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“Peace be with you; do not be afraid”
A message of hope and healing from the Sudanese bishops
November 23, 2010

Click here to see this week’s prayers for peace in Sudan.

From November 8-15, the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference met in Rumbek, southern Sudan to pray and reflect on the upcoming votes in Sudan in January 2011. They released this statement, excerpted below:

“The referenda for southern Sudan and Abyei and the popular consultations for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are national issues, not just issues of the south and the transitional areas. They were intended to bring healing to our nation, to resolve the longstanding differences which have led to so many decades of tragic conflict. Instead, as the Interim Period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) draws to a close, we are acutely aware of the uncertainty, fear and even despair that burden the people of Sudan. The build-up of troops on both sides of the north-south border is not conducive to peace. However these tensions need not and should not lead to war. Regardless of the choices made and the lines drawn, peace is possible. We must now look beyond the referenda. All people of good will are called upon to commit themselves to respect the choices of the people of the south, Abyei and the transitional areas and to work for a just and peaceful future for all the people of Sudan and the region. Whether the outcome is unity or secession, Sudan will never be the same again because the people have exercised their free and democratic choice.”

Sudanese churches have continually warned of the need for particular vigilance in monitoring the registration of southerners in northern Sudan and in the diaspora to avoid any irregularities. For it to be considered legitimate, 60 percent of the registered voters must vote in the referendum. (Although the Southern Sudan Referendum Act of 2009, section 41.2, states that if 60 percent of registered voters do not vote during the first referendum attempt, another vote must take place within 60 days from the day it is declared that 60 percent of registered voters did not show.)

South Sudan community leaders in the United States are demanding that the registration process be transparent, fair and free. In this November 18 article in the Sudan Tribune, Steve Paterno, a Sudanese man originally from Torit who now lives in Erie, PA, wrote, “The South Sudanese communities from across the U.S. vowed to boycott the process, citing among other things, lack of transparency, inadequate polling centers, and insufficient voter information and outreach programs. … The U.S. is critical in the overall South Sudan referendum process, because the country hosts a sizable number of South Sudanese population. The South Sudanese in the U.S. are not your typical immigrants. They are the refugees, but yet, not the regular refugees. These are people who have not known peace in their entire lifetime. They are traumatized by decades of wars, discrimination, and injustice. A slight act of injustice perpetuated against them can ominously trigger their traumatic experience.”

The Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded their statement with a plea:

  • We call upon all people of good will to pray for peace now, during the referendum period, and afterwards within the richness of your own religious traditions. We draw attention to our own 101 days of prayer for a peaceful referendum, and we invite everyone to join us in this season of prayer.
  • The CPA brought a respite from violence. We express our gratitude to God and our appreciation to all of those who worked to make this possible. Now is the time to build the true peace. In this Christian season of Advent, which is a time of joyful hope and expectation, we call for personal transformation. We call upon all people of good will to leave behind mistrust and hatred and move to a new life of justice, peace, love and reconciliation. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth!” (Luke 2:14)
  • In spite of all the technical difficulties, we repeat our demand and our hope that the referenda for the south and Abyei be held on time in a free, fair and transparent manner.
  • We encourage all efforts to independently observe and monitor the entire process, particularly the registration.
  • We recognize that the results of the referenda may be disputed by one side or the other. We call for an international mechanism to resolve the dispute in a way which upholds the will of the people rather than simply the legal technicalities of the process.
  • We call for calm after the referenda outcomes have been announced. In the event that there is a dispute, we call on all people to exercise civic responsibility and refrain from impulsive actions while the parties and the international community solve it through peaceful negotiations. The ending of the CPA should not lead back to the violence which it was designed to resolve.
  • We call directly upon our youth, who have suffered so much and who are the future of our country, to refrain from being drawn in to political violence and to heed the call for peace and restraint in order to build the future they desire.
  • We repeat our earlier calls that the aspirations of the people of the transitional areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile should be taken seriously, and creative solutions be found before the end of the Interim Period on July 8, 2011.
  • We call on both governments and the media to refrain from inflammatory statements, to stop the messages of hate and misinformation, to reduce the level of tension and to take positive steps to assure all the people that they will be protected.
  • We call upon all to uphold the right of freedom of movement, and to provide the necessary resources, facilitation and protection for their movement and resettlement. In particular we call upon our own CARITAS/CIDSE agencies and the rest of the international humanitarian community to assist us.
  • We also call upon both governments in Sudan to respect the rights and dignity of minorities in north and south, and to guarantee their protection. We call upon the international community to prioritize the safety and security of these vulnerable communities, particularly southerners in the north and the people of the transitional areas.
  • We call for a continuation of dialogue between north and south on post-referendum issues. Whatever the outcome of the referenda, we call upon all to be committed to developing relationships between two peoples who have shared so much history.
  • We are concerned at the suffering still being caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). We urge those supporting the LRA to desist. We endorse the recent recommendations from the church leaders of the four affected countries that there should be a negotiated settlement, that civilians should be protected by the appropriate authorities and that humanitarian assistance should be given to the affected populations.

Consider writing a letter to the editor that draws attention to the importance of the registration process now underway in the U.S. and in other countries where sizeable Sudanese diaspora groups live. Continue to pray for peace in Sudan.

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