CRS Opens New Office in Juba, Sudan

Dear Friend,

I recently returned from a visit to Africa, where I helped to open the new Catholic Relief Services office in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. Normally, I wouldn't describe a ribbon cutting as momentous. But this event was imbued with deep and powerful symbolism.

Southern Sudan is emerging from two decades of civil war, and a fragile peace holds. With the agreement that was signed in January 2005, refugees are beginning to return, and the southern Sudanese have begun the rebuilding of their homeland. Opening the Juba office is a tangible sign that CRS, and the U.S. Catholic community, stand in solidarity and commitment with the people of southern Sudan as they strive to live in peaceful prosperity.

In Darfur, too, there is a chance for peace with the recent accord to end the conflict between the government of Sudan and the largest rebel group.

These opportunities for peace fill us with hope. But history teaches us we must maintain a sense of realism.

Thirty-four years ago, the first CRS representative in Juba wrote in his first report: “Peace is here to stay. This seems to be the attitude of the Sudanese people during the past three months. After the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement many Southerners took the attitude of wait and see. Let someone else be the one to move back and test the sincerity of those in authority. When they prove that they mean what they say, then we will return to Sudan. Almost a year has passed since the Addis Agreement signing, and I think people are now convinced that peace is lasting.”

It was a time of immense optimism and great hope. And in hindsight, it may be characterized as a time of naive dreams. Peace was better than war, but, as we know, the absence of violence in the face of indignity and injustice, marginalization, abuse and trampled rights cannot be sustained anywhere in the world. The aspirations of oppressed peoples always rise.

War came again. Misery, dislocation, fear, death, courage, valiant acts were all part of the legacy of the people of southern Sudan.

The optimism that characterized the people around the CRS office in 1972 was real, if not lasting. By 1976, we felt that it was no longer necessary to sustain a presence in Juba and that our office in Khartoum was adequate to represent the programs and solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church with the people in Sudan. We were wrong. In 1983, circumstances were such that we had to close our office and programs in the north and shutter our office in Khartoum. We returned to the south in the late 1980s, but regrettably not to Juba.

Opening the CRS office in Juba signals a reaffirmation of our commitment to the people of southern Sudan. We will help those who wish to return and to be part of the vision for the new Sudan. We will help the Catholic Church as it reaches out in concern for its people. We will help where we can to support the building of structures to guide a vision of a better tomorrow.

Sudan is important to Africa, to the United States and to the world. Nine countries touch its borders. When the aspirations of the Sudanese people are not satisfied, it impacts many outside of Sudan. And as Americans, we may have finally grasped the cause of those who are struggling to survive there. The American people haven't been this engaged in the plight of an African country since the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Our government has committed millions of dollars both to short-term humanitarian needs and also to build structures and capacities that will guide a future stability and security. While there may be many motivations for this support, one can clearly see that no other country in Africa, and few other countries in the world, have received the level of support and sustained attention that the U.S. government has given to Sudan, particularly to Darfur and southern Sudan.

We may have closed our office in Juba in 1976, but we never ended our commitment to its people. The generations that fought for human dignity and justice here in southern Sudan have left a legacy to the young. The U.S. Catholic community will be with them as they live out this legacy.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers,

Ken Hackett
President

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