Vatican Aide Attending U.N. Convention in Germany

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2000 (
The Catholic Church is corroborating with the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, highlighting a problem that John Paul II warned about 20 years ago in Africa.

Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” is participating at the U.N. convention under way in Bonn, Germany. It started Monday and runs until Dec. 22.

The meeting, which has gathered representatives from 170 countries, is studying measures to overcome the threat of arable land that is slowly turning into desert, a problem that weighs on 1.2 billion people worldwide.

Archbishop Cordes is also the legal representative of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel, an institution created by the Pope in 1984, to alleviate the tragedy that he himself saw in 1980 in Burkina Faso, during his first visit to Africa. “The miserable and poor look for water,” he cried on that occasion.

Last July 4, John Paul II said: “Unfortunately, 20 years later this appeal has not lost its urgency: The problem of water is increasingly serious and urgent, not only in the desert areas of North Africa, but also throughout the planet. Lack of water will be, perhaps, the principal question that humanity will have to address in the near future.”

On May 25, 1984, the Pope said that “the solution is in the hands of Africans; to collaborate with them, even on the technical level, does not mean to substitute them.”

Wishing to avoid a new “imposition” of the North over the South, the Pope decided to entrust the management of this foundation to the episcopates of the nine affected countries: Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Chad. Its operations headquarters and secretariat are in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The foundation is responsible for training leaders, and for sanitation workers, civil engineers, mechanics, agricultural laborers, cattle breeders, hydraulics and woodlands. Its openness to inhabitants´ different religions also makes the group an instrument of interreligious dialogue.

In 1999, the John Paul II foundation financed projects to combat desertification amounting to $767,468, and in 1998 that figure was slightly less than $1 million. But those figures represented only about a quarter of the funding requests it received.

The foundation is supported by the funds John Paul II receives from people around the world who wish to contribute to his charity works, as well as the special generosity of German and Italian Catholics, whose bishops´ conferences cooperate permanently with this initiative.

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