With no clear end in sight for the conflict in South Sudan, the heads of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are urging their faithful to pray for “a lasting and meaningful peace” in the world’s newest state. They also asked them to help provide immediate aid for those caught in the crossfire between warring groups.
Thousands have been killed, more than one million have been displaced and about five million are in need of aid as a result of the conflict between forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and allies of former vice-president Riek Marchar. The conflict erupted in June 2013, but mass violence escalated in December.
“Our partners in South Sudan have suffered massive casualties. Their people have been murdered, raped, tortured, and burned out of their homes. Churches and entire villages have been destroyed,” said the leaders in a statement issued May 9. “In spite of extensive displacement, Anglicans/Episcopalians and Lutherans continue to be active in relief and peace-making efforts through our partners in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and the Lutheran World Federation.”
In a related development, church leaders from South Sudan are taking part in negotiations between Kiir and Machar, according to a statement by the World Council of Churches (WCC). They include Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Juba, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Peter Gai Lual Marrow of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and the Rev. Samuel Kobia, former WCC general secretary and ecumenical special envoy for South Sudan and Sudan, who will represent the All Africa Conference of Churches.
The talks, which began May 9 in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, will centre on the cessation of hostilities and power sharing, according to BBC News.
The United Nations (UN), in a report released May 8, accused both sides of committing “widespread and systematic atrocities,” including extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, gang rape and sexual slavery against women often along ethnic lines. “Gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law” were carried out in homes, hospitals, mosques, churches and UN compounds, it said.
“Credible information suggests that sexual violence took place in connection with the occurrence of human rights and humanitarian law violations before, during, and after heavy fighting, shelling, looting, and house searches,” said the UN. Women of nationalities of neighbouring countries were also targeted. A UN team investigated human rights violations in the Central Equatoria State, Jonglei State and Upper Nile State.
Violence “has been fomented and stirred by political leaders for their own ends,” said the statement signed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Presiding Bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori. “Although the mainstream media portrays the conflict as ethnic, its roots, as with any conflict, are varied and complicated. Regardless, there can never be a rationale for the suffering that has been wrought.”
– With files from ACNS