Suffering in Sierra Leone, hard-hit by Ebola, reminds bishop of civil war years
"Market days have been put on hold; schools were closed in the country before the end of the school year and their doors remain locked; the number of orphans is increasing by the day."
By Reinhard Backes
NEW YORK (Jan. 16, 2014)—From providing spiritual support to ensuring preventive care, the Catholic Diocese of Kenema in the eastern part of Sierra Leone is deeply involved in the country’s fight against the Ebola virus—a vital struggle that continues, even as the epidemic has largely dropped from the headlines in the US.
Bishop Patrick Daniel Koroma told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about a full range of initiatives the local Church has undertaken: “The diocese of Kenema works through its networks of parishes, small Christian communities, hospitals, clinics, schools, religious communities to reach out to many people in these key areas: sensitisation, safe burial or appropriate burial techniques, psycho-social support, education and training, help the discharged, social mobilization, message of hope.”
The work of the Church—in Kenema and in other dioceses throughout Liberia—largely depends on the support from donors in the West. The money is being used to finance medical emergency and basic aid programs; food aid; the training and mobilization of employees; and for pastoral work with patients, family members and aid workers. The same is true in neighboring Liberia.
Bishop Koroma stressed that the Church’s efforts hold considerable risks for clergy and laity: “The virus has taken away many of our experienced health care workers which is sad. Some of these nurses and lab technicians are parishioners. We continue to hold in esteem and pray for frontline workers who are risking their lives to prevent the spread of the virus.”
The epidemic has put a great strain on the Catholic community. “The urge to respond to acute humanitarian needs has led the Church to utilize what little resources are available. To pay staff is a big problem,” the prelate said.
The bishop spoke of initial indications that it may be possible to push back the Ebola virus, but he remains gravely concerned about the future, as the task ahead is immense. The impact of the epidemic recalls the suffering inflicted by the country’s lengthy civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. The bishop said: “Market days have been put on hold; schools were closed in the country before the end of the school year and their doors remain locked; the number of orphans is increasing by the day.”
Topping the country’s agenda—and that of the Church—the bishop said are: “economic revitalization, education, agriculture, healing the wounded memories, care of orphans.”
ACN photo: Liberian mother and children