Sunday, July 10, 2011

For South Sudan, "A New Chapter in Peace"

As midnight struck yesterday in Africa's newest republic and the flag of South Sudan was raised for the first time in Juba's central square, a raucous Mass of Thanksgiving for the nation's independence took place in the new capital's St Therese Cathedral.

After a two-decade civil war that claimed the lives of as many as 2 million Sudanese, the predominantly-Christian South's breakaway from the Muslim-majority north has been hailed as a triumph of reconciliation and diplomacy. Accordingly, the celebrations of the South's new status have extended far and wide, and were marked particularly by the Vatican, which sent a high-powered delegation to the weekend ceremonies led by its "foreign minister" Archbishop Dominique Mamberti -- who served as papal nuncio to the Sudan until his 2006 transfer to Rome -- and one of Africa's most prominent prelates, Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, who presided at a second celebratory Mass today.

The Stateside church was likewise represented by two of its leading humanitarian lights: the freshly-retired Bishop John Ricard attended as a representative of the nation's hierarchy, and the departing president of Catholic Relief Services Ken Hackett took part as a member of the White House mission sent for the occasion.

Having birthed one of the more prominent modern saints, the Sudanese-born Italian nun Mother Josephine Bakhita, who had been a slave until her mid-20s, the church's presence in the new nation runs strong and deep -- the father of the South's independence, John Garang, was buried from the Juba cathedral after his 2005 death in a helicopter crash, and the state's first President, Salva Kiir (a Catholic), isn't just a weekly attendee at St Therese, but has routinely delivered messages to the people from its pulpit.

In his inaugural address yesterday, Kiir repeated his long-standing call for forgiveness after the long, bloody conflict.

In an editorial aired over Vatican Radio as the festivities took place, the Holy See's chief spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, cited the contribution toward the day of Blessed John Paul II -- whose pledge of "solidarity with the weak and defenseless who cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect for their God-given dignity as human beings" during a 1993 trip to the Sudan prompted an "explosion" among the people which, Lombardi said, "has not yet been exhausted.

"[I]n order to flourish," South Sudan "is in need of concrete and strong international and ecclesial solidarity," he added. "Despite its resources, at the beginning it will be one of the poorest countries in the world and will have to face very difficult problems for its internal unity.... We cannot let them down."

Having already been diplomatically recognized by the North and the US among others, it's likewise been indicated that the Vatican would give "due consideration" to a request for full relations from South Sudan. The Holy See currently maintains bilateral ties with some 180 states, a figure roughly equivalent to the number recognized by the US government.

As the papal portavoce fittingly noted the "mysterious and extraordinary vitality" of the Sudanese people, here's earlier footage of a Sunday liturgy held outdoors in the South....

To be sure -- as the Late Great once settled a debate on the extent of the continent's liturgical flavor in the planning of a Vatican Mass -- "The more African, the better."

All that said, whether your weekend worship was high Anglicanorum, South Sudanese or whatever in between, here's hoping it was just as joyful.

And now, back into the bunker... and what could quite possibly make for a Mega-Week on the beat.

As always, stay tuned.