Bishop John Ricard on South Sudan Independence

Emeritus CRS board member Bishop John Ricard was in South Sudan for the independence celebrations on July 9, 2011. He shares with us his impressions of the world’s newest nation and what Catholics around the world can do to continue to support South Sudan.

When I first came to Juba, now the capital of South Sudan, more than a decade ago, it was a small village. There was little if any infrastructure: roads, buildings, water and sanitation, but almost 12 years later I see before me a bustling metropolis. There is anticipation and excitement in the air. There is hope and there is much promise. There is sense of the potential that South Sudan has that speaks to the wonderful things to come.

My visit to South Sudan represents the hope, solidarity and support of the Church to the people of this new country. They will face many challenges as they forge their national identity after giving birth to a nation.

We’ve been very proud of the role the Church has played in South Sudan. The Church has been instrumental in providing forums in which issues relating to peacebuilding were given the opportunity to develop and to grow. The Church has played an important role in developing this nation and its people. There is crucial trust between the Church and the people that will help carry South Sudan achieve its fullest potential. Throughout the centuries and across the globe, the Church has been at the forefront of development. As Catholics we want to see the Church and this nation continue to grow.

The faith and belief of the Southern Sudanese created a cohesion among its people, a sense of unity and love for one another that kept them together during their darkest days of bombing, conflict, loss and death. I know that faith will continue to be very important to them as they develop the structures they’ll need to become a 21st century nation. The challenge of the Church is to make sure that faith remains a significant and continuing positive force for life as it provides meaning in this process. Material prosperity alone will not bring them joy and happiness, a spiritual dimension is also required.

In the coming months South Sudan will continue to need the prayers and support of Americans and the Church in America. This support I speak of is not only financial. It requires us to live in solidarity with the South Sudanese and walk together with them as they go through this difficult time of expansion. They have tremendous potential and we want to see that exploited to the fullest as they move forward into the future.

I’m very privileged to have been present in South Sudan to witness this phase of development take place. It is my prayer and hope that nationhood will be the start of a wonderful and promising future and that all the people of South Sudan will experience prosperity and peace.

As I watched this country unfold I thought to myself, “Thank God, I’m here.” It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I will always cherish. The memories will remain with me the rest of my life.

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