Catholic Schools Provide Hope in Poverty-Stricken Sudan

by David Hejza  •  •  July 31, 2017   

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KHARTOUM, Sudan ( - In the widely Muslim population of Sudan, a Catholic school system is flourishing in a number of poverty-stricken cities and villages.

Sudan is largely controlled by a Sunni Muslim regime. According to a recent article from Zenit, Fr. Daniele Moschetti, an Italian priest who studied at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Beirut, administers to a diverse range of people and children, both Catholic and Muslim youth. Nearly all families reside in dust and mud brick houses or worse. There are few trees, and the temperature during the day regularly rises to 110 degrees.

Moschetti notes how if it were not for the Catholic schools, there would be children who would spend the whole day roaming the streets.

We want to show them that they are respected, precious people, loved by God.

"Their parents show little concern for them," he said. "Attention, and even tenderness, is something most of them have never experienced, and above all not from their fathers."

Moschetti tries to instill in the children a strong sense of self-worth. "We want to show them that they are respected, precious people, loved by God," he remarked. "We do so by listening to each one of them and showing them respect."

Earlier this year, security concerns caused Pope Francis to cancel his visit to the country. South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been torn apart by ethnic wars and violence. In December 2013, brutal violence erupted after a dispute between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and Riek Machar, a Nuer and former vice president of South Sudan.

An estimated 300,000 people died owing to massacres, starvation and rape, while about 3 million were displaced. As of March 2017, nearly 5 million people — half of Sudan's total population — are on the brink of starvation due to famine and food shortages.

Father Moschetti has been in Sudan for nearly 10 years and feels blessed to be doing the work that God has put before him.

"[It] is an extremely difficult pastoral challenge for priests here," he said. "They are [a] totally uprooted people. The parishioners here are for the most part from the Nuba mountains in the south of Sudan. Their lives there were marked by the customs and traditions of their villages. But here, far from their homeland, they are completely lost."

Supported by the international Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Moschetti attempts to make his parish, St. Kizito Catholic Church and neighboring parishes and schools, an escape from the poverty. Despite the adverse conditions, the priest reports his parish being full every Sunday.

One Church official, requesting to rename nameless, according to ACN, spoke on how the Church education system is crucially important.

Our schools gain us acceptance among the majority Muslim community, and above all with the state. The state is strongly Islamic, but because of the rapid population growth, the number of people moving into cities and limited public resources, its budget is overstretched and insufficient to provide enough schools. Hence, the government is happy to see the Church involved. As a Church we maintain almost 20 public schools in the city of Khartoum alone, and permission to build schools, unlike permission to construct churches, is something that is always granted to us.

The official acknowledged the quality of the schools is not the best, but he says, "After all, we hardly have money for teachers and books, and nor do our students. But no pupil is refused admittance. ... For the children of the poorest families the school is the only possibility of bringing a little order into their lives."

Since the late 1800s, Britain was invested in controlling the vast region where the waters of the Nile River flowed. They fought against the Turkish forces that occupied Egypt in 1882, ending a nationalist revolution that was hostile to foreign interests. British forces remained there to prevent any further threat from the Ottoman Empire or another European power. Agreements were made with Italy and Germany, and eventually with Cpt. Jean-Baptiste Marchand of the French army, who sought control of the Nile river valley.

The British government kept Sudan united while protecting and conserving the Nile waters. For the early half of the century, in the south, the population was African, and mostly Christian, with some believing in magic and animism. In the north, the people were Arab and strongly Muslim. The British government kept the north and south of Sudan united while protecting and conserving the Nile waters. On January 1, 1956, Sudan gained independence from Great Britain, and since then, Islam began to spread. The Sudanese population is now only 1.5 percent Christian among a 97-percent Muslim majority.

The Catholic dioceses of Khartoum will continue to put a strong emphasis on children and evangelization. Father Moschetti commented, "I want to show people above all that, despite their poverty, God loves them, and each of them individually."


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