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Conflicts and drought mean famine looms for 20 million Africans

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Catholic News Service

Conflict and drought are threatening more than 20 million people in four countries with the prospect of famine, and the U.N. has called this food crisis the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was formed more than 70 years ago.

A man walks by a dead cow in Dong Boma, South Sudan, April 12. Up to 20 million people in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and northeast Nigeria face the prospect of famine this year. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Additional resources and funding are needed “to pull people back from the brink of famine” in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, the U.N. Security Council said in an Aug. 9 statement that commended efforts by international donors to provide humanitarian assistance for the crises in these countries.

Catholic church officials and representatives of Catholic aid agencies spoke with Catholic News Service about the enormous efforts being channeled into meeting the needs of those most vulnerable.

Governments “are reducing aid, while needs are skyrocketing,” said Elizabeth Carosella, who works for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services in Abuja, Nigeria.

Humans cannot control the weather patterns, such as drought. But increasingly, aid officials find access to areas of need blocked by ongoing conflicts or inaccessible because of poor infrastructure.

Yemen situation ‘horrific

Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, was Save the Children’s country director in Yemen until mid-2014. He called the situation in Yemen “horrific,” a famine that is entirely man-made. Seventy percent of the country’s 14 million people need some form of humanitarian aid.

Yemen has relied entirely on imported food since 1991 and “now it is sealed off from the rest of the world,” Farrell said. Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2015, which includes a Saudi-led blockade of the country.

Yemen’s food system has collapsed, Farrell said, noting that even hospitals have been bombed, and it is “as difficult to get medical supplies into the country as it is to get food in.”

The World Health Organization reports 436,000 cases of cholera in Yemen.

Bishop Paul Hinder, who heads the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, told CNS that the blockade of Yemen hinders the reconstruction of the destroyed sanitary system.

“As long as the minimal infrastructure in many parts of the country is not functioning, we cannot expect that the cholera can be stopped” or that “the starving people” can be properly fed, Bishop Hinder said.

“Without bringing people again around the table” to agree on a cease-fire, “there will be only killing and destruction with disastrous consequences for the civilian population,” he said.

“As the church is reduced to a tiny group without any structure, little can be done from our side at present,” he said.

“As I believe in the power of the prayer, I can only ask the faithful around the world to keep in mind the suffering people in Yemen — Muslims as well as the few remaining Christians, including the Missionaries of Charity,” Bishop Hinder said.

2 million face famine in South Sudan

In South Sudan, nearly 2 million people are on the cusp of famine, Farrell said, and it is hard to get food to the hungry because the country has “virtually no infrastructure.” South Sudan, a country slightly smaller than Texas, has only 12,000 miles of road, which is “more like track than road,” said Farrell, noting that”the lack of infrastructure can’t be separated from the conflict.”

In the fertile land of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, which has avoided the drought afflicting other parts of the country, little grows because of the war, he said. And even if the residents were still able to grow mangoes and papayas in this “breathtakingly beautiful place,” there are no roads to get any excess food to people outside, he said.

“Fresh food rots because it takes weeks to get it out of there with tracks to follow instead of roads, and one can expect frequent ambushes along the way,” Farrell said.

In distributing food airdropped by the World Food Program, CRS finds “some places very difficult to get to because of active conflict,” he said. Other places are unreachable for many months because of flooding. People often walk four or five miles to food distribution points in South Sudan, he added.

About 200,000 of the 2 million internally displaced people in South Sudan are in U.N.-run camps, Farrell said. The rest have fled into the bush or into neighboring communities, “and they all want to go home to their land.”

Farrell said the tragedy of South Sudan “tires me out more and fills me with more sorrow” than even Yemen’s situation did. In 2013, two years after gaining independence from Sudan, South Sudan was caught up in a civil war.

“South Sudan is a new country, rich in resources, and all this suffering is preventable,” said Farrell, who is based in the capital, Juba.

“Education is what matters most for young people because they will be the new leaders,” he said. Instead, because of the conflict and violence, all efforts need to be directed into emergency feeding programs, “while 75 percent of women in the country cannot read or write,” he said.

Maryknoll Father John Barth, who is based in Eastern Equatoria state, told CNS South Sudanese “are giving up hope and moving to the camps in northern Uganda by the thousands; I see them along the road when I drive back and forth across the border.”

Uganda is hosting about 1 million refugees from South Sudan. They move because “they have no food,” Father Barth said.

Teachers and others with government jobs have not been paid their monthly salaries in five months, and “even if they had been paid it would be the equivalent of about $6, because the 500 percent inflation has ruined the value of the South Sudanese pound,” Father Barth said.

In Nigeria, 5 million need emergency food aid

In northeastern Nigeria, the effects of violent conflict as well as changing weather patterns have exacerbated poverty and led to 5 million people in need of emergency food aid, Carosella told CNS, noting that deaths from famine-related causes have already occurred in Borno state. Since 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million forced to flee their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

Carosella said while the severity of the region’s hunger crisis is caused by conflict, the shorter rainy season of recent years has dramatically reduced harvests, and much of Lake Chad has dried up, partly because of shifting climate patterns.

Many of those forced to flee the violence have sought refuge among communities in remote rural areas, she said, noting that these communities are themselves among the most vulnerable in the region and depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Remote rural communities hosting people displaced by Boko Haram attacks have been “immensely generous despite their own poverty,” she said.

Carosella said Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, “used to be a trade hub, but its markets have been destroyed” by the Boko Haram attacks.

“People have lost their livelihoods and now can’t afford food and have no access to even basic services,” she said.

Even where food can be found, it is unaffordable for most people, she said.

Sometimes a very malnourished woman will sell part of her food ration for cash that will enable her to transport a sick child to a clinic, Carosella said.

“Having to make that choice is something no one should have to face,” she said.

She told of a 24-year-old woman she met at a hospital in Maiduguri.

“She fled her village with her four children, all under 5 years old, after seeing her husband and parents slaughtered” in an attack by Boko insurgents, Carosella said.

One of her children died in the 32 days it took her to walk to the hospital, where her “malnourished children were able to be rehabilitated,” Carosella said. “She was looking for livelihood opportunities when I met her,” she said, noting that “there are so many women in similar positions.”

Continuing conflict in Somalia

Somalia’s “continuous conflict and instability,” along with changing weather patterns, are responsible for its current crisis, Lane Bunkers, CRS country representative for Kenya and Somalia, told CNS.

The conflict started in 1991 when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre, then turned on each other. Today, the security threat posed by al-Shabab activity in south-central Somalia makes it difficult for CRS and others running emergency food programs to reach remote rural communities, Bunkers said.

Somalia is a “very undeveloped country that relies on rain, with rain-fed pasturelands,” and there has been insufficient rain for two years in a row, Bunkers said.

Drought conditions in Somalia are expected to continue, and recovery will not be until at least 2018, CRS said in a statement. More than 766,000 people have been displaced by the drought since November, it said.

In south-central Somalia, which includes the capital, Mogadishu, CRS has civil society partners to channel its resources for humanitarian relief.

“Somalia has very well-organized communities,” Bunkers said, noting that local communities have “stepped in to fill the void in education and health services” in partnerships with international nongovernmental organizations.

Somalis are “entrepreneurial people in a desperately poor country,” which has exceptionally active markets, Bunkers said. This is “born out of necessity” in a country that has had no functioning government for close to three decades, he said.

Somalis’ “wealth is held in their herd of animals,” Bunkers said, noting that in times of drought, men leave women and children behind and follow their goats, sheep or camels, seeking water and grazing land.

“It’s very rare to resort to killing animals for food” in Somalia, Bunkers said.

To help families where animals are already in distress, some relief agencies “pay the farmer for his goat and have him slaughter it so that his family has something to eat,” he said.

“The farmers are then able to use the cash at the markets to replenish their livelihoods,” he said.

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Viewpoint: Support famine relief, increased aid to war-torn South Sudan

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People are beginning to starve to death in South Sudan.

The United Nations has formally declared that a state of famine exists in this east African nation, with 100,000 people immediately facing starvation, and 1 million additional South Sudanese teetering on the brink of famine. Read more »

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South Sudan bishops condemn atrocities, appeal for help to prevent famine

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Catholic News Service

South Sudan’s Catholic bishops asked for the world’s help to prevent mass starvation that threatens the lives of more than 5 million people.

A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings Feb. 11 near Bentiu, South Sudan. South Sudan's Catholic bishops have denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating "scorched-earth" policies in defiance of international law. (CNS photo/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)

A soldier walks past women carrying their belongings Feb. 11 near Bentiu, South Sudan. South Sudan’s Catholic bishops have denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating “scorched-earth” policies in defiance of international law. (CNS photo/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)

In a separate statement, they also said the looming famine was a man-made catastrophe. They denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating “scorched-earth” policies in defiance of international law.

In a Feb. 23 appeal for humanitarian assistance, the bishops said farmers have fled lands without planting crops as civilians are targeted by both sides in the country’s increasingly bloody three-year civil war. Food shortages have been compounded by problems of unemployment, soaring inflation and poor rains, meaning that the country had now entered a critical time, the bishops said.

Citing government predictions, they estimated that about 4.9 million people would be facing famine by April and about 5.5 million people by July.

Among the most vulnerable are more than 3 million refugees and people internally displaced by fighting between the supporters of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.

“We anticipate difficult times ahead in 2017 as our people are likely to witness mass starvation by virtue of their multiple displacements, especially (because) the states that traditionally produced cereals in surplus will be missing the planting season, and that will, in turn, lead to further food insecurity in 2017,” the bishops said.

They called for “immediate and unconditional concrete intervention and action … before it is too late.”

In a message sent to churches around the world, the bishops asked Caritas Internationalis and the international community to press for “an immediate stop to the violence and (for) free movement of population.”

They also demanded safe access for aid agencies to reach people in remote areas and secure delivery of humanitarian aid to places where it was needed most urgently.

The bishops also collectively directly addressed the Catholics of the predominantly Christian country in a pastoral letter Feb. 23, telling them that any soldiers who killed, tortured and raped civilians were guilty of war crimes.

“There seems to be a perception that people in certain locations or from certain ethnic groups are with the other side, and thus they are targeted by armed forces,” the bishops said. “They are killed, raped, tortured, burned, beaten, looted, harassed, detained, displaced from their homes and prevented from harvesting their crops.”

“Some towns have become ghost towns, empty except for security forces and perhaps members of one faction or tribe,” they added. “Even when they have fled to our churches or to U.N. camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces. Many have been forced to flee to neighboring countries for protection.”

The bishops said hatred had become so intense that the victims of such violence were being mutilated and burned even after they were killed.

“People have been herded into their houses, which were then set on fire to burn the occupants. Bodies have been dumped in sewage-filled septic tanks. There is a general lack of respect for human life,” the bishops said.

The church, they said, was increasingly being accused of taking sides in the conflict, but they stressed its neutrality.

“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 — regardless of where they are and who is practicing them,” the bishops said.

They concluded their letter by expressing their joy at the prospect of a visit by Pope Francis to South Sudan in 2017, saying he was “deeply concerned” by the suffering in the country.

“It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here,” the bishops said.

On Feb. 22, Pope Francis used his general audience to appeal for food aid to Sudan, warning the international community that starvation might condemn to death “millions of people, including children.”

In a Feb. 23 statement emailed to Catholic News Service, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, said that “the world must wake up to this man-made humanitarian disaster.”

“The violence must stop and the international community must intervene,” said Bishop Kenney, a former president of Caritas Europa who has visited South Sudan on several occasions.

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Pope appeals for aid as famine grips ‘martyred South Sudan’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appealed for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan where famine threatens the lives of millions of people already suffering due to a three-year civil war.

A health worker examines a 4-year-old girl suffering from malnutrition Feb. 13 in Dablual, South Sudan. Pope Francis appealed for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, where famine threatens the lives of millions of people already suffering due to a three-year civil war. (CNS photo/Nicolas Peissel/EPA)

A health worker examines a 4-year-old girl suffering from malnutrition Feb. 13 in Dablual, South Sudan. Pope Francis appealed for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, where famine threatens the lives of millions of people already suffering due to a three-year civil war. (CNS photo/Nicolas Peissel/EPA)

In the “martyred South Sudan,” he said, “a fratricidal conflict is compounded by a serious food crisis, which has struck the Horn of Africa and condemns millions of people to starve to death, among them many children,” the pope said.

At the end of his weekly general audience at the Vatican Feb. 22, the pope said that a solid commitment from the international community to assist South Sudan is crucial.

The United Nations Feb. 21 declared a famine in two counties of South Sudan, adding that the catastrophic food shortages will continue to spread, threatening millions of lives.

Civil war has destabilized the world’s youngest country for more than three years due to a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar.

“This famine is man-made,” said Joyce Luma, director of the U.N. World Food Program.

Despite efforts to hold off the famine, she added, “there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve.”

Pope Francis urged governments and international organizations to “not stop at just making statements,” but take concrete steps so that necessary food aid “can reach the suffering population.”

“May the Lord sustain these, our brothers and sisters, and those who work to help them,” Pope Francis said.

 

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Catholic missionaries stay in South Sudan after brutal attack on foreigners

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Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — While most expatriate aid workers left South Sudan after a brutal attack on foreigners in the capital, a group of Catholic missionaries chose to stay.

Soldiers with Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the chief of staff of the South Sudan rebel troops, arrive in late April in Juba. (CNS photo/Phillip Dhil, EPA)

Soldiers with Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the chief of staff of the South Sudan rebel troops, arrive in late April in Juba. (CNS photo/Phillip Dhil, EPA)

“We stayed because we are committed to the ordinary people who are suffering so much,” La Sallian Christian Brother Bill Firman, director of Solidarity with South Sudan, said in an Aug. 29 telephone interview from Juba, the capital.

“My colleagues and I believe this is a good place for religious to be,” the Australian brother said, noting that “we know our continued presence encourages” local residents and “provides some hope.”

South Sudanese troops attacked aid workers in July in a Juba hotel. According to an Associated Press report, more than 80 armed men “raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions” for nearly four hours. One woman was raped by 15 men.

U.N. peacekeepers did not respond to repeated pleas for help.

Four days after the attack Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian aid and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the upsurge in violence in Juba had led it to evacuate its “non-essential international staff” from the capital.

CRS “is supporting the work of Solidarity with South Sudan to help those affected by the current violence with food, water and shelter in churches and schools, where many have sought refuge,” the July 15 statement from Baltimore said.

A civil war that began December 2013 has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes in the northeast African country. In July, hundreds of people in Juba were killed in fighting that dashed hopes of a transitional government ending the conflict. Since then, sporadic fighting has rocked the north and east of the country.

“None of our members were evacuated but many, probably most, expatriates were,” Brother Firman said. “Many foreign aid workers are returning now, and most of CRS’ staff came back fairly quickly.”

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international Catholic group of missionaries implementing teacher and health training, agriculture, trauma healing and pastoral programs in many parts of South Sudan, under the auspices of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“I don’t see any of our people being excessively nervous, and we are living a normal life here,” Brother Firman said. “But we are cautious, because we do live with uncertainty about the future and declining law and order.”

“Many people in Juba are very hungry,” Brother Firman said, noting that “the collapse of South Sudan’s economy” is a major concern.

South Sudan has a “very complex political situation, with many militias,” Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Joan Mumaw, Solidarity with South Sudan’s development director in the U.S., said in an Aug. 27 telephone interview from Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Violence has spread and everybody is armed,” she said, noting that “young boys with no education and no formation for life are taken into the military.”

Solidarity with South Sudan, which has a network of 17 congregations in 14 countries, uses its local religious partners to distribute humanitarian aid “to people most in need” for aid organizations whose usual routes have been disrupted, she said. As the “only credible group left in the predominantly Christian country,” the church, with its “strong ecumenical reach, has a chance of restoring peace” to South Sudan, Sister Mumaw said.

“But it will be very difficult to do this until the militia is stopped from killing and raping,” she said, noting a “new and complete lack of respect for human life.”

After a late-December attack on religious sisters at the Solidarity teacher training college in Yambio, the capital of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, and subsequent sporadic violence in the area, some training staff from neighboring Kenya and Uganda were evacuated, Sister Mumaw said.

“This leaves us with a shortage of staff in our capacity-building programs, and there is some feeling among local people that the international community has deserted them,” she said.

A primary school teacher who was among 50 graduates from the college last year has set up a makeshift school for about 300 children at a U.N. camp in Juba, Sister Mumaw said.

“This young man recognized the need and has pulled together everyone with training that he could find to educate these children,” she said. “The camp was built to house U.N. staff, not refugees, yet people fleeing violence have been taking shelter there for about two years.”

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Pope Francis praises members of Refugee Olympic Team

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world.

The new Refugee Olympic Team arrives for the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5. In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world. (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters)

The new Refugee Olympic Team arrives for the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5. In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world. (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters)

Naming each of the team’s athletes from South Sudan, Syria, Congo and Ethiopia, Pope Francis said he had read some of the interviews with team members “so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations.”

“I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio, that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity,” he said in the message, signed in late July.

The 2016 Summer Games marked the first time a refugee team officially participated in the Olympics. Team members marched under the Olympic flag and, in the event a team member wins a medal, the Olympic anthem was to be played instead of the national anthem of the athlete’s home country.

Pope Francis expressed his hope that through the team “humanity would understand that peace is possible, that with peace everything can gained, but with war all can be lost.”

“Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all,” the pope told team members.

Yusra Mardini, 18, was the first member of the team to compete in Rio. The swimmer is ranked 41st among women swimmers competing in the 100-meter butterfly; Mardini finished first in her initial heat Aug. 6.

Like tens of thousands of Syrians, Mardini fled her war-torn country through Lebanon and Turkey. She found a space on a rubber dingy to make her way to Lesbos, Greece, but the motor stalled. She, her sister and another woman, the only people on the boat who could swim, pushed the boat to shore.

From Greece, Mardini traveled on to Germany, where she was given official refugee status in March and continued her training as a competitive swimmer.

Five of the athletes, including Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, the team’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony, are South Sudanese refugees who were living in the huge Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

The national Olympic committees of the refugees’ host countries, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Olympic Committee chose the team members. The IOC provided the athletes uniforms and is covering their costs and those of the team’s coaches and staff.

 

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Pope Francis sends letters urging peace to South Sudan leaders

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis sent a high-ranking cardinal to South Sudan to urge a peaceful end to the escalating violence in the country.

A worker from the International Committee of the Red Cross speaks on his phone July 16 as workers prepare to move bags containing bodies of unidentified people killed in the recent fighting in Juba, South Sudan. Pope Francis sent a high-ranking cardinal to South Sudan to urge for a peaceful end to the escalating violence in the country. (CNS photo/Jok Solomun, Reuters)

A worker from the International Committee of the Red Cross speaks on his phone July 16 as workers prepare to move bags containing bodies of unidentified people killed in the recent fighting in Juba, South Sudan. Pope Francis sent a high-ranking cardinal to South Sudan to urge for a peaceful end to the escalating violence in the country. (CNS photo/Jok Solomun, Reuters)

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, met with President Salva Kiir in the capital, Juba, July 19 and delivered two letters on the pope’s behalf — one addressed to the nation’s president and another to the vice president.

The cardinal said the letters, which the pope gave to him prior to his departure to Juba, contained a message calling for peace in the country.

The pope’s message “can be summarized like so: ‘Enough now, enough with this conflict,’” Cardinal Turkson told Vatican Radio July 20.

The Ghanaian cardinal noted that “the speed with which the pope reacted to the need of sending a message of solidarity and to call for peace is amazing.”

“Speaking to him some time ago, he told me, ‘I want to go.’ These difficult situations are always in the Holy Father’s heart,” the cardinal said.

According to SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency, a local missionary priest confirmed the pope’s concern for the increasing violence in the country.

“We know that Pope Francis is following every evolution (of the crisis) very closely. Cardinal Peter Turkson was sent by the pope here in these days to us in Juba,” said Italian Comboni Father Daniele Moschetti, superior of the Comboni Missionaries in Juba.

For nearly a year, South Sudan has been trying to emerge from a civil war caused by political rivalry between Vice President Riek Machar and Kiir, who represent different ethnic groups. Violent clashes spread across the city and left tens of thousands of people dead since the beginning of their rivalry in December 2013.

Although a cease-fire is currently in effect in Juba, Father Moschetti said the threat of violence continues to loom large over the people and the church, which includes 350 local and international missionaries.

“The climate, including toward the church, is changing: We are all at risk,” SIR reported him as saying.

 

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South Sudan church leaders condemn violence, pray for dead

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JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan’s church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, which has raised widespread fears that the country is returning to civil war.

“We condemn all acts of violence without exception,” the South Sudan Council of Churches said, noting that it is “time to build a peaceful nation.”

South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street following renewed fighting July 10 in Juba. South Sudan's church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, which has raised widespread fears that the country is returning to civil war. (CNS photo/Reuters)

South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street following renewed fighting July 10 in Juba. South Sudan’s church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, which has raised widespread fears that the country is returning to civil war. (CNS photo/Reuters)

“We pray for those who have been killed, and for their families, and we ask God’s forgiveness for those who have done the killing,” the leaders said in a July 10 statement read on national radio.

“However, we also urge repentance and a firm commitment from all armed individuals, forces and communities, and from their leaders, to create an atmosphere where violence is not an option,” they said.

Violent clashes between forces loyal to the president and those loyal to the vice president spread across the city July 10, a day after South Sudan’s fifth anniversary of its independence. The outburst was a resumption of fighting two days earlier in which at least 100 people died.

“We, the leaders of the church in South Sudan, are extremely disturbed about the fatal shootings” in Juba, said the church leaders’ statement.

“We make no judgment as to how or why they occurred, nor who is to blame, but we note with concern that there have been a number of incidents recently, and that tension is increasing,” the council said.

Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba represents the Catholic Church on the council.

For nearly a year, South Sudan has been trying to emerge from a civil war caused by political rivalry between Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir. The rivalry began in December 2013 and has left tens of thousands of people dead.

The church leaders said that they were encouraged by a joint call for calm issued by Kiir and Machar after the July 8 violence that began outside the presidential compound in Juba where they were meeting.

“We add our voices to theirs and urge soldiers and civilians to refrain from provocative words and actions, and to do everything in their power to avoid escalating the situation,” the council said.

The church leaders said that they are also concerned that the latest armed clashes are not confined to Juba and noted the shooting death in May of Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Veronika Terezia Rackova, director of St. Bakhita Medical Center in Yei, a city about 100 miles east of Juba, and other deaths “so common that they pass almost unnoticed.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “senseless violence” in a July 10 statement, noting that the fighting “has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process.”

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Missionary sister-physician killed in South Sudan

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Missionaries and other Catholics gathered in Nairobi May 23 for a requiem Mass for a Slovak nun killed in Yei, South Sudan.

Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Veronika Theresia Rackova, 58, director of St. Bakhita Medical Center in Yei, was shot the night of May 16 while driving an ambulance after taking an expectant mother to the hospital. When the ambulance was attacked by soldiers, Sister Rackova was wounded in the hip and abdomen.

Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Veronika Terezia Rackova, director of St. Bakhita Medical Center in Yei, South Sudan, died May 20 at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. The Holy Spirit Missionary Sister, who was shot in the stomach in Yei, is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Father Liam Dunne)

Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Veronika Terezia Rackova, director of St. Bakhita Medical Center in Yei, South Sudan, died May 20 at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. The Holy Spirit Missionary Sister, who was shot in the stomach in Yei, is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Father Liam Dunne)

After two surgeries in Yei, she was evacuated to Nairobi, where she died May 20.

Sister Maria Jerly, regional superior for the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, told Catholic News Service that Sister Rackova was shot as people marked John Garang Day. She added that a motive for the shooting was not known.

Three soldiers were arrested in connection with the incident, and Sister Jerly added, “One of them is said to have admitted having shot at Sister Rackova.”

Six of the order’s nuns are serving in South Sudan, mainly in the Yei diocese. Sister Jerly told CNS the congregation did not plan to leave the area.

“On the contrary, we would like to continue giving services to the needy people of this great country of South Sudan,” she said, adding, “Some of our sisters are right now tormented over the incident, but we plan to continue to carry our badly needed services by the needy people of this country.”

Sister Jerly said Sister Rackova would be buried in Kenya, and that the Divine Word Fathers, the sisters’ male counterparts in Kenya, would handle the arrangements. A statement from the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters said due to the complexity and legal implications of the situation, the order could not confirm date and place of funeral.

Sister Rackova was born Jan. 8, 1958, and professed final vows in 1994. As a medical doctor with specialization in tropical diseases, she worked in Ghana. She served as head of the province of Slovakia 2004-2010, after which she was assigned to South Sudan.

By Francis Njuguna

 

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South Sudan bishop says attack on nuns shakes church

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Catholic News Service

YAMBIO, South Sudan — An attack on religious sisters at a teacher training college in South Sudan has shaken and saddened the church, a church leader said, while urging people of faith to demand the implementation of the latest peace accord to end the civil war.

Violence and fear-mongering seem “rampant in both church and society” in the northeast African country, said Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio.

Sister Sandra Amado, a Comboni sister from Brazil, teaches a class in 2012 at a teacher training institute in Yambio, South Sudan. A late-December attack on religious sisters at the training institute in South Sudan has shaken and saddened the church, a church leader said. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Sister Sandra Amado, a Comboni sister from Brazil, teaches a class in 2012 at a teacher training institute in Yambio, South Sudan. A late-December attack on religious sisters at the training institute in South Sudan has shaken and saddened the church, a church leader said. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Five armed men, believed to be allied to South Sudan’s main rebel group, assaulted and threatened religious sisters at the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, the capital of the country’s Western Equatoria state, Dec. 28.

After climbing the fence surrounding the college, the men confronted the nuns, who were locking up the building for the night, and demanded guns, cash, phones and computers, De La Salle Brother Bill Firman, director of Solidarity with South Sudan, said in a statement.

“Of course the sisters had no guns, but handed over the other items” and the men drove away in two cars, Brother Firman said.

“It was clearly a planned attack, but the assailants were not familiar with the compound,” he said, noting that it was “a very traumatic incident, but there were no casualties.”

More than 100 people have been killed since May in Western Equatoria, which until then had been relatively peaceful in war-torn South Sudan. In early December, violent battles erupted between armed groups in Yambio.

Solidarity with South Sudan is a Catholic missionary group implementing teacher and health training, agriculture, trauma healing and pastoral programs in many parts of South Sudan, under the auspices of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

According to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur website, the Solidarity community in Yambio includes religious from different congregations around the world, including Montana and California as well as Ecuador, Ireland and New Zealand.

Fifty students graduated from the college mid-November and were to teach in primary schools around South Sudan.

Despite being offered the option of “withdrawing from this area that has experienced a rapid decline in law and order,” most Solidarity members have chosen to stay “as the college is one of the few signs of hope and providers of opportunity for the people of this disturbed nation,” Brother Firman said.

While classes are set to resume Jan. 11, Brother Firman said he expects the number of students to be lower than before.

“The insecurity and tribal divisions are making people unwilling to travel far” from home, he said, noting that “a return to unity and normal levels of security are essential” for people to be able to use the educational opportunities offered by Solidarity.

Two years ago, fighting broke out in Juba, capital of South Sudan, between ethnic Dinka and Nuer in the presidential guard. This was months after President Salva Kiir, who is Dinka, fired his vice president, Riek Machar, who is Nuer.

The conflict soon turned into an all-out war in which thousands of South Sudanese have been killed and about 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

Bishop Kussala called on people of faith to “demand that our political representatives find ways to implement” an August peace agreement signed by Kiir, Machar and other stakeholders and to work toward ending the “senseless violence.”

Noting that “our communities are disrupted and lives are fractured by such violence,” the bishop said he prays that people “will reach out to one another with the love of God and with a voice that inspires justice, courage and peace.”

Noting that “not a day seems to go by without a news story that sends shivers down my spine,” Bishop Kussala said in a statement that he was devastated at recent attacks, including that on the religious sisters.

A deep sense of tragedy “hangs in the air and, in addition to praying for the perpetrators, those killed, injured, harmed and all of their families, I find myself lamenting the lack of progress” in ending the attacks, he said.

Noting religious leaders’ efforts to bring about gun control, Bishop Kussala said that “our awareness of the massiveness of the task should not lead us to give up in despair but encourage us to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.”

“We are called more than ever to be witnesses of hope,” he said.

After attending prayer services at St. Teresa Cathedral in Juba Dec. 27, Kiir called for peace and reconciliation in the country, according to the Sudan Tribune. He urged churches, other faith-based groups and civil society to help his government disseminate messages of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.

The previous day, in a message broadcast on state-run television, the president said he had assured the rebels of the government’s commitment “to do whatever we can do to implement this peace agreement in order for us to return the country back to normal.”

In a New Year message, Machar assured the people of South Sudan that his rebel group is working to ensure that the August peace deal is implemented.

While saying that Kiir’s creation of 28 new states without consultation was an obstacle to the accord’s implementation, Machar noted that 78 members of the rebel group arrived in Juba in late December and met with Kiir and other government leaders in preparation for further negotiations.

By Bronwen  Dachs

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