VATICAN CITY — A Vatican foundation has awarded more than $2 million in aid to projects aimed at halting desertification in Africa’s Sahel region and to promoting rural development, education and irrigation.
“We have assigned over $2 million dollars for more than 200 projects” in the nine countries covered by the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel, said Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.
Established by the late pope after his first trip to Africa in 1980, the foundation works to fight poverty, protect natural resources, end desertification and promote and coordinate charity in Chad, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
In mid-February, the World Food Program and other U.N. agencies said rapid, coordinated action is needed in the Sahel region of West Africa, where more than 8 million people need food assistance because of drought-induced crop failures.
Msgr. Dal Toso was quoted by the Vatican Information Service Feb. 29 as saying the drought “will reach its peak in the coming months… Both the international community and, more specifically, a number of Catholic organizations, are seeking to intervene to prevent this crisis.”
The international Catholic community needs to help, because in most of the affected countries, Catholics are a “truly minuscule minority, in an environment characterized by the presence of Islam and of traditional religions,” he said. Working with the papal foundation, the local Catholic community serves as “an instrument of dialogue with other religions” through its charitable activity.