PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, JAN. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Zilda Arns, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of the International Pastoral da Criança, was killed Tuesday in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti.
The 75-year-old Brazilian pediatrician and aid worker was killed while walking the streets of Port-au-Prince alongside two soldiers. She was in Haiti studying the implementation of her program -- which is one of the world’s most successful at reducing infant mortality -- on the island.
Born to German immigrants, Arns was the 12th of 13 children. Her brother, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, was one of five siblings who had priestly or religious vocations.
In a note, Cardinal Arns stated, "I received with sorrow the news that my very dear sister has suffered with the good people of Haiti the tragic effects of the earthquake."
He continued: "May God in his mercy receive in heaven those who on earth fought for children and the defenseless. It is not the moment to lose hope."
A mother of five and a widow since 1978, Arns dedicated her life to Christian charity. In 1983, shortly after she lost her husband, she started the pastoral care of children program at the request of the Brazilian bishops' conference.
The program has one of the greatest success rates worldwide in reducing infant mortality rates. It currently has some 261,000 volunteers in Brazil (the majority women), who take care of more than 1.8 million children (from birth to 6 years of age), and 95,000 pregnant women, in more than 42,000 communities and 4,066 municipalities.
In a previous interview with ZENIT, Arns explained that the program teaches families "very simple things -- they are generally people with very little education -- but indispensable for the children's health: nutrition of pregnant mothers, breast feeding, oral hydration, vaccinations."
She continued: "We take care of the education of 1.6 million children from birth to 6 years of age. Moreover, every year we teach 32,000 adults, almost always mothers, to read and write."
Due to the program's success, representatives from other countries visited Brazil to learn about its methods in order to develop a similar model for their own homelands. The International Pastoral da Criança network now includes 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean that have implemented the program.
She had been visiting Haiti to discuss plans about implementing the program in the poor communities there.
Arns also helped the bishops' conference develop a pastoral program for AIDS victims, which currently cares for 100,000 patients, supported by 12,000 volunteers from 579 municipalities in 141 dioceses of 25 Brazilian states.
In response to Tuesday's tragedy, the conference sent its secretary-general, Bishop Dimas Lara Barbosa, to Port-au-Prince.
In 1997, Arns received the Humanitarian of the Year prize from the Lions Club International. She was honored by Rotary International with the "Paul Harris" medal in 2001. The following year she was chosen by the Pan American Health Organization for the "Public Health Hero of the Americas" prize.