Priest awakens others to suffering in Sudan
Missionary visits Hilbert and Northeim parishes
By Linda DeVries
After 35 years of civil war, Catholics in Sudan fear daily for their lives, Fr. Peter Dada told St. Mary Parish, Hilbert, and St. Thomas Parish, Northeim, in a Missionary Cooperation Program talk.
"Every day planes come to bomb our villages, our schools, our homes," Fr. Dada, said about his native land, where he has lived for 56 years.
The war between the northern and southern states in Sudan began in 1956 when the northeastern African country gained its independence from Great Britain. The two sides ceased fighting in 1972 to hold peace negotiations, but when talks fell apart 10 years later, the northern Islamic state began using force to impose its laws on the south.
The conflict is both religious and political, Fr. Dada said. Some 15 million Muslim Arabs live in the north, while in the south there are 11 million non-Muslims - half of whom are Catholic and the other half are Protestant or practice indigenous African religions.
"We're trying our best to work with those who are suffering, those who can't help themselves, to help them keep their faith, to provide medical care, and to offer education to the children," Fr. Dada said. "Three million people have fled the country; 2 million have died of hunger and disease; millions are displaced, having lost their homes. Life expectancy has been reduced to only 46 years because of the war. We're under constant bombardment from the Arabs."
In the north, schoolchildren are conscripted into the army; in the south, children enter the army after they finish school.
"Our enemies get help from their Muslim brothers, but nobody is coming to our aid," Fr. Dada said. "We come here to ask American Catholics to help us. We need your assistance both spiritually and materially. First, pray that God will bring about peace in our country. Number two, please help us financially, so we can build schools and dispensaries to care for those who need our help."
Fr. Rallen Stencil, pastor at Hilbert, said Fr. Dada told him that he became a priest because of his Catholic education. "His grandparents were pagans," Fr. Stencil said. "He went to Christian schools and became a Christian. Later on, his parents did, too. Then he went on to become a priest. It grieves him that so many children today aren't getting such an education, and he wants to start more schools."
American oil interests in southern Sudan have played a role in keeping the war going, Fr. Dada said. "The Arabs are selling our oil to buy weapons and wipe us out. If the United States would refuse to buy crude oil from Sudan, it would be one way to help stop the violence."
Claire Thomas, director of World Missions Services for the Green Bay Diocese, said people here can help by contributing to Catholic Relief Services, which has been working in Sudan for many years.
"The World's Poor Collection, which we take in March, goes to Catholic Relief and their work in countries like Sudan," Thomas said. "We are also working for advocacy in their human rights issues, and we have a legislative network in place to keep informed of action we can take. Three of the four agencies we represent have given aid to Sudan, and we plan ongoing support for their issues."
Fr. Stencil said his parish contributed more than $1,500 in a special collection after Fr. Dada spoke. "It was an awakening for us to see the suffering Sudan has been under during 35 years of war," Fr. Stencil said.
When Fr. Stencil asked Fr. Dada what impressed him the most about the United States, Fr. Dada said, "The roads - they're so beautiful, so smooth!"
"They have no real roads anymore in Sudan," Fr. Stencil said. "The British had built some when they were in control, but since the civil war began, the roads were destroyed with bombs. And of course, without roads, it's difficult to move products, and it makes communication difficult.
"Some of our parishioners took Fr. Dada out to breakfast and to a farm," said Fr. Stencil, "where they let him ride on a combine. He was amazed, because there is no equipment in Sudan."