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Mouths Speak Peace, “but activities full of atrocities”: South Sudanese Catholic Bishop

Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe of South Sudan’s Yei Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The warring parties in South Sudan’s conflict need to go beyond talking about peace, and walk the talk, a South Sudanese Catholic Bishop has said.

“Our mouths are full of the word peace, but our activities are full of atrocities and lack of peace,” Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe said during Holy Mass at Christ the King Cathedral of Yei Diocese.

Bishop Tombe who was presiding over the Eucharistic celebration September 19 explained that the failure to walk the talk “is likely reducing all of us in this country to be liars. We all talk peace and we want peace and what is going on is war, insecurity and no peace.”

“It is too painful for us, as your leaders in the Church, we cannot leave you alone, but we appeal to you to talk peace and to work and to do peace,” the South Sudanese Bishop emphasized.

After decades of violent conflict, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011.

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The hard-won independence celebration was, however, short-lived. Since December 2013 when political infighting between President Salva Kiir and his then only Vice President Dr. Riek Machar erupted into violence in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, people of God in the East-Central African nation have been subjected to a myriad of challenges.

The violent conflict between the two government factions spread to other parts of the country, especially to Bentiu and Bor, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people “in just the first month of conflict”, Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian aid entity operating in transitional contexts reported.

According to the non-governmental entity that operates in transitional contexts undergoing various forms of instabilities, South Sudan where at least 3.7 million people have fled their ancestral homes has the third largest refugee crisis, after Syria and Afghanistan.

Some peace agreements have been signed over the years of civil war, the most significant having been the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

The peace agreements have been repeatedly violated, the situation in the world’s youngest nation remaining highly unstable amid reported outbreaks of violence now and again, some triggered by inter-community conflicts.

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In his message during the September 19 Eucharistic celebration, Bishop Tombe called for honesty on the part of security officers saying, “Our soldiers and police and armed groups, all of them, let us be truthful and not liars; we want peace, we talk peace, and we do war, insecurity.” 

The South Sudanese Bishop who has been at the helm of Yei Diocese since November 1986 noted that no one will believe the people of South Sudan because they are talking of peace while carrying out war.

Also speaking during the September 19 Eucharistic celebration at Christ the King Cathedral, the Secretary-General of Yei Diocese, Fr. Emmanuel Lodongo Sebit, called upon leaders to prioritize the interests of citizens over and above their own.

Making reference to the recent Pastoral Message of the Catholic Bishops in South Sudan, Fr. Sebit said, “We have to be servants in our leadership, servants in our families as father and mother, servants in our communities as elders and chiefs.”

“The Catholic Bishops of South Sudan call on us, a call to servant leadership, a style of leaders to serve the people, not to serve my own interest or the interest of my small clique, but the interest of the common good of all,” the member of the Clergy of South Sudan’s Yei Diocese said.

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Government officials, including “(State) Governors, Ministers, Commissioners, President” are expected “lead by example; not the servant who thinks of himself or herself first or thinks of the small clique of people who are supporting him, who are always the circle of his life.”

In their Pastoral Message issued September 15, members of the South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat (SSCBS) underscored the need for true peace in the country saying, “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,” Catholic Bishops in South Sudan said, making reference to Pope Francis’ message for the 2017 World Day of Peace.

They encouraged “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.”