South Sudan’s future depends on making peace with Sudan

A man waves the flag of South Sudan during celebrations marking the country’s first anniversary of its independence July 9 in the capital of Juba. (CNS?Adriane Ohanesian, Reuters)

The danger of war erupting between South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, and Sudan is very real.

Tensions have been rising almost since the day South Sudan gained its independence July 9, 2011. At issue: the tenuous border between the two countries, conflict over vast oil revenues and citizenship rights.

During a one-hour online chat with people around the country today, Catholic Relief Services staff members in South Sudan and Baltimore and a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops answered questions about the country’s future and the challenges ahead.

The discussion revolved around the dangers to peace, but also reflected the hope that people of the South feel despite the tremendous challenges they face as they build a new nation.

Looming is an Aug. 2 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council to resolve the differences. Dan Griffin, Sudan adviser to CRS, commended both sides for making “great progress” in the negotiations taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but said that questions remain over whether any final agreement will be honored.

“My fear is that the two parties are not negotiating in good faith to resolve outstanding issues, but instead are maneuvering to avoid sanctions and outlast each other,” Griffin told the chat group.

No one said whether they thought the deadline would be met.

The Catholic Church, led by Pope Benedict XVI, has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts between the two nations. The church is particularly concerned for the rights of people of southern descent, who are mostly Christian, living in the north, explained Steven Colecchi, director of the bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

The church’s concern continues to be raised with U.S. officials, Colecchi said.

Sudan is facing its own simmering protest movement, which has prompted a crackdown on those calling for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. At the same time, the al-Bashir regime has implemented a campaign against non-Muslims in an effort seemingly aimed at driving them out of the country.

In South Sudan, relations between Christians and Muslims remain “generally good and healthy,” Alfred Okech, senior project officer for governance and peacebuilding for CRS, said during the chat. He explained that the agency attempts to involve Muslims in peacebuilding efforts and developing capacity in self-governance.

Nonetheless challenges remain. Improved access to health care, better schools and economic development has come to the capital of Juba and other municipalities, but the South Sudanese government has been crippled by the loss of revenues from its massive oil fields. Sudan has closed the flow of oil to Sudanese ports, virtually strangling the land-locked South Sudan economy.

Griffin identified two challenges for South Sudan to overcome its almost total dependence on oil revenues to provide necessary services:

– Establishing what historically was a strong agricultural economy by improving production, access to markets and regional infrastructure that facilitates trade.

– Developing new types of commerce and industry through regional trade and foreign investment.

By diversifying its economy, agencies such as CRS can move from doing relief work to development work, he said.

Chat participant Kathleen Kahlau, legislative adviser for CRS, called for prayer for South Sudan and asked people to advocate for the country to their congressional representatives and the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. government continues to seek a resolution to the conflict between the two nations, but much of the work is being carried out in private, she added. The G-8 and G-20 summits have also addressed the difficulties, she said.

More information about the work of CRS in South Sudan can be found here.

Net gain in fight against malaria

Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, said World Malaria Day April 25 is a time to”redouble our commitment to eradicate this pernicious disease.”

World Malaria Day was established five years ago by the World Health Organization as a means to provide education and understanding of the disease and spread information about ways to prevent and treat it.

Woo, writing in a blog for the Huffington Post, points out that the disease — which is spread by mosquitoes — killed at least 650,000 people worldwide in 2010 and some say the figure may even be twice that. Ninety-two percent of these deaths were in Africa and nearly two-thirds were of children under the age of 5.

Despite such grim statistics, Woo said deaths linked to malaria have declined since 2004.

She said the key to completely eradicating this disease is not only through scientists working to create a vaccine but also in the simple steps of using insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malaria medicines.

According to the United Nations’ program Nothing But Nets, bed nets are so effective because they protect people from malaria-carrying mosquitoes that bite at night. A family of four can sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, safe from malaria, for three years. The insecticide woven into each net also makes entire communities safer because it kills and repels mosquitoes. Bed nets are said to be able reduce malaria transmissions by 90 percent in areas with high coverage rates.

The CRS website  recounts how three years ago it helped deliver about 3 million insecticide-treated bed nets across Niger. Outreach workers who distributed these nets in local villages also worked to convince locals to use them.

But people do not have to be handing out nets and encouraging people to use them to make a difference, the CRS site points out. It urges people to promote awareness about malaria, contribute or raise money to fight it and advocate Congress to work to eradicate the disease.

New appreciation for martyrdom is Nigerian priest’s only consolation

A Nigerian priest who ministered to the dead after the Christmas bombings in Madalla, Nigeria, said he gained new insight into martyrdom.

In a first-person piece for The Catholic Register in Toronto, Father Emmanuel-Mary Mbam said:

In my agony of ministering to the dead I gained insight into why the Church calls the day a person is martyred one’s birthday. These people were martyrs; they died for their faith. As Christ was born into the world, they were born into heaven. This is my only consolation. The past year saw an upsurge in religious violence in Nigeria as a determined Islamic sect intensified efforts to impose Sharia law on the country. Incidents of devastation and death are now common.

Read the whole story here, in The Catholic Register.

Why Egypt’s elections might be good for Christians

On Nov. 28, Egypt’s first round of complicated parliamentary elections begin. Arab West Report has a good explanation of the procedures and breakdown this election, and editor Cornelis Hulsman explains why this election could be beneficial to the country’s Coptic Christian minority.

“Since in the past there were practically no districts with a Coptic majority, Copts only stood a chance at being elected if they were supported by a good share of the Muslim electorate,” Hulsman writes.

“In the new proportional system, Copts in governorates with a substantial Coptic minority, such as the governorate of Minia, which according to CAPMAS had a Coptic population of about 20 percent in 1996, will have much better chances to get elected.”

One of the reasons for the clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is that Egyptians want presidential elections to begin in March, when parliamentary elections end. The military government, which took over after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, wants presidential elections held late in 2012 or in 2013. That, combined with a recent draft document that states the military and its budget would be exempt from civilian oversight, has led to clashes in which nearly two dozen protesters have been killed.

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.

Remembering Blessed John Paul’s words in Sudan

VATICAN CITY — In his weekly editorial for Vatican television and radio, the papal spokesman marked the independence of South Sudan by reminding listeners of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Sudan in 1993 and the extremely strong words he used to defend the rights of Christians in the predominantly Muslim nation.

I was with Pope John Paul for that visit in February 1993 when we spent just eight hours in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, at the end of a week-long trip that also included Benin and Uganda.

The 50 or 60 journalists traveling with the pope had only a couple international phone lines and telex machines to use to file our stories. I remember feeling fairly panicked that I wouldn’t be able to file my story before we had to head back to the airport for the flight back to Rome. In those days, before everyone had fast internet connections, it usually didn’t matter if we had to wait a day to file.

Pope John Paul II was greeted by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he arrived in Sudan in February 1993. (CNS/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)

But Pope John Paul was blatant and bold as he denounced the persecution of Sudanese Christians. He said their names were written “on the palms of the hands of Christ, pierced by the nails of the crucifixion.”

There were soldiers carrying guns everywhere. It was the first time I’d seen military with weapons standing in plain sight on the platform where the pope was celebrating Mass. (It was also the first and only time I’ve seen camels grazing at the edge of a field where a papal Mass was being celebrated.)

In the end, I only got one story out from Khartoum, but it included news of the pope’s meeting with President Omar al-Bashir, who is still in office. The pope told al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, that the measure of a national government’s maturity is the way it respects human rights and protects its minorities.

And Pope John Paul told church workers that when he looked at what was going on in Sudan, “I see clearly a particular reproduction of the mystery of Calvary in the lives of the majority of Christian people.”

As Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, pointed out in his editorial, it’s been more than 18 years since Pope John Paul visited the African nation, “an estimated 2 million people have died and 4 million were displaced, but now there are hopes that the war really is over and that the new Republic of South Sudan, desired by an overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, can start a new chapter in peace.”

Radio Waumini: Voice for the Catholics in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a country where many people outside of cities still do not own a television set, a 43-year-old priest and his staff of 35 are working to become the voice of Catholics.

Father Martin Wanyoike and his staff operate Radio Waumini, which was started by the Kenya Episcopal Conference but receives no funding from the bishops.

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

The station has a mix of music — not just religious — broadcast on an FM signal. It also broadcasts live online from 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. each day and even has a page on Facebook.

“Our target — we want very much to bring on board the young people,” Father Wanyoike recently told a group of mission directors from the United States. “You cannot reach the young people by playing only choir music.”

Father Wanyoike has his own morning show and recently extended it to include Nairobi’s early morning drive-time for commuters. He also believes that some of the station’s talk shows and programs on reconciliation contributed to the “healing process of our country” after the ethnic violence that followed the December 2007 elections.

In the African culture, where people are orally inclined, “the radio has become the storyteller,” said Father Wanyoike. Radio is “easy, it’s accessible, it’s cheap to own.”

Archbishop Alain Lebeaupain, the Vatican’s ambassador to Kenya, agrees that radio is the way to communicate with people. When he met with the mission directors, he encouraged them to support Radio Waumini and said he would like to see it as a national network of stations so the church can communicate with all Kenyans.

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec were in Kenya last month on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

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