South Sudan: The President Of The Catholic Bishops’ Conference – “The Situation Is Tragic”

“We must summon all the parties involved in this war, the various ethnic groups and tribes, and gather around a table to talk about peace. The war that continues since 2013 shows no sign of ending. Nobody respects the outcomes of the peace talks, neither the government and nor the rebels. There is fighting in the streets, in villages and in cities”, said Mons. Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala, President of the Bishops’ Conference of South Sudan.

“The population is experiencing deep suffering, they are those who suffer the most in this war”, continued Msgr. Hiiboro Kussala. Many were forced to flee. They took shelter in the refugee camps set up in neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. There are displaced persons also in South Sudan, people forced to abandon their homes and villages to seek shelter from the warfare in other areas of the country.

In the diocese of Yambio, where Msgr. Hiiboro Kussala serves as bishop, five parish churches were shut down as a result of the hostilities. People fleeing the villages found refuge near churches, but it’s a situation of constant danger. “Going out on the streets is extremely dangerous, armed rebels are everywhere and people risk falling victims of the shootings. This is coupled by a dramatic economic situation. There is very little money and there is no food. Foodstuffs sold in markets are extremely expensive and people can’t afford to buy them. Agriculture and rearing are at critical levels as a result of the war. In some areas of the country, food is brought in by plane and distributed to the population. But it’s a solution that cannot last much longer. I’m afraid that if this state of affairs should continue many people will die of hunger, especially children”.

“Then there is the problem of medicines. There is a shortage of medicines, and the war further worsens this problem”, he said, “many children die in the first years of life because there are no medicines to treat the most common infections. Schools, hospitals and water supply systems – fundamental for the local population – cease operating because ever more often the government stops paying the workers”.

“Educational structures – from kindergartens to universities – are present in the diocese”, said the President of the Bishops’ Conference of South Sudan. “We consider the education of the young generations in the country of fundamental importance. It is necessary to ensure the formation of the new future leaders. We developed humanitarian programs to support the population. We have received funds from Pope Francis, that we made available to missionaries so they may purchase foodstuffs and medicines for the population”.

There is also a strong commitment in the area of healthcare, as “hospitals are important points of reference”, added Msgr. Hiiboro Kussala. “But, our attention is geared not only at healing the wounds of the body but also those of the soul. Major efforts are placed in the reintegration of former child soldiers: we try to help them overcome the traumas they experienced and we place them in technical schools to make them study and give them the tools to enter the job market”.

Mons. Kussala pointed out that the present political situation is the result of a lack of confidence between the government and the rebels. “They have too many interests at stake”, he remarked, “they think they can win by using weapons. On the contrary, I am convinced they should come together and resume the peace talks. This requires an external negotiator. In this respect the bordering Countries are of little help. UN special forces will be arriving to protect the population. But not even this is a solution. First we must find a way to ensure peaceful coexistence. Only then will it be possible to start considering the options for the control of the territory that ensure long-lasting peace”.

“The Church seeks to give her contribution to the dialogue of peace, and everyone has faith in the Church. We promote dialogue and peace also with the Muslim community, we seek to bring the groups to meet and to promote reconciliation between the different communities. This is also done through our radio network that brings the message of peace throughout South Sudan, equally shared by Muslims and Catholics. The radio is a precious tool to speak about peace and bring hope to the population.”

In this moment, when hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of South Sudan are displaced to neighbouring countries, the commitment of the Church includes bringing support in the refugee camps.

There is always room for hope, even in a dramatic situation. “For my country”, said Mons. Hiiboro Kussala, “I dream a future of peace, where the problems and difficulties of the past will be overcome. I dream a great country where young people grow up with the desire to build the present as if they belonged to big family, without conflicts and class divisions, nor divisions between ethnic groups”.

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