Cardinal Martino Laments Africa's Plights

Urges Solidarity to Deal With Conflicts, Epidemics and Debt

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NAIROBI, Kenya, FEB. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Renato Martino called the attention of the international community to the situation in Africa, “martyred by bloody conflicts, devastating epidemics, and an asphyxiating foreign debt.”

“It is reprehensible,” the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said, “that again today some countries and organized groups continue to profit from the arms trade, which fuels areas of conflict in Africa and causes human tragedies as well as immense ecological disasters, with the effect of delaying or interrupting the path to peace and the development of the continent.”

Cardinal Martino was addressing an international congress on “Contemporary Problems for an Integral and Sustainable Development,” which opened Tuesday in Nairobi, at the initiative of the Social Service Institute of the Catholic University of East Africa.

According to a statement of his pontifical council, the cardinal described as unacceptable the pretension of the terrorists groups that are trying to re-establish justice and peace through blind violence.

Cardinal Martino also rejected the “scandalous use” of child-soldiers by states and armed groups, as it “destroys the future of young people and kills the very future of the world.”

In regard to the AIDS pandemic, “plague of the century or the millennium, with the disastrous demographic, health, economic and social consequences that are well known in many African countries,” the cardinal called for greater solidarity on the part of the international community, in particular by supporting the lowering of prices of needed medication.

Cardinal Martino also renewed the call for a reduction, if not cancellation, of the foreign debt of the poorest African countries, recalling the numerous initiatives of his dicastery in this regard.

This operation, he said, must be considered in the global context of the struggle against poverty. He lamented that commitments by the international community in this area have not been kept.

“If development in Africa is to be speeded up, it is absolutely necessary that the rules of international trade be revised in order to allow African countries access to the markets of rich nations, whose protectionism is a great obstacle to the products of developing countries,” Cardinal Martino added.

It is also “necessary to combat Afro-pessimism at all costs, and to give confidence to Africans, as Africa is not just the continent of bad news, as it is often presented,” he said.

In this connection, Cardinal Martino underlined that “if yesterday the history of the continent was largely shaped by foreigners, the Africa of tomorrow will depend to a great extent on the efforts of Africans themselves.”

Cardinal Martino, for 16 years the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, spoke at the meeting in Nairobi on “The Church and International Organizations.”

In his address, he did not exclude the possibility that in the near future the Holy See’s status will change from observer to member of the United Nations. He stressed the urgency of reform of the world body, so that it will be able to carry out fully its role in the international scene.

The congress marks the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Social Service Institute. An institution of the Catholic Church in the region, it is responsible for the formation of priests, religious and the laity in Church social doctrine.

Last Sunday, Cardinal Martino visited the Nairobi suburb of Kibera, which according to the Catholic Information Service for Africa is the second largest in the continent. The impoverished suburb is home to 700,000 people.

The cardinal appealed for respect for the dignity of the residents and lamented that “these persons, who are human beings like us, have no adequate housing, schools or other means.” He added: “We must help them to become protagonists of their own future.”

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