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Vatican spokesman, Khartoum cardinal welcome South Sudan’s independence

Catholic World News - July 11, 2011

In his weekly editorial, the director of the Holy See Press Office paid tribute to South Sudan on its July 9 independence from Sudan and recalled Blessed John Paul II’s 1993 apostolic journey to Sudan.

Two million lost their lives during the long Sudanese civil war (1983-2005) between the Muslim north and the largely animist and Christian south. Following a period in which the south was granted limited autonomy and able to enjoy religious freedom, residents voted overwhelmingly for independence in a January referendum.

“It is difficult at this moment not to think of all the prayers and sufferings of those affected by the continuing conflict in this land, especially in the South,” said Father Federico Lombardi. “So many of you came originally from there, and are now homeless and displaced because of the war. The immense suffering of millions of innocent victims impels me to voice my solidarity with the weak and defenseless who cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect for their God-given dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights, for the freedom to believe and practice their faith without fear or discrimination.”

“It was February 10, 1993, and John Paul II was at the end of an intense and extraordinary day in Khartoum, where with his usual and extraordinary courage, he addressed the dramatic themes of justice and freedom in the presence of the governing authorities and was greeted with incredible enthusiasm by an immense crowd of Sudanese Catholics, for the most part displaced people from the south, fleeing from the violence of a civil war without end,” Father Lombardi added. “It’s been 18 years, an estimated two million people died and four million were displaced, but now there are hopes that the war really is over and that the new Republic of South Sudan, desired by an overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, can start a new chapter in peace.”

Cardinal Gabriel Wako--since 1981 the Archbishop of Khartoum, the capital of (north) Sudan--also welcomed South Sudan’s independence and recalled the Church’s work on behalf of peace.

“It did a lot to convince people that no solution would be found by violence and conflicts, that the best path was dialogue and cooperation,” he told Vatican Radio. “So we talked to the government, and on many occasions we had to tell the government that the policies that were being pursued would not achieve peace. And then the Southern people, those that were fighting, we told them they had to develop policies for peace, not simply a war for peace. They had to propose ways in which peace could be achieved without killing people or destroying things.”

“Among ordinary people we focused strongly on the need to pray for peace, to do penance for peace,” he added. “Then we tried to lead people to consider their own contribution to the situation of war, because tribal wars had also begun to develop, the question of looting property and people, the soldiers’ behavior during the war, justifying their behavior because of the war, that was a large part of our pastoral work. Then of course the problems for ordinary people, hunger, the lack of access to food because of the insecurity in transportation, the problem of educating children. We opened a lot of schools during the war, which at least occupied large part of the young people, rather than their taking up arms.”

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