(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
“The hour of Africa has come,” said Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Policy, as he introduced the statement, “A Call to Solidarity with Africa.”
Africa is the fastest-growing region in the world. Its 350 million Christians include 116 million Catholics.
Catholic News Service reported that the statement offers a framework and agenda for the Church in the U.S. to deepen ties and act in solidarity with the people and church of Africa for years to come. It describes the social, political, medical and spiritual challenges facing the people and nations of Africa and calls the church in the U.S. to help address poverty, debt and development needs; to provide health care assistance, promote educational development and peacemaking; and to assist refugees and people who are displaced within their own countries.
Cardinal Law said that religious leaders who recently met with President George Bush expressed their concern about the lack of U.S. assistance to Africa, particularly the situation in Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa, where war, famine and disease continue to exact a devastating toll.
“Nearly 300 million Africans a number approximately equal to the population of the U.S. live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than one dollar a day,” said the statement. “Malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases threaten to wipe out as much as one-quarter of the populations of some African countries over the next 20 years.”
The statement pointed out that African Catholics also contribute significantly to the life of the Church in the U.S. “African priests and men and women religious who have been commissioned to work or study in the U.S. provide an important service to the Church,” it said.
“African laity join with us to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and to make their particular contributions to parishes, dioceses, and other church entities,” the statement said. “Their experience and wisdom can help provide direction and momentum to our efforts to preach the Gospel and to promote justice, peace, human rights, and full human development in Africa.”
The statement set a framework for committing U.S. Catholics to a comprehensive program of public advocacy and aid for peace, education, health and economic development in Africa. It calls on U.S. Catholics to become advocates for increased foreign assistance to Africa and notes that U.S. Catholics are already involved with the church and people of Africa in many ways.
In addition to the outstanding work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which spends $140 million in Africa per year, and the vital presence of religious congregations, other U.S. Catholic agencies working in Africa include the Holy Childhood Association, Propagation of the Faith, and the U.S. Catholic Mission Association. In addition, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association continues to provide assistance to Egypt, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.