Amid war, displacement and hunger, South Sudan’s day of prayer must lead to true repentance, a leading Catholic bishop has said.
“Our call to prayer must be sincere and honest!” Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro of Tombura-Yambio emphasized. “For this prayer to become historical and meaningful for us today we must repent and sin no more!”
Bishop Hiiboro, president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, spoke in Yamibo on the March 10 day of prayer.
The country has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. The war has been fought between their supporters, largely along ethnic lines, and peace agreements have been short-lived.
The conflict has created 2.5 million refugees. At present an estimated 4.5 million people face severe food insecurity, a number expected to rise one million by July.
President Kiir had called for the day of prayer. A three-day national dialogue on the country’s future began March 15.
Bishop Hiiboro said the whole country will be watching the president closely to see whether his attitude will trend towards peace.
The country’s people should also watch themselves, the bishop said: “All of us who have prayed today will also be watched whether we renounce our sinfulness of hate, violence, tribal difference, for love of South Sudan and peace.”
Bishop Hiiboro said South Sudan must commit itself to God every year as a way to unite the country.
“Continual prayers help us in stepping forward to embrace the su ffering of our country, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities throughout South Sudan,” he said.
He encouraged efforts to explore other ways to nurture open dialogue on issues of ethnic relations, justice, forgiveness, poverty, cultural power, mental health, economic opportunity and a “pervasive culture of violence.”
“The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else’s. It is our own, in our very homes,” the bishop said.
After the day of prayer, people should walk like penitent sinners. They should stop their hateful and vengeful attitudes and free prisoners. They should reach out to refugees and the South Sudan diaspora in other countries and create a ground for all South Sudanese to dialogue, he said.
The president’s call for a day of prayer had drawn some criticism.
Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale, Auxiliary Bishop of the national capital Juba, characterized it as “a political prayer” and “a mockery.”
“It is a joke to hear the president of the country calling prayers while at the moment, the soldiers are hunting people across South Sudan,” he told Voice of America, according to the Sudan Tribune.
He charged that the government army has displaced many people from their ancestral homes. The bishop said that President Kiir, who is Catholic, does not even go to church anymore.