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Misereor Head Allays Indian Bishops´ Fear Of Dwindling Aid


February 25 2008

The head of Misereor, a German Church aid agency, has assured Indian Catholic bishops it will continue to support pro-poor programs in their country.

However, Monsignor Josef Sayer, Misereor´s chief executive, alerted the prelates that many German people now view Indians as competitors, in view of the economic boom sweeping India.

Monsignor Sayer, a German theologian and development aid worker, shared about his agency´s 50 years of service to the poor in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania when he addressed the bishops on Feb. 18, during their biennial assembly.

The 28th plenary of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI), held Feb. 13-20 in Jamshedpur, about 1,300 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, took up women´s empowerment in the Church and society, and related topics.

Monsignor Sayer explained that Misereor began after the World War II (1939-1945) as a movement to renew the German Church. At the time Germany suffered poverty and misery, the war having led to its exclusion from the international community. "I too have suffered hunger as a child," he added.

The experience of the war and its aftermath, however, also helped Germany to return to its Christian roots and made its people reach out to other needy people in the world, he continued. Now "Misereor tries to speak to the conscience of the mighty and the rich."

Monsignor Sayer told the Indian prelates that about 40 percent of his agency´s aid to Asia has come to their country.

After Monsignor Sayer´s talk, some bishops asked him whether Misereor has decided to stop supporting projects in India. Such a move, they said, would adversely affect the poor, especially dalit and tribal people, who do not benefit from India´s economic progress. Dalit are members of low castes once considered "untouchable."

The Misereor official agreed that some Germans think India no longer needs help as it has become an economic power. India now has millions of middle-class people. Nonetheless, Misereor does not consider India a developed nation, so it will continue to support projects that help advance the poor, he assured. Monsignor Sayer said his agency is aware that 52 percent of Indians still live under the poverty line or subsist on the equivalent of less than US$1 a day, despite their country´s economic boom. "Only 10 percent of Indians have become rich, and they give their country a shining image," he added.

The German priest, however, clarified his agency does not support pastoral projects because another German Church agency, Missio, aids such programs. He added that Misereor has also taken up advocacy at international forums for the poor, Monsignor Sayer added, citing several instances of his agency´s international interventions.

Many bishops thanked the German agency for helping the poor in India.

Monsignor Sayer concluded his talk by presenting Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo of Ranchi a special watch studded with a stone from the 1,200-year-old cathedral in Aachen, Germany, where Misereor is based. The German monsignor, who was born in what is now Serbia, also displayed a Chinese artist´s poster on the Beatitudes that Misereor is using for its Lenten campaign this year.

Cardinal Toppo, who completed his four-year term as CBCI president on Feb. 20, told UCA News he invited the German agency to share with the Indian bishops about its five decades of charitable work.