Papal Group Aids Latin America´s Poor

Monsignor Azcona of “Populorum Progressio” Foundation

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 1, 2001 ( There exists a papal group that tries to give a little more hope to the poor of the continent of hope.

To that end, the administrative council of the “Populorum Progressio” Foundation had its annual meeting in Coban, Guatemala, from July 8-12. Participants studied and approved development projects for Indian and black communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A total of 215 projects, amounting to $1.77 million and presented by peasant communities of 19 countries, were approved. The micro-projects have the common objective of integral community development.

ZENIT interviewed Monsignor Francisco Azcona, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (which oversees the foundation), to have a better understanding of this institution, which was created by John Paul II.

–Q: Why did John Paul II create a specific foundation for Indian, mestizo and Afro-American peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean?

–Monsignor Azcona: The foundation was created on Feb. 13, 1992, the year in which the fifth centenary of the beginning of the evangelization of the American continent was being celebrated and the fourth General Assembly of the Latin American episcopate was being held.

John Paul II´s purpose was to promote the integral development of the poorest peasant communities of Latin America, and [to give] a sign and testimony of the Christian desire for fraternity and genuine solidarity.

In fact, the original idea came from Paul VI who in 1968 created the Populorum Progressio Fund, on the occasion of his visit to Colombia when, during a meeting with peasants, he said: “We hear the cry that rises from your suffering. … We wonder what we can do for you.”

John Paul II took over that fund and structured it as a foundation.

–Q: From where does the Pope get the funds to support the work of the foundation?

–Monsignor Azcona: When creating the Populorum Progressio Foundation, John Paul II appealed to the international community, institutions and people of good will, to redouble their efforts and solidarity in support of the integral development of peasants and Indians of Latin America, who still find themselves in a condition of underdevelopment.

He also appealed to all episcopal conferences, especially those of developed countries and of Latin America itself, to undertake a collection among their faithful for this purpose.

However, it is important to point out the generous response of the Italian bishops´ conference to this request, a response that continues to this day, and which, economically speaking, is the most significant for the foundation.

It is a fact that every year the foundation distributes an amount to needy Indians and peasants that is close to the equivalent of its own fund (almost $2 million), a noteworthy fact, given the atmosphere in which contributions in general are diminishing. This can only be achieved thanks to the help and generosity of people of good will throughout the world.

–Q: How is the foundation organized?

–Monsignor Azcona: Populorum Progressio has its offices in the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” whose president is Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, who is also the foundation´s president and its legal representative.

It has an administrative council, among whose competencies, in addition to ensuring compliance with the statutes, is the study and approval of projects presented. It is composed of seven members; six of them are bishops from various Latin American countries, and one is from the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”

Every project presented for funding must be accompanied by a letter from the local bishop, to guarantee that the need in question is real, that [the project´s] implementation will be completed in the time specified, and that it can count on [the bishop´s] approval and on diocesan services. The services of the apostolic nunciatures are also used. Thus, the organizational structure of the Church makes it possible to reach the furthest corners and the most hidden jungles without additional expenses, [and] the organizational costs of the foundation are 1% of the total aid distributed, a real record.

–Q: How many projects have been funded and where?

–Monsignor Azcona: From its beginning and up until the end of the year 2000, 1,381 projects were approved and funded, which brought real relief and a smile to thousands of needy Indians and peasants. The total amount paid before the meeting held in Guatemala was $11,368,829.

The average amount for each project is around $10,000. This shows that the foundation is centered on micro-projects. Contributions are made as donations, praising and recommending whenever possible, the creation of rotating funds, managed by the respective communities, which means that the amount is of greater social usefulness.

While countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia have each received more than 10% of the projects, and all four of them 42.5%, there are others, like the Antilles, Argentina, Honduras and Uruguay, which have not reached 1% of the approved projects or, together, 2.8%.

–Q: What type of projects are financed?

–Monsignor Azcona: The projects that are approved respond to different [aspects] of the integral development of a community: health, housing, potable water, education, communal infrastructure, production, nutrition, religious and civic formation.

Each one of them is part of a process lived by the group or community and not the result of improvisation. Projects must be planned, executed and evaluated with the participation of the community itself.

–Q: How can donations be sent by those who wish to cooperate with the Pope with concrete help to these communities?

–Monsignor Azcona: It is enough to send a check to the Populorum Progressio Foundation, Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” Palazzo di San Calisto, 00120 Vatican City.

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