Bishop's Blog

It's Been Quite a Year!

May 1, 2001, at Talisman Energy Inc.’s annual meeting, Jim Buckee revealed that Talisman’s profit for the quarter ended March 31 increased to $346 million from $206 million a year earlier. Its cash flow is set to hit $3 billion this year. It’s well on the way to producing a staggering 500,000 barrels of oil a day. Wow!

Talisman also produced a glitzy, albeit a self-serving, Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2000, proclaim-ing their tremendous record on human rights, community participation, em-ployee rights, ethical business conduct, etc. Very impressively packaged stuff!

Interestingly, I received an e-mail on April 21, 2001, from Bishop Macram Max Gassis, of the Diocese of El Obeid in Central Sudan who was attempting to respond to the Sudan Government’s denials of bombing.

Bishop Gassis writes: “I wish to make this perfectly clear. I am a diocesan bishop making visits to my rural parishes in the context of my pastoral work. This regime has regularly attempted to block my access to Catholics in these marginalized areas, and when it fails to prevent that, it seeks to disrupt and harass our religious celebrations through the constant threat of aerial bombardment.”

Last year aerial bombardment marred Christmas celebrations once more. Now, this irreligious regime treats us to an aerial attack on Easter Sunday, only to be followed by the murderous assault on our airstrip the following day.

Given their actions against Christians in Karthoum this Easter, as well as the whole brutal record of this dictatorship when it comes to trampling the God-given dignity of its citizens expressed in their human rights, it’s no surprise to anyone that such things happen, still less that they lie about it.

In February 2000, when the regime’s bombers attacked my primary school in the Nuba Mountains, killing nineteen first graders and their teacher, government spokesmen quickly denied those “baseless allegations” too.

Of course, none of this sort of thing was important enough to be included in Talisman’s Report.

As I read his message, the words from Exodus came to mind: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slaves drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.”

Comparing this message from Bishop Gassis with Talisman’s Report prompted me to write my own Corporate Responsibility Report based on the various bits and pieces of information concerning the Sudan that have crossed my desk in the past year. My report doesn’t have any beautiful pictures, graphs, or charts and lacks a bit in terms of layout but it simply presents the facts.

August 28th, 2000, the Sudan Catholic Bishops Regional Conference expressed their deep and unanimous concern about the continued bombardment of civilian targets by the Government of Sudan. They demand that all nations and multinational corporations terminate immediately their involvement in production of oil in Sudan. Particularly, because the revenues generate the continuation of the war that will inevitably annihilate the people of the South, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile.

September 15, 2000, the Sudan Catholic Bishops issued another message. They express their horror at the deteriorating condition of life of the people and the state of affairs prevailing in their land. Recent events have increased tremendously the already high number of internally displaced Sudanese, i.e. 2.3 million. They go on to list incidents of oppression and human rights abuses.

In their considered opinion the pro-duction and sale of oil is fuelling rather than expediting the termination of the war. Khar-toum has lost interest in pursuing a peaceful solution to the war and is not interested in a military settlement aided by new allies who covet oil wealth. Furthermore, some foreign countries are assisting the Government of Sudan to drive people from their ancestral land to facilitate the exploitation of the oil wells. Christ was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and they hasten to add, and our people are being sacrificed in exchange for barrels of oil. The benefits from oil production are not shared for the development of the South and other marginalized areas.

November 8, 2000, the New Sudan Council of Churches expressed its concern about the escalation of the conflict in Sudan as a result of oil exploration and exploitation; “the ethnic cleansing” of populations close to the oilfields; the increase in armaments and consequent shift in the balance of power as a result of oil revenue; and the negative effect that all of this is having on both development and the search for peace. They recommend that the exploration and exploitation of oil must cease until there is a comprehensive peace settlement.

April 10, 2001, a Canadian Ecumenical Mission to Sudan calls for a moratorium on oil development in war ravaged Sudan, including that of Calgary-based Talisman Energy. The five senior Canadian churchman are outraged that Talisman is paying huge royalties to the “unaccountable northern military dictatorship” of General Omar al Bashir. Current human rights abuses include the forced displacement of peoples, abduction, enslavement and terrorism, particularly against women and children, and the denial of religious liberty.

At the beginning of holyweek, they call for a total moratorium on oil development and the churches to urgent prayer for the healing of this bleeding wound in the body of humanity. They plead with fellow Canadians to engage this painful reality and open many doors to hope and peace for the people of the Sudan.

I should preach a sermon now on “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” but perhaps I’ll entitle my report: “The love of money is the root of all evils” [1 Tim. 6:10]. At least that way, you’ll be able to distinguish my report from Talisman’s. It’s been quite a year!

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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