'The Lord is present in children and waits for us in them'

 Yesterday Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," presented the Holy Father's Lenten Message for 2004. The theme of this year's message is: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me." Mgr Karel Kasteel, secretary of the same dicastery, and Fr Angelo D'Agostino, SJ, founder and medical director of Nyumbani - The Children of God Relief Institute in Nairobi, Kenya were also present. Archbishop Cordes affirmed that in this year's message, the Pope wants to awaken consciences to the condition of children who were Jesus' favourites. "Treating them with indifference and rejecting them," he said, "means rejecting the Lord because He is present in them and He waits for us in them." "Children are the 'smallest,' the neediest of all," he continued, "infants depend completely on the love of others; they are alive thanks to what those who are responsible for them give them." Referring to the tragedy of AIDS, which John Paul II talks about in the Message, the president of "Cor Unum" indicated that children affected by the disease "prompt the greatest question that man asks himself about the goodness of the Heavenly Father: What evil have these children done to merit such suffering? From a human standpoint, there is no response to such a question. The Pope responds in this way in the Message: 'Only faith can make us begin to understand so profound an abyss of suffering'." Citing the Pope's words that Lent is a "call for a radical conversion," Archbishop Cordes underlined that "this conversion will be the fruit of our getting close to God, of a reflection of His light and the grace of the sacrament of confession." Jesus accepted suffering "freely to save us from our sins. The perspective of faith gives us the courage to open our heart to our brothers and sisters in need, to children who are suffering." At the end of his speech, the president of the dicastery announced two initiatives: the production by the Vatican Post Office of a series of special stamps on the Lenten message as well as a development project for orphan children with AIDS in the diocese of Nairobi, Kenya. Donations from outside Italy can be sent to the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," Vatican City State, 00120, indicating that the sum is for Fr. D'Agostino's project in Nairobi. Fr Angelo D'Agostino noted that "with Ignatian insight, finding God in all things has served to find life in apparent death, healing in sickness, knowledge in ignorance. In the past the Church brought solace to lepers and the plague victim; today, HIV/AIDS cries out for relief. As a physician/priest I have tried to answer that cry." He spoke of his many years of experience in Nairobi with HIV+ children, an overwhelming number of whom are orphans, pointing out that "in the early days we averaged two or three deaths a month, but since the advent of Anti-Retro Virus medications that has dropped drastically so that for all of 2003 we had not a single fatality. The ARV drugs are partly donated by the Brazilian government gratis but some have to be bought on the open market." In the community-based program serving 1,000 HIV+ orphans, "we suffer seven or eight deaths each month because we do not have the funds to pay the unaffordable prices demanded by the big international drug companies. Today at least 400 people die every day in Kenya because of AIDS." Fr D'Agostino underscored that the fact that AIDS is a killer in Africa and a chronic disease in Europe and North America is due to "the genocidal action of the drug cartels who refuse to make the drugs affordable in Africa even after they reported a $517 billion profit in 2002. This is a moral issue that shows the lack of social conscience by these capitalistic enterprises, which could easily save the lives of the 25 million sub-Saharan Africans who are HIV+ and otherwise doomed. How will we as Christians explain this silence on our part some 50 years from now?" Source: VIS

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