WASHINGTON (August 16, 2004) — The President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has urged the U.S. Bishops to ask Catholics to offer prayers and contribute to a special collection for people suffering persecution and deprivation in Sudan.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory said that in Sudan where for decades "our brothers and sisters have experienced tremendous suffering because of war and hatred," the situation is "horrible."
World leaders have called the current situation in Sudan, where government-backed Arab militias, known as the "Janjaweed," have killed an estimated 30,000 Black Africans in the Darfur region of Sudan in the last 17 months, the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world."
Special prayers will be offered on Sunday, August 22, and a collection will be taken up at a later date.
Bishop Gregory cited a phone call he received from Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, chairman of the USCCB International Policy Committee. Bishop Ricard, who recently traveled to the Darfur region to assess firsthand the dire humanitarian situation there, visited camps where tens of thousands of people were huddled under plastic sheets for protection against the driving rains and wind. "They are only a small fraction of the millions of Sudanese who have been driven from their homes and brutalized by conflicts in this country," Bishop Gregory said.
He said the people of Darfur told Bishop Ricard how armed groups rode into their villages, killed family members, and drove people from their homes and lands. "They live in a state of perpetual fear and do not have enough food or water to keep themselves and their children alive," Bishop Gregory wrote.
"Despite current efforts by international relief agencies to help bring an end to violence and meet basic needs, the suffering continues. More assistance is urgently needed."
"Catholic Relief Services, working with the Church in Sudan and other Catholic agencies from around the world, is responding to this crisis, but they need your prayers and your help," Bishop Gregory continued. "The lives of hundreds of thousands of people hang in the balance."
Saying this is a time for prayer, solidarity and assistance to the suffering people of Sudan, Bishop Gregory urged the bishops to consider asking Catholics to offer special prayers for the people of Sudan on the weekend of Sunday, August 22, or another weekend, and to ask parishes to take up a special collection, at a convenient time in the near future, for the millions of Sudanese who are suffering. He said that Catholic Relief Services will ensure that the funds go to the Sudanese people who are most in need. He added that a broad coalition of religious (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), human rights, and humanitarian organizations will undertake other efforts to help address the crisis in Sudan in a "Day of Conscience" for Sudan, Wednesday, August 25.
"Let us join our prayers and sacrifices with our brothers and sisters in Sudan as they cry out for peace," Bishop Gregory wrote. "We pray for the intercession of St. Bakhita, native of Darfur and the first Sudanese saint, that the conflict might end and the rights and dignity of each and every person might be respected."
In his recent trip to Sudan, Bishop Ricard met with representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing assistance. In Khartoum, he met with Catholic Church leaders, United Nations personnel, and several officials of the Government in Khartoum, including the foreign minister, the minister of internal affairs, and the first vice president. Bishop Ricard was accompanied by Mr. Ken Hackett, Director of Catholic Relief Services, and Father Michael Perry, the USCCB's policy advisor on African affairs.