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“Our citizens face violence daily”: Bishops in South Sudan Decry, Urge Nonviolent Solution

Catholic Bishops in South Sudan. Credit: CRN

Catholic Bishops in South Sudan are alarmed by violent conflicts and killings in various parts of the country and challenge the government to take the responsibility of providing “security to the population.”

In a collective statement Wednesday, September 15, Catholic Bishops in the 10-year-old country highlight incidents of violence and killings that have spanned years, and advocate for nonviolent solutions to conflicts.

“Our country is supposedly at peace, yet many of our citizens face violence on a daily basis,” the Catholic Bishops say, and add, “At this very moment people are being killed and displaced around Tombura and the rest of Western Equatoria, and elsewhere. People are still living in fear in UN POC camps.”

The members of the South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat (SSCBS) express their condemnation of attacks on Catholic Church personnel, the most recent having been the road ambush that saw two Catholic Nuns among the five who died.

“We condemn unreservedly the murder on 16th August 2021 of our two dear Sacred Heart Sisters, Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba, and their fellow travelers on the Juba-Nimule Road,” Catholic Bishops in South Sudan bemoan in their September 15 statement obtained by ACI Africa.

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They add, “We are also outraged at other attacks on the church and its personnel, particularly the shooting of Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare in Rumbek.”

In their five-page statement signed by the six SSCBS members following their meeting in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, they note that “It is not only church personnel who are suffering violence.”

The Catholic Bishops recall the “murder of our dear Sr. Dr. Veronika in Yei in 2016, the Regional Facilitator of the South Sudan Council of Churches in Malakal, Juliano Ambrose Otwali, killed in November 2020, Jesuit Fr Victor Odhiambo in Rumbek, and other church personnel.”

They underscore the need to identify those behind the multiple attacks and killings and to be “held to account”, adding, “We reject the language of ‘unknown gunmen’; the local community usually knows who the killers are, but they are allowed to escape with impunity.”

The highlighted incidents serve to demonstrate a “disregard for human life in our nation,” SSCBS members say, and add, “people are dying, whether by violence or by neglect, and it seems to be just accepted.”

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“All human life is sacred,” the Bishops say, and appeal for “nonviolent solutions to all the conflicts, both national and local.”

They add that the “culture of death must be converted to a culture of life where every human being is valued.”

Making reference to Pope Francis’ message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, the Catholic Bishops say, “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions, which serve as mainstay for a false civil order.”

“Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world,” SSCBS members further say, making reference to the Holy Father’s message.

They call upon political leaders in the East-Central African nation as well as security officials to “heed the words of the Holy Father and seek to resolve the conflicts in our land through nonviolent means.”

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“We remind the government of their duty to provide security to the population, but we also urge them not simply to create more violence using the security apparatus,” the Catholic Bishops in South Sudan say in their September 15 statement.

Often, they say, people turn to violence because “they do not have access to clean water, food, housing, health care, education and other basic services.”

“It is the duty of the government to create an economic environment where these basic needs are available to the people and where ordinary citizens and indeed members of the security services will not be tempted to use violence just to feed themselves and their families,” the Catholic Bishops say.

Addressing themselves to the President on the Republic, the Bishops urge him to “work diligently to improve the economy as he has promised.”

They look back at the event of April 2019 at the Vatican following a "spiritual retreat" for political leaders in South Sudan, including President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar when Pope Francis kissed their feet.

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“We were deeply moved by the Holy Father’s unexpected gesture of kissing the feet of our political leaders, a true blessing,” Catholic Bishops in South Sudan recall in the September 15 statement, and regret “with sadness that they (political leaders) have not been sufficiently moved by his humble example and so far they have not demonstrated the political will for peace; violence still persists.”

They call for full implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in South Sudan.

“We express our frustration at the slow pace of implementation, but we also note that true peace does not come merely by signing a paper nor sharing power amongst elites. Hearts must be changed and the root causes of conflicts must be addressed,” SSCBS members say.

“We call for an inclusive process, including all actors, even those who did not sign R-ARCSS,” the Bishops say, and welcome the “mediation of the Catholic Sant'Egidio group at the invitation of the Holy Father in Rome in trying to broker an agreement with all parties, both signatories and non-signatories.”

They further express their opposition to any effort that might exist to undermine the peace process saying, “We believe that the recent splits and defections in the opposition and the adversarial style of politics cause instability and are a threat to peace.”

The Catholic Bishop make known their desire “to be more involved in the peace process,” and advocate for fostering of Gospel values through the Catholic Social Teaching, including respect for the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, solidarity, the common good and the preferential option for the poor, as well as the virtues of charity, temperance and prudence.

In their September 15 statement, the six Catholic Bishops in South Sudan express concerns about the country’s shrinking civic space and call for the freedom of press, freedom of expression, freedom of speech and assembly.

“Our leaders must listen to the voices of the people as expressed in the National Dialogue and through Church, civil society and traditional leadership, and especially youth and women,” they say.

They pray that all in positions of leadership, whether in the government, the opposition, the security organs, civil society and indeed the church, will remember that “leadership is not about sharing power but about service to God and to our fellow human beings.”

“We pray for all of you during these difficult times” the South Sudanese Catholic Bishops say, addressing themselves to the citizens of the 10-year-old country.

They encourage “all our faithful and all people of good will, especially our ecumenical and inter-faith sisters and brothers, to be strong in faith and hope and to continue working for justice and peace.”