Missionaries, are spearheading the project of a centre for human, pastoral, and spiritual formation, peace-building, and trauma-healing in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, as a sovereign and independent state.
On 9 July, 2011 South Sudan became independent after the conflict that spanned nearly 40 years against the ruling regime in Khartoum. A young nation full of dreams and fears, the latter became reality, during the armed conflict that erupted in December 2013 between President Salva Kiir’s supporters, the Dinka ethnic group, and rebels loyal to his former Vice President Riekar Machar belonging to the Nuer ethnic community. In just few days hundreds of people were killed and thousands had to seek shelter in camps. The fighting which broke out in Juba and then spread rapidly across the country, brought besides destruction and misery, a halt to the extraction of oil, which is the main economic resource of the country.
After a little over a year since the conflict began, little has been done to bring peace. Nearly 1 million and 900,000 South Sudanese have fled their homes since December 2013 trying to reach other regions or neighboring countries in search of food and safety, and over 100,000 internally displaced persons( IDPs) are living in UN camps for fear of retaliation and violence.
During all these years the Catholic Church has always made its voice heard and has been close to the population. On the eve of independence the Catholic Church launched a campaign aimed at building a deeper sense of citizenship: ‘Changing hearts to change the world and to change South Sudan.’ The goal of the campaign was to develop a sense of nationhood, and the establishment of a country where all its inhabitants are treated with equal dignity and justice. Unfortunately, the recent events in South Sudan have shown that freedom is not a sufficient condition for peaceful co-existence, better living conditions and equal rights for all.
“The independence has not meant a better life to the majority of the citizens of this new country,” emphasizes Father Daniele Moschetti, the Provincial Superior of the Comboni missionaries in Juba. “Ethnic divisions and power games have undermined from the outset the possibility to build a peaceful co-existence between the different peoples who make up the diverse ethnic mosaic of this country, and that have always lived in separate groups with a strong sense of tribal rivalry. The South Sudan of today is marked by deep differences, and it is still a country without a people. That is why,we, who have always been on the side of these people and we have shared their legitimate aspirations for freedom and independence, must keep on working to build a solid foundation for a real and lasting peace.”
Today the Church, the missionary and religious congregations in the country are again on the frontline of efforts to promote the process of reconciliation. Peace-building and human healing, are in fact the main goals that the Religious Superiors’ Association of South Sudan, which comprises 46 congregations, are trying to achieve through the establishment of the Centre for human and spiritual formation.
The Centre is being initiated in Rejaf, close to the first mission of the Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan, which dates back to 1919. A symbolic sign of continuity and loyalty over nearly a century. The center – unique in its kind in the country – will be managed by a religious community belonging to the Religious Superiors Association. They will organize spiritual retreats, seminars and training courses. The initiative will be open to all organizations, also ecumenical, that are interested in sharing the values and the goals of the centre. “The staff operating at the centre will be committed to healing traumas caused by war and by the violence inside the communities. They will help people of different tribes to meet, get to know each other, overcome mutual prejudices and share not only fears and suffering but also diverse cultural heritages and aspirations for the future.” says Father Moschetti “I think people promoting this initiative are courageous for trying to build dialogue in a country where everything else needs to be built: infrastructures, education and healthcare system, economy … Yet even the more material aspects of development cannot be separated from the human dimension and a sense of community in order to build together the future of South Sudan. “The missionaries operating here do not have any illusions, and are aware that the task will take a long time and will be hard. Nevertheless they are determined to keep on working to put the project into effect.”
“We are absolutely convinced – underlines Father Moschetti – that collaboration among communities and groups is essential to build a more humane society based on respect, reconciliation, human dignity, understanding and acceptance of core values to reach unity. Faith also plays a key role in this process especially in Africa, it can help to heal painful memories and to build a more human and supportive society.” (A.P.)