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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Muslims and Christians Living Together

Muslims and Christians living together in peace, and even making sacrifices to better each other’s lives. It’s happening in the Nuba Mountains of South Sudan. But instead of the Nuba people being celebrated and emulated for their interfaith cooperation, they’ve been targeted for extermination. The Catholic humanitarian organization Sudan Relief Fund and other groups are facing an uphill battle helping victims of the violence. However, they persist in doing the work to which they feel God has called them.

As part of her job with the Kansas City Star, veteran journalist Melinda Henneberger recently traveled to South Sudan with the Sudan Relief Fund in order to raise awareness about the famine and near-genocide going on there. During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” she explained that it is “the youngest country on earth,” and wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the United States, which helped broker a peace agreement in 2005 that ended the persecution of the South Sudanese by the Islamist government in Khartoum, Sudan.

Henneberger described the independence of South Sudan as “such a hopeful moment, but unfortunately there were a number of things that went wrong almost immediately,” including the death of Vice President John Garang, “who had an amazing ability to bring people together in a place that is still very divided along tribal lines and other lines…Then, you have seen this situation where the abused become the abusers…Now it’s devolved from there. As somebody from South Sudan said, ‘It’s everybody against everybody.'”

One and a half million people have fled in the face of “ethnic cleansing, mass starvation, forced starvation, mass rape.” Churches are doing their best to help, but there is no true sanctuary. Henneberger said, “I talked to a Catholic bishop who said that in seven of his 22 parishes...they now have in some places tens of thousands of people coming to live around the church, thinking [it] can be a protection to them...I talked to a priest who said that [attackers] came into the area around the church and kidnapped a couple of women [and committed] brutal, senseless acts. One of the attackers told the priest, who was trying to block the path to the people, ‘Get out of my way or I’ll nail you to that tree like Jesus.’ One attacker was killed and the rest fled.”

Acts of nobility and self-sacrifice are present as well, though. For instance, a Catholic missionary from New York, Dr. Tom Catena, is beloved by the Nuba people because he genuinely loves them. He is one of only four doctors to care for 1.5 million people, and he is the only surgeon in a hospital built by the Sudan Relief Fund.

Henneberger explains, “The Nuba Mountains is a place where most people are Muslim also, but they have a more liberal interpretation. They don’t want sharia law, they get along very well with their Christian neighbors, many families are mixed families. For example, Dr. Tom’s wife, her mother is Christian, her father is Muslim, and this is just not an issue for people there.”

Considering how far away South Sudan’s problems are from the life of the average American, it might seem an impossible task getting the U.S. government to help end the violence and push for peace. But Henneberger hopes to see the U.S. get involved in a humanitarian intervention, and would love to see the important work of the Sudan Relief Fund get more support.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, STORIES OF MODERN-DAY CHRIST-BEARERS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org