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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 3, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 7Oakland, CA

Catholics urged to write Bush
on behalf of people of Darfur

At least two local parishes are joining faith groups across the country in a campaign urging President George W. Bush to take stronger action to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

Members at St. Edward Parish in Newark and Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill were encouraged last weekend (April 1-2) to lend their support to the Million Voices for Darfur campaign sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition, which includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As part of the campaign parishioners were asked to send an electronic or paper postcard to President Bush asking him to endorse a stronger multi-national force in the country to protect the people of Darfur. Violence continues to plague the strife-torn area despite monitoring efforts by African Union forces.

The Save Darfur Coalition and its partners hope to get one million postcards signed and delivered to the White House. The postcards are available online at www.savedarfur.organd at www.millionvoicesfordarfur.org. The coalition includes Catholic Relief Services, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern, Pax Christi USA, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Los Angeles,

A National Week of Prayer and Action for Darfur is planned this week (April 2-9) and an interfaith vigil will take place April 30 in San Francisco as well as Washington, D.C. The San Francisco event includes a vigil at the Golden Gate Bridge and a rally at the Presidio.

Father Brian Joyce, pastor at Christ the King, reminded his congregation in the March 26 bulletin that they could “do one noble thing deliberately” during the Lenten season by participating in the Darfur campaign. He also encouraged members to attend an April 1 town hall meeting in Walnut Creek organized by Congressman George Miller to learn more about the situation.

Mission San Jose Dominican Sister Mary Mark Schoenstein, pastoral associate at St. Edward Parish, said the postcard campaign gives everyone a chance to “do something” to help the people of Darfur, who have been suffering under conditions that some have described as a genocide.

The crisis began in February 2003 when two rebel groups within the Darfur region began attacking military installations of the Sudanese government, claiming unjust allocation of land and other resources following a 20-year civil war.

The Sudanese government responded by arming and financing local militia groups that began attacking villages linked to the rebel groups. Human rights observers as well as Catholic leaders have charged the Sudanese government-sponsored militia with instituting a campaign of mass murder, rape, and starvation against the Darfur people.

Caught in the middle of the conflict, the civilians of Darfur suffered. As many as 400,000 people have reportedly died since 2003, another 2.5 million have been driven from their homes, and 3.5 million are at risk of starvation. More than 200,000 are huddled in refugee camps in neighboring Chad.

Malaria, malnutrition and cholera have also taken a horrific toll in the Darfur population. Some 10,000 people are dying each month, according to the World Health Organization.

Last month the U.S. Senate approved SR 383 calling for greater protection of the civilian population. Organizers of the postcard campaign hope it will encourage President Bush to intensify U.S. calls for a stronger multinational force in Darfur.

The U.S. Catholic bishops, along with Catholic Relief Services, are asking Catholics to:
• Urge the U.S. to convince the Sudanese government in Khartoum to disarm the armed militias, to cease all attacks against innocent civilians, to protect unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Darfur and to bring to justice those perpetrating crimes against humanity.

• Ask the U.S. to pressure both the Sudanese government and the rebels to respect the existing ceasefire agreement and to intensify the search for a durable peace.

• Urge Sudan and neighboring Chad to refrain from any escalation that might lead to threatened hostilities.

• Urge the U.S. to use its voice in the U.N. Security Council to ensure the continuation of the mandate of the African Union in Darfur to monitor the ceasefire, protect innocent civilians and assist international humanitarian relief organizations.

The government of Sudan had prohibited access into Darfur as late as May 2004, making it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach those in need.

Today, Catholic Relief Services, the international aid agency of U.S. Catholics, is working in Darfur, providing desperately needed food and other basic assistance. It also manages the Southern Sudan Agricultural Revitalization Project, the largest agricultural development program in the country.

These children, like hundreds of thousands in Darfur, suffer from malnutrition.

A 4-year-old Sudanese boy lies on the ground after collapsing from hunger at a feeding center run by Doctors Without Borders in the village of Paliang, Sudan, May 25.

A southern Sudanese woman prepares a meal while watching for armed Arab militias who conduct large-scale attacks on camps, burn villages and kill residents

A woman returns to a refugee camp in the Darfur region of Sudan after fetching firewood. Hundreds of women have been raped and several killed while hunting outside camps for firewood.

Facts about Sudan and Darfur

Geography: Sudan is Africa’s largest country, nearly equal to the area of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. The Darfur region is approximately the size of France.

Population: 40.2 million people live in Sudan with over six million in Darfur.

Life Expectancy: 58.5 years
Religion: 70 percent Sunni Muslim, 22 percent indigenous traditional beliefs, 8 percent Christian

Ethnicity: Black African, 52 percent; Arab, 39 percent; Beja, 6 percent;
foreigners, 2 percent

Economy: 80 percent of Sudanese work in agriculture. The country’s oil
production equals 250,000 barrels per day; $2 billion in annual exports, chiefly petroleum.

Information from Office of Social Development and World Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


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