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Bishops join interfaith effort for famine relief

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register


In South Sudan there are nearly 1.9 million internally displaced people and 1.74 million refugees, 86 per cent of them women and children, as rebel and government forces fight for control of oil revenues. (photo: Paul Jeffrey for Caritas Internationalis)

TORONTO (CCN) — Canada’s Catholic bishops have pulled together a coalition of Christians, Muslims, Jews and others to try to keep people from starving to death in four terrorism-and-war-torn nations — South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.

Under the title “Pray-Give-Speak Out,” the faith leaders are urging Canadians to help 20 million people threatened with starvation.

The coalition has until June 30 to raise as much as it can in the #ZeroHunger campaign. Money raised between March 17 and June 30 will be matched by the federal government to be used in famine relief efforts in the four countries. But the ongoing need is such that Catholic charities participating in the campaign will continue raising money right through the summer.

“We definitely will continue raising funds all summer,” said Development and Peace emergency program director Guy Des Aulniers. “We know the worst time will be June and July in terms of living conditions in the field.”

Development and Peace has so far raised a quarter of a million dollars that are eligible for matching funds.

Des Aulniers anticipates charities will ask the government to extend the deadline on the Famine Relief Fund.

Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins is backing the Pray-Give-Speak Out campaign.

“When we care for our brothers and sisters who are suffering, we live a faith that acts,” said Collins in a press release. “My prayer is that we learn more about the causes of this famine, pray for the sick and suffering and offer our financial support to shine a ray of hope through the darkness that so many are experiencing.” 

Canada’s bishops aren’t just asking for money. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has also distributed prayers to be used at Sunday masses through the summer.

The joint statement from 27 national faith leaders and organizations, including the CCCB, said their plea was a “unified cry from the heart.”

“Ours is the insistent call for peace and the need to protect the vulnerable,” said the interfaith statement. “The protection and promotion of human dignity are foundational elements of all our faith communities. Wilful indifference toward violations against human dignity are always wrong, at all times and in all places.”

The joint effort sends an important message to the world, said Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs spokesperson Steve McDonald. 

“We and I think many others who are involved in interfaith work see dialogue as a stepping stone to joint action,” said McDonald. “The world needs us now more than ever to demonstrate that faith is a source of positive action in the world today, that faith communities are outward looking and forward looking.”

The Canadian interfaith campaign stands in direct contrast to conflicts around the world, whether it’s the ISIS attack on Iran’s parliament or the inter-communal conflicts that are producing refugees in the four countries hit by famine and near-famine conditions.

“This is an important initiative, not only because it’s a response to a great need, but it speaks to the world with a message of unity and love for humanity at a time when we only hear of divisions and conflict,” said Canadian Jesuits International executive director Jenny Cafiso.

In South Sudan and on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia, the Jesuit Fathers are dealing directly with fallout from terrorism and war, beginning with hunger, said Cafiso.

The Jesuit-run Loyola Secondary School in Wau, South Sudan, has been transformed into a food distribution centre. Jesuits are also distributing food at the St. Peter Claver Agricultural Project in Rumbek, South Sudan.

“For most students the meal they’ll get at school is the only meal they will have that day,” said Cafiso.

Contributions to Canadian Jesuits International, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and Aid to the Church in Need Canada made before June 30 are eligible for government matching. The matching funds go into the Famine Relief Fund administered by Global Affairs Canada.

Organizations with a history and demonstrated capability in the famine-affected countries will be invited to apply for funding from the matching fund. But the majority of money from the government fund will likely go to United Nations agencies. Money contributed to Catholic charities remains with them to fund their projects.

In February, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres declared an international emergency, announcing that 20 million people face imminent danger of starvation.

“We are facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a catastrophe,” Guterres told a press conference Feb. 22. “This is preventable if the international community takes decisive action. The situation is dire.”

The Canadian government responded with the Famine Relief Fund on May 29.

The government had earlier announced $119.25 million in humanitarian aid in response to Guterres’ appeal.

The CCCB has designated Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need and Canadian Jesuits International as their preferred charities. All three have local partners and projects running in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.

Development and Peace takes donations over the phone at 1-888-664-3387 or online at Cheques can be mailed to 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd. W., 3rd Floor, Montreal, Que., H3G 1T7 or a $10 contribution can be made by texting Peace to 45678 on your phone.

Aid to the Church in Need takes online donations at


Four countries in focus for relief

The Famine Relief Fund addresses four separate food crises in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. But this quartet of humanitarian disasters share certain characteristics. To varying extents, all four countries are experiencing drought and in all four cases the disruption of historic rainfall patterns suggests climate change plays a significant role. Also, in all four cases it’s likely the local population could cope with the drought if not for civil war and terrorist attacks.

SOUTH SUDAN: There are nearly 1.9 million internally displaced people and 1.74 million refugees, 86 per cent of them women and children, as rebel and government forces fight for control of oil revenues.

NORTHEASTERN NIGERIA: Severe drought in the Chad Basin has intensified the conflict between Boko Haram militants and the Nigerian army. 1.9 million people have abandoned their homes and their farms, trying to get out of the way of the fighting. In total there are 8.5 million people in need.

SOMALIA: Virtually without government for a generation, the current government only controls Mogadishu and a few counties surrounding the capital city. There are 6.2 million people in need and 1.7 million on the run from both drought and al-Shabaab terrorists. Children suffer the most. More than 71,000 require immediate, life-saving nutrition treatment.

YEMEN: The conflict between Shia Houthi rebels and the Sunni, Saudi-backed government is complex and unrelenting. More than 70 per cent of the population, 18.8 million people, need outside assistance to meet their basic needs. That includes 6.8 million who aren’t getting enough to eat.


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