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ACN Feature: Extraordinary Missionaries: In the midst of persecution, poverty and war

29.10.2019 in by Matthias Böhnke, South Sudan, Sudan

South Sudan

Extraordinary Missionaries: In the midst of persecution, poverty and war

The Catholic Church is currently observing the Extraordinary Missionary Month. The missionary work of the Church is often performed under difficult conditions: in the midst of persecution, poverty and war.

The same is true for South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of casualties, millions of refugees – the country has been left in a desolate state by the civil war that broke out in 2013, at a time when the African country of South Sudan was only in its second year, and lasted until the cease-fire last year. Even though South Sudan is the third poorest country in the world, the cost of living is comparatively high. Many are not even able to afford the most basic foods and are reliant upon aid and support. The country is saddled by even more problems through the many diseases such as malaria.

Father Boniface Isenge from the centrally located diocese of Rumbek spoke about his country during a visit to the headquarters of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need.

According to Father Boniface, about 38 per cent of the approximately 13 million South Sudanese are Christians, of them, about 180,000 Catholics live in his diocese. He said that many consider the Catholic Church to be the only functioning institution in the country. As a young priest, the Spiritan first lived in neighbouring Ethiopia for eight years before he decided to go to South Sudan in 2013. “After the country gained independence, my order was urgently looking for priests and missionaries to work here. I wanted to do something new and was ready for this new mission,” Father Boniface recalled. He sees it as his calling to bring peace to this war-torn region.

A longing for education

Almost immediately upon his arrival, the priest discovered that his parishioners were longing for education. “In some cases, the schools in South Sudan are located quite far apart,” he deplored. “They are overcrowded: in general, there are 60 pupils in each class and sometimes more than 100 people have to be taught in the same room.” According to official statistics, about three quarters of all inhabitants of South Sudan over 15 years of age are illiterate. The priest soon realised, “Education is the key to eliminating the recurring tensions in the populace. Education will bring peace!”

Therefore, in addition to pastoral care, Father Boniface focuses his work on communicating to parents the importance of education for their children. Not only so the children’s prospects are better than those of the generation that came before in spite of the wretched state and problems facing the country, but to strengthen their independence. “Because 17 percent of all marriages are still to underage girls. Unfortunately, that continues to be common practice here,” the religious said.

 

Hope – in spite of adversity

However, in spite of so much adversity, Father Boniface remains confident, “My heartfelt thanks to all who support us and are close to us in prayer. I very much hope that, in the future, it will be possible to lead a good life in South Sudan.”

 

Alone since 2015, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need has granted more than 5.1 million dollars  in aid to the Church in South Sudan for such projects as the rebuilding of churches and pastoral facilities, priest formation and Mass Offerings.

ACN Interview – The Suffering Hearts of the South Sudanese people

04.08.2017 in ACN Canada, Africa, Famine, South Sudan

Sr Yudith Pereira RJM Ass. Executive Director, Photo: solidarityssudan.org/

South Sudan/Rome

The Suffering Hearts of the South Sudanese people

An interview with Sister Yudith Pereira by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

Sister Yudith Pereira, a Religious of Jesus and Mary from Spain, spoke passionately to Aid to the Church in Need about the situation in South Sudan, the work of the Church and her organization’s mission to assist the people of South Sudan—always—but especially now, in the throes of a famine with catastrophic consequences.

 

We reached out to the Associate Executive Director of “Solidarity with South Sudan” at their international office located in Rome. The clear-voiced joyful and at the same time, soft-spoken, Sister Yudith, who has 17 years of missionary experience in Africa and a background in Agricultural Engineering, was especially happy to tell us that her order of religious had a special connection to Canada and a mutual cause for celebration, for the first of the blessed women in Canada—Dina Bélanger—also later known as Marie Sainte-Cécile de Rome—was also a religious of Jesus and Mary. Fittingly, the order’s charism is in part to provide education in the faith and a special concern for the poor and the disadvantaged.

 

“The situation is worsening”

In mid-June, the statistics indicated approximately one million children and possibly more, were suffering from malnutrition; while 250,000 of the food crisis cases were classified as very critical, and 5.5 million people were staring helplessly at the possibility of starvation—that is a shocking 40% of the country’s population.

When asked to share an overview of the situation in South Sudan and whether the famine was worsening or improving, she said: “No.  It is getting worse. The general situation of the country is worsening day by day.” As a frequent visitor to the country she ascertained, “the situation is worsening on all levels. The people are hungry, all of them. And you can see it, it’s terrible.”

Sister Yudith went on to explain the problem of inflation and access to supplies. “On one hand, the inflation is about 900%, so people can’t buy anything. The salaries have not increased. Even if there are things they could buy at the market; people still can’t reach them.” (…)It’s impossible to buy anything,” she said.

 

“But where are we going to get the food?”

Explaining that a great many people throughout the country have now been displaced, “people who were used to cultivating, once displaced, lose the capacity for producing food. So even in areas that may be producing food like in Riimenze where we [Solidarity with South Sudan] have a farm— around the main house there are more than 5,000 people displaced people who have left their farms because of fear of being attacked by one side or the other.”

“When rain comes, because the land is very flat in many areas it gets flooded. People cannot move. They cannot go to places to get food—or to camps to get food—so very often they eat grass”

Continuing with her description of the situation facing the people without singling out any of the different fighting factions she insisted, “We will only talk about the victims, because the situation is very complicated.” The religious Sister explained that even the people whose land is in a good location for cultivation are afraid of sackings by the armed groups for it is a regular occurrence. She said, “and they do it, even the refugees are sacked many times over, though they have nothing in their tents. It is a terrible situation. You may have money, but there are no roads and there is no market so you don’t know where to buy the food. It is a huge problem,” she said.

 

Sometimes, we are offered money to buy food—but where are we going to get the food? You can’t buy any. I know of some internationals bringing food from Uganda and Kenya, but it is very hard because there are no roads, there are huge holes in the roads, and they are very dangerous. You might be attacked,” she emphasized.

Reduced to eating grass

Another obstacle to food access according to Sister Yudith, is the rainy season which by mid-June, is well underway. “And then there is the rainy season … When rain comes, because the land is very flat in many areas it gets flooded. People cannot move. They cannot go to places to get food—or to camps to get food—so very often they eat grass. ‘People become isolated in many places, so it’s difficult to reach them— it has happened many times, that in an emergency, supplies have to be dropped by air in the hope that someone will find it. So it’s hard. Apart from that—the state does not give out enough for salaries, so people are not getting the usual money they should get—so the whole situation is terrible—it’s terrible everywhere. With much emotion, Sister Yudith reiterated the tragic reality, “Yes, they eat grass.” 

 

Is armed conflict at the source of the famine?

In early June, Pope Francis cancelled his foreseen trip to South Sudan indefinitely for security reasons. When asked about this and the conflict as the main source of the famine crisis, Sister Yudith said, “I think that yes, the origin of the famine crisis is the armed conflict. The people in South Sudan, the government and the opponents, they are fighting for power and for money, for funds. It is not an ethnic fight. And as for Pope Francis visiting… the last time I went to the airport—there was no airport!  One side was not yet finished, and the other was taken down and the new one is under plastic tents. It’s like a tent airport—there is no security for the Pope.”

“We are very sad about not having the visit. On the other hand, people need to be aware that we also need to work for peace. At the higher and the lower levels, more and more because if not, peace never will be there,” she said almost as a plea.

 

Religious of Jesus and Mary Sr. Yudith Pereira interacts with some children on a visit to South Sudan. (Provided photo) from the Global Sisters Report http://globalsistersreport.org

 

Helping Refugees and channeling emergency aid

 

When asked how the Church is working with the internally displaced people and what are they able to do she said “Most of us are helping refugees and channeling emergency aid, but as for Solidarity with South Sudan, we are not an emergency (relief) organization.”  The organization works with building community and providing training, “We still are focused on that but, of course, we channel emergency help. The problem is we don’t have the structure to do it, but we still have to do it! Around every parish and cathedral, everywhere—everywhere—around all the churches, you will find refugees and displaced people because they are considered safe places, or safer places. They are very involved in denouncing the situation and speaking up for peace—they can’t do more. They are doing a lot.” She went on to ask us to pray also for the people who are on the front lines helping the suffering, for it is very difficult work.

 

Please speak loudly!

 

When asked what the most pressing needs were for people of South Sudan in her view, she said what was of greatest importance was something somewhat surprising. “The thing people ask us for, is not food nor money. They tell us: Please speak loudly about what is happening in South Sudan. When Bishop Erkolano of Solidarity for South Sudan came to Rome, he asked us please to tell this story, to speak about this. He said a genocide is going on, killings are going on, and nobody speaks about it. It does not interest the world.”

 

 


This concludes this first part of our interview with Sister Yudith Per. Stay tuned to our networks for the second part where we will learn more about the role of women in solving the problems threatening South Sudan, and some of their stories and more. For more on how to help with the situation in South Sudan, you can visit our special website set-up to alleviate hunger in the region  http://www.acn-aed-ca.org/iamstarving/.

 

 

Archbishop Lépine calls us to Pray, Give, Speak-Out

12.07.2017 in Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Famine, Mario Bard, Nigeria, Prayer, Press Release, South Sudan

The Pray, Give, Speak-Out Campaign

Archbishop Lépine calls for solidarity

 

“It is now that millions of people suffer from hunger… let us stand in solidarity with them,” answers Msgr. Christian Lépine when asked why give for the famine in Nigeria and in South Sudan in a short video published yesterday on Aid to the Church in Need Canada’s Youtube channel.

 

Marie-Claude Lalonde and Msgr Christian Lépine during the Pray, Give, Speak-Out campaign launch in June.

A reminder from the Archbishop of Montreal and member of the ACN International Council, that the campaign launched by the Canadian Catholic Bishops is still underway and that the situation itself remains a major concern for our project partners.

 

“If the period for matching donations by the Canadian government has ended, Aid to the Church in Need continues to receive donations to relieve hunger due to famine,” indicates Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need.

“We are happy that Msgr. Lépine supports us in this urgent action as a member of our organization’s International Council.  We therefore would like to invite people who have not yet had the chance to give to this campaign to do so as quickly as possible.”  ACN Canada is one of three charitable organizations proposed by the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops as part of the campaign they launched in June called, Pray, Give, Speak-Out, aiming at countering the famine threatening over 20 million people in Yemen and in three other African countries namely Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.  ACN has been able to give support to project partners in the last two countries among those listed.

Concrete results already emerging

In fact, our project partners have begun receiving what is needed to feed the people coming to them.  “They have already begun work to help the population.  What our organization is sending is but a bare minimum for the time being.  Our objective of collecting $290,000 is on its way to being achieved!  Let us hope for it and thanks to the generosity of Canadians, that we may do more than we initially planned for.  Thank you for your help with this urgent mission!” declares Mrs. Lalonde.

 

To assist our project partners in Northern Nigeria and in South Sudan, please give at the following address:
www.acn-aed-ca.org/iamstarving/

 

We also welcome donations by credit card over the phone:
1-800-585-6333, Ext 227 for Donor Services.

Finally, cheques can be sent by mail.  Please mention ‘Famine Campaign 2017’ on the envelope and making cheques payable to Aid to the Church in Need.  Our mailing address:

Aid to the Church in Need Canada
Famine Campaign 2017

P.B. Box. 670, Station H
Montreal (Québec) H3G 2M6

*

 


 

Project of the Week – Famine Relief in South Sudan

21.06.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Famine, South Sudan

Hunger Relief

One million children are suffering from malnutrition in South Sudan

 

Aid to the Church in Need is participating in a large fundraising campaign launched with the Catholic Bishops of Canada on June 7th .  This cry from the heart, which has sprung from the episcopacy, reflects the sense of urgency coming from a population who are becoming hungrier by the day.

Our organization accepted the call to act.  We will do so in direct partnership with our project partners situated in the North East of Nigeria and South Sudan.

 

This week, we are presenting to you the details of what we hope to accomplish thanks to you in South Sudan.

 

Like in Nigeria in 2015 (photo), we want to help IDP’s in South Sudan as they are fighting famine and are at great risk to die.

We need $140,000 for the distribution of bags of sorghum (a nutritionally dense grain common to the area).  Currently, over one million children are suffering malnutrition – 250,000 of who are in critical need!  From now to July, at the very peak of the hottest season of the year – up to 5.5 million people are under threat of the ensuing famine if we allow this scourge to spread.  Meaning, this famine could potentially hit upwards of 40% of the South Sudanese population.

 

The various conflicts raging gravely affect the inhabitants of the Upper Nile region.  Last January, a new wave of violence obliged 20,000 peoples to find refuge in Aburoch, in Saint Stephen’s parish in the village of Malakal.  These people no longer have any work, nor do they have lands to till.  They have lost practically all their belongings, and they are the very first to have been struck by this famine, and to suffer as a result.

 

We need your help now to send them at least a little bit of nourishment.  With transportation included, we estimate one bag of the staple grain, sorghum, costs about $70.

 

Your help can feed approximately 10 people for a brief period.

 

Thank you for supporting this pan-Canadian initiative! Please do not forget, the Canadian government will match your dollar and place it in their Famine Relief Fund.  

 

Québec Press Conference — Interfaith Famine Relief campaign launch

08.06.2017 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Marie-Claude Lalonde, Famine, Nigeria, South Sudan

Québec Press Conference — Interfaith Famine Relief campaign launch — June 7, 2017

 Against the famine – #PrayGiveSpeakOut

 

Speech given by Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need

(Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin)

 

Aid to the Church in Need is proud to be participating in this collective and interfaith effort that follows the call for solidarity with Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen where famine has struck. We will do what we know how to do best; help on the ground. Though our organization is a pastoral charity, we never let our project partners down when they are hard hit. This time is no exception.

Of course, our charitable aid will not resolve the root problems. However, through our actions we will bring relief, as much as possible, to our brothers and sisters who are suffering from this horrible famine.

 

In order to declare a state of famine, (UN) people must already be dying. That is the case in South Sudan and the situation is more than worrying in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. It is one minute to midnight.

Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need. (Credit: Webtélé ECDQ.tv)

 

Last year, Aid to the Church in Need provided food assistance to the diocese of Malakal in South Sudan. The situation is not improving. We have already promised to help feed 20,000 displaced people, still from the same region. We need $140,000, and that is only short-term aid. We will have to do much more.

 

In the northeastern part of Nigeria, we have unfortunately been witness to regular sectarian conflicts and attacks by Boko Haram. The least of which we see in the media and therefor we have practically forgotten that it was about a few problems and that hunger has been threatening for some time already. For Nigeria, we need $150,000 to provide food assistance and seeds in order to restart agriculture. In this case, as well, we know that our intervention will have to be extended over a certain time period. These two fundraising campaigns will not  cease at the end of June along with the Federal government’s program. We will continue as long as the needs are desperate.

Press Conference – Diocese of Quebec city, June 7 – Interfaith campaign to fight famine in four countries: South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia. (Credit: Webtélé ECDQ.tv)

In any case, we will provide pastoral support to people traversing this hardship as well as to the Church who is always active is easing the ambient misery, and this whatever the religion of the person who presents themselves to her.

 

Pray, Give, Speak-Out; the theme of the interfaith call made public today. Through our fundraising campaigns, we invite people to be generous in a financial way, but we are also appealing for their solidarity through prayer. Giving for the famine, praying for those who are suffering and for peace to return.

 

We are continuing our work of drawing the awareness of our current and potential benefactors and to the public in general as a response to the call to Speak-Out.

 

Thank you to all the interfaith communities who are joining in this great movement. Together, we can lighten the burden of men, women and children who at this very moment have empty stomachs.”

To GIVE via Aid to the Church in Need to the campaign

Pray, Give, Speak-Out, click here.

Thank you.

Declaration of Interfaith Appeal from Canada’s Faith Communities

Help us alleviate starvation in Sudan and in Nigeria

 


 

Declaration of Interfaith Appeal from Canada’s Faith Communities

07.06.2017 in Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Nigeria, South Sudan

PRAY – GIVE – SPEAK OUT

An Interfaith Appeal from Canada’s Faith Communities

South Sudan – Somalia – Nigeria – Yemen

As faith leaders in Canada, we call upon our communities and all Canadians to mobilize in response to one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises since the Second World War: the grim reality of multiple famines occurring simultaneously in four separate countries – South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen – threatening some 20 million people. United Nations agencies have already confirmed that South Sudan has 100,000 people in famine conditions, 1 million more who are on the brink of famine, and another 5.5 million at risk of famine by July 2017.[1] A declaration of famine has not been made by UN agencies since July 2011 when some 260,000 people died in Somalia – half of them children under the age of five. The world must not let those horrors be repeated.

Situations of war and violence are mainly responsible for this crisis.[2] The protracted civil war in South Sudan is widely considered the principal cause of the famine there. The United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide issued a chilling report in November 2016, noting that in South Sudan “there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide.” Conflict, hostilities and lack of security are similarly the main causes of the severe food insecurities happening in Somalia, Yemen and northern Nigeria.

Our joint appeal is a unified cry from the heart, with one voice and one message. Ours is the insistent call for peace and the need to protect the vulnerable. The protection and promotion of human dignity are foundational elements of all our faith communities. Willful indifference towards violations against human dignity is always wrong, at all times and in all places.

We appeal to our faithful, and all people of good will, to:

  • Pray: Remember the people of South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen during times of personal and community prayer. Pray for peace, for government leaders and for humanitarian workers in the region. Remember especially the 1.4 million children who are the most vulnerable. For people of faith, prayer is always timely and efficacious. It unites our deepest communal and personal concerns and hopes with the needs and sufferings of our sisters and brothers, whatever the distances that separate us.
  • Give: Make a financial contribution to one or more of the various reputable aid agencies working to alleviate this crisis. The Government of Canada has created a “Famine Relief Fund”. For every donation made between March 17 and June 30, 2017, by individuals to registered Canadian charities, including many of those development and relief agencies sponsored by our faith communities which operate in the region, the federal government will contribute an equivalent amount to the Famine Relief Fund. According to the United Nations, the present humanitarian crisis far exceeds the current availability of resources and the amount of funding so far committed by countries around the world.[3]
  • Speak out: Take the time to become better informed about this crisis, and to speak about it with your family, friends and neighbours. Discuss this compelling world issue with your local community agencies. Contact your local Member of Parliament to communicate your concerns.

In addition to the Famine Relief Fund, the Government of Canada has committed $119 million to South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, of which $37 million is allocated specifically to South Sudan. Canada is also contributing 10 peacekeepers to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Yet much more needs to be done. We urge the members of our respective faith communities to join us in encouraging our government to continue calling for greater humanitarian assistance and a cessation to the violence.

Our government has made known its intention to participate more fully at the UN Security Council in the coming years. Now is the moment for our Prime Minister and all Canadian leaders to live up to that aspiration by speaking out clearly and consistently to end the violence taking place in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.

Canada’s voice must be heard in this dire moment, especially as it celebrates 150 years of Confederation. Our faiths call us to share the gifts with which we have been so generously blessed and to be accountable for how we assist others when they are in need.

Signatories:

Mukhbir Singh – President, World Sikh Organization of Canada.
Asif Khan, National Secretary Public Affairs – Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’a at Canada
Fred J. Hiltz, Archbishop and Primate  – The Anglican Church of Canada
Rev. Canon  Dr.  Alyson Barnett- Cowan – President, Canadian Council of Churches
Bishop Abgar Hovakimyan, Primate of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church Canadian Diocese
Gerald Filson, Director of Public Affairs – The Bahá’í Community of Canada
Rev. Tim McCoy, Executive Minister – Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec
Dr. Mohammed Iqbal Nadvi, Chair – Canadian Council of Imams
Nuzhat Jafri, President  – Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Rabbi Debra Landsberg, President –  Toronto Board of Rabbis
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Co-Chair – Canadian Rabbinic Caucus
Rev Dr Jen Garbin BA MDiv DMin, Regional Minister, Region of Canada – Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US & Canada
Mr. Bruce Clemenger, President , The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC)
The Rev. Susan C. Johnson,  National Bishop, – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Primate Bishop Anthony Mikovsky – Polish National Catholic Church of Canada
The Rev. Peter Bush, Moderator, 2017 General Assembly – The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Reverend Marijke Strong, Executive Secretary of the Regional Synod of Canada – Reformed Church in America
Commissioner Susan McMillan, Territorial Commander – The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory
(Most Rev.) Douglas Crosby, OMI , Bishop of Hamilton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

[1] UN News Centre, “Famine declared in region of South Sudan – UN”, 20 February 2017 {http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56205}.

[2] Somini Sengupta, “U.N.’s famine appeal is billions shy of goal”, The New York Times, 23 March 2017 {https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/world/africa/un-famine-nigeria-somalia-south-sudan-yemen.html?_r=0}.

[3] United Nations press release, “Amid humanitarian funding gap, 20 million people across Africa, Yemen at risk of starvation, emergency relief chief warns Security Council”, 10 March 2017 {https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc12748.doc.htm}.

Let us answer their call together,

let us unite and combat this scourge which has fallen on our brothers and our sisters.

 

Aid to the Church in is responding in a big way to this call!  Read about it and give here!

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED CANADA – REACTION : #zerofamine

30.05.2017 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Aide à l’Église en détresse., By Mario Bard, Famine, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen

PRESS RELEASE

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED CANADA – REACTION : #zerofamine

Montreal, Tuesday May 30, 2017—Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) welcomes very favourably, the news from the federal government who yesterday created the Famine Relief Fund (#zerofamine) in order to combat this tragedy more particularly in South Sudan, in the northeastern part of Nigeria and in Yemen and Somalia.

“The news is very bad and confirms what we have been hearing from our project partners for some months about the lack of food and the famine moving in,” announced Marie-Claude Lalonde, the director of the Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need.

“What is troubling is that in the case of all these countries, it is conflicts provoked by war between different factions causing this tragedy. South Sudan, where the famine has resulted in great part due to the grip of the civil war since 2013, is a good example of this.”

In February of last year, in fact, Aid to the Church in Need reported that the South Sudanese bishops had denounced the situation. They recalled one of the sources of the famine being: the impossibility for villagers to work or harvest their lands because of the presence governmental or opposition fighters, who practiced a “scorched earth” policy. They considered, “everything a form of collective punishment, which is banned and considered to be a war crime according to the Geneva Convention.”

 

In 2015, the local Church in Nigeria already gave help to IDP’s fleeing Boko Haram.

An 800% Inflation rate

A South Sudanese pastoral worker, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, also told Aid to the Church in Need that the problem could take on a new scale if the international community did nothing. “It is extremely difficult to find food and to get money to pay for merchandise … now very expensive merchandise,” he said. Early in the year during the interview, inflation had already risen to 800 percent!

This same person also accused the leaders of different tribes—still of great importance to the South Sudanese society—to fight only “for political power and money (oil, wood, mineral resources). These elites worry more about their own advantages than the well-being of the people, many of whom are dying of hunger,” he denounced.

In 2015, the local Church in Nigeria had already provided help to IDP’s fleeing Boko Haram.

For many years, Aid to the Church in Need has supported the local Church in South Sudan and in Nigeria, particularly in the dioceses touched by the violence of the civil war and by Boko Haram.

 

Photo: South Sudan, January 2017, in the IDP’s camp of Riimenze

 

ACN Project of the Week – Training 22 seminarians in South Sudan

15.03.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Journey with ACN, Religious formation, Religious men, SEMINARIANS, South Sudan, Sudan

South Sudan                                                                

Training for 21 seminarians in the diocese of Tombura-Yambio

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world today.

In 2011, when the predominantly Christian and animist South of the country finally declared its independence from the overwhelmingly Muslim North after a quarter of a century of bloody civil war, the change was initially followed with great rejoicing. But, the joy did not last. In 2013 South Sudan slipped back into a new civil war.

Once again – as in so many other countries around the world – the Church is the only institution in which the suffering people can place their trust.

Pictures of seminarians at the minor seminary St. John Paul II in Tombura Yambio

With an area of over 81,000 km² the diocese of Tombura-Yambio is almost the size of Austria! The shortage of priests here is acute; many parishes do not have any priest at all. But even where there is a priest, he has to minister to an area so vast and with so many remote and widely scattered villages that the faithful in the local communities only rarely receive the Sacraments. As a result, many Catholics die without the last rites of the Church, many children remain unbaptized and the ordinary faithful are left longing to attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion.

Once again – as in so many other countries around the world – the Church is the only institution in which the suffering people can place their trust.

Therefore, the most pressing concern of the diocese is to provide its future priests with a good and solid formation. For every new vocation is a sign of hope for the future. So it is a source of great joy that there are 21 young men preparing for ordination right now,  in the diocesan seminary – the downside, however, is that the Bishop has no resources to fund their training. So often the parents of the seminarians have nothing. They have lost everything due to war, being uprooted and expelled from their homes and have even watched their houses burn to the ground and lost their few possessions to looting.

A seminarian at St. John Paul II in Tombura Yambio

“We are turning to our fellow Christians, hoping you can help us to train up our seminarians, so that they can become priests and serve the suffering people in our country, and at the same time become promoters of peace,” writes the rector of the seminary to us. And his bishop supports his request with these memorable words: “I do not want to see the future of the Church crumble in my hands.” He is also asking for our help.  We have promised him 28,275 dollars

 If you would like to support this or a similar project – simply click here to donate!  Thank you!

 


 

 

Press Release – Episcopacy denounces violence against civilians in South-Sudan

28.02.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Press Release, South Sudan

South Sudan

Episcopacy denounces violence against civilians

 

United together from February 21 to 23, the Catholics bishops of South Sudan resolutely denounced the violence perpetrated against civilians, as “war crimes” inflicted by both the opposition and the government who are accused of killing, raping, burning, beating, looting, harassing and detaining civilians, even keeping entire villages from harvesting their crops resulting in some regions facing famine.  Aid to the Church in Need has obtained a copy of this declaration; here are some of the highlights.

 

“We, the Catholic Bishops of South Sudan, have frequently written pastoral messages urging change in our nation, but it seems they have had little effect,” they write in their address with a title taken from the prophet Isaiah, also quoted by the evangelists Matthew and Mark, “A Voice Cries in the Wilderness.”

 

“Our country is not at peace. People live in fear. The civil war, which we have frequently described as having no moral justification whatsoever, continues. Despite our calls to all parties, factions and individuals to STOP THE WAR*, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all over the country,” they write.

Displaced children in Riimenze, South Sudan

 

The bishops also remind us that the people cannot go to do their harvest because they fear the armed forces, whether they are from the government or the opposition. “Some towns have become “ghost towns,” they write.  “While the authorities may claim that they are free to return to their homes, in practice they fear to do so. In places, the destruction has been described to us as “scorched earth,” they tell us. “All of this is a form of ‘collective punishment,’ which is outlawed as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.”

 

 

Undermining faith in the Church

 

The South Sudan Episcopacy give us an example of these crimes with the story of “Sister Veronica, a doctor who was gunned down by soldiers while driving a clearly-marked ambulance on 16th May 2016. Her killers were arrested, but we have heard no more and we await justice.”

 

Otherwise, the bishops remained “concerned” that “some elements within the government appear to be suspicious of the Church. In some areas, the Church has been able to mediate local peace deals,” but according to the bishops, “easily undermined if government officials are removed and replaced with hardliners who do not welcome Church efforts for peace. Priests, sisters and other personnel have been harassed. Some of the programmes on our radio network have been removed. Churches have been burned down,” say the bishops.

 

On Valentine’s Day, security officers tempted to close their Catholic bookstores.  “They harassed our personnel and confiscated several books.” The ecumenical church leaders’ delegation which visited Pope Francis in Rome and Archbishop Justin Welby in London has been trying,” in vain, they say “to obtain a meeting with President Salva Kiir since December 2016.”

 

The bishops recall that they are not against anyone, “but AGAINST* evil – violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression – regardless of where they are and who is practising them. We are ready,” they write, “to dialogue with and between the government and the opposition at any time.”

 

They conclude by addressing particularly the faithful while affirming: “We will continue to be “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness”. We wish to give you hope that you are not abandoned and that we are working to resolve the situation at many different levels.

 

Finally, with great joy, we wish to inform you that the Holy Father Pope Francis hopes to visit South Sudan later this year. The Holy Father is deeply concerned about the sufferings of the people of South Sudan.”

 

* Capitalized in the original letter. 

Displaced People in Riimenze, South Sudan

ACN Interview – South Sudan

20.01.2017 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Journey with ACN, South Sudan

Photo: Displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan, January 2017

South Sudan

Daily conflict for ordinary citizens

South Sudan, located in the heart of Africa, is the youngest nation in the world; it gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. Two years later, a civil war broke out, pitting the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) against the opposition; the conflict has since become a brutal tribal war.

The “Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,” signed by both factions in August 2015, brought but temporary peace, with fighting flaring up again since last summer. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens of South Sudan are suffering from hunger and are caught in the midst of the fighting. The UN estimates that there are 1.7 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the country, 75 percent of whom are struggling to survive in the three states hardest-hit by conflict: Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei.

Maria Lozano of Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity, recently spoke with a pastoral worker in South Sudan who, preferring to remain anonymous, explains the roots of the crisis and describes the plight of the people.  

Displaced People in Riimenze, South Sudan

 

 

ACN: Can you describe the political situation in South Sudan? 

The president part SPLA has won the battle against the former vice-president; he represents one main tribe in South Sudan. The situation is very complex, as various tribes have been caught up in the fighting and several tribes are being brutally suppressed by the army, which considers them to be “rebels.” The army is responsible for the killing of innocent civilians and the destruction of homes. The region has a complex history, marked by many wars. South Sudan, which is mostly Christian, broke away from Sudan, which is mostly Islamic. Also, the local traditional tribal culture has not yet had the benefit of economic, social and political development.

ACN: What role does tribal culture play in the conflict?

There is the mentality that holds that the tribe is the most important social unit, and that individual lives have to serve the tribes, as directed by councils of elders, even today. Many tribes coexist in South Sudan, fighting for cows as symbols of power and wealth. Conflict has never been rooted in hate or genocide; the pursuit of wealth was the cause of any fighting. In short, the people of South Sudan lack a sense of national identity. Their allegiance to their tribe comes first—and that often leads to conflict.

Displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan, January 2017

What is happening today, however, is that the leaders of different tribes fight, not for cows, but for political power and money (e.g. oil, timber, minerals). These elites care more for their own advantage than for the well-being of the people, many of whom are starving; inflation in the country has hit 800 percent!

Perhaps the worst aspect of the conflict is that tribal leaders present their struggle for political and economic power as an ethnic conflict— which it is definitely not. The members of different tribes do not hate each other; they are traumatized by endless wars and conflict; they want a peaceful society, but the ambition of their leaders is obstacles to peace.

 

ACN: What is the impact of the conflict on ordinary citizens?

Ordinary people are suffering in many ways: first, they have to leave their lands when conflict erupts; they lose all their possessions—cattle, homes, land. They become IDPs or they flee the country to become refugees. In either case, they are forced to live in camps where there is lack of food and water; where there are no schools—where, in short, there is no future. Ordinary life cannot proceed—the people are in survival mode. Most of the families have lost loved ones in the fighting; some have been recruited by force, even children; women suffer rape and violence, and then are stigmatized because of being violated. The inflation is so high that people almost cannot buy anything, making them completely dependent on international aid, which is not sufficient. There is a grave shortage of medical care, in particular, and there are growing number of deaths among the elderly, women and children.

ACN: Some have used the term “ethnic cleansing.” Is that appropriate?

Again, there is no ethnic hate among the people of different tribes; but animosity is caused by the actions of the leaders of the country, or, sometimes, by the desire for revenge after so much suffering. A local tribe that suffers attacks by the army—with most soldiers belonging to a different tribe—will naturally react and enter into what then appears to be an ethnic conflict.

Children in camps for displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan

ACN: Could you mention particular incidents you are particularly moved by?

Two workers at one of our projects—targeted as alleged rebels because they didn’t want to join the army by force, nor surrender—were tortured and burned alive inside their small “tukuls” (houses). This happened a few weeks ago. With a local church as a base, we are assisting more than 3000 people who have escaped their homes fearing the same fate. In another community, only the houses of the people belonging to a particular tribe—other than the tribe to which local leaders belong—were looted and destroyed; their owners lost all they had. Burned out homes and dead bodies are common sights in South Sudan.

 

ACN : Can you describe the work you are doing in the country?

We are in South Sudan to empower people, enabling them to build a more just and peaceful society. We work with the local Catholic Church—training teachers, nurses, midwives, and agricultural workers. We are also training pastoral agents, to prepare them for the work of evangelization, as well as peace-building and reconciliation efforts.

We also operate student centers. They come from different tribes and they live and study together peacefully—building a mentality of unity among themselves as a bulwark against ethnic hatred. These students become part of international communities, which include men and women religious, people from a variety of cultures. The result is a living witness that unity and fraternity are possible in South Sudan. We provide the students not only with an academic and professional formation, but also with a human and spiritual formation that can help bring real change to the country.

Displaced people in Riimenze, South Sudan, January 2017

ACN : How has the conflict affected your work?

The conflict has affected us in different ways: we all are experiencing a great deal of stress because of the situation of insecurity. Our own community has suffered attacks from different factions; there even has been a case of rape. We have been robbed and were forced to shut down one of our mission stations. It is very difficult to find food and to get cash to pay for goods, which, again,  have gotten so very expensive. We have to increase security measures by installing permanent lighting and the building of walls and to organized the students’ formation programs in such a way that students go home only once, to avoid dangers on the open road and the high cost of travelling. It is proving harder to replace members of our communities who leave because of all the danger. But we remain committed to serve the people of South Sudan to the best of our abilities because it is our mission and vocation.

 

Interview by  Maria Lozano, Aid to the Church in Need 
Adapted by: Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canadian office

 

Since its independence, ACN has supported projects in South Sudan with close to 6 million dollars.  The help went to supporting pastoral aid, Mass Offerings, the building of Church infrastructure, urgent help and subsistence aid.