ACN reaches out to ease the struggle of pastoral workers
Zimbabwe’s recent re-imposition of a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has once again focused global attention on this distressed country. The need for help is huge due to a surge in the number of infections and up to 596 new cases and 26 deaths in just one week, as stated by the Vice President Constantino Chiwenga in mid-June.
In recent months the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need has been able to provide ongoing support to help fight the pandemic.
COVID-19 is wreaking increasing havoc on the African continent. On July 15, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed disturbing figures. In one week, the number of deaths on the continent has jumped by 43%! And among the most affected countries is Zimbabwe. In early July, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) received information about the situation in this country.
Funds were given to supply personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, latex gloves, protective suits, gumboots, and disinfectants. All this equipment enables the service of more than 1,200 pastoral workers—priests, deacons and religious Sisters and Brothers. Their challenge is to cover the enormous eight dioceses wide country where many pastoral workers are often on the frontline serving as both medical and social aid.
Serving in an area twice the size of Toronto!
Due to its position, Zimbabwe is a gateway to Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique. This is an issue, for example, for the Diocese of Chinhoyi which is spread across a vast territory of 56,000 square kilometres, with a total of 142 pastoral workers (priests, permanent deacons and religious Brothers and Sisters) working in schools, hospitals, pastoral centres, parishes and missions; leaving it vulnerable to infections coming from Chirundu, the primary border with to Zambia. There is also a great deal of movement through unlicensed crossing points between Zambia and Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The pastoral workers must cover an enormous area in the diocese of Masvingo, around 70,000 square kilometres, twice the size of Montreal. There are only 66 priests, 83 Sisters, 2 Brothers, all involved in pastoral and educational work, but also nursing and social work, connected with 3 hospitals and 5 clinics.
Another challenge is that most of the country is rural and inhabited by farmers. In Chinhoyi, out of 21 parishes, 6 are urban and the rest are rural parishes and missions. Hospitals are far away, making it difficult to transfer serious cases. Severe infections occur due to a failure to separate COVID-19 cases from other issues. The diocese of Gokwe is even more rural, the population is made up of 100 percent farmers. As such, it does not have stakeholders who might be able to assist in emergency situations.
Famine, Malaria, AIDS, Cholera and Now, COVID-19
The rainfall pattern is very erratic resulting in an insufficient harvest. Many people are living from hand to mouth—starvation has exposed people to contracting other different diseases like malaria, since the area is infested with tsetse and mosquitos claiming numerous lives. The situation has become more complicated with the arrival of COVID-19 which has similar symptoms. The subsequent lockdown by the government left many people stranded. Pastoral workers do not have easy access to food because they cannot reach the parishioners, who helped them in the past. Similar issues plague three other dioceses: Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare.
The current epicentre though of the pandemic is Harare: the capital of Zimbabwe where currently around 136 religious men and women, serve the sick. They pray with them, give them their Last Rites, bury the dead and counsel the bereaved. These are the Church front liners who interact with one another and the communities they serve every day. Making them vulnerable to the deadly virus.
ACN’S Help Came “Just in Time”
“As the Archbishop of Bulawayo recently informed us, our help arrived just in time before the third wave,” says Ulrich Kny, ACN’s head of Project department section for Zimbabwe. Kny continues: “In many African countries, medical care is completely inadequate. Malaria, AIDS, cholera, and other diseases are very widespread. If a pandemic like Covid-19 is added to this mix, disaster is inevitable. And such a catastrophe was looming in some southern African countries at the beginning of the year, when the second wave of the pandemic, due to the spread of the South African mutant of the virus, assumed increasingly devastating proportions and claimed more and more lives—including bishops, priests, religious Sisters, catechists and other lay church workers.”
The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe has been continuously rising in the past few years, especially since Cyclone Idai in 2019. The country has temporarily experienced record rates of inflation at 786% and by 2020, more than one third of the whole population, close to 15 million, were still dependent on food aid. The Church through its pastoral agents makes constant efforts to bring consolation to the suffering people.
“It was clear to me: in order for the local churches to be able to maintain their pastoral work, we had to help. Normally, in many dioceses, we give a what we call ‘subsistence help’ to religious Sisters and Mass Offerings to priests to help them with their livelihood so that they can lead a dignified life. But now, not only subsistence help, but a survival grant, has become necessary! The priests and religious Sisters can only continue to visit the sick, dying and needy, those who are especially dependent on spiritual assistance in the loneliness of the lockdown, if they themselves are adequately protected, so we have offered our help in several countries to all dioceses for the purchase of personal protective equipment”—concludes Kny.
Thank you for your continued support for the pastoral works who are striving all over the world to provide love and hope to the victims of COVID-19.