– The Jubilee Year of Mercy was observed throughout the world but one bishop in South Sudan, suffering from war and famine, said it was especially needed in his country.
“That was so timely for us in South Sudan, that a people have to learn to forgive one another,” Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio told CNA of Pope Francis’s proclamation of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which lasted December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.
“And we find forgiveness to be the key to solving much of the problems in our country,” he added. “It’s not easy for serious crimes, for individuals or for families to forgive. This is a process,” and one that the Church is “continually talking to people” about.
Kussala’s diocese is in the West Equatoria State, where he works with the Sudan Relief Fund to bring needed supplies for those in his local Church.
In December 2013, violence erupted in the capital city of Juba and it quickly spread throughout the country. A civil war ensued between forces loyal to the country’s president and those loyal to the vice president. Peace agreements have been short-lived, with violence quickly resuming.
More than 1 million refugees have fled the country since the war broke out, the United Nations has said, and over 2 million within the country have been displaced from their homes. Starvation and hunger, lack of clean drinking water, and lack of education are among the most pressing problems.
The World Health Organization in 2015 called the situation there one of the worst health emergencies in the world.
An announcement from the U.S. State Department on Monday noted that, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, there was “ethnic cleansing in multiple parts of the country, with people driven from their homes through murder, starvation, gang rape, and the burning of villages. This situation is intolerable. It will worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis.”
“To the best of my knowledge, the whole country is in a war,” Kussala said. “There’s no part which is peaceful.” He noted that “if the war that is on now is not stopped, then it can fester, it can develop into a very serious conflict.”
The South Sudanese people “need immediate support to stop this war,” the bishop appealed.
“We’d like to ask the Catholic community here to pray for us. This is a very difficult time of temptation,” he said.
For the people to forgive one another, there also needs to be “an authority” to provide a secure environment, he insisted.
“At the moment we have difficulties with our security personnel” and the “structure of government,” he noted, adding that “the program for reconciliation is paramount for us, and all the churches.”
“But to do so, we need to dialogue person-to-person, community to community. And this leads us to a national dialogue and to healing. But all this needs time, and is a process. And needs support in order to do it,” he explained, “financial support and moral support.”
It is here where the Sudan Relief Fund is providing much-needed aid to the country, he said, providing for the material needs of the people, like basic services, medicine and medical personnel, and education.
The fund is also providing for the country’s spiritual needs, contributing to the formation of priests and religious, he said.
“We have a lot of young people who’d like to be priests. The formation of these young people is a challenge,” Kussala noted. “And our religious sisters…they are doing tremendous work in these health centers and schools, and these women deserve support,” he added.
“So we would love to request a closeness and being in touch with us,” he asked of Catholics in the U.S.
Another problem in the country is the recruitment of child soldiers. According to UNICEF estimates, 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited by government and opposition forces since the war began in 2013.
Kussala noted his diocese’s new policy on protecting children and said UNICEF “has encouraged the government and all the armed groups to make sure that children are safe.”
“So we have always tried to keep contact with these groups” they have access to, he said, “requesting them to give back the young children.” He noted Pope Francis’s December prayer intention, for an end to child soldiers, and said he is “still holding onto this call of the Holy Father to make sure that children are safe.”