Church and world leaders hail new Republic of South Sudan, commit to peace-building and reconciliation[Episcopal News Service] As a weekend of celebrations usher in the world's newest nation – the Republic of South Sudan – religious leaders are not losing sight of their ongoing responsibility to ensure that independence brings opportunity and realizes a lasting peace in this war-torn country.
Episcopal Church of Sudan bishops, priests and lay people – joined by representatives from the Church of England and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church – celebrated the July 9 declaration of independence along with hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese during a five-hour ceremony in Juba near the mausoleum of liberation hero John Garang.
Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan spoke to the media before the ceremony began. "Today is the day when we move beyond the pain and suffering," he said. "For 55 years, we have been suffering. But today, justice has been done."
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) issued a pastoral letter July 9 offering a framework for citizens of the new nation and recognizing the challenges they face in securing sustained peace, stability, growth and development.
President Barack Obama on July 9 formally recognized South Sudan as an independent nation and called on all Sudanese to honor the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a deal signed in January 2005 that brought an end to decades of civil war largely fuelled by the Islamic north's appetite for oil in the Christian-animist south.
While a new national anthem, a new currency and a new freedom bring the reality of the south's almost unanimously supported independence closer to home, many people around the world are acutely aware that this is just a beginning and that there are still major issues to resolve, particularly along the north-south border where instability in the Abyei and South Kordofan regions continues to threaten the peace process.
Bishop Anthony Pogo of the Diocese of Kajo Keji, which shares a companion relationship with the Pennsylvania-based Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, told ENS that the mood in South Sudan "is that of excitement, joy and happiness" and noted that the ECS, which includes about 4 million members, would be holding services of thanksgiving in many churches throughout the July 9-10 weekend.
But Pogo also acknowledged that the hard work lies ahead and that the ECS would continue its role of peace-building and reconciliation long into the future "as well as meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the people. We will speak for the voiceless to ensure that the new government delivers services to the people."
The ceremony in Juba – attended by scores of African leaders and representatives of governments from around the world – featured a military parade, the raising of the new flag of the Republic of South Sudan, the formal declaration of independence, and signing of the new transitional constitution by Salva Kiir, who then took the oath of office as South Sudan's first president.
In his inaugural address, Kiir stressed the need for reconciliation among South Sudanese. "The eyes of the world are upon us," he told his compatriots. "They will be watching very closely to see if our very first steps are steady and confident. They say we will slip into civil war as soon as this flag is hoisted. They say we are incapable of resolving our conflicts through dialogue. It is incumbent upon us to prove them wrong." Kiir repeated his amnesty offer and called on rebels to join the work of building a new nation.
Bishop Hilary Garang of the Episcopal Diocese of Malakal welcomed Kiir’s focus on reconciliation. He noted how widespread the church is in South Sudan – having a presence in almost every community and with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics accounting for the vast majority of its population – and said church members have an important role to play. "The church is a more effective institution than the government," he said. "The government cannot bring about reconciliation alone. The church needs to redouble its efforts towards reconciliation of all South Sudanese."
It was a theme echoed by Rev. Mark Akec Cien, an Episcopal priest and deputy general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches. "During the war," he said, "there were lots of atrocities, lots of southerners were killed by southerners. For us to have a new nation, we have to forgive ourselves to start from a new page. It is like Desmond Tutu said in South Africa, 'there is no future without forgiveness.'"
Churches around the new country have held several events to mark the occasion. On July 8 – as residents of Juba rode through the streets honking horns and shouting – there was a midnight prayer service in All Saints Cathedral in Juba to mark the first moments of independence. Before and after the service, Deng Bul rode through the streets of Juba in the back of a pick-up truck greeting the people. Another prayer service is scheduled for Sunday morning (July 10). Extra tents and seating have already been set up to accommodate an overflow crowd.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement that the establishment of a separate nation of South Sudan "brings new hope and pride to the peoples of that region," but noted that it also "brings lament to some in the north, both those who have depended on the abundant natural resources of the south, and those who have family relationships there."
Jefferts Schori, who in September 2010 called the U.S.-based Episcopal Church to observe a season of prayer for Sudan, praised "the courageous decision by the Episcopal Church of Sudan to maintain its unity across the new national borders, and we continue to pray for those living in the midst of violence in the still-contested areas of Abyei, South Kordofan, and the Nuba Mountains."
Almost 99 percent of southerners voted to secede from the north in a January 2011 referendum that had been called for in the CPA.
Richard Parkins, executive director of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS), told ENS that "witnessing the advent of an independent South Sudan reminds so many friends at AFRECS who have shared this journey with our Sudanese sisters and brothers that we are also experiencing the fulfillment of a resilient faith and incessant prayer."
As a new phase of Sudanese history emerges, Parkins said, "AFRECS recognizes that the partnership which we have with the ECS must continue with even greater dedication and commitment. As so many more challenges confront the Episcopal Church of Sudan as a crucial player in the future of South Sudan, so must AFRECS increase its resolve and effort to be a trusted and faithful partner of the ECS. As we celebrate a new day for South Sudan, our advocacy for peace and justice for those marginalized areas of Sudan must be more robust than ever so that the unfinished business of peacemaking goes forward. To do less could nullify the hard work that we and other partners have done to contribute to the emergence of a free and independent South Sudan."
Canon Margaret Larom, an AFRECS board member and former long-serving Episcopal Church staff member for Anglican and global relations, told ENS that she is constantly impressed with "the intelligence, courage and faithfulness of the ECS leadership – doing their utmost, under great pressure and often at great personal sacrifice, to tell the Sudan story, to draw succor from existing friendships, and to build new partnerships for the incredible work required for a sustainable, peaceful future for their people."
Larom celebrated the efforts of partners in the U.S. and around the world who have continued to pray and act with and on behalf of Sudan. "I know that there are thousands of Episcopalians who are supporting people and projects they care about, either in companion diocese relationships or separate initiatives," she said, acknowledging in particular the efforts of AFRECS, Episcopal Relief & Development, the United Thank Offering, and Trinity Church Wall Street, all of which continue to support the ECS through partnerships, programs and prayer.
The Episcopal Church also has long supported Sudan through its companion diocese relationships, which include partnerships between Albany (New York) and the Province of Sudan, Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) and Kajo Keji, Chicago and Renk, Indianapolis and Bor, Missouri and Lui, Rhode Island and Ezo, Southwestern Virginia and the Province of Sudan, and Virginia and the Province of Sudan.
"This engagement has grown steadily over the past 30 years, despite violence, oppression, isolation, lack of infrastructure, changes in leadership, death, destruction, and a host of other hurdles and barriers to progress," said Larom. "I have no doubt that these efforts will not only continue but be magnified in light of the creation of two separate nations, and what that means for the church, which will remain one."
Larom underscored the importance of advocacy, prayer, education and giving in making a difference. But, she said, "the most important thing is presence. Partnership means being there."
She recalled a visit to Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp in 1998 when her delegation was introduced to a group of young Sudanese men, called the Lost Boys of Sudan. "One stood up and said, 'It is high time that you have come,'" Larom recalled. "Any excuses we could make – it's so far, it's so dangerous – sounded feeble in the face of his obvious point. If you care, you should be here."
Debra Morris Smith, an AFRECS board member from the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, told ENS that the reality of independence in South Sudan incites feelings of joy, hope and exhilaration. "Even though 1776 sounds like a long time ago, like many Americans I have a sense of the sweetness of hard-won freedom and independence," she said. "So I imagine that I can identify with South Sudan and what this moment means, however different the circumstances may be."
However, Smith acknowledged that the hard work in South Sudan is just beginning, "and I hope for the people of the new nation that those chosen to lead can resist the seduction of power and govern in a way that they have not experienced, with wisdom and justice, with an eye to national rather than personal interests, with respect for the majority yet protection of the human rights of all."
Several Episcopalians from the U.S. have traveled to Sudan to share in the independence celebrations with their fellow Christians.
The Rev. Benjamin Musoke-Lubega of Trinity Grants has been visiting the Diocese of Kajo Keji. He told ENS that local church and political leaders are asking the world to "pray for peace and stability" as well as for the establishment of adequate education and healthcare throughout the country.
Also visiting from the U.S. is the Rev. Canon Petero Sabune, the Episcopal Church's Africa partnerships officer. Representing the archbishop of Canterbury is Suffragan Bishop Graham Kings of the Diocese of Salisbury, which has shared a 39-year-long partnership with the ECS.
Garang expressed his thanks to "all who have been standing with us for so long. The advocacy and financial support from the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has been very important." Looking ahead, he said, ECS leaders hope for more of the same.
"I am thankful that our church is in relationship with the Episcopal Church of Sudan," Larom said, "and that many Episcopalians – even as they are shouting for joy that this day has finally dawned – are dedicating themselves anew to bringing their hands and feet, heads and hearts to the long journey ahead. As we Americans know from our own history, freedom and peace and justice were not and never will be won in a day, but require lifelong commitment and the grace of God. I pray that the blessings of this happy day for South Sudan will spread quickly and surely into the future."
-- Jesse Zink is a student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. His reporting from South Sudan is sponsored in part by the Seminary Consultation on Mission and the Evangelical Education Society of the Episcopal Church. Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.