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Pope Francis call for prayer and fasting for South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

On Friday, February 23, 2018 Pope Francis called on people of faith and good will to observe a day of prayer in solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. The Pope’s concern is the endless suffering which stems from one similar problem: bad governance and exploitation of resources. The civil war in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives over the years. Recently, in addition to ongoing killings in the D.R. Congo, the Church has now become the target because of speaking up, calling for the rule of law, specifically asking the president to hold the long overdue elections.

This is a suggested prayer for your participation in this day of prayer.

“It is truly right and just that we should give you thanks and praise, O God, almighty Father, for all you do in this world, through our Lord Jesus Christ. For though the human race is divided by dissension and discord, yet we know that by testing us you change our hearts to prepare them for reconciliation. Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together. By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect. Therefore, as we give you ceaseless thanks with the choirs of heaven, we cry out to your majesty on earth, and without end we acclaim:” (Add your own petition for the D.R. Congo and South Sudan)…..Roman Catholic Eucharist Prayer for Reconciliation II, taken from the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal, English Translation, 2011.

Brief Background on the two Countries

1.South Sudan

This world’s newest state broke away from Sudan after one of the longest armed struggle known in modern history and became independent on July 9, 2011. Since 2013 the people of this nation have never known peace. Millions of South Sudanese are refugees in neighboring countries of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and beyond even in the United States. Thousands whose names and stories we shall never know have died as direct result of the civil war.

Fr. Danielle Moschetti, a Comboni Missionary who spent years in South Sudan and currently serving as a Policy Analyst at Africa Faith & Justice Network in Washington DC wrote a report which details, among other things, the plight of women. He writes: “With the intensification of the fighting, the number of abductions and rapes of women and girls grew dizzy. ‘The only way to be safe for women and girls is to be dead.’ said Mary, 23, mother of five children. In April 2017, three soldiers broke into Mary’s house in the middle of the night and two of them raped her. She moved to another abandoned house, but one night a stranger set it on fire, forcing the family to flee once more.”

The war which has turned into an interethnic war started as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir who is of Dinka ethnic group and his former vice President Riek Machar  of the Nuer tribe. Many peace talks which resulted in several peace agreements have not yielded peace. Instead other rebel groups have been created over the years. Currently, there are ongoing peace talks.

2.The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Since the invasion of the DRC by its neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda in 1996 which claimed the lives of an estimated 6 million people, insecurity reigns in many corners of the countries.

In these ungoverned spaces people are dying daily, some are kidnapped for ransom, villages burned and citizens displaced, woman and girls continue to be rapped, people are hungry because they cannot farm due insecurity etc.

The political crisis has worsened since the current President failed to organize the elections to replace him as stipulated in the constitution. His mandate ended in December 2016. The Catholic Church facilitated one of two political dialogues between the regime and the opposition to prevent the nation from sliding back to chaos. In accordance with the constitution, the agreement gave President Kabila the full year of 2017 on top of his expired mandate to, among other things, buy time for the electoral commission to enroll voters and the parliament to pass an electoral law and then hold elections. A coalition of opposition parties contested the agreement and refused to take part in the transition government. Since then voter registration was done, elections are scheduled for December 23rd, 2018 and an electoral law has been passed, but the people are skeptical of the political will by the current regime to hold elections.

Most Reverend Laurent Monsengo Pasinya, Archbishop of the Capital City Kinshasa called on the faithful to pray and take action to ask for elections. The peaceful resistance started with parishes in Kinshasa ringing church bells in the evening and called on citizens to echo the bell by also making noise with any tools they have. Then they called for peaceful demonstration after mass. The two times they marched, close to a dozen people died, others wounded and many more were arrested and interrogated including priests. Currently, priests in Kinshasa have reported receiving anonymous death threats. In other parts of the country parishes were surrounded by police to prevent people from marching and clergy members were intimidated.

In the face of the suffering and death of innocent people and aware of the social, economic and political potentials of the DRC and South Sudan, people have grown impatient and they are demanding change now. Pope Francis’ call on the faithful no matter their tradition and the people of good will to prayer and fasting on Friday, February 23rd should remind us of the struggle of our sisters and brothers from the DRC and South Sudan  and their long overdue and God given peace and freedom. The call for prayer and fasting by the Pope has been embraced by the Anglican Church leaders in and outside of South Sudan.  Furthermore, we are also called to become ourselves fully part of being peace makers wherever we are and in whatever we do in our daily lives. May our prayer strengthen those working for peace and justice and bring an end to the political crisis and yield lasting peace in these two nations and the world.

This article was initially published on www.afjn.org