It’s been raining, and there are no paved roads where we are, so everyone is treading delicately around gaping mudholes. Everyone in Africa is friendly, and everyone is your brother, and in difficult conditions, they pull together. This, it seems to me, is Africa’s great contribution to world culture. If, as the paleoanthropologists say, human life began in Africa, then it is only fitting that she portrays for us the universal brotherhood of man.
And yet brother kills brother, beginning with Cain and Abel. Kenya is generally peaceful, but Nairobi has seen some bombings in the last few months. Radical Muslims are punishing Kenya for supporting her neighbor Somalia’s efforts against Jihadists. I haven’t seen any evidence of violence in my few days here, but poverty is always evidence of violence and fear. Much of the poverty results from Western corporations stealing the nation’s wealth, but much comes from her own people.
Sr. Joseph Catherine talked to me this morning. She is a Tanzanian by birth, and been assigned to the mission house in South Sudan for the last three years. She is worn out, dispirited, her heart an open sore. Her mission house, she told me, is among the farms of the Nikobi tribe. Every night there are shooting and screams, as the tribe to the north makes raids on these farms, stealing cows, raping women, shooting men and boys. The sisters are chronically sleep-deprived and traumatized. “In all of Sudan’s terrible violence these last ten years, the last six months have been the worst,” she said. With the independence of South Sudan, the raids from the Muslim north have decreased, but an open tribal war has developed within the South. Sister Joseph Catherine told me that her parish priest has seen 15 of his family killed since January. The MC’s used to run the only hospital in the area, but since the war has burned down nearby hospitals and schools, the flood of victims and refugees forced them to give it over to an NGO. Still, the sisters go there every day to comfort the injured and dying, to pray with them and give them hope.
But St. Joseph Catherine is struggling to preserve her own hope. There is no solution in sight, just an endless stretch of stupid violence and misery. What could I say to her? She just wanted to tell someone, I think, and perhaps tell a Westerner what Sudan is suffering. “You can’t end the violence or take away everyone’s suffering,” I told her. “You can only suffer with them. Jesus said ‘the poor you will always have with you,’ meaning there will always be original sin, and so there will always be violence and poverty.”
The mission of these sisters, besides what little material aid they can furnish, is to point people to Jesus, and to heaven. The violence will end someday, even if that day is the day of their death. But it will end, and heaven is forever. These sisters have the irreplaceable mission of giving real hope to a hopeless people. It is the hope that one day everyone who believes in God will come to an endless day of peace and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. The NGO has its part to play, to offer what little food and medicine can get through to the people in a war zone. The Missionaries have their part to play as well: that of giving Jesus to the people, the only real hope in a fallen world.
Sr. Joseph Catherine earnestly asked for my prayers. “I know only God can help us in South Sudan,” she said with a wan smile. We both went to the chapel after our talk, and she knelt down wearily before the tabernacle, but with a bit of light around her. I offered heartfelt prayers for her and her people. Please, I ask your prayers as well for the good people of South Sudan who have nothing to hope for but heaven. May God keep their hearts steadily fixed on it.