“…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:5-6a)
After being away for some weeks of rest, I returned to the parish on Saturday to greet a missionary priest who was visiting us from South Sudan. He was going to speak at all our Masses to appeal for the people of a war-ravaged nation. Father Abraham was sent by his bishop to the United States to ask for monetary help and prayers. I prided myself back in middle school on being a geography buff but since I had forgotten that Sudan is a country located south of Egypt and west of Ethiopia where the Nile River flows down from the Mediterranean. It is a country that has been in and out of war since ceasing to be a British colony in 1956 and went through a long and bitter war between the 1980s and the 2000s that killed roughly 2.2 million people. Early last year, the people of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to secede from Sudan and form their own country mainly because the north is dominated by Arabs and Muslims and the south is populated by animists and Christians. Yet, as Father Abraham, reminded us, the Christians are under constant attack by Muslim Extremists. There is very little infrastructure in his country, the drought that has been plaguing Ethiopia and the horn of Africa have affected them as well, and in light of all this suffering and violence, they continue to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. Whenever a brother priest comes from anywhere in the world to plea for his people, I welcome him with open arms. We share the same priesthood, we celebrate the same Eucharist, but the people we minister to are so different and are suffering though things that we will hopefully never experience in this country. Many in his flock not only have to worry about what they are going to eat, but they sometimes fear for their lives when they gather around the altar of the Lord to worship. If poverty and war isn’t enough, Father Abraham told us that over 70% of his people were infected with the HIV virus. Yet, there he was this morning, in this beautiful air-conditioned church, bringing the Good News of the Lord and celebrating the same Mass that his people were celebrating back home. After all, we share “one faith, one baptism” as St. Paul tells us. This is why we must constantly be reminded that we belong to a universal Church that confronts so many challenges around the world.
After Mass last night, I took Father Abraham and Father Eliseus, the Nigerian priest that is helping us this summer, out to dinner. They sat across from me and I heard them compare stories about how the people in both their countries are being threatened because of their faith. People are fearful in Nigeria and South Sudan and countless other countries when they go to Mass to worship the Lord, and yet we complain here when the air conditioner isn’t working correctly. In Nigeria last Christmas, many Christians were killed in their churches simply for being Christian. Buses are stopped randomly and people are gunned down simply for being Christian. Imagine going to church, the safest and most sacred place you can possibly think of, and worrying if you’re going to make it home alive. This is the reality that this good priest came to share with us today. Despite the darkness that surrounds his people, they still believe in a God who loves them to no end and feeds them at this altar. In today’s gospel, people ate in peace with the Lord who fed them in the same way that he will feed in a few moments. Pray for my brother priest Father Abraham and pray that our brothers and sisters in South Sudan may be able to gather around the table of the Lord to be fed and to worship their God in peace.
To read more about South Sudan, click on this recent and illuminating article from the New York Times:
To donate to Catholic Relief Services mission in South Sudan, click here: http://crs.org/countries/south-sudan (Be sure your donation is for South Sudan.)