Bishop Cooney in Darfur: Our Time to Help

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Children welcome a visit from Bishop Ricard, Bishop Cooney and CRS staff at a camp in Darfur. Photo by Bill Schmitt/CRS.

El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan – July 25, 2007

I have come to Africa before, but this trip is decidedly different. I’ve not only been able to see conditions firsthand, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Catholic Bishops Conferences in three different countries: Zimbabwe, Burundi and Sudan. In these visits, I’ve witnessed African bishops’ deep commitment to the pursuit of peace and development.

This week I had the incredible experience of meeting with the Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference while participating in an open-air Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Khartoum. This joyous celebration of faith, including dancing from all the tribes of South Sudan, demonstrated the bishops’ and people’s hope for a new future between the north and south with the ending of the war. And now I am in Darfur. The mood here is also hopeful, but peace is a long way away.

Today we visited a camp for people who have been driven out of their homes by the ongoing conflict. The standards of living are very poor, but thanks to Catholic Relief Services and other agencies working together, these people at least have a place to stay and receive food supplies on a regular basis. It’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of situation, and I feel deep sorrow for the people living here. People seem very happy to have received some assistance, but they are all looking for better times. Hopefully they will be able to return to their home villages down the line and return to their normal lives — as this is certainly not normal.

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A group of children greet the bishops in Darfur at a school where CRS has built urgently needed classrooms. Photo by Bill Schmitt/CRS.

A lot of excellent agencies are cooperating together for the well-being of the people in Darfur, including CRS. I’m hopeful, because I believe an opportunity exists to achieve peace in Darfur and throughout Sudan. Both sides seem to be in a more positive frame of mind. But people continue to suffer — good, hardworking people who deserve the help of the world.

Talking with individual bishops in Sudan was really uplifting. They have some very practical ideas and a desire to make the Church much more than just an idle player and really help the country as a nation. Jesus continuously preached and showed that his lifestyle was to care for those in need. Perhaps this is our time as Americans, and especially as American Catholics, to reach out with what we have to support and help other people. This help can give Sudanese in need food, medication, a house — or at least something to live in — and education. If the rest of the world could pitch in to help as well, the Sudanese could reap many benefits in the years and decades to come.

Perhaps this is also the time in Sudan’s history when everything can turn to the better. It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but I think it can happen.

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Bishop Cooney and Bishop Ricard join CRS country representative Mark Snyder in a discussion with teachers at a Darfur school where CRS built needed classrooms. Photo by Bill Schmitt/CRS.

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