By Francesca Merlo
Claretian Fr Paul Smyth is the President of 'Solidarity with South Sudan'. Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Seán-Patrick Lovett, he explains that the organisation “was established little over ten years ago”. Fr Paul explains that after the civil war ended, the Bishops’ conference was looking for religious to support them “in rebuilding the church, and really, in rebuilding the nation”.
He says that some representatives from different congregations in Rome travelled to Sudan. There, they recognised that “one congregation alone" would not be able to commit themselves to help, but that through collaboration and working together “something could be done”.
Fr Paul says that over the years around 400 congregations have been involved in different ways. “Some through funding, some through sending personnel”. We all committed to establishing programmes and projects that would “help build a capacity in the people”, he adds.
The programmes and projects
A teacher training institute was built and “commitment was made to develop a health training institute for nurses and midwives”. An agricultural project was established because the civil war, “which went on for so long”, caused so much displacement that “people had lost the basic skills for tending land”.
“The other area we did a lot of work with”, continues Fr Paul, was pastoral, “because of the need for trauma healing and helping people deal with all the consequences of previous situations they had been in, in Sudan”.
As President of the Organisation, Fr Paul travels to the country often, but one of the strongest memories that stays with him and motivates him dates back to his very first visit in 2011, shortly after the referendum for the independence of South Sudan.
“We were just at the point of being able to open the institute that had been built in Malakal – which was a teacher training institute – and I was there the first day the students were arriving. I remember one woman in particular. A Muslim woman. She was wandering around with her eyes wide open, saying to herself ‘you’ve done this for us, you’ve done this for us’. It was that sense that she was just so surprised that anyone would do something like this for them, and the amazement in her that really touched me. It made me realise just how much need there is there, in so many different areas.”
A potential visit
The Holy Father has mentioned several times that he would like to visit South Sudan. Fr Paul says that one of the main beneifts this visit would bring is that it would “once again bring the world’s attention to South Sudan”. He recalls that a few years ago South Sudan was in the media, but that it unfortunately quickly became old news “even though the situation hasn’t really improved” – in fact, he adds “it has probably deteriorated”.
Hope for a solution
Although the Pope visting would put more pressure on finding a solution to what “has lasted far too long”, just his expressing his desire to “does bring it to attention” and hopefully, concludes Fr Paul, “more can be done to resolve this situation”.