Aid to the Church in Need had a stand at the latest meeting of the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil, the largest Catholic country in the world. The pontifical foundation used the opportunity to spend time with the bishops of needy dioceses, but also to share stories of Christian suffering from other countries, namely Nigeria.

The international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) made a point of being present at the latest gathering of the national Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), which took place in Aparecida, in the state of São Paulo, to listen to the Brazilian bishops, namely those who lead dioceses that already benefit from the foundation’s cooperation.

ACN International’s head of projects for Latin-America, Rafael D’Aqui, was present: “I heard stories about a Church that faces great challenges: firstly, in terms of distance, with parishes that are sometimes 500 kilometres from the centre of the diocese; different cultural realities, with a variety of ethnicities living in the same diocese”, he explained.

“There are also areas of social conflict, such as dioceses which are racked by illegal mining operations, and in which the Church accompanies the affected population; places of violence, with many bishops speaking about the reality of drugs and the accompanying violence, which is like an open wound that affects pastoral work”.

Rafael D’Aqui says he was struck by the “gratitude of the bishops to ACN and its benefactors, for all that they have done for the suffering Church in Brazil, in the Amazon region, in the countryside, from north to south. I had bishops in tears, telling me that they can carry out their pastoral ministry thanks to the support of the generous men and women who contribute through ACN”.

On stormy waters

The CNBB is one of the largest gatherings of Catholic bishops in the world, with over 300 hierarchs representing the country’s 279 jurisdictions, as well as 100 retired bishops.

This year’s gathering was an elective assembly, with bishops voting on new chairmen of different departments, as well as the leadership of the CNBB itself, and taking stock of the four-year term that now drew to a close. The outgoing chairman, Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, of Belo Horizonte, described the past four years as a stormy period, and one of the most difficult in the history of Brazil, due to increased polarisation and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. “In the midst of the storm the CNBB was like a boat in the middle of this difficult crossing but the Lord called on us to seek hope”, he said.

“Together for religious freedom”

ACN also sought to present the Brazilian bishops with information about the persecuted Church, asking MgrJohn Bakeni, Auxiliary Bishop of Maiduguri, in Nigeria, to record a video message that was played to the gathered assembly, and introduced by the president of ACN Brazil, Ana Manente.

In his message, Bishop John Bakeni recalled that “since 2009 the Islamist group Boko Haram has been inflicting mass terror against civilians, killing over 60,000 Nigerians, abducting thousands and forcing millions to leave their homes”.

Bishop John highlighted the fact that “in March 2008 Boko Haram swore to wage war on Nigerians, and on Christians in Nigeria, with a spokesman for the militants saying that they would put an end to the Christian presence and install an Islamic State in which Christians would not be able to live”. Since then, Boko Haram has committed genocide against Christians in Northern Nigeria, said the African prelate. “We need help, and we need you to exert whatever influence you can on our Government, to strengthen religious freedom”, he added.

Bishop John Bakeni ended by expressing special thanks to ACN, which has been aiding the Nigerian people through prayer, solidarity, and financial support. “Over the years it has given us hope, and a renewed reason to live. Even though the Diocese of Maiduguri was shaken to its core, because of ACN it is now stronger.”