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Crisis in Uganda an affront to Catholicism

Letter to the Editor | Monday, April 24, 2006

What determines the Catholic character of Notre Dame? While recent campus debates are legitimate and important, I fear such confrontational discourse has distracted the Notre Dame community from other issues which constitute a much more potent affront to the tenets of our faith in its contemporary context. Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, wrote in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa that the global Catholic community is called to engage in “an organic pastoral solidarity within the entire African territory.” Unfortunately, we have patently failed to achieve such solidarity, and modern depravities of the most abhorrent nature occur without notice or challenge from the majority of American Catholics.

For the past 20 years, northern Uganda has been besieged by a campaign of brutality and violence executed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group intent upon overthrowing the Government of Uganda and expressing no political agenda aside from terror. The LRA’s methodology is chilling: rebel leaders abduct children from their homes and force them to partake in the group’s ruthless crusade of death and destruction, oftentimes against their own families and villages. Those who have managed to survive the deadly assaults languish in the squalid conditions of Internally Displaced People camps, where excess deaths due to disease and malnutrition claim the lives of 1,000 people per week (a death rate which is three times that of Iraq). Since the LRA’s formation two decades ago, experts estimate that as many as 66,000 children have been abducted and enslaved as child soldiers.

Plagued with an unremitting fear of abduction, tens of thousands of children – the “night commuters” of northern Uganda – take to the streets each night and walk incredible distances to avoid the LRA. They sleep without shelter or protection, their bodies piled upon one another in public parks and doorways. Jan Egeland, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, has referred to the situation in northern Uganda as “the world’s worst neglected humanitarian crisis,” and called for the international community’s resolute action to end this “moral outrage.”

Yet the crisis persists. The world has shamefully turned its back on the suffering of those whom Jesus would assuredly consider “the poor in spirit.” Given the conditions of northern Uganda, it is morally unjustifiable for any Christian to remain complacent while such degradations of humanity exist. This issue transcends partisan lines to offend every person of good will, and it is our duty as members of a Catholic institution to take responsibility for the lives of the people of northern Uganda.

The iniquities occurring are unambiguous, as should be our unity in their opposition. With one voice, we should decry the horrors of the LRA and utilize our outrage to effect real change. We must appeal to local leaders to mobilize grassroots efforts to address the conflict in northern Uganda; we must petition the U.S. government to support peace processes and dedicate more resources to emergency aid in the region; we must entreat the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution acknowledging and attending to the crisis. Most importantly, we must become informed and active participants in halting the atrocities of northern Uganda. On behalf of the Uganda Conflict Action Network, I implore the Notre Dame community to make this matter a personal priority. You can begin by attending the Mock Trial of world leaders tonight at 6 p.m. at Fieldhouse Mall and visiting our website (ugandacan.org) for more information on becoming involved in this vital cause.

Notre Dame’s true Catholic character can and should be demonstrated through a commitment to ending this crisis, for it is only when the anguished cries of our Ugandan brothers and sisters are answered with loving compassion that we can stand in solidarity as the one human family Jesus intended.

Nicole SteeleUganda-CANApril 24