Catholic Entities in Africa Participate in Vatican’s Launch of Debt Cancellation Campaign

Logos of Catholic entities that participated in the 7 April 2021 launch of the debt cancellation campaign for countries in Africa amid COVID-19 pandemic

Catholic Church entities in Africa earlier this week joined the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the COVID-19 Commission in the launching of the debt cancellation campaign for countries in Africa amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Launched during the Wednesday, April 7 webinar, the campaign dubbed “COVID-19 Debt Relief Campaign in Africa: Issuing a Call for Dialogue, Reflection, and Advocacy” is in support of various calls for such a move, a report by the Dicastery obtained by ACI Africa indicates. 

According to the report circulated Friday, April 9, the Vatican Dicastery and the Commission organized the launch in collaboration with Caritas Africa, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), and the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA).

Speaking during the launch, the new Undersecretary of the Dicastery, Sr. Alessandra Smerilli, said the Debt Relief Campaign, “which is even more urgent because of COVID-19 starts in Africa where the local Church has given shape to a widespread demand in civil society.” 

“The Dicastery's contribution has been, and still is, to help it (campaign) gain international visibility in the hope of creating a broad movement as in 2000,” Sr. Smerilli has been quoted as saying in the report. 


With international visibility, the leadership of the Vatican department led by Ghanaian-born Peter Cardinal Turkson hopes that the debt relief campaign will attract the attention of global leaders “who can have a direct and concrete impact on the issue." 

Such global leaders include G7 members, who comprise heads of governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as G20 officials, representatives of governments, and Central Bank governors from 19 countries and the European Union, the members of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians added. 

"Now is the time to see, judge and act on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. In times of difficulty and crisis, we can see God's action in solidarity,” the President of Caritas Africa, Ghanaian Archbishop Gabriel Justice Yaw Anokye is quoted as saying during the launch of the initiative. 

On his part, SECAM’s Secretary General, Fr. Henry Akaabiam, hailed the campaign saying, “We cannot fail to act, because if Africa lives in debt, the whole world will live in debt. If Africa is doing well, the whole world is doing well." 

In the considered opinion of Fr. Augusto Zampini, the Adjunct Secretary of the Dicastery and member of the board of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, the only way to get out of the COVID-19 multi-faceted crisis is by “alleviating the debt burden.” 

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“As we think about how to fight and defeat the pandemic on the health side, we must keep in mind what Pope Francis says: How will we come out of this crisis, better or worse? Because we have to remember that this crisis is not isolated but connected to the previous ones: the crisis due to the pandemic has only exacerbated already existing crises,” Fr. Zampini has been quoted as saying in the April 9 report. 

He continues, “We cannot get out of this crisis, which is health, economic, social, political, cultural, without alleviating the debt burden.” 

Debt relief, Fr. Zampini says, “Is not just a question of technique or mere solidarity, important though that is, but a question of justice. It is a question of intergenerational justice, because we cannot make our children and future generations pay for all the effects of our mistakes, and of spiritual justice.” 

“Nor can we forget the ecological debt of the richest countries, which are primarily responsible for climate change. But most of the burden falls on the poorest nations. Like those in Africa,” the Argentinian-born Cleric observes.

For ACWECA’s Secretary General, Sr. Hellen Bandiho, "Debt and poverty are cousins, they go together unfortunately."  


She explains, “Imagine the number of schools that can be built each year or the desks that can be bought to allow students to learn comfortably instead of sitting under trees. Imagine the number of health centers that can be built or improved to allow women to walk fewer kilometers to reach them." 

"It is certainly an ethical issue, but it is much more than that," the Director of JCAM's Justice and Ecology office, Fr. Charlie Chilufya has been quoted as saying, in reference to debt relief, adding, “the permanence of the pandemic in the peripheries of the globe, for lack of means, puts everyone's health at risk." 

The Zambian-born Kenya-based JCAM official however acknowledges the upside of the COVID-19 pandemic saying, “This crisis, which is so violent, is also providing many opportunities for collaboration that have never been seen before: people, like us today, are coming together to find a solution to promote life in the world.” 

“The urgency of debt cancellation requires that we work steadfastly and continue this dialogue. In doing so, we will raise both awareness and commitment to a new level, not only in Africa, but in all regions where the burden of unjust debt is felt,” Fr. Dominic Chai, a Jesuit economist for the Vatican COVID-19 Commission noted. 

On his part, Cardinal Turkson underscored the need for “developing a system of checks and controls so that the resources freed up for the benefit of the continent go where they are actually needed to grow and improve the conditions of peoples and people." 

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"With adequate control mechanisms, it can be guaranteed that the money forgiven is spent to promote health and education, to guarantee that integral human development to which all men and women, as Pope Francis often reminds us, have a right," the Cardinal emphasized during the April 7 launch, which he presided over. 

The Vatican's support for a debt relief campaign for countries in Africa follows similar calls by various Christian entities.

In July 2020, the Holy See through its Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, urged countries to help relieve the “crippling external debt burdens” of developing countries struggling in the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no doubt that the current COVID-19 crisis will more severely affect the lives and livelihoods of those in the developing world,” Archbishop Jurkovič told the UN trade and development board on 2 July 2020.

Two months later, the leadership of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), an ecumenical fellowship with a presence in more than 40 African nations, urged its members to put their governments to task in addressing the growing debt crisis in their respective countries, which they said has plunged African nations in a new form of slavery and taken away their sovereignty.

On their part, Catholic Church leaders in Africa joined more than 140 other Christian groups’ representatives from across the world who were calling on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to cancel developing nations’ debts amid COVID-19 challenges.

Meanwhile, last November, the leadership of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) encouraged the push for debt relief after Zambia’s external creditors denied the appeal by the Edgar Lungu-government for the suspension of the repayments of the Eurobonds for six months. 

In late February, the leadership of an international alliance of Catholics development agencies in Europe and North America, the International Cooperation for Development Solidarity (CIDSE), called “for debt cancellation and financial support to poorest countries” that have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.