Ten months after an agreement ended armed conflict between forces loyal to South Sudan’s top political rivals, South Sudan’s bishops called for the nation to “rise above negativity” and pull together to achieve lasting peace in the world’s youngest nation.
The prelates urged that personal and tribal interests be set aside and for all South Sudanese to “compromise for peace and the common good”, the bishops said in a statement on 16 June as they concluded a three-day meeting in the capital.
“Stop assuming that South Sudan and South Sudanese are doomed to always fail, and instead give support and encouragement. … Stop seeing everything in the most negative light. Stop preparing for war; move with the times into the new culture of peace and reconciliation,” the bishops said.
“We say very clearly: No more negativity!” the bishops said.
The church leaders also welcomed the work since August to form a transitional government under the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Africa. The settlement ended a 30-month civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar. Fighting erupted barely three years after the South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly for independence in January 2011. More than 10,000 people were killed and more than 1 million displaced by the fighting.
All violence must end for South Sudan to make progress, the bishops said. They invited Kiir and Machar to a spiritual retreat that they offered to direct.
“We now have a window of opportunity, a breathing space, for South Sudanese to find our own home-grown solution to the root causes of our conflicts. Our nation is still fragile, but this is the time for reform and reconstruction,” the statement said.
The bishops called on the transitional government to prioritise efforts to ease the effects of violence on the South Sudanese people, including ensuring that a comprehensive cease-fire holds and boosting security for all residents, whether in rural or urban communities. They also urged the government to improve the country’s economy, boost the delivery of basic services and resolve humanitarian concerns in order to uphold human dignity.
Lamenting the shooting death in May of Holy Spirit Missionary Sr Veronika Theresia Rackova, director of St Bakhita Medical Centre in Yei, South Sudan, the bishops said that attacks by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army on medical personnel, religious workers and churches must stop. They expressed concern that the SPLA “is not the same army which protected and liberated us between 1983 and 2005” in South Sudan’s war with Sudan.
“We wish to challenge the militaristic culture in South Sudan, where even civilians carry assault rifles,” the bishops said. “We condemn the arms trade, which provides these weapons and we stress the need for peaceful disarmament of civilians.”
The bishops also appealed to the people of South Sudan and the world to continue praying and working for peace in the country and pressed all political parties to “hold true to the principle of dialogue in resolving their differences”.