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Civil war in Sudan: What’s happening and why?

Sisters from the Salesian Sisters in Sudan serve the poor and needy in the midst of a brutal war in Sudan. The sisters commiunity, Dar Mariam, has been a refuge for hundreds, though has damaged by gunfire and bombs. May 2024. / Credit: Father Jacob Thelekkadan

CNA Staff, Jun 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

For over a year, the people of Sudan — one of the largest countries in Africa — have suffered under a brutal civil war that has reduced the capital, Khartoum, to a war zone.

Amid the chaos and a complex set of competing political interests, children and the poor have been hit hardest.

Just last week, the United Nations confirmed that 35 children were among those killed in one of the war’s deadliest attacks to date. All told, at least 15,550 people have reportedly been killed in the fighting and some 10 million people have been displaced, many internally.

An overwhelmingly Muslim country, Catholics made up roughly 5% of the population of Sudan before the most recent war and played an important role in schools and education. But now, many missionaries and religious communities have had to flee the country, and parishes, hospitals, and schools have ceased their activities. In Sudan’s neighboring country, South Sudan, the Church maintains a large presence and remains very active in relief efforts.

The papal charity Aid to the Church in Need, which supports persecuted Christians throughout the world, remains active in Sudan. Kinga Schierstaedt, head of ACN’s projects in Sudan, told CNA last week that they know of 10 Catholic priests remaining in the Khartoum area, plus five Salesian sisters. Schierstaedt said Catholics in the country have had to be resourceful and adaptable amid an ever-changing situation.

“For example, the Comboni Missionaries, who had been running a university in Khartoum, moved all teaching online and were thus able to continue teaching their students. In April of this year, the first set of students, who had all fled Khartoum and live currently either within the country or in neighboring countries, were able to complete their exams,” Schierstaedt said.

Schierstaedt said ACN has documented several lootings of churches, convents, and presbyteries amid the violence and destruction.

“At the beginning of the war, many project partners told us that this mainly happened because the attackers assumed that there was gold to be found in the churches and presbyteries. They were therefore mainly after the material possessions. Secondly, churches were also often attacked because the attackers knew that refugees were staying there,” she explained.

“However, we are now increasingly hearing that these acts of destruction are also more and more directed against the Christian faith. Many of the remaining priests, for example, no longer use their own vehicles for fear that they could be taken away from them,” she continued.

What brought Sudan to this point?

Sudan’s current civil war began in April 2023, with warring factions the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by two rival generals. But before this point, the country had been racked with turmoil for decades with multiple conflicts.

Because of its large size and geographical position, Sudan has long served as a crossroads between the Arab and African worlds. Historically, the country is extremely diverse, with Muslims and people of animist faiths primarily in the north and Christianity prevalent in the south. Religious and cultural differences as well as battles for the country’s vast natural resources, including oil and gold, have long fueled conflicts.

Beginning even before Sudan gained its independence from the British in 1956, the country’s 1955–1972 first civil war ended with the creation of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region (which would later secede and become South Sudan).

Sudan’s next major conflict, a 22-year second civil war beginning in 1983, was to be even more devastating — it was one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II, with more than 2 million people killed. Instances of famine recorded in the Darfur region in particular shocked the world.

In the midst of that conflict, Omar al Bashir, a hardline Islamist, overthrew the democratically elected government in 1989. He imposed a harsh interpretation of Sharia law on the country and persecuted religious minorities, including Christians. In 2003, he cracked down on rebels in the Darfur region, killing an estimated 300,000 people; fighters also committed numerous atrocities including sexual violence.

Fearing he would be deposed in a coup as he himself had seized power, al Bashir tried to coup-proof himself by creating two militaries, the paramilitary RSF and the “official” SAF, whom he hoped would never collaborate with each other to overthrow him.

Finally, in 2005, a peace agreement was signed with the SPLA, a significant rebel group in South Sudan. The most important part of this agreement, Schierstaedt said, was a referendum on the independence of the south, which passed overwhelmingly and led to the separation of the two states in 2011. South Sudan, despite taking 75% of Sudan’s oil wealth, remains one of the world’s poorest countries, having suffered under its own civil war since 2013.

In 2019, amid popular uprisings against al Bashir, the president was, as he had feared, deposed in a military coup after 30 years in office. The RSF and SAF collaborated to achieve the coup. 

Al Bashir was succeeded by a military council, and in October 2021, a new charter was signed with the aim of creating a constitution, which Sudan has lacked since 2005. 

However, there was another coup and a nationwide state of emergency was declared, though the prime minister ousted in the coup was quickly but briefly reinstated. Fighting then broke out between the SAF and RSF on April 15, 2023, for control of the country. In the absence of any kind of functional civilian government, Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan of the SAF has de facto ruled the country ever since.

The RSF has captured almost every city in the Darfur region and has been accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The ordinary citizens of Sudan have suffered years of bombing amid the war, as a recent story from ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, explains. Nearly 18 million people across the country are currently experiencing “acute” food insecurity.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both major investors in the Sudanese economy, are seen as players in a proxy war as both countries are sponsoring fighters that serve their interests in the country. The Russian paramilitary mercenary organization The Wagner Group has also been active in the conflict.

“Many international players ask about how many millions of USD are needed to help Sudan in this humanitarian crisis. But they do not ask about how to stop those who ‘sponsor’ the war,” Schierstaedt noted.

Pope Francis has renewed his appeal for peace in Sudan, calling on the country’s warring parties to lay down their weapons and stop the fighting. The SAF recently rejected a U.S. call to return to peace talks with the RSF.

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Colombian bishop warns that deterioration of society is rooted in weakening of the family

null / Credit: - Yuri A/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 16, 2024 / 09:30 am (CNA).

The deterioration experienced in society is due to ideologies weakening the family, the institution to which God has entrusted the protection of life, says the bishop of Cúcuta in Colombia, José Libardo Garcés.

In the latest editorial of the diocesan newspaper La Verdad (The Truth), the prelate invited Christians to reflect on the family and life “to become aware of God’s call to each home to defend, protect, and safeguard human life as an essential foundation for forming a person and a society based on the virtues of the Gospel, which at the same time has its basis in the sacrament of marriage.”

“We are experiencing how society is deteriorating in many aspects,” he noted, “and this has its roots in the deterioration of family life, which is arising from different ideologies and ways of conceiving marriage and the family that have turned their backs on God.”

The bishop of Cúcuta, a diocese bordering Venezuela, noted that God’s constant call “is to build home life on the firm rock of Jesus Christ” and to receive from him the strength to face the challenges and tasks of the mission received from God to protect human life in all its stages.

Libardo said the Catholic Church’s defense of life “goes against the ideologies that present abortion, euthanasia, and other attacks against the life and dignity of the human person as the behavioral norm.”

“In the face of this we have to strengthen the family that protects life as a free gift from God,” he said.

“The Christian family becomes a solid rock on which society is built,” the prelate explained, “because in it we learn the healthy relationship between father, mother, spouses, children, and siblings, to go out into society to create healthy interpersonal relationships” based on Gospel values.

Regarding the pain and anguish that can be experienced within the home, the bishop explained that “the cross is part of human life and also of family life,” which is why he invited the faithful to learn from the Virgin Mary, “to be alongside the cross of the Lord, sometimes in pain, but standing there and with hope in Jesus, who does not disappoint.”

The bishop noted that in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis teaches that when families follow Jesus, breakup can be avoided.

“Gradually, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, [the spouses] grow in holiness through married life, also by sharing in the mystery of Christ’s cross, which transforms difficulties and sufferings into an offering of love,” the pope’s exhortation says.

Libardo said that “this teaching of Pope Francis is very consoling, because many marriages and families break off their relationships at the first difficulty or crisis they experience, forgetting that with the grace of God received in the sacrament of marriage and renewed day by day in the Eucharist, they can persevere in the mission that they have received until the end.”

The prelate highlighted those Christian married couples who have persevered in their faithful love, “with the certainty that the Lord is always present every day until the end of their lives.”

The bishop called on families “to find a few minutes each day to join together before the Lord” and to place “personal and family life under the protection and aegis of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the glorious patriarch St. Joseph, so that together at home they can make a profession of faith proclaiming, ‘You are the Christ.’”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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Pope Francis: The seeds of the Gospel take time to bloom

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2024 / 08:23 am (CNA).

In Pope Francis’ reflection on Sunday’s Gospel, the pope encouraged people to trust that God the Father often works in hidden ways under the surface before bringing the seeds of the Gospel to full bloom.

Reflecting on Jesus’ parable comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed in the Gospel of Mark, the pope said Christians should have an attitude of “confident expectation” in the Lord.

“In sowing, no matter how good or abundant the seed the farmer scatters or how well he prepares the land, the plants do not sprout immediately: It takes time,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on June 16.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

“Underground the miracle is already in progress,” he added. “There is enormous development, but it is invisible, it takes patience, and in the meantime it is necessary to to keep tending the turf, watering it and keeping it clean, despite the fact that on the surface nothing seems to be happening.”

Pope Francis explained that the kingdom of God likewise requires patience, to “wait confidently” as it takes time to grow.

“The Lord places in us the seeds of his word and his grace, good and abundant seeds, and then, without ever ceasing to accompany us, he waits patiently. He continues to take care of us, with the confidence of a Father, but he gives us time, so that the seeds open, grow, and develop to the point of bearing the fruits of good works,” he said.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope added that the Lord teaches us by his example “to sow the Gospel  confidently wherever we are and then to wait for the seed that has been sown to grow and bear fruit in us and in others.”

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis encouraged the Catholic pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square below to not become discouraged if they do not see immediate results from their efforts.

“In fact, often even among us, beyond appearances, the miracle is already underway, and in due course it will bear abundant fruit,” he said.

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

“May the Virgin Mary, who welcomed and made the seed of the Word grow within her, help us to be generous and confident sowers of the Gospel.”

After praying the Angelus in Latin with the crowd, the pope urged people not to stop praying for peace in Ukraine, the Holy Land, Sudan, Myanmar, and wherever people are suffering from war.

Pope Francis said he was pained to hear of the “massacres carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo” and appealed to the government and international authorities to “do everything possible to stop the violence and to safeguard the lives of civilians.”

“Among the victims, many are Christians killed in hatred of the faith. They are martyrs. Their sacrifice is a seed that germinates and bears fruit, and teaches us to witness to the Gospel with courage and consistency,” he said.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis greeted pilgrims visiting the Vatican from Lebanon, Egypt, and Spain, England, Poland, Hungary, and many parts of Italy.

The pope also expressed great joy at the news of the beatification of Blessed Michael Rapacz, a Catholic priest who was killed by communist authorities in Poland in 1946.

Pope Francis praised Rapacz as a “pastor after the heart of Christ” who witnessed to the Gospel amid both Nazi and Soviet persecution “and responded with the gift of his life.”

Approximately 1,800 people attended the Polish priest’s beatification Mass on June 15 in Krakow’s Divine Mercy Shrine.

New study suggests more than two-thirds of Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly Jesus

Archbishop Samuel Aquila carries the Eucharist out of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver on June 9, 2024. / Credit: Kate Quiñones/CNA

CNA Staff, Jun 16, 2024 / 07:30 am (CNA).

A new study has found that 69% of Mass-going Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist — a result that calls into question the accuracy of a bombshell 2019 study from Pew Research Center, which found that only a third of Catholics believe in this core tenet of the faith. 

Vinea Research, a Catholic firm that conducted the new survey in late 2022, says the survey language it used, which was different from Pew’s, produced a figure that “more accurately represents how Catholics understand the Eucharist.”

“[U]sing language more commonly understood by Catholics, Vinea’s research indicates that many more Catholics than originally thought have an authentic understanding of the core Catholic teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” the group said in a press release. 

The 2019 Pew study was widely cited as a catalyst for the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the U.S. bishops beginning in 2022 to spread and deepen devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. The revival will culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress, a major gathering in Indianapolis from July 17–21. 

As part of the 2022 survey, Vinea sampled 2,200 people, giving half of the respondents the original Pew wording and the other half questions the group revised to better reflect Catholic language. (The Vinea study was done independently, said Hans Plate, founder of Vinea Research, with no involvement or sponsorship by the U.S. bishops or the Eucharistic Revival.) 

The Pew study asked respondents what they think the Church teaches about the Eucharist and also what they personally believe, using the same question for both: 

“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine… 

a. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ 

b. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ”

Vinea’s revised questions, taking into account the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Jesus as “truly present” in the Eucharist, read as follows:

  1. Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present 

    c. Not sure 

  2. Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present

Plate told CNA that among their respondents who got the original Pew questions, 41% expressed belief in the Real Presence — slightly higher, but not dissimilar, to Pew’s result. However, among those who got the revised questions, 69% overall expressed belief. 

“I don’t want to compare my study to Pew’s study, but I am comparing Pew’s language to more Catholic-accurate language … wording matters significantly,” he said. 

Plate also noted that the level of belief in the Real Presence varied considerably by self-reported Mass attendance.

Among those Catholics who say they “seldom” attend Mass, only 51% expressed belief in the Real Presence. By contrast, 81% of Catholics who attend weekly and 92% who attend more than weekly said they believe. Even among Catholics who only attend a few times a year, nearly two-thirds said they believe in the Real Presence.

This study is not the first to attempt to revise the questions posed by Pew to get more a more accurate sense of Eucharistic belief; in 2023, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a study tweaking the wording of the questions and found that 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.” That study also found that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.

Plate was quick to point out that Vinea’s study does not in any way refute the need for a national “Eucharistic revival.” In addition to the still-sizable portion of Catholics who don’t believe in the Real Presence, he noted that their study uncovered a Catholic population that rarely attends Mass yet believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. 

“That’s something that, I think, can be nurtured with a lot of the things that the Eucharistic Congress and Revival are doing,” he said. 

“That’s where the revival and further catechesis on the Eucharist is really important, to get them to want to know and love the Eucharist, and want it for themselves.”

In addition, Plate said a large majority of Catholics in the survey — 88% — who were aware of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist also said that is what they themselves believe. 

“What this tells me is that for the ‘symbol only’ people, it’s less about rejecting Church teaching and more about being misinformed,” he explained. 

“I’m drawing a conclusion on the basis of just two questions, but that seems to me to be a reasonable hypothesis that could be explored in future Eucharistic-centered research.”

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA that they are “grateful to Vinea for this research, which shows the reality of Catholics in the pews with greater precision.”

“Catholics do love and believe in the Real Presence and are coming out in droves to encounter Our Lord in the Eucharist as he passes through the country along the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes,” he said in an email to CNA. 

“Though a larger number believe in the Real Presence than previously thought, the Church is still far from 100% of Mass-going Catholics holding that core belief,” Glemkowski noted. 

“In response to this, the National Eucharistic Congress has been preparing for the last two years to prepare disciples to go out and share the good news of our Eucharistic Christ with the world. This will continue to be the core mission of the National Eucharistic Congress organization as we complete the revival and go forward from there.”