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A Good Samaritan for AIDS Kids. Interview With Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán By Marta Lago
ROME, FEB. 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Throughout the world, 2.5 million children suffering from AIDS are hoping for a chance to survive. The Good Samaritan Foundation is the bridge for the help they need.
The foundation, headquartered in the Vatican and founded by Pope John Paul II in 2004, is entrusted to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. The foundation focuses on getting medicine to the neediest.

In this interview with ZENIT, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the pontifical council and of the foundation, talks about how Good Samaritan began and the work it does.

Q: How did the Good Samaritan Foundation begin?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: Some time back, Pope John Paul II was asked: "What is the Church doing to help AIDS patients?" Then John Paul II said to me: "You see to answering that question."

There is a world fund, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; at that time, the president was a Catholic, Thomas Thompson. He told me they were promoting a worldwide campaign, that they had about $15 billion to deal with these problems, and he suggested that we help each other. This I found satisfactory. Two years later -- in fact, the president had already been changed -- I realized the Global Fund's intentions were far from helping the Catholic Church.

I observed that 27% of the institutions concerned with AIDS patients throughout the world are Catholic -- operating with charity money; 44% are government related -- institutions financed with taxes; 11% are nongovernmental organizations, and eight percent relate to other religions.

Catholic institutions constitute what we might call the main "partner," but this is not acknowledged, among other reasons, because the Church is said to be an AIDS "promoter" -- a trivial accusation -- because it does not accept contraception. I wasted two years pursuing the Global Fund and I was getting absolutely nowhere, despite Thompson's good will.

After that, I received another proposal, from the Leadership Fund, of the United States, which was also prepared to destine $15 billion to help AIDS patients in the world. When I went to New York for the final arrangements, I realized the intention was, to a certain extent, to subordinate the Holy See to this fund, not so much to help the patients, but to gain some degree of control over that 27% of Catholic institutions. This was a distortion of what had been proposed to me originally. So that was as far as we got.

With Cardinal Angelo Sodano, at the time secretary of state, we pondered: If there are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, why go begging assistance where it is not forthcoming? Why don't we found an institution specifically intended to help the AIDS patients most in need? We presented John Paul II with the idea, which he approved; that is how The Good Samaritan Foundation arose. We chose that name because it assists the sick who are most vulnerable, who, in the end, are Christ himself.

Q: Does the Good Samaritan Foundation channel all the Church's help toward AIDS patients?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: Not at all. The Good Samaritan Foundation promotes, orients, and coordinates -- up to a point -- the help from the whole Church, which is provided by various institutions. Such is the case of Mozambique, for instance, where the Community of Sant'Egidio is working; we do not intervene there. We act where nobody else does. That is why we encourage the organizations that help AIDS patients; we urge them to get in motion, even if this makes the Good Samaritan inoperative. And if organizations covered the entire objective, it would be wonderful. Our role is merely subsidiary. Where institutions do not reach, the Holy See moves in with the Good Samaritan Foundation.

Q: How does the foundation make its objectives concrete? How does it detect the most urgent needs?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: We have a particular way of detecting the existing needs in the world. On the one hand, we have the statistics, and we know the countries with most AIDS patients and their resources, even on a government level. Like that, we can approach the poorest countries. In these, our interlocutors are the bishops, the episcopal conference. We offer them our help and they confirm what are the most urgent needs.

As our funds are limited, we must administrate them cautiously. When a bishop, for example, suggests a specific case, we ask him to apply to the nuncio. The latter must approve the request and contact us. This facilitates the assistance process considerably, as there is no bureaucracy. We deposit the funds in the Institute for Works of Religion. In turn, the nuncios keep their funds in the institute. If Ghana sends in a request for a specific amount, we simply make a transfer from the account of the Good Samaritan to that of the nuncio in Ghana. A simple phone call is enough to let him know that the amount has been sent, to meet the aforementioned need.

Likewise, because we do not have a vast amount of funds, we supply antiretrovirals, that is, medicine. We have sometimes been criticized on the grounds that prevention is more important. And I agree. But if, for example, I find someone dying on the highway, I am not going to start reading out the traffic laws to that person; what I must do is take him or her to the hospital immediately. That is our endeavor: to give attention to those who are dying; that is the main priority. In the logical order, prevention is priority. In the real order, it is to help people in urgent need. That is why we focus on antiretrovirals. If the time comes when we have enough funds to build centers for AIDS patients, for orphans, it will be wonderful; but, for the moment, our funds are insufficient to cover those needs.

Q: Where do contributions to the Good Samaritan come from?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: The source is the entire Catholic Church; we ask all countries, all episcopates, all the faithful, to help us. And we provide the necessary data for donations to be sent to us.

The foundation operates as a bridge. Using the lowest laboratory price we have been able to obtain -- I omit the name of the laboratory for commercial reasons -- $217 per patient a year. A person sends a donation to our account in the Institute for Works of Religion or we transfer it there. When we receive a request from a specific place -- especially from Africa -- we send that amount to cover the particular need through the nuncio; in that way, the contribution is used for medicine immediately. The laboratory I referred to has offices in many parts of the world and the commitment to provide us with the yearly treatment per patient. In the place in question, we send the interested party to the appointed laboratory or pharmacy. We ask the beneficiaries for the receipt and confirm the appropriate use of the funds.

Q: Broadly speaking, what do antiretrovirals mean for the patient?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: The prolongation of life. The nuncio in Ghana was telling us, a few months ago, of a small hospital in which there were 50 deaths a month; now, with the the Good Samaritan's antiretroviral assistance, there are only two deaths a month. Antiretrovirals strengthen the body's defenses and extend life insofar as medical progress allows.

Q: Instead of a special day or fund raising campaign, the Good Samaritan simply uses Advent and Christmas time to raise awareness. This year, it has focused its warning particularly on children. Are they the great neglected number in the AIDS tragedy?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: We are devoting our attention to the most needy AIDS patients, and those most needy are children. The tragedy of orphans or of children already infected with AIDS is tremendous. Some time back, I met with an enormous number of people suffering from AIDS in Uganda, in Kilongo, on the border with Sudan. The mission superior of the Kilongo hospital introduced me to 50 children -- all under 10 years of age, all AIDS orphans -- for me to talk to them, to give them confidence, for us to send them medicine, and thus make it possible for them to go to school and lead a relatively normal life.

The problem of orphans is horrendous: The young parents of these new generations have died; now the children move on to their grandparents houses, and these do not have the physical nor emotional capacity to attend to all their needs. It is not unheard of to come across a family of 10 or 15 children, at least. And the grandparents give up the task of attending to more than two or three. "And what do the others do?" I asked; "Out into the jungle?" That's it: just like little animals, and time will tell what becomes of them.

We are in the face of an imminent tragedy: There are almost 2.5 million AIDS orphans suffering from AIDS in Africa at the moment.

The donations we receive come from Catholics and other people of good will. We do not ask patients about their religious beliefs before helping them.

This is not a matter of campaigns that run for a set time. Just as, unfortunately, there is no deadline to become infected with AIDS, there is no deadline to receive help. Becoming infected is chronic, permanent; therefore, assistance should also be chronic, permanent.

--- --- ---

Contributions can be made by bank transfer or draft in dollars or euros and sent to the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), Vatican City 00120.

International checks can be made out to "Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Good Samaritan Foundation, Palazzo S. Paolo, Vatican City, 00120."