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Priests, Religious in Predicament amid Ethnic Skirmishes in South Sudan: Catholic Bishop

Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of South Sudan’s Tombura-Yambio Diocese/ Credit Courtesy Photo

Members of the Clergy, women and men Religious and other Church personnel in South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio (CDTY) are in a predicament amid ongoing tribal skirmishes, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese has said, regrating the fact that the violence seems to have “taken the direction of negative ethnicity.”

In a message shared with ACI Africa Thursday, September 30, the Local Ordinary of the CDTY says pastoral agents hailing from the communities in conflict face the challenge of being identified by their respective tribes, a situation that is limiting their ministry among the people of God in the South Sudanese Diocese.

“I write this note in a very personal and passionate attitude to you, due to the current culture of violence which has emerged within our diocese,” Bishop Eduardo Hiibiro Kussala says, and adds in reference to the tribal nature of the skirmishes, “The ugliest and shameful part of it is, it is taking or has taken (the) direction (of) negative ethnicity.”

Violent conflict based on ethnicity in the territory covered by the Diocese, Bishop Hiiboro notes, “is very serious and extremely delicate for us as one old community! It is also unusual and shocking!”

South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State that is covered by the CDTY has been characterized by ethnic violence in recent months. 

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Early this month, religious leaders serving in the State said that at least 200 people had lost their lives in the skirmishes.

In a September 23 report, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Peace in the CDTY said formation programs for Aspirants and Postulants had been halted and candidates admitted to these programs asked to return home amid tribal skirmishes.

“The fact of the matter is that already in our beloved Diocese there is violence, killings, hatred, mistrust, huge displacement and delusions, which have progressively increased the level of our poverty to 97% if not 100%,” Bishop Hiiboro bemoans in his message shared on September 30.

“Now, how are my Priests, Religious and church personnel going to behave or relate to these ambiguities?” Bishop Hiibiro poses in reference to the dilemma Church personnel who are natives of the Tombura-Yambio Diocese find themselves in amid the ongoing tribal clashes. 

“How can you speak to your fellow ethnic community members without being suspected or vice versa to speak to the other ethnic community members without being hated or mistrusted?” he further poses in his message put together under the theme, “CAUTION! My Priests and Religious are not necessarily violent, please Respect and Protect them!”

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“I have already heard voices, seen names of some of my Priests and Religious showing up in social media; some of us are already labelled along our ethnic lines,” the South Sudanese Catholic Bishop reveals, and poses, “How can you preach Christ to somebody who does not listen to you but seeing in front of him or her that ethnicity which he/she dislikes preaching??? Is this not possibly a worst scenario?”

He reiterates, “I have seen names of some of my priests or religious and some of our church personnel being associated or linked as taking part in the current inter-communal violence now present in our diocese.”

“People who post such information l beg that they should reach out to me or the administration of CDTY first before posting or accusing,” Bishop Hiiboro appeals, and adds, “There must be legal processes first to arrive at such a crucial conclusion.”

To solve recurring violence in the 10-year-old nation, Bishop Hiiboro underscores the need for South Sudanese to come to terms with their identity saying, “The critical question that this country, South Sudan, since birth has not resolved is, Who are we as South Sudanese?”

He adds, “We have never had a situation where we have decided what kind of South Sudanese society we want. That is why society today is shaped by ethnic, negative politics or maybe religion and other false or parasital alliances!”

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“Before, during and after our independence in 2011, what happened to us is that the controversial issues were never openly discussed!” the 57-year-old Bishop says, and adds, “What we want now as South Sudanese is to seize the vision of one nation in spirit and characters cherished more by the worthy friendship.”

In the face of these predicaments, Bishop Hiiboro urges “prudence” among “Priests, Religious and all the Church Personnel of the CDTY” and cautions them against “occasions that can raise eyebrows!”

“Arm yourselves with prudence as all these ethnic communities will run to you,” he says, and adds, “Those of you who preach the Gospel, if possible, record or write your homilies.”

“Pray always so that you may not fall into the temptations; be the quickest builders of any weak bridges between our ethnic communities when dealing with the people,” says the South Sudanese Catholic Bishop.

Still addressing himself to members of the Clergy, women and men Religious and other Church personnel ministering in the CDTY, the Bishop further advices, “While writing in social media, do so under the influence of clear thinking and spirituality.”

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Try not to join forums based on tribe, the Catholic Bishop goes on to caution, and adds, “if you are there in any of them, please do intervene in prayerful attitudes when the atmosphere is fragile or poisonous.”

“Protect, respect and help your Priests and Religious from all dangers.” he appeals to the people of God in the affected South Sudanese region.

The South Sudanese Bishop adds, “Priests and Religious are not angels; they are human and vulnerable; we make mistakes but if you have an issue with any, inform me or the administration; we shall address the matter; where legal implications will hold, we shall always abide by the laws of our land.”

He further appeals “for peace through genuine friendship” and underscores, “I sincerely ask of you a special favor for Priests, Religious and all church personnel to protect, support and pray for them!”

“Do not forget to pray for me as l never fail to pray for each of you,” the Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of the CDTY since his Episcopal Ordination in June 2008 says in his message shared with ACI Africa, and adds, “St Joseph our diocesan Patron Saint pray for us! May Jesus Christ the High Priest and Prince of Peace bless you all!”