April 07, 2020

Coronavirus: the response of Caritas Internationalis

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Caritas Internationalis in action to help countering the coronavirus - credit Twitter @iamcaritas
Caritas Internationalis in action to help countering the coronavirus - credit Twitter @iamcaritas

In countering the Coronavirus, Pope Francis can count on the effort of the Caritas agencies spread all over the continent, all placed under the umbrella and the coordination of Caritas Internationalis.

On April 4th, Aloysius John, general secretary of Caritas Internationalis, met Pope Francis in a private audience. John provided Pope Francis an update of the initiatives coordinated by Caritas Internationalis all over the world to counter the coronavirus threat.

Both of the meetings are part of the “strategy of charity” that the Holy See is setting up to assist the people during the coronavirus emergency.

Caritas Internationalis is the “umbrella” organization that coordinates and gathers 165 local charities all over the world. The Caritas umbrella is held by the Vatican’s dicastery for Integral Human Development, which must act in coordination with the Secretariat of State.

It was no surprise, therefore, that Caritas Internationalis made an appeal to the international community.

Aloysius John listed what Caritas Internationalis asks the international community: to keep focusing on the Global South; to lift the sanctions on Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iran so that humanitarian aid can reach people most in need without having to overcome international bureaucratic hurdles; to cancel the debt of developing nations; to support the plea for a global ceasefire launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The Caritas Federation is working in the field through countless initiatives to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the initiatives, Caritas has launched a virtual platform to exchange specific scientific data on the pandemic. The platform is for internal use only, but the information shared on it is intended for broad sharing and consultation. In short: they mean for their information to be shared with anyone who has a legitimate need or use for it.

The Caritas Internationalis general secretary stressed that “our main concern today is to prepare the poorer countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, to confront such massive emergency due to a sudden outbreak of the pandemic. We are taking this challenge very seriously and working closely with our Member organizations by providing technical and financial support.”

Aloysius John added that “the people on the move, the migrants, the asylum seekers and the displaced are also in highly unsafe conditions and are already affected by the loss of means of livelihood, precarious living conditions and also lack of basic needs. Caritas has a special concern for those living in the refugee and IDP camps, who are displaced.”

Among the many activities on the ground, Aloysius John mentioned the Kindness Stations in the Philipinnes, established during the COVID-19 threat to share information on the virus and leave no one behind; care for the elderly, on which Caritas Armenia is focusing; distribution of supplies and food in difficult areas like the West Bank and Gaza in Israel, where Caritas Jerusalem is operating; aid delivered in poorest countries like Venezuela, where the local Caritas is organizing a series of ‘kitchen soups’ to feed the poorest ones.

Caritas Internationalis is also committed to raising awareness, especially in countries unable to implement security measures needed to avoid the spread of the pandemic. In Rwanda, already before the first case of COVID 19 infection was found in the country, the local Caritas spread messages of awareness through the diocesan radio.

Aloysius John stressed that Africa “is the main concern because they are getting ready only now. The local bishops' conferences delivered much information. We are trying to integrate what we learned in contrasting the Ebola outbreak.”

At the moment, Caritas is hiring physicians in Kenya. Caritas South Sudan is one of the most important actors in that country, and works along with six other local Caritas organizations to face the COVID-19 outbreak.

Every country has different tasks. In India, for example, “the people are not afraid because of the coronavirus, but because of the lack of employment that will follow the lockdown.”

Even Caritas Italy is on the front line in addressing the emergency, and  Pope Francis personally donated 100,000 euros for the expenses.

Along with the commitment of Caritas, it is also expected that the Dicastery for the Integral Human Development will set up a sort of control room to find out which are the most effective measures and supports to give to the local Churches.

Pope Francis met with Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect, and the top-ranking of the Dicastery on Apr. 6 and likely discussed the initiatives to set up.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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