JUBA, July 10, 2011 – Christian churches across South Sudan dedicated Sunday services to thanksgiving, revealing how closely linked the new country’s struggle for sovereignty was inextricably linked to achieving religious liberties threatened by the political elite of the predominant Arab and Islamic North.
Not surprisingly, Sunday services across the city of Juba were punctuated by some of the same chants and jubilant shouts of “South Sudan Oyee! Oyee! Independence Oyee!” which marked Independence Day celebrations the day before.
At the Saint Theresa Cathedral in the Kator neighborhood of Juba where President Salva Kiir Mayardit usually worships but could not attend service on Sunday, the hour-long Holy Mass lasted close to four hours. It was co-celebrated by Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, who represented Pope Benedict XVI at the independence celebrations, four archbishops and bishops and 13 priests from four continents.
Readings from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans and the Gospel of Mathew on the parable of the sower received scant consideration in the sermon which focused on the important development work the new state had ahead of it.
“You must make education the number one priority of the Republic of South Sudan,” said Cardinal John Njue. He cited health, pro-poor development projects, and the promotion of equity and human rights as the trio that should complete the top four priorities of the government.
Cardinal John Njue called on Christians across South Sudan to hold up the light by showing “respect for each other, not just tolerance for their fellow citizens who happen to hail from other tribes”
“Let our Muslim brothers and sisters know that independence means freedom of religion for all, and that contrary to detractors, they will not be persecuted in the majority Christian South Sudan,” the president of the country’s parliament Hon. James Wani Igga told the congregation at the end of service, delivering a message on behalf of President Mayardit.
His list of top priorities slightly differed from that of Cardinal Njue.
“Our first number one problem is to guarantee food security,” Igga told the congregation, recalling that in addition to the fertility of the soil, the fact that the waters of both the White and the Blue Nile run through South Sudan should make this first task an easy one to achieve “if we all ensure that we are out there tilling the soil each weekend and at all other times when we get a moment off our duties”.
The second priority, he said, must be to show that South Sudanese can live harmoniously among themselves, without resorting to armed conflict and acts of tribalism. The rest of the priorities were aligned with those previously articulated by Cardinal Njue.
Having just closed 101 days of fasting and prayer in the more than three months leading up to Independence Day with Christians petitioning the Heaves for peace in South Sudan, the Conference of Bishops put out a new appeal for Christians to say daily a special prayer for the new Republic of South Sudan.
The Conference seeks renewal in the South Sudanese of the “will for honest and hard work” to “unite us from every tribe, tongue and people”, thanks those who “stood with us in solidarity” through the years of darkness, and calls for God’s blessings not only on “our new nation” but “also the Republic of Sudan”.
On a day when going to church felt like attending round two of Independence Day celebrations, worshippers at Saint Theresa Cathedral cranked up the volume, whipped flags of the new Republic from their pockets and handbags and flew them as the choir led the congregation in offering up the new nation to God in the beautiful song that is its national anthem.