AFRICA – Religious persecution focus shifts to Africa

The Catholic Register | Michael Swan | June 25, 2020

Aid to the Church in Need and its 330,000 donors world-wide are responding to the changing world of religious persecution.

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The global pontifical charity raised $158 million in 2019 and is spending the money on 5,230 projects that will support Christians seeking to practise their faith despite persecution and poverty.

The focus of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has gradually shifted from Eastern Europe in the 1990s, when the charity was midwife to a rebirth of Christian life after 70 years of communism, to the Middle East in the 2010s, as terrorist organizations threatened Christian minorities, to Africa today, where a new aggressive brand of terrorist fundamentalism threatens Christian life.

“At the moment we are particularly looking at the Sahel region, because that is where we see persecution growing,” ACN Canada national director Marie-Claude Lalonde told The Catholic Register. “We know that in the coming years that will be the focus region.”

Boko Haram, operating in the drought-stricken region around Lake Chad — in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger — is a particular concern. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is also a threat.

Africa has risen to become the number one region for ACN funding, absorbing 29.6 per cent of the charity’s project spending.

Not all of that is spent countering the threat of Islamic terrorism. The predominantly Christian Democratic Republic of Congo was the single largest recipient, with $4.9 million going to fund 268 projects. The war-torn nation has suffered under dysfunctional governments, lawlessness and a plunder economy for generations, leaving the Church struggling as one of the few rational, functioning social institutions.

A lot of the ACN programming in Africa is focused on basic infrastructure — building new seminaries, schools and churches. 

Compared to the emotive stories of destroyed villages and efforts to rebuild in the wake of the Islamic State — stories that have fuelled donations for the Middle East — getting donors excited about Africa is a tougher job, conceded Lalonde.

“People want to give to people, not buildings,” she said. “We know it’s necessary, but then we have no fantastic story to tell about it. These projects are nonetheless very important.”