In a telephone press conference given yesterday, Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, chairman of the USCCB International Policy Committee, expressed his conviction that the direct involvement of President Bush and the U.S. government are needed to resolve the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, which he called “the world’s worst humanitarian situation of the present time.”
Bishop Ricard, of the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, had recently returned from a trip to Darfur in which he visited various camps on the Sudanese border and in Chad, which are occupied by nearly 2.5 million people who have been forced from their villages by government-backed Arab militias known as the “Janjaweed.”
The people in the camps, according to Bishop Ricard, are in a state of constant anxiety and fear of being attacked. There is not enough food and it doesn’t come with any regularity, and the women are regularly raped when they leave the camp to fetch supplies or firewood. The displaced have tried to return to their villages but when they do they are attacked and some killed.
While the conflict has been on for decades, the Janjaweed have killed an estimated 30,000 Black Muslims in the Darfur region in the last 17 months.
According to Bishop Ricard, who has been visiting Sudan for 12 years, and has met with several government officials, the Sudanese government is ruled by a small elite who believe that Sudan is an Islamic country, but also believe that it should be arabized, which explains the attacks on the region of Darfur in which the people are predominantly Black Muslims.
The bishop expressed his fear that the peace process, which is moving towards bringing an end to the 20 year civil war in Sudan, may be derailed by the situation in Darfur.
“We must be convinced that the only way the crisis will be resolved is through the direct involvement of our government and our president.” The situation requires the continued contributions of donors, the continued involvement of the U.N., “and that the U.S. specifically focus on moving the peace process forward. Without that there will be no chance of resolving the situation.”
Ken Hackett, head of Catholic Relief Services, who accompanied Bishop Ricard to Darfur and was present at the conference said that “the purpose of the trip was to try to express the solidarity of the Church in the U.S. with the suffering Church in Sudan.”
Hackett, addressing the situation in the camps, said that people were on the brink of starving to death. “People are going to die if we do not send supplies and aid to them more quickly and in an environment in which allows them to get through. If there is a lack of security in the region, it will be impossible for supplies to get there and people will die.”
John Carr, of the USCCB Department of Social Development and World Peace, also present at the conference, said that the decision of the U.S. bishops to devote this coming sunday to preaching, prayer and a special collection for the people of Darfur is “unprecedented.” “We have to act, and we have to act now,” he said. “We don’t know enough…we are not doing enough.”
“We appeal to Catholics in the U.S.,” said Bishop Ricard, "because we know they will be ready to respond.”