NAIROBI, Kenya — Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, has urged courage in Africa, as cases of COVID-19 increase amid adoption of containment measures and prayers to defeat the pandemic.

The cardinal from Burkina Faso said across the continent, there were increasing food shortages due to lockdown, loss of jobs and the destruction of small businesses.

Before COVID-19, there already were floods, droughts, locust invasion and poor harvests — disasters that remain serious challenges, the leader said, in reference to a recent report by Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide umbrella organization for Catholic charities.

“This situation has given rise to several questions and agitations. For those in the grip of anguish and misery, it is easy to conclude that God has abandoned us, and the pandemic is punishment for our sins, individual and communal,” Ouedraogo said in a statement July 28. “Amidst the current situation, we say ‘Courage brothers and sisters; do not give in to despair.'”

Each year on July 29, African bishops lead Catholics in celebrating the day the continental bishops’ organization, SECAM, was founded 51 years ago. Three days after its founding, St. Paul VI launched the organization at the cathedral in Kampala, Uganda.

The churches use the celebrations to pray for the continent, the Christian faith, and for unity, communion and solidarity of the bishops, clergy, religious and laity.

Ouedraogo said it was shameful and regrettable that not even COVID-19 had deterred violence and terrorism in some countries in Africa.

“We continue to kill ourselves on a daily basis. We join our voice with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and other world leaders to call for an immediate end to violence everywhere in Africa and the world,” he said.