Brazil’s Mother Thereza, Pediatrician Zilda Arns, Among Haiti’s Victims

Zilda ArnsZilda Arns Neumann, the national coordinator of the Brazilian Pastoral Care for Children (Pastoral da Criança) was one of the Brazilian victims of the earthquake that hit the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, yesterday.

The information was supplied by congresswoman Ideli Salvatti, who visited Palácio do Planalto – the seat of the Brazilian government today – (13th) and accompanied the presidential staff’s efforts for gathering information.

According to her, all of the contacts are being made by the chief of the presidential cabinet, Gilberto Carvalho, who has already spoken to relatives of Zilda’s, including senator Flávio Arns, her nephew. He will travel to Haiti alongside the Brazilian minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim.

“Apparently, she was on the streets of Port-au-Prince at the time of the quake and was hit by something,” said Ideli Salvatti. At Palácio do Planalto, the president’s ministers and advisors are “totally” engaged, said Ideli.

So far, the deaths of eleven members of the Brazilian military have been confirmed. They were part of the UN Peace Corps operations in the country, which are headed by Brazil.

Zilda traveled last weekend to attend a missionary meeting at an organization named CIFOR and was staying at the Episcopal headquarters. According to Zilda Arns’ press office, the coordinator was in Haiti to teach the Pastoral Care for Children’s working methods for fighting malnutrition.

The disappearance of 75-year old Zilda was confirmed by her son, Rubens Arns. According to him, he last contacted his mother on Saturday, January 9.

The Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva regretted the tragedy that took place yesterday in Haiti and the passing of Zilda. The information was supplied by the Brazilian minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim, while leaving a meeting with Lula today in the morning. “The president is absolutely shocked by the entire situation,” he said.

Regarding the death of Zilda Arns, Amorim claimed that Lula “deeply lamented” the disappearance of a prominent person in the country who was in Haiti doing humanitarian aid work. Amorim also regretted the news.

The governor of the state of Paraná, Roberto Requião, who is now in Brasília (the Brazilian capital), declared three days of official mourning in the state for Zilda’s death. Requião stated on Twitter that he has lost a great friend, and that her passing represents a great loss to Brazil and much pain to her friends.

Zilda Arns Neumann, 75, pediatrician and sanitarian, was the founder and coordinator of Pastoral Care for Children, founder and national coordinator of the Pastoral Care for the Elderly (Pastoral da Pessoa Idosa), both of which are social action organizations of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB).

She was a honorary representative of the CNBB, of the National Health Council and a member of the Council for Social and Economic Development (CDES). Born in the city of Forquilhinha (in the state of Santa Catarina), she lived in Curitiba (capital of the state of Paraná), had five sons and ten grandsons. She chose medicine as her mission and dedicated herself to public healthcare.

In 1980 she was invited to coordinate the Sabin vaccination campaign, for fighting the first polio epidemics, which started in the municipality of União da Vitória (Paraná), and devised her own method, which was later adopted by the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

In 1983, by request of the CNBB, she established the Pastoral Care for Children alongside Geraldo Majela Agnello, the Cardinal Archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia (capital of the state of Bahia), then the Archbishop of Londrina (Paraná). It was then that she developed the community-oriented methodology of multiplying knowledge and solidarity among poorer families.

She used to say that providing education to mothers, by means of qualified community leaders, was the best way to fight most of the easily preventable diseases and to protect children from becoming criminals.

The Pastoral Care for Children provides assistance to over 1.9 million pregnant women and children under 6 years of age, and 1.4 million impoverished families in 4,063 municipalities in Brazil. There are over 260,000 volunteer workers. The organization’s working method was replicated in several countries.

For her social work, Zilda Arns was decorated several times. In 2006 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize alongside women from around the world selected by the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize project, created by a Swiss association. Zilda was the sister of the Archbishop Emeritus of de São Paulo, cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns.

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