Felipe Bezera is the Ontario sub-office coordinator for Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in Canada – an organization whose mission was inspired by the commandment, "Love thy neighbour." Given the upcoming Red Wednesday event in Toronto to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world, Bezera shares his insights on the charity's work.
1. What is Aid to Church in Need's origin story? Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was established in 1947 in Belgium, when its founder, Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, launched an aid initiative to help the 14 million people expelled from East Germany, while appealing for reconciliation with the "enemies of yesterday." Soon after, the movement shifted its scope to encompass the oppressed Church behind the Iron Curtain. In 1969, the current name, Aid to the Church in Need, was adopted. And in 1975, now under direct Papal authority, the head office or International Secretariat settled in Königstein, Germany. Growth continued with the creation of national offices in many Western countries and, in early 2012, the charity was elevated to the status of Pontifical Charity. ACN was established in Canada more than 30 years ago, with its first office in Montreal. It has grown to employ a full-time staff of six and one part-time employee, as well as one full-time development officer in Toronto.
2. What is the organization's mission?Our mission is to bring assistance to the Church wherever it is in need in the world by praying, informing and giving. We now operate 23 national offices in as many countries, including Canada—working in over 140 countries and supporting over 5,000, mainly pastoral, projects per year.
3. Whom does Aid to Church in Need currently serve? We are a global family of benefactors and project partners – with ACN offices bridging the two to support the Church in its work with the poor, the persecuted and the displaced. We have projects on every continent; much of our support goes to African countries, such as the Central African Republic, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have projects in Eastern Europe, such as in Ukraine and Bulgaria, and in South America – Venezuela, Columbia and Brazil. These are but a few of the countries where we have been active in projects involving construction, motorization, subsistence aid, Catholic media, pastoral care and humanitarian aid and programs supporting refugees. For example, we have raised a great deal of funds to help in the Nineveh reconstruction plan, an immense effort to help the Christians of Iraq return to their ancestral lands.
4. What is the most pressing issue facing Christians internationally?Religious freedom. The persecution of Christians is a global issue. Christians are the group who statistically experience the highest percentage of persecution on a global level. ACN publishes a comprehensive document called the Religious Freedom Report every two years. A new report will launch in November in conjunction with the Red Wednesday campaign, created to raise awareness of the issue around the world by floodlighting important religious structures and cultural buildings in red to highlight the persecution of Christians around the world. In Toronto, we're hosting a Red Wednesday Prayer Vigil at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica on November 21, at 6:30 p.m.
The Colosseum, pictured above, was lit up in red last February to raise awareness of Christian persecution worldwide.
5. What inspires you to keep going in your work?We are inspired when we see the tangible results of our efforts. It is our great privilege to support the priests, consecrated persons and lay people of the Church in the poorest reaches of our planet, living out Christ's message of love, hope, faith and reconciliation. When everyone else is gone, the Church remains to care for those who are also too poor or sick or disabled to leave. When people are displaced and on the move or have to flee their homes, it is the Church that reaches out to them in the spirit that Christ taught. It is up to us to ensure they can continue to be there, bearing witness to Christ's message. For more details on Red Wednesday, please visit http://bit.ly/RedWednesday2018.