Church stands up for peace in divided South Sudan
South Sudan descended into civil war shortly after the majority-Christian south secured independence from Muslim north Sudan in 2013.
Although church leaders campaigned together to secure independence from the hard-line Islamist government in Khartoum, which had attempted to impose sharia law on the Christian south, the start of the civil war “caught the Church unprepared”, according to observers.
In 2014, Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe stated, “The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of Christ.”
But despite local ethnic divisions, the Church is calling for peace. “While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathise with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation – in some cases at great personal risk,” says one aid worker, who has worked with South Sudanese church leaders for more than 30 years.
Church leaders are now reported to be stepping up coordinated efforts to bring about a settlement to end the country’s five-year civil war, at potentially pivotal moment. At the end of June, the South Sudanese government signed a ceasefire agreement with rebel groups, although there were reports of renewed clashes only a few days later.
Speaking after a delegation from the South Sudan Council of Churches visited Rome, Bishop Emeritus of Tori, Paride Taban, asserted the efforts by church leaders are tapping into the wider mood of the population, “the people [of South Sudan] are hungry for peace”.