John Paul II Appeals for Aid for Africa's Sahel

Region Is in Danger of Becoming a Desert

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2003 ( John Paul II renewed an appeal for the «lasting and integral development» of the African peoples of the Sahel, the semiarid region south of the Sahara.

Meeting today with members of the bishops’ conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, on their five-yearly visit to the Holy See, the Pope appealed to the international community for a more concrete commitment to the people whose land is in danger of becoming a desert.

The Holy Father said that he is concerned about the development of the peoples of the two African countries, «so close to my heart,» as well as «the daily struggle they must face to survive.»

«The difficult climactic conditions of the Sahel area, and the region’s growing danger of becoming a desert, keep the populations in endemic poverty, which generates precariousness and lack of hope, giving them the feeling of being marginalized from the international scene,» the Pope said.

For this reason, he made «a new appeal to the international community to manifest concretely and in a lasting way its support to the tried populations of the Sahel.»

The Holy Father also expressed the hope that «solidarity, in justice and charity, will not experience boundaries or limits and that generosity will make it possible to look at the future with greater serenity.»

In 1984, he established the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel, which trains leaders, health agents, hydraulic and civil engineers, mechanics, agricultural workers, stockbreeders, and forest specialists.

The foundation helps people regardless of their religion, thus becoming an instrument of interreligious dialogue.

In Burkina Faso, with just over 12 million inhabitants, 11.4% are Catholics, 50% Muslims, and the rest adhere to traditional African beliefs.

In Niger, only 0.18% of the 10 million inhabitants are Catholic; 80% are Muslims, and the rest adhere to traditional beliefs.

In his address, the Holy Father noted that, despite being a minority, and despite the «precariousness of life of the local populations,» the Church in both countries is experiencing genuine «missionary vitality.»

«To evangelize is an essential mission of the Church,» he told the visiting African bishops. «The proclamation of the Gospel cannot be carried out fully without the contribution of all believers, at all levels of the particular Church.»

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