Letters from South Sudan
Beginning in 2005, after decades of civil war in South Sudan, bishops of that country invited international religious communities to consider serving in South Sudan. Since that point, members of men’s and women’s congregations have been committed to a presence to support the church through the collaborative project, Solidarity with South Sudan, which prepares and supports people to respond to the immense needs there in health care, agriculture, education and parish ministry. Other religious congregations are also serving Sudanese people by sponsoring independent projects.
Most recently, escalating political unrest has again threatened the nation, resulting from violence between rival political factions. BBC Africa reports the fighting has killed thousands of Sudanese residents and displaced over 800,000 people; roughly a third of the country’s population of almost 11 million is in need of food. Also according to BBC Africa, “a fragile ceasefire was agreed last week between the two sides.” As this unrest continues American women religious, priests and aid workers serving in South Sudan report back to their communities the daily struggles of the people and their own concerns for safety.
Charity Sr. Janet Cashman works as a healthcare trainer for students with the Catholic Health Training Institute, a project of Solidarity with South Sudan, in the northwestern city of Wau. Cashman wrote to her community in Leavenworth, Kan., on Christmas Eve, “Many have asked me if I am safe. I am at peace, but with so many of my South Sudanese sisters and brothers who are not safe, how can I, or any of us, really say that we are safe? I can say that there is no fighting happening in Wau.”
On Feb. 2, Cashman wrote, “Our students at CHTI are returning this weekend to continue their studies toward attaining a diploma as a registered nurse or midwife. As they arrive, their response has been, ‘You are still here!’ They had feared that CHTI would not reopen this year and they would not be able to continue their studies. They had heard in the news about the many evacuations of foreigners and thought we the staff might be among those who had evacuated. As I see their smile and hear their responses I say, as Peter once said in Matthew 17:3, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.’”
On the south end of the country in the city of Juba, the Daughters of St. Paul operate a book and media center, serving the poor of the area by providing resources for education. Pauline Sr. Mary Augustine Nemer has regularly reported back to her community with her own reflections and those of the sisters who work with her, some of whom are African women.
“We want to say a big thank you to you for all the prayers that have led to the miraculous agreement of the peace agreement signed on Friday in Adis ababa. This is a miracle and we hope that the miracle of peace too will arrive in the rural areas as well,” Pauline Sr. Anne Kabura Kiragu wrote on Feb. 2. “The fact that a peace agreement has been signed, this is a big step in the whole process of regaining peace in the country, and we are happy about it. However, as the ambassadors have already pointed out, the process of restoring peace at the grassroots level will take some time because the rebels are still terrorizing people in the areas of Bentiu, Malakal.”
In the weeks to come, as long as access to email continues to be viable, these women will share letters with NCR readers, giving a fuller picture of the complexities of the political violence and hopes for peace.
[Colleen Dunne is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on twitter @coldun14.]