As the New Year began I found myself once again struck by people’s capacity for overcoming the difficulties life throws at them and being witnesses to God’s unconditional love.  For almost ten years male and female religious, members of different religious congregations from different parts of the world, have been living and working together to help the people of South Sudan build a just and healthy society.  Through the establishment of Teacher and Nurse Training Institutes and the creation of pastoral programmes that respond to the needs of a people suffering in a society where conflict and uncertainty is an everyday reality, members of ‘Solidarity with South Sudan’ maintain a presence witnessing to the possibility of there being ‘unity in diversity’, an important message in a nation torn apart by tribal conflicts.

While their continued presence in South Sudan, despite such uncertainty, is an expression of an   availability to be with the most needy that springs from their vocational identity, it was the events that played out on the evening of December 28th 2015 in Yambio that strikingly speak of the Mercy that Pope Francis has encouraged the Church to reflect upon.  The following excerpt from an email I received says it all

‘last night in Yambio, four armed men, from the rebel group dressed as soldiers, invaded our house in Yambio, stole the telephones and computers of three of the Sisters, some money and two vehicles. One Sister was raped, a watchman was beaten but there were no deaths.  Sr Margaret Scott, the principal of the Teacher Training Institute in Yambio, has flown to Yambio this morning. Unfortunately with the badly mishandled economy here, many people are hungry and desperate for food. So they do desperate things. We all have known we live with a certain element of danger but this is a most unwelcome development.  Nonetheless, in spite of the horrific situation of rape, we are giving the choice to those in Yambio to leave there, but most, if not all, wish to stay on and continue the ministry there.

For me the capacity of the sister that was raped and her companions to even consider the possibility of remaining in these circumstances speaks volumes about the call we receive as religious which finds expression in the words of the prophet Micah.  What does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

They have demonstrated a capacity to selflessly look beyond their undoubtedly human reactions to such a traumatic experience, instead of fleeing and seeking self-preservation, they expressed a desire to instead remain present with the people they serve.

While we may not be called upon to put ourselves in such a dangerous position it is a reminder of the reality of values that should be present in the lives of all the baptised when finding themselves hurt and confused by the behaviour of others.  Rather than give up on those who have offended or hurt us we need instead try to remain open and committed to the type of service that seeks to heal and improve the situation.

Fr. Paul Smyth CMF

President of “Solidarity with South Sudan”