The war in Darfur was the focus of vigils around the country on August 1, launching the joint Christian World Service-Caritas appeal for the Sudanese region.Timed to coincide with the opening of the Olympics in a week – China has a powerful role in Sudan – the vigils were times of prayer, reflection and education. As well as prayers for the people and a political solution, were prayers for the Darfur Emergency Response Operation, headed by Aucklander Wayne Mitchell. From the vigils came a call to create a New Zealand action group to add kiwi voices to ending the war.
The Auckland vigil attracted about 20 people, including two Sudanese men with powerful personal stories of the effects of the war. They were pleased to hear about prayers and support around country and want to play a role in plans to raise more awareness of Darfur.
In Wellington, the opening prayer for the 50 who attended was “we are praying, Lord: Spur our imagination, sharpen our political will.” The inter-faith vigil included Sr Rehanna ‘Ali (Muslim), Joycelyn Foo (Buddhist), Paddy Payne (Baha’i), Rabbi Johanna Hersheson (Jewish), Sr Catherine Jones (Catholic). From Wellington came a call for an “Action for Darfur” group, a coalition of faith-based and other development organisations to promote more awareness of the tragedy. The group would lobby the Government for more international diplomatic action, ask African Commonwealth members to do more, lobby MPs, get questions asked in Parliament, and ask the Government for aid grants for agencies in Darfur.
Blown-up photos of the Chad refugee camps caught the eye in Christchurch’s Anglican cathedral for the vigil there. The displays will stay up until August 17. Plans are being made to move the photos to other centres.
Furthest south, Anne Thomson of First Church said the nearly 30 people, including reporters, who attended the Dunedin vigil could check out information areas, spend time in a prayer tent, and pray for particular Darfur towns. They also watched the short ACT-Caritas videos Darfur by Darfurians and On Our Watch. In another area, visitors could write letters to Prime Minister Helen Clark appealing for action.
“I knew a bit about the situation but I know a lot more now,” Anne said after the vigil. “There was reference on the radio news this morning about the complete lack of response to the UN and that the UN needed helicopters, which no-one has. We’ve learnt about life in the camps as well. I do feel like getting head around what’s caused all this. The vigil was very good.”