Southern Sudan: Pastoral work in Yei affected by fear of LRA attacks
09 January 2009

Examples like these show that even in time of attacks with looting, killing, raping and abductions from the LRA the strong wish to construct and rebuild their country still prevails among the South Sudanese.
Yei, January 9, 2009 The fourth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was celebrated in Southern Sudan. In the same week hundreds of people panicked when a fire started and bullets exploded in a house outside Yei, on the road to Juba.
While the  people started running towards Yei they informed others on the way that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was attacking. The news also reached the JRS compound but eventually it turned out that it was only a conflict between a wife and her husband.

However this incident shows that the fear of a possible LRA attack is high. Large areas in the diocese of Yei are affected by the movements of LRA rebels scattered by the recent joint attacks on their base in Garamba National Park in north-eastern Congo. According to a recent UNMIS estimate, approximately 2500 individuals have been displaced following suspected LRA recent attacks in Yei and Lanya counties.

"I am constantly confronted with the fear people have and as a matter of fact it affects our work," says Sr Petra Bigge, JRS Pastoral Coordinator in Yei. "Sometimes we are not able to reach certain areas. Catechists and other leaders in the parish of Tore report that they cannot gather for a Sunday celebration and that schools in the villages have to remain closed for insecurity reasons," she adds. 

Pastoral work in Yei aims at enhancing the life of the church through faith formation. That includes trainings of catechists, youth, Catholic Action and parish council members, regular visits to the prison and to the sick, translation of pastoral materials in the two main languages Bari and Lingala and accompanying several income generating projects of women who make bread and soap. 

Training people to form new communities

Since during the 22 years of war no trainings have taken place in the parishes, many of the catechists are not prepared for their duties. Only 13 priests and 10 religious are active in the diocese. "I have therefore concentrated on the LUMKO methodology which aims at training people to form Small Christian Communities (SCC) which promote a participatory approach within the church," says Sr Petra.

At the end of November, during the last workshop in Tore participants talked about the goals and aims of a membership in the Catholic Action Association (CAA), a group of men and women who are particularly active in the church and support others in different areas. Emphasis was put on visits especially to the sick and the ones most in need, using Mt 25,42-45 where it says: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' A picture complemented the aspect of God’s presence in such a visit: The one who is doing the visit can see God in the person who is in need and the person in need can see God himself in the person coming to see him. "We were deeply touched when during the evaluation of the workshop participants said: 'During these days we have experienced God’s presence among us through you. You are sitting on God’s chairs. You have brought us God’s message. We thank you for that.'," says Sr Petra.

In December 2008 the first diocesan women’s meeting took place in the parish of Ombasi. Twenty-nine women from four parishes participated. They were trained in how to conduct monthly spiritual meetings and reflected on the meaning of CAA membership. The different income generating groups shared about their activities and their struggle. All this helped the women to strengthen their self-esteem and gain self-confidence. The participants could witness how far the women group in Ombasi had developed: Their daily activities of making bread and selling it in the market enabled them to build their own bakery and teahouse.S

Staying positive

"One week after this first diocesan women’s meeting I could witness how participants enthusiastically passed on their knowledge to their 20 colleagues, men and women in a two day workshop in their own parish," says Sr Petra. "Again I was touched when, after greeting the group, one of the women who had participated in the diocesan meeting approached me, saying: 'Sister, you said we are the Catholic Action and you put particular emphasis on ‘action’. That is the reason why we have called immediately for this workshop.' I was deeply touched realising that the workshop had already beard fruit, bringing about action among the participants," she adds. The decade long war has made people passive. There is still little interest in caring for one another and fixed groups who share spiritual life do not yet exist. The workshop enabled them to make the first steps towards a change.

Examples like these show that even in time of attacks with looting, killing, raping and abductions from the LRA the strong wish to construct and rebuild their country still prevails among the South Sudanese. "From my own experience  I can say that women in particular are a strong potential and hope for this country," says Sr Petra. "Once they have understood a particular issue, they are enthusiastic, willing and capable to put it into practice, they are more active then their male counterparts even though they have less education. They appreciate the knowledge they receive in a particular way, making use of it immediately," she adds.

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