Sudan: Crisis on a Biblical Scale

(This column appeared in the Denver Catholic Register on September 8, 2004.)

Heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ, through His suffering and death on the Cross, gave Himself as a gift of love for the reconciliation and salvation of all peoples. He continues to express this love by giving us St. Josephine Bakhita. She too offered herself through her suffering in slavery. We humbly pray [that] through her intercession you may save her brothers and sisters in Sudan from slavery and persecution. May she obtain for her people and for the whole world the gifts of justice and peace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. — Prayer to St. Josephine Bakhita

Most American Catholics have some memory of religious or ethnic discrimination in their family's past. Newly arrived Irish, Polish and Italian Catholics faced it in the last century. Many Latino Catholics encounter it today. But bigotry in modern American life, even at its worst, is dwarfed by the kind of savagery that occurs every day in Sudan.

Sudan, the largest country in Africa, has been at war with itself for decades. The Arab Muslim north has fought for 20 years to subdue the black south, which is largely Christian or traditionally tribal in its religious beliefs. More than 2 million people have died. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. More than 10,000 women and children abducted into slavery are still missing.

Extremist Muslim militias routinely use rape, kidnapping, murder and branding to terrorize the population and break resistance. Sudan's great saint, St. Josephine Bakhita, who died in 1947, herself spent many years in Muslim slavery. Sudan's Islamic government has done little or nothing to discourage the violence. Stubborn and brutal, it is an international pariah regime.

The US Congress earlier this summer passed a resolution declaring that the crisis in Sudan constitutes genocide. Despite many attacks on aid workers by Muslim militia members, Catholic Relief Services, working with the Church in Sudan and other Catholic agencies from around the world, has responded to the crisis. But they need our prayers and our financial support.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, former president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently asked American Catholics to respond as generously as possible to the need in Sudan through special diocesan collections and direct donations. All funds raised will be routed through Catholic Relief Services directly to the Sudanese people.

In light of Bishop Gregory's urgent appeal, I've asked our pastors throughout the archdiocese to consider taking up a special collection on behalf of the suffering people of Sudan at all Masses on the weekend of September 18-19. This collection is voluntary, and I realize that some parishes will have compelling reasons to delay it or to not implement it. That's a decision appropriately made by each local pastor.

But given the biblical scope of the disaster in Sudan, I hope all of our parishes, and all of us as individual believers, will do everything we can to make this collection — or some other form of financial help for the people of Sudan — happen. Tens of thousands of lives literally depend on help from the outside world; help from people like you and me.

May St. Josephine Bakhita intercede for and protect her people of Sudan, and move our hearts to hear their cry.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

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Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011

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