Thursday, November 22, 2007

A note from Fr. Michael before leaving for the Holy Land, September 2007

This letter was written while Father Michael Barton was on sabbatical in Indiana during the summer of 2007:

In a few days I leave for Chicago and then London and then Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem where I shall stay for close to three months for some on-going formation in a course organized by the White Fathers. After the course in early December I shall be back in the Sudan.
The last five years have seen the rectory, the church, dispensary, the convent and 17 classrooms, and a compound for medical workers and another compound for a Dutch non-governmental organization of Charitas International repaired after 40 years of neglect. There has also been an upgrade of the dispensary to a tuberculosis hospital, all in Nyamlell. Three schools have gotten off the ground and the results of the grade eight standardized testing put Nyamlell in first place of the 13 primary Comboni schools run by the Catholic diocese of Rumbek.
From the point of view of pastoral work I had around 9,000 baptisms and 2,000 confirmations and several hundred marriages. Most of this has been in a time of war and very fragile peace.
War has had its problems but peace also has its problems. There was a signed peace agreement on Jan. 9, 2005, and the rebel movement took over the government of South Sudan. So the situation is in flux for the better for the most part but sometimes for the worst.
This year we have once again started the first year of Sacred Heart High School. We also got another priest and three religious sisters to join the pastoral team. The father is a Comboni Missionary from the Buckeye state and the sisters are from Indonesia. God has blessed us and the work is His and we thank you for all the sacrifices that you have made to help us up to now.
Later I will begin my second half of the year and still need more help than ever in continuing what was started up to now and to do more in the next five years. During this time there is need of building some permanent classrooms in Marial Baai and to build some permanent church buildings in the most important parts of the parish. This is all going to take a lot of funds and work. There I appeal for your help and prayers. Many thanks and many blessings on you.
Yours in the Heart of the Good Shepherd,
Michael D. Barton

Notes from Jerusalem -- Father Michael Barton

These e-mails were sent to Jane Lichtenberg in Indianapolis from Father Michael during his trip to Israel September-November 2007:

Sept. 17
I got to Chicago and then to London all without many problems. I arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and the White Fathers had sent on a car and driver and that is how I got to Jerusalem. The next day was the Jewish New Year and also the first day of Ramadan.They put up colored lights and special foods were being sold in just about every shop.Then there were throngs of people of Islamic belief heading to the Golden Dome for afternoon and evening prayers and Jews going to the Wailing Wall and soldiers everywhere to make sure all could be controlled. During the day lots of Christian pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa making the Way of the Cross and making their way to Calvary and the tomb all in the church of the Holy Sepulcher and it is fascinating to see so many Christian Rites and Traditions all in one church Orthodox and Catholic at the same time.
Here we are 17 doing the course all missionaries who have worked in Africa and four and Sisters and the rest are priests, all from many different nationalities. We are right at the birthplace of Mary and at an excavation of the pool where Jesus cured in John 5. So it is really neat and exiting place.

Oct. 6:
I am glad to tell you all is great with the classes and the group work and the visits to all the Holy sites in Jerusalem and this week I went twice to visit Bethlehem, once by myself and another with all the sisters, brothers and priests who are in the sessions with me all missionaries who had worked or who are working in many countries of Africa. One is from Canada and one from Egypt and another from Ethiopia and the rest from European countries. This week we had religious plurality all week as a theme.
I love visiting the Holy Sepulcher and my group said Mass on Calvary on day and then in the Tomb another. I prayed for you both times and so many more. We were in the tomb for Saint Therese of the Child Jesus day. I enjoyed walking the narrow streets of the old Jerusalem and practicing my very broken Arabic. I also enjoy going to the wailing wall and watch the Jews pray. We are very near and go any time. However we can only go to the Rock of the Dome or Temple Rock when the Muslims allow us which is for two hours on Sunday when they are not praying. I also go to Gethsemame very often.
Going to Bethlehem by myself was very different than with our group because I had to pass the check point which was full of bared wire and high walls and soldiers. As a group we were allowed to just drive through.
I think Jerusalem can help some people's faith and of course can do just the opposite to others. To me it is great and I love the Russian Orthodox churches and monasteries an the are very beautiful and unusual.

Oct. 22:
I am getting near to my half way mark to my stay in Jerusalem. Last week we talked about the theme of the Kingdom of God. We got to Qumran and two Orthodox Monasteries and one or them was the Church of the Temptations of Jesus. This week we were about to meet some hierarchy of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Churches and we even went for a float (as it is difficult to swim) in the Dead Sea which they say is the lowest part on the earth. It was fun but the water hurt my eyes and nose terribly. Today I went to two Synagogues for the Sabbath services and tonight I will go and get lock in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and tomorrow we will all go to Galilee for the entire week. One of the priests from our group was found to have cancer of the colon and so left the Sessions to go to his home in Barcelona, Spain for treatment and has already been operated on and they want to make a map of his liver to treat the spots as best they can.It was bad news to all of us.

Nov. 10:
We had a wonderful week in Galilee. We spent the nights in guest house in Nazareth but the days were out in many holy sites and archaeological digs. We left on a Sunday and came back on Friday evening. On Sunday we stopped at Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea and saw a set up built by Herod the Great that looks like the race track out of Ben Hur and then to the Biblical site of Armageddon (Megiddo) and then to Haifa and the very wonderful and beautiful Bahais' Garden there. On Monday we went to Capharaum and Koorazim and the Church which commemorates the multiplication of the loaves. On Tuesday we stayed the whole day in Nazareth and it was wonderful to spend time in the Home of Mary and other churches there of different rites and traditions. Wednesday took us to Dan and the Golan Heights and ended on the Mount of Beatitudes near Lake Galilee. Then on Thursday we climbed on foot to the top of Mount Tabor where we had the Eucharist and I met a man who I knew in the Sudan and afterwards we went to Cana where the first miracle took place. A boil slowed my walking but even the slowest and the last make it in the end. Friday was neat as we had Mass at the Primacy of Peter on the Lake of Galilee and the a boat ride on the Lake and that was followed by a visit to some Roman ruins which are very well k ept and explained at Bet Shean and finally a visit to the very creek like Jordan River and a swim in a Russian Kibbutz and the return by way of the Jordan valley.
This week we have treating the topic of Justice and Peace and Integration of Creation which I am a bit weak in.
In four weeks I will be back in Africa.

Embracing mission in warn-torn Sudan

These two articles appeared in October 2007 the Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Photo at right: Father Michael Barton and young man from St. Theresa Parish.

Comboni Father Michael Barton embraces mission work in war-torn Sudan

(Editor’s note: “Stewards Abroad” is an occasional series that reports on the missionary efforts of Catholics from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis throughout the world.)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Violence continues daily in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where United Nations officials estimate that more than 200,000 Sudanese people have been killed and at least 2.5 million displaced during four years of a bloody holy war waged by Muslim extremists.

On Oct. 11, the country’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended a 21-year civil war, was threatened when the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement withdrew cabinet members representing southern
Sudan from participation in the central government.

Comboni Father Michael Barton, who grew up in St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Parish in
Indianapolis, returned to Sudan in September following a home visit and mission trip to El Salvador last summer.

During an Aug. 7 interview at the archdiocesan Mission Office at the
Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis, Father Barton talked calmly about the continuing violence in Sudan and enthusiastically about his mission work at St. Theresa Parish and four Comboni schools in Nyamllel in southern Sudan.

Catholics in central and southern
Indiana are invited to pray for missionary priests, sisters, brothers and laity serving the Catholic Church throughout the world during the archdiocesan World Mission Sunday Mass at 2 p.m. on Oct. 21 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral,

1347 N. Meridian St., in Indianapolis. Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general and director of the Mission Office, is the principal celebrant for the Mass.

Father Barton and Father Alfred Loro Caesar, a diocesan priest and seminary rector in the Archdiocese of Juba, met with Sister Demetria Smith, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa and the archdiocesan mission educator, on Aug. 7 to discuss the Church’s tenuous situation in Sudan and ways that Catholics in central and southern Indiana can support their missionary work.

Father Barton has served in
Sudan from 1978 until 1986 and from 1993 to the present so he understands the volatile political and religious conflicts that plague the impoverished East African country.

“The Church in
Juba is serving the people in a very trying time,” Father Loro said of his home diocese. “Many people have been killed. The whole world knows about it. I think it is worse than the former [civil] war. … We have so many orphans that we have baptized.”

Father Loro said he believes the United Nations’ statistics on the number of people who have been killed, displaced or died of malnutrition and diseases in recent years are too low.

Sudan has been torn apart by civil war since 1984. During the 21-year conflict, more than 2 million people have died from the fighting and starvation.

“The Church in
Sudan has been the target of Muslim radicals,” Father Loro explained. “Because of this, the Church has been weakened. They are trying to bring down the whole Church, but I think that could not happen. I have been speaking about the needs of the Church [in Sudan] right now because we lost many things [due to the fighting]. Churches and schools in Juba were destroyed. They want the whole country to be Muslim.”

He said Catholic priests, religious and laity in Sudan educate the people in the faith, teach the children, help bury the dead, shelter and feed displaced and starving survivors, advocate for justice and work for peace.

“The Archdiocese of Juba is right in the very center of the bloody Sudanese conflict,” Father Loro said. “Our clergy, religious and laity [who are] catechists, although they are prime targets of Muslim extremists, are

nevertheless fighting against all odds to keep the flames of our Christian faith burning brightly in our country. … We continue to witness to Christ’s Gospel of peace, love and mercy, serving all our traumatized, desperate people, Muslims included. The Church remains the only voice of reason, the only hope for our people.”

Father Barton loves
Sudan, has spent much of his life there, and wants to continue to help the people grow in their faith and educate the children.

“It’s a very poor life,” he said. “Sorghum, a grain, is the main food in
Sudan. Then the people have to carry water [to their homes]. It’s always a struggle to survive. So many enemies, so many difficulties, make life very hard.”

His current assignment at St. Theresa Parish in Nyamllel was a mission started in 1933, but the buildings were damaged by fighting and weather during the civil war, and the rubble was left vacant for decades.

When Father Barton arrived in Nyamllel for the first time in 2002, he was the first resident priest to minister to the Dinka people there since 1964, when the Arab government in the north expelled all the Catholic and Protestant missionaries from

He said the previous missionary priest and brother assigned there were attacked during the night and had to flee for their lives wearing only their underwear.

“They were left with nothing, no passport, not even their pants,” he said. “They had to escape by running and left everything they had there.”

Nyamllel isn’t the first place where Father Barton has relied on God to start a new ministry with few resources.

When he began his previous mission at Mapuordit in southern
Sudan in 1984, he opened a Comboni grade school with 125 children. Eighteen years later and with God’s help, he said, 2,000 students were enrolled at two Comboni grade schools and a secondary school in Mapuordit when he went to Nyamllel in 2002.

During five years at Nyamllel, Father Barton said he has “worked a lot repairing the buildings and getting the school going. We now have three Catholic grade schools there. One school has about 370 students and the other about 350 students, up to class eight. The third school has just 50 children, only class one, two and three. [The schools] feed into
Sacred Heart High School.”

On weekends, Father Barton takes turns celebrating Mass at 80 chapels in the Diocese of Rumbek.

“My goal, and what I have been able to do these last five years that I’ve been there, is to celebrate Mass twice a year at each chapel,” Father Barton said, because another Comboni priest helps him with Masses at St. Theresa Parish.

“Now I have more freedom to go out to the chapels more often,” he said. “Last year, we had 1,859 baptisms in the diocese. This year, from Jan. 1 to when I left Nyamllel right after Easter on April 10, we already had over 1,100 baptisms.”

When he arrived in
Sudan in 1978, Father Barton said there was an average of two marriages per diocese in Sudan. Now there are more priests and more marriages.

“Every once in a while, I can get some of the parents to have their marriage blessed in church,” he said. “That thrills me. When I can bless a marriage, I always think God is patting me on the back. And not only

marriages, but some of the children will become priests. That’s all very encouraging.”

(For more information about how to help Comboni Father Michael Barton with his missionary work in
Sudan, call the archdiocesan Mission Office at 317-236-1485 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1485.) †

Mission priest inspires vocation in young man he baptized in 1979

By Mary Ann Wyand

With God, all things are possible.

Comboni Father Michael Barton, a native of
Indianapolis who has served the Catholic Church in southern Sudan as a missionary priest from 1978 to 1986 and from 1993 to the present, believes that but admits that God still surprises him.

Last summer, Father Barton met a Sudanese man that he baptized as a 6-year-old boy during a missionary visit to the
Bari village of Yaro in 1979.

Now 33, the man is a diocesan priest for the Archdiocese of Juba, but they didn’t meet in
Sudan or even in Africa.

While he was home for a family visit, Father Barton met Father Alfred Loro Caesar at St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis when the Sudanese priest was making a mission appeal during weekend Masses there in August.

It’s hard to imagine, Father Barton said, that he would meet one of the tens of thousands of Sudanese children he has baptized—during 22 years of missionary work in Africa—half a world away in his own hometown.

But then again, he said, smiling, God works in amazing ways.

“I was 6 years old when I was baptized by him in my own village,” Father Loro said during an Aug. 7 interview at the archdiocesan Mission Office at the
Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

“That is all I can remember,” Father Loro said. “Our village is not far from the parish where he served among the
Bari [people]. He even taught me a little English.”

Father Loro attended a Comboni grade school as a child and was confirmed in the Church, but had to flee from Yaro to
Juba in 1988 because of the civil war in southern Sudan.

“He suffered during the war,” Father Barton said. “It was very difficult for the boys. He had to run away to many places. He had to flee for his life several times.”

Father Loro entered the seminary in the Archdiocese of Juba and was ordained in 2005.

During his mission appeal visit to the
U.S. last summer, Father Loro preached at Masses at Catholic churches in Connecticut, Delaware and Indiana.

“We met when he was baptized in 1979,” Father Barton said. “The first time I am able to concelebrate Mass with him is … in my own hometown.”

Their unexpected reunion was amazing, Father Loro said. “I told him he inspired me very much. … I found my way to the seminary.”

Now Father Loro serves as the rector of the minor seminary in the Archdiocese of Juba, where 75 young men are studying for the priesthood this year.

In his mission talks, Father Loro shares the good news of the Church in

and recounts horrifying statistics from the 21-year civil war that ended in 2005 and the current holy war waged by Muslim extremists in the
Darfur region of Sudan.

Despite this new conflict and threats to the Jan. 9, 2005, peace accord, Father Loro and Father Barton recently returned to Sudan to serve God’s people as best they can in the wake of continuing violence there.†

Love's labor's long road, Sept. 9, 2007

This column was written about
Father Michael Barton by a
columnist for
The Indianapolis Star:

Dan Carpenter

You know a fellow is accustomed to hardship when he

laments that peace is a tougher time than war was.
In some ways, at least. After 23 years walking and biking
southern Sudan
as a priest, teacher, builder, fund-raiser,
social services director, protector and occasional prisoner,
Father Michael Barton
has learned to watch what he wishes for.

"I adapted to war," the 59-year-old member of the Roman Catholic Comboni missionary order said on a recent visit to his native Indianapolis. "Peace also has its problems. The local government has money now. We lose our teachers because they go to government jobs. Money's a problem with peace. There's more around and I have less."

A smile plays across his sun-cured face as he reflects on the astonishing accomplishments in construction and education he and his colleagues have squeezed out of meager funds over the two decades, most recently in and around Nyamllel, a town that was bush and huts and ruins when he arrived five years ago.

"I'm very happy there's peace, of course. But the longer I'm there, the more I should be able to understand, and yet sometimes it's just more confused."

Hunger amid fertility, destitution despite oil, patriarchal resistance to schooling females even as the saving power of education manifests itself more each day -- the confusing and confounding are the routine in Barton's world. As a modern missionary, oriented toward egalitarian service rather than cultural supremacy, he finds himself trying to uproot some traditions while nurturing others.

"There is the hospitality, for example. The people will share anything they have. And they're somehow very forgiving. That's why I've been able to stay there 23 years not being killed."

He was jailed twice during the 21-year war that was halted in 2005 by an agreement between the rebels of the Christian and animist south and the Islamic government in Khartoum. War continues, of course, in the tragic region of Darfur to the north. Meanwhile, the battle to build and baptize continues for Barton, who visits 80 chapels in his sprawling parish, sometimes having to portage his bike two miles at a stretch during the rainy season. A Toyota Land Cruiser was donated three years ago, but the battery came much later and came without acid; for now, the vehicle gets used when a battery can be borrowed. And you thought requisitions were nuts at your workplace.

A graduate of Little Flower School on the Eastside and a cousin of the late former Mayor John Barton, Father Mike wanted this work as far back as he can remember. While he speaks passionately of the schools and medical facilities his team has built and the thousands he has baptized, he is terse and matter-of-fact about his own motivation, as if the attractiveness of the opportunity should be obvious. When he looks at 21st-century Africa, he sees the 19th-century Indiana that confronted two French missionaries, Bishop Simon Brute and St. Theodora Guerin.

"When I started work, I could not imagine anything coming of that," he says. "Then I met this priest this summer whom I had known as a child. He said there were 12 priests from there, and some students who had gone to medical school and law school. Could Bishop Brute or Mother Guerin have imagined the Archdiocese of Indianapolis?"

Contact him through the Comboni Missionaries, 1318 Nagel Road, Cincinnati OH 45255,

Letter from Father Michael, March 2007

Well, we ended the school year with most of the pupils promoted. On Jan. 10 I gave the students of class eight their primary leaving certificates. The school at Marial Baai did worse than last year. Nyamlell got the first place out of all the 13 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rumbek. I was surprised by this and very pleased. However, also to my surprise the authorities of the diocese and the education office will not give me any teacher from outside, and are very bitter than I don't attend their meetings. Oh, well!!!
In the year 2006 we had 1,859 baptisms, 236 confirmations, 46 marriages and 3 burials.
I said 465 Masses and Father Pax said 293 Masses. Already this year of 2007 we have had over 1,000 baptisms. I was out in the chapels from Dec. 38 to Feb. 18 and from Feb. 19 to March 1. The rest of March will be out in the centers and chapels. I may also visit the Comboni mission about 120 miles away. I hope to stay here in Nyamlell until Easter just to start the school year and then start the home leave after Easter.
I am having trouble finding teachers for 2007 so pray for me and our pastoral and educational work. The OLSH sisters have a satellite phone and can receive text messages. Their house is about 75 to 100 meters away. So to phone me is not a good idea. There telephone number is 8821643334941.
I end here as I am feverish with malaria and tired from teaching six hours and doing other things to keep the teachers course up and going.
Yours in this Lenten season
Michael D. Barton.

Letter from Fr. Michael, October 2006

Letter sent to friends of Father Michael Barton:

Hello from Africa and from Northern Bar el Gazel in South Sudan and from Nyamlell in particular.
This must be the year of the snake because I have had two of them in my room and three on the veranda, and the biggest cobra that I have seen in Africa was waiting for me in our shower room as I was starting my day. Did it ever frighten me but slowly but surely I killed it and not it me. I had the help of another young man who serves as our watchman but he, like me, was a terrible thrower. After a lot of effort we smashed its ugly head and tale.
The Dinkas call a cobra "Atak" which is the same word that is used to think. It raises up and spits when it is thinking, well, that one thought five time at me but I stayed far enough away so that it could not blind me nor bite me.
I spent several nights thinking about it so you see it also got me to think.
We are now in the fifth week of the second semester. It is a very difficult year due to the teacher situation, yet all is going forward as best as possible.
I have the convent done finally and now we are putting on the screens and shower and bowls in the pit latrine. Also there is another house in that compound that I am trying to repair so as to be used as a mothers center. Two more classrooms are finished and four more are still to be done this year if God so allows and wants. We also put our boat into the water and the children are using it to ferry the Lol River to and from school and church and other activities.
I have been to some 18 chapels this last month. Then from September 1-11 I went to Nairobi to renew my American passport. I also made a spiritual retreat for six days in a Jesuit House in the suburbs of the Kenyan capital.
I want to thank you for your prayers and let you know that you are in mine.
Yours in the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
Michael D. Barton

Letter from Fr. Michael, January 2006

I have been really busy in December and into January. In early November I had to make the exam schedule and give them to our two Catholic schools. On Dec. 9-18 I was on my bicycle visiting nine faraway chapels and ended up at the government control town of Aweil (sp?) in which there is a beautiful Catholic Church and another Sudanese priest. Then I came back to Nyamlell for the last week of teaching and first examinations ...
Then came the cleaning of the church and washing of the walls and floors. We put up lights too for the first time ever. I hooked everything up to see if it all works and then after dark - nothing. I did get the lights to work but not the microphone so no one could hear my homily for the midnight Mass. After the Mass I put my subject marks on the certificates of my pupils and went to Adhal for a video showing and Mass on the 26th, where we had another huge crowd with teachers gathering to prepare the children's certificates. I went after Mass to buy two bulls for the day.
I went on the 27th to another center for another Christmas Mass and 67 infant baptisms. On the 28th I went to two smaller chapels and had more baptisms. I then went back to register all the certificates done by grade eight boys.
On the 29th I was to go to two small chapels but the car stalled in a river and I had to walk to get help, then walked to one place and had late Mass. On the 30th I went two two chapels and on the 31st of December to still another chapel, now all on foot because I could no longer trust the car. After Mass I walked four hours back to where the car was under the hot Sudanese sun, and had a malaria attack. I put on a jacket and sweater until 11 pm when I went to midnight Mass to welcome in the New Year.
The next morning we had testing of 106 catechumens but only 8 passed and were baptized and confirmed in Marial Baai.
When the school certificates were given out, of the 13th Catholic schools in Rumbek Diocese, Marial Baai ranked 13th. Out of the 16 of Marial Baai class eight, only five would be allowed to attend our new high school.
There is hope for a better tomorrow. We got the car going and pumped it a few times manually and got home to Nyamlell.

Lots of blessings. In 2005 we had 1,300 baptisms, 202 confirmations and 43 marriages -- all done by me. Who else?

Letter from Fr. Michael, February 2005

This letter was sent to Jane Lichtenberg:

Father Link has this for a thought for Wednesday of Week Two of Lent:
"A world statesman was an honored guest at the coronation of King Edward III in 1901 in U.K. When he returned home he was asked what sight impressed him most. He surprised his questioner, answering, "I was returning to my hotel one night when I saw a boy huddled in a doorway with his tiny sister. It was cold and the boy had taken off his coat and wrapped it around her to keep her warm. This sight was more impressive than even the coronation itself."

All building and repairing has stopped due to lack of supplies. Nothing has come and no news when it will. Nevertheless I am sitting OK as I have enough repaired classrooms for the start of the school year in April, and I'll repair the remaining four when material comes.
I have finished by two workshops, one for catechists and another for teachers, and both went quite well. Now I am visiting chapels to get ready for the Parish Revival from March 1 to the 15. I made an appeal to Bishop Mazzolani and he found Father Colombo to come and preach it to celebrate the Year of the Eucharist.
We need to encourage Christian marriages and family and a greater love and devotion to the Eucharist. Pray for us and wish us well. After the 15th I'll be out for Holy Week and all the way up to the 2nd of April to start the school year.
Due to the little rainfall of 2004 I think there will be a lot of hunger in this year in all this area.
World Food Programme and the church and NGOs, I am sure, shall raise the alarm and do something. We shall see a lot of little boys giving some of their little food to their sisters.
Happy Easter to you,

Exceprt of letter from Fr. Michael, January 2004

In the end of November I went out for a nine-day safari and got a young seminarian to take my place in the school for the five days of teaching that I was out. It was a long trip of hours of pedaling daily followed by more hours of pastoral and sacramental work. The rest of December was to finish the school year and prepare for Christmas. The Nativity Celebration was packed with people from all the outside chapels. There was no gift giving other than that of the Christ child.
The bishop came on Dec. 26 and found me out in Adhal Center, where another huge crowd had gathered. He want to another center for the 27th and I to another. On the 28th we went to confirmations in Nyamlell. It was good to have some company for the holidays and to share some wine together. The bishop left on the 30th.
On Jan. 5, we be began the workshop for the catechists of the parish. I divided them into eight centers with eight head catechists and one head of the head. The rest were divided into part-time catechists and the rest were put into a category of prayer leaders. Any change causes lots of commotion in a place that hardly ever changes.

Excerpt of letter by Fr. Michael, March 2003

This letter was sent to Jane Lichtenberg:

A few days ago I was looking around a normal village as I sat under a thorn tree hearing confessions. All of the houses are made of mud walls and grass for the thatched rooms; many in poor condition. It is the dry season, nothing green is growing except for an exceptional mango tree. Around the chapel is sand mixed with cow, sheep and goat dung.
The young people coming to confessions are all dressed but what I see except for the clothes and a passing bicycle, is very little development. Poverty, disease and underdevelopment are evident everywhere. It can be very discouraging. After confessions, Holy Mass and infant Baptisms, we invited the youth to remain in the chapel for the Lenten devotion and the Way of the Cross.
The Way of the Cross is very powerful for anyone but my guess is especially to the poor. Suffering can produce great things.
That evening we rode our bikes to the next chapel and got there after two punctures. We had the rosary, litany and evening prayer there. Then I came across the story in Father Link's Mission 2000, which affected me powerfully.
"This note was found on a dead child's body in Ravensbruck concentration camp.
'O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. Do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering -- our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all of this. And when they come to judgment let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.'"
The dead child and her note is a paradigm for Jesus' dead body and the cross and yet we find a message of forgiveness for one and all.
Now maybe the African Sudanese acute lack of development has the same hidden, powerful message. I think it can bring salvation too.
Happy Easter!

Excerpt from letter by Fr. Michael, May, 2003

I was out most of Lent and every weekend of the Eastertide. We started the new school year on April 15. On April 14 I had a daylong course for the catechists to plan the teaching of the catechism over a nine-month period. We had prayers and at the end of the day payment for three months. Then a new school year and still a very dry time of year with the whole river bed dry.
The schools are smaller than last year but we now have class six and a very small library for the teachers and classes five and six.
I had Palm Sunday in an important center, which has many palm trees in and around it. So people were pulling branches down from the trees as the Gospel says. We had a huge crows and palms everywhere. What more was needed? But some of Mark's passion and the naked boy running away, and we had plenty of them too. I read how Mark wrote that so that the Christians in Rome would forgive the apostates during the persecutions. Forgive everyone even me who ran away when the Lord needed me. He did.
I was in the parish for the Triduum but went to a chapel for Holy Saturday morning, which is forbidden but time cannot be wasted. I went out again on Easter Monday and did not break any laws.
School is full time and I enjoy ti very much. We are beginning small. Will we stay small forever? Maybe, maybe not. We have library twice a week. No Dewey system. I gave out a book and no quesitons or arguments. They can keep it for up to seven days. They then have to bring it back. I have 34 books sent by Jane Lichtenberg who works at the Indianapolis Star.
On Good Friday I was deeply impressed in John's Gospel about Jesus' burial and the hundred pounds of aromatic spices used to anoint the body of the dead Jesus. I read that it was showing Jesus as an Old Testament bridegroom preparing for his bride. He really turned a hopeless situation into a glorious triumph.
Happy summer!
Yours in the Risen Lord,

Excerpt of letter from Father Michael, 11/03

This is part of a letter was sent to Jane Lichtenberg, Indianapolis:

Nov. 25, 2003

Dear Jane,
It is the end of the rainy season and the start of the dry. I am very happy about it. I am so tired of walking through water and ponds, rivers and puddles everywhere.
I am seriously considering trying to get a little boat with an outboard motor for the next 2004 wet season.
On my last two pastoral visits I only had to carry my bicycle thrice instead of the miles of punishing the bike through water and mud.
The big event for us here was the canonization and feast day of St. Daniel Comboni. We started everything on Sept. 30 when I gave money to two catechists and a teacher and they went to buy two cows to be slaughtered on Comboni Day. The next day each class had to begin to prepare a skit or game or song or poem.
Then we started a novena in honor of the new saint. Oct. 4 was the celebration of vigil and it was for the catechists in Cielkou Center, Marial Baai Center and Makueci (sp?) Center. Then on the day of canonization Oct. 5, everyone went to Marial Baai, where we have a Comboni school. We had a huge crowd of thousands of people of all ages. There were plenty of confessions, a very solemn mass and a poster show on Comboni, 30 baptisms and some entertainment prepared for the pupils and a great meal.
I then went back to Nyamlell for the week of teaching.
Oct. 10 was the second Friday of October. It was Comboni's first feast day as a saint. Comboni died this day in Khartoum in 1881 and so it has been Comboni Day for ages for us here in Sudan.
Several weeks after, I heard a teacher refer to this as the "Day of the Million." Well, let me tell you of the day of the million -- Oct. 10, 2003, in Nyamlell. The bishop of the diocese of Rumbek had given us a portrait banner of our founder. The day was planned for the school and for Nyamlell Center, Adhal Center and Marol Center. Each center has up to 10 village chapels. Well, lots of us came and we hung that banner in our unrepaired parish church. Mass was packed to the rafters and outside everywhere in all the trees. I ran out of hosts. Once again, people of all ages. Here one finds very few old people in church, as most everyone in worship is young. Just the opposite from the European and American scene.
I gave all the catechists and teachers a Comboni T-shirt to commemorate the day of canonization. In the evening we had rosary and prize giving and the video "Titanic."
It has already been a month and lots of other stuff has happened. I am happy to have the rectory almost all done with only one more room to be repaired and the steps in and out. This Sunday is Christ the King and we are going to have a communal celebration of the anointing of the sick. Then we shall have a nice day safari. On Dec. 14 a communal penance service in Advent during the Sunday liturgy and the final exams and the ending of the school year, and then Christmas and a catechist course.
On Jan. 3, 2004, two boys are going to leave for the seminary and two girls for the pre-convent school and three for a year of catechist training and five for teachers training, all in Kenya. For me it will be lots of pastoral safaris.
Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year 2004. Yours in Sacred Heart,

Meet the Missionary Family of St. Daniel Comboni

We, the Comboni Missionary family of North America, seek to follow in the footsteps of our founder, St. Daniel Comboni, by ministering to those he loved as the world's "poorest and most abandoned people." We do this by:
- Proclaiming the Gospel with all of its values, including justice and love for humankind.
- Living these Gospel values fully in our own lives on a daily basis and inviting others to join us in doing so.
- Encouraging others to work with us in the liberation of the human person among neglected minority groups and refugees.
- Working with local churches and people to open their hearts and minds to the universal mission of the Church.

Comboni Missionaries priests and brothers:
- We make common cause with the poorest and most abandoned people on earth.
-We announce the Good News everywhere in the world, especially to those who have never heard it.
-We empower people to discover the power within to change their lives.

Comboni Missionaries sisters:
-Women of the Gospel -- called and consecrated to announce Christ's compassion.
- Our global mission is to the impoverished, refugees, marginalized, discriminated against, especially the most vulnerable: women and children.
Comboni Missionaries lay men and women:
- A Catholic community of men and women living our faith by walking with the poor of other lands, helping to build a more just and compassionate world.
-We respond to the needs of the people among whom we live, always keeping in mind the call of Jesus to go forth and share the Good News.

Comboni Missionaries:
Web site:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Priest on a mission to help war-weary people of Sudan

This was published in the Indianapolis Star 9/20/02


Imagine getting up on Sunday morning to go to church, but finding no member of the clergy to hold services.

Imagine going to school in a thatched-roof, dirt-floor structure, with no electricity, no computers, few teachers. No mailbox down the street, no modern bathrooms, no car to take you to the store or work.

Imagine holding a sick child in your arms, but having no doctor to offer relief from his pain.

This is the everyday reality for Father Michael Barton, a Comboni missionary who has spent 18 years in southern Sudan befriending and teaching people who have less than even the poorest Americans.

Sudan has been torn apart by civil war, which began in 1985 when the Khartoum government tried to impose Islamic law on the south. Arab-Muslim government forces from the north battle the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the south, where the tribal people are Christian or animist. The SPLA is fighting for a secular state and equal opportunity for all, the Catholic priest explains.

Though the United States has been trying to broker a peace settlement in a conflict that has left more than 2 million dead and 4.5 million refugees, negotiations are difficult and great suspicion exists on both sides, special envoy and former senator John Danforth reports. Large oil reserves in the south complicate the situation.

Barton, 54, who grew up on the Indianapolis Eastside and still has family here, returned home five months ago for a sabbatical; he'll head back to Sudan next Friday.

He says all Christian missionaries were expelled from southern Sudan in 1964 and did not return until the late 1970s. After studying for the priesthood in Italy, in 1978 he was assigned to the Archdiocese of Juba, the largest southern city, where he did pastoral work among four Bari-speaking tribes spread over 150 villages. When the civil war began in 1985, rebels tore apart his mission.

For the past nine years, he and a pastoral team of missionary sisters have worked with members of the Dinka tribe in Rumbek, where they started a school for 150 students in the first and second grades. When Father Mike left last spring, he turned the school over to local Sudanese. By that time it had grown to more than 2,000, including eight primary grades and a four-year secondary school. Many of the teachers were trained by Barton and the nuns.

There are no government-run schools in the south, so education is provided mainly through religious schools, he says. About 60 Catholic missionaries work in the area.

The literacy rate in Sudan is only about 10 percent, "but people are understanding now that education is important," Barton says. In the early grades, lessons are taught in the Dinka language, which he speaks fluently, but English is used after the first couple of years.

"When I arrived in '93, everyone was naked. Now most of them wear clothes," he says. "It's very common to see people wearing a Cincinnati Reds or an IU shirt." It's clothing that was collected by charitable organizations in the U.S., then sent to missions abroad.

Barton's new assignment, in the town of Nyamllel and surrounding area in southwest Sudan, is the parish of St. Theresa, which has 67 chapels led by about 100 catechists. He says there hasn't been a priest in residence since 1964. During a brief visit there in March, he baptized a thousand people. He says Nyamllel is in an insecure area where government-supplied raiders kidnap, rape and steal livestock.

When he takes up residence in the ruins of the rectory, one of his first priorities will be to improve the school, which he says now runs on "just two toes or less."

He'll get water from nearby bore holes and visit parishioners on foot or bicycle. In fact, this summer he has been a familiar sight riding his bicycle all over Indianapolis and to Cincinnati, Notre Dame and southern Indiana.

What inspired him to become a missionary?

"Seeing the lives led by other priests; a desire that other peoples hear the Christian message, and certainly the adventure of it," he says. "There's the loneliness, the hunger of it. Sometimes there isn't even salt. Tea and sugar are rare.

"But once I was there, I saw the need. We started with nothing. We give the parishioners the means; then it's in their hands," he explains.

In an interview on National Public Radio this week, first lady Laura Bush recalled the horror of Sept. 11 and noted that Americans have much to be thankful for. It's easy to forget we have been blessed with riches beyond imagining by most Sudanese, who live daily with privation and the threat of violence.

The work of Comboni missionaries, who number more than 3,000 religious and lay persons throughout the world, is supported by contributions. To help with Father Barton's ministry, donations can be sent to Camboni Missionaries, 1312 Nagel Rd., Cincinnati, Ohio 45255. Attention: Nyamllel.