Christians across the world from many denominations are praying today (Friday) for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo following an invitation from Pope Francis, supported by Anglican and other Christian leaders. The need for prayer was highlighted by investigators from the UN’s Human Rights Council, who said today that they had “identified more than 40 senior military officials who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan.” Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund, Unicef, reports that “at least 1.3 million people, including more than 800,000 children, have been displaced by inter-ethnic violence and clashes between the regular army, militia and armed groups in . . . in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo”, making the DRC “home to one of the largest displacement crises in the world for children.”
The UN investigators’ report on South Sudan details “appalling instances of cruelty against civilians who have had their eyes gouged out, their throats slit or been castrated,” the Human Rights Council said in a statement. “Children have been recruited by all sides in the conflict and forced to kill civilians; in many cases they have watched loved ones raped or killed. Children are also thought to make up a quarter of the sexual violence victims in a conflict where rape has reached grotesque levels. If the fighting continues unabated, only one in thirteen South Sudanese will finish primary education, blighting a whole generation.”
It is a similar situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where “hundreds of thousands of children in the region no longer have access to health care and education, while many have suffered atrocities at the hands of combatants,” Unicef’s country representative Dr Tajudeen Oyewale said. “It is simply a brutal situation for children with no end in sight.” The agency reports that “Children in eastern DRC are also being sexually abused and recruited to fight. Unicef and its partners have identified more than 800 cases of sexual abuse, although the true scale of sexual violence being perpetrated against children is believed to be much larger.”
The call to set aside today as day of prayer and fasting for the two countries was made by Pope Francis during his Angelus address earlier this month. In doing so, he called on the ecumenical community to join in, saying: “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.” Anglican leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, and the leaders of the Anglican provinces in South Sudan and Congo, have joined leaders from a large number of other denominations in supporting and echoing Pope Francis’ call.
In addition to private prayer and fasting, a number of corporate prayer events have taken place and have been planned for the coming days.
Anglican Communion staff in London prayed for the two countries during worship at the chapel in the Anglican Communion Office this morning. Prayers were also said in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, the London office and official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Joining staff there, was Bishop Emmanuel Murye of the South Sudanese Diocese of Kajo-Keji who is visiting London. Afterwards, in a video posted on the official Lambeth Palace Twitter feed, he said: “The prayer that world has today for DCR and South Sudan will be of great importance, which if God responds to it – and I am sure God is going to respond – it will be a great relief. And I think this a first move.
“I want to appreciate the Pope and I also want to appreciate our archbishops of the Anglican Communion,” he said.
Also taking part in the Morning Prayer service at Lambeth Palace was the former Bishop of Kajo-kejo, Anthony Pogo, who now serves as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Anglican Communion Affairs. He too welcomed the ecumenical calls for prayer.
“I have seen first-hand the suffering of the ordinary people as a result of the conflict in South Sudan,” he told ACNS. “This confirms the African saying that ‘when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most’. It is important that peace is achieved in South Sudan and DRC to end the suffering of God’s people.”
The Anglican Primate of Sudan is taking part in prayers at All Saints Cathedral, Khartoum, one of a number of venues where prayer services are being held in Sudan. “It is important that people come together to ask the Lord to have mercy on the people and forgive their sins so that peace is realised in the world,” Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo said.
The Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Burundi, Martin Nyaboho, has asked bishops in all nine dioceses in the province to organise a dedicated time of prayer on Sunday for their “brothers and sisters from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan who are passing through hard times of crisis.”
He said that in just one week at the end of January, 7,000 people fled their eastern DRC homes when violence broke out between government forces and armed groups, and arrived in Rumonge, a town in a southern province of Burundi alongside Lake Tanganyika, seeking refuge.
In a statement, Archbishop Martin quoted one of them: a man who disembarked from a boat having made the journey across Lake Tanganyika with his wife and five children: “We are tired, hungry, but we thank God because we still alive,” he said. “Many didn’t have that chance.”
The new arrivals are amongst thousands of Congolese refugees who are being housed in the Gasorwe refugee camp in Muyinga, and the Bwagiriza camp in Ruyigi, or in communities in Bujumbura and other cities. Archbishop Martin has appealed to Christians in Burundi to keep showing compassion, love and hospitality to people from the DRC, while preparing to welcome Burundians expected to return to the country from refugee camps in Tanzania.
In an interview with Voice of America, the Secretary of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, described the extent of the loss of lives and the suffering in the two countries as “an embarrassment to Africa in general and the powers that be in the world in particular.”
And he urged the leaders of the country to put the needs of their people first. “I will appeal to them just as my archbishop has been doing, the Pope himself has been doing and some of the church leaders: please come together. Agree on how to share power [and] get this country moving.”
In South Sudan, the country’s Catholic Bishops sent a message of thanks to Pope Francis for calling the world to pray. “We reiterate our past messages, the killing must stop,” they said. “It is unacceptable to be negotiating positions and percentages while the killing continues.”