December for most Christians is a month of expectation and holy celebration of the birth of Jesus marked by family gatherings, exchanging presents and sharing meals. In the mostly Christian country of South Sudan, during the 40-year civil war against Sudan, Christmas tragically marked the beginning of “fighting season”. By December, rains had stopped long enough for dirt roads to dry and allow for movement of troops. Finally, in 2005, the civil war ended with a peace agreement that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. At long last, Christmas could reclaim its place as a joyous and holy day of celebration.
It is beyond tragic that just over a year ago in December 2013, South Sudan descended into bitter civil war ignited by internal political and ethnic rivals fighting over power and wealth. After a year of continued violence, thousands of men, women and children have lost their lives and about 2 million people have been chased from their homes, many facing possible famine.
In September 2014, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of South Sudan declared that “…the current war in South Sudan is evil, as we have said in previous messages. There is no moral justification for any further killing. We can accept no excuses or conditions from any party or individual for the continuation of the war. The fighting and killing must stop immediately and unconditionally.”
Last Gaudete Sunday (ironically, the ‘Sunday of Joy”), Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro, the president of the South Sudan Regional Bishops’ Conference, noted that “…the foundation plan of the administration of the Nation has not been put in place properly. … Let us accept and find ways of treating our ethnic/tribal divisions in order to heal them from the roots through sincere and honest reconciliation.”
The USCCB has supported the people and church of South Sudan for years. The chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace has visited the country almost annually, including during the joyous celebration of independence in July 2011. During his last visit in July 2014, Bishop Richard Pates, the then chairman, expressed his deep sorrow and solidarity with South Sudan. He encouraged the church to continue its work to stop the fighting, relieve the suffering and to heal the social wounds in the country. Bishop Pates was grateful for the partnership that Catholic Relief Services had forged with the church in South Sudan and for all the work they have done to address humanitarian needs caused by the violence. The Committee has been in regular contact with the United States Government to thank them for their work to halt the civil war and provide emergency assistance, and to encourage them to intensify their efforts to bring an end to the war.
You can join us in helping the people and the church in South Sudan through your prayer and your support for the great work that Catholic Relief Services is doing in close collaboration with the Church. Your help at this time will be one step towards restoring Christmas joy for the people of South Sudan.
Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.
Learn more about the USCCB advocacy on Sudan.