VOL 124 NO. 27
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
The Syracuse Diocese looks to alleviate some of the suffering in Africa
While the G8 hemmed and hawed on the African crisis and bold claims of “making poverty history” dwindled to a whimper, Western Christians acted.
Most recently, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) initiated a campaign to help African dioceses help themselves.
The Syracuse Diocese has numerous priests from Africa who minister in Central New York. Catholic Charities Director Dennis Manning and Director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministry Ralph Jones came up with a plan wherein those priests would contact their home diocese with the question “What would you do with $10,000?”
Manning said that to the best of his knowledge, this is the first time the diocese has been directly involved in an international relief effort. Previously, most of the money collected for international relief went through Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore.
On behalf of their home dioceses in Africa, Manning received written requests from African priests throughout the diocese. CRS also examined a request from Sister Miriam Regina Onyeka, who was writing on behalf of her order, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ, and their convent in Nigeria.
Another element of the proposal included both Jones and Manning venturing to Africa for a cursory investigation of certain dioceses. With limited time to look at the countries that would be included, Manning and Jones elected to go to the Western African nations of Nigeria and Ghana. The other countries are all located in Eastern Africa.
The purpose of their journey was to show solidarity with African Catholics and to gain an understanding of the situation so that they could help African priests explain it to parishes in the Syracuse Diocese.
“The term we use a lot is solidarity, being in solidarity with the poor and how do you demonstrate that, how do you show that? It’s hard to do and it’s hard to be there while you do it. One of the reasons Ralph and I wanted to go is to be living witnesses and to supplement what the priests can communicate while they’re here because they try, I mean they try to communicate,” Manning said, “so that our folks, who are very generous, will better understand the needs in Africa, or in some parts of Africa, and feel moved to act in some way either donating money or sponsoring a seminarian.”
The director of Catholic Charities is aware of domestic needs, but the scale of the crises in many parts of Africa dwarfs them.
“We certainly have many needs of our own in our own dioceses and in our own country,” Manning said. “But when you compare them, it’s incredible, just incredible.”
The conditions they found in Nigeria were staggering. At times, Manning came close to questioning whether what he was seeing was real or a hoax designed to curry Western sympathy.
“I put together about 18 or 19 photos from one of the hospitals we visited and in the last couple of days as I was editing them…part of my mind still says ‘That can’t be. What I’m looking at can’t be. Surely that’s not a hospital. Surely that’s staged to raise money,’” Manning said. “But it’s not. It’s the real thing.”
Manning was operating in Africa in his capacity as the diocese’s director of CRS.
The money for the project was channeled from funds raised by each parish through standard relief collections.
“Each diocese is permitted to keep some money from national Catholic relief collections, routine collections, not the tsunami and 9/11 collections,” Manning said. “So we had some money and I was looking for a meaningful way to spend it in international relief, which is basically what CRS does. Catholic Charities is more of the national relief. CRS does the international relief.”
Most of the projects are geared toward basic needs such as food, water and medicine.
Deplorable healthcare conditions struck both Manning and Jones during their trip.
“I think I was most affected by the healthcare, the primitive nature of the healthcare,” Manning said.
“Flintstone vitamins are the only thing they have an abundant supply of because they can’t get medicine to the continent,” Jones said.
In an unrelated project, the Office of Black Catholic Ministry is currently involved with CRS in repackaging medical equipment and sending it to Africa.
While HIV and AIDS in Africa have been in the crisis spotlight, Manning stressed that water is a major issue in many countries and many of the proposals reflected that.
“Many of the projects had to do with water,” Manning said. “Water is a critical problem there.”
Father Cleophas, who is currently serving at St. Ambrose parish in Endicott and who hails from the Nakuru Diocese in Kenya, offered a proposal that Manning found intriguing. The request involved dealing with roof catchment water tanks intended to bring clean, safe water closer to the people of Kiamaina village in the Nakuru district of Kenya. The Nakuru Diocese serves roughly 50 percent of Kenya’s population. Seventy-three percent of Kenya’s population is Christian.
With a population of 31.9 million people, less than 20 percent of Kenya is arable, while the other 80 percent is arid with unevenly distributed rainfall. According to figures from 2000 and issued in the United Nations Develop Program Human Resources report in 2003, just 57 percent of the population has access to clean, safe water. The infant mortality rate in Kenya is 78 per 1,000 live births. Not only are Kenyans deprived of clean drinking water, but the lack also makes irrigation difficult in a country largely based on agriculture. Ten percent of all Kenyans (over 3 million people) are HIV positive and only 25,000 of those afflicted have access to medication.
Father Cleophas’ initiative involves constructing cement tanks that would provide water for the roughly 200 families that dwell in Kiamaina.
Easy access to clean water would greatly improve living conditions in Kiamaina village, reducing the potential for water borne diseases, according to Father Cleophas’ report.
The tanks are built beneath gutters on houses and collect rainwater. A similar project, executed on a much larger scale, met with considerable success in the Laikipa District in Kenya.
Father Daniel Korie of Uganda, who serves at St. Ambrose Church in Endicott, submitted a project that put some guidance in the hands of Jones and Manning. Father Korie’s first suggestion was that the money go toward a three-classroom bungalow for children at St. Mary’s Umuihi. Another suggestion dealt with a water borehole project in the same place that would serve the resident priests, the Congregation Visitors of Mary Immaculate. The only current water source for those priests is a dirty river, located some 10 miles away. The third proposal was for an underground water tank.
Like much of Western Africa, Uganda is locked in a crisis. A grisly uprising in the northern region waged by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has lasted for 20 years and has dislocated up to 2 million people from their homes, many of them have been reinserted into camps which lack proper food and water. The LRA has abducted thousands of children and subjected them to horrific sexual acts and then converted them into soldiers. Between 2002 and 2003, the LRA abducted 12,000 children. Certain experts weighing in on Reuters Foundation website alertnet.org consider the crisis in northern Uganda similar to that of the infamous Darfur region in Sudan. Uganda was once the flashpoint for the AIDS epidemic in Western Africa, but the rate has fallen to six percent of the population from over 20 percent.
Writing on behalf of Archbishop James Odongo of Tororo in Uganda, Father Charles of Most Holy Rosary Parish in Maine, N.Y., penned a report that asked that the money go toward improvements in the water system at a seminary which houses 158 students, seven priests and several lay instructors.
Jones subscribes to the argument that colonialism and its neo-colonial offspring have hampered the development of one of the world’s most resource-rich continents. He notes that while Africa is the home of many important elements such as gold, diamonds and oil, the countries that house such resources do not own them, that they are the property of foreign corporations based in the U.S. and Europe.
Jones believes the crisis in Africa is a direct result of Western interference. Were the West to simply leave Africa alone, it would thrive.
“Africa left to Africa’s own devices will surpass even the strides that China has made economically and across the board,” he said. Adding that Catholicism has developed strong roots there. “It’s a very, very Christian continent,” he said.