By Oliver Maksan
Religious leaders of South Sudan have issued an urgent appeal for help to the international community. The fledgling nation’s Catholic, Protestant and Islamic leaders spoke out on behalf of their people in the Mundri region who, fleeing heavy fighting, are now forced to live in devastating conditions.
Thousands of human lives are at risk, the leaders said in a letter sent to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
"As we speak, people are already dying, and in particular children and elderly people. During the past two months more than 80,000 people have been forced to live in the bush and the jungle.”
“Children and women are those most affected. They will be exposed to a variety of epidemics and to starvation if they don't get help soon," said the leaders, who called for an immediate cessation of all military operations in the Mundri region so that humanitarian supplies can be brought in.
Local missionary Father David Kulandai Samy, MMI, reported: "Our people who have moved into bushes are facing untold misery; particularly children suffer without food, water and medical assistance.”
“Community people's standing crops have been destroyed and their assets were looted, including cattle," said the priest, who himself only just managed to avoid getting shot.
"With the Grace of God we had a narrow escape from gunfire and we thank God for having survived," he said.
The violence in the region is linked to a tribal conflict that broke out last September against the backdrop of the country’s ongoing civil war. Nine fighters belonging to the Dinka tribe were killed by government troops—themselves belonging to the Nuer tribe—who also attacked members of the Moru tribe, who in turn attacked Dinka.
Residents fleeing the outburst of violence briefly found refuge in Church facilities, but these, too, came under fire from government combat helicopters, which sparked a massive exodus to the bush.
According to Father Samy, many people have been killed.
In a message to the West, the missionary said: "We would return as soon as the situation gets back to normal and work towards rebuilding the lives of the scattered Catholic families and other tribal communities.”
“We would request you to pray for us and our community, which is undergoing incalculable misery and hardship."
Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the Church in Sudan and South Sudan for many decades. In 2014, the pastoral charity supported projects in both countries with a total of some $1M.
With picture of someone killed in South Sudan (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.