BY DOROTHY GRILLO
The name of the new Catholic Relief Services two-year campaign is a fitting title for this, the second reflection on my recent Africa trip. Africa Rising. Hope and Healing is a major initiative to educate and engage U.S. Catholics about Africa’s challenges: war, widespread grinding poverty, starvation and disease. The primary objectives of the campaign are to bring about fundamental policy changes in the U.S. government, international financial institutions and corporations in order to support the people of Africa. The campaign is focusing on two critical issues, HIV/AIDS and peace building as it seeks to increase involvement among U.S. Catholics in advocacy for more favorable policies toward Africa.
The problems are complex and can be neither dismissed nor diminished. AIDS has created 12 million orphans in Africa. There is one new case of HIV every eight seconds and of the 3 million HIV/AIDS deaths in the year 2000, 2.4 million were in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty is staggering and the effects of that poverty are profound. The average life expectancy in Africa is in the late 50s and goes down to 40 years of age in the poorest areas.
I could fill the next few pages with horrifying statistics and heartbreaking stories about conflicts, wars and large-scale genocide, but that might do little more than leave you with the impression that Africa is a lost cause, a hopeless case. Statistics tend to numb us rather than mobilize us. If we only focus on the fact that there are more than 10 million refugees (internally displaced people) in Africa, you might come to think that the people of Africa have nothing to offer and are solely dependent “on the kindness of strangers.” That would be an injustice for three reasons. First, it overlooks the tremendous effort of Africans themselves caring for their own people with AIDS and initiating peace-building programs. Using their limited resources and unlimited love, Africans are working courageously to meet their staggering challenges. Second, we are not merely strangers. The Gospel clearly teaches that we are all brothers and sisters, members of one body. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:13-14, 26). And third, there are the children.
Some of the most profound and moving experiences of my trip grew out of interactions with children. Please study these faces. They are the children, the future, the hope, of Africa.
“Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these …. Then he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:14).
CRS works to improve health care essential to the future of Africa
CRS Benin and partner organizations are working to improve maternal health and the nutritional status of children through child survival interventions, food assistance, and community development activities. The program operates through 84 private and governmental health centers in Benin. CRS works to train local Maternal Child Health Center administrators and village-based committees and helps support the Caritas AIDS Care and Counseling Project. This program provides spiritual, medical, financial, and psychological care to HIV individuals and people living with AIDS. It is the only project in Benin dedicated to the care and counseling of these people and is consistent with Catholic teaching on abstinence and the sanctity of marriage. CRS Social Assistance Programs supplement the feeding of individuals in institutions private and public orphanages, leprosaria, psychiatric hospitals, TB clinics, and HIV/AIDS clinics.
Know You Never Leave
The baby cooed, clinging tightly to the one who had offered a gentle touch, a smile that seemed to say I care.
Then the baby cried as time came for the one, who paid attention, played a game and laughed out loud, To go.
While the baby cried, sadly protesting to the one who had been holding her, with pleading liquid eyes, opened to say Please stay.
And the woman cried, silently, for the little one left so long without a mother’s love, yet still she had To see.
To know you never leave completely, once you have been the one who touched, smiled, laughed. Africa cries to say Please hear.
When you cry, we must listen, to honor you, children of the One who came to suffer and die, giving all He had for us. All.
Dorothy Grillo is the director of Social Ministry for the Diocese of Charleston.
For more information about the trip or the CRS Africa Rising. Hope and Healing campaign, contact Dorothy Grillo at (843) 402-9114 Ext.15 or visit the Catholic Charities Web site at www.catholic-doc.org/catholiccharities.