South Sudan’s jubilation a model for Africa

Father Christopher Townsend, a first-rate Catholic journalist and the secretary for communications of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, was in Juba, the capital of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, for the independence ceremonies. It was an emotional time for him and for all Africans. He sent this dispatch this morning, sharing his thoughts about the new nation and a time when his own country had to come to terms with its past and walk brightly to a new future.

“On the eve of independence in South Sudan, I was sitting under trees with a small community of neighbours in an area called ‘High Jerusalem’ The afternoon leading to the evening had an atmosphere I can only describe as high point South African — the sort of feeling we had during our own transition in 1994 and the feeling of the World Cup 2010. I had even heard vuvuzelas. Flags everywhere.

“Sitting near the Nile, in the insect dark, we were celebrating a meal. The South Sudanese had decided on this night of liberation that there would be a type of passover seder. Stories of pain, oppression and slavery were followed by stories of hope. Bread was shared, songs and the new national anthem was sung, candles were lit and there was dancing — the quiet, eager dignity of a people set free.

“I couldn’t help thinking that this is what we should have done in 1994 — encouraging neighbours to take their time to share stories. But maybe we weren’t ready, with our apartheid living and apartheid minds. Maybe it is something that we can imitate though — a chance to tell stories and listen, not to public hearings, but the personal TRCs among neighbours.

“On the day, sitting under the shade reserved for the not quite VVIPs (thankfully so — we didn’t get as burnt as they did) with a press of bodies around us constantly streaming forward to see this new day, was an experience in humility. For while we were there as guests, friends, donors, supporters, this was not our day.

“The Jubilation of seeing the flag raised, the quiet confidence of a new constitution and country was only outdone, for me, by the ‘hand of god’ moment when the power failed before [President Omar] al Bashir could start speaking. When he eventually finished, the crowd gave him a very polite, almost English, clap and then spontaneously stood up and waved him off. Priceless. An unmistakable sign.

“Al Bashir and his policies of Islamicization and Arabification are the latest in the long timeline of the former Sudan’s struggle with identity and centralization. Even before the coup that bought this particular latest calculating genocidal barbarian to power (these words are carefully chosen and used), the dynamic in Sudan had been Khartoum directed. Almost all post-colonial leadership has come from four small ethnic groups — Arab, Islamic, northern.

“Powerfully, South Sudan has committed to reverse these tendencies of centralization, coercive religious compliance and a single Arab identity by publicly committing to a multicultural, diverse and secular state.

“The Republic of South Sudan has a long way to go — the lack of development and infrastructure is chronic. Many Southerners who were in the North have fled south to few schools and less opportunity.

“But arriving at the very little Airport of Juba, six months after departing after the referendum, clearly shows how great the energy is for explosive growth — South Sudan is a country of enormous potential.

“As the Catholic Archbishop of Juba, Paulinus Loro, said on welcoming his guests to a certain chaos before the celebrations, we have never been a country before.”

For more on the independence of South Sudan, check out the stories on the CNS homepage. Also read CNS Rome correspondent Cindy Wooden’s post earlier today about the visit of Pope John Paul 11 to Sudan in 1993.

2 Responses

  1. One has to admire the quiet humility of these people as they move away from a coercive religious majority to practice their own beliefs in dignity. Sadly, even Catholics are not immune from being coercive within their own majority beliefs especially when it comes to sexuality and feminism. Many of these beliefs are no more than taboos which have been consecrated by a tradition whch can hardly be called religious. One is reminded of Christ’s compassion to the woman at the well and the forgiveness shown to the woman caught in adultery. Since stoning was the punishment for this offense under the Mosaic Law he was more offended by her accusers than her private offense. The purification laws of the Old Testament were another example of ancient taboos that were also given a religious context in the Old Testament. On the controversial and current hot topic of homosexuality, Christ never spoke a single word. He said only that there is no male or female in heaven, nor giving or taking in marriage. Sacramental theology teaches that the Church only acts as a witness of the marriage bond, that it is the only sacrament where the partners involved administer the sacrament; baptism may be administered by a lay person only in emergency cases, where death is imminent and no priest is available.

  2. The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that the Deposit of Faith will continue to grow and that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church until the end of time. Indeed, Catholic dogma is not static and continues to mature and develop through the ages because the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, a living organism like the mustard plant. But we must await the leadership of Peter, our pope, who alone is given the power to infallibly define any new doctrine when he speaks “ex cathedra” from the throne of St. Peter. The Doctrine of the Immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary awaited nearly 2000 years when it was defined by Pius XII in the last century!

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