a prayer for southern Sudan
Today is the (optional) feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a women who rose from slavery in Africa to a model life as a nun in Italy. The timing is perfect.
In southern Sudan, where St. Josephine was born and raised, her long-suffering people have finally won the power to rule themselves. The results are just in: a January referendum in that region-- conducted peacefully despite widespread fears of violence—produced an overwhelming mandate for independence from the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The referendum itself was the result of a peace agreement that ended the longest and bloodiest civil war in African history: a war that caused a staggering 2 million deaths. Now at last the people of southern Sudan can see a path to peace: a rocky and uncertain path, to be sure, but a path nonetheless.
Sudan today is an odd country, composed of two distinct societies. The north is Arabic and overwhelming Muslim, like its northern neighbors, Egypt and Libya. But the south— bordering on Kenya, Uganda, and Congo—is black African, populated by Christians or adherents of traditional indigenous faiths. Since winning independence in 1956, Sudan has been governed by Islamic regimes: at best unsympathetic toward the people of the south, at worst spectacularly brutal. During the civil war of 1980s and 1990s, the Sudanese air force bombed civilian villages in the south and cut off the supply routes for relief shipments. Militia groups, operating with the backing of the government, raided towns, kidnapped children, and forced them into military service against their own people, or into slavery in Khartoum.
St. Josephine Bakhita would understand, because she too was kidnapped and delivered into slavery in Khartoum. She would understand the decades-long suffering of her native land, and the importance of the opportunity that now lies before the people of southern Sudan. And she would want to help, because-- as Pope Benedict wrote in Spe Salvi (3):
The hope born in her which had redeemed her, she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many-- to reach everybody.
Today is an ideal day to pray for the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, that the people of southern Sudan—having completed a peaceful referendum that some observers described as miraculous—can continue successfully along the perilous but promising road to peace.
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