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Traveling Bishops discuss peace in Sudan

Laura Myers | Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bishop Paride Taban and Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur are part of a Sudanese religious coalition traveling to Europe and the United States looking to stave off a civil war in their country. With high-level meetings arranged in Washington, D.C., and with the United Nations in New York City, the two traveled to America a week early in order to begin their appeal at Notre Dame.

Along with John Ashworth, acting director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute in South Africa, Taban and Adwok spoke of possible impending trouble in Sudan Tuesday in a talk titled “Sudan: Peace in the Balance.”

“Notre Dame is an important University with interacting with peace-building people,” Ashworth told The Observer following the presentation. “Obviously in Washington and New York we’re reaching out to government and the U.N. and others, but this is us reaching out to the Catholic community.”

The northern and southern parts of Sudan have been in conflict on-and-off for more than 50 years; in 2005; the two parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which scheduled a referendum for Jan. 9, 2011, in which citizens of Southern Sudan could vote whether or not to secede from the country.

With less than 100 days until the referendum, however, things have not progressed as planned and peacemakers fear that the centralized government of Sudan, which is located in the country’s capital, Khartoum, will somehow rig the vote.

Regardless of the official results, Ashworth said, the south will want to secede.

“For them, the vote is just a formality,” he said. “On Jan. 9 will be the formality, the process of voting. The process of informing the world, ‘we have decided to secede.’

They know that the decision has been made to secede and they will try to secede.

“That could lead to war. So we’re warning that there is a very, very real danger that this war is going to start again. And it’s not often that we can give you a start date of a war.”

Adwok, auxiliary bishop of Khartoum, works with southern refugees living in the north part of the country. He said the centralized government of Khartoum, which controls nearly all of the country’s resources, has oppressed the Southerners for many years.

While Muslims run the government, Taban, bishop emeritus of Tobit, said Islam and Christianity are not in conflict.

“When we founded the new Sudan council of churches in the south, even the Muslim churches wanted to join,” he said. “We said, let us be friends. We know you don’t get much aid. We shall share what we have. And we live so friendly in the south with the Muslims who are there.”

Taban said the role of religion in Sudan is no longer being confined to the spiritual.

“Religion is being exploited by those in power. Once people have that power, they have the wealth, they forget even about their religion. Unfortunately, that is what is happening in Sudan.”

In fact, one of the south’s biggest concerns is being able to have an identity separate from the northern religion, Adwok said.

“The question of identity was raised right from the beginning,” he said. “The people of the south, they say, ‘Among us there are Muslims, among us there are Christians. Therefore, not one system can be imposed on us.'”

The government’s oppression of the south makes the idea of unity nearly impossible, Adwok said. This is why the groups are trying to raise international awareness, in hopes of reducing a violent northern reaction to southern secession.

“The reason that we are coming here is to allow the people of the south to hear their voice, their cry for justice, their cry for dignity,” Adwok said. “And even if the referendum is manipulated, is rigged, I don’t think the dignity of the human person can be rigged by anybody. And here in an international community, we have to say, ‘Let these people go.'”

After the talk, the delegation had dinner with students of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

“It seems that for Notre Dame, this is an issue that would matter to us all,” said junior Patrick McCormick, Student Senate social concerns chair, who attended the dinner.

McCormick intends to introduce a resolution to the Senate in Wednesday’s meeting that will outline an education and advocacy campaign about the issue. He said the Senate has been working closely on the issue with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and a copy of the resolution was given to each panelist.

“They’re going to put it on the CRS website as an example of what students can do,” he said. “From what CRS is telling us, the more we can do to draw attention to what’s going in the Sudan, the better off the people on the ground think that they’ll be.”

Taban said it is especially important for students to be informed.

“This is a university. These are the future leaders,” he said. “Tomorrow they will be the leaders of the country. They should know about other parts of the world. … We are billing them as future leaders. Not just by words, but by action.”