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Catholic Archbishop in South Sudan Says People’s Faith Growing amid Hardships

Archbishop Stephen Ameyu of South Sudan's Juba Archdiocese. Credit: Aid to the church in Need (ACN)

Even without proper Church structures in place, the number of people coming to places of worship in South Sudan has been increasing steadily, the Catholic Archbishop of South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese has said.

Archbishop Stephen Ameyu told Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) United States, that in some places experiencing most challenges in the East Central African country, Christians are gathering under a tree to pray.

“The Christians are suffering greatly. Our priests are also experiencing many hardships. In some parishes there are only straw huts, no electricity or water,” Archbishop Ameyu is quoted as saying in the Tuesday, December 7 ACN report.

The South Sudanese Archbishop adds, “In places that do not have a church, the people come together to pray in the shade of the trees. But the people are coming in large numbers, the faith is strong.”

ACN notes that in South Sudan, reportedly one of the poorest counties in the world, two-thirds of the population is dependent on humanitarian aid. 

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“Beset by corruption and tribal feuds, the country has followed an arduous path to independence. It was only in 2011 that the majority Christian south and the Muslim north became two separate countries, the Pontifical foundation says.

Archbishop Ameyu spoke with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the country’s “disastrous situation and fledgling hopes for improvement.”

Asked to describe the day-to-day lives of the people in South Sudan, the Archbishop said, “We are coming out of decades of civil war.”

“There are only a few good roads. Everything is scarce. People search from morning until night for food and water to drink. This year, the situation was compounded by a major drought. We are still struggling with the after-effects of the local conflicts. We appeal to our brothers and sisters around the world to help us in our time of need,” he said.

The Local Ordinary of Juba Archdiocese who doubles as the Apostolic Administrator of Torit Diocese said that the Church is a sign of peace and hope for the people in South Sudan, providing a leadership role in education and health provision to the population of the world’s youngest nation.

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The Church in South Sudan, the Archbishop noted, also works to ensure that people have food and water to drink. 

“We try to encourage the people to farm so that they can take care of themselves. We are teaching the people to be confident and to stand up for their rights,” the Archbishop of South Sudan’s only Metropolitan See said.

It has been established that in the country endowed with vast natural resources, the only ones who are pocketing the wealth from these resources are the elites. 

To this end, Archbishop Ameyu expressed optimism that an ongoing dialogue, which he said had been initiated between Bishops in the country and the head of state, would result in the proper use of the country’s resources.

“There are times when riches prove to be a curse,” Archbishop Ameyu said, and added, “South Sudan has oil fields, but the profits do not trickle down to the people. A dialogue has been initiated between the Bishops and the president and other authorities. We hope that we will be able to effect a change in mentality through this dialogue.”

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“In the meantime, the government has begun to build new streets and new hospitals. I believe that these are the fruits of our dialogue,” he said in the interview with ACN.

Archbishop Ameyu was asked whether leaders in South Sudan, who “started out as warlords were taking their leadership responsibility seriously.”

He said, “Those who hold responsibility are gradually realizing that it is not in their interest to continue to act irresponsibly. As a Church, we can make them more aware of their responsibility. President Salva Kiir Mayradit has told us that he is not planning to return to war. I hope that he told us the truth.”

The Archbishop said that the Conference of Bishops has set up departments for justice and peace in all Dioceses where the people are educated on the importance of unity and collaboration.

The efforts of the Church, he said, are however thwarted by the mindsets of the people who he said tend to be tribal in their interactions.

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“Our problem is the tribal mindset, or tribalism, which has destroyed our social fabric. We are working hard to bring about a change in our people through reconciliation and dialogue and help the people understand that we are all brothers and sisters,” the Catholic Archbishop said.

He further said that though Sudan and South Sudan are now different countries, Catholic Bishops in the two countries are still working together to address the issues that affect the people of God, a collaboration realized through the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC).

“The Bishops of the North and of the South stand together. This unity allows us to put our heads together and pool our ideas as to how we can solve the most pressing problems in Sudan and South Sudan,” Archbishop Ameyu said, and added, “We are trying to exert pressure on our governments. They must change their attitude towards the people.”

Asked how the West can most effectively help the people of God in South Sudan, the Archbishop who has been at the helm of Juba Archdiocese since March 2020 said, “I most urgently call for continued support in the area of education. Education is of utmost importance.”

“The country is currently affected by severe famine. Even a little financial aid goes a long way, for example to build houses in our Parishes,” the Archbishop who will turn 58 in January said.

He added, “I am grateful to Aid to the Church in Need for giving us a platform to talk about our hardships and concerns. I thank all benefactors for their help.”