As the Republic of South Sudan becomes the world’s newest country today, the Episcopal Church of the Sudan is pinning its hopes on a future of peace.
The country gained its independence today after a referendum in January in which nearly 99 percent of southern Sudanese voted to break away from the largely Muslim North.
The secession of the mainly Christian South from the North marks the climax of the 2005 peace deal that brought an end to decades of civil war.
Across South Sudan, jubilant crowds are celebrating their freedom and what they hope will be the start of a peaceful and prosperous future.
In a statement, the head of the Episcopal Church in Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng said, “We now have a real government and can now be identified as a nation, which has attracted international support.
“These are great achievements which must be recognized, celebrated and guarded carefully.”
He said the government of South Sudan now faces numerous challenges in securing sustained peace, stability, growth and development.
The archbishop voiced particular concern over the escalation of hostilities in the disputed North-South border region of Abyei, as well as violence being perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the west.
“A renewal of war between the two countries of South Sudan and North Sudan will bring untold suffering to our people and delay the point at which we can begin to heal the trauma of the war years, and recover the lost decades of development,” he said.
“We stand willing to play our part in sharing the burden of responsibility which rests on the shoulders of the government of South Sudan.”
The church is pressing the government of South Sudan to continue promoting peace, non-violence, unity and development. It added, however, that the government would have to work to reduce tribalism, nepotism and corruption.
The church is also calling upon Southern Sudanese to respect the new transitional constitution, which holds that religious beliefs should not be used for divisive purposes.
“We call on our people to be united,” said Archbishop Deng. “The unity that was shown during the referendum should continue to be seen all over the Republic of South Sudan.
“This is one way of proving wrong those who prophesy that South Sudan is likely to be a failed state. Unity is more likely to be achieved if people understand and respect the new transitional constitution whose purpose is to provide a common vision for the development of our new country.”
The archbishop added, however, that the people of South Sudan had as much responsibility as the government to ensure a successful future for the country.
“St. Paul clearly states that we have been commissioned to work in unison, using our diversity and the various talents we each have, to help ourselves and one another,” he said. “We must look at our differences from a new perspective, not continue to believe that it is because we are different that we are divided."
“These differences that we assume are dividing us are actually the key to our development and pivotal to harmonious coexistence. We are all responsible for ensuring that the new Republic of South Sudan is built on a strong foundation," he continued. “Therefore, let us begin working together from this point onwards to ensure that we can achieve peace and non-violence, reduce tribalism and its devastating effects on our communities, and promote equality of opportunities, human rights and access to justice.
“If we strive in earnest to adhere to the principle of the Body of Christ, no one and no thing can hold back or hinder the people of the Republic of South Sudan again.”
The church is now mobilizing its international networks to ensure that the international community pays the same attention to the country as it did in the run-up to the referendum.
An international ecumenical delegation is also due to visit South Sudan in October.