Pauline Sisters celebrate centenary amid turmoil in South Sudan

The Pauline sisters from Kenya celebrate the centenary of their order while living in South Sudan, where they first opened a bookshop in 2008. (Photo provided by Br. Bill Firman)

Things are bad in South Sudan and getting worse, De LaSalle Christian Br. Bill Firman, executive director of Solidarity with South Sudan, reports.

And yet the South Sudanese act happy and hopeful, even as the situation worsens.

“The on-going conflict has had the effect of a dramatic drop in oil production, the main source of income for this country. So the economy is staggering along, prices have risen dramatically, the government has no money to pay salaries, and break-ins have greatly increased,” Firman writes. “Hungry people do desperate things. Even the Church compounds have been broken into recently. The local priests say this has never happened before. Yet every day, most of the people I meet are cheerful and friendly.”

And the joy in the midst of struggle isn’t confined to the South Sudanese – Firman says the Pauline sisters from Kenya have the same attitude:

Our next-door neighbors in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, are the Pauline Sisters. Our community and the Pauline community give one another mutual support and come together to celebrate all special events. The Daughters of St Paul, as their congregation is officially known, came to South Sudan in 2008 and opened a bookshop. Their special mission is to spread the word of God following the example of St Paul. They do that with great zeal. Their ministry takes them to parishes, schools, the seminary and the radio station. They are great communicators and become also informal counselors for their many customers.

Only a couple of weeks ago the Pauline bookshop, along with an adjacent pharmacy and offices of the Church curia were broken into by persons unknown. This kind of occurrence can be quite unsettling but, not deterred, the sisters continued to plan and prepare for the celebration of the centenary of the founding of their congregation. We celebrated that event last Sunday with mass in the Cathedral and later gathered for a concert and the evening meal. The three Pauline Sisters here are all Kenyans and, like most Africans, they know how to celebrate. I continue to admire the fact that following a discouraging event such as a break-in and in a country struggling to maintain law and order, the human spirit can take us above all that to celebrate life with great joy.

The cathedral in Juba, South Sudan. (Photo provided by Br. Bill Firman)

That’s not to say people are naïve or ignorant of the suffering around them, or that they don’t care.

“Of course, the worst of the reported atrocities are out of our sight; but not out of our minds,” Firman writes. “We pray that all the people in this land may have the chance to live without fear and to celebrate joyfully the gift of life.”

And the atrocities are indeed horrifying. Firman quotes a June 17 statement by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake that says, “As many as 129 children from Unity State were killed during only three weeks in May. Survivors report that boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death. . . . Girls as young as 8 have been gang raped and murdered. . . . Children have been tied together before their attackers slit their throats. . . . Others have been thrown into burning buildings.”

Firman says these crimes are not being committed by rebels, but by “government troops, those who are supposed to be protecting people and maintaining law and order.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Firman points out that the Pauline celebration included people of many nationalities and many tribes, all celebrating the gift of life in a spirit of Christian brotherhood.

Perhaps someday that spirit will take over all of South Sudan and the embattled people there can at last know peace.

Fr. Manny presents the Pauline sisters with a gift to mark the centenary of their order. (Photo provided by Br. Bill Firman)

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