During the six days of World Youth Day (WYD), in Lisbon, which begins next week, international foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be carrying out a number of initiatives aimed at raising awareness of Christian persecution around the world and mobilising people to be active in defence of the suffering Church in their own countries.

“We want to raise awareness among as many WYD participants as possible about the truth of the persecuted Church throughout the world, which unfortunately continues to be unknown to many”, says Catarina Martins de Bettencourt, national director of ACN’s national office in Portugal, during one of the many preparatory meetings for the World Youth Day, which this year will be held between 1 and 6 August.

The hustle and bustle that generally accompanies such an event is already palpable at the national headquarters of ACN in Lisbon, with people preparing material for the exhibitions, rallying volunteers and putting the finishing touches to plans. The goal is to make sure nothing goes wrong during the days in which the Portuguese capital will play host to over one million young people from all continents and practically every single country in the world.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we don’t want to waste it”, says Martins de Bettencourt. “It’s not every day that you get to participate in an event as important as WYD, and in the case of ACN we are treating it as a big responsibility.”

Exhibitions and events: Heroes in faith

During the week-long WYD, ACN will be holding several events aimed at calling attention to the reality of the persecuted Church in the world, and the testimonies of faith that the organisation receives from countries where there is no religious freedom.

“Our aim is to invite each person who passes through our booth, the exhibitions and conferences we will be holding, and also the films we will be projecting, to take a closer look at the subject of Christian persecution”, says the head of ACN Portugal.

“Heroes in Faith” is the title given to these initiatives that will take place during the days of WYD, in several parts of the city.

One of the main places where pilgrims and visitors will be able to have direct contact with the reality of persecuted Christians is in the Martyrs Basilica, in the Chiado neighbourhood, where the foundation will be holding an exhibition with several Christian artifacts that were desecrated in Iraq. The exhibition showcases the brutal experience of the country’s Christians when the Biblical Nineveh plains were occupied by Islamic State jihadists, beginning on 6 August 2014, nine years ago.

The Basilica will also host a conference with testimonies by two Christians: Joseph Fadelle and Rafi Ghattas. Fadelle is an Iraqi convert from Shia Islam who was arrested, tortured and made to flee the country with his wife and children, and who has since published a book called “The Price to Pay”, in which he tells his story. Rafi Ghattas, on the other hand, is a Palestinian Christian from the Holy Land, who will speak about the experience of his community, which currently makes up only 1% of the population.

ACN Portugal has also organised a photography exhibition in the cloisters of the old Graça convent, which portrays the persecuted Church in the world through concrete personal stories of men and women from different countries who have been an example of faithfulness to Jesus in the face of adversity.

Documentaries on the persecuted Church

Another initiative being prepared by the foundation for World Youth Day is the showing of several documentaries about the lives of people whose faith is tested every day. These will be on exhibition at the São Jorge cinema.

The testimonies and stories that have been collected by ACN over the past years come from Mozambique, Syria, Honduras, Cambodia and Ethiopia. “Above all, we want the young people to feel challenged by these examples of Christians who faced so many dangers and threats and who, despite everything, always continued to proclaim their faith until the end, no matter what the consequences”, Martins de Bettencourt explains.

“We hope to be able to plant a seed in their hearts, a desire to also take part in this mission of helping and standing in solidarity with persecuted Christians and the Church in Need”, she adds.

ACN will be present with its own booth in the City of Joy, in Belém.