“God wants peace for His people, no more hostilities and bloodshed”
Here is a statement from the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) on the crisis in South Sudan.
“I HAVE WITNESSED THE AFFLICTION OF MY PEOPLE AND HAVE HEARD THEIR CRY” (Exodus 3:7): An Appeal for Immediate Cessation of Hostilities and a Rediscovery of the sense of Nationhood in South Sudan
We, the Catholic leaders in the Eastern Africa Region, under the umbrella body of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, AMECEA, (with membership of the national Episcopal Conferences of: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia), have listened and watched with a lot of pain and grief the current happenings in the young nation of South Sudan. We wish to condole with all those families who have lost their loved ones in the current crisis. We pray for the repose of the souls of those who have lost their lives. Our prayers are also very close to those who have been injured, displaced and lost their properties.
Inspired by the words that Almighty God used when He addressed Moses after seeing the afflictions of the Israelites, and conscious of our mandate as religious leaders, we wish to express our solidarity with the people of South Sudan and speak to all those who are involved in any way in the current situation by using these words of St. Paul: “We are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is…” (2 Cor. 5:20):let there be an immediate cessation of hostilities and let the people of South Sudan rediscover the sense of nationhood.
As we make this appeal, we must appreciate a number of historical facts that are in the hearts of the people of South Sudan.
1. That the South Sudanese are a people whose history has been marked with a long protracted struggle for independence that lasted for nearly sixty years. During these dark years, virtues like courage, perseverance and endurance were witnessed among the South Sudanese. However, we also acknowledge that the liberation wars left wounds and scars that may not have been fully healed.
2. Throughout the liberation struggles the South Sudanese were united in fighting for the liberation of a nation, not just for their tribes or ethnic groupings. This unity is a core value that should ring in the minds of all the people of South Sudan and especially the warring parties in the on-going political conflict. Indeed South Sudan is bigger than any individual or any ethnic grouping.
3. It should also be reemphasized that the struggle involved the South Sudanese as a people. Hence the liberation and independence of South Sudan should never be looked at as solely military success! It is the South Sudanese as a people who were fighting for liberation. It therefore means that every effort should be made to avoid the militarization of the management and day to day running of the affairs of South Sudan. At this critical time especially, it is important to involve all stakeholders in the peace talks that are aimed at finding a lasting solution to the current crisis.
4. It is also of paramount importance to recall here that, in the struggles of the people of South Sudan for their independence, the Church played a very crucial role. We specifically refer to the contribution of the Church in bringing about reconciliation between different factions within the SPLM/A. The Church also contributed a lot in provision of essential services and putting up structures for such services. As it stands all these facilities risk destruction.
5. With gratitude to God, we appreciate the fact that South Sudan is predominantly Christian; hence the common bond of baptism should create a sense of true brotherhood and help the South Sudanese to desist from negative ethnicity and tribalism. In this spirit of brotherhood, we admire the strong ecumenical bond that has existed between the different churches in South Sudan. It is in the unity of the prophetic voice of the Church leaders that the people were inspired to find their identity as one united people of South Sudan. We liken this prophetic role of the church leaders to the role Moses played in the struggles that the people went through. This spiritual accompaniment of any nation is so important that whenever it is overlooked things are never the same. We therefore ask the people of South Sudan a few questions: Where is that prophetic voice? Where is the role of religious leaders in the current peace talks and negotiations? Since the voice of the Church is the voice of God, can the warring parties and all the people of South Sudan hearken to this voice which is clear: God wants peace for His people, no more hostilities and bloodshed! And again, God says: “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14).
6. With the inauguration of South Sudan as the youngest nation in the world and the celebrations that marked its independence in July 2011, there was jubilation and hope. These celebrations offered a greater challenge and responsibility towards nation building. Indeed after attaining their independence, the South Sudanese embarked on a common journey as one nation and one people united by a common destiny and hope regardless of their diverse backgrounds.
In fulfilling our mandate as religious leaders in Eastern Africa, we have always prayed to Almighty God that South Sudan which is part of the membership of our Association becomes a cradle of peace, unity and prosperity. Above all our prayer is that South Sudan remains a God fearing nation. As we learned of the sad and painful events that started on 15th December 2013, we felt sorry for the people of South Sudan. We are deeply aggrieved to watch the violence, the killings, displacements and other injustices that are reported! We are concerned with the fact that what started as a political crisis is quickly turning into an ethnic crisis.
We have read statements from Church leaders in South Sudan – we feel with them and join them in their sorrow; we join hands with them in the struggle to give concrete humanitarian assistance to many of the displaced people who have flocked to church premises seeking refuge. We acknowledge and appreciate all the organizations which have already partnered with the local Church in South Sudan in offering humanitarian assistance to those who have been hit hard by the current crisis.
Now it is more than a month since this crisis started! While appreciating the efforts being made by the regional stakeholders and the wider international community in bringing peace, we are saddened by the slow pace which the peace talks in Addis Ababa are taking. We are further saddened by the fact that the warring parties are still holding firm to their conditions. In all these we urge the parties concerned to realise one bitter fact: innocent people are being killed, people are being displaced, the rights of the people are being abused, property is being destroyed; South Sudan is bleeding! All these have a bearing on the social, economic, political and religious spheres of South Sudan.
1. As Church leaders concerned about the peoples of South Sudan we appeal for immediate and unconditional cessation of all hostilities in the entire country of South Sudan. We believe in the fact that peace is a value that all must seek and a universal duty founded on a rational moral order of society.
2. We also appeal to the concerned parties, the regional stakeholders and the international community to ensure that corridors for humanitarian access to the displaced populations are opened and security provided for those offering emergency services. Let the international community know that there is a moral obligation to intervene on behalf of the many people in South Sudan whose very survival is threatened and whose basic human rights are seriously violated. This situation demands for an immediate response.
3. We appeal for the expansion of the table of negotiations. It is our belief that this process should not be politicised. Rather, all the stakeholders should be involved so that the underlying issues to the South Sudan crisis can be addressed for a lasting peace.
4. We appeal to the warring parties in the current crisis and all the politicians to soften their positions in the interest of saving lives. We strongly advocate for the protection of the right to life and the dignity of the human person. Human life is sacred and therefore no one has the right to take it (Ex. 20:13). As Church leaders, we believe that true peace can only be made possible through dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation. At the same time we are aware that these three do not eliminate the need for justice and as well they do not block the path to truth. Hence we encourage that the solution to the crisis should also lead to a roadmap that will bring about truth and justice and healing in South Sudan.
5. We urge the nations of the world to support the initiative of Caritas Internationalis and all other organizations involved in providing humanitarian and relief services.
6. Finally, we urge all Christians around the world to pray for a lasting solution to the crisis in South Sudan and the fruit of lasting peace and unity in South Sudan.
We, the Catholic Church leaders in Eastern Africa, make this statement as a sign of solidarity with the people of South Sudan. We urge all people who are involved in the current crisis to listen to this message. Let all remember that true peace is a gift from God.
We entrust the people of South Sudan to the intercession of Mary, Our Lady Queen of Peace and Queen of Africa.
Signed: Most Rev Tarcisio G. ZIYAYE,
Date 23 January 2014