Zilda Arns was buried on Saturday, January 16, in the Campo Verde Cemetery in the capital of the state of Paraná. A funeral cortege moved through the city for seven kilometers to the seat of the state government, the Palácio das Araucarias, where a mass took place.
Along the way crowds applauded and extended banners with messages of admiration and love for the woman who did so much for children through the Child Pastoral, not only in Brazil, but in many countries around the world. And much of her success was due to just a bit of sugar and pinch of salt.
The idea for the Child Pastoral came from the United Nations in 1982. The UN suggested to the archbishop of São Paulo, Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, a plan to reduce infant mortality in Brazil. The archbishop saw it was a good idea but he knew he did not have time for such a program.
However, he did have a hard working, dedicated sister who was a doctor and a widow. And so, with five kids of her own, Ms Arns took on the challenge. Suffice it to say that in her first foray into infant mortality reduction, in a small city in the state of Paraná, she lowered the rate from 127 deaths per 1,000 births to an acceptable 28 deaths per 1,000.
Ms Arns had a basic principle: simple solutions for complicated problems – because she did not deal with sophisticated people, but mostly poor, uneducated women and their children. Her serum, water with two parts sugar and one part salt, stopped dehydration, one of the greatest killers of infants.. What Zilda did with her simple serum, combined with common sense care for pregnant women, seemed to be close to a miracle.
The president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference, declared that, “She died like she lived. She lived for the poor and died among the poor in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”
The representative of UNICEF in Brazil, Marie-Pierre Poirier, speaking at the funeral of Zilda Arns, declared that the organization will continue to work together with the Child Pastoral “until the last needy child in the world is taken care of.”
Poirier said Zilda Arns was a much-valued member of the UNICEF family. And pointed out that it was UNICEF that had the idea for the Child Pastoral, but the person who turned it into reality was Dr Arns, with strong organizational skills and leadership. She made it international with a presence in twenty countries, he said.