Sudan's Moral Challenge
This is the editorial you don’t want to read. Yet Pope John Paul
II has implored us not to ignore “this immense human tragedy.” He
was speaking last October at the canonization of St. Josephine Bakhita,
the former Sudanese slave. He was referring to the untold suffering
and religious persecution that is happening today in Sudan.
Oh, yes, you might say, we all know that people are starving in Africa.
We’ve heard it all so many times, most of us since we were young children.
No matter what we do about it, the situation gets no better. Look
at what happened when President George H. Bush sent U.S. troops into
the region a decade ago—they fell right into the midst of Somalia’s
seemingly hopeless civil war and became targets of guerrillas.
It’s not as if we get much of our oil from Sudan. So why should we
care? And even if we do care, what can we do about it? Sudan seems
a little too complex for Americans, who like quick solutions to simple
Teresa and St. Josephine
Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
known to avoid politics, showed us one response to human misery: Be
there. Reach out to the starving, to the dying, to the least, with
the compassionate hands of love. In these afflicted people we see
Christ, she told us, “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
In due time we expect
Mother Teresa will join the ranks of Catholicism’s officially recognized
saints. St. Josephine Bakhita, born in Sudan, sold five times into
brutal slavery, then freed to become a nun in Italy, already has achieved
that recognition. She died in 1947.
St. Josephine, from
the convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice, wrote,
“The Lord has loved me so much....We must be compassionate!” Who among
us cannot say the same? St. Josephine Bakhita went through life always
believing that the Lord had saved her for greater things. She wrote,
“O Lord, if I could fly to my people and tell them of your goodness
at the top of my voice, oh, how many souls would be won.”
These days we can
fly to Sudan. And the conditions there are crying for our compassion,
for our witness to the goodness of God. Modern-day prophets bring
back to us reports of persecution of Christians at the hands of the
country’s Islamic government.
Truth From Bishop Gassis
Bishop Macram Max
Gassis of El Obid, Sudan, spent time in the United States last
year to implore his brother bishops and fellow Christians to do
something to help. His Web site, at www.
petersvoice.org, is an organ of truth about Sudan.
There you’ll learn of
the villages of people being sold into slavery—even today—and of forced
conversions to Islam. Two million people have been killed and four
million dislocated during 17 years of civil war. Christians are hunted
down. Sudanese troops burn Bibles. Recently a Catholic school and
Catholic hospital were singled out for aerial bombing, and they were
not the first.
Bishop Gassis, exiled
into Kenya, wants U.S. Catholics to pressure our government to stop
the “impending genocide” in Sudan. He persuaded Boston’s Cardinal
Bernard Law, NCCB President Bishop Joseph Fiorenza and finally the
entire body of U.S. bishops, last November, to speak out on behalf
of Sudan. The U.S. bishops asked the U.S. government to use its influence
to support a Sudanese peace process already under way.
The bishops also
urge Catholics here to find concrete ways to increase our solidarity
with Sudan, both by prayer and by action. They urge us to support
the work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which is the most
effective relief effort afoot in Sudan. You can learn about CRS’s
Sudan efforts by clicking on the Africa map in the “Where We Work”
section of www.catholicrelief.org.
Our bishops expect to send a delegation to Sudan next month.
We Can Do
We’ve seen time and
time again that opposing sides will come around the negotiating table
with U.S. encouragement. Sudan’s government is sensitive to international
pressure. Let us pressure our government clearly to support Sudan’s
current peace process.
We each can learn more
about the Sudan crisis. Contact local and national media and ask them
to cover Sudan. Consult the Web sites cited above. For more on Sudanese
genocide, consult the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Web
“Committee on Conscience” section.
As Cardinal Law told
our bishops last November, “The Church and the people in Sudan find
themselves isolated, their cry muted by the indifference and inaction
of the international community. Our message is one of solidarity.”
Let us follow our bishops’
lead. We citizens can influence U.S. policy by letters or e-mails
to Congress, to the president. The United States, sole superpower,
can influence the actions of governments abroad.
No, we don’t want to
meddle in other nations’ everyday internal affairs, but when it comes
to genocide and religious persecution, it’s a different matter: It’s
a moral challenge to everyone.
In the pre-inauguration
days, President George W. Bush indicated that his administration will
reduce overseas involvements. Catholics in our country need to send
him and Congress a message that the United States must increase
its efforts to stop the suffering in Sudan.J.B.F.