Bishop Gassis working for peace in Sudan as crucial vote nears

Bishop Macram Gassis.
Bishop Macram Gassis.

.- As the war-torn country of Sudan moves past its recent elections and towards a crucial vote that will decide if the south splits from the northern region, Bishop Macram Gassis is continuing his tireless efforts to promote peace.

Bishop Macram Gassis of Sudan was the subject of a recent National Catholic Register piece that spoke about the prelate's efforts since his appointment in the 1980s within the conflict-ridden country.

As leader of the El Obeid diocese, where Catholics make up only 1.6 percent of the population, Bishop Gassis has faced countless struggles in securing peace and religious freedom for the area's non-Muslim inhabitants.

In 1998, the African prelate started the Bishop Gassis Relief Fund with the aim of bringing food, clothing, shelter, medical attention and evangelization to the people of Sudan.

“I can bear witness to more than 20 years of religious persecution, enslavement, rape, torture, starvation and murder of my people at the hands of the Sudanese government,” wrote the bishop in a statement on the relief fund's website.

Without hesitation, Bishop Gassis added, “the Sudanese government has bombed churches, schools, hospitals and refugee centers. For over 20 years, the Catholic Church has provided the people with the basics needed to preserve life and to find Christ.” Even more disturbingly, Bishop Gassis said that the government “has tortured and killed its own citizens including catechists, teachers and priests. I can tell you that the Sudanese government supports the selling of Christians and non-Muslims as slaves.”

Among the many initiatives his relief fund has engaged in over the years, this bishops' charitable efforts include hospitals, assistance to refugees, schools and digging wells to provide drinkable water.

Speaking to the Register, Bishop Gassis stated that his“vision has been to give hope to people who lived in isolation and continual war.”

“When people live in a battlefield, they are living in insecurity. The Church joined them and gave them strength and hope,” he said. “We gave them a vision: The war is an evil, but we can get something good from the war.”

“We managed to go to areas that the government would have blocked in peacetime. We were able to do good during a period of isolation and uncertainty. This is the grace.”

As Bishop Gassis welcomes coadjutor Bishop Michael Didi Adgum Mangoria, who was appointed on May 29 of this year, his country is moving into unprecedented political territory. After a tumultuous election, Sudan faces a critical referendum vote this upcoming January that will determine whether or not the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – the rebel movement in the south – breaks off from the Khartoum-based Islamic government in the north.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement Act (CPA) of 2005, both groups entered into a temporary power-sharing deal that has ended nearly 20 years of civil war.

Bishop Gassis told NCR that whatever the outcome of the referendum vote, he is grateful for the appointment of Bishop Michael Didi Adgum Mangoria, though he plans to stay involved in the diocese, despite his health concerns.

“It’s about time for someone who is young,” the bishop said. “I will be there to help him. I’ll be the father who brings the food to the family. He can shepherd the diocese, and I will take care to be the breadwinner for ongoing projects.”

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