A few weeks ago, The Record carried a news story about the work of Father John Judie Ministries, Inc. on the continent of Africa.
In that article, Father Judie explained that his ministry in Africa — in the nations of Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia — is more about “being” than “doing.”
The people who accompany him on mission trips, he noted, come away from their experiences with their lives altered, their priorities changed and their faiths strengthened.
Those trips introduce the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville to the people and spirit of those African nations, not just to their problems.
But any perusal of the news in recent weeks gives evidence that the problems of Africa — especially sub-Saharan Africa — appear to be getting worse. The continent is filled with nations that need increasing help and guidance from others — not just other nations, but other leaders within their own countries and tribes.
Last week, for instance, we learned that the Central African Republic (CAR) is rife with religious-based violence, a violence so malicious that it has even descended into cannibalism. And if that weren’t sad enough, knowing that much — if not most — of the violence is being perpetrated by Christian militias.
In the past we’ve all been accustomed to reading or hearing news of Muslim groups deciding, for whatever reason, to go on a rampage against people of other religions, members of others tribes or other ethnic backgrounds.
We’re all too familiar with the horrific civil war in Rwanda that led to deaths and mutilations — that was between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. But to read about “Christian” militia in the CAR killing women and children, and engaging in unspeakable acts is even more unnerving than usual.
According to CNN and the Catholic News Service (CNS), Christian militia — or perhaps we should say “alleged” Christian militia, because they certainly aren’t displaying any hint of Christianity in their behavior — spent the week marauding, terrorizing, attacking and killing Muslim families, Muslim soldiers and civilians alike.
The situation has become so bad, the Associated Press reported, that some African nations who had been part of a peacekeeping force in the CAR had begun to withdraw their troops from the force late last week. And CNN reported that forces from Chad, whom the Christian militia had accused of siding with the Muslims, had been withdrawn from the peace keeping force that once numbered about 6,000 soldiers.
Muslims are a minority in the CAR and recently they’ve been fleeing to neighboring Chad and Cameroon and being “targeted” by the Christians, CNN said.
French troops also make up part of the peacekeeping force, which is called the African Union. But there appears to be no union at all, and other stories out of the region have begun to illustrate just how desperate the situation is becoming for an already beleaguered population.
Like most of Africa, the CAR represents a complicated political and social situation, with more than 200 ethnic groups speaking a like number of languages within the nation’s borders. But many of the problems facing dozens of nations on the continent stem not from politics or religion, but from a long and continuous drought that has deviled parts of Africa for decades.
A bishop in Kenya last month said people in his country are so hungry that they are eating wild fruit (when they can find it), the roots of trees and dogs.
In an email to the Catholic News Service, Bishop Dominic Kimengich said about 460,000 people in his country “are starving to death. He estimated that people in his diocese would need 22 million pounds of food over the next six months.
And professor Charles Steinmetz of Duquesne University told CNS that hunger, not religion, is fueling the violence on the continent.
“A hungry man is an angry man,” he said in the CNS interview. “If there is no job and if you can’t provide food for your family, that’s a situation that leads to extremism.”
The Catholic Church is doing what it can to help alleviate the problems and the violence so prevalent in so many African nations. Each year the local people of God are asked, in a letter from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, to contribute to Catholic Relief Services, the agency that is active each year to help those around the world who most need our assistance.
It’s an agency that is worthy of our contributions, as are other non-Catholic organizations such as Doctors Without Borders. It’s especially true as more is learned about the deprivation — and resulting violence — that is leaving the weight of the world on the shoulders of African parents who want nothing more than a chance to make a better life for their children.
This coming Saturday, people in the Archdiocese of Louisville will have a chance to show their support for those in Africa who face these monumental struggles. The sixth annual Memorial Service for Victims of Violence, War & Genocide in Africa will be held at 11:30 a.m. at St. Thomas More Church, 6105 S. Third St.
Those of us who can’t attend the event should at least pray for a time when the violence in Africa ends, and the annual memorial service can become a thing of the past.