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Sudan's Moral Challenge

Mother Teresa and St. Josephine

The Truth From Bishop Gassis

What We Can Do



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 problems.

Mother 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.

The 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., 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 Our bishops expect to send a delegation to Sudan next month.

What 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 site (, “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.


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