, 08 October, 2019 / 11:00 AM
At a time when ordinary South Sudanese are looking at their political leaders to form the long-awaited unity government in just over a month, the Nairobi-based Apostolic Nuncio to the world’s newest nation has called on the people of God in South Sudan to seek lasting peace through the virtues of mercy, forgiveness, and love as indicators of strength over and above justice, or worse, the tendency to revenge.
“Many times, we say peace is about justice, and of course peace is about justice, that everybody gets his own and proper thing, what pertains to him so to say,” Archbishop Bert van Megen told South Sudanese who gathered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi for Sunday worship, October 6.
“But I would like to add first and foremost that peace is about mercy, about forgiveness,” Archbishop van Megen told hundreds of South Sudanese residing in Kenya, among them priests, women and men religious, seminarians, and laity.
Belonging to a country where civil strife has been going on since December 2013 and emphasis on justice as a prerequisite for peace resounding in peacebuilding initiatives, the Apostolic Nuncio challenged South Sudanese to prioritize mercy and forgiveness over and above justice.
“If in a war, and all wars are the same, at the end of the war we have to do justice to each and every one and we have to punish each and every one, then the war in itself will continue and we hate and we will be punished, and we will hate and be hated,” the Holy See Diplomat explained.
In order to break the cycle of punishment and hatred that justice seems to create, Archbishop van Megen reflected, “somebody somewhere has to say over, I will forgive.”
“Even just revenge has to stop and it can only stop through mercy, through forgiveness,” the Dutch Prelate who represents the Holy Father in Kenya and South Sudan reiterated, explaining that mercy and forgiveness are indicators of strength, not weakness.
“The mercy of God is not about his weakness, but actually about his strength,” Archbishop van Megen said and cautioned, “Don’t fall back for the tooth for tooth, an eye for an eye because the war will continue.”
Expressing awareness of the widespread impact of the protracted civil strife in South Sudan, the Nuncio said, “I know that many of you have lost families, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts in that war.”
“Probably, there is no one in this chapel who has not lost someone in his family somewhere … and there is (not) anyone in this hall who cannot tell a story of cruelty, and of struggle, and of fear,” said Archbishop van Megen, appealing to South Sudanese not to “fall into your own habit of hatred and revenge.”
Over 20 South Sudanese priests joined the Apostolic Nuncio as concelebrants at the Jesuits’ Hekima College chapel in Nairobi.
Reflecting on the day’s experience with friends on his social media account, the Apostolic Nuncio described the Sunday encounter with South Sudanese living in Kenya as “a meeting of celebration, prayer and sharing.”
“We laughed and we cried, we spoke and we listened. Women (and) men, elders and children expressed their deep yearning for peace,” Archbishop van Megen wrote in reflection and expressed his prayer, “We hope and pray that the good Lord will change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh: from revenge to love, from war to peace, from death to life.”
Looking back at the Gospel message for the day, he ended his social media post, “If we have the faith of a small mustard seed, we can move mountains. With God everything is possible.”
Addressing fellow South Sudanese at the Sunday gathering, Ambassador Monica Achol who deputizes the South Sudan Head of Mission to Kenya appealed for love among her compatriots.
“When there is love, the peace will come itself, and that is why Jesus came,” she said and posed rhetorically, “Do we have love among ourselves? Do we have love in South Sudan?”
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