|For the longest time, South Sudanese have been living in “disillusionment, hopelessness, and abandonment”, Catholic Missionary Nun serving in South Sudan has said, and appealed to the local church in the country that has been experiencing violent conflicts since December 2013 to ensure that the efforts of Pope Francis to realize reconciliation and peace do not go to waste.
In a reflection shared with ACI Africa Thursday, February 9, Sr. Cecilia Nya, a member of Solidarity with South Sudan (SSS), an initiative of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG) that was established in response to a request from the members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC), said that the energy of the local church in the world’s youngest nation is not being felt by the people.
The member of the UISG and USG initiative that engages in various pastoral and capacity-building activities in South Sudan underlined the need for religious leaders in South Sudan to “feed this fire of peace” that Pope Francis has ignited in the country with his recent visit to South Sudan, as well as the Holy Father’s gesture of kissing the feet of the country’s political opponents in April 2019.
“In my encounters with different people, many have wondered what has been the follow-up on the side of the local church regarding the Pope’s 2019 invitation of the President, Salva Kiir, his Vice Riek Machar, and some South Sudan Politicians to the Vatican for a retreat that was followed by that powerful gesture of the Holy Father going on his knees and kissing their feet to plead for a ‘new age of peace and prosperity,’” Sr. Nya says in her reflection.
She adds, “The people of South Sudan would have wished the local church had been more proactive in expending more energy on breathing life into this impelling gesture by the Pope. Somehow not much was being done at that level, or either, their efforts were often met with frustrations.”
Instead, the Nigerian-born member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ) observes, the people of God in South Sudan “never felt much, if any, impact at all from that retreat at the Vatican in 2019.”
“The feelings of disillusionment, hopelessness, and abandonment from every angle, the government, and the church are always very obvious when talking with people,” the SHCJ member who serves at the Good Shepherd Peace Center in Kit in South Sudan’s Archdiocese of Juba says.
Sr. Nya who has previously been part of SHCJ Leadership Team adds, “It behoves every Christian at every level, to feed this fire of Peace that the Pope has ignited.”
Church personnel at the Good Shepherd Peace Centre in Kit, an initiative of the Religious Superiors’ Association of South Sudan (RSASS) that was launched in October 2014, run a hospitality center where different groups of people come to hold various programs, including trauma healing, formators’ forums, assemblies, retreats, and training sessions for staff.
All these activities, Sr. Nya says, are conducted in the peaceful environment that the facility provides.
In her reflection titled, “A Brief Reflection on the Historic Visit of Pope Francis to South Sudan 3 – 5 February, 2023”, the SHCJ member who, from 2009 to 2014, served on the Board of Directors of UNANIMA International, a non-governmental organization advocating on behalf of women and children, immigrants and refugees, recounts her experience in South Sudan where she says she has seen the face of violence.
She recounts a particular Diocesan Assembly of South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Malakal, an event that was hosted in October 2022, a month after she arrived in South Sudan.
“The diocese couldn’t hold their assembly in Malakal as there was serious fighting going on in and around that region at the time. As such the Bishop of the diocese had to transport 80 members comprising Priests, Sisters, Catechists, and the laity to Kit where they could hold their assembly in peace,” Sr. Nya recounts.
She further recounts being struck by the “hopelessness” of the men and women Religious who participated in the RSASS Assembly that also took place in the country last year.
“I was deeply struck by how many of these men and women religious, men and women of courage, working mostly with people at the grassroots expressed the feeling of helplessness and indeed almost hopelessness over any possibility of change in the government and the lives of the people, despite their hard work,” Sr. Nya says.
She adds, “Regularly, people are being killed, maimed, raped, made homeless as they move around the country to dodge the ever-shifting mosaic of violence, with the spirit of vengeance deeply embedded within.”
The native of Nigeria who has been living and working in South Sudan since September last year says that the February 3-5 visit of Pope Francis to the East-Central African nation should be an opportunity for faith-based leaders in the country to speak to power which, according to the Catholic Nun, is to blame for the many challenges that the people are facing.
“Our local church leaders, elders, and traditional rulers need to seize this moment of grace to work relentlessly with those at the topmost rung of government to bury their political differences, come together and in the spirit of mutual respect, correct the corrupt and unjust systems within the government and stop the violence and killings taking place on daily basis unchecked. It is only thus that Justice and Peace can be restored once again in the land,” she says.
Sr. Nya describes the Holy Father’s Apostolic Journey to South Sudan as “historic” and “epoch-making”, which she says, “was also a clear learning for us all that conflicts, gun battles and show of force can never restore absolute peace among any warring groups.”
“Only Non-Violence is the Supreme law of life! This takes courage, strength to forgive, humility, obedience, and great maturity, and done in the spirit of justice and with a renewed sense of solidarity and care for one another,” she says.
The ecumenical visit that was undertaken by Pope Francis alongside the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, Sr. Nya says, “is a strong statement to this young country that Christians worldwide stand solidly with them in their struggles against political or ethnic conflicts.”
The world, the Catholic Nun who recently weighed in on Pope Francis’ third visit to Sub-Saharan Africa says, stands with South Sudan in the country’s struggles with corruption, injustices of all kinds, violence, particularly violence against women, and what she describes as “untold suffering many face having to live as refugees, far away from their farmlands, far away from their kith and kin.”
The Holy Father’s visit to the country that gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 following a referendum, Sr. Nya says in her reflection shared with ACI Africa February 9, is a great moment of witnessing the fact that God loves and cares for all His people.
Credits to ACIAFRICA
24 February 2023
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