, 15 May, 2020 / 4:25 AM
Leaders of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) comprising seven member Churches have appealed to the citizens to have a “personal commitment” to fight COVID-19 amid the lifting of the earlier passed restrictions to contain the spread of the disease in the Eastern Africa country.
Addressing the press in South Sudan’s capital Juba, the Church leaders acknowledged, in their collective pastoral statement, that COVID-19 is not only a global pandemic but also a reality with at least 203 reported cases including two recoveries from the disease.
“Our people must for sure understand that basic preventive measures by individuals and communities remain the most powerful tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the Council leaders stated in their May 13 letter signed by seven members including the Catholic Archbishop of Juba, Stephen Ameyu.
“We can only contain this pandemic if every citizen makes a personal commitment to fight it,” the leaders stated in their collective statement.
The representatives of SSCC added, in response to intervention on prevention, “Unless each and every person works hard enough to quickly control the spread of this virus, it is likely to overwhelm us.”
Separated from the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) in 2013 after South Sudan became an independent state from Sudan in 2011, SSCC provides a platform to enhance the spirit of ecumenical cooperation towards collective action for peace in South Sudan.
The collective pastoral message was signed by leaders of the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (ECSS), the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Sudan (PCSS/S), the African Inland Church (AIC), the Sudan Pentecostal Church (SPC), and the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC).
Concerned about the infectious disease, the leaders cautioned nationals and foreigners to observe directives by the government and World Health Organization (WHO).
“The Church appeals to everyone in South Sudan, both nationals and foreigners, to keenly observe the public measures, guidelines and directives on COVID 19 put forward by the government and the World Health Organization (WHO),” they stated and added, “The only certain resource that the Lord God has bestowed upon us in controlling the spread of this pandemic is our own selves as vessels of control.”
On May 7, the government lifted several restrictions intended to control the spread of the pandemic in South Sudan.
South Sudan’s COVID-19 task force announced that regional flights would resume, and that markets, shops and bars would be allowed to reopen. The South Sudanese Doctors’ Union has called the decision a rushed one.
"The South Sudan Doctors Union does not see urgency in relaxing the rules and directives of the lockdown at a time when our nation is experiencing (an) exponential rise in COVID-19 cases and serious violations of control measures," the leadership of the union said in a statement May 8.
In their appeal to professional associations, community-based organizations, academics and community leaders, SSCC leaders called for education of masses who they said were being misinformed and disinformed about the pandemic.
“We acknowledge that several people have not been adequately reached with credible information about COVID-19. Most of our people are still ignorant about the potential danger posed by this pandemic,” the religious leaders said.
They added, “We have also reliably learnt that in both urban and rural areas, there is a lot of misinformation, misinterpretation of information and stigma, socio-cultural perspectives and mistaken religious interpretations that continue to impede the great efforts on preventing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and managing its impact.”
“The Church calls on you to educate our people and let them know that the solution is with them,” the representatives of the mainstream churches in South Sudan implored.
They said that everyone, from the highly populated areas including the camps of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees and the far-off rural areas with poor infrastructure and limited access to communication services require innovative, robust and sustained collective public outreach.
Making an appeal in their capacity as also the combined national religious taskforce on COVID-19, SSCC leadership expressed apprehension “that many people continue to live their lives with complete disregard for the severity of the threats of the COVID 19 pandemic.”
They emphasized, “As citizens of this fragile young but promising nation, each one of us has a national obligation to join hands with one another, in one accord, to protect ourselves and our beloved fellow citizens from the disease.”
Furthermore, SSCC leaders say, unrestricted spread of the disease has the capacity to shift the focus on the implementation of the incumbent peace agreement.
Hinting on uncertainties surrounding the peace agreement and formation of a unity government realized on February 22, the church leaders said, “We note with deep concern that uncontrolled spread of the COVID 19 pandemic has the potential to derail the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.”
The leaders encouraged the government of the landlocked African state “to set aside as much resources as it can to effectively facilitate an effective and robust overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.”
They added, an additional call on the unity government, to expedite the formation of the whole administration in the country.
“The Church is deeply concerned in the delay of the formation of the Revitalized states and local governments,” the leaders said and added, “The massive work involved in addressing the COVID 19 pandemic requires an enabling administrative structure that can effectively coordinate interventions.”
Advocating for a favorable environment in the country, SSCC officials appealed to the political leaders, both the signatories and non-signatories to the peace agreement, to end military confrontations “for successful prevention and elimination of COVID 19.”
“Cease all military confrontations and adhere to the provisions of the Permanent Ceasefire and the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement so as to create a conducive environment for successful prevention and elimination of COVID 19,” the church leaders said.
“Let us individually and collectively use our unique God-given gifts and capacities to contribute to the elimination of the COVID-19 in South Sudan,” the church leaders stated at the end of their 5-page statement.
Terming it a prophetic voice, the officials of the Juba-based SSCC appealed to the citizens to stop gathering in funerals, family functions, tea places, bars, restaurants and social discussion groupings in towns.
They expressed optimism saying, “There is still hope in the good news of the Gospel. As it was in the early Church, a vulnerable community at threat of persecution and hardship, St. Paul wrote to the people of Rome.”
“We are all called to the service of God – each one of us individually – and together as one people, one nation and one divine creation of God,” the church leaders concluded their pastoral statement.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa