Prayer to Mary: Pope doesn’t leave Rome without it

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis entrusted his upcoming apostolic journey to the Holy Land to Our Lady when he visited a Marian icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning.

Icon of Mary, Salvation of the Roman People, seen during service at Basilica of St. Mary Major in 2011

This icon of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani,” is at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He brought roses and prayed in silence before the icon for about 15 minutes, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told us today.

The unannounced morning visit marks what has become a Pope Francis tradition: visiting the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people)  to pray for Mary’s protection and care before a major trip.

He did the same thing before heading to Brazil last year when he prayed that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day and for all young people around the world:

File photo of Pope Francis praying in front of Marian icon in Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

Pope Francis praying in front of the icon of “Salus Populi Romani,” at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome July 20, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


He also visited the day after his election, at the start of his new journey as supreme pontiff:

Newly-elected Pope Francis leaves flowers in front of icon at Rome basilica

The day after his election in 2013, Pope Francis visited the icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


The icon has special significance for the pope and he has visited it often on different occasions to pray. He has said that the Basilica of St. Mary Major was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the “Theotokos” — was venerated.

According to tradition, this image of Mary embracing Jesus as a young boy was the work of the evangelist St. Luke, who painted it on a tabletop made by Jesus himself in St. Joseph’s carpentry shop. Many centuries later, Jesuit missionaries distributed reproductions of the image to promote Marian devotion around the world.




Tight security, traffic jams concern Israelis, Palestinians

By Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Pope Francis’ Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be the only opportunity for local faithful to participate in the papal visit.

Pilgrims filled Manger Square for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 13, 2009. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Pilgrims filled Manger Square for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 13, 2009. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

While there is room for about 9,000 people in the square, locals are wondering about the need for tickets to attend the Mass.

Despite the complaints, Jamal Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate seminary in Beit Jalla and a spokesman for the pope’s visit, said tickets are necessary to maintain order.

The precious tickets have been distributed throughout different geographical areas, including about 1,000 in Galilee, where both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated large-scale Masses. Church officials also requested permits for about 600 Christian families from Gaza to attend.

One of the families from Gaza will be lucky enough to lunch with Pope Francis after the liturgy. Another will be present at the Presidential Palace during a courtesy visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Of note is that the Gaza parish has a unique connection with the pope: both Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor, and one of the sisters serving the parish are from Argentina.

Palestinian Christians also will be faced with what they called a “possible curfew” in Jerusalem during the pope’s visit. Some have sent a letter voicing their concerns to Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, papal nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

The Vatican’s Fides news agency reported that some members of St. Savior Parish in the Old City of Jerusalem wrote to the nuncio opposing any steps that would prevent them from greeting Pope Francis in the streets.

“We see attempts by the Israeli occupation to impose a curfew on the streets, including the Christian Quarter, during the visit,” the letter said, according to Fides. “The curfew is yet another attempt by the occupying power to deny our existence. It is unacceptable for the pope to pass along the narrow streets of the Christian Quarter, yet find it devoid of any signs of life and the faithful. As local church communities we are the hosts of the Holy Fathers in our city. We do not want to be excluded from a historic religious event, and want to offer our good will and cooperation towards the visit’s success.”

Some Jewish residents of Jerusalem have been grousing about the expected traffic jams and travel delays they will encounter when the pope arrives. As has become his custom, Pope Francis has requested not to travel in a security vehicle but rather in a simple car.

Israeli police have said that security precautions will be tight during the visit.


Whooah, she’s halfway there! Sr. Cristina is “Livin’ On A Prayer”

opening closer

ROME — A religious sister singing a Bon Jovi mega-hit with a British boy band for backup?

“Never say never,” Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia told her audience last night before she was swept into the semifinals by popular vote.



The 25-year-old sister from Sicily is now one of the eight contestants left on the Italian version of the TV talent show The Voice vying for the final win.

jax happy

Screengrab of Italian rapper, J-Ax — Sr. Cristina’s coach on The Voice of Italy.

Her coach, Italian rap-star J-Ax (who’s been choosing Sister Cristina’s repertoire since her Blind Audition debut) said he’s really sorry he’s turned her into his personal “jukebox,” making her sing his favorites from his “sulky adolescence.”

He said he’s been pushing her “to go to the next level” and conquer every genre: blues, pop, Italian ballads and now big-hair 1980s rock&roll.


Screengrab of Sr. Cristina with members of the British band, The Vamps.

But on top of that, she got to have the emerging British band, The Vamps, provide the music and a group hug after the their performance.

She said it was “beautiful to have young people, well, kids, singing together with me.”

In fact, she spent her novitiate working with kids and young adults in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and used music to build trust and bring them together.

On those city streets, “I rediscovered singing as a way to praise the Lord, as something my soul needed, and as an instrument for touching people’s hearts,” she said in a 2013 interview.

Now she’s using her singing talents to touch people’s hearts via television, Internet and social media — saying she has a gift to give and a message that God takes nothing away, but rather gives you even more.

In case you missed her performance from last week, she did Gianni Morandi’s ballad, “Uno su Mille,” which is about how only “one in a million” has the inner strength to tough it out in the sometimes cruel world of entertainment (“You don’t know how hard ‘easy listening’ is…”).



She got a thumbs-up from the artist himself after her show, saying he watched her sing, thought she was great and that whoever has a gift and gives it will make the cut!

gianni morandi

You say, ‘Potato,’ they say, ‘Not a white one’

At a time when much of the nation seems to be getting with the campaign for better nutrition, big potato growers are pushing Congress to ignore the USDA guidelines that keep white potatoes off the list of fresh vegetables eligible for a part of the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program to provide fresh produce in poor families’ diets.

It’s leading to an odd battle in the Senate appropriations process: Organizations worried about nutrition in subsidized food programs for the poor are digging in against the potato industry’s efforts to destigmatize white potatoes. If nothing else, the issue has brought together allies across partisan lines in the Appropriations Committee.Image

A letter sent May 19 to members of Congress signed by 18 religious organizations – including Catholic Charities USA, Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, and two orders of religious women – warns against revising nutrition standards in the appropriations process.

Over the past several decades, federal child nutrition programs have played a critical role in preventing hunger and promoting health among some of our nation’s most vulnerable children.  One of the reasons for their success is that the programs, including the WIC Program and the School Lunch Program, have been guided and informed by non-partisan scientific processes. Congress has appropriately set broad policy parameters for the programs, but has left program design and details to the Department of Agriculture, which typically relies on the scientific expertise of organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences.

But recently, this scientific process has come under attack as outside groups have increasingly sought to use the appropriations process to compel changes to federal nutrition programs.  For example, several years ago, special interests successfully used the appropriations process to weaken the National School Lunch Program to the advantage of potato and frozen food interests.  Last year, similar efforts were undertaken to attack proposed rules pertaining to school meals standards and the WIC food package.

The religious groups’ letter is one volley in an effort that has been playing out in op-ed pages over the last couple of weeks. A vote is expected in the Senate Appropriations Committee May 22 as it marks up the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture.

As a May 11 editorial in USA Today observed,

 The potato exclusion, like every other decision about WIC’s menu of the last 40 years, is based on nutritional science — which is exactly the way things like this ought to be done. In 2005, the Institute of Medicine specifically recommended excluding white potatoes because low-income people were already eating plenty of them. The Agriculture Department accepted the advice.

But that riled the potato industry, which insists the issue isn’t money but image. “We can’t let our federal government perpetuate those negative stereotypes,” says Mark Szymanski of the National Potato Council.

So in a classic case of a special interest trumping the public interest, potato growers and their allies are fighting back the Washington way, boosting campaign donations and enlisting potato-state politicians to force the Agriculture Department to let potatoes into WIC.


The potato industry counters that white potatoes have an inaccurate bad rep as nutritional bad boys. (Their cousins, sweet potatoes and yams, are accepted in WIC and other nutrition programs.) In an opposing view to the USA Today editorial, two senators from Top 10 potato growing states — Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado — said the nutritional data used by the USDA is out of date, that baked potatoes get unfairly tarnished by the inarguably unhealthy nature of french fries.

               Because some people don’t differentiate between french fries and baked potatoes, the potato has gotten a bad rap. We believe a balance can be found that preserves the integrity of programs such as WIC while also ensuring that the most updated facts are being used to determine the best nutrients for Americans — including from the potato.

Meanwhile, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been rallying opposition to giving potatoes a pass into the nutrition program. Among the arguments its advocates raise is that letting Congress — instead of food science agencies including the USDA — change policy about what qualifies for nutrition programs opens the door to advocates for all kinds of other foods to try to get similar back-door approval for the programs.

Another letter, from nutrition-focused groups — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Bread for the World and the American Public Health Association  — focused on the angle in a letter from March. They warned that the appropriate way to ensure the WIC program remains science-based is to conduct another review of the science “including consumption data.” The letter noted that such a review is under way.


In their words: Hopes for Pope Francis’ Holy Land visit

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis has emphasized that the main purpose of his May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land is ecumenical, but many in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories are hoping he will use his diplomatic savvy to make some strong political statements. Here, in their own words, are what some people are hoping for:

A Syrian refugee in Jordan uses are to help process memories. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

A Syrian refugee in Jordan uses art to help process memories. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

“We hope he will say a word of faith to the Christians, that he will address us with his words to encourage us like his pope predecessors. The second word (we hope to hear) is of justice and peace, addressing the political situation. We are waiting for a word of justice for Israel and Palestinians alike, and then we will pray as well. He will make out of this wish a prayer for all, Jews, Christians, Muslim and Druze and all who live in the Holy Land so this Holy Land will truly become the Holy Land, a land of holiness, of security and peace and reconciliation to all those who live here.” — Jerusalem’s retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

“Everything is political here. We would like for the pope, who is also a high political figure, to use his diplomatic capacity in a situation when the peace process is almost completely halted … so that world governments will respect international law which should be … a point of reference for the process.” — Hind Khoury, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center executive board member and former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs

“All Palestinians are waiting to welcome the pope. We need a message of justice, of peace of encouragement of hope for the future. We are living in a difficult situation politically with nothing going on but (Israeli) settlements, and with no near perspectives for peace. … We need … the pope is to strengthen us and to encourage us.” — Father Jamal Khader, Beit Jalla seminary rector, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

“We hope the pope will bring peace and stability to our troubled region. We long to see Syria return to normal. We Christians want to find encouragement from the Holy Father being in our midst.” — Abu Reda, Syrian businessman from Damascus living in Jordan

- – -

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Al-Um-Kundun, Jordan.

The size of God’s love in Lourdes: you can find it in ‘Small’ and ‘Extra Large’


A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes facing the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes, France. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

LOURDES, France — Love comes in many sizes, and here in Lourdes, it’s everywhere — big and small.

From the huge Rosary Basilica perched over the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to the small gestures of kindness from residents, volunteers and pilgrims.

Those who are sick, elderly or struggling with difficulties find compassion and care, and special lanes are dedicated just to those in wheelchairs.

As I watched dozens of people being wheeled along the busy streets in the village or the quiet lanes near the sanctuary, what struck me was how all of them had colorful hand-knit or croqueted blankets draped across their legs, around their shoulders or tucked behind them.


Pilgrims needing assistance find compassion and care, as well as handmade blankets from volunteers. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

I wondered how could it be all these visitors were expert knitters or had loved-ones making them such nice wrappings to bring on their pilgrimage?


Carla Zanoner, a volunteer from the Trentino region in Italy, shows off a handmade blanket loaned to pilgrims visiting Lourdes. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Turns out volunteers make the blankets of every style and color to help stave off the chill from the cool mountain air.

Carla Zanoner, a volunteer from Trentino, Italy, showed off some of the blankets they loan out while people are in Lourdes.

“When we pick people up at the train station, lots of times it’s cold or it’s raining, so this helps them keep warm,” she told me. “They get here exhausted. One group from Sicily spent two and a half days on the train,” and volunteers are there to meet them after what is often a very long journey to get to this small town in southern France near the Pyrenees.

Carla, who was working at the shrine’s “lost and found” center May 16, says she comes to Lourdes 10 days a year, every year, to help out. “Pilgrims find strength and energy here and so do we” by helping them. “We get a boost and we head home renewed,” she said.

This weekend was dedicated to an international pilgrimage of military men and women, and their families.


Representatives of the Knights of Columbus lead a procession of wounded U.S. soldiers to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

More than 36 nations were represented and the Knights of Columbus sponsored 125 wounded active duty or retired troops and family members to come to Lourdes for a weekend of fellowship, prayer and healing.

An Irish volunteer traveling with a pilgrim group was handing out military rosaries — rosaries made by knotting camouflage military cord “for the safety of our brave soldiers” wherever they may find themselves, the enclosed brochure said.

military rosary

A military rosary, knotted out of camouflage military cord. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Bishop Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services was in attendance along with dozens of military chaplains from around the world.


Bishop Richard Spencer is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. He hands out “little miracles” to troops he visits abroad and people he meets. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Bishop Spencer, who has served in Bosnia, South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, was handing out “little miracles” — a special calling card with his contact information and an inspirational saying hidden inside.

It’s a novel way, when visiting troops around the world, to open the door to dialogue about God with people who are not Catholic or don’t belong to any faith.

He said he asks people if they would like “a fortune cookie.”

Almost everyone says ‘Yes,” and he hands them the tiny card.  My inspirational saying said: “You are more, much more, than what you have.”

He said he’s handed out thousands of the cards since he started doing it in 2006. It gets the conversation going, he said, and people come back to him for more — more support, more inspiration, more dialogue.

“They’re hungry for something, for a little touch of grace” in their lives, he said.

19th-century frescos uncovered in Jerusalem Catholic hospital

A broken pipe in this room at St. Louis French Hospital in Jerusalem revealed 19th-century frescoes depicting Crusader-inspired art. (CNS/Courtesy St. Louis French Hospital)

A broken pipe in this room at St. Louis French Hospital in Jerusalem led hospital administrators to discover 19th-century frescoes depicting Crusader era- inspired images. (CNS/Courtesy St. Louis French Hospital)

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — Riding on the wave of interest of all things Catholic prior to Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land, the Israel Antiquities Authority invited journalists to take a peek at a series of fascinating 19th-century frescos depicting the city’s Crusader history discovered at the St. Louis French Hospital.

The hospital is located next to the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center where the pope will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Normally the hospital does not allow journalists to walk around its halls in order to protect the privacy of patients.

The frescos were discovered in the course of reorganizing  a storeroom. In addition, a water pipe had burst in the building earlier, loosening the modern plaster and paint on a wall revealing 19th-century paintings.

“When we got everything out we saw this beauty-filled room. We are blessed to be in a place like this, so full of history. We have to maintain it for the people who come after us even if we don’t have money to fully restore it,” said hospital director Sister Monika Dullman as she showed a journalist around.

She noted that even though the narrow doorways of the hospital are sometimes unsuited for wheelchairs and hospital beds, it is unthinkable to widen them because it would mean destroying some of the paintings.

In the wake of the discovery, conservators with the Israeli Antiquities Authority assisted the sisters in cleaning and stabilizing some of the paintings. The conservators told the sisters the paintings are in the style characteristic of monumental church decorations of the 19th century, with close attention to small details and motifs from the world of medieval art.

The building itself is a two-story structure built in the Renaissance and Baroque style, and is named for St. Louis IX, king of France and leader of the seventh crusade (1248-1254). The hospital it houses was founded by French Count Comte Marie Paul Amedee de Piellat, a Catholic who visited Jerusalem many times in the second half of the 19th century.

De Piellat built the hospital between 1879 and 1896. He considered himself to be a descendant of the Crusaders. He chose to build the hospital at the historic area where the army of the Norman King Tancred camped before brutally breaching Jerusalem’s walls with his allies.

Also an artist, de Piellat decorated the walls and ceiling of the hospital with large paintings portraying Crusader knights in their armor and brandishing swords alongside the heraldry symbols of the French knights’ families. He added the symbols of the Crusader cities, symbols, military orders and monastic orders.

The count later went on to build the Notre Dame Center as a hostel for Christian pilgrims.

When the Turks took over the building during World War I, they covered the frescos with black paint. At the end of the war the count returned to the hospital and devoted the rest of his life to removing the black paint. He died in the hospital in 1925.

Hospital administrators said they have no intention of turning the facility into a tourist attraction, preferring that the “humble and quiet sacred work” of caring for the sick continue undisturbed.

Holy Land events are prelude to Pope Francis’ visit

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — As Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land approaches, the trip is being marked with special events, government sessions, online videos and a photography exhibition both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The activities look at the history of the relationship between the Vatican and the Holy Land and serve to urge Pope Francis to look at the current political situation in the region during his brief stay.

The Palestinian Authority Government Media Center has produced a series of videos showing the daily reality of the Palestinian people called “The Living Stones: Messages from Palestine.” Meanwhile, Israel’s Knesset honored St. John XXIII for his role as pope in opening ties between the Vatican, Israel and the Jews.

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras attend a prayer service in Jerusalem in January 1964. Special exhibits assembled by the

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras attend a prayer service in Jerusalem in January 1964. Special exhibits in Jerusalem and elsewhere have been developed by the Franciscan Custody in the Holy Land to commemorate the pope’s journey. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

The Franciscan Custody in Holy Land in the meantime has put together a photographic exhibit, “1964-2014 Pope Paul VI in the Holy Land” which commemorates the historic journey of Pope Paul, the first modern day pontiff to visit the Holy Land. It includes images and testimonies from that time.

The exhibition in Jerusalem is divided into two parts, with 15 panels shown at the St. Savior Monastery at the Old City’s New Gate. Five additional panels are being shown at the nearby Christian Information Center at the Jaffa Gate and include liturgical material, stamps, coins, postcards and souvenirs from the visit.

Panels of photos also can be seen at other sites visited by Pope Paul including St. Lazarus Church in Bethany, Good Shepherd Church in Jericho, St. Catherine Church, Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Tabgha, Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes.

A special session of the Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government, convened May 13 to honor St. John XXIII.

“Until now, Israel and the Jewish nation have not found a way to express appreciation for the unique character that was John XXIII. The pope is commendable both as regards to his relationship to the Jewish nation and to the Israeli nation. I think that he is the most humanitarian and enlightened pope ever regarding his attitude toward Jews. Pope John XXIII was the one who gathered the College of Cardinals in order to remove the collective guilt for the murder of Jesus,” said Knesset member Yair Tzaban.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, among the initiators of the session, noted in an earlier statement that in the 1940s, while serving as apostolic delegate to Turkey, then-Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli helped save the lives of thousands of European Jews persecuted by the Nazis. Later, during his tenure as Pope John XXIII, the statement said, he was the “great promoter of a new climate of dialogue, respect and reconciliation,” through the document “Nostra Aetate” and led the way to the Second Vatican Council.

St. John XXIII’s biographer, Alberto Melloni, attended the session and spoke about the moderate Catholic background from which the pope came and his special relationship with Judaism.

Yair Auron, an Israeli historian, bemoaned the reality in “which Israeli children know almost nothing about John XXIII.”

“We have a mindset that the world is against us and we must fight against this notion, which has become a part of our identity,” he said. “We must also remember the righteous of the world who risked themselves for our sakes and we must view them as exemplary models. The racism in Israeli society continues to develop in an amazingly terrible way.”

Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem attended the session and noted that many people who worked in order to save Jews in the Holocaust did so because of their deep faith.

“Monks, priests, bishops and other men of religion did so not just from their personal initiative, but also because of a strong faith a part of which, among other things, is the Old Testament,” he said.

The bishop who was set free

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was filed May 12.

By Kevin Clarke

“The general security situation in this country is awful,” says Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa, Central African Republic.

“Terrible,” he adds, shaking his head sadly.

Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia of Bossangoa, Central African Republic. (Courtesy of America magazine)

Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa, Central African Republic. (Courtesy of America magazine)

Behind him, across the grounds of the archbishop’s residence in Bangui where he is visiting in early May, the Ubangi River drifts serenely between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic as men in dugout canoes ferry people and products from one side to the other. This night in Bangui would probably be little different from many of the others in recent weeks. The overall level of violence has declined a great deal since anti-Balaka and Seleka forces were in open combat in February and March, but each day brings new outrages against some unfortunate Christian or Muslim man from one side or the other and a new round of reprisal attacks.

Sadly, the bishop has had firsthand experience with just how awful the security situation in Central Africa can be. He has personally survived a kidnapping attempt that appeared to be on its way to a summary execution. Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia considers himself fortunate to have “national or international status.”

“People organized at the national level [and] at the international level for my freedom. Many people in this country wouldn’t have the same chance and their deaths would have passed unknown to everybody.”

Traveling northeast, 215 kilometers from Bossangoa to Our Lady of Conception Church at Bantangafo, on April 16, the bishop planned to restore its priests and observe Holy Thursday with the community. Instead he was seized at a roadblock manned by Seleka rebels.

Read more here.

Sowing survival in Central African Republic

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was filed May 8.

By Kevin Clarke

BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic — The truck lurches and weaves with every rut and gully — and there are many of them on the bush trail — in slow, but steady progress through to the outlying. The day before, two large lorries broke down repeatedly during the same exercise through these small villages that surround this northern Central African Republic city, and this morning an adroit mechanic cannibalized parts from a third vehicle to ensure that the others would make it into the bush and back again. The cargo it carries each patient kilometer, corn and peanut seed meant to salvage the growing season, is a precious, life-saving weight.

Tents for displaced people are seen on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, Nov. 25, 2013. (CNS/Reuters)

Tents for displaced people are seen on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, Nov. 25, 2013. (CNS/Reuters)

“We could be looking at a famine in the Central African Republic in August,” says Kyla Neilan, a program manager for Catholic Relief Services based in Bossangoa, a community hard-hit by the months of disorder and communal violence in the country. “It’s make or break this harvest season. If people have food to eat in August, they can start to recover. If people don’t have seeds in the ground now, and they have no crop in August … people will start to die.”

The church’s international relief and development agencies, Catholic Relief Service/Caritas, aim to get seed along with cultivation tools to as many as 10,000 families in the subsistence farming villages that surround Bossangoa. There is no small amount of haste to these efforts, and each day that a truck breaks down and reduces the reach of the relief agencies is a frustrating worry. They have to get seed and tools to all these families by the end of May. The rainy season has already begun; soon these hard, copper-colored trails will become essentially impassable, red mud that will leave truck wheels spinning futilely. By then it will be too late to sow.

The hunger is already upon these villagers. In nearby Bamzenbe, Doctors Without Borders is treating children suffering from acute malnutrition or opportunistic infections that their hungry bodies are too weak to resist, Neilan reports. People are languishing without the strength to plant crops or find work because of malnutrition.

Read more here.



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