Muslim persecution described by an eyewitness. Two million dead in twenty years. “And this is just the beginning. The challenge of Islamism is much worse than communism. Something the next pope will have to fully face”
ROMA – On May 26 in Naivasha, Kenya, the Arab-Islamic government of Khartoum signed a peace agreement with Christian and animist separatists from southern Sudan, ending twenty years of civil war.
Other than the south, the accord concerns the three bordering regions of Abyei, the Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains. The agreement does not affect Darfur, which lies to the west along the Chad border where another bitter war between Arabs and black African tribes is being waged.
The long war in the south has put the Catholic Church found in these regions to a difficult test, as an extremely high number of Christians have been among the conflict’s two million victims. But as Msgr. Cesare Mazzolari, the Italian-born bishop of Rumbek (in southern Sudan) said in a recent interview: “A new Christianity will arise from the blood of martyrs.”
The interview – conducted by Stefano Lorenzetto and printed in the May 23 Sunday issue of the Milan-based daily, “Il Giornale” – is republished below in its full, original version.
The interview is an exceptional report, offering a perfect portrait of a frontier-land bishop who knows “his” Islam very well, sees it in practice and describes it without reticence as an Islam made also of crucifixions, slavery, forced conversions and trickery.
According to bishop Mazzolari there is a world of difference between Islam and Christianity: Allah is not the same God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
However the bishop does not idealize Christian warriors who have taken up arms against Muslims from Khartoum. Even they have committed their share of wrongdoings. The bishop reported such instances, and has subsequently endured problems on account of this
Even less so does the bishop praise the West and Western Christianity while lashing out vicious accusations against the United States. Following the attacks of September 11, the bishop views Americans as waging a furious hunt based on vengeance, which he says leads only to hatred.
The bishop explains how his extremely poor African faithful “experience September 11 everyday” in their lives. Yet they take no revenge. “They suffer injustice and disease without any bitterness. You can only learn from them,” he said.
When asked about Christian-Muslim dialog, the bishop responded: “One day they came and asked me to speak with Muslims, that is, to do the impossible.”
And when commenting on the question about a ‘clash of civilizations’, Mazzolari remarks: “This is just the beginning.”
In brief, the bishop’s interview is one that should be read in its entirety, bearing in mind one thing: when Pope John Paul II receives bishops from all over the world during their “ad limina” visits to Rome every 5 years, many of those hailing from Muslim countries think just like Mazzolari. And, when in audience with the pope, some of these bishops even speak up about it.
Meanwhile, in the Vatican there is also the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialog, a peace-loving organization involved in fostering interfaith relations.
The last official inter-religious meeting with Islamic faithful took place in Qatar on May 27-29, where the Vatican’s own delegation included cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. Among the Muslim representatives were Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the Sheikh of Al Azhar, and Youssef Al Qaradawi of Qatar University.
The latter is one of the most famous fundamentalist intellectuals in Arab society and a celebrity on the Al Jazira television network. In Sudan his equal is Hassan Al Turabi, whom Bishop Mazzolari describes as “the cleverest person in the world. He’s extremely intelligent, he’s an attorney, and he speaks English and French better than the English and French themselves. He has a sly, forked tongue. He always succeeds in getting what he wants from you”.
And Bishop Mazzolari explains why in the following interview.
“A Clash of Civilizations? This Is Just the Beginning”
An interview with bishop Cesare Mazzolari, by Stefano Lorenzetto
As he speaks, bishop Cesare Mazzolari fixes his gaze on a map of Sudan, his most beloved and troubled adopted homeland. Only once he raised his eyes, filled with tears, to look at me. It was then when he told me he would die a violent death: “The time to be martyred is drawing near. I hope the Lord grants us the grace to face such bloodshed. There’s a need for purification. Many Christians will be killed for their faith. Yet a new Christianity will arise from the blood of these martyrs.”
I asked him if and when the infernal frenzy we have been sucked into since September 11, 2002 would ever end. The bishop said in response: “God will send us a person with charisma capable of opening up a new way toward reconciliation or will allow for punishment, a measured test leading us to wisdom. We live in a blind and deaf world. We need to be really shaken up. We no longer listen to prophets. Of the few that have remained, we have eliminated from society.”
The bishop then burst into tears, which he could no longer hold back. Later his colleagues, who were also upset, told me that they “had never seen the bishop in such a state before.” Perhaps there was something tragic about to happen, to him and to us – only that the bishop took into account the Latin motto of his bishop’s coat of arms: “Per reconciliationem et crucem ad unitatem et pacem” (Peace and Unity through Reconciliation and the Cross). Usually bishops take such mottos from words of the Gospel. Yet the bishop of Rumbek wrote his all by himself, which is surely significant.
The 67 year old Bishop Mazzolari, a Combonian missionary from Brescia, Italy, has been living among Muslims since 1981, whom he says he knows quite well by now.
The bishop says he has seen what Muslims have done to an elderly missionary in his order. Once, he recounts, after having found half-empty bottle of whisky left by a transport operator in the back of a rail car, Muslims began beating him belligerently. “They struck him 50 times,” he said. “Halfway through it, a younger brother in the order begged them, saying, ‘Stop! Give the remaining beatings to me instead.’ However his plea was useless, as they kept striking him until the very end.”
He also witnessed what they did to an enslaved Christian boy named Joseph Santino Garang, who was crucified one Sunday when, after having lost a camel, he stopped to pray. “His owner pounded nails through his hands and knees then poured acid over his wounds. Now the poor boy is a hunchback and looks like a victim of polio. I met him in a camp of ex-displaced where, in order to make them return north, the camp’s officials forced them to push their own train cars.”
In southern Sudan, where Rumbek is located, a twenty year-long civil war, filled with violence and disease, has provoked 2-3 million deaths. Bishop Mazzolari can still preach the Gospel there, since he works in a territory controlled by of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) under the command of John Garang, a Protestant rebel fighting against the Islamic government of Khartoum. His diocese is as large as all of Italy, where his 30 priests care for 350,000 faithful each. His cathedral is 20 meter-wide, zinc-roofed shed. “This way they can’t burn it down,” he explains.
The bishop sleeps under leafy branch-covered huts. “They prepare one for me in every village I go to,” he said. And he’s like the good shepherd leading a wondering flock in search of water and grain. As the bishop explains: “One in six displaced persons in the world is Sudanese. There is a dramatic difference between refugees and displaced people. A displaced person doesn’t even have a pot to cook with and must continually move around to flee from war, famine and disease.”
While the bishop eats twice a day, his faithful eat just two times a week. “With the added difference that I could eat meat for lunch and dinner, if I wanted,” he said with embarrassment. The bishop, however, said he survives on eating beans, bread, canned tuna and dried fish.
Then there was his comment about how he had to prepare cornmeal for his starving faithful, who “are so weakened by hunger they don’t even have the strength to cook.” Twice a week, he says, shipments of cabbage arrive from Kenya but don’t survive for more than a day in Sudan’s 40-50 degree heat.
From now until October should be the rainy season in Sudan. “We hope to be able to grow something,” the bishop said. For the time being, the scorching sun promises only drought. Just like last year, the year before, and the year before that.
A group of benefactors from Brescia gave him a Thuraya satellite phone to call the Cesar Association (+39.030.2180654) in Italy, headquartered in Concesio, the town where pope Paul VI was born. The bishop seemed quite surprised when I told him that Thuraya was a company based in the United Arab Emirates. He had thought it was Swiss. I fear that from today onward he won’t use the phone so willingly.
Q. – Do you convert many Muslims?
A. – “Absolutely not. Getting close to Islamic people is like giving them the death penalty. Those that convert freely are forced to flee. Yet they end up being caught and punished, anyway, thousands of kilometers away.”
Q. – Are there Catholics who convert to Islam?
A. – “Yes, unfortunately. Pushed by hunger, at least 3 million have headed north and have had to profess the shahada, the public profession of Muslim faith, in order to find jobs. These converts are then fire-branded, literally being stamped on their sides like cows so as to distinguish them from infidels.”
Q. – Do you have relations with Islamic authorities in Khartoum?
A. – “Once I used to have an entry visa. Now I’d be thrown in jail if I were to travel to the capital. They would say I inspired the revolt, despite the fact that armed separatists once took me hostage and banished me for 6 months, after I said they stole 60% of international aid meant for Sudan’s starving population. If want to return to Italy I have to take a land route to Kenya and then fly from Nairobi.”
Q. – Is the God of Christians the same as the Allah of Muslim?
A. – “No way! Where would the concept of the Trinity fit in? And Christ is certainly not the greatest of their prophets.”
Q. – Will a Muslim who leads a good life end up in the same heaven where you hope to go?
A. – “Yes, I am quite sure of this. God does not judge others like we do, in our severe and narrow-minded ways. There will be many different creatures in heaven, since each one leads a life according to what the Lord places in his heart.”
Q. – Do you think that after the New York and Madrid terrorist attacks a third world war has broken out?
A. – “I think, I mean I used to think, that things would have changed for the better after those massacres. Instead, I've noticed that a sense of fighting back has turned into vengeance.”
Q. – Should Bush have thanked Osama Bin Laden?
A. – “Uncertainty and poverty can turn up in your own home, even if you’re the wealthiest man in the world. Power does come from neither vengeance nor money. The president of the United States can no longer pick up a microphone and say: ‘Let’s round up and kill every last one of them.’ The wave of hatred that has filled the Islamic world will spread for years to come.”
Q. – What would He have felt obligated to say?
A. – “Today the Lord has come to visit even us.”
Q. – Yeah, in an airplane.
A. – “Over 90% of the planet lives in uncertainty. In some way the Americans have understood this well and have gone back to pray in churches. We have wasted a sign from heaven, using it to cause even more division among men instead of uniting them in compassion.”
Q. – Nice words. But coming from the mouth of a bishop, more than a state official.
A. – “The world is poor, just like it has always been. It’s not Bush’s duty to judge and sentence four-fifths of humanity. Otherwise the weakest populations get the impression that the greatest power is found in getting revenge. I believe, however, that vengeance belongs to a culture of primitives. The president of the world’s most powerful nation scoffed at the planet’s highest authorities, the UN and the pope. This damages trust in authority worldwide. And soldiers who were supposed to carry out such vengeance have gone out of their minds. They’re doing crazy stuff.”
Q. – But what does poverty have to do with the terrorists? Bin Laden is definitely not poor.
A. – “Bush cannot boast in front of anybody that he’s the world’s protector of human rights. I lived in the United States for 26 years. I was even ordained in San Diego, California. I worked among blacks and helped Mexicans mine-workers. I know that the rights of the poor and minorities are systematically stepped on in the United States. I always tell my Sudanese acquaintances thinking of heading across the Atlantic in search of prosperity: ‘Here you experience poverty in terms of food and culture. In America you’ll experience the worst misfortune that could ever befall you There you’ll understand what it means to be a slave.’ ”
Q. – But even the president’s main collaborators, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, are black!
A. – “I assure you that the vast majority of American blacks can aspire to become firemen or police officers at best.”
Q. – So, Bush should have turned the other cheek.
A. – “Spain, after the March 11 massacres in Madrid, reacted in completely opposite way.”
Q. – Nice way.
A. – “Whether you like it or not, I am casting a bit of influence over you in this interview. Maybe I make you feel bad; maybe I make you feel good. I don’t know. Bush doesn’t realize that, in spreading hate in all directions, the world is become even more divided.”
Q. – Excuse me, but it wasn’t him who declared this war.
A. – “You know, Islamic terrorism causes me grief, too. When a plane from Khartoum fires at another air freighter carrying food aid, what do you call this? The Sudanese experience September 11 every day, when there is no trace of their martyrdom in your newspapers. Why? They suffer injustice and disease without any bitterness. You can only learn things from them. They beat their drums and dance around, even with empty stomachs. Westerners are much poorer, humanly speaking. Believe me. I see the three thousand victims of the Twin Towers attacks everyday in the faces of those coming to me seeking food and not finding anything. And, as they are dying, they hear their bishop tell them: ‘The Lord loves you.’ Then with their last breath they whisper in my ear: ‘Tell the Lord we’ve been punished enough.’”
Q. – I’m sorry. But it doesn’t seem fair to blame this on the United States.
A. – “When their interests are at stake, the Americans are completely ready to a dialogue. They write ‘In God we trust’ on their dollar bills. Yet in reality they believe more in the dollar’s green than in God himself. Bush has even said he was for introducing the shariah, the Koranic law, all throughout Sudan — as long as there would be peace between the north and the south and they could begin drilling for the sea of oil Sudan floats on.”
Q. – I see. It’s all about oil, again.
A. – “The United States wants peace in Sudan. They also want the oil in Sudan. There are 1500 kilometers of pipeline from my diocese to Khartoum. Chevron began coming in 1978 to take our oil reserves. Then all the others came. Today the Chinese steal 42% of our crude, which they make a small army of mercenaries and former convicts drill for. Malaysia takes away 24% of it. Replacing Canada has been India. But history has its ways of putting the world back in order. As Paul VI warned us, ‘If you keep stepping on the poor, one day they’ll rebel on you. Woe to you who live to see the revolution of the poor.’ These were the words of a prophet who had understood well what terrorism would lead to, well enough to be ready to sacrifice his very own life to save his friend, Aldo Moro, who had been abducted by the terrorist group of Brigate Rosse. He knew the only way was that of Christ: through mercy.”
Q. – Did you see the footage of the beheading of Jewish American, Nick Berg?
A. – “No. But I heard it described so vividly that it’s like as if I had seen it. We have gone beyond mankind’s limits. We have become barbarians again.”
Q. – Is it possible that one day we’ll see footage in which Christians behead men while giving praise to Jesus?
A. – “They would have to be nuts if they were ever Christians doing this.”
Q. – Even the Church in the Dark Ages sent poor innocent men to the stake while reciting litanies.
A. – “It made a mistake. John Paul II apologized for this. History books, on the left page, record man’s sins and, on the right page, God’s forgiveness.”
Q. – Is it exaggerated when people talk about a clash of civilizations, as between the West and Islam?
A. – “No. This is just the beginning. The Church has defeated communism, but is just starting to understand its next challenge – Islamism, which is much worse. The Holy Father has not been able to take up this challenge due to his old age. But the next pope will find himself having to face it. The answer does not lie in thinking ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’. We boast about a Christian tradition which in actual fact we don’t live out. Yet Muslims are constant in practicing their faith, having a way of proselytizing superior to our own. When they teach you to say ‘sukran’ (thank you), for them this is missionary activity, since Arab is the language of the Koran.”
Q. – And yet some of your fellow bishops in Italy have allowed chapels to be used as mosques.
A. – “It will be the Muslims who convert us, not the other way around. Wherever they settle down, sooner or later they end up becoming a leading political force. The Italians are intent on welcoming them in an easy-going manner. But soon they’ll realize that the Muslims have taken advantage of their good-natured spirit, allowing ten times more to arrive than what was originally permitted. They are much more clever than we are. They knock my schools down and you leave your church doors wide open for them. If someone is a thief, you don’t give them a room in your apartment, because sooner or later you’ll find all your furniture gone.”
Q. – Recent statistics say that only 20% of Muslims in Italy respect the Koran’s teachings, just as only 20% of Catholics go to Mass every Sunday. Hence they are Muslims, but in name only.
A. – “But their Islamic culture remains. Religion is only a part of their civilization. No one can erase their belonging to the umma, the community of Muslim believers.”
Q. – Does it make sense to export our democracy in agricultural and sheep-herding societies that make no distinction between religion and politics?
A. – “No. This is idiotic. Islamic people base their decisions only and exclusively on the umma. They don’t even know what individual rights are. It’s absurd to teach them the first amendment of the American Constitution, which says Congress can make no law to prohibit freedom of worship or to limit freedom of speech or the press. They have absolutely no comprehension of this.”
Q. – Is the shariah in full effect in Sudan?
A. – “The fundamentalist government sustains it will only apply it to Islamic citizens. No one knows what will happen to an accused Christian, since the legal right to an attorney doesn’t exist there”.
Q. – Roberto Hamza Piccardo, secretary to the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, told me the scourging that occurs in Sudan is merely symbolic, since “the flogger holds the Koran under his arm to ease up on the force of his lashings”.
A. – “I met this man. If you stand around listening to him, he’ll tell you another thousand lies just like this one.”
Q. – But even St. Benedict approved of floggings for “evil, stubborn, haughty and disobedient men.”
A. – “He didn’t become a saint for this, but despite this. These are little things associated with great men.”
Q. – Piccardo told me that some parts of the shariah enforced in Sudan, like the cutting off of hands, represent “the extremely rare cruel acts of local mafia bosses persecuting helpless people.”
A. – “It’s not true. It is the state that applies Koranic law most often. It cuts the hands and feet off of even non-Muslims and arrests them without evidence.”
Q. – Piccardo also told me that the Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan Al Turabi, “the famous jurist”, was against applying the death penalty, as the Koran would prescribe, against apostates – that is, Muslims who convert to other faiths.
A. – “Al Turabi is the cleverest person in the world. He’s extremely intelligent, he’s an attorney, and he speaks English and French better than English and French men themselves. He has a sly, forked tongue. He’s always succeeds in getting what he wants from you. I’ll give you a concrete example. It is stated in the English version of the Sudanese Constitution that Islam is the state religion and that other faiths are tolerated. However in the Arab version, there is not a trace of such a guarantee.”
Q. – Yet last November Al Turabi went to congratulate Gabriel Zubeir Wako, the archbishop of Khartoum, the first and freshly appointed cardinal. Even you have been in Sudan for 23 years and no one has ever laid a hand on you.
A. – “You should note that my hair has turned white. The greatest punishment Arabs can inflict is oppression, a sense of falsity. If they can fool you, they do it with will all their might. They are proud of their ability to trick you, to behave like liars and compliment you. Al Turabi will take Bush for a ride, wherever and whenever he wants. And he could do much worse things. I, rather than being tricked and playing the fool, prefer being slapped in the face. Muslims fill you with fear, they keep you in a permanent state of uncertainty. It’s a continuous psychological affliction, worse than torture.”
Q. – Is there slavery in Sudan?
A. – “The government authorities swear there isn’t. They went to say so at the United Nations, in Geneva. And yet my missions are full of former slaves. In 1990 I freed 150 of them personally, paying less than I would have for a full-breed dog: 50 dollars for females, 100 for males. I never did this again, since I realized that it could turn into a vicious circle, as they are then used as shepherds or sent to serve wealthy Arab families in Khartoum. And they force them to go to Koranic schools.”
Q. – Why did you become a missionary?
A. – “Perhaps because I used to watch my father, a vegetable grower, take soup to prisoners. I never thought about doing anything else. At 8 years old I was an altar boy at the Sacred Heart Church in Brescia run by Combonian missionaries. Then, when I was 9, I went to visit their seminary in Crema. At age 10 I entered their seminary”
Q. – Are you ever afraid?
A. – “I wouldn’t do what I do if I were afraid. You can’t get through life by being afraid. When I realize that one of my priests is afraid, I remove him from his mission. It is a contagious disease. The day I am afraid, I pray that God will take me with Him.”
Q. – Will you ever go back to Italy?
A. – “My home is Sudan. I have promised my faithful that I would never leave them, not even over my dead body. They already know where to bury me.”
Q. – Do you believe that Christians and Muslims will ever be able to live peacefully together?
A. – “Respect will come once we know each another. For the time being, we share only the earth on which we walk.”
Q. – Is there something that either I or my readers can do for you, father?
A. – “Pray a lot.”
Q. – Only this?
A. – “Don’t forget about us.”
Q. – I won’t forget.
A. – “Sure you will. The poor are quickly forgotten.”
Author: Sandro Magister
Date: June 10, 2004
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Muslim persecution described by an eyewitness. Two million dead in twenty years. “And this is just the beginning. The challenge of Islamism is much worse than communism. Something the next pope will have to fully face”