-ridden Venezuela.
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 as a result of natural disasters such as the earthquakes 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 some 660,000 women who are living in religious communities throughout the world, women who have dedicated their lives to prayer and service to those most in need. ACN gives direct support to more than 11,000 sisters. In addition, there are other women religious who benefit from assistance for construction, transport and pastoral projects.
Even though the number of vocations to women’s orders is declining—most notably in Europe and North America—the number of vocations continues to grow in Africa and Asia. This is why more than 80 percent of all projects supported by ACN in the area of formation of women religious and novices benefit these two continents. This aid helps more than 5,700 sisters.
In accordance with its charisma and its history, ACN pays particular attention to the contemplative orders. As is written in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere, issued by Pope Francis on the contemplative women’s orders, 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 women religious in contemplative orders throughout the world; half of these are living in Europe. For this reason, 80 percent of the aid granted by ACN to contemplative orders supports cloistered sisters in Eastern European countries that continue to find themselves in dire economic and spiritual need due to their communist past.
During Lent 2019, the 23 national offices of ACN also want to express their appreciation for all of the women religious who fulfil their mission in dangerous situations or who have sacrificed their lives for the people entrusted to them. They include 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 Columbian missionary Cecilia Narváez 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,” said Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, adding that “supporting women religious often involves helping an entire community or even an entire ethnic group.”
A website dedicated to the Lenten campaign provides information about the lives of women religious on different continents and highlights ACN’s main areas of assistance.