CAFOD director Christine Allen has warned at the United Nations in New York that governments won't eradicate poverty without working with faith groups. Allen made the warning at a side-event held at the UN General Assembly which focused on the role of faith communities in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Goals, known as the 'SDGs', are a set of commitments made by world leaders in 2015 to end extreme poverty by 2030 - including by tackling climate change, fighting inequality, and ensuring everyone has clean water.
Christine Allen highlighted how Catholic and Islamic leaders helped to tackle the spread of Ebola in DR Congo by tackling stigma and providing safe and dignified burials for people who have died from the disease. She met faith leaders involved in efforts to contain the outbreak on a visit to the country in July.
Allen also noted that trust in faith groups, as well as their presence in and ability to provide access to hard-to-reach communities, are important tools for achieving the SDGs.
Allen, who became the first female Director of CAFOD in March 2019, said: "I don't know if you've ever seen the personal protective equipment that people protecting themselves from Ebola are wearing, but they look a bit like spacemen - every bit of skin is covered.
"If you imagine being a community which is nervous and frightened and in comes someone having to be dressed like that, it's completely contrary to everything you feel as a human being. It dehumanises everything.
"The issue for me about the Church is that they're a trusted voice - the trust of saying: 'Here are people who are coming in to help you, you can trust these people'. And that opens doors in a very big way."
The discussion, which took place in the 'SDG Action Zone' at the UN General Assembly, also heard from representatives from Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist development organisations.
The event took place a day after world leaders took part at a special summit on climate change, convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres to persuade governments to act urgently and protect poor communities from dangerous temperature rises.
Christine Allen added: "The Church is present in communities not just in terms of the religious places of worship but actually in delivering services and providing the health and education services that exist. When other examples of services fail, the Church's faith communities are there. It's an opportunity that's missed if we're not worked with."
Harvest Family Fast Day: www.cafod.org.uk/harvest