Reconciliation and work for the common good, not assumptions of perpetual doom, are necessary to overcome the problems facing South Sudan, the country’s bishops have said.
“We regret the amount of negativity and pessimism that we hear — from South Sudanese who are still steeped in the old ways of power and tribalism; from the international community; on the internet; in the media; on social media; within the diaspora. We say very clearly: No More Negativity!” the bishops wrote in a June 16 pastoral statement.
They said constant negativity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, citing St. Paul’s remarks against unwholesome words and his praise for edification.
“Stop assuming that South Sudan and South Sudanese are doomed always to fail, and instead give support and encouragement. Stop disseminating hate speech and tribalism on the internet and social media, and instead spread constructive peaceful messages. Stop propagating rumors, gossip, misinformation and disinformation.”
They called on South Sudanese not to attack and accuse one another and urged them to compromise for peace and work for the common good.
“Stop preparing for war; move with the times into the new culture of peace and reconciliation,” they urged.
The bishops’ comments came in their June 16 pastoral letter “Do Not Be Afraid: Rise above Adversity,” released at the end of their three-day meeting in Juba, the nation's capital.
South Sudan became independent from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011, six years after the end of a decades-long civil war. In December 2013, civil war broke out in the new country. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and an estimated 1.7 million.
A peace deal was reached in August 2015, but this was complicated in October when President Salvaa Kiir announced the formation of 28 states from the 10 that had existed before. Rebels objected that this favored members of Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group, the New York Times reports.
Opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as vice president in April as part of a transitional untity government leading up to elections in 30 months. Despite this, some fighting has continued in the country.
The bishops asked for understanding for South Sudan’s leaders, noting that they too suffer “the trauma of a lifetime of conflict.”
“They need healing. Let us treat them with love and mercy, not hatred and condemnation,” the bishops said. “The priority now is reforming and rebuilding our shattered nation.”
The Year of Mercy is a chance for South Sudan to “begin the long journey of peace and reconciliation,” they maintained.
“We are called upon to show mercy and forgiveness, even in the face of great evil and suffering, but we are also called upon to repent and do penance,” the bishops said.
They noted the South Sudanese Catholic participation in the April 2016 non-violence conference co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International. They repeated their statements that civil war in South Sudan has no moral justification.
The bishops voiced support for the transitional government and asked those with reservations about a conflict resolution agreement to overcome them.
“Reservations are not grounds for rejecting the agreement. Only when we have stopped killing ourselves can we sit down together to rebuild the nation,” they said.
They encouraged the transitional government’s efforts to secure a comprehensive ceasefire, to improve basic services and the economy, and to resolve the humanitarian crisis. The bishops also thanked the international community for assistance.
In their letter, the bishops especially remembered Sister Veronika Theresia Rackova, a Slovakian nun who died after being shot by soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
“In the eyes of the people whom she served she is already a martyr. May she rest in peace,” they said, adding that she is only one of the thousands of victims killed in “this senseless conflict.”
They warned that the SPLA is different from the army that had defended the country in its efforts to secure independence from Sudan. They said the army had poor discipline, training, and leadership, and that it preys upon the population, rather than protecting them.
The bishops also expressed concern about robberies of churches and church personnel.
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia was also a topic. The bishops cited its comments on problems that families face in countries like South Sudan: a lack of decent housing, a lack of work and possibilities for the young, the violence of war, terrorism, organized crime, youth homelessness and forced migration.
The Pope praised various African countries’ traditional values and strong marriages that bind families together, the bishops noted.
“May the strength of our South Sudanese families be a resource for peace and reconciliation in our nation,” the bishops concluded.