“The senseless war in South Sudan must end now,” said the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, following the pastoral visit of a high-level ecumenical delegation to local churches in Juba, South Sudan on 2 May.
"It is shocking to see how leaders in both parties involved in the conflict have led their own people to such pain and suffering," Tveit said. "From the stories I was told, it is impossible to comprehend the scale of killings and atrocities taking place."
Tveit stressed the need for leaders on both sides to use the negotiations resuming this week as an opportunity to agree and implement a ceasefire immediately. This will enable aid groups, including ACT Alliance, to respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the violence.
The ecumenical delegation, led by the WCC Central Committee moderator Dr Agnes Abuom, included: the ACT Alliance general secretary John Nduna; general secretary of the World YWCA Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda; the WCC’s former general secretary and ecumenical special envoy for South Sudan and Sudan, Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, who also represented the All Africa Conference of Churches; and the WCC programme executive for advocacy for Africa, Dr Nigussu Legesse.
During their visit the group expressed solidarity with the local churches, advocated for a cease-fire, urged progress in the ongoing peace talks and encouraged support to humanitarian initiatives in the country. They first met with the South Sudan vice-president, James Wani Igga, the UN representative to South Sudan, Hilde Frafjord Johnson and four political detainees from the opposition in Juba, released recently by the South Sudanese government.
Calling on South Sudan's president Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar to engage in peace talks, the group said the leaders must find a political solution to end the conflict, as enough damage has already been done.
Tveit said that thousands of people have been killed and many have been displaced. Unless people can plant their seeds in the coming months, "they will be faced with an acute threat of famine,” he warned.
Standing in solidarity with South Sudanese churches
One goal of the pastoral visit was to encourage the churches in Sudan to keep pressing for an end to the violence. The delegation also brought the message that there are churches around the world who stand in solidarity with them. “The people and the churches in South Sudan should know they are not left alone as they cry for peace and justice,” Tveit said. “The world cannot leave South Sudan alone.”
“As we have supported South Sudanese in their struggles for independence, we must support them in this time of crisis. The international community must address the risks of famine and hunger,” Tveit added.
Tveit expressed his appreciation for humanitarian efforts by the United Nations and the ACT Alliance in South Sudan, saying that he hopes to see visible results from an upcoming meeting in May in Oslo aimed at providing an increase in humanitarian aid to the country.
Speaking about the South Sudanese churches, the delegation recognized that the churches there have “rich spiritual resources to help find a way towards peace”.
“Churches in South Sudan have a significant role in national dialogue affirming unity and a sense of nation-building by strengthening a process of reconciliation,” Tveit said. “In this process of reconciliation, youth and women must be empowered.”
“We will pray and work with the churches in South Sudan, while they continue addressing these struggles in their pilgrimage for justice and peace,” Tveit added.
Tveit also urged that justice be restored after peace is established. He said that there should be a justice mechanism both at the national and international levels which should investigate atrocities in South Sudan and pave the way for reconciliation.
The delegates also met with South Sudanese Bishop Michael Taban Toro, Rev. Mark Akec Cien, and representatives of the ACT Alliance, Finnish Church Aid, Caritas Internationalis and Norwegian Church Aid in Juba.