Closing of the 101 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful Referendum

Sr. Catherine Arata, SSND, director of Pastoral Services, Solidarity with Southern Sudan gave this address at the Cathedral of St Theresa, Juba, Southern Sudan on January 1.

Peace be with you.

101 days ago on September 21, 2010, the UN International Day of Peace, the Catholic Church in Sudan began a journey, a spiritual journey in the form of a campaign of prayer officially called “101 Days of Prayer toward a Peaceful Referendum in Sudan.” The campaign went far beyond the borders of Sudan. People of many faiths all over the world were united in prayerful solidarity with the people of Sudan as they prepare for an historic referendum vote to stay part of a unified Sudan as it is now or to vote for secession and become a new nation.

Throughout the past six months, civic education programs, debates, and political campaigns were mobilized as ways of preparing the Southern Sudanese people for this important vote. The Church took the opportunity to heighten the awareness that God is deeply present in this crucial moment in Sudan. Through an organized, reflective, prayerful process, the Church led the people to reflect on their mission as peace builders and people of prayer.

During these 101 days of prayer, people all over the world were connected by praying for a peaceful referendum in Sudan. People linked onto web sites in more than 100 countries and joined their voices in prayer. School children from as far away as Australia and Canada are praying for peace in Sudan. Groups of people in England, Japan, the United States; countries on the African continent and organizations and groups in Chile, Vietnam, Spain, and Ireland; and many more are taking time to pray for their brothers and sisters in Sudan. Just imagine that every day all over the world from September 21 until today hundreds of thousands of people prayed the prayer for peace in Sudan.  There is no controlling it; the Spirit is leading the people, and the people are responding in prayer and hope.  Something is being born.

The response of the Sudanese people to the 101 Days of Prayer Campaign says so much about this people’s deep desire to be rooted in God and to depend on God.  During the 101 days, special Masses were offered; rosaries and novenas were said; inter-faith reconciliation services were held; and peace walks were undertaken.  In some dioceses, workshops on peace were held for teachers. From the dioceses of Khartoum and Juba, El Obeid and Yambio, Torit and Yei, Rumbek, Malakal, and Wau, the faith of the people of Sudan created a “sacred space” for reflection and study of the referendum process. Since September 21, hundreds of thousands of people have been praying for peace and making commitments to be peace builders.

Today is January 1, 2011, the day that the 101 Days of Prayer Campaign formally comes to a close. It is important that we end the campaign, BUT it is just as important that the spirit of the campaign continue up to the referendum and after.  And what is the spirit of this 101 Days of Prayer Campaign?  It can be summed up in four words: prayer, change of heart, solidarity, and hope.

Prayer—Prayer creates a sacred space for our meeting with God.  Sometimes that space is a church, but most times that sacred space is the daily events of our lives and our relationships. Sometimes we “say” prayers, but often we do not listen to what God is saying to us. These days before, during, and after the referendum, we have to create these sacred spaces of prayer so that God can speak to our hearts in love.  Tribalism and violence are not sacred spaces where God dwells, and we must pray that NOTHING gets in the way of God speaking to us, not only individually, but also as a “people”.

Change of Heart—The theme of the 101 Days of Prayer was “Change your Heart, Change the World.” Peace will not come to us by falling from the sky. Peace does not begin from the outside but from the inside.  Peace will only come when each of us looks into our hearts to see what blocks peace and when we have the vision and courage to remove these blockages.  A suggestion for today, the first day of a new year is for each of us to take some time today to enter into our “sacred space” and see what is in our hearts that needs to be changed. Where are the blockages?  Where are the stones?  Where are the places that are hard and not soft? What can we change in ourselves as a sign that we are ready and committed to a peaceful referendum and a peaceful “after” the referendum?  Let us find a stone, a rock and keep it in our pocket as a reminder of the stones still left in our hearts.

Hope—In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God tells us: “I know the plans I have in mind for you, a future full of hope.” God is a God of love, who wants us to have “life”, life in abundance. Have we ever wondered what God’s dream for the world is? Does God want poverty, illiteracy, sickness and disease for his people?  Does the referendum have anything to do with God’s dream? Are we listening to what God is saying to the people of Southern Sudan?

Solidarity—Solidarity is the loving co-responsibility among the members of the human community.  A very good example of solidarity is the 101 Days of Prayer Campaign.  People all over the world have been connected to you, to the people of Southern Sudan, through prayer.  We are one human family, brothers and sisters to one another, responsible for one another. God calls us and invites us to love one another and to work with one another for the good of all.  We are meant to live our lives in service to one another.

On this World Day of Peace let us leave this cathedral this morning with renewed commitment, remembering that “peacemaking is not an optional commitment.  It is a requirement of our faith.  We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. (U.S. Bishops, “The Challenge of Peace”)

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