Notre Dame students will raise their hands in peace signs Saturday to capture a photograph that will show solidarity with efforts to avoid civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan.
As part of the University’s work to spotlight the growing conflict, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will circulate this image, junior student government social concerns chair Patrick McCormick said.
“We face a situation where the United States has a chance to prevent another conflict in Africa before it happens,” McCormick said. “We want to signal as student government that the Notre Dame student body is ready to call for change.”
The northern and southern parts of Sudan have been in conflict for more than 50 years. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) formally ended civil war in 2005 and scheduled a referendum for Jan. 9, 2011.
Sudanese people will then vote on secession for Southern Sudan, McCormick said.
The peace agreement established a six-year period for democratic reforms and national elections. As the referendum approached, tensions rose between the two sides. Both stockpiled weapons in preparation for what needed to be a peaceful voting process, McCormick said.
Notre Dame got involved when CRS president Ken Hackett spoke at the Center for Social Concern on this year’s theme “Charity in Truth.” Hackett said acting for peace in Sudan is a way to practice this theme on an international level.
“The thought that comes to my mind is this vision that Father Hesburgh had of Notre Dame as a lighthouse and a crossroads,” McCormick said. “With the arrival of the Sudanese delegation, we had the opportunity to sit at that crossroads. We now have the opportunity to serve as a lighthouse and be a beacon for securing justice in Sudan.”
The pivotal moment for Notre Dame was the arrival of a delegation from the Sudan Conference of Catholic Bishops, McCormick said.
Bishop Paride Taban, Bishop Daniel Adwok Marko Kur and director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute John Ashworth spoke at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies on Oct. 5 on the upcoming referendum in Sudan.
The delegation traveled from Notre Dame’s campus to Washington and New York City for meetings with government officials and with the United Nations.
“Part of their motivation to come here was to visit the Kroc Institute, one of the leading centers for peace-building in the world,” McCormick said. “But the delegation was also interested in reaching out to the Catholic community in the United States and did that in a symbolic way at Notre Dame.”
McCormick presented a resolution to student senate last week to show Notre Dame support for the full implementation of the CPA. The senators passed the resolution unanimously.
The resolution was presented to the delegation of bishops as a sign that students were in solidarity with their efforts to secure sustainable peace in Sudan.
“There is a precedent for student involvement in international issues,” McCormick said. “It is as simple as raising a voice. This is a classic example of how change can come from the bottom up.”
Students successfully lobbied the United States government to use the term “genocide” for the first time in American history when describing human rights violations in Darfur, McCormick said.
“Students lend a particularly morally sensitive voice to international issues because that voice is not bogged down in the intricacies of policy and government. I think the need to act goes back to who we are as the leading Catholic university in the United States,” McCormick said. “Student government cannot just issue its opinion on any issue that comes before the public on a national or international scale. This is about the responsibility to use the moral voice of this university because this conflict can directly impact the lives of students.”
The resolution said the student body would work to raise awareness about the peace agreement and possible conflict in Sudan.
“Now we must ask ourselves to define how inclusive the Notre Dame family is and how far the Dome on which Mary stands can reach,” McCormick said.
Kroc Institute for International Studies specialist Gerard Powers said students need to learn about the looming crisis as the referendum in January approaches.
“There is a great opportunity for Notre Dame to be in a leadership role in working with other universities to develop a coalition around Sudan,” Powers said.
Outside of the actions by the international community and major players within Sudan, Powers said publicly showing support for the Sudanese people is critical.
“Because of Internet and news, people in Sudan, even as poor and isolated as that country is, know when people in this country and people in the world are working on their behalf,” Powers said. “Showing our solidarity with them is important so they know that the world is paying attention.”
Any student wishing to participate in the photo opportunity for CRS can meet at 10:45 a.m. Saturday in front of Rolf’s Sports Recreation Center.
“We want to lend the student voice to a national conversation that has not taken place on the scale that it should,” McCormick said. “We promise ‘never again’ after violent conflicts like the genocide in Darfur, and Notre Dame students want to make ‘never again’ more than just words for Sudan.”