By Francesca Merlo
Caritas Internationalis is hosting a series of online Conferences until December 12 marking the 70th anniversary of its foundation in 1951. The first three webinars were focused on Caritas work in North America, Europe and Oceania.
Today’s webinar, titled “Promoting Social Justice through Sustainable Opportunities and Building Community Resilience”, was focused on Africa, and specifically on South Sudan and Mozambique.
Ghanaian Archbishop Gabriel Justice Yaw Anokye of Kumasi, President of Caritas Africa, opened the session with a brief reflection on seven points.
The seven points illustrated Caritas Africa’s contributions over these seventy years, for which Archbishop Anokye thanked the Lord, describing and the ones to to come as a blessing.
He stressed that Caritas work has been of witnessing and serving endless numbers of vulnerable people. Archbishop Anokye also noted that this anniversary gives an opportunity to “remember and pray for” Caritas founders and “all those who have been helping the Catholic organization “to be a sign of what Pope Francis calls fraternity and social friendship”.
70 years of Caritas Internationalis also gives “us the opportunity to work in unity, and for further development with all our sister agencies to fight climate change, conflict and other worldwide pandemics like the current Covid-19, Ebola, malaria and other contagious and infectious diseases”, he added.
For his part, Aloysius John, Caritas Internationalis Secretary General, highlighted the importance of listening to the voice of the African region in this particular moment. This voice, he said, “is the voice of the poor, whom we are serving.”
He began by expressing his closeness and prayers for the people of war-torn Ethiopia, currently living through the “worst period of their life”.
John went on to note that over the past decades Caritas Africa has played a crucial role in promoting human development, calling attention on four four key concepts which are closely interrelated: communities, resilience, sustainability and social justice. “These four concepts,” he pointed out, “are exactly what Pope Francis is urging us to reflect upon. They also form the basis for Integral Human Development because they contribute to building human capital, both individual and collective.”
“Community organisation is the basis for sustainable development”, John continued . “When individuals are organised, made interdependent within the community, then we can say the foundations for sustainable development have been laid”. Collaboration and resilience therefore allow us to work on preventing risks rather tan taking action after disaster have occurred, he said, noting that the ability to resist collectively also enabled a very good response during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following Aloysius John, Joseph Pasquale Sabu, Humanitarian Coordinator of Caritas South Sudan, spoke. He elaborated on the humanitarian context in South Sudan, noting that effects of flooding and of ongoing conflict have brought international attention to the crisis and suffering South-Sudanese people are enduring.
He spoke about the difficulties in obtaining international funds, which are divided between more than 300 national NGOs and more than 100 foreign NGOs operating in the country. He explained that despite this, Caritas South Sudan helps about 780,000 people affected by the floods, 400,000 with food supplies and 300,000 with other forms of support. Caritas is also involved in the reconciliation process and has supported the education of more than 4,000 students.
Santos Gotine, Secretary General of Caritas Mozambique, described the humanitarian work done by the organization in the country which is particularly exposed to natural disasters, including floods and cyclones. He explained that Caritas staff manages the aid provided by donors through a central office working in collaboration with the local dioceses. In recent months, Caritas Mozambique has been particularly involved in supporting civilians attacked by the Islamist rebels in the Northern Province of Cabo Delgado, which have caused more than 800,000 displaced people. “The bishops in the north of the country are supporting us, not only financially, but also by visiting the camps for displaced people and through the local clergy,” Gotine said.
Finally, Patricia Felicite, women’s representative in the Caritas Internationalis Representative Council and Caritas Africa Regional Commission, spoke about local women’s leadership experiences. “We know that women and girls are the most exposed in crisis situations”, she noted, “but they can make a fundamental contribution because they have a central role in community resilience. However, she said, this crucial role has yet to be recognized.