Bishop Ricard in Darfur: A New Mood

CRS North Sudan country representative Mark Snyder shows Bishop Ricard temporary shelters built by CRS for families recently displaced by the Darfur conflict. Photo by Bill Schmitt/CRS.

El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan – July 26, 2007

Three years after my first visit, I have returned to Darfur. The conflict is now four years old, and it is far from resolved. But hopefully the tide is turning as a new mood emerges and peace efforts continue.

On my last trip, I traveled with Catholic Relief Services’ president Ken Hackett to the town of Nyala in the state of South Darfur. This time I am in the town of El Geneina in West Darfur, seeing once again the situation on the ground firsthand with staff from CRS.

The emergency response has matured, and it is clear that CRS and other leading agencies are making a difference in people’s lives here. The work is difficult and challenging, especially due to security concerns. Risks are very real, and adjustments have to be made daily, which can be very costly and impact the scale of the response. But the overall situation seems to be stabilizing in terms of reaching people in need.

CRS country representative Mark Snyder shows Bishop Ricard temporary shelters built by CRS for families recently displaced by the Darfur conflict. Photo by Bill Schmitt/CRS.

Today we visited Ardamata camp where thousands of people are living just outside of El Geneina. In the last three weeks, CRS erected 750 new shelters for families recently driven from their homes. Agencies are partnering here to create a planned community that mimics village life. People live in very small structures that are very close to each other, but each families’ area is clearly defined, and schools and water pumps bring the community together.

We also spent time talking with a local wali, some sheiks and an imam, who represent the civic and religious authority in the town. They expressed a great deal of gratitude for CRS’ work and for the engagement of American Catholics and the American people in responding to the crisis. Ongoing needs are still considerable, however, and will require long-term assistance, such as improving access to clean water, building clinics and continuing to expand education services. But I’m seeing a greater level of cooperation and collaboration between the local government and aid agencies, and there is respect here for the work of CRS and that of other agencies. There is also a recognition of their contribution to this difficult situation rather than troubling indifference or animosity.

I’m sensing a different mood in Sudan. I believe that the governors, the Church and the Sudanese people are demonstrating a new sense of confidence in their ability to move toward peace. Sudan is a vast, beautiful country with considerable resources. The Sudanese must resolve the conflict in Darfur in order to move forward in achieving sustainable development.

I hope that American Catholics, who have responded generously to the conflict in Darfur, would continue to provide financial contributions to support ongoing emergency interventions. And I hope that these contributions would be matched by a serious effort on the part of our own State Department and administration in Washington to bring all involved parties together so that these skirmishes and disruption can cease. All Sudanese must be able to live in peace to realize their whole human potential.

Pope Paul VI said in his magnificent encyclical letter Populorum Progressio that development brings about peace, and peace is synonymous with development. It is my hope that this happens across Sudan.

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2 Responses to “Bishop Ricard in Darfur: A New Mood”

  1. Ellen Says:

    Praying for peace and God’s mercy for the folks in Sudan, and for all those who are trying to help them.

  2. Michael Says:

    Thank you for all your courageous work in Sudan–you represent the very best in our tradition.

    Since this was posted, however, I have been reading about daily airstrikes in Darfur. Implausibly, it sounds as if the human suffering is actually getting more acute–hard to imagine in the context of what our Congress has referred to as a genocide.

    What is CRS doing to convey a new sense of urgency around Sudan? What can I do?

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