You shall be my witnesses in the world

By Fr. Mark Opere Omol

January 5, 2014 (SSNA) — The 15th December 2013 will forever bear a memory of a “black day” in our nascent nation. The fighting that erupted in the presidential guards unit in Juba, spread rapidly to other areas and is now plaguing the whole country. The conflict has already claimed numerous human lives, damaged infrastructure, displaced thousands and created humanitarian emergency. The military confrontation between the two forces is still raging and there is a reasonable fear that it may deteriorate, and plunge the nation altogether into a full scale civil war. The cause of all this should be unquestionably imputed to power wrangle that had been blistering for years within the leadership of the ruling party. They failed to address and resolve their internal differences amicably and peacefully, thus resulting into division in the party. This article doesn’t intend to delve into the nitty-gritty of all the factors that contributed to driving the country to where it is now.

An IGAD-led peace initiative, with an international backing, has just started in Addis Ababa. Whether or not this effort will yield fruits is what the days ahead will testify. What is hoped for to happen quickly is that the rivaling parties agree to cease hostilities to prevent more bloodshed and restore security in the country. Having come out of decades of bloody war, with millions of lives lost, South Sudanese want to live in peace and harmony. Unfortunately, this is what the current conflict seems to want to jeopardize and erase. Regional and international bodies must step up efforts to ensure that the talks in Addis Ababa achieve positive outcome.

Since the conflict erupted, concerns have been mounting that killings were being effected on basis of ethnic affiliation. This has brought into being the thesis of a planned “ethnic cleansing” that is being echoed by several media outlets regionally and internationally. This feeling of being targeted on ethnic affiliation has contributed robustly to the rapid expansion as well as the exacerbation of the conflict. It is difficult, presently, to establish the quantity of human lives lost since the conflict is still ongoing. This will and must be done afterward through investigation by independent bodies and systematic collection and filing of testimonies from survivors and relatives of victims. The outcome of all this will serve as cogent basis for confirming or refuting the thesis of ethnic cleansing; and identifying the elements to hold responsible for the whole happenings.

Thousands of people have deserted their houses and sought safety within premises of UN in different areas in the country. The UN’s humanitarian coordinator, Toby Lanzer, has repeatedly expressed concern over looming humanitarian calamity if hostilities don’t cease very soon.  Amid horrifying stories lived by survivors from Nuer and Dinka, there are cases of outstanding and touching testimonies of patriotism and nationalism by some religious men during this time of conflict. They have stood up with courage and determination to protect and save lives of innocent civilians. Their testimonies worth being recounted to the public in order to strongly underline the important role faith-based institutions can play in shaping the future of our society. This is the type of the patriotic and nationalistic spirit we all need to bear witness to in order to build a truly united, reconciled and fraternized society:

Abraham Makuac, an Evangelical Pastor from Dinka saved lives of several Nuer in the aftermath of the fighting in Juba. Despite having lost a brother in the fighting (brutally killed), he opened his house and Church to protect and save innocent civilians. This man of God admirably transcended tribal spirit and acted spurred by love and faith.

Micheal Abang, a Presbyterian pastor from Shilluk, also worked strenuously to save human lives during the fighting in Malakal. He generously offered shelter and safety in his house and Church to displaced families from Dinka and Nuer. In the aftermath of the fighting, he was seen participating in the collection of dead bodies and arrangement for their burials. This is such an extraordinary gesture of “charity” that can only stem from strong faith and love.

Paulino Lual, a Catholic priest of Franciscan Order, hailing from Dinka, created a network of volunteers from Dinka to protect the Nuer population in Aweil. This priest is known for his courage and firmness in condemning tribalism, corruption and all sort of social ills in the country. He missed narrowly being murdered by soldiers from his own ethnic group, who were angered by the protection he was according to Nuer civilians.   

Joseph Makuei, a Catholic priest from Nuer, also organized volunteers from his ethnic group to protect and save human lives in Bentiu. He personally, together with the volunteers, participated in accompanying members of Dinka community to the UN premises for safety. He did all this because of his love for the country and respect for human dignity.

The examples set out by these servants of God deserve admiration and must go down in the records for history. They have acted like “heaven-sent angels” to protect and save lives of fellow human beings, amid deadly conflict and fighting ravaging the country. Their gestures originate from patriotic and nationalistic spirit, belief in the sacredness of human life and dignity; and profound love for God and mankind. These are the type of testimonies the country demands of its sons and daughters in the face of a crisis like this.  

The incident of December 15th 2014 has put to a tough trial our leaders’ prowess to manage and resolve crisis through dialogue and political settlement. What is happening now could have been avoided if the wise advice of the religious leaders was heeded to. This conflict, considering its consequences, is destined to produce very negative repercussions on the social and political dynamics. The country will never be the same. The talks between the rivaling parties in Addis Abba are one positive step towards restoring security, tranquility and normalcy. However, there is an urgent necessity of carrying out a nationwide process of peace and reconciliation if our young nation is to lay a strong foundation for peaceful co-existence, social cohesion and national fraternity. The Churches and all faith-based institutions can play an important role in this process. For they still represent a credible “voice” that can reach out to the heart and conscience, instill spirit of love, peace and forgiveness, and educate to rebuild trust and sense of belonging in the citizens. The testimonies of the four religious men recounted above are a good example of how Churches should live to bear witness to Christ’s message and become source of light and hope among people.

The author is a Catholic priest from South Sudan, currently residing in Italy and can be reached at: [email protected]

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