, 19 November, 2019 / 1:48 AM
Days after leaders of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) welcomed the second postponement of the formation of a unity government contemplated in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), a Catholic official of the seven-member ecumenical body used the occasion of the General Assembly of Pentecostal Overseers to outline and explain three pillars guiding the efforts by the Christian churches toward peace in the East African nation.
Providing a collective platform for Christian Churches to enhance the spirit of ecumenical cooperation in the world’s youngest nation, SSCC’s website describes the entity as “an ecumenical body of seven member churches and associate churches in South Sudan with a strong legacy of peacebuilding, reconciliation and advocacy.”
“SSCC has a framework for peace, as we call it, Action Plan for Peace (APP). This APP has got three main pillars,” SSCC General Secretary, Fr. James Oyet Latansio said Friday, November 15 in Juba during the mid-term General Assembly of Pentecostal overseers.
“The first pillar is the advocacy pillar, the second pillar is the neutral forum pillar and the third pillar is the reconciliation pillar,” Fr. Oyet, a priest of South Sudan’s Yei diocese told the General Assembly comprising 70 members, among them Pentecostal bishops and Pastors from different states of South Sudan.
“When we speak of advocacy, the first pillar, we tend to influence opinions and policies towards resolving conflict in South Sudan and also the main thing is to change the narrative,” Fr. Oyet told ACI Africa in an interview.
He explained, “The narrative today in South Sudan is that of violence, that of rape, that of revenge, that of killings and so forth. We want to reverse these narratives to that of peaceful co-existence, peaceful living together.”
Neutral forum, the second pillar, is meant for South Sudanese to sit and reflect about the causes of the conflict in their country, adapting to methods relevant to the various communities that constitute the country.
“In the Neutral Forum, which is the second pillar, is a creation of a peace space,” Fr. Latansio said and illustrated, “We sit together as South Sudanese to sought out what are these root causes, what are these pains that make us to fight as South Sudanese.”
These opportunities for dialogue are executed “not in public places but through the process that we call Community conversation or people to people dialogue process,” the South Sudanese cleric clarified.
He continued in reference to the dialogue in small groups, “It depends where, if we are among the people of Equatoria, we use communities’ conversation, if we go to our people like Dinkas or Nuer, we use people to people dialogue process.”
He justified the use of small groups in the context of South Sudan saying, “If we look to our traditional background, people sit if there are issues in the family and iron out issues.”
He emphasized the value of the neutral forum as “peace space” that facilitates the sorting out of negative attitudes toward each other including hatred and revenge saying, “We need a free space, without a free space, it is difficult to sort out issues.”
Fr. Oyet acknowledged the challenges related to the third pillar for peace in South Sudan, reconciliation, especially because it is pegged on the success of the first two pillars.
“It is not easy to reconcile,” said Fr. Oyet.
The need for South Sudanese to overcome the bitterness during the protracted civil conflict is necessary, the South Sudanese cleric observed and emphasized, “We need to overcome this and from there we can reconcile.”
The framework for peace process aims to establish nonviolent and mutually beneficial relationships across ethnic and religious boundaries, to overcome trauma, and to promote reconciliation in the country, the General Secretary of SSCC told ACI Africa.
Christian Church in South Sudan have, over the years, played an influential role in resolving conflicts, reconciling parties, building trust and confidence between communities as well as brokering cease-fires between warring parties.
APP, established in 2015, recognizes the need for a long-term peace process to resolve not only the current conflict but also the unresolved effects of previous conflicts, which seem to be factors behind the current conflict, Fr. Oyet said.
To implement the three pillars of advocacy, the neutral forum, and reconciliation, Fr. Oyet disclosed, “you need the capacity strengthening of Church leadership, whether they are in the national or the grassroots.”
The strategy designed for implementing APP at the grassroots depends on the structures of each member church, Fr. Oyet said and added, “In the Catholic Church, we use the structure of dioceses, but since we are a Council of Churches, a seven-member ecumenical body, we work ecumenically.”
So far, the initiative has “reached the refugee camps in Uganda, people in Gambella” and a host of other communities in South Sudan.
In planning for and implementing the peace initiative, SSCC Secretariat is supported by various faith-based charities, among them, the Catholic International Development Charity in England and Wales (CAFOD), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Finn Church Aid (FCA), Kairos Canada, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Trocáire.
In addition to these organizations, APP initiative has achieved partnerships with a number of overseas governments, Fr. Oyet said.
“Our main donors supporting this peace process are the European Union Commission, the UK government, United states through USAID, government of Netherlands and government of Norway, alongside private donations,” Fr. Latansio said.
He explained, “From the United states, our grunt comes from CRS; from the government of Norway, our support comes through the Norwegian Church Aid; from (the) European Union, we have Norwegian Church Aid and Finn Church Aid (FCA); from the government of Netherlands through PACs for Peace; from the UK we have Christian Aid in partnership with CAFORD and Trocaire.”
The member churches making up SSCC include the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, the Evangelical Church, the Sudan Pentecostal Church, the Sudan Interior Church, and the Africa Inland Church.
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