Tales of suffering, prayers for peace

May 07, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Holding hands, with heads bowed, solemn circles of colleagues and friends of slain, missing or endangered Rwandans prayed fervently yesterday at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services for an end to the violence in the African nation.

Dave Piraino, a CRS employee whose wife is from Rwanda, spoke emotionally of his sister-in-law and her 10 children who were killed there last month.

T. J. Ryan read the names of three dead and 43 missing CRS employees in Rwanda.

And relief worker Bettina Malone, who was evacuated four weeks ago, spoke through tears of reaching a colleague in Rwanda by phone on Thursday. "Negotiations are not going well. . . . It's a human disaster of untold proportions," she said in a quavering voice.

After the brief interfaith service attended by nearly 100 people, mostly members of the CRS staff, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard said, "This is a very moving experience, to sense firsthand such suffering and pain. . . . I hope we can move our government to take action, some type of intervention."

CRS spokesman Jack Morgan said the Baltimore-based relief organization, which has administered aid to the Rwandan people for 33 years, employs 56 Rwandans in that country. In addition to those killed or missing, 10 have been contacted but remain in danger amid the violence touched off by the April 6 death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash.

Two CRS officials who escaped to neighboring Burundi have zTC returned to Rwanda within the last few days to attempt to lay the groundwork for resuming relief aid.

But before the CRS or any other agency can bring humanitarian assistance "to the millions of Rwandans now in need, sufficient political and social will must be brought to bear to stop further fighting and killing," Mr. Morgan said.

As many as 200,000 Rwandans have died in the chaotic bloodshed. "Possibly 1.5 to 2 million people have been displaced," Mr. Morgan said.

The prayer service, the first of what is to be a series of nine such religious observances on Fridays this month and next at CRS headquarters, 209 W. Fayette St., began with the hymn, "Lift ev'ry voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring . . . with the harmonies of liberty."

Sean Callahan, the first of nine CRS staffers who spoke of "solidarity" with the suffering Rwandans and led prayers for them, said, "Today, we are here to become one family. . . . Let us say to the people of Rwanda that they are not alone, as we are not alone."

Tom Dart said, "All of us know Rwanda, know its natural beauty." He prayed "that the dignity of the people of Rwanda and its natural beauty will become symbols of peace and reconciliation."

Before that can happen, officials of the Roman Catholic Church and the CRS say, much must be done by the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations.

The CRS issued a call yesterday for an immediate cease-fire between the warring factions of the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front and for a ban on military supplies from Europe and elsewhere.

Bishop Ricard, who recently returned from 12 days in South Africa, where he was an election observer, said the United States has a responsibility to intervene in Rwanda. "We cannot turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to this tremendous suffering," he said.

The CRS statement said the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda should be "reinforced to a level that will insure the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians living on both sides of the conflict."

International organizations such as the CRS must be given "free and secure access to all victims of the conflict" with protection of relief workers provided by the United Nations, the statement said.

The CRS, an agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops, called on "church and ecumenical leaders worldwide" to "use their influence with world bodies to support efforts to halt the bloodshed in Rwanda, as well as to prevent a spillover of ethnic violence to neighboring countries."

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