Recently, we farewelled Sr Pushpa, one of the Daughters of St Paul congregation who are our next door neighbours in Juba. She has helped us many times over the years and, indeed I celebrated my first Christmas here as a guest at the Paulines’ table. Archbishop Paolino came to celebrate mass to thank Pushpa for her generous service and afterwards he wrapped her in a farewell cloak. In South Sudan, religious and clergy are mutually supportive and collaborate well. The Church responds very well to he needs of the people – when it can – but, of course, often lacks the resources. Here, people are sometimes reduced to dreadful circumstances but we remain in awe at the capacity of the human spirit to rise above material deprivation. Our pastoral team work closely to assist the local clergy, catechists and others pastoral workers to provide support for, and inspire hope among, the people of South Sudan. Much of the work is unseen and goes on with quiet encouragement in the background. We are not here to hand out food or other gifts but we are here to assist the helpers to care for their own people. The current divisions in the country are tragic but healing starts when people treat each other with respect. There have been brief outbreaks of tribal divisions and conflict among some of IDPs in the UN camps during the past week. There is a lot of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing needed for the country to move ahead. We help and encourage wherever we can.
- Br Bill
As well as training nurses, midwives and teachers, a key focus of the mission of Solidarity with South Sudan is to offer pastoral programmes to assist priests, catechists and those working to help others, to discharge their responsibilities as well as possible. The original mission statement of Solidarity proclaims:
Solidarity with Southern Sudan is a project that seeks to promote the Kingdom of God in partnership with the local church and the people of Sudan through the establishment and development of teacher and health training institutes and those pastoral services deemed most urgent.
So it is that the many documents describing the vision of Solidarity proclaim the importance of the dignity of each person, appreciation and respect for local cultures, solidarity and accompaniment, empowering and supporting the Sudanese people as they rebuild their lives, reconciliation, as well as promoting mutual understanding to heal past hurts and build right relationships.
In March this year, with the support of Misseo Achen, and in collaboration with Fr Philip Bingo, the national Pastoral Coordinator appointed by the Bishops’ Conference, the pastoral team led a workshop for all the diocesan pastoral teams. Each pastoral team concentrated on the diocesan priorities and elaborated for each a description of the environment and needs, goals, objectives, and developing a plan for the year. A second workshop followed in July and, as part of the 2014 Pastoral Plan, each member of the Solidarity Pastoral Team acts as liaison to the dioceses, so as to enable the team to monitor their individual needs, resources and programmes.
A further area of pastoral team responsibility is offering programmes and coordination in areas such as catechetics, on-going formation of the clergy, peace and reconciliation and the formation of small Christian communities. Sr Annette St Amour IHM from the USA brings special skills in these areas and this year, for the first time, at the specific request of the Bishops, Fr Matthias Christian SVD, from Austria, has joined us to lecture in philosophy at the seminary. Sadly, the philosophy section of the seminary had been closed for two years and we were asked to help re-start it. I believe our pastoral team members can well identify with the words of Teilhard de Chardin SJ who wrote:
The most satisfying thing in life is to have been able to give a large part of oneself to others.
In one of his reports this year, our Pastoral Team Coordinator, Fr Manny Ginete CM, from the Philippines, wrote:
The year 2014 started in “critical” mode, so to speak, for reasons many of us know already, i.e., the political-turned-ethnic conflict that devastated this new country. The diocese of Malakal in particular was severely hit with unimagined atrocities and mayhem.
So it was that 23 priests and six women religious from the Malakal diocese participated in a Trauma-healing Workshop and Retreat for Clergy and Religious of Malakal Diocese, led principally by Solidarity team members, Maryknoll priest, Fr Jim Noonan and SSND Sister, Cathy Arata and by a skilled Holy Spirit sister working in South Sudan, but not as part of our Solidarity team, Sr. Mercy Benson. Later, another in-depth workshop was skilfully led by Paul Boyle, a trauma therapist. The goal was to help the Malakal priests and religious, and a few from other places, deal with their own very harrowing experiences during this conflict and, in turn, for them to be able to help their parishioners and others affected. I find myself thinking of the aptness of the words of Friedrich Nietzsche:
That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.
This year has seen our pastoral team act very much as a crisis response team to help priests and others affected by the crisis. Courtesy of a generous donation from a German congregation, Solidarity has been able to assist priests of the very large diocese of Malakal, that covers the three States most affected by the current conflict, to prepare for, and return for a few weeks at a time, to their ministries. At present, Maryknoll priest and Solidarity member, Fr Mike Bassano, in company with a South Sudanese priest, has been living for the past two weeks, in the UN camp in Malakal. His text message this morning reads:
Last night there were problems in the camp with tear gas and shooting. All is quiet this morning. We walked around the camp accompanying some Shilluk and Dinka women and children to a safer part of the camp. We are safe and pray for peace.
Mike and local priest, Fr Bulus, return to Juba on Monday. Most of the people do not have that option. Our presence brings hope. All we can do is to support them a little and encourage them a lot.
– Br Bill