Reflecting on the 7th Anniversary of South Sudan’s Independence

9 July 2018

Today marks the 7th anniversary of South Sudan’s Independence. Speaking earlier today at a short reflection organised by CAFOD, Baroness Cox highlights the courage and resourcefulness of the people who continue to rebuild their communities after decades of war and conflict.

“I am here today with great gratitude to CAFOD for this opportunity to celebrate the Independence of South Sudan, to remember those who are suffering and to pray for the future of the world’s newest nation.

I had the privilege of visiting many times during the war unleashed by President Al-Bashir and the regime in Khartoum from 1989-2005. I wept with the people as I walked through the killing fields with hundreds of corpses and the burnt-out villages in every State from Bahr-El-Ghazal in the West, Yei and Nimule in the South, the Equatorias and Upper Blue Nile in the East.

On many visits, I accompanied the widely renowned Catholic Bishop Macram Gassis and I will never forget his preaching in a village where every building, including the church had been destroyed and the people met for worship under the branches of a tamarind tree.

His words express my feelings then and now – but more eloquently than I can:

‘Here we are, in this beautiful cathedral, not made by human hands but by nature and by God – and it is filled with the people of God and especially with children.

You people in Sudan still smile, in spite of suffering, persecution and slavery. Your smiles put us to shame.

Many of you are naked and embarrassed by our nakedness. Don’t be embarrassed. Yours is not true nakedness. True nakedness is to be without love. Therefore, be clothed in love – that is true Christianity – and show your love to those who do not know our Lord of Love.

Do not think we will forget you. You will be remembered as those who are closest to God because every day you are obeying Christ’s command to take up His cross and to follow Him.

We will pray for you – but prayer without deeds is dead. Our prayer and our love must be in action for you.

I came, I saw, I heard, I touched – and I am enriched.’

I was honoured to be present at Independence Day celebrations in 2011 and I have visited many times since. Most recently in January this year.

I have been deeply grieved again to witness the suffering inflicted by the civil war: the killings, abuse of women, the destruction, and people forced to flee from fighting as refugees or as internally displaced people.

But I also have hope: the civil war was almost inevitable given the legacy of the previous war: the tinderbox of a devastated infrastructure; only a few kilometres of tarmac road; a desperate shortage of professional personnel (only 8 qualified midwives for the whole country); 2 generations of children unable to receive education because of intensive aerial bombardment by the Khartoum regime; hunger; unemployment; historic tribal conflicts …the list goes on. But the situation which could have degenerated into a Rwandan style Genocide did not.

And although suffering on a huge scale continues, needing massive help, there are many positive initiatives being undertaken by courageous, resourceful local people, especially the Churches, building schools and clinics and working tirelessly to promote reconciliation and healing.

So, on this day of celebration of Independence Day in South Sudan, in 2011, let us not be overwhelmed by the very real suffering of the people. Let us do all we can to alleviate their pain and let us support all the positive developments bringing hope to a people who have suffered far too much for far too long.

Whenever I visit South Sudan, I am inspired by the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of the people. They have suffered and still suffer beyond words – but they are still there, working hard to build a brighter future, and despite their pain, they still smile their famous, courageous South Sudanese smiles, which make me feel very humble.

Let us pray for them – for a happy issue out of all their affliction, and for ourselves that we remember the words of Bishop Macram all those years ago:

‘We will pray for you – but prayer without deeds is dead. Our prayer and our love must be in action for you’.”


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