By Jim Gauger
Special to the CS&T

MALVERN – The conflict in Sudan. Global migration. The relief effort in Haiti.

These were the priority issues as members of 19 dioceses representing Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church, gathered for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting Sept. 27 and 28 at the Malvern Retreat Center.

During her presentation of “CRS Around the World,” Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president for U.S. Operations, challenged Catholics “to put faith into action.”

“How can we work more effectively?” Rosenhauer asked. “What we do through CRS is so important to what we do through our faith.”

Maureen McCullough, the regional director, set the tone for the two-day conference by outlining the commitment of CRS to grow in understanding of specific issues and regions.{{more}}

The most compelling session of the first day was the presentation on Sudan, the largest country in Africa, by Dan Griffin, senior advisor on Sudan.

Griffin explained how the Darfur region is the latest example of a conflict between the northern and southern regions of the country, a 45-year history of intermittent civil war.

During the past two decades, it is estimated that 2 million people have died and another 4.5 million have been driven from the country.

In 2005 a peace accord was signed that included provisions for a referendum on Jan. 9, 2011, in which the south could vote for independence. Whether a fair vote can be held and whether the north would permit the south to secede are questions that could lead to the resumption of war. Nine other countries border Sudan, presenting the scenario that a war could spread rapidly.

“Sudan cannot be the country it is today 100 days from now,” Griffin said. “It will fundamentally change whether we are prepared or not. We are called to be witness to that transformation because we have the opportunity to engage now to move Sudan in in the right direction. We have the opportunity for intervention now. Rather than wait for this emergency, we can get out ahead, as much as possible. We are obligated to do this. Unlike the tsunami (Indian Ocean, 2004) or the Haitian earthquake (in January), we know when this is going to happen.”

Griffin predicted that a war in Sudan would surpass the devastation caused by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Griffin said the root of the conflict is not tension between Muslims and Christians or Arabs and Africans, it is “a war over resources,” specifically oil in the south.

Sudan, he said, is the largest supplier of oil to China. The flow of the Nile is another factor. The Nile provides 80 percent of the electricity to the capital of Khartoum in the north.

The Catholic Church, Griffin said, is backing a free and fair referendum, the right to choose the future. A fair vote is problematic, however. In order for the vote to be accepted, the winning side must have “50 percent plus 1, and 60 percent of registered voters must participate. When was the last time in the U.S. that 60 percent of the electorate voted?” he asked.

Griffin wants a diplomatic assault on the peace agreement, engaging leaders of the north and south to see that the referendum is a peaceful rather than a violent exercise.

There is also a movement called “101 Days of Prayer” that was launched on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, in Juba, the capital city of south Sudan. It is another effort to see that the Jan. 9 referendum is peaceful and fair.

CRS leaders asked that the participants in the conference return to their dioceses and visit their legislators to address the issues in Sudan.

“We’re engaged in this on a level of human dignity,” Griffin said. “Information is out there ( It is a critical choice.”

There are current bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate concerning Sudan which advocate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and President Barack Obama met with senior officials from north and south Sudan during the September meeting of the United Nations.

Migration: Issues of the heart
Mary DeLorey, senior advisor for Latin America and Caribbean Region, used video slides to describe the issue of migration.

She listed the reasons why so many people migrate from one country to another:

an inability to create jobs where people live
economic factors
the design of trade agreements
limited social welfare protection
political violence
natural disasters

The dangers that migrating peoples experience are many. “In 2009, it is estimated that 18,000 to 20,000 migrants passing through Mexico were kidnapped, extorted, tortured and killed,” according to CRS. “Migrants/refugees are vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation,” said the report.

“According to Catholic social teaching,” DeLorey said, “people have the right to have opportunities to meet their basic needs in their homeland. Where these conditions don’t exist they have the right to migrate, legally and orderly. The Church recognizes that sovereign nations have the right to control their borders in a humane way. [But] the dignity and the rights of all migrants should be protected.”

DeLorey called migration “issues of the heart rather than the intellect. We need to talk to each other, not shout at each other.” She asked that we look no further than at ourselves to find value in migration.

“Our nation is testimony of the positive things that happen because of migration,” she said. The web site, was recommended for information on migration.

Haiti: Coming out of emergency phase
The update on Haiti was presented on the second day by executive vice president Rosenhauer and Nora Collins, a program staffer for CRS. Collins had just returned from a three-week stay in Haiti.

In the report, it was announced that American Catholics contributed $148 million for earthquake response, $82 million of which came directly from diocesan contributions. The remainder of the contributions came from web sites and other sources.

“It shows the incredible generosity of American Catholics,” McCullough, the regional director said.

CRS also was responsible for 10 million meals, delivery of potable water, construction of latrines and showers and the establishment of child-friendly spaces.

“We have a five-year plan for Haiti,” McCullough said. “We are coming out of the emergency phase. We will move to a transitional phase, providing job opportunities.

“The destruction was remarkable. The need is overwhelming. It’s our commitment to work with the Haitian population and empower them to rebuild their country the way they want to,” she said

Representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the conference were Anne Ayella, the CRS diocesan drector; and Marge Vance, the sub-committee chair.

Other issues addressed at the conference were health, education, trafficking of children and adults, peace building, climate change and water and sanitation. “The goal,” Rosenhauer said, is “to engage the Catholic community – the leaders, the ministry – to learn of CRS’s commitment to global solidarity based on Catholic social teaching.”

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.