ROME — An ongoing dialogue between Catholic and Muslim educators took a very concrete turn June 25 when the United Arab Emirates sent a plane carrying 50 tons of humanitarian aid to a Peruvian city overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Vatican News, the plane carried masks, gloves, medical oxygen and food aid that will be distributed by the Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon.
Iquitos, a city of close to half a million people, is the capital of the Loreto region. According to the Peruvian health ministry, as of June 16, the region had 7,781 cases of COVID-19 and 316 people had died.
Msgr. Guy-Real Thivierge, secretary-general of the Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum Educationis, told Vatican News that the shipment of aid to Peru is the result of collaboration between the Vatican and the United Arab Emirates following Pope Francis’ visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019 and, especially, the document on human fraternity and interreligious cooperation signed by the pope and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar.
The foundation, which promotes education, and its dialogue partners in the UAE were scheduled to hold a seminar in the spring, but the pandemic forced its cancellation.
So, Thivierge said, they designed a joint project instead. “This project is one of concrete aid to the Amazon, but it is also a project in which Christians and Muslims are learning to work together, to serve together, and to build a new world together.”
“Whole populations are facing not only the pandemic, but poverty, which the lockdown has intensified,” he said. “In this situation, their priority is survival, so we must first meet basic necessities — food and health supplies — then move to educational needs. It is an approach that opens a path to integral education.”
In early May, Augustinian Father Miguel Fuertes, administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos, told Catholic News Service, “There is no oxygen, there are no (hospital) beds, there is no safety gear for staff and there isn’t much staff, because many (health workers) have fallen ill and some have died,” including four doctors.
The region already was battling a dengue fever outbreak when the pandemic struck, filling hospitals with COVID-19 patients, while others with apparent symptoms were dying at home.