Benedict XVI sends delegation to jubilant independence celebrations in South Sudan
BY STAFF REPORTER
POPE BENEDICT XVI sent a delegation to represent him at the independence celebrations in South Sudan and charged members with conveying his hopes for “peace and prosperity” to citizens of the worlds newest nation.
The Vatican “invites the international community to support Sudan and the new independent state so that, in a frank, peaceful and constructive dialogue, just and fair solutions can be found for the questions that are still unsolved”, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said.
He also said the Vatican wishes the people of both north and south “a path of peace, freedom and development”.
Fr Lombardi said the Vatican’s “foreign minister” met a delegation from the Sudanese parliament, led by Ahmed Ibrahim el-Tahir, president of the Sudan NationalAssembly, its lower house.
Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, told the delegation from Khartoum that “peace, reconciliation and respect for the rights of all, particularly [respect for] religious freedom, represent the fundamental pillars on which to build the new sociopolitical order of the region and are the conditions needed for looking to the future with hope”, Fr Lombardi said.
The Vatican spokesman also said that if South Sudan requests it the Holy See would seriously consider establishing full diplomatic relations with the new country, which will be named the Republic of South Sudan.
In a referendum in January, nearly 99 per cent of the residents of southern Sudan voted to secede from Sudan. The South’s yearning for independence led to more than 20 years of war with forces from the north.
While the official proclamation of independence took place at midnight on July 9 and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir attended independence festivities in Juba, South Sudan, the new country and Mr al-Bashir’s government still have to finalise the new border and decide if and how they will divide Sudan’s debts and its oil revenues.
In an interview with Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of TomburaYambio, Southern Sudan, said one big problem facing the South is the return of hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese who had moved to the North in search of peace and work.
Since October, Fides said, some 300,000 people have returned to the South.
“In May, according to the census conducted, in my diocese alone 7,000 people returned from the North, but the number is expected to grow in the coming months,” Bishop Kussala said.
The bishops of South Sudan have been assured that the government will help find jobs for teachers, engineers and skilled workers from the north, he said. “Plots of land to cultivate and... to build their homes will be assigned to those who do not have special skills,” the bishop added. Fides said the new nation also must deal with ongoing violence in some areas.
In the Diocese of TomburaYambio the insecurity is caused primarily by the presence of the guerrillas of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Despite these problems, “in my diocese there is a festive atmosphere, streets and houses are being cleaned,” Bishop Kussala said.
On July 6 “there was a moment of prayer to ask God’s help for the new state,” he said. “Everyone is talking about independence and, despite the problems, no one is afraid of the future, and hopes are high.” After independence day the bishop described the creation of South Sudan as a country in its own right as a “miracle”.
In a pastoral letter at the weekend, a copy of which was sent to Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Kussala said: “Anew hope [is being] born in the history of our country... and we have risen into the light of freedom and respect, an opportunity for lasting peace, reconciliation in our new country and with our neighbours and the entire world.” But admitting to “mixed feelings” as South Sudan secedes from the north Bishop Hiiboro said that a spirit of celebration should be tempered by renewed efforts to tackle conflicts both within the new country and north of it.
“The challenge is immense,” he said: “Sometimes, it will really come down to a decision: what must I give up that this person might eat, be clothed, be sheltered etcetera?” And in a separate message Bishop Hiiboro declared that “there is no time for celebrations” given the ongoing conflicts, human rights violations against religious minorities in north Sudan as well as poverty faced by thousands of refugees returning home.
Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Khartoum, told Vatican Radio that the people of Sudan spent the eve of independence day gathering together, fasting and holding prayer vigils lasting throughout the night.
He said they broke their fast at dawn on July 9 to symbolise the fact that they have produced something new.
Each diocese has or will hold religious celebrations with dance and song to thank God and to acknowledge those who have spent decades working for peace, he said.
“With this celebration of independence we are saying goodbye to the past and embracing a new thing -without fighting – a new future of reconciliation, solidarity and forgiveness,” the cardinal said.