Anglican provinces around the world have responded positively to Pope Francis’ call for an ecumenical day of prayer and fasting for peace, with a particular focus on South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Pope made his call during his traditional Angelus address to crowds in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Sunday 4 February. The call was endorsed that week by a number of senior Anglicans, including the acting primate of the Anglican Church of South Sudan, chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and the deputy director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
In the days that followed, a number of other senior Anglicans around the world responded to the Pope’s call, including Archbishop Masimango Katanda Zacharie, the Primate of Province de L’Eglise Anglicane Du Congo – the Anglican Church of Congo. Archbishop Masimango – expressed his happiness at the Pope’s initiative and told the Anglican Communion News Service that the bishops in the province would be encouraging their churches to take part.
The Revd Bernard Bisoke, provincial youth co-ordinator, is involved in peace-building efforts in the region. He said that there had been an increase in tensions in the Ituri province over the past three weeks, particularly in the Bunia area; and explained that the disputes are based on long-running tensions between the Hema and Lendu peoples. “The Lendu is the people who love to cultivate and the Hema is the pastoral people who love to keep cattle,” he said.
The disputes centre around the competing needs: Hema want to use open land to graze their cattle; while the Lendu want to use more land to grow crops.
“Since 1999 up to 2003, we had tribal fighting between Hema and Lendu which was the worse one and which even brought some foreign soldiers to help from each side. . . Even now people are still live with trauma because of that war.
“When we hear that 60 people are killed in Blukwa by the Lendu , many people remember what happened [during the war], raising more trauma among God’s people. Many people have run away from their villages to look for the peaceful place like here in Bunia and Uganda.
“Here in Bunia, we have people who do not have relatives, they are there in the hospital , they are sleeping in the veranda, without any mattress or blanket; and they are sleeping on the ground .
“Imagine some of the children who are there without blanket then they are sleeping down. They do not have water.”
More than 32,000 displaced people have arrived in Bunia seeking shelter – some 13,000 of them are seeking refuge in the hospital.
Bisoke said that the needs of the internally displaced people include the need for water, fire wood, blankets and mattresses, clothes for children, food and a place to stay.
In his call for Friday to be set aside as a day of prayer and fasting, Pope Francis said: “As on other similar occasions, I also invite non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to participate in this initiative in the ways they consider most appropriate, but all together.”
Supporting the call, the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Primate of Southern Africa, Thabo Makgoba, said: “After Sudan became independent in 1956, it suffered decades of civil war. Just over six years ago, South Sudan broke away from the north amid great hopes that at last it would find peace. But a little over two years later, South Sudan suffered a new outbreak of civil war and it has not known true peace since.
“Under pressure from their neighbours, the opposing sides began new peace talks earlier this month, but at present they stand adjourned for an undetermined period.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo has also not known permanent peace, in their case for the past 20 years. Armed rebel groups proliferate in the east. More than four million people are displaced from their homes. The President has served his two terms but has delayed a new election for two years. A former United Nations humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, said a few days ago that right now the country faces one of the worst crises on earth, yet no one seems to care.”
He has written a prayer (see foot of this article) which he is urging Anglicans in Southern Africa to use on Friday and during services on Sunday.
In New Zealand, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, joined with one of the Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Archbishop Philip Richardson, in a joint message urging people to pray.
“We strongly encourage Catholics and Anglicans throughout Aotearoa New Zealand to join with others around the world in this growing movement of concern,” they said. “There are so many needs across God’s world that it is easy to become overwhelmed or to become immune to the cries of the suffering.
“To draw our own focus and the attention of the world to two places of great need is worthy of our time and our solidarity.”
The Anglican Primate of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, said he was “whole-heartedly” joining the growing number of church leaders responding to the Pope’s call. “Moved by the Holy Father’s invitation, I looked ahead to the texts appointed for reading at the eucharist that day [Ezekiel 34:21-28, Psalm 130 and Matthew 5:20-26]”, he said.
“The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God’s desire that we turn from the wickedness of the ways in which humans commit such abominable crimes against one another. He calls us to re-set our hearts toward doing what is right and just in the sight of God. The psalmist sings of his trust in the Lord’s plenteous redemption, and kindness. In the gospel of the day, we hear Jesus teaching on reconciliation and how we go about that work, however hard it may be however long it may take.
“The peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan have suffered through the horrors of war for so many years. They know so much death and are acquainted with so much grief. Communities have been destroyed and family life shattered. So many of their children know nothing but war. So many, in fact are orphaned by its carnage.”
He called on people to fast “as an act of solidarity with those who suffer so much deprivation through war and those whose poverty is incomprehensible” and said: “let us pray for those who work for reconciliation and peace – that their ranks be swelled and their strategies embraced. May the peoples for whom they labour finally know a peace that is just and lasting, a peace in which they and their children can live in hope of better times, in full accord with the will of God.”
A prayer by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Loving God, Prince of Peace, we pray today for our sisters and brothers in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo;
We pray for the victims and survivors of violence in those nations,
We pray for refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries, and for the millions of people crowded into camps for displaced people,
We pray for their politicians, that they will learn how to become servant leaders, dedicated to the interests of their people.
Lord Jesus, you are our hope,
Our faith in you grounds us in hope,
It gives us certainty that peace can be made,
It strengthens our resolve that peace must be made,
And hope helps us to triumph over all.
We pray that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan,
Will focus on the hope that you inspire,
Hold one another’s hands,
Look upon one another, eyeball to eyeball,
And resolve to build united, peaceful nations.
This we pray in your precious name,