Beggar for Christ has heart of a lion

First slide

A crowd gathered at the Mount Vernon Knights of Columbus council hall in Alexandria last month to hear Bishop Emeritus Macram Max Gassis, exiled bishop of the El Obeid Diocese in Sudan. He painted a landscape that pained him to tell; his homeland is a nightmare. Bombings, genocide, slavery, rape, civil war and Christian persecution are ongoing horrors.

In 2000, the Diocese of El Obeid, which includes nearly the entire eastern half of the country, received its first saint, St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave. Yet the violence persists. As a fellow Knight of Columbus, Bishop Gassis came to share these gruesome stories in the hopes of raising awareness about the ongoing suffering in his diocese.

"I don't like to brag about what I do. But I tell you in my lifetime, and I'm still living, thank God, I've built three hospitals," he said. One was bombed and rebuilt, but all three hospitals run solely on the donations that Bishop Gassis collects. "We are a giving and a receiving church."

Although he continues to share his message, it does not come without a price. "He pretty much has a death warrant," said Grand Knight, John Dailey.

Yet, Bishop Gassis continues to speak out and has for the past 26 years. His first time was in 1990 at the U.S. Congress when he testified about the crimes the Sudanese government committed against its people. During this time he traveled to Europe and then to Georgetown University Hospital to receive treatment for bile duct cancer.

"Divine providence - I depend so much on divine providence," he said. It would be divine providence when shortly after his surgery he was warned not to return to Sudan because he would be murdered. Today, he believes it is his calling to live in exile from his diocese so that he may still continue to support them.

"I have not forgotten my church," he said to the crowd and then alluded to how he has tried to sneak back into Sudan.

Since learning of the threat to his life, Bishop Gassis has appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Commission four times. He was awarded 12th annual William Wilberforce Award; received the Catholic University's President's Medal; and he was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize in 2012, yet these accolades cannot mend the separation from his flock.

He calls himself a beggar for Christ.

In closing he led a prayer and asked, "Pray for me, so that I may be like a lion."

"A journalist one day asked me, 'how do you manage to laugh and give a smile while your people are under constant bombardment?' And I said to him, 'My friend, if you look at the canine of the lion exposed don't think that the lion is smiling … this external joy is a mask.' I don't want to go around crying … I must be positive and courageous to pick up that cross, it is my cross. Jesus gave it to me and I keep it … the only thing I ask of people, like this beautiful group (here) is to (help me) lift it up. That's why the lion. Strength and courage."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016