In a recent phone interview, Rojo, 15, said, “I got the idea for my project from Mary Crane on Darfur when I learned about the atrocities there.” Moved by what he learned, he and Crane gathered other teens this summer for a rally to support Darfur civilians.
According to Mary Tomski-Crane, director of pastoral outreach and education at St. Helen, she shared a video Rojo had found, with her son, Richard, on Darfur. He couldn’t get it out of his mind.
Crane, a junior at Pewaukee High School, explained that he was sick in bed one day last fall, and he watched the documentary film “The Devil Came on Horseback,” which gives the history of the genocide.
“Devil on Horseback” refers to the notorious group of riders, supported by the Sudanese government, who pillage villages in Darfur and kill members of one of the hundreds of minority factions of Sudanese people, which rebelled against administration of President Omar El-Bashir. That faction, which resisted the government, has tried to protect its people with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) as well as UN African Peace Keeping Forces.
|For further information or to contact Crane to arrange a speaking engagement, call him at (262) 501-0263 or contact Mary Tomski-Crane at St. Helen (414) 744-3695, ext. 118.
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At first, Crane was drawn to the film for its action, but soon was moved to team up with Rojo to help with the youth rally.
On a recent rainy evening after his varsity football practice, Crane explained to your Catholic Herald that he just couldn’t sit back any more and only talk to youth.
“I plan to speak to people at any parish Mass on a weekend to reach more people,” he said.
This summer he and Rojo spoke at six Masses of their tri-community parish. Rojo addressed the parishioners in Spanish; Crane spoke in English.
For the youth rally, they called 400 youth and encouraged teen members to bring neighborhood friends. They divided the 400 names between themselves and Namy Muro, another St. Helen student, who also worked on a Darfur project for St. Helen and received one of the $1,000 scholarships. Although the phone work was tedious, Crane said he called every name on his list, calling a second time if necessary.
During the rally, Crane said their first goal was to bring solidarity among the approximately 40 teens that came to the event.
“Despite our differences, we were able to build solidarity and celebrate those differences,” he said. Besides handing out wristbands and T-shirts to support Darfur, the teens also shared pizza, signed postcards for President Obama and viewed “The Devil Came on Horseback.”
Crane said he overheard some teens sitting near him wondering why they had never heard of the genocide. He explained the documentary was put together by Brian Steidle, a member of the United States military in the Sudan trying to oversee a ceasefire in Darfur.
“While he really couldn’t do anything in his position, he took hundreds of photos of the horror in Darfur. He thought once he brought the photos back, the United States would be there within days,” said Crane.
Despite recent claims that the genocide, which began in 2003, has ended, it continues. Crane, who has watched other videos and read books on Darfur, said one of the most heart-wrenching things he read told of how the Janjaweed raced into a Darfur village and burned down a girls’ school. When the fathers of the young girls, who had all been chained together, tried to rescue them, they were killed. Then the young girls were burned alive.
“The Janjaweed are sent by the government to plunder villages and rape women to cut off that black minority’s gene pool,” Crane said. So far, at least 400,000 people have died from the raids, malnutrition and disease, he added.
He explained that at least 2.5 million Darfur civilians, most of them African Christians, have been displaced by the genocide and have escaped just over the border to Chad, where they eke out a living in inhumane refugee camps.
Besides Rojo’s inspiration, and his family’s support, Crane said much of his dedication to his Darfur mission is because of his Pewaukee High School football coach, Clay Iverson. “He taught me you can’t be a good football player if you don’t do well in other areas of your life. Football does not mean anything if I can’t translate my training into human concerns in life,” Crane said, citing how he has learned this even applies to helping his mother set the table or assisting her around the house. “So, I made that connection with Darfur. I can’t really sit back – how can you go to a church service and sleep happy at night? (Darfur) should make you uncomfortable to the point you want to do something.”
Using football terms, Crane said, “Basically, you get the adrenaline fired up for Darfur. My goal is to have a church to speak at every weekend.”
While at first Crane admitted he and Rojo were nervous about speaking to their parish community, Crane said, “I overcame the obstacles and the worry as to what my friends might say.”
His biggest challenge, he admitted, will be when he speaks before his peers at Pewaukee High School.
“Overall, people still don’t like to hear about Darfur. It makes them uncomfortable. And although the West and peace-keeping forces have tried to stop the genocide, those efforts have not been successful,” he said.
He explained that China gets 90 percent of its oil from the Sudan, so its government doesn’t get involved. Russia is the largest supplier of arms to the Sudan, and El-Bashir has 13 other countries protesting interference by the West.
Crane believes now is the “open door” for action since President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly this week and a representative from the United States will assume the rotating presidency for that council.
His message to pastors, those in human concerns and parishioners is: “People have waited for six years in Darfur, suffering and with genocide. Can you take 30 seconds to pick up a postcard after Mass, fill it out and send it to President Obama?”
While Crane said a military presence is necessary to stop the genocide, eventually there needs to be “reconciliation and solidarity in the Sudan.”
According to Tomski-Crane, a member of this south side church since her youth, St. Helen collected a box of 300 postcards after the teen rally to send to President Obama in August. Some youth at the rally each took 10-15 more postcards or about 175 for friends and family to send on their own.
“It’s very important for young people to be involved in human concerns,” she noted.