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Notre Dame Students Play for Peace in Sudan

By Kim Pozniak

On college campuses around the country, early December is a time when most students are preoccupied with exams and the impending holiday season. But on a snowy Saturday just before finals, only weeks before Christmas, students at the University of Notre Dame spent their day not studying or holiday shopping, but rallying for peace in Sudan.

Notre Dame students participate in a peace rally

Students at the University of Notre Dame participate in a peace rally for Sudan. Photo Courtesy of Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

On December 4, more than six hundred students, faculty and staff from the South Bend tri-campus community—Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross—converged in Notre Dame's Joyce Athletic Center to raise their collective voices for peace 6,000 miles away.

The event, a Stand With Sudan rally combined with a Playing for Peace 3-on-3 basketball tournament, was sponsored by the nationally ranked men's basketball and lacrosse teams. Along with student government and a host of departments on campus, including the Center for Social Concerns, Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, Campus Ministry, Play Like A Champion Ministry and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, they sought to raise awareness of the potential for a renewed conflict in Sudan where a January referendum will decide whether Sudan's South will stay unified with the North or secede and form Africa's newest country.

The fear is that a return to fighting could be devastating. Decades of civil war ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by representatives of the government in Khartoum and southern leaders. The latest round of that violence killed more than 2 million people.

A Grassroots Effort for Peace

In October a delegation of Sudanese bishops visited campus with their appeal to the Catholic and international communities to support a peaceful referendum in their home country. Students also heard the story of one of their own, Emmanuel Gore, a Notre Dame graduate student from Sudan whose family and country, he told them, was "torn apart by civil war and famine."

"When we heard Emmanuel's story, we realized the impact the event could have, despite it being on a Saturday just before finals," recounts Jake Brems, a junior at Notre Dame who's majoring in science-business and is a defenseman on the lacrosse team. "Our team became very enthusiastic."

"We care because Sudan is not just a hypothetical moral concern for Notre Dame," adds Patrick McCormick, chairman of the Social Concerns Committee of Student Government and a Catholic Relief Services Sudan Ambassador. "Members of our Notre Dame family are from Sudan. Our Notre Dame family, too, is at risk in this referendum."

McCormick explains that the idea behind Playing for Peace was to "harness the power of the Notre Dame community, and particularly the Notre Dame athletic brand, for social change. It was rooted in the belief that each of us is capable of fighting for justice and peace through our own gifts."

After the Sudanese bishops' visit to campus, and a presentation by CRS president Ken Hackett on the situation in Sudan, staff and faculty knew they couldn't turn a blind eye to the situation and wanted to further engage the college community on a social justice project.

"When the Kroc Institute hosted the Sudanese bishops delegation, we saw a need for follow-up" says Kevin Dugan, director of men's Lacrosse Operations who played a key part in organizing the event. "The timing of their visit was great, because [head men's lacrosse] Coach Kevin Corrigan was looking for a way get our team more engaged with the student body and this seemed like a perfect fit, a way to intersect Notre Dame's commitment to justice with its passion for athletics."

The Stand With Sudan Rally featured remarks from university leaders like head men's basketball coach Mike Brey, Coach Corrigan, director of Catholic peacebuilding studies Gerard Powers, and Notre Dame president emeritus Reverend Ted Hesburgh. The Playing for Peace tournament was completely filled with more than 100 3-on-3 basketball teams registering.

Dugan attributes the success of the event to the grassroots effort of the students and the collaboration of university departments that don't usually work together: "It was a call to everyone's conscience that was done in a unique and engaging way," Dugan says. "When would you ever see representatives of the Kroc Institute in the men's lacrosse and basketball locker rooms educating teams on peacebuilding?"

Dugan added that the students realized that peace and justice a world away in Sudan were relevant to them because it "could impact things like national security and the world economy."

Students signing petitions that were later sent to President Obama

The peace rally at Notre Dame included the signing of a petition to President Obama, urging the U.S. administration to continue to support peace keeping efforts in Sudan. Photo Courtesy of Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

"At Notre Dame there is a sense of moral obligation to turn out students who feel like they have a responsibility to work for a more just and prosperous world," Dugan says. "With this event, we saw that take place—from the offices of the Center for Social Concerns to the basketball courts. And that is what is so unique and special about Notre Dame."

Campus-Wide Call for Peace

The students' engagement in the call for peace has extended beyond the rally and the basketball tournament. After the Sudanese bishops' delegation visit, the student senate unanimously passed a resolution pledging support for the people of Sudan. The senate also sponsored an online petition and collected more than 1,000 signatures that were later sent to President Obama, asking his administration to continue to support peace keeping efforts in Sudan.

The culmination of Notre Dame's work for peace in Sudan came in mid-December, when a delegation led by Dugan visited Washington, D.C., advocating for full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with key leaders at the White House and the State Department, and on Capitol Hill with visits to the offices of Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Congressman Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana). The group then stopped at CRS headquarters in Baltimore, meeting with CRS executives and hearing a briefing on the current situation on the ground.

"I think it was a great exercise—from the bishops coming to Notre Dame to the Playing for Peace event, to the D.C. visits. It was a compelling expression of the modern Church in action and the students really captured the spirit of the Church fully alive," Dugan says. "It was a great example of young people working together and standing in solidarity with the global Church and the Church in Sudan."

Brems, who was part of the delegation to Washington and CRS headquarters, explained the "spirit of Notre Dame" as "students really caring for other people and being open to global issues, not just their own problems."

"Many young people see the Church as a place they go to on Sunday," Dugan adds. "For them, to see their Church in action and as a force for justice in the world really opened their eyes." He now wants to turn his school's engagement into a template that can spread to other colleges and even high schools, replicated and applied to other social justice issues in the world.

"We believe—and hope—that we can continue to use this model to educate and raise awareness of peace in Sudan and other social justice issues," Dugan says.

Kim Pozniak is CRS' communications officer for sub-Saharan Africa. She is based at the agency's headquarters in Baltimore.

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