[Episcopal News Service] “We must be battering at the gates of heaven in prayer” for South Sudan, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says during an interview with Episcopal News Service.
During the past five months, South Sudan has faced its greatest challenge since becoming the world’s newest nation in July 2011, when it seceded from the north in a referendum on independence following almost half a century of civil war.
A separate conflict erupted last December after South Sudan President Salva Kiir accused his sacked former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.
Welby visited South Sudan in late January and witnessed some of the atrocities of the conflict. In the interview with ENS, Welby relayed his visit to Bor, in Jonglei State, where he said he saw dead bodies lining the streets and where he consecrated a mass grave.
In the midst of evil, Welby said that he saw God “in the extraordinary fact that after half a century of civil war, and the hardening that that causes, that we could stand in Bor and see people weeping with compassion because the spirit of God still moves with love in their hearts.”
But even as hope emerged on May 9 when the two rivals agreed to a truce and to forming a transitional government ahead of fresh elections, fighting has continued in parts of South Sudan. The humanitarian crisis is vast and the South Sudanese are desperately in need of the world’s support. The conflict has left thousands dead and some 1.5 million people have been displaced.
The church in South Sudan has played a major role in peace and reconciliation. Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, chair of the national reconciliation program, was summoned to the May 9 meeting between the two rivals in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Before Kiir and Machar signed the peace deal, Deng held their hands and led a prayer.
Meanwhile, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has called the Episcopal Church to prayer and action for South Sudan, saying she would like Episcopalians “to learn more about the situation, to be in contact with their legislators, to pray, and to reach out to the Sudanese in their own neighborhoods.”
She was joined May 9 by heads of the North American Lutheran and Anglican churches in calling the church to prayer, especially as the Episcopal Church calendar commemorates the Martyrs of Sudan on May 16.
The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations provided a template for an advocacy letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, urging him to support peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.
For further information about the crisis in South Sudan and resources for prayer, study and action, visit: www.episcopalchurch.org/sudan.
— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.