The World

José María Gallardo: "The Church is the first to open its doors when there is a humanitarian emergency".

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has published its report of activities for the year 2023. On this occasion, Omnes interviewed José María Gallardo, director of ACN Spain, who spoke to us about the situation in Ukraine and Africa, the generosity of benefactors and church reconstruction projects, among others.

Loreto Rios-June 21, 2024-Reading time: 4 minutes

Aid to the Church in Need has made public its Activity Report for the year 2023. This past year has been marked by record donations, especially due to the generosity of benefactors in the wake of the Syrian earthquake.

In Omnes we have interviewed José María GallardoACN Spain director, who spoke to us about aid to Ukraine, Africa and the support of ACN Spain, who spoke to us about aid to Ukraine, Africa and the support of ACN Spain. ACN Spain to the formation of the laity, among other interesting topics.

During the last year, there has been a record number of donations to ACN Spain. Why is this?

-First and foremost, this record donation is due to the immense generosity of all our benefactors, who have responded to the campaigns we have launched throughout 2023. This year our income from donations has grown compared to the previous year. From 13.5 million in 2022, we have grown to 15.8 million.

This is mainly due to this great generosity and to some of the campaigns, such as that of the Syria earthquakeThe earthquake, which was terrible and devastated the place in February 2023, and where thousands of Spaniards felt the call to support the local church so that they could open their temples and help all those affected by the earthquake. We already know that the Church is always the first to open its doors when there is a natural disaster or a humanitarian emergency.

Secondly, our foundation has the privilege of being one of the Catholic institutions where many people also choose to give a bequest after their death. It is that pool of generosity that has caused us to have a record number of donations during 2023.

Ukraine has been the most assisted country in this period. What aid programs are being carried out there?

-Ukraine is one of the countries that ACN has supported the most for many years. We support both the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite and the Greek Catholic Rite, with contributions of more than 15 million euros and more than 600 projects since February 2022.

For us it has been a priority country and there are three main programs we are working on. The first one is trauma management, to help all those people who are going through a difficult situation, training priests and religious men and women to take care of people who are suffering from the war, but also so that the priests and religious themselves can manage the trauma that they themselves are going through.

Secondly, the sustainability and subsistence of priests, religious, sisters and seminarians. We have had emergency aid for more than 223 priests, the Albertine Brothers, who also help the homeless or the Benedictine Sisters, etc.

Let's not forget that in a war, apart from displaced people, there are people at risk of social exclusion who were there before the conflict arose, and many Catholic congregations had been helping these people since before the war began. So the livelihood program supports not only those who help, but also the most disadvantaged.

And finally, the formation of seminarians. Believe it or not, the war has not slowed down vocations, and the more than 1,128 seminarians of the two rites are being supported by our foundation so that they can sustain themselves and continue their studies despite the terrible situation they are living in.

How is ACN helping in Africa, where there is a strong expansion of Islamic extremism?

-ACN is strongly helping to continue to bring the Gospel to the most remote areas of Africa, so that the advance of Islamic fundamentalism can be fought with the Word and not with weapons.

An example is Nigeria, where we recently conducted the campaign last Christmas and where unfortunately we have seen how there are different groups that cause a terrible pressure on Christians. Specifically, from Nigeria we have also had Father Fidelis and Janada, a victim of Boko Haram who was with us and who has given her testimony in many dioceses throughout Spain.

These violent groups are primarily three in number: In Nigeria, Boko Haram, the Islamic State of West Africa, and the fulaniwho are Muslim nomadic herdsmen. Because of them, due to the imposition of the sharia, the Islamic law, in about twelve states, being a Christian is already a risk.

Why have we supported Africa, not only Nigeria, but also other countries like Tanzania or the Democratic Republic of Congo? Because, in order for the Gospel to continue to advance and permeate society, priests need to be supported and protected.

This is what we at ACN are trying to support in Africa and in those countries where there is the greatest pressure due to persecution.

It is perhaps less well known, but ACN also supports the formation of the laity...

-We all know that every day there are fewer vocations throughout the world, although in some of the countries where we work, where there is also a lot of persecution, priestly vocations are flourishing.

But we, from 2022 to 2023, have increased our aid by about 3 %, a little more than 17 million euros, to the formation of the laity. Because the laity is also a fundamental person in supporting the priest in evangelization.

Catechists are an essential element in many remote parts of Africa or Latin America, for example in the Amazon area. The increase of projects for the support of the laity is a reality that we have tried to cover also in line with the Holy Father, who tells us that the laity must have a greater role in evangelization within our Church.

How is the process of church reconstruction aid?

-Where there is a natural catastrophe or a war is where construction or reconstruction elements are most needed. Especially in areas where there is later peace: we cannot start rebuilding in a conflict zone if war still persists. For example, in eastern Ukraine.

But where there has been a level of peace or where there has been a natural disaster, as in the case of Syria with last year's earthquake, we have supported the construction and reconstruction of churches.

I was in Ukraine traveling for about ten days just before Easter and I was able to see a great project of reconstruction of the cathedral of Ternopil. We were even talking to the architect, who showed us the plans of the major reconstruction work they are doing, where they want to place classrooms for catechesis, for Caritas, etc. This is an example of how ACN also invests its funds in supporting structures that serve to continue announcing the Word of God wherever it is needed.

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