|CHURCH TAKES ON AFRICAN DEBT|
The Catholic Church in Italy has set up a charitable fund to pay off debt owed to Italy by two of the poorest African countries, Guinea and Zambia.
Private individuals and business institutions will be asked to contribute to the fund, which will then be used to re-pay the Italian government about 10% of the total sum owed to it by the two countries.
The organisers say that Guinea and Zambia will be asked to set aside an equivalent sum to be spent on local development.
Don Mario Operti of the Italian Episcopal Conference said the Catholic Church wanted to make a concrete gesture to help poor countries.
The move follows Vatican criticism last week of the United States and the European Union for failing to honour promises on debt relief to developing countries.
The secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Irish archbishop Diarmuid Martin, complained that US funds for poorer countries were being blocked by Congress.
He said the EU "refuses to allocate its own funds if the Americans do not assume their responsibilities."
Italian Catholics give about $A1.8 billion every year in voluntary contributions for third world development.