KINSHASA, Congo, MAY 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Congo is pledging $144 million for a three-year program to fight HIV/AIDS, in a nation where some 70,000 children are orphans because of the virus.
Caritas Congo Director Bruno Miteyo presented the program at a bishops’ meeting in the capital last week. The aid agency will use the funds for a three-faceted effort that includes education and prevention, treatment and care, and working against the stigma often associated with contracting AIDS.
The spread of the virus in Congo is particularly linked to the prominence of rape as an “act of war” in the rife-stricken nation. As many as 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone and 10% to 12% of women raped are infected with HIV, the aid organization reported.
Thus, funds from the Church are eagerly welcomed. The $144 million pledge is a collaborative effort that brought in the participation of Congo’s 47 dioceses.
The nation’s health minister, Auguste Mopipi, thanked the episcopal conference for their efforts, affirming that the nation needs faith-based organizations and the Church in particular to stop the disease.
The widespread network of the Church in Congo (the nation is some 50% Catholic) means that it has access to communities that lack a health care infrastructure.
Caritas’ special advisor on HIV/AIDS, Father Robert Vitillo of Paterson, New Jersey, was at the Kinshasa meeting.
He said: “I visited the Mama Yemo Hospital during my trip, where 60% of all patients in the Internal Medical Section are living with HIV. The hospital’s director told me that patients relied on the special social, emotional, nutritional and spiritual support offered by Church organizations.
“In this new AIDS plan, the Church in Congo is providing its resources, expertise, experience and outreach for this work. We have to hope that the government, international agencies, and sister Catholic donors will make available sufficient resources to Caritas Congo in order to fulfill its mandate.”
The priest highlighted the plight of women and their particular vulnerability to the virus: “Tragic and systematic rape as a so-called ‘act of war’ causes even greater vulnerability to contracting HIV among women who already are deprived of control over their lives and prevented from enjoying their God-given dignity.”