Bishops in Africa through their common forum, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) have expressed concerns about the challenge COVID-19 pandemic poses for the people of God and institutions on the continent and appealed for individual and collective responsibilities from various stakeholders on the continent and beyond in the fight against the disease.
In their May 31 statement shared with ACI Africa, the Bishops note that “for the past six months, the world has faced an invisible enemy which is wreaking havoc everywhere, causing the death of thousands of people, of all age groups.”
“In Africa, the measure of confinement has been more or less followed, but it is clear that its application has been difficult for most people who struggle every day for survival by carrying out activities in the informal sector,” the Bishops say in the statement signed by SECAM President, Phillip Cardinal Ouédraogo.
“Judging from its devastating effects, it can be said without doubt that the consequences of the pandemic are tragic,” the African Prelates note adding that “on the economic level, recession is evident due to the shutdown of activities, especially in key production sectors, in the tourism sector, air transport and the hotel industry.”
“The social explosion is to be feared in many countries, and in particular, in Africa that is already burdened with debt and where unemployment continues to worsen, which further increases even more the phenomenon of impoverishment of the populations,” the Bishops note.
There have been at least 140,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the continent, with 61,773 recoveries and 4,223 deaths, according to statistics from the Africa Center for Disease Control.
Faced with the rapid spread of the pandemic on the continent, the leadership of SECAM has appealed to various stakeholders to take concrete measures to fight the disease.
The leaders and representatives of the Church in Africa and Madagascar have appealed to the officials of bilateral and multilateral aid agencies to “take a closer look at the case of Africa, which is currently facing the problem of lack of resources in the fight against the pandemic and the lack of the safety kits for those who, working in the informal sector, have had to suspend their activities due to lockdowns.”
“We plead for the massive cancellation of debts of African countries, to enable them to revive their economies,” the Church leaders in Africa state and continue, “we plead for substantial aid to be given to the countries to support the establishment of quality health systems; to promote the emergence of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) aimed at easing unemployment problem; and to support food security.”
SECAM leadership has also called on multinational companies and business owners to “make significant contributions to the host countries to enable them provide basic social services such as hospitals, schools, adequate and affordable housing. And since a race against the clock is currently engaged in developed countries to find an effective remedy for COVID-19, we call on the business community and the pharmaceutical companies (both formal and informal) not to exploit the situation to make profit but join in the efforts to provide care for vulnerable people.”
The members of SECAM have invited the African Union to “sensitize member countries to contribute to the creation of a Solidarity Fund, which will be used to improve the health of the populations,” urging African leaders to “ensure that the limited available resources be used to assist those who really need help, especially, the poorest of the poor and do not end in the pockets of the politically connected people through corrupt practices.”
“We exhort all the Church institutions directly involved in this fight to remain steadfast and to work with other non-Church institutions in the promotion of good heath for all people of Africa and Madagascar,” they add.
While appreciating the efforts that have been made by the respective governments to contain the brutal spread of the virus on the continent, the Church leaders have described the challenges posed by COVID-19 as a moment that should instill in Christians “faith and trust in God who is always there for us.”
“Jesus’ name ‘Emmanuel’ means, God is with us. Be it a closed Church or confinement at home or hunger or disease or sickness, etc, God is continuously with each one everywhere in the world. The tool we urgently need these days is prayer for God to deepen our faith and trust in him,” the Catholic Bishops in Africa state in their message.
Referencing the Feast of Pentecost celebrated Sunday, May 31, the Prelates observe “in these days of the coronavirus pandemic, the Holy Spirit is working through those doctors, nurses, health workers, volunteers and caregivers who are on the frontline of this emergency, and are risking their lives night and day to save others, including priests who, in their pastoral concern and fidelity to the Gospel, are trying to help and support everyone.”
In the 5-page statement, the members of SECAM have once again appealed for solidarity in the fight against COVID_19 saying, “Dear sons and daughters of the African continent, it is time to reactivate the value of solidarity that has shaped our societies to better face the impact of the pandemic and to be able to turn our economies around, while relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the grace to love and to be compassionate.”
They add, “In this time when many are in dire need, let us help them to experience the love of God. In the same vein, let us not stigmatize those who have recovered from COVID-19 disease but accept them warmly and make them feel happy to be back to their families or communities. Let us further join forces to achieve a harmonious development, concerned to preserve human dignity and sustainability of future generations.”
The Church leaders have also expressed solidarity with all those infected and affected by COVID-19, and offer “our condolences to the families that have lost their loved ones. Be assured that the Church-Family of-God in Africa carries you in her daily prayers and addresses supplications to the Risen Christ to help us to live in peace and in good health.”
They implore in conclusion, “We earnestly urge everyone to turn to the Holy Spirit daily and pray that he continues to fill the hearts of the faithful with hope and courage; to kindle in all peoples of the world the fire of his love; to renew the face of the earth, bring an end to the pandemic and pave the way for the emergence of a new world.”