Soldier of the Lord
By Jacob Baynham
The Sudanese government arrested Fr. Bashir Abdelsamad three times before he found his way to Xavier. In the early 1990s, during the height of a civil war, Abdelsamad was a parish priest in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan. He was distributing food and blankets to his fellow countrymen who had been displaced by the violence in Southern Sudan. He was also an increasingly vocal critic of the government’s human rights abuses.
The government accused him of helping the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, an opposition rebel group. Each time Abdelsamad was arrested, he was interrogated about his activities. The third time, when he was threatened with his life, he knew he had to flee the country.
Fortunately for Abdelsamad, his bishop knew of a Jesuit university in America that might be able to help. The bishop wrote a letter to Xavier’s President James Hoff, S.J., who offered Abdelsamad a scholarship to study at the University. He arrived in 1994 and started earning his master’s degree in theology.
Abdelsamad graduated in 1996 and moved to Nashville, where he is now a leader in the Sudanese Catholic community and a full-time chaplain at St. Thomas Hospital. Throughout these years of exile, Abdelsamad has kept track of the developments in his home country. He became a U.S. citizen five years ago and returned to Sudan for the first time in 2010.
Worried for his safety, his family advised him not to walk alone in public. But Abdelsamad was unafraid. “I told them that when I come, if they kill me, my death will be worth it,” he says. “When someone loves his country and dies, the people learn a lot from that death.”
While in Sudan, Abdelsamad spoke with a bishop who told him that the Sudanese church needs priests with legal knowledge. He asked if Abdelsamad would consider studying the law. So in September, Abdelsamad is enrolling in law school at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. When he’s finished, Abdelsamad isn’t sure if he’ll be able to return to Sudan. But he’s willing to go wherever the church needs him. “We are like soldiers,” he says. “They call you to go, and then we go.”