On the 20th of April this year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) launched our Freedom of Religion in the World Report. This biannual report looks at the state of religious freedom in all 196 countries in the world during the 2018-2020 period. The situation for religious freedom across the world is dire, with the persistence of Islamist radicalism being the most concerning issue for Christians globally. ISIS has morphed and changed following their defeat in Iraq and Syria. A series of proxy groups have emerged affiliated with ISIS and other Islamist groups creating a “transcontinental caliphate”. These groups lack central command but are receiving outside funding and arms. The local affiliated groups have proven to be expert at injecting their poisonous ideology into local disputes and grievances, with the Church frequently being the primary target of the Islamists’ crosshairs. Nowhere in the world are the impacts of this new trend being felt as acutely as in Africa.
Projects of Healing
In response to this crisis ACN has committed €8 million in funds to help the African Church to heal the wounds caused by this persecution. Nowhere in Africa or in the world is the persecution of Christians as deadly as it is in Nigeria. More Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than in any other single country in the world. The murderous campaign of Boko Haram has left thousands dead and countless families and communities grieving.
ACN is sponsoring several projects to provide spiritual and psychological training to impacted communities to help with healing. For example, in the Diocese of Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria the terrorist campaign by Boko Haram has left two thousand widows. Thousands of children in the diocese have been left without a father. ACN is sponsoring a project to set up a training centre in the diocese. This centre will help to train trauma therapists to help the bereaved recover.
Call to Prayer
ACN understands the vital importance of the Faith in helping people recover from the trauma left by groups such as Boko Haram. Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of the Diocese of Maiduguri has put a plea that we at ACN are more than happy to pass on. The bishop is asking for Catholics to pray the rosary for Nigeria. The bishop said the following:
“I ask that you pray for the end of violence, and pray particularly the rosary. Through fervid prayer and devotion to Our Lady, the enemy will certainly be defeated. Back in 2014, in front of the Blessed Sacrament where I was praying, I received a vision of Jesus. He offered me a sword in that vision, which then turned into a rosary. He told me that ‘Boko Haram is gone’ three times. And he disappeared. And since then we have been praying the Rosary and engaging in other Marian devotions in the entire diocese.”
The Growth of Islamism in DRC
The threat posed to Christians in Africa by Islamists is very serious. African governments will have to be part of the solution by providing adequate security. ACN recently spoke with Bishop Paluku Sikuli Melchisédech of the Diocese of Butembo-Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). There is a Ugandan Islamist group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) operating in the region. The ADF does not claim to be an Islamist group, but their actions say otherwise, with local people kidnapped by them forced to convert to Islam and take Muslim names.
Thousands of people in the area have been killed in recent years and approximately 3 million people being made refugees. Bishop Melchisédech asserted that the government will have to do something about the situation in the area. The region is majority Catholic, with most of the non-Catholics being Protestants. There is a concerted effort to Islamise the region. Numerous mosques, funded by wealthy outside donors, are popping up in the area.
One thing that stood out from Bishop Melchisédech’s interview was the deep affection that his congregation held for Christ’s Church. The bishop was adamant that the people know that the Catholic Church wants what is best for the people. The bishop also said the Catholic Church built both the health and education systems in Congo. This is something the local people, both Catholic and Protestant, know and appreciate.
The faith shown by Bishop Melchisédech has reinforced the determination of us at ACN to offer aid to the African Church. The next decade or two is going to be very hard for the African Church. The faith of African Catholics is very strong, and they will stay true to the Faith. We at ACN, with the help and prayers of our benefactors, will be there to offer whatever aid and help we can, so that the Church in Africa may continue to grow and flourish.
To read more about ACN Ireland’s work and how you can help, visit: https://www.acnireland.org/donate
This feature is sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need Ireland