JUBA, South Sudan — The bishops of South Sudan say they find “much to celebrate” in their newly independent country, praising peaceful advances, while also noting causes for concern.
“Building a new nation is not a quick or easy task,” they said. “Most of our people are living in peace and democracy for the first time in decades. There is religious freedom, with Muslims, Christians and followers of African traditional religion able to practice their faith without obstacles.”
The bishops’ comments come in a pastoral message approved during their plenary meeting in the capital city of Juba held Nov. 12-15.
South Sudan became independent in July 2011, following decades-long civil wars in Sudan between the Muslim dominated north and the largely Christian and animist south.
The South Sudanese bishops praised a “strong” ecumenical spirit among Christian groups and voiced happiness at the involvement of Muslims in many initiatives.
However, they noted “a widespread feeling that something is not right.”
“We have peace in the sense of absence of widespread violence, but not in the sense of right relationship and abundance of life,” the bishops said.
Citing the need for national reconciliation and healing, the bishops offered to help in this process.
“The Church has the credibility and moral authority to play a leading role in this, but in fact reconciliation comes from God and cannot take place without God,” they said. “Reconciliation is our mission.”
The bishops welcomed the “leaner” government now regulating the independent country. However, they voiced concern that advances in social services, infrastructure and other basic needs are proceeding more slowly than desired. Corruption and nepotism are still areas of concern.
The bishops advised the government to select a small number of priorities to ensure their implementation, “rather than trying to do everything all at once.” They said international aid has helped the South Sudanese people “so much,” but now must shift towards long-term development and sustainability, including education.
The Church is itself involved in education in the country: Construction on the Catholic University of South Sudan broke ground Nov. 17 in Juba.
The bishops’ pastoral message said they are very concerned about conflicts within the country, including the state of Jonglei. They warned against “tribalism” and efforts to inflame ethnic tension, though they encouraged people to be proud of their tribal heritage. They also denounced violence as “completely unacceptable.”
They praised their country’s new agreement with Sudan to resume oil exports, though they lamented the continued “humanitarian tragedy” in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions of Sudan.
The bishops also stressed the need for every Christian to “respond daily to the Lord Jesus” and prayed for the blessing of Christ the King on South Sudan, its people and its allies, as well as on those who seek to do harm.
“God’s love is unconditional,” they said. “Repent and believe the Good News.”