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When Mother Teresa saved the Sudanese city of Juba from starvation with a phone call to Reagan

by Carlo Marroni

This is a true story. The story of Mother Teresa of Calcutta - made a saint by pope Francis on Sunday, Sept. 4 - who saved the population of an African city from starving to death with a telephone call. A call to the US President, Ronald Reagan. This was recounted by the Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura, now special envoy to the UN Secretary for Syria, and in the past for Iraq, and formerly the Italian government's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The year was 1986, and the Sudanese city of Juba, with a Christian majority (now it is the capital of South Sudan) was under siege, with the population worn out and starving to death. The guerillas had surrounded it, and the Sudanese government was doing nothing.

De Mistura was working with the World Food Program in Khartoum, the capital of the country. It was necessary to send a plane with provisions, but the guerillas had SAM7 heat-detection missiles that had already destroyed two aircraft.

One evening, De Mistura recounts, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta appeared in my office. I didn't know her and, in fact, didn't recognize her. She was followed closely behind by a nun. Mother Teresa was sent there by John Paul II to resolve the problem.

De Mistura explains that only the Sudanese President could intervene, but he was in the United States. And then, Mother Teresa, calmly, called Reagan at the White House. After a bit, Reagan called her back at the US embassy, at the end of a series of almost surreal talks and contacts, in the heart of Africa.

The two spoke cordially and, in the end, the nun (now Saint) informed the diplomat: “He told me that he agrees with me, that he will put pressure on the Sudanese President to have the plane take off. However, the President is, unfortunately, already on his way to New York, to the United Nations, but he will send a man by the name of George Bush to contact him at the United Nations.” That’s how the city of Juba was saved.