What a wonderful paradox is contained in this ideal, which we celebrate this month.
When you think back to what the signers of the Declaration of Independence wanted, it was the freedom of the people of the United States to make their own decisions and determine their future. Many of those decisions would lead to mutual dependence, first of the states on one another—as set forth in the Constitution 11 years later—and eventually with many other countries. Independence meant, in part, the right to decide how to be dependent.
The Declaration of Independence speaks of the rights bestowed on us by our Creator: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those are not possible without independence. It is what God granted mankind when He gave us free will, making us independent of Him.
Independence allows us to make mistakes. It allows us to sin. But it also allows us to find our redemption in the dependence that comes in the love we feel for one another and, most important, for our Creator. Dependence would have no meaning without the free will that comes with independence.
When you help the poor around the world through Catholic Relief Services, you help them achieve independence. The chains of poverty restrict what people can do, and how and when they can do it. Only when those bindings are broken can people use their free will to make the choice of redemptive dependence.
Let me talk to you about another country that celebrates its independence this month—the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, born 3 years ago. As you know, the Church there played a major role in ending decades of war and bringing about a peaceful referendum on secession from Sudan. Through your prayers and assistance to CRS, you supported this work.
Unfortunately, trouble has returned to South Sudan, and horrible violence has claimed many lives. Although some people seem almost eager to write off the country as a failed experiment, that would be wrong. The fact is there are few nations that do not stumble as they learn and grow—the United States included. Born with the brutality of slavery scarring its devotion to liberty, our nation fought its own horrifically bloody civil war on its way to fully realizing its nationhood.
As terrible as the situation is in South Sudan, there are many encouraging signs. The violence has been restricted to a few areas of the country. Peace has returned to one of those locations—Jonglei State—so CRS has been able to resume relief and development work there. The peacebuilding work that you undertook through CRS helped to keep the violence from spreading.
Still, South Sudan and the Church need your prayers and support during this difficult transition. Because violence kept farmers from planting in many areas, there will be no crops, so people will need emergency supplies. Also, humanitarian workers need access and security. And leaders in the country must agree to a lasting cease-fire to find a peaceful way forward.
I must mention what many South Sudanese have told us: They do not want to return to the dependence of the past, forced upon them by decades of war, violence and food shortages. Over time, the skills they needed to be independent, particularly agricultural skills, were often lost. In recent years, many South Sudanese have told us how exciting it has been to relearn those skills and take other important steps toward regaining independence at every level, both political and personal.
Let us once again pledge to stay with the people of South Sudan, along with many others around the world—in Central African Republic, in Syria and in other countries—as they seek what we celebrate in our own nation: full and meaningful independence.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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