A Bishop's Look at the World's Newest State

Rumbek Prelate Discusses Southern Sudan’s Secession

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, JUNE 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- One month from today, Africa will have a new nation, as Southern Sudan secedes from the north.

The break between the oil-rich south and its northern neighbor has been anything but easy. Pockets of violence are ongoing and no one is certain if Southern Sudan will actually manage to govern itself.

Nevertheless, the Christians and animist residents of the south are eager for a separation from the Muslim north.

ZENIT spoke with one of the figures working for peace, Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbek, which is in Southern Sudan.

The 74-year-old Italian is a Comboni Missionary of the Heart of Jesus and has worked in Sudan for three decades, serving as bishop of Rumbek since 1999.

ZENIT: With the establishment of Southern Sudan, what will change for the people and for the geopolitical situation of North Africa?

Bishop Mazzolari: The secession of Southern Sudan represents an objective of liberty for a people oppressed by more than 20 years of civil war. I foresee a time of Christianity that will be increasingly deepened. This symbol of liberty a la africana, of strongly desired genuine liberty is also visible in North Africa with the revolutions that have occurred in the last months. This does not mean that there will also be divisions in other African states, but certainly the course followed by Southern Sudan has been appreciated and supported across the whole of Africa.

ZENIT: What is the position of the Catholic Church? And in what way are Christians counting on helping the birth and development of Southern Sudan?

Bishop Mazzolari: For a country that has the highest rate of illiterates in the world — only 15% of men and barely 9% of women can read and write — now more than ever we need to form the ruling class of the future so that the self-determination of these people is full and mature, in the sign of hope and of a fundamental recovery of their identity. As Church we still have today a great responsibility in the construction of the new state: We must teach the patient art of dialogue, of communication and of reconciliation, to set the bases of a new country, which has often only known the way of violence.

ZENIT: What are the educational plans for development promoted by the CESAR association that you direct? And, in particular, how will you build the first center for the formation of teachers of Southern Sudan?

Bishop Mazzolari: CESAR was born in 2000 to seek aid outside of Africa, and it is a real and proper link between the mission and its donors. The funds collected are used in different realms according to the needs of the moment: from pastoral care to education, from health to humanitarian aid, as documented at the We site www.cesarsudan.org.

At present we are working on the construction of a center for teachers in Cuiebet, a locality that is 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Rumbek. A school that every year will form 30 teachers able to give basic education to more than 5,000 children in just the first five years of activity. To carry out this work requires the commitment of international institutions; our appeal is addressed to them so that they can give a new impulse to projects in this land martyred by civil war and poverty. This is why we support the establishment of an Italian embassy in Juba, which could naturally effect a significant change in this direction.

ZENIT: In what way can international institutions, governments and Christian churches contribute to the realization of development projects for Southern Sudan?

Bishop Mazzolari: Unfortunately, Southern Sudan is the poorest country of the world; 90% of the inhabitants live on less than $1 a day. However, the surface and subsoil of this country hide enormous riches to be discovered: oil, gold, precious woods such as ebony and mahogany. People who are able to elaborate this wealth to make it known within and outside the borders of Southern Sudan are lacking. The idea of building a carpenter’s shop goes precisely in this direction: to invest in Southern Sudan, giving Southern Sudanese the possibility to work the resources the land offers them.

ZENIT: What difficulties do you foresee? And what are the human resources to be mobilized?

Bishop Mazzolari: We won’t have immediate integration, so that the North and South will have to accept being poor for at least another 10 years. There are no hospitals, or schools, or sources of water, or infrastructure. The aid of the international community will be necessary to reach many of the objectives that independence will bring with it. The continuous provocative attacks of the Khartoum government, with the military occupation of the Abyei area, disputed because of the oilfields it has, call clearly to war. But the government of the South is reacting to the provocations by making them fall into a void. Therefore, the atmosphere is not one of the most serene, despite which I am convinced that the people are determined about independence and their enduring silently the Khartoum government is a demonstration of this.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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