Crisis and conflict around the globe

Citizens of Southern Sudan lined up to register to vote in the January 2011 referendum on secession from the north of the country. (Paul Jeffrey)

Eggshells

Some more – cautious – good news out of South Sudan: De LaSalle Christian Br. Bill Firman,  executive director of Solidarity with South Sudan, says peace – if an uneasy one – seems to have descended on that war-torn country.

“We have now been in the dry season for more than two months and, not withstanding rumors of both sides re-arming heavily during the wet season, South Sudan has not erupted into the violent conflict some were predicting,” Firman writes. “It could still happen, but already the people are starting to look toward the new wet season with a growing optimism.”

Firman says the rival factions in the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement have met and signed another agreement to unify the party and – they hope – the country.

That’s not to say all is perfect:

“Yes, there has been some isolated fighting and senseless killing, usually over cattle.”

And of course, thousands of people remain displaced.

Still, there is some hope.

“It is not yet peace but neither is it a re-ignition of the dreadful fighting and killing that scorched parts of South Sudan last year,” Firman writes. “I am reminded of a sentence I first heard a professor use: ‘And so, we tiptoe into the future on the brittle egg shells of the past.’ Both sides are treading more carefully and, while not exactly embracing a potentially prosperous future, there is some small progress. There is great need for healing and reconciliation but I think it is beginning.”

A girl fills a container with muddy water in the Ajuong Thok Refugee Camp in South Sudan. The camp, in northern Unity State, hosts thousands of refugees from the Nuba Mountains, located across the nearby border with Sudan. (Paul Jeffrey)

Sisters fleeing violence in Niger

Last week, we told you about the horrors visited upon Niger after members of Boko Haram crossed the border from Nigeria, rioting, burning churches and terrorizing Christians.

Now, we have a report from women Religious of the Assumption who were forced to flee Zinder, where they had been working.

La Croix, France’s daily Catholic newspaper, interviewed Assumption Sr. Josée-Myriam, and the congregation has translated the story into English:

“On Friday, Jan. 16, [Josée-Myriam], along with four other sisters and 30 parishioners, had to hide while anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters wrecked and pillaged their house, their church and their school,” the report says.

“Children from the elementary school began throwing stones and yelling ‘Unbelievers, Christians, we are going to kill you today,’ and they put a can of fuel next to the church.”

Things only got worse:

A little while later, after the Moslem prayers of Friday, the situation exploded. ‘As soon as their prayer was over, they pillaged and burned everything. Then, they attacked the parish hall, then the church. They pillaged, burned, profaned the statues. . . . and they finished by the sisters’ house.’

The sisters and parishioners remained locked in, powerless witnesses of all the destruction of their buildings. ‘We were there, heard all the noise. And when they had finished burning everything, they cried ‘Where are they? We will find them and kill them.’ The smoke from the burning cars was filling our hideout; we could hardly breathe. They tried to break down the door but a sister and a laywoman were able to block it until one of the cars exploded in front of the door and they all ran away. They continued looking for us and hurling stones.

This ordeal lasted more than three hours. ‘We called for help. A sister received a call from the archbishop of Niamey who asked what was happening. She replied: 'We are really in danger.'

Eventually, government soldiers came and rescued them. And, as women religious so often do, they looked on the blessings:

"We came out blackened by the smoke. God really worked a miracle: we were unharmed, no one had been burnt or suffocated. We were helpless but God was there. In our hiding place, the youngest was 2 years old and the eldest 75. When we emerged, we gave thanks to God and sang. . . .Then ambulances came and we were taken to army barracks."

The sisters are now in Ivory Coast, figuring out what to do since everything they left behind was destroyed. But in the meantime, they are safe, and preparing to go back to work.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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