In the latest show of the power of the diplomacy of the Holy See, France and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have agreed in principle to cancel the debt of some of the world’s poorest nations days after Pope Francis and senior Vatican cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle made an appeal to do so.

– French President Macron: “We must help our African neighbours fight the virus more effectively”

For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed French citizens on coronavirus and confinement measures on April 13. In that address, he announced the possibility of canceling the debt of African countries to assist them in their fight against the COVID-19 virus.

The French President made this statement toward the end of his speech during which he extended lockdown measures in the country till 11 May.

He also called for unity in the fight against the virus. The world is at a “moment of truth”, he said, and it is our “responsibility to build new forms of solidarity and cooperation”.

Turning his thoughts towards Africa, he said: “We must also know how to help our African neighbours fight the virus more effectively. We must help them economically too by canceling their debts”.

– IMF cancels payments for 6 months for 25 poor nations

The IMF, in the meantime, announced through its Executive Director Kristalina Georgieva also April 13 that the Fund’s board had approved immediate debt relief for 19 African countries as well as Afghanistan, Haiti, Nepal, the Solomon Islands, Tajikistan and Yemen.

The relief “provides grants to our poorest and most vulnerable members to cover their IMF debt obligations for an initial phase over the next six months and will help them channel more of their scarce financial resources towards vital emergency medical and other relief efforts”, Georgieva said in a statement.

– Francis: “Debt burdening balance sheets”

During his Urbi et orbi blessing on the occasion of Easter Sunday on 12 April, Pope Francis appealed for international sanctions to be relaxed in the light of the present circumstances caused by the pandemic.

Noting that vulnerable people tend to be abandoned, Pope Francis made this call so that the countries on which sanctions have been imposed would be able to “provide adequate support to their citizens”.

The Pope also reminded the world that this is not the time for indifference, self-centeredness or division.

“May all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations”, Pope Francis said.

– Cardinal Tagle: Forgiveness of debts for “life” for two-thirds nations in “tombs of indebtedness”

For his part, Cardinal Tagle, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the President of Church charity Caritas Internationalis, called in a March 29 sermon for a COVID-19 “jubilee” which would entail rich countries forgiving the debts of poorer ones.

“Forgiveness of debts so that those who are in the tombs of indebtedness [can] find life”, was the Filipino cardinal’s appeal to the nations of the first world.

(With reporting by Fr Benedict Mayaki, SJ, Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.