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Bishops of South Sudan call on rulers to be servants, not masters

(Vatican Radio) The Catholic Bishops of the Republic of South Sudan are calling on the country’s government leaders to be servants, not masters.

A powerful document containing words of encouragement and concern were penned by the Catholic Bishops of the Republic of South Sudan following an end of year meeting in Juba which concluded on November 15.

Entitled “Pastoral Message of Hope and Encouragement” the bishops begin their message with a reference to the Year of Faith that is about to conclude. They remind us that although the “Year of Faith” itself has come to an end, what continues is the commitment of every Christian to respond daily to the Lord Jesus, who calls us to be his disciples, sent into the world to announce the Gospel and to bear witness to the joy of a life lived in faith.

The bishops also recall Pope Francis’ first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” which, they say, reminds us that we are not alone, that “We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others”.

The bishops also recall the 50th anniversary this year of another encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” written by Pope John XXIII in 1963. They point out that it is addressed not only to Catholics, not only to Christians, but to all people of good will. “We too” – the bishops say - “address our pastoral message to all people of good will, in South Sudan, our neighbours and the international community, as we know that peace and justice can only be brought about in dialogue and collaboration.”

Turning to more political issues, the bishops point out that there is much to celebrate in the new Republic of South Sudan and that building a new nation is not a quick nor easy task. They observe that most South Sudanese people are living in peace and democracy for the first time in decades, and they commend the fact that there is religious freedom, with Muslims, Christians and followers of African traditional religion who are able to practice their faith without obstacles. They commend the ecumenical spirit which led the churches through the war saying it is still strong, and remark that they are happy to see the involvement of our South Sudanese Muslim brothers and sisters in so many initiatives.

The bishops point out that while delivery of social services, infrastructure and other basic needs is proceeding more slowly than many would wish, the people of South Sudan “broadly speaking, are better off than they have been in living memory”. When pointing out specific challenges – they say - we must always set them in the context of this spirit of hope and positivity.

At the core of the letter the bishops express some serious causes for concern, “for us and the people of South Sudan. There is a widespread feeling that something is not right. We have peace in the sense of absence of widespread violence, but not in the sense of right relationship and abundance of life.”

While – they say - they welcome a new “leaner” government which came about as the result of a reshuffle in July 2013, the bishops say they remain “concerned about governance issues, including corruption and nepotism”.

“Only an open and transparent government in which the people have a chance to participate” – they highlight – “can bring lasting peace and justice to our nation”.

“Transparency” – the bishops say - is particularly important as people can easily misunderstand actions by the government”.

In a particularly poignant and heartfelt paragraph the bishops call on the leaders to be “servants not masters, not seeking power for themselves or their own communities”. They also warn that “innocent decisions may be wrongly construed if not carried out consultatively and if not explained properly to the citizens”.

The bishops express their appreciation for the work of government leaders and their awareness that there are conflicting priorities and so many pressing needs when building a nation from scratch. However they advise government members to “choose a small number of priorities and then ensure that they are actually implemented, rather than trying to do everything at once and running the risk of doing nothing effectively”.

The bishops take time to thank the in international community, the NGOs and the UN for all the aid which has helped our people so much during the difficult days of war, but say the time has come to recognise that South Sudan is no longer a nation at war and point out that the main thrust of aid should shift towards long-term development and sustainability, including education.

The bishops turn their attention to ongoing inter-communal tension and conflict in Jonglei State and they call on the people to be proud of their heritage and culture, but not to be drawn into tribalism “which sets one group against another”

Thus, the bishops call on all parties urgently to seek a peaceful end to this crisis and commit themselves to facilitate the negotiations in any way they can.

Most importantly, they address themselves to the people of Jonglei State saying: “Only you can bring peace amongst yourselves. Our prayers are with you. Do not be discouraged. Work for peace, and know that we are with you”.

Other topics touched upon by the bishops include flooding this year that has destroyed homes and damaged crops. At the same time they offer “sympathy and prayers to the people of the Philippines who, as we meet, are dealing with the aftermath of a huge natural disaster. May God bless them and comfort them”.

And they focus on relations between South Sudan and Sudan congratulating their Governments on their recent agreement to resume oil exports which “should bring some economic relief to the people of both nations”.

However they express their concern at the lack of progress in other areas, including border demarcation, civil war and humanitarian tragedy in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.

They touch on issues such as resettlement as thousands of South Sudanese people return from exile or from internal displacement and on ongoing community questions in Abyei.

The bishops spare a thought for victims of the Lord's Resistance Army and call for national reconciliation and healing.

In conclusion, for this reason the bishops welcome the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation, set up by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and pledge their support for the reconciliation process offering the resources of our Justice and Peace Commission to help make it a success.


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