Faith in a War Zone
29 November, 2012
Faith brings joy to one’s life; faith often provides solace in times of sorrow. Faith can deepen one’s resilience to change and disaster. In this book you will discover how faith is sometimes all that people have in their possession in a warzone. I remember meeting Father Dr. Robert Obol on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, as a new priest student from the Archdiocese of Gulu, Uganda. I remember his wit, charm, and intelligence; I recall his powerful and spiritual presence. I had the opportunity to work and learn from Obol as he pursued his Masters in Education at Walsh University (2004-2006) while serving as a priest in residence at St. Mary’s Parish in Canton. Earlier this year, Obol excitedly sent me a link to his new book, The Life and Lessons from a War Zone, which I immediately obtained.
As I read the book, I found myself in awe of Obol and all his fellow priests, religious, and lay leaders from his home Archdiocese and parishes in Gulu. The stories he tells are about the work of the Church in a war torn area; he focuses especially on the work of Catholic parish ministers and Caritas staff (in the US, we are called Catholic Charities), always willing to help and heal, even in the midst of struggle and pain. He writes in the Introduction that several factors led to this book:
I want to communicate to readers who have not had an actual experience of war in their lives the feeling and nature of what daily life is like in politically unstable and volatile areas. I also intend to point out the misperception that many people have about an ongoing war...The goal of this book is to demonstrate how people learn to survive and adapt to this new reality (p. ix).
Obol provides a very rich, detailed and engaged description and analysis of his work as a parish priest in a country and region beset with war and violence. Obol discusses his work with various Caritas social workers as they engage young people who oftentimes found themselves in non-voluntary military or paramilitary service. He discusses and analyzes his own reactions -- fears, doubts, sadness, joy -- in his work as a parish minister during some incredibly difficult times. One night in January 2003, rebels attacked and ransacked his community and parish center. Obol faithfully chronicles that horrible day of death and destruction through a first person account, acknowledging his own thought processes, fears, actions and hopes. He tells stories of great courage and simple acts of love and compassion that occurred on all sides. He tells of Caritas social workers who kept their ministry going despite such difficulties.
Obol reflects on how important the structures and institutions of the Catholic Church remain in the midst of crisis and reconstruction. He acknowledges the power and faith of the Church and how its ministers bear witness to hope, love, compassion, service and forgiveness. He writes, in reflecting on that awful day in January 2003, that as a priest, he “firmly believed that I could still continue to be their voice and would have the capacity to use my influence and status to talk to nongovernmental organizations that needed someone credible on the ground to communicate with in order to channel aid to the people. Further, the Church was the only visible and viable structure on the ground. There were hardly any functioning institutions remaining” (p. 92).
If you are looking for something to read during this Year of Faith, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI, then this book is for you. Obol provides a critical first hand account of being a witness of the faith in situations of war and civil strife. Stories of pastoral ministers, Caritas social workers, lay Church leaders and others provide a glimpse into the power of the Church -- and the faith of its adherents -- in being an institution that provides hope and help. Obol’s own soul searching, reflections and analysis provide the reader with a powerful insight into the human condition: frailty and fear overcome by hope and joy.
Obol’s memoir provides us with important stories of resiliency and courage during strife and after the violence ends. As a diocesan director of Catholic Charities (Caritas) and the diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services serving in the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, I will encourage our staff to read this important book to understand how Church/Caritas leaders around the world face adversity with such faith, hope and love. This work is also a great resource for donors of Catholic charitable causes; Obol demonstrates that the Church remains a critical nongovernmental organization providing a safe harbor during war, and an important investment in securing reconstruction after conflict and destruction with the hope of bringing peace and reconciliation to life.
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