In the eighth century the Moors conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula, and for the next 700 years the Spaniards fought back against the occupying Muslim forces. Many Christians were also captured by the Moors and sold as slaves. Not only were they deprived of their freedom but they were also in danger of losing their Christian faith. Young Pedro Nolasco, from Barcelona, decided that something must be done to help them. While still a youth he purchased the freedom of 300 such prisoners with money inherited from his father. In the year 1218 Our Lady appeared to him and asked him to establish an order to continue this work of freeing Christian slaves. So it was that the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy was founded, more commonly known as the Mercedarians (from the Latin Maria de mercede redemptionis captivorum and the Spanish "Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes") and in England also as the Order of Our Lady of Ransom. 

At the newly created Marian Shrine of Pleven the Catholics in Bulgaria are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need had supported the construction of the church. 

By Olivier Labesse

According to the "Report on Religious Freedom in the World", published by the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mali descended into chaos in March 2013 following a military coup. As islamist jihadis and rebel groups threatened to overrun the whole country, France the colonial power up to 1960, intervened militarily. In 2015 the Malian government signed a peace agreement in Bumako with a section of the armed rebel groups. While the south is considered relatively secure, the situation in the north is tense.  

The funds helped finance 5,303 projects in 148 countries. 

By Josue Villalón

At the end of December 2016 the forces allied to President Bashar al Assad took definitive control of the city of Aleppo. Just six months have passed since the bombings ceased in this great northern city of Syria, the largest city in the country and its principal industrial centre which once numbered over 2 million inhabitants. “Now there are no more bombings and the streets are safe”, comments Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, who is also president of Caritas Syria. He was speaking to the delegation from the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) which was visiting the city. “However, unfortunately the situation is not going to change greatly. The war will continue. It appears that Syria will remain divided, as has happened in Iraq.”

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