WASHINGTON, D.C. - Leaders from a broad array of some of America’s largest religious groups today called on President Bush and Congress to Keep America’s Promise to Africa by fully funding AIDS and anti-poverty initiatives in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.
The groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread for the World, World Vision, DATA (Debt AIDS Trade in Africa), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for full funding of the Global AIDS Act at the $3 billion level authorized by Congress; full funding for the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) at $1.3 billion in 2004, per the president’s budget request, to help the fight against corruption and poverty; and do so without cuts to other lifesaving programs directed to poor countries.
Today’s event is the latest in a broad range of faith-based and other efforts to ensure full funding of these promises. For over a year, Christians have advocated for the United States to be a global leader on these issues of importance to millions of people in Africa and other poor nations around the world. Evangelical Christians have embarked on a two-year campaign to raise public awareness around the issue of HIV/AIDS, including a recent conference in Washington, D.C., of nearly 200 Evangelical church leaders on what local churches can do to help those suffering from the disease. The Catholic Bishops Conference and its aid agency, Catholic Relief Services, have been promoting a campaign for Africa in dioceses and parishes for the past two years. The other groups represented today have written hundreds of thousands of letters to Congress, urging support of the MCA and AIDS initiatives. DATA is buying radio ads in targeted states across the country, and 30 groups are engaging in a White House call-in day today.
“I don’t believe President Bush would call in a load of religious leaders to a signing ceremony for $3 billion, and then not sign the check,” Bono said.
“It seems the main worry is that more than $2 billion can’t be spent – but the data shows that it can. In fact, by failing to spend the additional $1 billion,an additional 1.6 million people will become infected with HIV, and an additional 400,000 people will die who could have been saved by medicines. It's not just musicians and people of faith who believe the full $3 billion is needed -- it's groups like the Catholics who care for 25 percent of the people with AIDS in the world, groups like Bread for the World and World Vision.
“President Truman said if you show Americans the facts, they’ll do the right thing. I believe that also applies to America’s leaders. If $87 billion can be found for two countries, surely there is another billion for an entire continent, Africa, where 30 million people have a death sentence on their heads,” Bono said.
Joining Bono, U2’s lead singer and founder of DATA, were The Most Rev. John Ricard, SSJ, International Policy Chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; Bishop Stephen Bouman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Bishop Lawrence Reddick III of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; and Bruce Wilkinson, senior vice president of World Vision.
Bishop Ricard stressed the need to fully fund now the President’s global health and development initiatives.
“The Catholic Church has long served the neediest people in Africa, including those suffering from HIV/AIDS. This experience tells us that meeting our commitments is not just a question of dollars but of moral responsibility. Falling short in our commitments will diminish us as a nation, and allow more death and disease, hunger and deprivation among the poorest people on earth,” he said.
Rev. Beckmann of Bread for the World stressed the moment of opportunity.
"The president has said that 'seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.' So it shocks me that the White House has not worked harder to urge congressional leaders to fully fund the president's own initiatives to fight hunger, poverty and AIDS around the world. In early July, the president basked in praise garnered by his trip to Africa. Now he seems content to let Congress shortchange the very programs he went there to promote," Beckmann said.
“The President’s two bold international aid proposals – the Global AIDS Initiative and the Millennium Challenge Account – are in danger of failing in Congress without active leadership,” said Bruce Wilkinson, senior vice president of global relief agency World Vision. “There are 14 million children orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The number is expected to grow to 25 million AIDS orphans worldwide in 2010 unless action is taken now. For more than two years World Vision has been building awareness and support among the American evangelical and religious communities, and this is the moment of truth.” ###