Good Samaritans

Since it was founded in 2004 by Pope John Paul II, the Vatican-based Good Samaritan Foundation has helped tens of thousands of the world’s neediest sick people.

Now, however, it’s facing a shortage of donations.

Run by staff at the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care Workers, the organization’s economic assistance stretches from Africa to Asia and Latin America and is primarily directed at AIDS patients.

The foundation works closely with apostolic nuncios and bishops’ conferences to ensure a minimum of bureaucracy. And all the organization’s staff members are unpaid volunteers, which means every cent of every donation goes directly to those most in need.

“We work as a bridge between donors and the sick,” said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care Workers and of the foundation.

But by the end of 2006, the organization had just $6,000 in its bank account — a depletion of funds caused by high demand for medicines and lack of donations.

“I don’t know how much we have now,” Cardinal Lozano told the Register Jan. 30, “but we can only give according to the existing funds in our account and no more.”

Ghana has received more than $125,000 since 2004 from the foundation.

“The Good Samaritan Foundation is doing a very, very good job helping AIDS patients here, and we’re very happy they’re doing so much to help,” the country’s apostolic nuncio, Archbishop George Kocherry, said Jan. 30 by telephone from Accra. “The patients have hope and self-confidence to live, and they’re able to receive much better care.”

Donations are usually used to buy antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients and to purchase other medicines to treat serious diseases connected with AIDS, such as malaria and tuberculosis. In Ghana, seven institutions, each with at least 100 patients, have been helped by the foundation.

“At one center, 20 patients were dying every week,” explained Camillian Father Felice Ruffini, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council. “But once we were able to provide them with antiretroviral drugs, the number of deaths reduced to one or two.”

Reliant on private donations, Cardinal Lozano said he would be delighted if a philanthropist such as Bill Gates or Mel Gibson were to offer help. However, he stressed there must be no strings attached to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

“If they want to give money, they must abide by our administrative structure,” Cardinal Lozano said. “We’re not in position to be under their control.”

But even a little goes a long way: The Council ran a Christmas campaign, stressing that the cost of placing 22 $10 candles on a Christmas tree would provide antiretroviral treatment for one AIDS patient for one year.

Part of the problem in fundraising for the foundation is that some potential donors are concerned that their contributions may be directed to other Vatican expenditures. So to maximize accountability, institutions that the foundation funds are required to issue a receipt for each donation. The receipts are given to donors.

Church Contacts

The Church has unique assets when it comes to delivering medical help to AIDS victims.

“We know where to locate the most needy people because we have a very efficient network in the Catholic Church in the form of nuncios and bishops,” said Cardinal Lozano, adding that through these local contacts the foundation can also purchase cheaper drugs from local pharmacies.

In the future, the foundation hopes to assist in other ways, particularly in helping orphans and the elderly. But Cardinal Lozano stressed that the Good Samaritan Foundation is not intended to replace the good work of other Catholic charities, such as Catholic World Mission, Caritas and Catholic Relief Services.

Said Cardinal Lozano, “We only want to encourage them to be stronger and to help more.”

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.