Ash Wednesday, March 1st 2017


Beloved brothers and sisters in our Lord, Jesus Christ,

Great Lent, which we now begin, is traditionally a time in which we take a careful look at ourselves, our lives, and the direction in which we are going. In the common language of the Catholic Church, it is a time for a deep “examination of conscience” as we fast, giving of alms (especially now with millions of starving people in our nations), pray, (praying for successful proposed visit of Pope Francis to South Sudan, and otherwise attend to the call for repentance (here we ask for forgiveness of each other) issued by the Church for the forty days before we celebrate the Resurrection of her saviour, Jesus Christ.

A serious examination of conscience requires that we recognize that there are times in the life of each Christian when one’s faith is seriously and urgently challenged by the events taking place around him or her. Like it or not, these challenges show us just how seriously – or not – we are living our baptismal commitment to Christ.

Most of us, most of the time, would prefer to keep our heads in the sand, ostrich-like, than to face truths about ourselves. This is why the Church has found it really necessary to have seasons, such as Lent, during which we must pull our heads out of the sand and take a good, hard look at the world around us and how we are living in it.

We cannot fail, as we examine our consciences, to take into account the most critical challenge presented to our faith in our day: the fact that the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan are at war with either self. For Catholics or Christian Sudanese and South Sudanese, this raises an immediate and unavoidable moral issue of major importance: does the killing of human beings in this on-going war constitute murder? Yes, because killing is evil.

Sisters and Brothers at the beginning of this 2017 Lenten season, I wish to reflect a little on where we are as a country. Lent is a time when we are encouraged to take on some practice to remind ourselves of the priority of seeking God in all we do – often traditionally expressed as the voluntary undertaking of additional prayer, penance and fasting. This year such an expression almost seems superfluous when the reality is that many people are already suffering from hunger and the pain of fear and are involuntarily trying to cope in most difficult circumstances.

We need to look beyond our immediate suffering and focus on the need for a lasting peace and enduring prosperity. During the many years of war we have proved we are resilient people who are greatly comforted by our faith in the God who loves us. This is not a time to give up on our dream and determination to build a united, resourceful nation

The call of President Salva Kiir for a National Dialogue for Peace may have been greeted with a scepticism expressed by some that there are simply too many problems for it to succeed, that it is not inclusive enough, that everything else we have tried has failed. But this is a call by our President we should all support wholeheartedly. We do not want more fighting but more talking, a dialogue designed to overcome differences, resolve issues, calm fears and create an atmosphere for peace and unity. It is an opportunity to stop war, bind our wounds, free prisoners and bring home the strained, so let us embrace it with two hands.

It will not be easy but it is a pathway forward. We hope it is a dialogue that more may join as we rise above tribal differences and find common ground in our shared humanity. We are all made by God, loved by God, precious to God. Even our so-called ‘enemies’ are precious to God. So let us begin by talking about our differences; let us repudiate all violence; let us be determined to live together in peace. We only to pray and create a conducive inclusive environment which will not leave anybody citizen out of this important national obligation to bring about permanent peace.

Let us cast a look at the journey of the people of Israel! Because their family story always indicated a journey. When we read the Scriptures we can see clear evidence of this movement even in the creation stories of the first book of the Bible. That almost sets the scene for the rest of the Old Testament. One remarkable feature that keeps on recurring is a sense of losing the way.

There were times when the one family of the people of Israel in the desert disagreed with Moses and the other leaders about which was the right path.

There were times when they had to by-pass around others who wanted to block their path.

There were times when others attacked them because they saw them as a threat.

There were times when the need for food and water dictated which way they had to go. Sometimes they lost their way because they were distracted.

There were times when they simply lost heart – they had had enough and they were not prepared to go any further.

In our journey from 2011-2017 at least for those of us in South Sudan, when we became an independent nation, if we try to imagine what it must have been like for the Chosen People, our ancient ancestors in faith, we could readily identify with and understand many of those experiences for ourselves as a people. But there is also an inspiration that, like for them, the Father’s constant call to us to respond in the same faith is accompanied by the offer of understanding, assistance, encouragement and – above all else – unqualified love.

While the physical and geographical circumstances are certainly different for the Family of God in our own times, we can see the same elements in current experience which certainly influence our journey. Just like those who have gone before us, our journey in faith brings with it many challenges which must be recognised and met if we are to answer the Father’s call to a life of completeness and satisfaction.

Lent is an appropriate point in our journey towards the Father’s house for us to test our sincerity and honesty. As Sudanese and South Sudanese how can we make genuine peace? Catholics are called to be sincere and open in their faith and action following the example given by Jesus. This demands great courage, frank transparency, considerate understanding, wise determination and a genuine integrity. It is a great sadness that there are those who do not display their union with Jesus in their lives by their failure to apply his example and teaching and yet still claim an identity as a Catholic.

Often it is because the deep, intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his Father has been buried under a merely superficial view of the Catholic faith as a philosophy, culture or an acceptable social-behaviour system. We Catholics celebrate the Divine call through Baptism. This call comes from Jesus and is personal and constant. Our response to that call cements a relationship that gives meaning to all other relationships and that union defines our understanding of life, informs all our decisions, and determines what must be our actions and behaviour. Hence, a Catholic or Christian Sudanese and South Sudanese is made strong to manifest it in his or her life.

And, as our present Holy Father has always pointed out, there are also modern examples for us to draw from and I would strongly recommend prayerful consideration of the example of Sudan’s own St. Josephine Bakhita who has given us all an outstanding example of the very real way in which we can show the love of Christ in the midst of very difficult and harsh times.

May this Lent be a time of true devotion and reflection for us all, filled with the graces of honesty and courage, which will lead us to be more loving and trustworthy members of our families, our close community as South Sudanese and Sudanese, and our Church.

† Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala

Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio &

President of Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (For Sudan and South Sudan)