Spring Lake priest to cycle NYC to raise money for girls in South Sudan
By Mary Morrell | Correspondent
For many people, the scenario seems unreal. An adolescent girl is whisked away without warning by family members, accompanied, perhaps, by police or soldiers, to be forced into marriage often against the wishes of one or both parents.
The only hope for these young girls is to complete high school studies and, somehow, get a sponsorship to go to college.
The situation is all too real for Mary and Ageer, who live in South Sudan and who are being sponsored by Father Martin O’Reilly, parochial vicar in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, when he undertakes the NYC 5 Boro Cycle May 18, covering 40 miles of New York.
“I love cycling,” said Father O’Reilly, who also serves as diocesan youth chaplain. “I love the tranquility of it. Plus, you see more of the world around you. I hope this cycle will also bring some good to others.”
Father O’Reilly shared that his first big cycle was the “Tour de Clogher,” a 94-mile charity bicycle ride in aid of missionary projects in São Paulo and South Sudan, and Clogher don Óige, a youth initiative in County Monaghan, Ireland. At that time, Father O’Reilly raised money for Father Pat Clarke, who works with the community living in Fer Villas, São Paulo, Brazil.
With the NYC ride, Father Martin is raising money for the two young girls who have worked hard, often under very difficult circumstances, to go to college because, “there is great pressure on young girls to marry so their parents can receive a dowry from the family of the chosen husband. The girls have very little, if any, say in who they marry.”
Father Martin, who hails from Monaghan, Ireland, explained he chose South Sudan because a good friend and fellow Monaghan man, Spiritan Father John Skinnader, serves as a missionary priest in South Sudan and works closely with the Loreto Sisters who run the local girls high school.
Father Skinnader shared the stories of Mary and Ageer with Father Martin:
Mary comes from Rumbek East Community. She had to travel to Kenya because relatives were trying to force her into an early marriage. She became a refugee in Kenya because she had no support outside of that given by her sister. Mary’s father is an 80-year-old pastoralist, raising livestock in the village. He was threatened by relatives because he stood up for Mary to go to school. When he could not bear the threats anymore, he gave both daughters permission to leave the country to free themselves from the bondage of early and forceful marriages. Mary cannot return home to South Sudan or her father until she finishes her studies, if she is fortunate enough to receive a scholarship.
Ageer loves to learn, and her father, who is an educated man, wants his daughter to be educated. But her mother is uneducated, and doesn’t want Ageer to go to school. When Ageer was studying for primary school, her mother would throw water on her books while she was reading and force her to do housework in the evening, when there was no need for it, so she couldn’t study. In spite of this, Ageer eventually graduated from high school. While she was waiting for the Sisters of Loretto to hopefully secure a scholarship for her to continue her studies in college, Ageer was teaching in the primary school. Her relatives threatened to forcibly take her from the dormitory and give her in marriage to someone she didn’t know. Luckily, this did not happen – not yet.
It was because of a heartfelt request from Father Skinnader to aide the two young women that Father Martin is participating in the NYC 5 Boro Cycle and asking all who would like to help to sponsor him with a donation “so I can give every help and opportunity to these two young girls.
“The cost for each of the girls is $3,000. If they don’t get to college, they very likely will be forced into marriage.”