Southern Sudan: The Gospel of Rolled Up Sleeves

Father Otto

Father Joseph Otto of St. Theresa Parish in Magwi celebrates Mass in a church made of cane poles, with a dirt floor and corrugated metal roof. Like so many priests in southern Sudan, he is as involved in his parishioners family and civic lives as he is with their spiritual lives. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

by John Lindner

When was the last time you thanked a priest for repairing potholes on your street?

In southern Sudan the Church handles many services typically handled elsewhere by government. In that context, the Church is — bear with me — civil society in southern Sudan.

The term “civil society” may seem a bit academic in the U.S. It might be easiest to think of it as the “stuff” or material of civilization. Here are some examples of the Church as civil society in southern Sudan:

– The Church is the school system. It builds schools, pays teachers, supports both child and adult education.
– At times, it’s the department of public works. Through food for work programs, it employs residents to work on roads and public buildings that benefit entire communities.
– It installs wells, assuring sources of safe water.
– The Church is health care, building and maintaining clinics, paying for medical education and staff salaries.
– In the form of microfinance programs, it’s virtually the savings and loan services institution for many southern Sudanese.
– It’s an agricultural department, offering seed fairs, farm techniques training,
– It’s the social safety net, providing counseling, emergency relief, shelter.
– And it’s sort of like city hall. It offers its buildings and grounds as safe, neutral places for adversaries to meet and talk, rather than fight, about their differences.

The Church assumed these roles, one diocese, one parish at a time, because it saw the need, but saw no provider. War and political contentions preoccupied government.

The Church would gladly relinquish these roles. But for today, its Gospel calls for rolled up sleeves.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear what a minister of the Government of southern Sudan thinks of the Church’s role in his country.

Learn more about CRS’ work to achieve peace in Sudan.

CRS web managing editor John Lindner traveled to southern Sudan to report on peacebuilding. This is the first of a set of posts on the work the Church and CRS are doing in southern Sudan.

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