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SOUTH SUDAN: Bishops urge for transparency in government and the participation of citizens

The Catholic bishops of South Sudan have called on the government to be open and transparent and to give the people a chance to participate in the affairs of the state to ensure peace and justice. The bishops and the heads of the Catholic church in Africa’s newest nation made the call at the end of their recent Plenary Assembly held in Juba.
They acknowledged the fact that building a new nation is not a quick nor easy task. However, they advised the government to choose a small number of priorities and then ensure that they are actually implemented.
South Sudan’s bishops also looked at some of the challenges facing the nation, including the on-going conflict in Jonglei State, the devastating floods in some parts of the country and the continuing attacks by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The bishops commended the setting up of the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and promised to support the reconciliation process. 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 also praised the recent agreement reached between Sudan and South Sudan to resume oil exports but expressed concern about the lack of progress in other areas.
Commenting on the Year of Faith which is coming to an end, the South Sudan bishops said they share in the ministry of Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI in strengthening the faithful, therefore they are offering them this Pastoral Message of Hope and Encouragement.
(Photo LR - Anglican Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul and Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba)

Below is the full statment.
Pastoral Message of Hope and Encouragement
From the Catholic Bishops of the Republic of South Sudan

Juba, South Sudan, 12 – 15 November 2013

“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)


We, the Catholic bishops of the Republic of South Sudan, meeting in Juba from 12 – 15 November 2013, greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. As we approach the end of the Church's liturgical year we will soon celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, a joyful celebration of the triumph of God's goodness over the evil and suffering in the world. Immediately afterwards we begin a new liturgical year and will enter the Season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for the incarnation of our Lord, who became human and dwelt amongst us to share in human suffering and to redeem it.

The Year of Faith
This month also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith, declared by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in October 2012. The closing prayers on 24 November 2013 remind us that although the Year of Faith 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.

We recall the first encyclical of our Holy Father Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei (the Light of Faith), issued in June of this year. “The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path”. We, your bishops, share in that ministry of strengthening the faithful, and so we offer you this Pastoral Message of Hope and Encouragement. Lumen Fidei reminds us that we are not alone. "Faith is born of an
encounter". The "unbroken chain of witnesses" is complemented by the fact that "Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others. Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us... It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the 'I' of the believer and the divine 'Thou', between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the 'We' of the Church; it always takes place within her communion... The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories... the Lord gave his Church
the gift of apostolic succession. Through this means, the continuity of the Church’s memory is ensured.... The assurance of continuity with the origins is thus given by living persons".

Peace on Earth
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of another encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), written by Pope John XXIII in 1963. It is addressed not only to Catholics, not only to Christians, but to all people of good will. We too 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. Although Pacem in Terris is about peace, the first half of the document is about human rights and
duties. Peace will not come without respect for human rights, and these rights are based on the concept of the dignity of each human person, created in the image and likeness of God. It also emphasises the common good. It is based on Gospel values, but these values are found not only in the Gospels but also in the hearts of all people of good will. This encyclical is an important part of the Catholic Social Teaching which is so much a part of the prophetic ministry of the Church in South Sudan. It was emphasised again in the 2011 papal document Africae Munus which followed the Second African Synod, and re-emphasised in the closing chapter of Lumen Fidei. We commend the insights of the wise and holy Pope John XXIII, along with the fresh signs of hope brought by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, to the
government and people of South Sudan.

The Republic of South Sudan
There is much to celebrate in the new Republic of South Sudan. Building a new nation is not a quick nor easy task. Most of our people are living in peace and democracy for the first time in decades. There is religious freedom, with Muslims, Christians and followers of African traditional religion able to practice their faith without obstacles. The ecumenical spirit which led the churches through the war is still strong. We are also happy to see the involvement of our South Sudanese Muslim brothers and sisters in so many initiatives. While delivery of social services, infrastructure and other basic needs is proceeding more slowly than many would wish, nevertheless the people of South Sudan, broadly speaking, are better off than they have been in living memory. When pointing out specific challenges, we must always set it in the context of this spirit of hope and positivity.

However there are 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. We exercise the Prophetic Role of the Church. A Prophet scrutinises the signs of the times, calls for repentance, and offers a vision of a new future in Christ.

While welcoming the new “leaner” government which came about as the result of a reshuffle in July 2013, we remain concerned about governance issues, including corruption and nepotism. Only an open and transparent government in which the people have a chance to
participate can bring lasting peace and justice to our nation. Transparency is particularly important as people can easily misunderstand actions by the government. Our leaders should be servants not masters, not seeking power for themselves or their own communities, and we caution that innocent decisions may be wrongly construed if not carried out consultatively and if not explained properly to the citizens.

We are conscious of the conflicting priorities which our leaders are forced to deal with. There are so many pressing needs when building a nation from scratch, and all of them are indeed priorities. But we advise our government 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.

We once again thank the international community, the NGOs and the UN for all the aid which has helped our people so much during the difficult days of war. However now is the time to recognise that South Sudan is no longer a nation at war. While there are still emergencies which need a humanitarian response, the main thrust of aid should shift towards long-term development and sustainability, including education. The funding should reflect that shift.

The Independence of South Sudan was a joyful celebration in which we began to experience hope. We are building a new nation. But we recognise that our human efforts to bring God's Kingdom of Peace and Justice on earth are limited. Thus even amidst the new dispensation in
South Sudan we still face challenges, and we turn to God to help us to move forward in hope.

We remain very concerned about conflicts within South Sudan. As we recall our own efforts to forge “one people out of every tribe, tongue and nation”, we are encouraged by the many initiatives of the churches, civil society and the government to reduce tension. We note that the number of armed rebellions has reduced considerably as many rebel leaders have come out of the bush with their followers.

But we are concerned that inter-communal tension and conflict continues in many parts of the country, particularly in Jonglei State. We call on South Sudanese to be proud of their tribal heritage, culture and traditions, but not to be drawn into tribalism which sets
one group against another. No politician nor leader should instigate or exacerbate ethnic tension for their own ends. We call on the ordinary citizens of South Sudan, of every tribe, tongue and people, to resist the temptation to use violence and to reach out for peace with their neighbours. We re-commit ourselves to working for peace, as the Church has always done.

We are particularly concerned about the violence in Jonglei State. In the new South Sudan it is completely unacceptable for anybody to turn to violence to solve their grievances. Problems must be resolved peacefully through due process. We call on all parties urgently to
seek a peaceful end to this crisis. We stand ready to facilitate the negotiations in any way we can. The Church is like a Mother that loves everybody; all are children of God. We note with sadness that what began as a rebellion against the government now appears to have escalated into inter-communal violence involving a number of ethnic groups. We urge the government, civil society, other organisations and all people of good will to address inter-communal tensions urgently at the same time as negotiations are going on between the rebels and the government.

But most importantly we address ourselves to the people of Jonglei State. 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.

Most of our communities view rain as a blessing. However this year our country has been afflicted by floods, as we have received too much rain. Our people are suffering, their homes have been destroyed, and crops have been damaged. We pray that God will help them to rebuild their lives, just as God remade the world after the great flood in the time of Noah.

At the same time we offer our 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.

Relations between South Sudan and Sudan
We congratulate the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan on their recent agreement to resume oil exports. This should bring some economic relief to the people of both nations. We pray that it also signals an improvement of relationships and may lead to further progress.

We remain concerned, however, at the lack of progress in other areas, including border demarcation. We feel sadness and pain for our brothers and sisters in Sudan who still experience civil war and humanitarian tragedy in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and we call on all parties to implement an immediate cease-fire, to allow independent humanitarian access to all areas, and to seek a negotiated solution to all conflicts.

We pray that the “four freedoms” agreement will be fully implemented in both countries and that never again will there be discrimination on the grounds of religion, culture and ethnicity. We recall Pope John XXIII's insight that peace will only come if human rights are

Hospitality was a key element of Jesus' ministry: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35). As thousands of our people return from exile, or from internal displacement, we pray that they will always be received with hospitality, being welcomed and integrated into the community.

We understand the frustration of the Dinka Ngok community who held a community referendum in October 2013. It gives a clear signal of how serious the Dinka Ngok community is in wishing to resolve the question of their future peacefully according to existing agreements. We pray that their aspirations will be met, and that peace will finally come to this troubled area.

Lord's Resistance Army
We are appalled to learn of fresh attacks in Ezo and elsewhere, after a period when the citizens of Western Equatoria were able to begin recovering from the ravages of LRA. We call for the people of Western Equatoria to be protected and for a peaceful resolution to this long running and tragic conflict.

National Healing and Reconciliation
After decades of conflict our new country needs national reconciliation and healing. We believe both must be a priority for the Government of South Sudan. Faith communities and civil society must be at the very centre of the process, but government must also take responsibility. We believe there must first be a wide and broad-based consultation so that the citizens understand and own the concept of reconciliation. This is a process that will take a long time, maybe many years, but it must start soon. The Church has learned many
lessons from prior processes such as the People to People Peace and Reconciliation Process spearheaded by the New Sudan Council of Churches during the war, and these must be applied to the new process. At the same time the government, organised forces, politicians,
leaders and others must be prepared to be challenged on their actions during the liberation struggle if reconciliation is to succeed. The Church has the credibility and moral authority to play a leading role in this, but in fact reconciliation comes from God and cannot take place without God. Reconciliation is our mission.

For this reason we welcome the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation, set up by our President Salva Kiir Mayardit. We pledge our support for the reconciliation process, and offer the resources of our Justice and Peace Commission to help make it a success.

We call upon all people of good will in our country, our region and the international community to heed our words of both caution and hope. We recognise with gratitude the peace-building activities of faithful clergy, religious and laity, but even more so their
continuous prayers, without which there can be no success. We encourage them in their efforts.

We ask for the blessing of Christ the King on our nation, its citizens, its government, its friends and collaborators worldwide, and even on those who seek harm. God's love is unconditional. Repent and believe the Good News!

Given in Juba this fifteenth day of November 2013.


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