'We Indian nuns in South Sudan waiting for Pope Francis'
The testimony of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a missionary congregation founded in Asia that has been ministering since 2012 among war victims in the African country that is preparing to welcome the pontiff. Peace initiatives promoted among the people by the women religious. Sr. Vijili Dali: "People are waiting for reconciliation from the pope. A very difficult challenge, but we believe that God will save His people."
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis left this morning for his third apostolic journey to sub-Saharan Africa, which will stop in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in these days.
In the latter he will find teh vibrant reality of the missionary work of the Churches of Asia: South Sudan is in fact one of the African countries where the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (DMI), a religious congregation founded in 1984 by Fr. Arul Raj in India to "love God by serving the poor" and thus spread the word of God throughout the world, carry out their mission.
After less than four decades, the Daughters of Mary Immaculate now number 553, and in addition to several countries in Africa (Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Central African Republic) they also minister in Papua New Guinea.
They arrived in South Sudan in 2012 and today-aside from the archdiocese of Juba-they are also present in the dioceses of Wau, Rumbek and Malakal. They offer a pastoral service that has had to come to terms with the dramatic civil war that erupted in 2013, with a heavy toll of bloodshed and millions of displaced people.
The Indian sisters thus found themselves right from the start on the front lines of safeguarding the dignity of each person by providing food, shelter, medical services and education for children.
But they also began forming self-help groups in villages known as peace groups: this powerful strategy transformed the lives of more than 15 thousand families by ensuring economic and social emancipation.
The Daughters of Mary Immaculate have promoted 22 community schools in villages around Juba, where 18 thousand children study. A vocational school has trained more than 1200 young people, imparting technical skills but also promoting special courses on peace and reconciliation, leadership and small business management.
They have supported 6600 families to start farming operations on 2500 acres of land allocated by local leaders. The sisters themselves created a 6-acre model farm in which as many as 4,000 farmers were trained in sustainable agricultural practices. And then they have spun off two women's shelters and gender violence prevention centers that have involved more than 320 women in rehabilitation programs.
These seeds have been sown in a context that remains deeply scarred by war.
"South Sudan today seems at peace," says Sr. Vijili Dali, head of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate mission in the country, "but in some regions there is still occasional fighting. Particularly in Malakal, in Upper Nile State, the conflict will not subside. And until the country is safe, investors will not be interested in bringing money for economic development."
What does South Sudan expect from Pope Francis who arrives in the country along with Anglican Primate Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields?
"The people hope he will bring reconciliation between the two groups of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar," answers the head of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, "so that the people live in peace and harmony. But it also awaits the return of the big NGOs to the country, to support development programs in education, food security, infrastructure. People believe the Holy See can influence some countries to help the government. Half of the population still lives outside the country, more than 20 percent are camped in the bush: their return must be supported so that the community can return."
These are, however, tough challenges: "The ten years spent here," concludes Sr. Vijili Dali, "have shown me how difficult it is to bring peace. Tribalism remains very entrenched; they are even ready to lose their lives for the affirmation of their tribe. This mentality does not help. But we still believe that even in South Sudan God will work the miracle of saving His people."