“Our people have undergone deep suffering and they continue to suffer. Our sisters, our mothers are raped by violent armed men. We place our hopes in the ceasefire, in the peace agreement, that it may transform this attitude of violence into a bridge of peace.” The tragedy of the people of South-Sudan, where one of the most devastating, forgotten civil wars has been ongoing for the past 5 years, causing the death of over 50 thousand people, with more than 2 million displaced, which undermined the development of the African Country making it plunge into a state of endemic poverty, invaded the International meeting “Bridges of Peace” ongoing in Bologna, promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio in the Spirit of Assisi. Hopes of peace for South Sudan were voiced by Father James Oyet Latansio, Secretary of the Council of Churches of South Sudan. He recalled that South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with rebel leader Riek Machar past September 12 in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Abeba. “Indeed, the peace agreement has been signed, but this endorsement remained on paper. As a Church, together with the Islamic commuity, we want this signature to be written in the hearts, that it may bring about a veritable transformation.”
How is Pope Francis following the situation in South Sudan?
Pope Francis has at heart the situation in South Sudan. In the meeting as representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches of South Sudan the Pope expressed his heartfelt closeness and his daily prayers for the people of South Sudan.
How important is it for the people of South Sudan to know that the Pope feels close to them?
The people of South Sudan and the South-Sudanese population living in the refugee camps in Uganda can’t wait to listen to the words of Pope Francis on South Sudan. One day an elderly woman asked me: “When is the Pope coming to help us?” I replied: “The Pope is with us with his prayers. His deep wish is for all this violence to stop. He prays for us every day.”
The prayers of Pope Francis are looked upon with hope and with faith. We suffer but we have faith in the future. We believe in the Resurrection.
Is Pope Francis’ voice on South Sudan an isolated voice in a conflict that has been completely forgotten by the international community?
It is. Sometimes the voice of the Pope is dismissed by mankind and by the international community, but our people know that the voice of Francis is a voice that changes people’s hearts. For example, I remember the Pope’s meeting with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, during his pastoral visit to Uganda. The President of Uganda gave the opportunity to President Kiir to meet the Pope. Kiir is Catholic, although not “full-time.” The Pope told him:
“Sign peace, end this war, stop this violence.”
And he replied: “Your Holiness I cannot, my hands are tied.” So the Pope asked him: “Who keeps your hands tied?”. The Pope then asked the South-Sudanese President to stop the killings, to put an end to this war, but Kiir confessed that he lacks the power to do so. But even if the Pope’s voice is an isolated voice it still has the power to change people’s attitudes, to touch people’s hearts so that this narrative of violence and death may soon become a narrative of peace and of life.
What brings you here at the Sant’Egidio’s meeting in Bologna?
I came here to learn to build bridges.
Today South Sudan needs to build bridges between tribes, between families, in civil society and in the government.
These bridges of hope and peace between peoples are missing, and politicians turn to their tribes for every issue. Indeed, “ethnic blood” has a stronger influence than baptismal water. It’s a fact. And sometimes also members of the clergy are enthralled by the call of this blood. But when we look at Christ on the Cross we know that forgiveness is possible, that this sense of ethnic belonging can be overcome and that it’s possible to recover the truth of the faith that changes the hearts of the people.
How important is the testimony of unity and reconciliation of Christian Churches in a reality such as that of South Sudan?
The Ecumenical Council of Churches is important today: one Church alone can do nothing.
Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Muslims must work together to fulfil the commitment for peace, a peace for everyone.
The voice of religious leaders is powerful because as a faith community we can change attitudes, through the formation of our priests and our faithful in our religious communities they can become agents of peace and build bridges of reconciliation.