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Portrait: Bishop Macram Gassis of Sudan

January 21, 2007

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Bishop Macram Max Gassis, a Sudanese Catholic, is no ordinary prelate. Aged 67 and originally from Khartoum, the Bishop of El Obeid is sometimes called the “the bishop of the rebels”. He heads the (geographically) largest diocese in Sudan, almost three times the size of Italy, and he lives partly in exile, for in fact he divides his time between Nairobi in Kenya and the Nubian mountains, a region which is outside the control of the ruling islamist regime in Khartoum. Prospects for peace are slowly emerging in Sudan, following the longest civil war in Africa. Along with famine and sickness this war caused the death of some two million people and the uprooting of almost 4 million refugees over the last two decades.

from Aid to the Church in Need: Interview with Bishop Macram Max Gassis

Excerpt from same interview with Aid to the Church in Need:

Apic: Are the members of the traditional African religions more numerous than the Christians?

Bishop Gassis: They are in a majority among the non-Muslims and there is a great deal of work to be done to evangelise them. Now is the time when the missionary congregations should be coming, before it is too late.

Saudi Arabia has already invested almost 30 million dollars to develop the Islamic presence in the country. It is building dispensaries, doing development work with the women folk – exactly the same things we are doing. But unfortunately we do not have the manpower, pastorally, and a number of missionary congregations are unwilling to come and settle in our regions, which are under threat of islamisation. At the present time God is giving so many opportunities; if we do not grasp them now, they will never come again!

I am like a voice crying in the wilderness. Certainly, Sudan is a difficult place, but in my view the missionaries of today too often seek comfort; they will not accept real challenges! As for security, if it’s dangerous for them then it’s also dangerous for me and for the population as a whole. If one is a missionary one must be ready to give one’s life for Christ. In the Nubian mountains I live in the bush, with no electricity, no running water. We travel on foot in the mountains. Since I suffer from diabetes, it is sometimes a real torture walking in the heat. Sometimes the SPLA soldiers have to carry me, to put me on a bicycle or a donkey in order to transport me

Apic: What about Rome? Do they understand your situation and your particular problems?

Bishop Gassis: Some of them do, others do not; it depends on whom you’re talking to. I really appreciated our meeting with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the ad limina visit of the Sudanese bishops. There they do understand our difficult situation, and I spoke without mincing my words. I said that it is no good asserting that the Church is gaining ground in Africa, when Islam is going much faster!

I am tired of people pointing their finger at us and urging us to engage in dialogue with Islam, when nobody has yet given me a definition of what dialogue means. I am certainly not going to throw my moral principles and my spiritual life to the four winds in return for peanuts. No!

Apic: So you have a practical rather than a theoretical concept of dialogue with Islam then?

Bishop Gassis: I have no wish for people to say of me that I am a good bishop because I engage in dialogue… Is dialogue supposed to be based on ignorance? How many bishops have a real knowledge of the Koran? How many of them have studied it? As for me I know the practical reality on the ground, not the kind of dialogue at the summit, which never leads anywhere when we tackle certain religious topics. For me Jesus is the Son of God and there is no room for discussion about this, whereas for the Muslims he is merely a prophet. Why can we not leave religion on one side and simply live together, side by side like, brothers and sisters in humanity?

I believe in the dialogue of life. When I have a school and half the pupils are Christians and the other half Muslims, then that is dialogue. When I build a maternity clinic, the women who come to have their babies are Protestants, Catholics, adherents of the traditional African religions, and Muslims. If I dig a well, the water is neither Christian nor Muslim; it is for everybody. That is dialogue, not selling ourselves cheaply, just so we can say that we are in favour of dialogue! I see some tendencies in this direction in Europe – people who want us to keep quiet in the face of Islamic fundamentalism, on the pretext that the Christians have done the same kind of thing in the past, notably during the Crusades!

Insight on the News: Bishop Gassis Seeks Help for the Sudanese

Insight: The United States and other Western democracies have intervened militarily in Kosovo and Bosnia to stop further human-rights violations. Yet many more people have been killed in the African bloodbath in the Sudan than in those two European areas combined. Why has the West intervened in Europe while leaving the Sudan to suffer?

Macram Max Gasis: To add to the paradox in your question: The Western countries — the United States and the nations of Europe — intervened to save Kuwait and also, automatically, Saudi Arabia, as [Iraqi strongman] Saddam [Hussein] moved to sweep over those Muslim Arab states. And the Western nations did the same when they attacked Saddam to try to protect the Kurds. They even intervened to protect the Kosovars, who also are Muslims. Why then are the Western nations afraid to say, “Let us protect the people of the Sudan from an unjust war, from genocide, from ethnic cleansing, from slavery?”

Why did the whole international community isolate South Africa and treat it as a nation of lepers until it abandoned apartheid? More directly, why is there no similar action to stop the outrages in Sudan? Why do European nations, which fought again and again over centuries for their own right to be Christians, intervene to save the Muslims but fear to save their fellow Christians?

Insight: Why do you believe they are afraid?

MMG: They’re afraid because in their minds, in their fantasies and also in their ignorance, [they think] that if they go in to help the Sudan the Arab nations would say the Christians had interfered against, Arabs in an Islamic nation, which would not be true because the Sudan is a multiracial, multicultural and multireligious country.

Insight: Do you think that the West has any other competing interest preventing it from active opposition to genocide in Sudan?

MMG: One should not ask about “interests” under such circumstances. No man is an island; the human rights of all are interdependent. Many people would say that it is in the interest of the United States to oppose slavery and be true to its commitments to human rights in the Sudan and everywhere else.

Islamic fundamentalism is advancing around the world, whether we like it or not, because the Western nations are not defending their own values. They are giving up without a fight; they are not moving a finger, not doing anything to resist.

The problems of Sudan today are not restricted to the Sudan. Islamic fundamentalism is overflowing. It has hit even the United States — and right in the heart, in New York City. So what are you waiting for?

Insight: Has the United States done nothing at all to help officially?

MMG: To the contrary, the United States was the only nation to put the Sudan on its list of countries that harbor terrorism. No European country had the guts to do that. The United States froze all the assets of the Sudan in this country. No country in Europe did that. The United States withdrew its diplomatic personnel from Sudan. No European nation did that. Why do they say, “We condemn, we condemn, we condemn,” but continue to have economic and financial dealings with this nation? I think that is hypocritical.

Insight: You have claimed that the number of conversions to Christianity has increased in Sudan despite persecution and genocide. How do you explain this?

MMG: That has always been true — the blood of the martyrs is the life of the church. Just look at how Christianity flourished during the oppression by the Romans at the time of Nero. It was underground, but it flourished. Similarly, here in the Sudan the number [of Christian converts] has increased because the people feel that Christianity is their only hope. We are speaking of justice. We are speaking of love.

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Excerpt of Interview with CBN News:

ROBERTSON: This conflict seems to have been going on almost forever. Get us into it. What is the root cause of what is going on right now?

GASSIS: The root cause is diversity in Sudan – of ethnic groups, cultures, politicians, and the diversity of creed. I think that diversity does not impoverish a nation. Diversity enriches a nation, and you have this here in the United States, and Canada, and other places. But it seems that we are not ready to accept diversity. Yet God created us diverse, but united together through love.

ROBERTSON: From your standpoint, it is more than just Muslim-Christian – Muslim north, Christian south, but there’s also Muslim against Muslim, based on tribal differences. Is there any sort of solution that you see in the near term, or is it just a long term? Can we come to enlightenment on this issue of diversity so that we can all live together in Sudan in peace?

GASSIS: I believe it is through educational information. It is a reality of growth. We have to grow. And here the role of the church is very important. The church should help the people to accept diversity. The church should help the people to accept each other as brothers and sisters, coming from the same source and going back to the same source. And this will take time. You cannot build a nation on tribalism. You cannot build a nation on ethnic wars and ethnic hatred. This is impossible. We will never reach maturity that way. For me, it is a process and the role of the church is very vital to help the government understand, accept, and implement this diversity.

ROBERTSON: Is that going to be possible within…you know, I see that belief within the Christian faith, and I adhere to it – but how does that translate to a Muslim faith, where it seems they are bent on jihad against the infidel? Is it translatable into the faith of Islam?

GASSIS: It is through enlightenment, education, and dialogue. I would like to clarify the word dialogue. Nobody so far gave me a satisfactory definition of dialogue. Yet, people point their fingers at us, the leaders in the church, [and say] you must dialogue. I tell them, give me the definition of dialogue. And they are not able to give me a definition of dialogue. According to me, dialogue is acceptance of each other. The reciprocal respect for each other – it is a living dialogue.

When I have a school, whether I have a thousand students, and I have Christians, Muslim, and African of traditional belief – this is dialogue. When I drill wells, the water that comes out, it’s not Catholic, it is not Christian – the water is for everybody. This is dialogue. Christians and Muslim and Africans of tradition are going to drink from the same source and the same well. When I make a hospital or a maternity, it is not reserved for Christian mothers, it is for everybody. This is what I call living dialogue. This here, we send a message of our creed, our faith is love in action. And that will help them.

America Magazine: The Hidden Holocaust: An Interview With Bishop Macram Max Gassis of Sudan

Yes, indeed, we are called a “recipient church,” and we are! It’s true; I’m not ashamed. And the church in the United States says it is a “donor church.” And it is. But aren’t we also a donor church? What about our blood—the blood of our martyrs? What about the suffering of our children?

We donate these realities to the universal church. So I think we are giving more than receiving—because we are giving our lives.

So I’m making an appeal to my brothers and sisters in the United States, to my brothers in the episcopate, to my brother priests and pastors, to all the communities, to realize that there is a church that is facing total isolation, total annihilation, if we do not come to the rescue of this church. And we should not be “choosy,” to help and pray for the Kosovars who live on the European continent and not the Sudanese on the black African continent. That’s my appeal to my brothers and sisters here in the United States and in Europe. And I would like even to say: Come and see us, come and touch us, come and put your hands around us, and caress us! Because love is a virtue of the strong and courageous: One who is a coward will never be able to love.

Excerpt of statement issued by Bishop Macram Max Gassis of El Obeid, Sudan, after he learned of a bombing raid in which the Sudanese military destroyed a Catholic school, killing the students and teachers:

Remember that our young children and their teacher are the victims of hate, injustice, intolerance, and violence. These are the same things that killed Jesus. But through Jesus’ sacrifice, we have been redeemed, we have been promised the heavenly paradise. So do not despair. After each crucifixion of those who love Jesus, there is a resurrection. And after your crucifixion in the Nuba Mountains by the bombs of the Khartoum regime, you, too, will be resurrected. God will not abandon us. God will raise us from the dead. Pray that people of good will throughout the world will awake to our tragedy and offer themselves as God’s instruments to help us.

Beloved, amidst your suffering, rejoice, for Christ died for us. Our students and our teacher were martyrs to our faith. From the earliest days of the Church, it is the witness of the martyrs– who died for Christ– which sustained the Church. The killers in Khartoum think they have damaged us, but, as St. Paul says, God will bring good from evil. The Church will grow, your faith will deepen, and the martyred children will channel untold grace to us from our Father in Heaven.

It is natural that we mourn the assassination of our innocent children. Jesus himself mourned the death of his friend, Lazarus. But we should mourn with hope and trust in Jesus. Our martyred children are NOT dead. They are alive in heaven with Christ and all the saints. They have joined our Blessed Bakhita and the Servant of God, Marie Giuseppina Benvenuti, before the throne of God to advocate for us. In the words of the entrance song of the mass of the Holy Innocents, I say to you with every confidence: “These innocent children were slain for Christ. They follow the spotless Lamb and proclaim forever: Glory to you, God.”

My suffering people, remember the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Son of God, in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Happy are those who mourn: they shall be comforted. Happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: they shall be satisfied. Happy are those who are persecuted: theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Happy are you when men abuse you and persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven.”

Beloved, we must suffer in the present time But our suffering will be united with Christ’s on the cross, and we will offer it to God. As the prayer of the Holy Innocents says: “Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips.”

See also:
The Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum – Sudan
Peter’s Voice: Personal Appeal of Bishop Gassis

The Crossroads Initiative: Financing Spread of Islam-Arab Nations Financing Spread of Islam in Sudan
Catholic Herald: Church Caught Unprepared to Deal with Islam, Says Bishop Gassis
DhimmiWatch: Forced Islamization Under Way in Western Sudan
CBN.com: Will Peace Come to Darfur?
Domini.org: Slavery Widespread in Sudan, Bishop Charges
Tidings Online: ‘If it is God’s will, we won’t die’
Uncommon Knowledge: Transcript: SUDAN IMPACT: The Crisis in Sudan
First Things: Christmas in Sudan

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3 Comments
  1. Matt Grover permalink

    Bishop Gassis is an amazing man. I went on the internet to find out more about him before I continue (and increase) my support for his Sudan relief fund. His words on this site speak loudly and clearly. Christians must put our mouths and our money where our faith is, if we really have any.

  2. PROSERPIO GIUSEPPE permalink

    I’D LIKE TO KNOW IF BISHOP GASSIS IS IN NEED OF HELP IN THE AREA OF SICK PEOPLE BEING MYSELF A CAMILLIAN PRIEST, NOW IN KENYA.

    • Dr. Mike /Linda Casey permalink

      Hello Fr P. Giuseppe
      We too hope to bring some help as medical teams to assist Bishop Gassis and maybe we can correspond to see if we can do a joint venture there.Am on our way to seek canonical approval in Rome this week for our Organization and then back to States for recruitment of doctors and missionary priests to bring sacraments as well as medical help to those in the Sudan possibly next year. if this resonates with your vision ,please write us at ….mikelindac@gmail.com….
      May God bless your priesthood and ministry
      In grace,
      Mike /Linda Casey
      Po box 929
      Spokane Wa. 99019
      USA
      5097477134

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