TIME Religion

The Pope’s Silversmith is Creating an All-American Chalice

Pope Francis stands next to Argentinian craftsman Adrian Pallarols as he poses for the family photo with international football players at the Vatican on Sept. 2014 prior to an inter-religious "match for peace" soccer game that played at Rome's Olympic Stadium.
Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images Argentinian silversmith Adrián Pallaros and Pope Francis pose with international soccer players at the Vatican on Sept. 2014 prior to an inter-religious "match for peace" soccer game that was played at Rome's Olympic Stadium.

It would be made from silver donated by Americans from around the country

An Argentinian silversmith is in New York City this week drumming up support for an unusual project: a silver communion chalice for the pope’s upcoming trip to the United States.

A seventh-generation silversmith who has known Pope Francis for more than a decade, Adrián Pallaros intends to make the chalice by melting down silver jewelry—”an earring, a little ring you don’t use,” anything with silver in it—donated by Americans from across the country.

Pallaros, 43, says Pope Francis would use the chalice during a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in September. With a design featuring a map of the United States in the center of the handle plus the donated metals, the symbolism would be rich, he argues.

“Everybody, the whole country, will be in the prayers of Pope Francis here in New York when he lifts the chalice in the consecration,” Pallaros says. “Everybody can be in his hands for the prayers.”

Pallaros presented the idea for the chalice to Pope Francis in a private audience last month. He says any extra silver will be sold and the proceeds donated to Pope Francis’ efforts with the poor in the United States.

Courtesy of Adrian Pallaros

His family began handcrafting and designing silver in the 1750s in Barcelona, and they continued when they moved to Argentina in 1804. In recent years, the family’s clients have included Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Frank Sinatra, according to Vatican News.

When Pope Francis was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, he married Pallaros and his wife, and later he baptized their daughter. The Cardinal would stop by Pallaros’ workshop, Pallaros recalls, and chat about art and music. The Palladros family crafted the chalice that Cardinal Bergoglio presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and after Bergoglio was named Pope, they crafted the personal chalice that Pope Francis uses for masses at his Vatican residence at Santa Marta, as well as various other projects.

Pallaros says the idea for the chalice came when he was approached for a paid assignment to create a cup for the pope’s New York visit. He recalled how then-Cardinal Bergoglio would often bring him gifts of silver he had received to sell and use the proceeds to buy food, clothes and blankets for the poor.

That’s a philosophy Pallaros wanted to bring to bear on this effort. Not only can thousands of Americans contribute a meaningful memento from their own life stories to the chalice, but the poor would also benefit from the overflowing of contributions.

“When you have a lot of money, you have chances to get a special place, because you can give a lot of money,” says Pallaros. “But in this way, having a little part of each person who will send a bit of silver, they can feel they can participate and they can see this piece of silver will get to the hands of Pope Francis.”

The project is still in the early stages, and Pallaros still has a lot of work ahead for it all to work. He aims to finalize the details during his trip to New York this week, and he is working to arrange the banking and donation details to meet Internal Revenue Service requirements and recruit corporate sponsors to help receive and mail the silver from around the country to one central location.

He plans to melt the silver pieces in New York into an ingot to transport to Buenos Aires to craft it into the chalice at his workshop. Pallaros says he can craft the chalice in one to two months, but he needs to have all the metal by June in order to finish the project by September.

“My biggest concern is not the constructing, it is the raising of the metal and participation of the people,” he says.

TIME ted cruz

Ted Cruz Launches Presidential Campaign at School Known For Glass Ceilings

Senator Ted Cruz(R-TX) delivers remarks before announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for president on March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivers remarks before announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for president on March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia.

He offers a message of female empowerment at a school with few women leaders

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz launched his campaign for the presidency Monday with effusive praise for the boundary-breaking women in his life and a call for mothers, sisters and daughters to join his coming campaign.

“The answer will not come from Washington,” he said of the challenges facing the nation. “It will come only from the men and women across this country—from men and women, from people of faith, from lovers of liberty, from people who respect the Constitution.”

In a speech at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian school, he praised the entrepreneurship of his wife, Heidi, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, who started in business as a child, baking bread and selling it at a nearby apple farm. His mother, he said in video message earlier in the day, was “a pioneer in computer science, smashing glass ceilings at a time when women were discouraged from following their dreams.” Her father, he continued in the speech, “frankly didn’t think that women should be educated.”

The praise for gender equality was all the more resonant—or perhaps discordant—because of the setting. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., bars women as a matter of theology from becoming pastors or holding high-ranking roles of church leadership. In fact, the leadership at Liberty, where more than half the student population is female, is almost entirely male.

The school’s executive leadership is composed of 21 men and one woman, the executive vice president and vice-president of human resources. Liberty University’s Board of Trustees is comprised of 38 men and two women whose husbands also serve on the board: Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America, and Gaye Overton Benson, for whose family the Liberty School of Business is named. The 32 positions on the committees of the Board of Trustees are also filled entirely by men.

Likewise, all of the faculty are male at Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary, where despite the ban on women becoming pastors, women can receive degrees. At the larger school, just over half of the residential student body is female, and just more than 60% of the online student population is female. “Women need to be advised that few opportunities presently exist for ordination of women among Baptist churches and Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary supports the Baptist Faith and Message as amended by the Southern Baptist Convention of June 2000,” the school tells applicants on its website.

The larger Southern Baptist Convention believes the bible bars women from becoming pastors. “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” reads the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

There are some programs specifically designed for women. Liberty has a Center for Women’s Ministries, which educates “today’s woman in basic principles of Biblical femininity” and seeks to equip her “to effectively evangelize and disciple other women living in America and throughout the world,” according to its website. Career opportunities for women with this focus, the site says, include women’s ministry directors, teen girls’ leaders, and event planners.

Christine Caine, an activist with Hillsong Church in Australia, partnered with the school in January to launch a broader initiative called “Propel” to equip Christian women for broader leadership, especially when they work outside the home. “For generations, women have navigated the nuances of being a woman in leadership without a roadmap,” Caine said in a news release. “Gaps in leadership training have forced women to compartmentalize their lives, separating work, church, home and personal life.”

Liberty’s glass ceilings—and those of the religious constituency Liberty signifies and that Cruz is trying to court—could complicate his message going forward. In his announcement speech, Cruz cast himself as a values candidate, with a view of American history centered around faith. “What is the promise of America?” he asked at one point in his speech. “The idea that—the revolutionary idea that this country was founded upon, which is that our rights don’t come from man. They come from God Almighty.”

Stylistically, his speech had more in common with Sunday preaching than a traditional campaign address. He roamed the circular stage, often turning his back to the television cameras, with a microphone affixed to his neck, telling the stories of redemption that lifted his family, and charting a road map for lifting the nation. “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting,” he said. “They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

TIME

Pope Francis to Dine with Gay and Transgender Inmates in Naples Prison

He made a special request to have lunch with inmates

Pope Francis will have lunch on Saturday with some 90 inmates at a prison near Naples, including some that reportedly come from a ward housing gay, transgender and HIV-infected inmates.

Tv2000, a television network operated by Italy’s Catholic bishops, reports that lunch at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center was originally not on the schedule, but Pope Francis made a special request to dine with the inmates. A number of the estimated 100 prisoners are gay, transgender and/or infected with HIV, the report said.

The prisoners were chosen via raffle from the facility’s 1900 inmates, writes David Gibson, a top Vatican watcher at Religion News Service. Pope Francis intends to greet each prisoner after a short and simple meal, Vatican Radio reports.

Pope Francis has made caring for inmates a priority of his papacy. He washed the feet of Muslim and women prisoners weeks after his election as pope, and is planning to wash inmates feet again this upcoming Holy Thursday. Pope Francis on Friday also reiterated the Catholic Church’s position that no crime deserves the death penalty. Capital punishment, he said, is “inadmissible, however serious the crime.”

The report of the lunch is also a reminder of the new tone and signature phrase of the Pope Francis papacy–“Who am I to judge?”–which was the Holy Father’s response to a question about homosexuality months after his election.

[Religion News Service]

Read next: I’m Proud To Be a Transgender Catholic

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME faith

Like Instagram, But for the Bible

Silicon Valley, meet the Sermon on the Mount.

A new app lets people share inspirational images online, but instead of trending hashtags they can peg them to their favorite Bible verses.

Launched on March 5, the Parallel Bible is different from traditional Bible apps such as the popular YouVersion, which focus on the individual’s experience with the Word.

Instead, users sign into a virtual fellowship, uploading their own photos and videos and tagging them with related verses, searching Scripture to see other users’ photos and sharing stories in small groups or on their own news feeds.

“What we want for the Bible is to turn it back into a big table where everyone feels like they can be welcome,” co-founder Andrew Breitenberg says. “If you are a human being, you qualify—you don’t have to be a Christian to read the Bible.”

Breitenberg founded Parallel with his brother Chris. The brothers who grew up in Princeton, N.J., and who now live in Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C. Andrew, 36, is a graduate of Swarthmore and spent the last six years doing street art and graffiti in Cape Town. Chris, 33, is a graduate of Davidson and has worked at a peace-building nonprofit and spent time traveling Asia.

Both have explored evangelical and Eastern Christian traditions, and their spiritual influences include French mystic and activist Simone Weil, American Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, and the British theologian C.S. Lewis, beloved by evangelicals worldwide. For the past six months, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, has been their mentor.

Their core idea is the theological principle that the Bible is inherently more than a book, it is a shared experience. Biblical texts began as oral traditions, and only became bound in one cohesive, written form after hundreds of years. The modern idea that the Bible is a just book with a beginning, middle and end, misses the diverse cultural contexts that it contains, as well as the way that people have interacted with those stories over the centuries and the participation that is possible in the Bible’s stories today.

“Ultimately faith is not individual but communal with God and the people around you,” says Chris. “We are just shortening that leap.”

Parallel Bible is currently free. The Breitenberg brothers do not believe in putting ads or commercials in the middle of the Bible, and their goal is to create the new community first and monetize later. That strategy, they say, has so far not deterred investors. Their team is small—right now they have just one developer—and their startup budget for the past two years was about $100,000. It is currently only available for iTunes (an Android version is in the works) and they have had about 1,000 downloads. But, as Andrew says, this is just the beginning. “You can’t build something that looks like Instagram overnight.”

Beyond the development process however, the app signals a new evangelism, the communal sharing of stories rather than overt proselytization. And the founders are thinking big. “It literally could be the next Bible that the world uses,” says Andrew.

TIME Civil Rights

Christian College Student Attacked With Apple for Questioning Treatment of Gays

Wheaton Forum Wall Bulletin Board Gay Student
Sara Kohler A note on a student bulletin board at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., Feb. 24, 2015.

The apple thrower then posted a defense of his actions on a campus wall

After a student at a prominent evangelical college questioned his school’s stance against homosexuality in an all-school forum on Monday, another student allegedly threw an apple at him “as a warning against insulting the Spirit of grace.”

The incident, which college administrators are now addressing, took place on Monday at Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater outside Chicago, during the campus’ traditional “Town Hall Chapel,” a campuswide question and answer session where the college president, currently Philip Ryken, takes questions from the student body. Wheaton holds marriage to be between one man and one woman, and requires students and faculty to uphold that sexual ethic. Christian colleges such as Wheaton have been at the center of the evangelical fight over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) acceptance, especially as younger generations grow increasingly more accepting on issues such as same-sex marriage.

The most recent conflict began when Philip Fillion, a class of 2015 organ performance major and married heterosexual, asked Ryken a question about the theological consistency of Wheaton’s position against homosexuality. He posted his question in full in a public note on his Facebook page:

“All students, via the Community Covenant, and all faculty, via the Statement of Faith, are required to affirm a sexual ethic that denies everyone except celibates and married straight people a place in the kingdom of God. This sexual ethic is not at all universal and depends on a reading of scripture that is incredibly narrow and ignores history, culture, and science. The Statement of Faith and the Community Covenant also lack any language about the sacraments of the Christian church. Why is it the case that our college, in documents we all must agree to or be expelled, insists on formally condemning and denying equality to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, on spurious theological grounds, yet completely leaves behind baptism and Eucharist, which Jesus Christ himself instituted to grow and strengthen the Christian community?”

As he returned to his seat, the college tells TIME, another student sitting nearby threw the apple at him, and missed. Fillion tells TIME it hit him on his left shoulder partly through his question. “There was no response when the fruit was thrown. No boos, no gasp,” he says. “A student was in line after me and when it was his turn to ask a question, he began his time at the microphone by calling out whoever had thrown the fruit, remarking that such behavior was inappropriate and disrespectful. There was restrained applause for this.”

“President Ryken did not see the incident and did not fully understand what happened until after chapel ended,” Wheaton College told TIME in a statement.

At first, the apple was the end of the story, though some students were bothered. Justin Massey, a senior political science major and a co-founder of the campus’ LGBT student group Refuge, was disturbed that the incident did not garner more serious attention. “I saw peers exert more effort into rationalizing the offense rather than demonstrating support to the LGBT community whose experiences were disrespected,” Massey wrote on his blog. “From three separate individuals I have heard that the disruptive student simply felt ‘the question was just too long,’ ‘the tone of the inquiring student appeared rude,’ and even ‘it was simply a joke gone wrong.’ Each of these answers has one thing in common: they take responsibility off of the offending individual in an attempt to absolve this student of displaying any prejudice against a minority group.”

But the situation escalated dramatically when a student claiming to be the apple-thrower then posted a letter on the campus’ public bulletin board, the “Forum Wall,” a space traditionally designated for student opinions, accepting responsibility for and defending his actions, Wheaton confirms. “Dear Enemy,” the note began. “In regards to ‘casting a stone,’ you would be mistaken to think that I threw the apple out of hatred. I have strong aim and could hit a head at fifteen meters if I wanted to. No, I threw it purposefully as a warning against insulting the Spirit of grace. Because Truth itself was maligned. For the destruction of those who ‘have the form of godliness but deny its power’ was written about long ago. And in regards to the story of the adulteress, have you not read what Jesus told the woman, ‘God now and leave your life of sin.’ ? So neither do I condemn you, but do fear God and live in righteousness! Do not choose destruction.” Signed: “Not ashamed of Truth, Roland Hesse.”

Late Tuesday night, Massey wrote a letter to Ryken and other campus leaders, alerting them of the Forum Wall letter and arguing that the incident was more than just a theological dispute. “Upon reading this letter I feel threatened and unsafe, and I know that I am not the only student who feels this way,” Massey, who is openly gay, wrote. “This action of throwing an item at another student is violent in nature and his sentiments reflected in the Forum Wall post are threatening….My peers and I strongly feel that prompt discussion, discipline, and communication with the student body must take place to explicitly call out these actions and properly deal with this situation.”

Massey and other students, LGBT and allied, met with campus officials Wednesday morning to discuss the situation. “The religious tone and justification that he voiced, that was really frightening to us,” Massey says. “That is why we are asking for the College to specifically recognize that this incident targeted a minority group of people, that this wasn’t just a theological disagreement—this was LGBT students feeling the weight of the actions.”

Ryken briefly addressed the situation to the student body in Wednesday’s all-school chapel. The incident comes the same week as another Wheaton student was arrested for allegedly secretly filming a female Wheaton student in her shower since October 2014. “He asked our community to pray for leaders from Student Development and the Chaplain’s Office who hold students accountable and work with them for repentance, healing, and reconciliation,” Wheaton’s statement to TIME continues. “Wheaton College unequivocally condemns acts of disrespect, aggression and intimidation. While expressions of disagreement are to be expected in a liberal arts learning environment, our expectation is that members of our Christian community express disagreement and debate important issues with courtesy, respect, and love for God and each other—values we express in our Community Covenant. This is especially important when we discuss sensitive and challenging topics, or when our convictions are disputed.”

Wheaton added that “students who violate community standards are held accountable for their actions” but that “federal privacy laws prevents the College from commenting extensively on disciplinary matters.”

However, Massey said that he learned the student has been disciplined.

“It has been confirmed to me that as of this afternoon, the offending student will no longer be on campus, and if he is on campus, LGBT students that feel threatened will be immediately notified,” Massey says. “I’m incredibly impressed at how the administration is responding—I’m very pleased to know they are taking this seriously.”

As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”

TIME faith

Young Evangelical Leader Loses Book Deal After Coming Out

Brandan Roberts Evangelical
Cameron Sharrock Brandan Robertson of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

In an exclusive interview with TIME, an evangelical author said his contract with a Christian publisher was canceled

A prominent Christian publisher canceled a book project this week after the author refused to say that he did “not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle,” the author told TIME.

The publisher, Destiny Image, told author Brandan Robertson on Feb. 19 that it would no longer publish his manuscript, Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, for financial reasons. Robertson, the evangelical organizer for Faith in Public Life, who only makes a glancing reference to homosexuality in the manuscript, recently told TIME that he identifies as queer. He said the publisher told him there was concern that evangelical bookstores would not carry the book.

“There is much consideration for every book, every author, but the final determination is financial viability,” explains Don Nori, CEO of Destiny Image’s parent company, Nori Media Group, who declined to discuss the role that issues of sexuality played in the decision.

Destiny’s decision comes as the evangelical fight over marriage equality has intensified in recent months. Two prominent evangelical churches, EastLake Community Church in Seattle and GracePointe Church near Nashville, announced in January that they were giving full membership privileges, including the right to marry and to receive communion, to lesbian and gay congregants. Many evangelical churches, organizations and colleges are taking small, intermediate steps toward inclusion, even as others, like the Southern Baptist Convention, have maintained a hard line against acceptance of same-sex relationships.

Destiny Image recruited Robertson for a book contract last year, with no advance payment, when he was still a student at the conservative Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. “Our core vision at Destiny Image has always been to give an unfiltered voice to emerging authors who are changing the way people see Christianity,” Mykela Krieg, a communications specialist at Destiny wrote to him in January 2014 in an email obtained by TIME.

Robertson submitted a book proposal, which Krieg told him was “great,” and he signed his contract with Destiny that spring. The book is a collection of essays on his personal spiritual journey from a fundamentalist to a progressive evangelical. “It is the archetype of the millennial journey of faith,” Robertson says. “It points to a lot of the struggles that we as millennials have.”

Destiny Image was enthusiastic. “We especially love your title ideas,” Krieg emailed him. “The word ‘nomad’ stood out to both of us.”

After he graduated from college last year, Robertson, now 22, became the national spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, an initiative started by millennials to help evangelicals support civil gay marriages. He spoke at a Reformation Project conference, an effort by fellow evangelical activist Matthew Vines to raise up affirming evangelicals in every evangelical church in the country, last fall. Robertson also blogs regularly about issues of social justice and sexuality on his Patheos blog, “Revangelical,” and has been featured in numerous news outlets for his work to encourage evangelicals toward greater gay and lesbian inclusion. TIME featured Robertson in January in a magazine story, “Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage.

The word gay appears in his Nomad manuscript only one time, in a chapter titled “Grey,” that begins with a quote from the Nobel Literature Prize–winning André Gide, “The color of truth is grey.” Robertson writes: “One high school biology class is all that it takes to begin asking some serious questions about the book of Genesis and the origins of humanity. One conversation with a close friend who is struggling to be gay and Christian is all that it takes to begin wondering if the interpretation of Leviticus we heard in Sunday school is actually applicable in today’s context. One life shattering tragedy is all that it takes to begin rethinking the whole notion of the ‘sovereignty’ of God.”

Last week he turned in his manuscript, and three hours later, he got a reply. “I’m sure it feels amazing to have the manuscript finished!” Krieg wrote. Then she continued: “Since you’ve been receiving more media attention over the past few months, we’ve had some questions/concerns arise from our buyers, and our executive team has asked that I connect with you about your stance on a few issues that may continue to come into question.”

“As soon as I read those words, a knot formed in my stomach,” Robertson says. “I immediately knew that the problem was going to be with my very vocal support of LGBTQ equality and inclusion in the church — unfortunately, I was right.”

Robertson spoke with Krieg on the phone that afternoon. According to Robertson, Krieg explained Destiny’s concern that Christian retailers wouldn’t buy the book because of Robertson’s public advocacy for gay and lesbian inclusion in Christian communities. Krieg then emailed Robertson Destiny’s statement on homosexuality. It was the first time, Robertson says, that they asked him if he could agree with the statement. It reads: “Destiny Image accepts the Holy Scriptures as the infallible word of God and answers all questions concerning life and godliness. We do not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle. Destiny Image renounces this lifestyle as ungodly and completely contrary to the Kingdom of God.”

The statement continues with this Bible passage from 1 Corinthians: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

Robertson emailed Krieg to let them know that he could not sign or uphold such a statement. “I know what this likely means,” he wrote. “But just wanted to be very clear.”

“Thanks so much for your honesty,” Krieg replied, saying that she would relay their conversation to the executive team. “I truly appreciate it, and I completely respect your stance.”

Nine days later, on Feb. 19, Destiny Image called Robertson to inform him that, “for the success of my book and for their financial reasons,” as Robertson puts it, they were no longer going to publish his book. “It just reopened all those rejections wounds,” says Robertson. “I am at a frustrated point, not for my book, but this is so symptomatic of what happens in the broader evangelical community — every day, LGBTQ individuals are told that they are no longer welcome in churches, are kicked out of homes, are fired from jobs, and forced in to reparative therapy by those who claim to represent Jesus.”

When TIME asked Nori why Destiny pulled the book, Nori did not address the role that Robertson’s position on sexuality played in their decision: “There is nothing significant to report,” Nori says. “We did not reject or refuse. As with all books, a publisher decides what is financially viable. We released the book back to the author with our sincere prayers for his success. This occurrence happens every season.”

Destiny publishes popular Christian authors including pastors T.D. Jakes and Bill Johnson.

TIME Sudan

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Denies War Crimes As UN Moves Toward New Sanctions

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.
Abd Raouf—AP A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.

The United Nations Security Council threatened new sanctions Thursday against Sudan’s government, and United States Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, accused the country of “obstruction, harassment and direct attacks that have impeded efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in Darfur.”

Last week on February 4, Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti sat down with TIME while he was in Washington as guest of the National Prayer Breakfast. In a tense, 40-minute exchange, Karti, a devout Muslim, spoke of everything from his love of Jesus to his categorical denial of mass rape, which Human Rights Watch and other have reported that Sudanese armed forces perpetrated in Darfur.

When TIME showed Karti photos on an iPhone of burned children and legless women, who reported their injuries came from Sudanese government forces, Karti insisted that the government targets only combatants. “Nothing of that is happening,” he said, averting his eyes from the images. “Nobody is targeting his own people.”

His presence at the Breakfast was controversial, especially as he is lobbying the U.S. to lift sanctions and remove Sudan from its list of states that sponsor terror. Senator Bob Casey Jr., a congressional co-chair of the Breakfast, objected to Karti’s invitation to a meeting the Fellowship had scheduled with Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats during his visit.

Over the past three decades, Sudan’s government has been implicated in what Congress has termed two genocides, one in the nation’s south that cost as many of 2 million lives, in part from famine, and one in the nation’s western province of Darfur, where an additional 300,000 people died, according to the United Nations. Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Karti oversaw the popular Defense Force militias for a time during the first genocide, and according to State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, Karti is also credited with organizing the janjaweed militia, the brutal forces that terrorized Darfur. Now, after South Sudan’s independence, the fighting is intensifying in South Kordofan, a border region in Sudan. Aerial bombardments by the government are routine. On January 20, a Medecins Sans Frontières hospital–one of the only sources of humanitarian aid in the region–was bombed for the second time, and the facility was forced to close.

Below is a transcript of TIME’s interview with Karti, edited only lightly for grammar clarity, published in full because Karti so rarely speaks on the record with reporters. The full story, “Sudan: The Forgotten War,” is in this week’s magazine and online here.

TIME: What kind of bridges do you want to build?

ALI AHMED KARTI: To me it begins from the faith, from bringing people together, from trying to build relations between nations, maybe they are different in their faith, and they may be for sure they are different in ethnicities, what is huge between south and west is this very big divide. So I’ve been educated and trained in a country whereby people, they do not know about the west. Still they think they can outreach. But what had been in the history was tremendously injuring the relationship between south, and between and west and east. To begin with the colonial period, when people were subjected to so many atrocities, and the history of that is still injuring their vision about how can they be together again with some people from the west.

I am a foreign minister of my country, and I have been following this not like any other Sudanese, normal Sudanese. Maybe a normal Sudanese, he would just remark that there is a problem. But to me the problem is projected in so many ways. I am a politician, I can see how damaging having bad relations with a great country like U.S. and also having media, negative media talking about my country and about my people. So this is one of the ways that I deemed very good, and it is fruitful, it proved to be fruitful through time. Yes, I am talking formally with the government, and I am talking formally with the ambassador there in Khartoum, but still there are so many ways of trying to get to the hearts of people other than this formal way, because in the formal relations, government to government, you have limits, but when it goes to the hearts of people, you don’t have limits.

It will be easy for me to invite others to see the country to see the situation, and to assess by themselves, even media, everybody who is interested in that. We have been open for so many years before, and I have been on this track for more than eight years now. And to me it will be the only way that I can go through, and the only way that will also help in projecting my country, and my people and the lifestyle of life there in the country and the moderate way of people used to live and the coexistence that have been through our life in the country since it has been a country called Sudan. We used to have different faiths, whether Islam, Christianity, nonbeliever also are still there in the country, in some parts of the eastern, south eastern parts of our country, and we used to lived together. We did not witness in our life or the life of our predecessors a kind of conflict based on religion. If you go there to Khartoum you will find people living together. You will find mosques and churches almost some meters between them, and we have never had in our history of fights just because somebody is a Muslim or a Christian. Not only this, but we are Muslims, we have also our schools in the Muslim sphere, also there are schools in the church, we have different church, we have the Sudan Council of church, we have also evangelicals, we have Coptics in the country, and themselves, they are also making a very good example of coexistence between themselves and between them all and the Muslim community. And some friends who visit Sudan from this country, they are seeing how people are living together, how people are receptive to them, some of them were church leaders, some of them were writers, and some of the activists who have been there in the country, they have seen something different, some of them came here to speak to friends and to others that things are not like what is going on in the media. Things are totally different.

In this respect, I would hope to see you there, to go freely, we would not make any program for you, not only you but other friends who are working on this. You will be there, we will help you to go wherever you want to go, and it is up to you, you write your heart, and you write your visit, this is the only way to put down the walls and to build bridges and to bring people together.

What does spiritual diplomacy mean for you, and what will you be doing here, with friends, toward that end?

I told you I am not here on a formal visit, and I am not representing anybody here, but I am Sudanese, and I am somebody who can also have some effect on my country, and my relationship with people here on this side of faith can benefit both our countries and both our nations. I can see it could be the easiest and the swiftest way in getting to the hearts of people, if you speak the same language that Jesus could be our guidance, both of us, Muslims and followers of Jesus from this country,

I deem myself a follower of Jesus. According to our beliefs in Islam, if you are not a believer of Jesus, you are not a believer of Mohammed, and if you are not a believer of Mohammed, that means you are out of Islam. So it is part and parcel of our belief in God and Islam that Jesus is also our prophet, and we deem ourselves followers of Jesus, so in that respect we feel we are together. Yes, there are so many differences, as even in Christianity there are so many differences, we have some differences, but what we really share is very big, and we can base on that, and we can bring people on this way of believing in Jesus and believing that his directions and his directives are suitable for Muslims and for Christians. So if that is so, that means we can get closer to each other without remembering that we are different in nations or that we have different political setup. I have seen it.

So many people with whom if I speak politics, we will fall apart. So when we come together on this basis, I think it will be easy for us to get through and open hearts. And by opening hearts we can go through the difficulties also and we can resolve so many issues and outstanding problems.

So the United States plans to take Cuba off of its list of states that sponsor terrorism, which leaves Sudan, Iran, and Syria the only ones left. How would you argue that Sudan, like Cuba, should be taken off of the list?

This is my mission also to your people here, whether on the basis of faith or on the basis of politics, that we really need to focus on the situation of Sudan, and to verify if Sudan is sponsoring terror or not. According to the reports that are issued here in this country and according to those who are interested in this issue and those who are following this issue, I can’t find any report that is accusing Sudan of sponsoring terror, but you know politics.

It is not easy to get through a decision like this, because so many through history have been in this business of putting Sudan in that cage. So it needs time for them to understand, it needs time for them also, there are some NGOs who have been through time benefitting from putting Sudan in that situation. So it will only be possible if we are able to let people understand really the situation of Sudan, and that putting Sudan under that opposition, that means that we are putting Sudan in sanctions, and sanctions are cutting the throats of the needy people in the country. Maybe the government is mainly intended to crack down or to be weakened, but what is now weakened is the population, especially those who are in the peripheries, and especially those who are deemed to be, who need the assistance. So instead of looking to the country and a country under these sanctions should not be helped, I think it is better for those who really adopt the idea of helping others is to look at the matter from this perspective.

Yes it needs time, yes it needs talking to so many, there are so many institutions here in this country, they need to understand and they need also to know the situation better, some of them they know, but you know politics is something that is, nobody can expect how things should go forward and maybe through time, we’ll be able also to go through the same line of Cuba.

So one of the things we’ve been hearing from the UN is that 10% of the Rapid Support Forces’ operations are against the armed opposition, but 90% are against civilians. I’m wondering if you could respond to that.

No, nobody could think of something like that. Why should the government put that heavyweight on the civilians? Why? The government is a government for the people, and if you know the political setup in the country, you will see by yourself how people are represented, from the level of a village to the level of some town and to the level of districts and to the central level of the assemblies and the level of government.

If you have representatives everywhere, then nobody can do anything without those representatives, having idea of that or talking about that. If you go through the media in Sudan, you will find opposition, maybe the majority of papers that are issued in the country to now, they have every right to go anywhere and talk about anything that may be causing atrocities to their home land and people, so if nothing is coming out of that, that means that is only portraying the country in a way that will not at all help somebody like me to convince those who are in charge of a decision like removing Sudan from the list of terror, they want to keep the country there.

But I will bet if anybody is ready to go to the country, we will give him the opportunity to go by himself and assess what is going on there, look for an inquisition that they claim that there are so many rapes in a village in Darfur, you know what was behind that, what was behind that was a message to those people who had been driven from their village to go to the camps, those days they were ready to go back to their village. Why? Because that was one of the villages that was rebuilt again, in a very modern way, with schools, with health care center, with police center, with so many services and water resources, and the message was to them, don’t go back to Tabit, because Tabit is under mass rape, and when it was verified by the UNAMID when they went there, they found nothing of that, because nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village.

So you know messages like this come out of the expectation that the government is trying to normalize the situation, so instead of leaving the government normalize the situation, we just flare up something like this for people not to go back, not only for Tabit people but also for other people who are requesting to go back to their homes. If you are fleeing this place because there is no security, then the police is there, and not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security. And not only that you will have new homes, you will have health services, you will have water resources, and you will have whatever you wish in a village that had been destroyed before 7 or 8 years, so the message was not to us or to you, its to those who should go back to their homes, because they wanted to keep them in the camps, they wanted to keep, the nature of the strife there in the country, that it is still not safe to go back, why for also? There are also some NGOs that are living on collecting money that they want to go to the camps and keep these people there. This is cutting throats of so many, and the line is there, tell the donors here, they should be kept seeing the situation unstable and for them also to pay money also for those who are living on this money.

There’s a report out today about some of the carnage in the Nuba Mountains. There are some really horrible photographs that I wanted to show you, it’s children–I know you’ve seen probably worse, but I know it is all very scarring. This is in a report out of the Nuba Mountains today with lots of children who have allegedly been burned, you can scroll here

Did they tell you who burned them?

My question is, Is it true that this is happening now, with your government planes and artillery, in your country?

Nothing of that is happening. Nobody can make his policy like that. Nobody is targeting his own people. What happens is that, those rebels they get in the villages sometimes, they do it themselves and they send it to you to here, to the media, and for verification I really commend some journalists to go there to verify who is doing this. So many reports are there like this have been sent about Darfur, through five or six years we have been under this kind of media. When people went there from the west and from other countries, they found that these are untrue narratives. You may find somebody who has been, yes, targeted, but who targeted him? This is a story from one side. This is a story from one side.

We have been also noticing, through the last years, heavy attacks put on civilians in South Kordofan and also in North Kordofan, and that had been reported to you here and everywhere. But nobody took it serious. It was those same rebels who attacked the villages and killed so many hundreds at one day and also burned so many houses at the same day and destroyed everything and they looted everything, and they went back to the border of South Sudan and in such a situation, you cannot verify who is doing this. I’m not saying that government is not using artillery, it is using artillery against combatants, it is not using artillery against civilians. There is no reason, why should the government target its own civilians? Nothing of that could happen. Because we have leaders from those leaders, they know what is going on there, they know who is targeting their own civilians there.

What do you do about this?

We just try to verify, and you see a new story again, and for you to verify which is right of these stories, and you know the media, every day you see things, and when you stay for some hours you will find something different. You will find another story. It is better for somebody who is working on this issue to have time to verify, it is easy just to have this story and report it and say this is the government. But why should the government target its own people? And if there is only one bomb that is maybe on an area where rebels are taking that area, something like this could happen.

We are seeing so many causalities happening from bombings some areas in Afghanistan, with really modern technologies, but nevertheless there casualties. I’m not saying that we do not have this in our country. But if it happens then that matter will be under investigation and they will know what had been wrong. But I assure you the government will not at all target its own civilians. So if you have causalities like what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or even in Iraq, at some point of time, something like this could happen. I’m not in a position now to tell you who did this, but you are a reporter, somebody who is interested in this, you should verify these narratives.

So, we are in a setting right now where there are a lot of international aid groups, especially groups of different faith backgrounds, groups that want to do international aid in Sudan, or have been doing aid work in different regions in Sudan for some time, and I’m wondering, how do you counsel them about how they can help, when there are situations like even this week, Médecins Sans Frontières, their hospital was bombed for the second time, and they say it was the government. In South Kordofan. They’ve been pushed out, they had to leave, and they say this government bombing. So when you are in a setting like this, how do you work with international–

Look we cannot open our doors for an NGO, or anybody, and receive him, give him facilities, and then we bomb him. Can you think, for yourself now, can that be possible if there is no other story which has not been told to you?

The reason I ask these questions is–you can respond and then we can share your voice about that.

When somebody applies to come to Sudan and work, for those needy people the government will make its own assessment and it will open doors for whoever is ready to go there. And there are instructions about how you do your work, and which place, and how you do it, and the custody of whom, so if somebody is coming through the government and he is trying to outlean and deal with the rebels, than he is doing wrong. You will not be told that he is doing something wrong, and for this reason, he had been there at the territory of the rebels. So you need to verify, why should the government target somebody who has been allowed formally and legally to come to the country and work with those people who are in need.

So nothing of that could happen. There should be a missing story, and what is really meant to be missing for you just to portray that the government is bombing this or that. So I would hope if you have time, and even if it is not you, your people, who are in charge of this, would allot somebody or some two or three of you, to go and investigate on that. If they are really interested to know the fact, they will know the facts.

What is the missing story?

I don’t know if this is the missing story. But I would think that there is something wrong that happened that took them from the place where they were authorized to work to another place where they were not authorized to work. Because if you are coming through my doors, and you are going to work with the rebels, that means you are doing something different. And if you are crossing South Sudan borders just to work with the rebels, then you don’t have any security. That means you are working in an area that is targeted. So if you are coming from south Sudan without the authority knowing that you are there and without any permission, that means that you are putting yourself in that jeopardized way.

Could you tell me how your government is getting gold, and are there any areas that consumers should be concerned about where the gold is coming from?

The gold is coming from the country and it is authorized by the government and there are so many companies they come there, they apply for permission, they apply for concessions, and they have agreements on that. And this is one side of it. The other side is, there are some, maybe thousands of Sudanese who used to have the local way of collecting gold from the surface of the ground. So most of them, they have agreement with the government and through that the government is using this gold as Sudanese export, and all of it is legal, nothing is illegal. Nothing is illegal. Nothing is falsified from anybody. Nobody is forced to even sell to the government if he doesn’t want to sell to the government. Nobody is forced to give his land to the government and to do something that is illegal.

So instead of listening to stories like this, it is also good to go there. We have a mining ministry, and you can see the concessions, you can see the companies, you can visit areas where the companies, even the normal citizens in a very traditional way collecting gold from the surface of the ground. They are living their life, nobody is forcing them to do anything. So it is also good to go there and see by yourself.

Earlier this week, there was some news about a tentative peace agreement with South Sudan president Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar. I’m wondering, do you pledge to support that peace agreement, and would Khartoum back a power-sharing agreement in South Sudan?

We have been behind that. We have been trying our best to bring them together, but unfortunately, agreements, this may be the fifth agreement that has been signed, but nobody is abiding by the agreement. The agreements did not hold. You know they have their differences. They still think it is best to go to the jungle and fight. Unfortunately. This is what I see everyday. So people are working from everywhere especially the region, and we are very active in that, and unfortunately we were not able to get to an agreement through the last five days when we were there in Addis Ababa.

If this latest agreement though, would you support an international arms embargo on all parties?

No. I don’t think it is wise now. Because we know the situation in South Sudan. If you have such forces, they may fight everywhere and they will not know who is their enemy. In the region, we do not support something like this. We are part of the region and we know how this will spoil the situation.

In know you have been alluding to this, and we have been talking about this some in previous questions, but as you said one of the main conversation points here about what is happening in Sudan is, is it an insurgency or are there war crimes happening? Which is it? What is the Sudanese government doing? Where do you draw those lines?

Good, it is good that you asked me that. You know what the government is doing in Sudan, but you did not ask me about anything positive in the country. You only asked me about the media, what is projecting into you here in the west. You did not ask me about how we opened our door for South Sudan to secede by an agreement. And that was fully backed up by the whole nation, that if the South Sudanese want to secede, they are free do to that. And by an agreement we did that. You did not ask me about the 450,000 who fled South Sudan again to come again to Sudan. We opened our doors, our hearts, and everything for them. We fed them, we gave them lodging, we gave them health care, and we opened our schools and even universities for them to go there, for free. You did not ask me about the endeavors of the government is doing to transform the lives of the people there, although they are under sanctions. You did not ask me about the elections, we are about to hold during two or three months. You did not ask me about anything that is positive in the country. Shall I have another time to talk about this?

Minister, with these questions, I am giving you the opportunity to tell that side of the story.

I am more than ready to go on that another time if you have time. Maybe the ambassador will also arrange for something for you to come, or for me also, to come to you again and speak on that.

I have time, but if you do not want to do it now that is your choice.

No, it is not that I don’t want to do it. The problem is that we have another appointment.

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Government Denies Mass Military Rape

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.
Abd Raouf—AP A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.

A Human Rights Watch investigation released at the United Nations on Wednesday reports that Sudanese army troops raped at least 221 women and girls during a 36-hour attack on the Darfur town of Tabit that began on Oct. 30.

The report documents 27 first-hand reports of rape, 194 other credible accounts of rape and even confessions of two soldiers who had participated in the attacks that superior officers ordered them to “rape women.” Sudanese authorities then launched a cover-up, Human Rights Watch details, which included detaining and torturing Tabit residents for telling the truth about what happened.

Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti categorically denied reports of a mass military rape in Tabit during an interview with TIME on Feb. 4, when he was in Washington as a guest of the National Prayer Breakfast.

TIME asked him about reports that his government’s armed forces are primarily targeting civilians and not combatants. Any claims of rape in Tabit, he claimed, are lies invented to keep people in refugee camps, where NGOs can make money. Tabit has been rebuilt, he said, with modern schools, health care and police centers.

“Nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village,” Karti said. “Not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security.”

If NGO donors see the situation in the villages as unstable, Karti added, they will keep donating. “This is cutting throats of so many,” he said.

Media in Sudan, Karti continued, “have every right to go anywhere and talk about anything that may be causing atrocities to their homeland and people, so if nothing is coming out of that, that means that is only portraying the country in a way that will not at all help somebody like me to convince those who are in charge of a decision like removing Sudan from the list of terror.”

Sudan is one of three countries on the United States’ list of states that support terrorism, alongside Syria and Iran. Karti and the Sudanese government have been lobbying Washington to get Sudan removed from the list.

Sexual violence has historically been used as a weapon of war in the region—mass rapes were common in the Darfur massacre starting in 2003 and before that in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Special Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur Yasir Ahmed Mohamed and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the village of Tabit, in North Darfur, Nov. 20, 2014.
Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah—ReutersSpecial Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur Yasir Ahmed Mohamed and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the village of Tabit, in North Darfur, Nov. 20, 2014.

Until Wednesday’s Human Rights Watch report, international observers had not been able to adequately investigate what happened in Tabit. The African Union United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) failed to find evidence that the rapes happened at all when they were allowed to visit Tabit for a few hours on Nov. 9—government forces prevented peacekeepers from carrying out a credible investigation, Human Rights Watch and other activists explain, and days later Sudan shut the UNAMID’s human rights office in Khartoum before expelling two senior UN officials from the country altogether. The special prosecutor for crimes in Darfur, appointed by the Sudanese government, who visited Tabit on Nov. 20, also concluded that no crimes had been committed.

The details of the Human Rights Watch report are damning. Throughout the town, the report says, the pattern of the attacks was similar: armed and uniformed Sudanese military personnel went house to house, beating the men, and then raping women and girls, sometimes mothers with daughters and sisters with sisters. Survivors, including these two below, shared their stories with Human Rights Watch:

“Khadamallah, in her mid-teens, said that soldiers came to her home at about 10 p.m. on Friday night: ‘I was in the house with my younger siblings. We were sleeping when the soldiers came into our house. … They entered the house. I took firewood and hit one of them. One of them dragged me out of the room. … They raped me. … Two of them held me down while the other one raped me. Many others who were there were standing around. … And then they brought me back [to my room], tied me [to the bed], and left.'”

“Mahassan, in her twenties, said that she and three friends were raped by soldiers after sunset. They were in her home preparing perfumes for a wedding when about 10 soldiers entered the compound, dragged the women outside, and raped each of them multiple times: ‘[The soldiers] said that they were looking for a missing soldier. … They searched the compound. … [T]hen they came towards us. They grabbed me and they grabbed my friend. The other soldiers took the other girls in a different direction. They took [me and my friend outside of the compound] towards the school. They raped both of us on the street. … Three of them raped me and three of them raped my friend. … They raped us all night. That’s why I’m still sick. I cannot sit down for a long time like I could before.'”

The full Human Rights Watch report is available here.

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