Christ, Hope for Africa

Message of His Holiness John Paul II for the 13th World Day of the Sick Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, Yaoundé, Cameroon – 11 February 2005

1. After ten years, in 2005, Africa will once again be hosting the principal celebrations for World Day of the Sick that will take place at the Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

The choice of this venue will offer an opportunity to express real solidarity to the peoples of that Continent, tried by serious inadequacies in the health-care sector. A further step will thus be taken in implementing the commitment which the Christians of Africa made at the third World Day of the Sick 10 years ago, that is, to be „Good Samaritans” to their brothers and sisters in difficulties.

Actually, in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, complying with the observations of many Synod Fathers, I wrote that „contemporary Africa can be compared to the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; he fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him and departed, leaving him half dead (cf. Lk 10: 30-37)”. And I added that „Africa is a Continent where countless human beings – men and women, children and young people – are lying, as it were, on the edge of the road, sick, injured, disabled, marginalized and abandoned. They are in dire need of Good Samaritans who will come to their aid” (n. 41).

2. World Day of the Sick aims to stimulate reflection on the subject of health, whose fullest meaning also alludes to the harmony of human beings with themselves and with the surrounding world. It is exactly this vision that Africa richly expresses in its cultural tradition, testified to by many art forms, both civil and religious, that are bursting with joy, rhythm and musicality.

Unfortunately, however, today this harmony is deeply disturbed. Numerous diseases wreak havoc on the Continent, including in particular the scourge of AIDS, „which is sowing suffering and death in many parts of Africa” (ibid., n. 116: loc. Cit. n. 69). The conflicts and wars that afflict many regions of Africa stand in the way of interventions to prevent and treat these diseases. In the refugee camps people are languishing who are deprived even of the indispensable foodstuffs for survival.

I urge those who can to continue to do their utmost to put an end to these tragedies (cf. ibid., n. 117). I then remind people responsible for the sale of arms of what I said in that Document: „Those who foment wars in Africa by the arms trade are accomplices in abominable crimes against humanity” (ibid., n. 118).

3. As for the drama of AIDS, I have had the opportunity in other circumstances to stress that it is also symptomatic of a „pathology of the spirit”. To fight it responsibly, it is necessary to increase its prevention by teaching respect for the sacred value of life and the correct approach to sexuality.

Indeed, if there are many contagious infections passed on through the blood especially during pregnancy – infections that must be combated with every possible means – those contracted through sexual intercourse are by far the most numerous and can only be avoided by responsible conduct and the observance of the virtue of chastity.

The Bishops participating in the above-mentioned Synod for Africa in 1994, referring to the effect of irresponsible sexual behaviour on the spread of the disease, made a recommendation that I would like to propose anew here: „The companionship, joy, happiness and peace which Christian marriage and fidelity provide, and the safeguard which chastity gives, must be continuously presented to the faithful, particularly the young” (ibid., n. 116).

4. Everyone must feel involved in the battle against AIDS. In this area too, it is the task of government leaders and civil authorities to make available to citizens clear and correct information, and to earmark sufficient resources to provide education in health care for young people. I encourage international organizations to promote initiatives in this field that are inspired by wisdom and solidarity, and always to strive to defend human dignity and to protect the inviolable right to life.

Earnest applause goes to the pharmaceutical industries engaged in keeping low the costs of medicines helpful in the treatment of AIDS. Of course, financial resources are necessary for scientific research in the health-care sector and further resources are required to put the newly discovered drugs on the market, but in the face of emergencies such as AIDS, the preservation of human life must come before any other criterion.

I ask pastoral workers „to bring to their brothers and sisters affected by AIDS all possible material, moral and spiritual comfort. I urgently ask the world’s scientists and political leaders, motivated by the love and respect due to every human person, to use every means available in order to put an end to this scourge (ibid., n. 116).

I would like in particular to recall here with admiration the many health-care workers, chaplains and volunteers who, like Good Samaritans, assist persons with AIDS and care for their relatives. In this regard, the service of the thousands of Catholic health-care institutions that go to the help of people in Africa afflicted by every kind of illness, and especially by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, is invaluable.

In recent years, I have noted that my appeals for persons with AIDS have not been in vain. I have seen with pleasure that various countries and institutions, with a coordinated effort, have supported practical campaigns for its prevention and for the care of the sick.

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