ARCHBISHOP: HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN SOUTH SUDAN IS “DESPERATE”
(Vatican Radio) As tens of thousands of people are displaced by violence in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, the Catholic Church and other faith-based groups are doing their best to offer protection and aid despite a total lack of means. (AP photo news.va)
Fighting erupted four days ago in Juba between followers of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the former rebel leader who became vice president under a deal to end a two-year civil war.
Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni just moments after meeting with South Sudan’s Vice President and other top government officials, the Archbishop of Juba, Paulino Lukudu Loro said the humanitarian situation is so desperate “this is the moment, for anyone that can, to step in and save lives”.
Archbishop Lukudu also said that on a political level the cessation of hostilities agreed on Monday evening seems to be holding, and that now the government needs to recompose and take decisions for the good of the nation which risks sliding back into all-out war.
Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro says the Vice-President had just informed him of the situation confirming the cessation of hostilities across the nation and that all military personnel have been ordered to report back to their own garrisons.
The Archbishop confirmed that there has been no fighting since 6pm on Monday evening and he said the government will now have to re-gather, recompose and talk.
However he talks of a dramatic humanitarian situation in Juba where the UN has said there are some 36,000 people displaced by violence.
“In our Catholic Churches and communities we have more than 16,000 displaced people with many more in Mosques and in other faith based communities” he said.
Archbishop Lukudu said the people being sheltered are calm “but they are not going back home because they are not sure the decision taken will hold.”
Many, he pointed out, cannot go home because their houses have been shelled and looted and they are afraid to leave the Churches or places of displacement.
“The situation is calm, but on the ground the humanitarian situation is one of misery” and support is urgently needed, he said.
The Archbishop said he has no first hand evidence but he has heard the Red Cross is delivering some aid. The Church itself – he said – has no means.
“I do not know how I can make myself understood and comprehended very well, but our situation is very difficult” he said.
And with a heartfelt appeal he continued: “if there is anyone at all that can help us, this is the moment to save lives”.
If the people of Juba and of South Sudan do not receive assistance “a lot of us will die”.
His appeal, the Archbishop said, is “to the whole world, to our own brothers and sisters in faith in our humanity, if they can at all help us in this particular moment” which has been imposed on us “we shall be very grateful and thankful to them that they will save lives”.
The Archbishop says the UN is present in Juba running refugee camps but UN personnel is not able to travel freely in the city to help all the people sheltered in Churches, in Mosques and in other communities.
Archbishop Lukudu says all the faith-based organizations in the country are engaged in dialogue with the leaders.
And he points out that the desperate people fleeing violence turn to faith-based groups without fear “and so we are doing our best, sharing what we have”.
Archbishop Lukudu concludes: “I know there are many sufferings in the world but ours – in this moment – was not expected and if we can be rescued and helped, we would be very grateful, and I want to thank anybody who will do that”.
AN EWTN INTERN SHARES MORE NEWS FROM SOUTH SUDAN
Fr. Shynan Job, a young priest originally from India but who is now working in South Sudan, was an intern at EWTN. He sent this story to the network which I have permission to publish:
“For the past few days have been harrowing with heavy shootings and constant flow of refugees into our church compound. By yesterday afternoon we had over three thousand (3,000) people accommodated in our church and primary school. We tried our best to provide them with basic necessities of shelter, medical care and food. Since the start of crisis the roads are closed the food supply and other basic necessities are completely cut-off.
“A very positive aspect in this moment of crisis was the involvement of the community. All the members of the community (Salesian fathers, brothers, aspirants, volunteers and staff members) rise to the occasion and put their heart and soul in the disaster management effort.
“Another big blow to all our effort to ease the situation came last evening with some heavy shootings just around the mission compound. The whole Gumbo village and the surrounding villages rushed to the church compound to save their life. It was an exodus of people who just gathered their family and whatever they could pick it up as they rushed out of their homes. The church compound was filled with over 15,000 (fifteen thousand) people within short time.
“The trauma and fear of being hit by the bullets that are flying all around and the basic instinct to save one’s life and of the dear ones was unimaginable. The Salesian fathers after keeping the brothers and volunteers into a safer zone went to accommodate the sea of people into various facilities of the mission. The secondary school, Salesian Sisters Primary school, etc. were opened to accommodate the incoming crowd.
“Those few hours of uncertainty and alarm prepared us not only to meet the Lord but also to experience the trauma with our people. Finally, around 11.00 pm the shootings died down and people felt bit more secure. The irony was that the President had decreed ceasefire in the evening (around 6.00 pm) and the other factions also agreed to end hostilities and abide with ceasefire.
“This morning the situation is quite calm and peaceful so the people from the nearby villages are returning to their homes. But still the church compound is swollen with a sea of people not less than five thousand to eight thousand. Probably in the evening the people will return to the church to find a safe place to spent the night.
“The community of Gumbo, would like to thank our friends and well-wishers for their prayers and closeness in this moment of crisis and kindly request you to continue to support us with your prayers until the country restores law and order, peace and stability.
P.S: I reached South Sudan after my studies in India on Monday 4th July and the unrest started on Thursday 7th July. I am grateful to God for bringing me back to my people to be with them in this moment of pain and trauma. We count on the prayers of EWTN family.