By Elise Harris
Archbishop Paulino Luduku Loro of Jubo, South Sudan has said that when it comes to the dramatic and widespread phenomena of child soldiers in his country’s conflict, the only way to stop it is to end the fighting and focus on talking about the issues.
“The only solution we have been saying is stop fighting, stop war, so that we fight in dialogue. Because there are reasons why these people, these child soldiers are fighting,” Archbishop Paulino Luduku Loro told EWTN News Oct. 27.
Many children, he noted, “are maybe not simply caught by the government,” but choose to fight on their own.
“It’s because they feel the problem, they are grieved, they feel that there is an injustice in the administration of the government and here you have young boys, young children, by themselves. They are not even recruited by anybody,” he said.
Recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan is among the worst in the world with an estimated 16,000 child soldiers fighting since the conflict intensified in December 2013.
A primary concern regarding the phenomena of child soldiers is what violence does to a young person’s psyche, particularly as they transition into adulthood.
Since many soldiers recruited by the government don’t want to fight, the government has resorted to the use of more militia-type fighters, or forces children to fight for them, the archbishop explained.
However, it’s also children and young boys who “simply go by themselves” to fight against the government, he said, stressing that the only solution “is to stop fighting and talk peace. This is what we are working on together.”
Archbishop Loro heads the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba in South Sudan, and traveled to Rome alongside Rev. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Archbishop of the Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan.
The three of them met with Pope Francis Oct. 27 to discuss the desperate situation of their country with the Pope, both highlighting their joint collaboration and inviting him to visit.
The meeting was arranged by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, currently President of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace and president-elect of the new mega-dicastery dedicated to Integral Human Development, which will go into effect as of Jan. 1, 2017, and which will absorb the Councils for Migrants, Justice and Peace, Charity and Healthcare.
According to an Oct. 27 Vatican communique on the meeting, discussion focused on current tensions dividing Sudanese people “to the detriment of coexistence in the country.”
Mention was made of the “good and fruitful collaboration” among differing Christian Churches, “who wish primarily to offer their contribution to promoting the common good, protecting the dignity of the person, protecting the helpless and implementing initiatives for dialogue and reconciliation.”
In his comments to EWTN News, Archbishop Loro said that from a religious point of view, “the three of us as different religions, all are Christian religions and we are perfectly together.”
Different Christian communities have always spoken about the situation of the country together, he said, explaining that it’s “perfectly in place” that the three of them would come to the Vatican together to voice concerns surrounding the state of their country.
“We are together and we are really speaking one voice and one language” to raise awareness of the humanitarian, political and social crisis of the country both locally and internationally.
In light of the ongoing Jubilee of Mercy, the necessity for forgiveness and acceptance of others was underlined as a key path to building peace and fostering human development, according to the communique.
The three Christian leaders stressed their commitment to working together “a spirit of communion and unity, to service to the population, promoting the spread of a culture of encounter and sharing.”
Sudan has been the scene of nearly continuous civil war since it gained independence in 1956. Many of the initial problems were caused by corruption in the government, which led to the political, economic, and religious marginalization of the country’s peripheries.
South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 but it has been torn by a civil war since December 2013, between the state forces – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – and opposition forces, as well as sectarian conflict.
A peace agreement was signed but it was broken by violence earlier this summer, which prompted the South Sudan Council of Churches to publicly condemn the violence and pray for peace. A ceasefire was then ordered by President Kiir and then-Vice President Machar in July.
Machar, the former rebel leader, ended up fleeing the country, but despite this, some fighting has continued in the country.
Although South Sudan is now independent from Sudan, the two countries share an episcopal conference. South Sudan also shares a common apostolic nuncio with Kenya, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo.
This point was also brought up during their meeting with Pope Francis, Archbishop Loro said, explaining that when the Pope asked how it was working out to have a shared nuncio between the two countries, he requested that South Sudan have its own.
The three Christian leaders extended an official invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country, particularly as a sign of solidarity and peace.
Francis said he would like to go if possible, Archbishop Loro said, explaining that he Pope’s visit “would be the visit of a religious leader to the country.”
Given this fact, the visit “would have a great impact and would be very welcome by us and by civil society, and it would be a great help for us. This is why we came to the Pope,” he said.