Retreat center offers a ‘calm place’ in the midst of war

Retreat center offers a ‘calm place’ in the midst of war
January 13, 2023 Susan Oxley

Every once in a while, Sister Rosa Anthony needs to get away from it all.

A Sister of Charity who serves as a teacher in Rejaf, South Sudan, Sister Rosa looks forward to opportunities to come to the Good Shepherd Peace Center in Kit. The center is the home base for Solidarity with South Sudan’s pastoral ministry. This international, inter-congregational team is committed to organizing and implementing pastoral programs aimed at empowering South Sudanese people to build a more just and peaceful society.

“I can relax here. This is far from the daily demands of my ministry. It’s a time for me to relax my mind, to sing about our mission, to be strong, to take something with me when I go back to my mission. It’s a nice place, a calm place. It helps me to be calm in my mind and heart,” she said.

Sister Rosa recently spent a month at the Good Shepherd Peace Center studying financial management with members of other congregations. Beside the practical value the course had for her own professional work, she says that sharing the course and the retreat center with others from different backgrounds was a positive experience.

“We come together here although we’re sisters from different congregation. We live together without problems. Why can’t we do that as a society? We have to make an effort to live in peace with the person who is totally different from me. Unity is something precious, something we need to build a strong nation,” she said.

According to Sister Therese Hope Merandi, a Cabrini sister from the United States and a member of Solidarity’s pastoral team, the retreat center in Kit isn’t a place for people to hide from South Sudan’s tensions, but rather a space to gain strength to tackle the country’s myriad problems.

“Solidarity with South Sudan has a vision and a mission of strengthening and empowering the South Sudanese church and people so that they can be agents of change, reconciliation, and unity,” she said.

“So all our work here at the center is aimed at providing an environment where God can speak, where nature can speak, where people can come to rest their spirit and find impetus for life, and life in abundance. The purpose of the center is to give people renewed hope, allow them to refocus and come together with others. We are about unity in diversity, but unity that comes together in a spirit where Jesus Christ makes himself present. Our joy is that people can feel at home here, then go back to their mission, to areas where people are being killed, and know that they’re not alone, that they’ve been strengthened, and that South Sudan does have a way forward.”

Trauma accompaniment has been an important aspect of Solidarity with South Sudan’s pastoral work for many years. The pastoral team provides expertise, workshops and follow-up to numerous groups throughout the country, preparing and empowering agents of continuity in this healing ministry.

Before coming to South Sudan, Sister Therese worked among South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

“I’m happy to be here with Solidarity with South Sudan. It’s an opportunity, as an inter-congregational religious community, to really unite our strengths and show how diversity can live in unity. In our community in Kit, we are five individuals from four continents, with different languages and backgrounds, and yet our aim, focus and motivation is truly one,” she said.

Sister Rosa praises the commitment of Solidarity members to building up South Sudan.

“They are helping the country learn how to build peace. They are training people from different parts of South Sudan, like teachers, who can help in the future. They’re training the women. They’re training people for peacebuilding. With us, they are struggling to build people, which will make for a strong nation. Solidarity is really doing something in South Sudan,” she said.

Above: Two religious sisters walk during a retreat at the Good Shepherd Peace Center in Kit, South Sudan. On the right is Sister Rosa Anthony, a member of the Sisters of Charity, and on the left is Sister Jane Ngamita, a Sacred Heart Sister.

Story and photo by Paul Jeffrey

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