South Sudanese leaders don't know how to make peace, say Catholic bishops

Rebels carry an injured fighter near Yondu, South Sudan. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- On the day Pope Francis designated for global prayers for peace in South Sudan and Congo, Catholic bishops in South Sudan said their leaders needed help to discern how to "beat their swords into plowshares."

While reiterating that the killings must stop, the bishops warned that the leaders did not know how to make peace, were confused, traumatized and feared peace.

Advertisement

"They are military people who see the world through the lens of violence," said their Feb. 23 statement.

The current war broke out in December 2013 as a dispute between President Salva Kiir and Deputy President Riek Machar. Within months it took on an ethnic dimension and spread across the country.

Now, agencies say nearly 7 million people are internally displaced inside the country and need urgent humanitarian aid. The war has forced out more than 2 million as refugees. The parties to the conflict have been holding talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

But the bishops stress that the leaders need spiritual and moral courage to make peace and hold a vision of a future with peace. Many of them are traumatized by the prolonged war, warn the bishops, just like many of the people of South Sudan.

Nearly 7 million people are internally displaced inside the country and need urgent humanitarian aid. The war has forced out more than 2 million as refugees.

"Trauma can paralyze people, make them behave inappropriately, erode their morale and morals, and lead to self-pity and denial," they said.

In the war, the leaders have been rallying their tribes around a sacrifice for gains. However, they are afraid to return to the people, since they had nothing to show, the bishops said, so they have chosen war.

"To continue fighting is easier for them than (the) risk of making peace. They fear not only international justice, but they fear what their own people will do to them when they fail," warned the bishops.

They said more than four years of war constitute a failure of leadership, with tens of thousands of deaths, millions of people displaced, looting, rape, hunger, economic collapse, breakdown of the rule of law, destruction of the nation's infrastructure, children denied education and families denied health care.

In 2015, the South Sudan Council of Churches offered to create neutral forums where the leaders of the government and of the main opposition parties, other armed groups and political factions could meet for dialogue in a safe space.

"We, the Catholic bishops, pledge our full support to this process," they said.

In 2015, the South Sudan Council of Churches offered to create neutral forums where the leaders of the government and of the main opposition parties, other armed groups and political factions could meet for dialogue in a safe space.

The bishops want the forums to include a spiritual retreat, to be led by religious leaders from South Sudan and elsewhere, with nonpolitical themes. The retreat would aim to bring about personal transformation to prepare the participants to face the task of making peace. 

Meanwhile, U.N. human rights investigators said they had identified 40 senior military officials who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan.

Yasmin Sooka, chairwoman of the commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, advocated setting up a court immediately, with a prosecutor working on indictments. 

"Under the peace agreement, those indicated can no longer hold or stand for office," she told a news conference in Nairobi, while releasing report on abuses in the country.

Sooka said this was the only way to stop the rampant devastation of millions of human lives by South Sudan's leaders.

The report details civilians who have had their eyes gouged, throats slit or even were castrated. Children have been recruited by both sides of the conflict and have been forced to kill. In cases reminiscent of Bosnia, some victims have been compelled to rape close family members, the report says.

Congo has more than 3 million refugees and an estimated 11 million needing humanitarian inside the country. 

The bishops have been leading efforts to broker an agreement among the politicians. A political storm ignited in the country after Congolese President Joseph Kabila refused to step aside at the end of his two five-year terms and sought a third term.

On Feb. 23, Congolese prayed in churches and schools, with the bishops inviting all to join as an ecumenical family.

Ahead of the prayers, the bishops had warned of a government attempt to defame and discredit the church; Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya was a key government target.

"We will never give up our commitment to the rule of law," said the bishops, while denouncing a violent repression of protests organized by the church Dec. 31 and Jan. 21.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018