Church Seen as Only Help in Zimbabwe

Cholera, Famine, AIDS Attack Population

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ROME, MARCH 4, 2009 ( In Zimbabwe, scourged by cholera, AIDS and famine, the Catholic Church remains the only point of reference, according to the apostolic nuncio.

“Zimbabwe is in critical conditions, by now the whole world knows our situation,” explained Archbishop George Kocherry to L’Osservatore Romano this week.

The country is still reeling from contested elections of a year ago, which eventually settled into a current power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader. The international community is still waiting to see just how effectively the two leaders will get along at the top.

In the midst of this, Archbishop Kocherry explained, “The public hospitals are collapsing and the only health structures able to assist the sick and their families are those managed by missionaries and women religious.”

He said the apostolic nunciature is working with Caritas to bring food products to distribute to families through the parishes.

“The Pope sent me $80,000 as his gesture of paternal solidarity to a suffering population,” the prelate added.

But cholera has already claimed 75,000 victims and the lack of antiretroviral drugs aggravates the incidence of AIDS, which devastates the population. About half of the 11 million inhabitants of Zimbabwe risk dying of famine.

The health and school structures are collapsed, explained the nuncio, and the doctors, nurses and teachers have not been paid for months.

In this dramatic situation, Archbishop Kocherry said, the Church is the only aid for millions of people.

Prayer and aid

Feb. 15 marked Zimbabwe Sunday, a day of prayer organized by the South African Episcopal Conference. After this day, the Jesuit School of Theology of Nairobi, Kenya, requested further initiatives to support Zimbabwe during Lent.

For seven consecutive Fridays, a prayer vigil will be held in the chapel of Nairobi College, in which candles will be lit and donations collected for Zimbabwe. A statement by organizers of the initiative explained: “The service of prayer is open to all women and men of good will. We hope to receive one U.S. dollar for every candle lit. The proceeds of this Lenten campaign will be allocated to humanitarian assistance.”

The Lenten campaign has a triple objective, reported L’Osservatore Romano: “to create awareness about the citizens’ situation; to express solidarity with the suffering people of Zimbabwe and to help in the [country’s] recovery and reconstruction; to increase the funds to support the efforts of the local entities and humanitarian organizations in Zimbabwe.”

Bishops’ synod

The Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops will be held Oct. 4-25 in the Vatican on the theme “The Church in Africa, at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: You Are the Salt of the Earth; You Are the Light of the World.”

Monsignor Fortunatus Nwachukwu, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, said that the synod “represents a door of hope” for a continent that has faced so many problems.

The monsignor stated that the meeting will address ethnocentrism and tribalism, “which often underlie other evils — ethnic conflicts, nepotism and corruption, impunity, mediocrity and so much else on the African continent.”

He emphasized the need for affirming the catholicity of the Church, above ethnic differences. He asserted: “The ethnic bonds and feelings are so profound and often exaggeratedly sensitive that any measure that tends to overlook them is bait for strong opposition.

“But perhaps it is precisely that opposition and resistance that the Church should address with the message of the Gospel if we want to foresee a future of reconciliation, justice and peace for the African continent.”

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