By Esther Gaitan-Fuertes
The “people live in fear.” That was the thrust of an urgent pastoral appeal issued by South Sudan’s seven bishops, who charged both government troops and the armed opposition with using force against civilians as part of an ongoing civil war in the country.
A copy of the bishops’ pastoral letter was obtained by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
The prelates wrote: “Some towns have become ‘ghost towns’, empty except for security forces and perhaps members of one faction or tribe. Even when they have fled to our churches or to UN camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces.”
The bishops insisted that the humanitarian crisis that grips South Sudan is mostly due to insecurity and poor economic management: “Millions of our people are affected, with large numbers displaced from their homes and many fleeing to neighboring countries, where they are facing appalling hardships in refugee camps.”
The bishops have called on Caritas South Sudan and its international partners to act urgently to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan; they also called on the international to intervene.
The Church leaders, expressing concern that “some elements within the government appear to be suspicious of the Church,” affirmed that the Church does not take sides in the conflict.
The wrote: “We are FOR all good things - peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance – and we are AGAINST evil - violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression.”
The bishops expressed their readiness to meet with any party “who we believe has the power to change our country for the better.”
The bishops called on Catholics in South Sudan to “work for justice and peace; reject violence and revenge.” They also asked for prayers that Pope Francis’ intention to visit the nation later this year will become a reality.
With picture of displaced children 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.