TORIT: “Thank God for having liberated us from oppression. South Sudanese were slaves but God has answered the prayers of our people.”
This is how retired bishop Paride Taban commented on the independence of South Sudan one year ago.
Nobody is better placed to talk about the role of the Church in the liberation struggle than the Catholic Diocese of Torit. He was in the frontline.
“BBC was asking me: “Are you with the SPLA?” But I answered them: “They are with me,” Paride said.
The retired bishop said the Church served as a mother while the SPLA was the son and the daughter. “The Church looked at them (soldiers) as their children.”
The role of the Church has not been understood by many, he noted. “Everyone in this world, including soldiers, is a son of God.”
Although priests did not carry weapons, they contributed to the struggle in their own way, he explained.
“The Church did not have guns but we lobbied for humanitarian assistance from partners in Europe, US and other international friends. We also prayed for peace in Sudan,” he said.
Many people from outside listened to the voice of the Church because the SPLA did not kill prisoners of war, the bishop said.
Now that independence has been achieved, the Church should advocate for both Sudans to commit to peace and never go back to war, he appealed.
“Nimeiri said in 1967 that nobody can succeed in the war with southerners and he asked for peace as the only option” the bishop recollects.
Nimeiri, who ruled Sudan from 1969 to 1985, realised that the war with the south could not be won and opened negotiations, leading to the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement which gave the south autonomy.
Bishop Taban said that although the war is over, the Church is still under attack from fundamentalists. He gave an example of Khartoum, where churches and Christians were targeted.
He, however, stressed that the war between the north and the south was not a religious war.
“The war was not really religious. Otherwise they would have spared the lives of southern muslims,” he noted.
There is need for the Government to build capacity and state structures, the bishop advised.
“We are in a modern world and in this modernity we cannot live in the way our ancestors lived,” he said.
He acknowledged the infrastructural developments achieved during one year of independence.
“Torit town today is not Torit before independence. You can take a look and acknowledge the little developments that have taken place, such as the road Juba -Nimule.”
Bishop Taban cautioned the South Sudanese against greed, saying it is destructive to a young nation.
“In religion we look at ourselves as suffering people. But if we are greedy, the world will not be enough for us,” he said.
On the churches that were destroyed during the war, the retired bishop said no one needs to tell the Government to rebuild them since the very people occupying government offices are Christians.
About his own role in the struggle that led to South Sudan’s independence, the bishop simply said: “I am just a servant of God.”
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