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Aid agency calls on governments to use untapped potential of the Church for humanitarian issues

by Tola Mbakwe

A new report by the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales says the government should use the untapped potential of the Church to recover from humanitarian problems around the world. 

CAFOD's report entitled 'Distinctive role of the Catholic Church in development and humanitarian response' says that the vital part played by the Church in times of crisis is often overlooked by governments and international agencies such as the United Nations.

The report claims that instead of being involved at the planning stage, CAFOD and other members of the Church's Caritas aid network are simply asked to carry out plans drawn up elsewhere.  

Graham Gordon, head of policy at CAFOD and author of the report, told Premier: "In many countries, it [the Church] is the only way of reaching the people who need urgent support. This was clear during the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and we are putting that experience to work in fighting Covid-19."  

"We see this in the Ebola response in West Africa, when the death rate was spiralling, it was only the faith leaders who could work with communities to change the cultural practices and the burial practices, so that Ebola didn't spread at burials. And it took months for that to happen. 

"And interestingly, when the next Ebola outbreak happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it still took weeks for the government and the United Nations to actually ask the churches and the other faith leaders to be part of the planning and not just to implement little parts of the project."

CAFOD responding to DRC ebola outbreak in November 2019. (Photot Credit: Tommy Trenchard/ Caritas Internationalis)

CAFOD said with the Church's extensive experience in development and humanitarian efforts, governments should see the Church as a vital partner to plan and implement solutions during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The charity's report says the Church networks are trusted and rooted in local communities and can reach the most vulnerable people and remote places where governments often struggle to reach. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo is among several countries where the Catholic Church is the main provider of community health services, particularly in more remote areas.   

Gordon said: "Colliding with the coronavirus is a crisis of hunger, ongoing conflict and displacement, climate change and economies on the verge of collapse, threatening years of development gain for communities who have worked to transform their lives, and now find themselves extremely vulnerable and fearful. 

"There is good news, the Church sits on all these frontlines and will remain long after the international community move on, supporting communities to recover, and rebuilding lives and livelihoods." 

The report calls on the UK Government, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and governments around the world to implement an evidence-based learning programme with faith leaders about what has worked in the past, including in the COVID-19-response. 

It also recommends that there be long-term support for effective partnerships with faith leaders, focusing on areas such as peacebuilding and humanitarian response. 

"One of the amazing things that we see in this report is that you see nuns and priests and an army of volunteers who really are often giving up their lives to serve the communities they're working with," Gordon told Premier. 
 
"In Brazil, you see missionaries who are travelling days to go into the Amazon to be with people there. You have priests on the front line in Sudan. You have nuns in Zambia and Kenya who are living with people, who are giving their lives to people. 

"As a result, they are part of the community and they're trusted. They can understand people in a way that government workers or outsiders never will and we really have to use their expertise and their roots into communities to transform people's lives."

Listen to Premier's interview with Graham Gordon here: 

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