With all the discussion about the horrible crimes against humanity which have been and continue to be done in the Sudan, I thought it would be interesting, appropriate, and even important to read and learn from the wisdom of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. How do they describe the situation? What do they think should be done?
On May 17, 2002, Pope John Paul II said to the Ambassador of the Sudan to the Holy See:
Today, when your country is seeking concrete and suitable solutions to a spiral of violence that is so harshly trying your civil populations and their goods, I express my strong desire that all your citizens may find the path of loyal and responsible collaboration, to help end once and for all the conflicts which have brought nothing but wretchedness to the country for so many years. The gradual modernization of the economy, institutions and way of life goes hand in hand with a constructive dialogue for peace and a serious commitment to laying down arms. These are the conditions that will pave the way to a reconciled and united society.
On Sunday July 25, 2004, Pope John Paul said at Castel Gandolfo:
Equally disturbing is the plight of the beloved peoples of Darfur, the western region of Sudan that borders on Chad. The war, which has gathered momentum in recent months, has brought ever greater poverty, desperation and death. At least 20 harsh battles in Sudan have resulted in vast numbers of dead, evacuees and refugees. How can we remain indifferent? I address a heartfelt appeal to the political leaders and international organizations not to forget these harshly-tried brothers and sisters of ours.
In his address to Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako on November 28,2005, Pope Benedict XVI said:
The cessation of the civil war and the enactment of a new Constitution have brought hope to the long suffering people of Sudan. While there have been setbacks along the path of reconciliation, not least the tragic death of John Garang, there now exists an unprecedented opportunity and indeed duty for the Church to contribute significantly to the process of forgiveness and national reconstruction.
For his Christmas Urbi et Orbi Message of 2005, Pope Benedict said:
May the God who became man out of love for humanity strengthen all those in Africa who work for peace, integral development and the prevention of fratricidal conflicts, for the consolidation of the present, still fragile political transitions, and the protection of the most elementary rights of those experiencing tragic humanitarian crises, such as those in Darfur and in other regions of central Africa.
Continuing in a similar way, in his 2006 Urbi et Orbi Message for Christmas, Pope Benedict restated his view with a prayer for peace:
I pray to God that in Sri Lanka the parties in conflict will heed the desire of the people for a future of brotherhood and solidarity; that in Darfur and throughout Africa there will be an end to fratricidal conflicts, that the open wounds in that continent will quickly heal and that the steps being made towards reconciliation, democracy and development will be consolidated. May the Divine Child, the Prince of Peace, grant an end to the outbreaks of tension that make uncertain the future of other parts of the world, in Europe and in Latin America.
At Easter, Pope Benedict once again reflected upon the terrible situation in Darfur for his 2007 Paschal Urbi et Orbi message:
How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons. I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighbouring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the Bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward.
In this lethal conflict, which primarily affects the civil populations, it is common knowledge that no viable solution to achieve peace founded on justice can be implemented by the force of arms. On the contrary, it is necessary to pass through the process of dialogue and negotiation with a view to reaching a political solution to the conflict which respects cultural, ethnic and religious minorities.
To put an end to a situation of crisis, it is never too late to make the necessary and sometimes restrictive decisions with courage, on condition that all parties are sincerely and resolutely committed to resolving it and that declarations of principle are accompanied by constructive steps, especially regarding the urgent humanitarian measures to be implemented.
I therefore appeal to all who have responsibility in this area to persevere in their efforts and to make the indispensable decisions.
Finally, in Austria at the meeting with the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, on Sept 7, 2007, Pope Benedict reiterated his appeal for Darfur, suggesting Europe should play an important role in the peace process:
The European Union should therefore assume a role of leadership in the fight against global poverty and in efforts to promote peace. With gratitude we can observe that the countries of Europe and the European Union are among those making the greatest contribution to international development, but they also need to make their political importance felt, for example, with regard to the urgent challenges presented in Africa, given the immense tragedies afflicting that continent, such as the scourge of AIDS, the situation in Darfur, the unjust exploitation of natural resources and the disturbing traffic in arms. Nor can the political and diplomatic efforts of Europe and its countries neglect the continuing serious situation in the Middle East, where everyone’s contribution is needed to promote the rejection of violence, reciprocal dialogue and a truly peaceful coexistence. Europe’s relationship with the nations of Latin America and Asia must also continue to grow through suitable trade agreements.
Since there has been a heated discussions about Darfur here on Vox Nova, with some debates as to how one should go about describing the situation, I think we should reflect upon the words of the Popes and especially upon what they say and do not say. As Catholics, we need to move beyond the American political scene and its interests. Clearly Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been very concerned about the situation in the Sudan. But they have also been interested in offering a Christian response, one which goes beyond the polemics which spawn war and hatred, to the way of reconciliation.