South Sudan’s Churches Hold Key to Peace

South Sudan’s Churches Hold Key to Peace
September 14, 2016 Joan Mumaw
South Sudan women praying for peace

Church Has Backing of Vatican to Implement an “Action Plan for Peace”

The world’s newest nation, South Sudan is majority-Christian and fraught with violence — and the Church holds the keys to making peace a reality.

The Church — meaning the Catholic Church and all of South Sudan’s Christian churches — commands universal respect and credibility with South Sudanese, according to John Ashworth, special adviser to the South Sudan Council of Churches. He told the Register that if governments and their people want to help South Sudan achieve peace, they have to work with the Church. No other institution in the country has the influence and moral authority that the South Sudanese churches possess.

The Church has stayed with the people through their most brutal periods of fighting, in the years since the British pulled out in 1956…

The tragedy of the civil war, he explained, was that South Sudanese’s fight for independence had neglected the task of nation-building and
crafting a national vision…

Right now, the Church is focused on mobilizing its resources, with the backing of the Vatican, to implement an “action plan for peace”…

Ashworth said the plan involves all levels of South Sudanese society and complements the official negotiations. The plan’s main feature involves conducting a grassroots reconciliation process where people can meet in safe, neutral forums guaranteed by the Church. They want the different stakeholders in South Sudan to come together, build trust and address the root causes of the conflict.

The plan will heavily involve women, traditionally the “great peacemakers” in South Sudanese society, who suffer the most amid conflict. They also have a great ability to mobilize themselves and their communities and exert influence in this patriarchal society.

Ultimately, the culture and habits of war that developed over 60 years have to be unlearned, Ashworth explained. Right now, South Sudan has no infrastructure and little work beyond cattle herding. South Sudan has oil, but the market’s current prices make oil more costly to pump than to sell. Added to this mix is a large pool of young civilian men who are tough, armed and have nothing to do — until someone gets killed.

South Sudan is an honor-based culture with a history of revenge killing — when fighting breaks out between individuals, it soon leads to fighting between tribes. But people follow their leaders: The question is whether the leaders will follow the Church to commit to peace.

“If we can’t solve this, I don’t know who can,” Ashworth said.

Excerpts from article by Peter Jesserer Smith
08/22/2016 National Catholic Register

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