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What can evangelize the world? A good Catholic school.

March 16, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 16, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic school can be a missionary force to bring Christ to the world, the Bishop of Phoenix has said in a new apostolic letter.

“A mark of a truly Catholic school is the fruit that is borne in the lives of its graduates,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix said. “That fruit is to be shown in the missionary activity of its graduates, called and sent by Jesus to be salt and light in the culture around them, knowing that people and cultures die without Christ.”

The bishop’s apostolic letter “Evangelizing through Catholic Schools” was dated March 3, the feast day of the Catholic educator St. Katharine Drexel.

His letter said Catholic schools should be “a place of encounter with Jesus Christ” that can impart a Catholic worldview through the curriculum, help students achieve true freedom, and send them out as “missionary disciples to transform the culture.”

Many Catholic school students first must have a relationship of trust with someone who is a disciple of Christ, but once that is established  “through hospitality and kindness,” he said, “the most loving thing a Catholic school can do is to share with each person the living Jesus Christ.”

Catholic schools help ensure that all students hear the basic Gospel message and are given “the freedom and help to make a response in faith.” Catholic schools “cannot exist for themselves.” Rather, the gospel demands that when students are well-formed they be sent out “as ambassadors of the truth and love of Christ.”

Bishop Olmsted reflected that true freedom of Catholic education is rooted in the truth and draws from Christ’s words from the Gospel of John: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“A joyful and evangelized person is truly free to be and to live as a child of God,” he said, criticizing views of freedom that separate it from truth. He contrasted freedom with slavery to sin.

“When Catholic education imparts to students the intellectual and moral virtues to know the Truth and to love the Good (which are both ultimately found in God) it is giving students the gift of true freedom,” he said.

According to Bishop Olmsted, Catholic schools are much more than public schools with religion class and morality added.

“Rather, the ethos of a Christian education vivifies and unites the totality of the school’s curriculum,” he said, praising Catholic educators’ “noble vocation” to help young people discover who they are.

“May the parents, teachers and school children of our local Catholic schools — through their constant contact with Jesus the Word made Flesh — be inspired missionary disciples of His Kingdom,” Bishop Olmsted said.

[…]

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‘I had to flee for my life’ – The reality of being a Syrian refugee

March 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2017 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- Omar al-Muqdad wanted to help the Iraqi refugees who were displaced from their homes in 2004. He volunteered to help with refugee resettlement, aiding those who came in finding housing, clothing and schools in Syria, where he lived.

Little did he know that just a few years later, he himself would be a refugee fleeing civil war in his own country.

“I had to flee for my life,” Omar told CNA. Six years ago, the Syrian journalist ran away from security forces who were threatening him. His crime? Reporting on the early days of what would come to be the Syrian Civil War.

First, he found refuge in Turkey. Then, once his refugee claim was processed, he found permanent resettlement in the United States.

March 15 marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War. What began as peaceful demonstrations protesting ongoing human rights abuses and suppression of free speech erupted into a war that has killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions from their homes.

Today, six years later, an end to the violence is nowhere in sight. The majority of Syria’s population has been displaced. New threats that have grown out of the situation – most prominently ISIS – have only added to the chaos. Together with other conflicts and famines in Somalia, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and elsewhere, the world is now facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Syria back then was considered a safe country.

For refugees like Omar, leaving home wasn’t something they had wanted or were prepared for: it was a choice between life and death.

Now 37 years old, and a resident of the United States for five years, Omar hopes Americans can come to understand some of what he experienced.

“Refugees are not your enemy,” he said. “They don’t know they are coming to the US,” he added, explaining that often refugees have little choice in where they are sent once they flee home. Instead, he urged compassion and acceptance as “a human responsibility as Americans.”

Maggie Holmesheroan, program manager for Catholic Relief Services’ operations in Jordan, agreed. “These are normal people like you and me,” she said.

“They lived normal lives before the conflict. They are now in a position where they’ve lost everything. Frankly, they’ve displayed incredible resilience in the face of a terrible situation.”

“Sometimes the instinct is to feel that they’re very different from us,” she continued, “but we should definitely find our common humanity.”

The seeds of a crisis

Before March 2011, Syria and its people looked very different from the images of rubble and terrified citizens associated with the country today.

Holmesheroan told CNA that before the war, the Syrian people were very similar in many ways to Americans, in terms of education, industry and social class.  

“They had a very highly educated population – very diversified in terms of industry,” she said, noting that in her work, she regularly encounters refugees who were former government bureaucrats, blue collar workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and nurses. “It’s really a representative range, just like we have here in the United States,” she said.

In fact, less than 15 years ago, some of the areas most damaged by airstrikes and bombing raids were the very places refugees from other conflicts were sent for safety and a new life.  

“Syria back then was considered a safe country,” explained Omar.

However, many people – including Omar – were unsatisfied with the ruling Assad family’s policies. The family and its Ba’ath party had held control of the country since 1971. Critics from a range of religious sects and ethnic backgrounds have protested against both former president Hafez al-Assad and his son and current president, Bashar al-Assad for their anti-democratic policies and denial of basic human rights like freedom of speech and assembly. In addition, the Assad family has drawn strong opposition from Islamist movements who objected to various aspects of the family’s rule.

I had to start over from nothing.

In his work as a journalist, particularly reporting on economic and human rights struggles in the south of Syria, Omar ran into opposition from the government. “The Syrian authorities don’t generally tolerate any form of criticism against the government and institutions,” he said. “They consider that an act of treason if you dare to say something against the government or you ask for reforms.”

For reporting on these issues, as well as starting up a private magazine not controlled by the State, Omar was apprehended by Syrian security forces. After questioning and a military trial, he was sentenced to three years in a military prison. “They did not like what I was writing there and they considered it an act of treason against the state,” he said.  

By March 2011, Omar had been released from prison and was working again as an undercover journalist, when protests began. Many of these demonstrations were initially focused on the government’s treatment of underage student protesters in the southern city of Daraa, and other political prisoners. Socioeconomic inequality, intense droughts and food shortages also heightened the tensions within Syria in the months leading up to the start of the conflict.

On March 15, 2011, protesters filled the streets of Damascus to demand the release of political prisoners and other human rights reforms. Within a few days, more and more demonstrators started gathering to demand broader democratic and human rights reforms. When the Syrian government cracked down in response to the initial protests, the demonstrations only grew stronger, bolstered by the success of pro-democracy movements elsewhere in the Middle East.

“The peaceful demonstration started taking over the streets, and people started demanding freedom,” Omar recalled. “I was covering this event.” But then he realized that he was once again being followed by Syrian security forces.

“I knew that if they could catch me, that would be the end.” Omar fled to Turkey.

Meanwhile, tensions continued to escalate in Syria and various opposition groups solidified against the Assad regime. Both government and opposition forces began to take up arms against one another as the conflict grew. By early 2017, it was estimated that at least 400,000 Syrians had been killed, at least 6.3 million displaced internally, and some 5 million had fled the country as refugees.

Close to home – yet far from it

When Omar fled to Turkey as a refugee, he registered immediately with the U.N. Human High Commissioner for Refugees. While his claim was being processed, he was able to work as a freelance journalist for CNN and other news outlets covering the war.

At the same time, other refugees from Syria started to leave, pouring into neighboring countries. More than 1 million refugees have fled to Jordan, and at least 2.2 million are now residing in Lebanon. This has placed considerable strain on the countries, which previously had populations of just 6 million and 4 million, respectively.

In some areas, refugees have moved into camps administered by various aid agencies. In other areas, like Jordan, the majority of refugees live in cities and urban areas. Still others take refuge in unofficial settlements.

Maggie Holmesheroan and her colleagues at Catholic Relief Services work with refugees who are trying to integrate in urban areas of Jordan. Refugees here face a number of challenges just getting by from day to day. “They’re trying to live life in a city, but basically, with no resources,” she said.

Many of the refugees fled violence at a moment’s notice with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In many cases, families were split up, and the men were often forced to stay behind. In most cases, documents, identification, birth certificates, diplomas, and bank cards were left behind.

When the refugees reach a safe place and apply for refugee status, they are generally not allowed to work, and must live off the allotment granted by the United Nations. Often, that is not enough to buy food and clothing, pay rent, cover medical expenses and send their children to school.

“You don’t have access to any of your resources, even if you were diligent and saved up money,” Holmesheroan said. “All those safety nets are gone for people. So they’re just surviving on whatever help they can get from a wide variety of organizations that are here.”

The majority of Syria’s population has been displaced.

In Jordan, CRS works with Caritas Jordan and Caritas Internationalis to provide refugees with aid in finding a livelihood, healthcare, non-food humanitarian support, psychological and social services, rent and cash subsidies to help make ends meet.

Recently, the situation in Jordan has improved slightly for some refugees, due to the country’s policy change allowing refugees to seek work permits in the garment manufacturing, agriculture, domestic work and construction industries. However the hundreds of thousands of refugees without those skills – for example, those who previously worked in the fields of teaching or medicine – still don’t have employment opportunities.

“They’re in limbo,” Holmesheroan said, with a very long wait ahead of them: the average refugee stays displaced for 17 years. Many of the refugees wish to return home, but there is no end in sight to the wars in Syria or Iraq.

“So, how do you handle the day-to-day stress of living in a situation where you’re in extreme poverty, you don’t have access to the resources that you need to do basic life, and then on top of that, you have no idea when anything might change?”

Until the conflict is resolved, the countries and agencies helping aid the millions of war refugees need adequate support and funding, Holmesheroan said. “We need to have a conversation about our fair share.”

She also stressed the importance of realizing that refugees are victims of violence. “The people who have run away from this war are running for their lives and are running away from extremism,” she said. “They are largely minorities and moderates who are running away from the violence. They don’t want to live in a country of extremists any more than we do.”

Permanent refuge

After a year of waiting in Turkey, Omar made it through the immigration process. Although the wait was long, he believes he “was one of the lucky ones” – the average waiting time for most refugees applying for resettlement is between 18 and 24 months. Omar added that he knows several people who have waited over three or even five years to be resettled.

In this time, Omar underwent interviews and waited for his status to be processed. Eventually his case was picked up by the International Catholic Migration Commission, which helped link his case with his new home country – the United States. Originally, Omar al-Muqdad expected to be sent to Canada or a different country for resettlement, so the news was a surprise. “I didn’t know I would be sent to the United States,” he said.

After he was referred to the United States, Omar underwent what he described as “extreme vetting,” consisting of interviews, health screenings and numerous background checks. In addition to the rigorous 20-step vetting process for those whose applications are initially accepted, Syrian refugees face further screening review from U.S. Immigration Services.

After passing all of these steps, Omar finally made it to the United States. “I was sent to Northwest Arkansas, to a small town called Fayetteville, where I started my life here.”

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, described to CNA the process of helping to resettle refugees in communities like Fayetteville around the country.

The bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services is one of nine private agencies that oversee all the resettlement of refugees in the United States. For the last five years, the agency has placed between a quarter and a third of all refugees who come to the U.S.

After refugees are placed with a community, the local office – typically run through Catholic Charities or another Catholic organization – is responsible for welcoming them and providing or linking them with basic services, such as housing, food, and medical care while they acclimate to the United States. Churches and other groups help them learn English, find employment, and integrate into their new community.

The average refugee stays displaced for 17 years.

This year, Trump’s executive order is expected to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 85,000 to at most 50,000. The administration’s 120-day freeze on all refugee admissions will also impact total refugee numbers, as well as the bishops’ ability to process and place them, due to a lack of reimbursements and personnel losses during the freeze.

Feasley objected to these policies. “There are so many vulnerable individuals who have been in the pipeline starting the process, who really are seeking refuge,” she told CNA. “This is obviously going to prevent them from doing that here in the United States.”

“In some cases, it really is going to prevent family reunification.”

Feasley also noted that in her experience, many refugees have been “benefits not only to their parishes, but to their communities.” She pointed to a number of former refugees who are now social workers in Catholic Charities and resettlement offices as an example.

Within the community of Syrian refugees specifically, she noted that the bishops have “seen great heartbreak but also great resiliency.” Most of them have fled extreme circumstances, and yet built stable lives here in the United States.

In this regard, she praised the Trump administration’s second executive order for removing the ban on Syrian refugees that was found in the initial order. “I think that it’s very important to welcome all nationalities,” she said.

Settling in

When he was first assigned to resettle in Arkansas, Omar said he was concerned because of stereotypes he had heard about the South being unwelcoming to newcomers. Fortunately, he learned that that was a misconception.
 
“My experience there was really incredible. People there were very warm,” Omar said, adding that in his first few weeks in Fayetteville, he was welcomed into the community, and even into one of the local family’s homes. “Back then there wasn’t ISIS…So, people were really open to helping refugees.”  

Surrounded by warmth and welcomed into the community, Omar said that he “didn’t really feel alone.” A key part of the friendly atmosphere were the parish and Church agencies who helped with his resettlement. “I’m still grateful for them,” he said.

Eventually, Omar moved to the Washington, D.C. area in order to resume his career as a journalist. That path has not been easy.

“I had to start over from nothing,” he said. Although he already had a college degree in political science from Damascus University, he left his diploma at home when he fled Syria. When he came to the U.S., he had to start college over again.

Starting from scratch in his 30s was difficult. Still, in between reporting for a variety of national newspapers, Omar is on track to complete his studies soon. He plans on pursuing a Master’s degree next.

The people who have run away from this war are running for their lives.

Obaida Omar, a community supervisor and health case manager at the Catholic Family House in Rochester, NY, described the challenges of leaving one’s entire life behind and trying to start over.

She herself fled as a refugee from Afghanistan 25 years ago. Later, she became a social worker. “I just love helping refugees,” she told CNA. “They’re really good people. They’re very strong.”

Today, she aids people from Syria as well as other countries. Obstacles abound. Few of her clients have family or friends in the area, and it can take time to settle into a new community. Interpreters are provided as refugees learn the language of their new home, but building trust with the interpreter takes time.

Her clients also face a range of medical issues from the violence they have experienced. Some have lost limbs in war. Others are wheelchair bound or suffer from PTSD and other mental health challenges. And still others have various levels of hearing loss, creating an extra layer of difficulties when trying to arrange for an interpreter.

CNA attempted to contact a number of dioceses, Catholic Charities offices and relief agencies to talk to other Middle Eastern refugees. Many refugee families – both in the United States and abroad – declined to be interviewed, fearing discrimination or negative repercussions of being identified in print as a refugee or a Middle Easterner.

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, located in the Archdiocese of Detroit, was one of several agencies that cited recent changes in government policy as causing personnel cuts, which meant that remaining staff were unable to contact families due to other increased responsibilities.

Resettling more than 700 refugees in 2016 alone, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan is one of the largest resettlement projects in the United States. The area has a significant existing Middle Eastern population.

Between 2014 and late 2016, the overwhelming majority of the refugees directed to the area were Chaldean Catholics from Iraq – most of whom were fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS. In late 2016, the office experienced a surge of Syrian refugees coming into the area.

However, the rapid decline in refugee admissions for 2017 has resulted in a budget shortfall of $131,000, the agency said. Bill Blaul, institutional advancement director, told CNA that the group was “hanging onto our absolute core in the hope that we can start relocating refugees here again.”

And other agencies around the country are facing similar budget constraints. Many staff members have been laid off. In some cases, vital programs will be able to continue for a few more months.

Omar al-Muqdad is one of the lucky ones. While other refugees are still waiting to hear if they will be accepted by a host country, he is ready to make his residence in the U.S. permanent.

“I just filed my citizenship application and America is my new home,” he said. He added that he felt he owed it to the Arkansas community who took him in “to pay the community back for the kindness that they showed to me when I first came here.”

“I’m trying, but it’s not easy,” he said of his journey so far. “I’m trying to do my best here.”

[…]

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US exorcists: Demonic activity is on the rise

March 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 15, 2017 / 06:26 am (CNA).- There is an alarming increase in demonic activity being reported by those who work in exorcism ministry, said the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although steps are being taken to increa… […]

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New Mexico bishops admonish pro-choice Catholic legislators

March 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Santa Fe, NM, Mar 14, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New Mexico Bishops released a statement last week discouraging public advocacy from Catholic legislators for abortions and assisted suicide on behalf of their Catholic faith.

“We are concerned by public statements by some legislators that seem to say that a faithful Catholic can support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide,” New Mexico’s bishops stated March 6.

“Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church. These represent the direct taking of human life, and are always wrong.”

State Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero invoked her Catholic faith earlier this month as a factor in her decision to oppose a bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

And last month State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, also Catholic, introduced a bill which would force religious hospitals and individuals to act against their conscious and perform abortions.

The bishops wrote that “It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching. This misrepresents Church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful.”

The bishops upheld Catholic teaching that “all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death, and must be protected,” and emphasized that “support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church.”

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” the bishops stated, repeating the words of Pope Francis.

“It is not morally permissible for a Catholic to support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide,” they emphasized.

Recognizing Catholic legislators who support laws directed at supporting immigrants and the impoverished, the message applauded “their work giving voice to the voiceless.”

Citing the damages done to the soul by receiving, performing, or supporting abortions, the bishops acknowledged that “God’s forgiveness is always available to us if we seek it, so that we may heal our soul and be reconciled with God, the Church and others.” They promoted the sacrament of confession and the Project Rachel ministry for men and women who are in need of support after participating in an abortion.

“We want to be clear,” the bishops concluded. “Individuals and groups do not speak for the Catholic Church. As bishops, we do.”

“We visit the New Mexico Legislature when it gathers and host a time when together the priorities of the Church are made known to the legislators. We take the Gospel to the public square in public meetings and hearings as well as in private meetings and conversations with elected officials.”

“We pray for all legislators and through the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops are here to aid in the formation of consciences,” they noted. “We will continue to collaborate with many others to uphold the dignity of the human person through a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.”

[…]

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Porn leaves men dissatisfied with real relationships, study finds

March 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent analysis of 50 studies found that pornography was negatively associated with sexual and relational satisfaction among men.

 

The paper, entitled Pornography Consumption and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis, concluded that “Pornography consumption was associated with lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes in cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys, and experiments.” Specifically, pornography was linked to significant “lower sexual and relational satisfaction” among male viewers.

 

The analysis included a combined 50,000 participants across 10 countries, and contradicts another recent study that claimed that pornography has a positive impact on its consumers.

 

“Pornography is sex-negative,” Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), said in a statement about the new analysis.

 

According to their website, the NCOSE is a national organization dedicated to opposing pornography by highlighting the links to sex trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, and addiction.

 

“Pornography rewires an individual’s sexuality to pixels on a screen rather than to a real person, which is inherently inconsistent with healthy, organic relationships. A wide body of research is bringing attention to the various ways pornography negatively impacts both women and men, and this latest meta-analysis contributes important findings to that on-going dialogue.”

 

Hawkins noted that the analysis contradicted a recent study,  Porn Sex Versus Real Sex: How Sexually Explicit Material Shapes Our Understanding of Sexual Anatomy, Physiology, and Behaviour, which claimed that pornography positively affected relationships and sexuality after asking participants about the perceived impact pornography was having on their life.

 

“Those researchers asked survey participants questions about the effects of their pornography consumption using a faulty methodology which could only yield positive results, and then presented the results as unbiased and valid despite the skewed methodology,” Hawkins added.

 

Pornography has been receiving increasingly negative attention as more groups and individuals highlight its destructive effects on people’s well-being and relationships.

 

Last year, the GOP at the Republican National Convention declared pornography a public health crisis as part of their platform, a few months after the state of Utah declared the same.

 

British comedian Russel Brand, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rashida Jones, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews are just some of the celebrities that have recently spoken out against pornography, its addictive properties and its harmful effects on relationships.

 

Smartphones and other technology have made pornography more accessible than ever before, increasing the prevalence of pornography addiction. However, in response, numerous online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos – both secular and faith-based – have launched, with the goal of helping people quit porn.

 

Still, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, strong biases in favor of pornography as a healthy part of sexuality still exist.

 

“Pornography is so pervasive today that many individuals grew up watching it and therefore assume it is a normal and healthy part of sexuality,” Haley Halverson, director of communications for NCOSE, told CNA.

 

“Yet, like cigarettes in the 1950s, we know that just because a practice is popularly accepted doesn’t mean it is healthy or beneficial.”

 

There have also been recent arguments made that pornography simply needs to be produced more ethically. However, Halverson said, it is not possible to make an “inherently unethical” practice more ethical.

 

“Pornography inherently involves dehumanizing a person by reducing them to a mere collection of body parts for one’s own selfish sexual pleasure. This is an inherently unethical way to view or treat another person,” she said.

 

“Some people may try to make pornography ‘less’ unethical in different ways, but but such attempts can never change the fact that pornography objectifies human beings. Only a society that rejects pornography can fully respect the human dignity of each person.”

 

 
 

 
 

[…]

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The Church is the ‘only functioning institution’ in South Sudan

March 13, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2017 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid war and famine in South Sudan, the Catholic Church is still serving the most vulnerable even as the government has collapsed.

The Church is the “only functioning institution in civil society,” Neil Corkery, president of the Sudan Relief Fund, told CNA in an interview, and “is really the only thing that’s left trying to help people” who live “in the remotest parts of the country.”

Famine was recently declared in parts of South Sudan, where there has been an ongoing civil war, interrupted by tenuous peace, since December 2013.

42 percent of the population, an estimated 4.5 million people, are facing “severe food insecurity,” Corkery said, and that number is expected to rise to half the country’s population – or 5.5 million – by July.

There have been 2.5 million refugees created by the conflict, he added. A confidential UN report warned that the conflict had reached “catastrophic proportions for civilians,” the South China Morning Post reported last month.

“This crisis is man-made, the direct consequence of a conflict prolonged by South Sudanese leaders who are unwilling to put aside political ambitions for the good of their people,” State Department acting spokesperson Mark C. Toner stated on February 21.

“We call on President Kiir to expeditiously make good on his promise that humanitarian and developmental organizations will have unimpeded access to populations in need across the country,” Toner added.

Recently, President Salva Kiir called for a day of prayer for the country ahead of a national dialogue. The auxiliary bishop of Juba, however, dismissed it as a “political prayer” and “a mockery” amid violence inflicted by government troops.

Because of the conflict and the “scorched earth” policies of government troops, many have been “unable to plant their crops,” Corkery said.

At a parish in the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, in the southwestern portion of the country and an area that is “very fertile” and was once a bread basket for the country, “these people are now in hiding, or taking refuge in the parish compound, and unable to plant crops,” he said. “Things are obviously just getting much worse.”

“It is a real crisis that’s coming down the pike,” Corkery warned.

The country’s bishops have spoken out against the violence there, accusing soldiers of committing war crimes and saying that the violence has interrupted the harvesting of crops.

“Despite our calls to all parties, factions, and individuals to STOP THE WAR, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all across the country,” the bishops of South Sudan stated in a Feb. 23 pastoral message.

“Much of the violence,” they added, “is being perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians,” especially those of ethnicities deemed to be in alliance with rebel factions. And those victims “are prevented from harvesting their crops,” the bishops added.

Some members of the government have frustrated local peace deals brokered by the Church, the bishops said, and churches, priests, and nuns have been attacked.  

The U.S. has sent “$2 billion since 2014 in humanitarian aid alone,” Corkery said, but the United Nations humanitarian workers only operate in “certain pockets” of the country.

Amid this crisis and growing famine, Catholic priests, nuns, and missionaries have been laboring to bring food and supplies to remote areas and are “reaching these people who are truly destitute and starving.”

It is not an easy task. Aside from the ongoing conflict where soldiers could seize food and supplies if they were aware they were being transported, the country’s logistical infrastructure is so poor there are no paved roads outside the capital city of Juba, Corkery noted. During the country’s rainy season, this problem is expanded.

“The real heroes that I see there,” Corkery said, are the “missionaries toiling away on the front lines.”

“These people are looking at the long-term solution in terms of the eternal scheme of things, people’s souls.”

Several aid workers with Samaritan’s Purse were detained or kidnapped by opposition fighters near Mayendit March 13.

South Sudan announced earlier this month it plans to charge $10,000 per visa for foreign aid workers.

“The government and the army have largely contributed to the humanitarian situation. And now, they want to create profit from the crisis they have created,” Elizabeth Deng, South Sudan researcher with Amnesty International, said in reaction to the announcement.

Despite the heroic efforts of missionaries, the Sudan Relief Fund, and other aid groups like Aid to the Church In Need and Samaritan’s Purse, a long-term peace is the only lasting solution to the country’s problems, Corkery insisted.

Prayer is the most important thing Catholics in the U.S. can do to help the situation, he said, as peace can only come about through “prayer and grace working in the hearts and the minds of these warring tribes and factions.”

However, citizens can also ask members of Congress to “push the U.S. government to put more pressure” on South Sudanese leaders. The U.S. has already begun listing “top leaders as war criminals” there, he said.

Pope Francis has spoken about the crisis in the country and has expressed his desire to visit there. No details of the trip have yet been released, Corkery said.

“The Pope and the Church,” he said, “are the only people that have the ability to convene, bring the parties together” for a peaceful solution. Pope Francis will try to “refocus the international community on the gravity of this crisis that’s there” and “convene the warring parties to try to bring them to the table to get some peace.”

[…]