'An intervention by God'

Peacekeeping troops escort a humanitarian aid convoy in mid-February in Bangui, Central African Republic. (CNS / EPA / Legnan Koula)

It isn't yet known what caused a cargo plane full of people to crash just after takeoff Nov. 4 in South Sudan, and it isn't even clear exactly how many passengers were aboard a plane that wasn't supposed to be carrying any. In fact, it appears the plane wasn't supposed to be flying at all.

But this much is clear: A 14-month-old girl miraculously survived the crash.

The Antonov An-12 plane took off from the South Sudan capital, Juba, and was heading to the oil fields in Upper Nile State, but came down half a mile from the runway.

Initial reports were that the toddler may have been the only survivor; other reports said there was another — a man who may have shielded the child with his body during the crash.

The Guardian reported that Achol Deng, a South Sudanese television employee who was among the first at the crash site, said she found the girl near the wreckage, lying on the chest of an unconscious man who had also been injured in the crash. Deng said she and others took the baby to the hospital.

"It was like an intervention by God," Deng said, though the Guardian wrote that her story could not be verified.

The toddler had a broken leg and a head wound; the man had severe injuries to his head, arms and legs.

The South Sudan government said the cargo plane was not authorized to carry passengers, but there were dozens aboard — at least 36 people were killed. The plane's manufacturer, Antonov, said the plane was not airworthy and should not have been flown at all.

Awarding 35 years of refugee work

The Jesuit Refugee Service is celebrating 35 years of working with the displaced by awarding a sister for more than a quarter-century of serving refugees.

Mercy Sr. Denise Coghlan will be presented with the JRS Accompany Award on Dec. 1. Coghlan is one of the founding members of JRS Cambodia, where she has served displaced people for 25 years.

Coghlan serves asylum-seekers and refugees who seek protection in Cambodia, including the Montagnard, who are not yet registered for the United Nations' refugee status determination procedure, and stateless Rohigya and ethnic Vietnamese people.

She began working for JRS in 1988 in the refugee camps in Thailand near the Cambodian border, where every day she met people with limbs blown off by landmines, an experience that inspired her to become involved in the international campaign to outlaw landmines.

Coghlan, a native Australian, is internationally recognized for her efforts to ban landmines and cluster bombs. She played a key role in the work of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which led to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, for which the group shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1990, she moved to Cambodia to promote reconciliation and peace, working to bring together people with disabilities — many of whom were former soldiers from the Cambodian civil war's four factions who had lost arms, legs and eyes from landmines — for vocational training and to help them become teachers.

Coghlan now coordinates programs that help visitors reflect on Cambodia's challenges through an interfaith lens and the eyes of the poor.

JRS was founded in 1980 in response to the exodus of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. The Accompany Award is named for one of the three pillars of the JRS mission: "to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons."

Peacekeeper wounded in violence near Central African Republic parish

The British Catholic Herald has the harrowing story of a Comboni missionary priest in the Central African Republic who survived 10 hours of violence Nov. 6 outside the Our Lady of Fatima parish church in Bangui, which has been under United Nations peacekeeper protection since a 2014 attack on the parish and the displaced people it shelters.

Fr. Moses Otii Alir said a group of young Muslims who were looking for a stolen motorcycle got into "a violent clash with some thugs" from the area. Three of the young people were killed, setting off a wave of violence.

"On their way to the parish, they started looting and burning all the houses and shops," Alir told the Herald. "They gathered in front of the parish gate, wanting to destroy the church and butcher all of us." One of the U.N. peacekeepers was wounded. in the 10 hours of shootings and arson.

After 10 hours of shootings and intentionally set fires, Alir said he and some soldiers were able to leave the compound for a while and saw destruction beyond imagination.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Central African Republic later this month. Alir said he hopes the visit will "renew the face of this beautiful country drenched in blood."

For now, they have to stay within the safety of the church compound, as the surrounding neighborhood is still held by the assailants.

"The situation does not seem to be getting better," he said. "We do not know what could happen from one moment to the next."

137 years of constant prayer

We often feel helpless in the face of tragedy, especially tragedy on the scale of humanitarian disasters. But one thing we can always do is pray.

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin, have been praying constantly in their Perpetual Adoration Chapel for 137 years straight.

Since the La Crosse nuns began the constant prayer in front of the Eucharist in 1878, "they've prayed through a fire in an adjacent building in 1923, a flood in La Crosse in 1965, the flu and many storms," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

The sisters say they've prayed for an estimated 150,000 people in the last decade. You can make your prayer request to the sisters and lay volunteers here.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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