Church in Abyei: A Symbol of Hope

Andy Schaefer, CRS technical adviser for emergency coordination, was in Agok, Sudan working to assist some of the more than 100,000 people displaced by recent violence in the contested border area of Abyei, Sudan. He shares with us his impressions from the field.

One thing that has become apparent to me while working to meet the needs of those displaced from Abyei is that the Church’s presence really is a symbol of hope.

A few Sundays ago during Mass, local parish priest, Fr. Biong gave a speech about helping people to rebuild their lives and the need for continued support during this difficult time. This is such an important message for everyone to hear: the displaced, host communities, and those working to help meet their needs.

Priests like Fr. Biong help people to feel that they have not been abandoned. He continues to be with his people seeking refuge in Agok, by ministering to their spiritual and physical needs. To watch him work is very affirming. The sense of solidarity he fosters is palpable.

It’s at times like these that I think of Oscar Romero and a poem, Taking the Long View, it has a line that says we’re not the master builders we’re the bigger picture. It’s a wonderful reminder to me of our place in the world as humanitarian aid workers. There is also an expression from Afghanistan, where I worked previously, “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.” We’ve taken these steps of support in the past and we take them again in this journey of reaching out to the people of Abyei. There is something comforting knowing that these steps will continue to be taken long after I leave. There is a real constancy created in people’s lives by the Church, Catholic Relief Services and the Caritas Network.

The Church provides moral and spiritual support while we help tend to their physical needs such as water, food and shelter. The other day a woman came to speak to Fr. Biong. Her husband was recently killed. The challenges people face here are real and palpable. Sometimes when we read these stories in a newspaper it’s just a headline. When you’re on the ground the reality hits you and it can be very saddening.

It is heartening, however, to see the role that the Church plays. Even at this time of staggering loss, the Church continues to minister and support people who have lost homes and loved ones. CRS and the rest of the Caritas Network help to support the pastoral mission of the Church by providing other needed services that help compliment the whole person. It is one step, but it is an important step in helping people back to the road of self-sufficiency.

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