Republic of South Sudan
The Republic of South Sudan can proudly claim to be the world's youngest state. It gained independence in 2011 when it separated from the larger state of Sudan. It is landlocked and has borders with the Republic of Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DRC and the Central African Republic. In colonial times, the country had been colonised by Britain, and Sudan became an independent state in 1956.
Two long Civil Wars have marred the period after independence, the first from 1955-1972 and the second from 1983-2005. A Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on 9 January 2005 in Nairobi, granting autnomy to the South for six years, after which there would be a referendum on independence. Following a vote overwhlemingly in favour of independence, The Republic of South Sudan came into being on 9th July 2011.
Sadly the peace has proved very fragile, and South Sudan teeters on the brink of renewed war with the north. The suffering of the people is immense.
The population in 2008 was 8 million.
St. Patrick's Missionaries in South Sudan
Back in 1983 a group of St Patrick’s Missionaries, moved into the south of Sudan at the invitation of Bishop Paride Taban, of the Diocese of Torit. It was a very poor and deprived area, which had been devastated in the First Civil War which lasted from 1955-1972. The hope was to bring the Good News, and health care and education, to very disadvantaged people, in an area which had first been evangelised by Comboni Fathers in the nineteenth century.
As it turned out the Second Sudan Civil War had broken out just a few months before they arrived. Those six pioneers lived what they modestly called an adventurous life, moving from time to time as the war front caught up with them.
One was taken into captivity, two went to Uganda for a time to work with Sudanese refugees who had fled there. All experienced times of great personal danger and fear of death. And they stayed with the people, living alongside them, sharing their suffering and at times despair, and yet maintaining for them a spark of hope.
So there was wonderful rejoicing when the war ended in 2005 with the expectation of peace and security. Oil was discovered in large quantities, and it was anticipated that this new industry would provide funding for much needed development and rebuilding. There was further rejoicing in 2010 when a referendum was held, leading ultimately to the creation of the independent Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.
The task is a huge one. Two generations of young Sudanese have missed out on education, and still struggle at a personal level to deal with the trauma of lives scarred by war. In this period Kiltegan Fathers opened a new parish, in Riwoto, and were joined there by Holy Faith Sisters, who opened a nursery and primary school. Fr John Marren remains there. In Narus, Frs Tim Galvin and Tommy Gillooly work in a parish and Fr John Joe Garvey teaches in a secondary school. Missionaries and people together were energised by a sense of progress and growth.
And then on December 15th 2013 fighting broke out among soldiers in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. There is an awful sense that history is repeating itself. The ‘world’s youngest state’, only two and a half years old, is once again on the brink of civil war. There have been a number of fragile ceasefires, but no complete cessation of hostilities.
Fr Tim has been in Sudan since 1983 and is able to take a broad view. ‘We do not know what is going to happen. Effectively we have civil war already and it could spread very easily to our state. And we want to plan for schools, catechist training, clinics and other buildings. I think back to my colleague the late Fr Leo Traynor, who was working in the same area back in the nineties, and would ask himself “Am I foolish doing this now?” And I ask myself the same question. Leo stayed, and even at the height of the war children continued to get an education, the sick were treated in the health centre and clean water was made available to thousands of people. And people learned of the love of God.‘
‘And so now we stay, while NGOs withdraw their aid and development workers for safety, and UK and US governments advise all nationals to leave if possible. We maintain solidarity with the people as they suffer. We cannot leave them. We take a risk for the Good News.’