POPE TO DIPLOMATS: USE DIALOGUE AND DIPLOMACY, PROMOTE INTIATIVES OF ENCOUNTER AND PEACE – MALNUTRITION, FOOD, MEDICINE SHORTAGES AT CRISIS LEVELS IN VENEZUELA

I don’t know if you have been following the political situation in Venezuela these last many months hut it has created a humanitarian situation that has reached crisis levels, according to the communications office of Caritas Internationalis in Rome. Below is a report I received today from Caritas. There are many other cirses, not necessarily of a humanitarian nature – banking, access to money, inflation, and many other issues.

POPE TO DIPLOMATS: USE DIALOGUE AND DIPLOMACY, PROMOTE INTIATIVES OF ENCOUNTER AND PEACE

Pope Francis greeted newly accredited ambassadors to the Holy See on Thursday morning, telling them that dialogue and not the use of force, was the pathway to peace. The new ambassadors represent Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Nepal, Niger, Sudan and Trinidad and Tobago, The Pope said the international scene “at present is marked by great complexity,” nor is it free “of dark clouds.” (photo news.va)

The Holy Father said that this situation required “a greater awareness of the approaches and actions needed to pursue the path of peace and to lessen tensions.”  Among the factors aggravating problems, he said, is “an economic and financial system that, rather than being at the service of people, is set up principally to serve itself and to evade oversight by public authorities. … Those authorities are responsible for the common good, yet they lack the means necessary to moderate the disproportionate appetites of the few.”

Men and women, not money, the Pope stressed “must once more become the goal of the economy..

Francis noted how conflicts around the world, were being exacerbated by fundamentalism, “the abuse of religion to justify a thirst for power, the manipulation of God’s holy name to advance by any means possible one’s own plans to gain power,”

Pope Francis urged differences to be confronted “with the courageous patience of dialogue and diplomacy, with initiatives of encounter and peace, and not with shows of force and its hasty and ill-advised use….If we move decisively in this direction, the cause of peace and justice – the conditions of a balanced development for all – will make tangible progress.” (Vatican Radio)

MALNUTRITION, FOOD, MEDICINE SHORTAGES AT CRISIS LEVELS IN VENEZUELA

Child malnutrition in parts of Venezuela is now at the level of a humanitarian crisis, warns a new report from the local Caritas agency. With the economy in freefall, shortages of food and medicine and soaring food prices, nearly half of children under five in areas monitored by Caritas are suffering from some degree of malnutrition or at imminent risk.

Caritas has been surveying child malnutrition across four states including the capital Caracas. The latest figures show that 11.4 percent of children under five are suffering either from moderate or severe acute malnutrition. The World Health Organisation’s crisis threshold for child malnutrition is 10 percent. (photo, venezuelaanalysis.com)

The Caritas figure rises to 48 per cent when under-fives at risk or already suffering lower levels of malnutrition are included. “We are extremely worried,” said Janeth Márquez, director of Caritas Venezuela, “which is why we are going public with this series of reports. We have been monitoring levels of malnutrition and providing assistance to under-fives since October across four states: Distrito Capital, Vargas, Miranda and Zulia.

“Our results clearly show that general levels of malnutrition are rising and acute malnutrition in children has crossed the crisis threshold. If we don’t respond soon, it will become very difficult for these children ever to get back onto their nutritional growth curve.”

For the most vulnerable children, Caritas distributes kits containing specialist food supplements, especially protein and minerals such as iron. Medicines are also offered to the most at-risk people, who have to be strictly prioritised given the difficulty of obtaining medical supplies.

Over eight in ten households across 31 parishes surveyed in the Caritas report are eating less than before, and nearly six out of ten say that some family members are going without food so that another person in the family can eat – typically mothers giving their own food to their children.

Caritas warns crisis is developing

“In some places we surveyed, the child malnutrition level was as high as 13 percent,” said Susana Raffalli, a humanitarian specialist in food emergencies working for Caritas in Venezuela. “If you think that four years ago the acute malnutrition rate was 3 percent, then it is shocking. In October it was 8 percent. It is progressing at a worryingly high rate”.

“You see the wasting and in some cases the edema – all the classic images of starving children. In the villages, it’s the children who are worst affected but also the adults are very wasted. You still see fancy restaurants and people living a normal life in the capital, but even in those areas, in the early morning, you see people going through trash bins looking for food.”

The Caritas report shows one in twelve households were eating “from the street” – scavenging for leftover food from restaurants and rubbish bins. With inflation running at 720 percent, the highest in the world, the basic food basket now costs 16 times the minimum wage.

“It’s a major crisis and needs national and international help to manage the scale of the disaster at the highest decision-making levels,” said Susana Rafalli. “Livelihoods have been degraded to such an extent, that the very poor have no means to cope – everything has broken down. Jobs, healthcare, the family, home – poor people have lost everything as they move about in search of a lifeline. The humanitarian community and the people of Venezuela need to begin a full-scale response now.”

Humanitarian response needed now

Venezuela’s healthcare system has collapsed. Hospitals have run out of medicines, healthcare provision, and mosquito-borne diseases including zika, dengue, malaria and chikungunya, as well as infant and maternal mortality rate are on the rise.

“We need in-kind aid from the outside,” says Susana Raffalli. “In hospitals, we don’t even have formula for babies. We need basic medicines.”

As part of the Caritas response, ‘sentinel sites’ where children are brought for regular checks have successfully been set up to monitor nutrition levels and provide nutritional supplements and basic medicines to affected children. House visits are also conducted, with the result that children at risk are now identified immediately and given medical and nutritional help.

“We are lucky to have a wonderful team of volunteer medics who are serving the community,” said Janeth Márquez. “In the parishes where Caritas is carrying out its programme, a number of children have stabilized and even recovered, despite the ongoing crisis.”

Alongside shortage of food, the other biggest risk to health is the lack of clean drinking water. Even in urban areas supplies can be cut off for days. “We are very worried about access to safe water,” said the Caritas director.

“Fresh water supplies failed a long time ago, as reservoirs have not been properly maintained, and there are no basic supplies for making water drinkable such as chlorine. In many areas the piped water is not safe to drink,” she said. “If a child who is already malnourished falls ill with a parasite, obviously the impact will be much worse. The economic situation is so bad that people can’t afford gas bottles, so they are not boiling their water.

“We are running workshops to show people how to protect themselves from water-borne parasites. We are also distributing hand-made fresh water filters that were developed for use in Africa, and training people to use them so that especially children, pregnant women and old people can drink better water.”

The Caritas report has been issued to urge the national and international community to intervene in the crisis, concluding that direct food relief including nutritional supplements is critical as is the restoring of adequate facilities for healthcare, clean water, and sanitation.

As Caritas concludes, “The response to the food crisis must be a social and economic priority, taking the politics out of protecting the most vulnerable people and facilitating the relief work of all those who, officially or unofficially, have direct contact with those most in need throughout the country.”

 

SHORT TAKES…..

Pope Francis tweeted this today, May 1: “May Saint Joseph give young people the ability to dream, to take risks for big tasks, the things that God dreams for us.”

Today is May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the celebration throughout Italy and much of the world of Labor Day, a public holiday and this year a three-day weekend. Rome is extraordinarily quiet today, with most stores and all offices closing, and fewer busses and taxis running. In fact, on Sundays and holidays the number of busses and taxis are cut in half, so that taxis on those days number 4,000, not 8,000. You do not need a newspaper article to tell you this – just try waiting for a bus. The waiting time is longer than usual (and on some routes that can be quite long) and many bus routes simply do not function on those days. Tourist monuents and the Vatican, however, always have high numbers of visitors on holidays.

A huge rock concert takes place on this day every year on the grounds surrounding St. John Lateran basilica. The crowd has traditionally been really huge – several hundred thousand over the hours of the concert that ends around midnight. It may be larger than usual today simply by the fact that Italians had a long three-day weekend with the May 1 holiday.

It was a long weekend for Pope Francis – he was in Egypt for 27 hours Friday and Saturday and on Sunday, back in Rome, he addressed a massive crowd of members of Italian Catholic Action as they celebrated the 150th anniversary of this organization. He prayed the noon Regina Coeli prayer with all the faithful that spilled over into Via della Conciliazione.

Francis was in Egypt to attend the International Peace Conference at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Friday, after his arrival, he paid a courtesy visit to Egyptian President Al-Sisi. Afterwards, he went to Al Azhar University, the summit of Sunni Islam teaching where he heard an opening address by the Grand Imam, Sheik Ahmad Al-Tayeb. Francis told the conference that religious leaders must denounce violations of human rights and expose attempts to justify violence and hatred in the name of God.

Later, in a meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox leader Pope Tawadros II Pope Francis said the two communities must oppose violence and work more closely together to witness to Christ in the world.  Both agreed they must try to fix a common date for Easter among Christians.  Friday evening, an impromptu meeting took place when a group of  around 300 young people gathered in front of the apostolic nunciature in Cairo, where the Pope spent the night. He had brief remarks for the young people, blessed them, prayed the Our Father with them and said several words in Arabic.

Saturday at the seminary in Cairo, Francis told priests, religious and seminarians to be “sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue,” despite the many difficulties they face. At Mass at Cairo’s “Air Defense Stadium,” he spoke of the need to “proclaim our faith in the Resurrection precisely by living in a way that conveys our conviction.” He said, “the only fanaticism that believers can have is that of charity – any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him.” He returned to Rome Saturday evening.

SHORT TAKES…..

FRANCIS AND THE MEDIA ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (CNA/EWTN News) – In his conversation with journalists on the way back from Egypt, Pope Francis touched on an array of topics, including North Korea, populism and a possible visit from President Donald Trump. Click here to read full text of papal in-flight presser: (photos: news.va)  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-pope-francis-in-flight-presser-from-egypt-24826/

POPE FRANCIS APPEALS FOR END TO VIOLENCE IN VENEZUELA – (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed for an end to violence in Venezuela and for respect of human rights in the country where nearly 30 people have been killed in unrest this month. His appeal came on Sunday before the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square. “I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, to respect human rights and to seek a negotiated solution.” Decrying the “grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population,” the Holy Father said we are continuing to receive dramatic news of people being killed, injured, and detained. http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-appeals-for-an-end-to-violence-in-ven

FRATERNITY CAN GENERATE A JUST SOCIETY WITH DIGNITY FOR ALL -(Vatican Radio) On May 1st the Church  remembers Saint Joseph the Worker, a day marked across the globe as International Labor Day. Pope Francis’ thoughts in these days go especially towards young people as expressed in his May 1st tweet: “May Saint Joseph give young people the ability to dream, to take risks for big tasks, the things that God dreams for us,” many of whom are faced with unprecedented high rates of unemployment and socio-financial difficulties. And, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as it holds its Plenary Assembly in the Vatican on the theme “Towards a Participatory Society: New Roads to Social and Cultural Integration,” the Pope recalls the “hard battles” of workers during the 19th and 20th centuries which took place “in the name of solidarity and rights.”       http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-fraternity-can-generate-a-just-society-with-d