His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, will depart for Sierra Leone on 16 December and then proceed to Liberia on 18 December. The cardinal hopes to bring “a message of solidarity and hope to the Church, health workers and the general populations” of the Ebola-stricken countries.
Cardinal Turkson will be accompanied by Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, Special Advisor on Health for Caritas Internationalis. “The Church, including Caritas, religious congregations, and other organisations of Catholic inspiration have been on the front lines of the Ebola response,” said Vitillo. “In addition to providing health care for other illnesses and establishing strict infection control procedures and screening areas in order to prevent transmission of the virus in the health care setting, the Church has mobilized community response and education to engage clergy and local parish groups in efforts to stop the spread of this deadly virus.”
In total the World Health Organization reports some 18,000 confirmed, probable or suspected cases, and more than 6,500 deaths resulting from this disease. But Cardinal Turkson observed that the impact of this epidemic goes far beyond the health sector. “The closing of businesses and other places of employment has raised havoc with an already fragile economy. Experts tell us that the social costs are very serious; because the schools are closed, teenage pregnancies are on the increase, as well as petty crimes, as young people wander the streets with no productive activity. Ebola orphans often are rejected by their extended family members even when they have been confirmed as ‘Ebola-free’.”
Cardinal Turkson also recognized “the need to help priests and other pastoral care workers attend to the spiritual needs of those living with the infection and of their loved ones. We must treat the whole person not just their bodies. Even though there is a ‘no-touch’ policy in these countries, it is possible for pastoral care workers to pray with from a safe distance, to counsel them, to bless them, and to officiate at their funeral rites, which must be coordinated by specialized burial teams.”
“On several occasions,” Turkson concluded, “the Holy Father has expressed his deep concern for the people living with and affected by Ebola. I hope to give expression to the solidarity of the Pope and the entire Church.”
During his General Audience on 24 October 2014, Pope Francis said, “In the face of the worsening Ebola epidemic, I would like to express my deep concern about this relentless disease that is spreading on the African continent, especially among the more disadvantaged groups. I am close with love and prayer to those stricken, as well as to the doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious institutes and associations, who are working heroically to help our sick brothers and sisters. I renew my appeal that the International Community exert all necessary effort to weaken this virus, effectively alleviating the hardship and suffering of all those so sorely tried. I invite you to pray for them and for those who have lost their lives.”
For more information, please contact Mons. Robert J. Vitillo: +41 79 811 7983 and firstname.lastname@example.org.