The Independent Newsweekly
|NEWS FOR TODAY|
Posted Monday July 26, 2003 at 11:55 a.m. CDT
Sudan, Uganda focus of papal appeal
By Catholic News Service
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy -- Pope John Paul II urgently appealed for an end to worldwide indifference to ongoing conflicts in Uganda and Sudan.
He called upon the international community to help resolve the bloody conflicts on the "beloved African continent" and offer "a real prospect for peace" in the region.
Before praying his July 25 Angelus, the pope made his appeal to more than 1,000 pilgrims who gathered in the courtyard of his papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome.
"During these days of rest and relaxation, my thoughts often center on the dramatic conditions different regions of the world are living through," he told his audience.
He highlighted the dire humanitarian situation in western Sudan's Darfur region. "The war there, which has intensified (in) the past few months, brings with it ever more poverty, desperation and death," he said.
In the past year of fighting, rebels and government-backed Arab militias have been pitted against one another in Darfur, forcing some 200,000 people to flee to neighboring Chad and displacing more than a million others to makeshift camps in Sudan.
Human rights groups have accused the militias of committing grave atrocities, such as mass rapes, execution-style killings and ethnic cleansing, against mostly black African civilians.
More than 30,000 people have been killed and another 350,000 lives are at risk due to fighting, starvation or other causes unless they receive immediate assistance, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The pope made a "sorrowful appeal" to international organizations and political leaders "to not forget these other brothers and sisters of ours so sorely tried."
The pope sent his papal envoy, Archbishop Paul Cordes, head of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," the Vatican's charity arm, to Sudan and Darfur July 22-25 as a sign of "spiritual and material solidarity."
Meanwhile, the Vatican released a brief July 26 summarizing the archbishop's mission.
Archbishop Cordes visited the slums outside the capital, Khartoum, which for the past 10 years have sheltered displaced people from fighting in the south of Sudan, the statement said.
Archbishop Cordes also traveled to camps in Darfur saying the conditions of some 10,000 people living there "camped out in the desert under straw tents and plastic sheeting" were "indescribable."
He met with representatives of Catholic aid agencies who, along with other Christian organizations, are preparing to use a $17 million aid package for those hardest hit by the Darfur conflict.
The archbishop also met with Vice President Moses Machar of Sudan and the deputy governor of southern Darfur. He urged them to help Catholic aid groups get unimpeded access to refugee camps.
Access to camps, when not hampered by fighting, is often blocked by federal and local bureaucracies involving government visas, regional travel permits and customs clearance for vehicles.
Many of these children, by being "caught in the grips of fear and deprived of any future, feel compelled to become soldiers," he added.
Humanitarian groups estimate that over the past five years some 20,000 children have been abducted by rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army. The children are then forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves.
The rebels, led by Joseph Kony, have been waging a brutal campaign of mutilation and death against civilians in their fight to overthrow the government. Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than a million others displaced by the fighting in northern Uganda alone.
The pope appealed both to Ugandan political leaders and the international community to "put a stop to this tragic conflict and offer a real prospect for peace to the whole Ugandan nation."
The pope underlined the generous work being carried out by the church and volunteers in Uganda and Darfur; he urged Christians everywhere to keep the people there in their prayers.
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