2011-08-05 L’Osservatore Romano“There is no worse deaf man than he who does not want to listen and no worse blind man that he who does not want to see.” The words of this ancient proverb return to life given the hesitations of the international community to effectively intervene in resolving the dramatic situation in the countries of the Horn of Africa, denounced by Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio’, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants in this interview with our newspaper. They are acting too late, he says, and there is no one who gives the impression of “really wanting to get involved in the situation,” to try to find a solution. “Even humanitarian aid too often ends up in the internal web of fighting that is creating bloodshed in the country and does not reach the most needy populations. Responsible international mediation is more urgent than ever.”
Last Sunday, the Pope once again drew attention to the needs of the people in the Horn of Africa. He explicitly recalled that the Gospel forbids indifference towards those who are hungry and thirsty. Can you place his words in the context of the situation in those countries?
The Gospel teaching is always linked to the events in society. Yesterday, like today, we Christians must consider all aspects of life and what happens around us in light of the Good News. Indifference is absolutely contrary to the principles of the Gospel, which ask us to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ that invite us to practice justice and to love mercy. (cf. Micah 6:8). In the service of others, we will recognize Christ in the smallest of our brothers and sisters (Mt 25:45). In June, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said at the Angelus: “The loving attention of Christians to those in difficulty and their commitment to a more supportive society are continually nourished by active and conscious participation in the Eucharist. Anyone nourished with the faith of Christ at the Eucharistic Table assimilates his same style of life, which is the style of service especially attentive to the weakest and most underprivileged persons. In fact, practical charity is a criterion that proves the authenticity of our liturgical celebrations.”
In Somalia, a prolonged drought has generated a very serious situation, officially called, “famine.” For months, the international community – and anyone who follows the situation – knew what would happen, that is, a widespread famine which has forced 20% of families into an extreme reduction of food supplies, with acute levels of malnutrition, superior to 30%. A drama in which the mortality rate is over two people a day for every 10,000 people.
Even before the famine, the situation was dramatic for children under five years of age in refugee camps, due to insufficient nutrition; above the emergency level.
Do you think the international community’s response has been sufficient, especially for the situation in Somalia, in which there exists a sort of parallel economy of humanitarian aid, dominated by the clans of that country?
It is true that we are late in acting, maybe too late. Unfortunately this is connected to the complicated history of Somalia. For many years it was a country without a government. There were many attempts to bring peace, at least thirteen very serious ones. The interim government seems not to be working and various Islamic groups continue to fight, causing further violence and bloodshed. Remember that in 1991, much food aid was raided by different military factions. And we can’t forget the traumatic events of 1993, when the bodies of soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. These examples are sufficient to understand why no one really wanted to get involved in the situation.
There are many difficulties in pastoral care of young people in these countries because they grow up in a climate of a constant civil war, which has lasted for more than 20 years. What can be done to help young people understand that they don’t need a machine gun in order to live?
This is a very difficult questions. I know that in various dioceses (like in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Sierra Leone and in Liberia) there are courses for re-integrating ex-child soldiers. They were created after the conflicts: young people are prepared to enter into society. One of the principle phases is reconciliation which allows them to be accepted by society and by their families. This helps integration. They are also offered the possibility to attend school or receive vocational training. Unfortunately – I repeat – all of this was created only after the conflicts. Sometimes the youngest among them decide to escape to other regions of the country or ask for exile.
To avoid them being recruited by force, one possibility could be to allow them to join without holding them responsible or prosecuting them. That is possible through the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on involving minors in armed conflicts, which forbids the direct participation of children or adolescents under 18 in war…The only possibility is to give them hope. Development is another word for peace. How far is the international community willing to go to help a complicated situation like Somalia?
What are the initiatives of your dicastery to help these people?
Our Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants attentively follows the work of the local churches in carrying out their pastoral duty. Other dicasteries take care of emergency situations. The Pontifical Council Cor Unum has become the messenger of the support of the Holy Father. The local Church and different Catholic organizations are active in helping those who have urgent need of assistance, with a long-term perspective. The emergency phase will continue for some time given that in the next few months it is expected that the situations in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia will continue to deteriorate. We should be aware that all over the world there are situations of need, in the face of which one feels impotent to intervene in an adequate way.