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Lend Me Your Ears

Lend Me Your Ears

 

A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of the Sudan
 
2 May 1993

 To the Faithful, to all men and women of good will in the Sudan: "The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

Brothers and Sisters,
 
Soon after the Pope's visit, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Sudan, held a consultation in which we decided to keep the Pope's messages to the Sudanese People alive throughout the Country. We drafted two letters then. The first one, "Believers United for Peace" was issued in the last week of February. We now issue the second one: "Lend Me Your Ears". It is an appeal:
 
"Please, listen to me.
Try to understand me."
 
This is the cry of most Sudanese at this moment. Prejudices, suspicions, fears, hatred, divisions, repression, class interests, and a devastating war have closed our ears and hearts to one another. Yet each one of us wants to be heard understood. Probably we are all saying the same thing, but since we do not even make the effort to understand what the others are saying, our problems and differences keep growing from day to day. The result is what we now experience: war, religious,conflicts and misunderstandings, tribal fights, and a general atmosphere of hostility and suspicion.

 The Pope was aware of all this. That is why he declared: "An important purpose of my visit is to appeal for a new relationship between Christians and Muslims in this land." ... The Pope was not alone in this. Some time before the Pope's visit, during his visit and in a number of meetings with Church Leaders, our Government has openly declared the beginning of a new era: "a new beginnging". It is the beginning the Pope referred to in his homily in the Green Square: "a new political system would be introduced, a system in which all citizens would be equal, without discrimination by reason of colour, religion or sex. ...that all legitimate diversities would be respected in a multi-ethinic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country; that all religions would be free in their religious activities." Following the visit of the Pope, there seems to be a more serious commitment to dialogue for peace. We hope that such a commitment will become irreversible.

 

SUDAN    
Population: 28,247,333  
Catholics: 2,044,122  
% Pop./Cath: 7%  
Dioceses: 9  
Parishes: 94  
Dioc. Priests: 59  
Religious Men: 192  
Religious Women: 278  
 

 

 

 

The Pope's appeal for dialogue and mutual understanding and cooperation among the Sudanese People may seem superflous, because, as many say, the Sudanese are a people of tolerance and dialogue.

 

 

 

a.

 

 

 

It is true that there exists the dialogue of life. It is the kind of dialogue by which people strive to live in an open neighbourly spirit, sharing joys and sorrows, human problems and worries, and mutually giving and receiving all trypes of support. People strive to avoid all that could disturb the peace, and hasten to resolve conflicts. We see this kind of dialogue in our families and neighbourhoods, in schools and places of work, in the market place ... This is the dialogue for survival. Its absence would make life impossible for everyone. Unfortunately it is often restricted to the members of the "group", and usually excludes or is denied to the "foreigner" or to those who are not "one-of-us".

 

 

 

b.

 

 

 

Then there is the dialogue of action, in which our people, irrespective of religious, ethinic or social differences, join hands and work together to realize common pronects, particularly when the objectives of such projects are well understood and accepted by all.

 

 

 

Both types of dialogue however tend to create blocks and to foment family, clan, tribal, ethinic, class and religious rivalries and conflicts: one group united againist another.

 

 

 

Because of the existence and practice of these types of dialogue in sudanese society, some of us try to feed public opinion with statements such as: "Sudanese society is a society of tolerance and understanding. See how Northerners and Southerners, Christians and Muslims live and work togenther." Then they jump to the conclusion: "So, there are no racial or religous problems and conflicts in the Sudan. Any conflicts that exist are due to foreign interference in the internal affairs of the Sudan, or are fomented by agents of foreign powers ..." - Such facile statements fail to explain why the Sudanese have been at war with one another for twenty-seven our of the thirty-seven years of independence; or why there are millions of displaced Sudanese in the North and the South; or why thousands of Sudanese have taken refuge into neighbouring countries or chosen to go into voluntary exile; or why repeated attempts at negotiations and a peaceful settlement to the present conflict have always ended in failure; or why there is a continous mobilisation of troops for war - civil war.

 

 

 

All this can only mean that we have not yet discovered the kind of dialogue capable of bringing about reconciliation, understanding and harmony, or that our kind of dialogue in these matters are really successive monologues in alternation.

 

 

 

We are also aware that several serious issues are ignored or deliberately struck off the list of negotiable subjects. In fact many citizens insistently claim to be victims of religious, ethinic and social discrimination; that they are persecuted, deprived of their fair share in the political, social and economic life of the country, or treated as second class citizens, deprived of some of their basic rights as human beings and citizens. The fact that these complaints continue in spite of sometimes very harsh repressive measures is a clear sign that some citizens are not being taken seriously, that they are not being listened to. This is absence of dialogue.

 

 

 

We are paying a terrible price for this absence of dialogue or the kind of dialogue which is nothing but political or social window-dressing. The Pope was aware of this, and so is our Government. High ranking officials have declared without reserve that we should all forget the past, - the past in which all of us one way or another have made mistakes; and that we should open "a new page" and usher in "a new era of real and constructive dialogue and cooperation."

 

 

 

OUR APPEAL

 

 

 

This Pastral Letter is an appeal to all Sudanese of good will to listen to the call for dialogue issued by our Government, and to the insistent cry of so many of our fellow citizens for more justice, more respect for their human dignity and rights, and for a lasting peace in the country. We have every reason to think that the Government's call is not an empty propaganda. It has been followed with concrete initiatives:- the resumption of talks with the SPLA which will hopefully reach a happy conclusion in Abuja II; the efforts to reach out to those who were formerly considered "the fifth column"; and the appeal to Church Leaders to let by-gones be by-gones and to support the new process of dialogue leading to peace, understanding and harmony among the People.

 

 

 

We now issue this call to all: a call for dialogue between the Sudanese People, North, South, East and West, between Christians and Muslims, and the different tribes and ethinic groups. We call also for the creation of a political climate for dialogue, - a climate free from discrimination and repression, welcoming to and respectful of every constructive contribution from the citizens irrespective of their religion, political colour, social status, tribe and race. - Let us all set out on the Path of dialogue, mutual understanding, cooperation, mutual respect, and reconciliation, in order to bring about the peace and harmony we long for so much.

 

 

 

DIALOGUE: A TASK FOR ALL

 

 

 

We all aspire for peace. We opt for peaceful solutions to our conflicts. We recognize the need to eliminate, not only war, but everthing that leads to war. We all desire a climate of peace which will guarantee our search for well-being, particulary now when we are faced by an economic crisis which threatens the very life of the nation.

 

 

 

To make our aspirations for peace and well-being become realities, we must take the right means. The most effective means is to adopt an attitude of dialogue, "that is, of patiently introducing the mechanisms and phases of dialogue wherever peace is threatened or already compromised, in families, in society, ..." between tribes, religions and ethnic groups. It also means that each one should seixe the many opportunities at his or her disposal to break down the barriers of selfishness, aggression and lack of understanding, by carrying on dialogue, everyday, in the family, the village, the neighbourhood

 

 

 

If dialogue is a task for all, then no one must be excluded. Such an exclusion exists even if it is not declared, when freedom of speech and of expression is curtailed or totally denied; when legitimate complaints are systematically ridiculed or ignored; when no room is allowed for differences and dissension; when the climate of suspicion, fear and hostility pervades society to the extend that normal relationships and communication between people become impossible; and when people feel they are not accepted or respected.

 

 

 

"The universal suffering of millions of innocent victims impels me to voice my solidarity with the weak and defenceless, who cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect of their God-given dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights for freedom to believe and practice their faith without fear or discrimination." (Pope John-Paul II in Khartoum)

 

 

 

Dialogue is the task of everyone also because it has to do with the common good, and with peace. Neither the common good nor peace can ever be constructed by some without the others.

 

 

 

DIALOGUE: favourable and unfavourable conditions

 

 

 

Dialogue takes place between two or more persons, groups or parties. People resort to dialogue when they feel the need to establish greater unity, mutual understanding, peace and cooperation between them, or wish to defuse situations of tension and conflict. They open and establish suitable channels of communication, discussion and exchange of ideas in view if udebtuftubg areas if conflict and disagreement as well as their underlying causes; they search for factors that are of common concern for all the parties involved, and the type of common action to tale in order to reduce tension and restore good understanding.

 

 

 

Dialogue is not however restricted to talks and discussions. Partners to dialogue can at times achieve the same ends by adopting attitudes and ways of behavior that express mutual respect and acceptance, awareness of and sensitivity to the other party's needs and attention to them, and, cooperation and collaboration in common endeavours.

 

 

 

(for this section only, the text has been shortened).

 

 

 

Real and fruitful dialogue is however possible only if:

 

 

 

a.

 

 

 

The Parties concerned mutually LISTEN to one another...

 

 

 

b.

 

 

 

Partners in dialogue listen in order to LEARN, even to the extend of inviting their opponents to tell them frankly what annoys them and what creates their distrust...

 

 

 

c.

 

 

 

Willingness to learn implies readiness to UNLEARN. Through the common search for truth and for more truth, we come to realize that we have been relating to one another on the basis of many wrong and unfounded generalisations and assumptions...This is what Christians called conversion which sometimes involves a complete "about turn" in our opinions, ideas, programmes, and vision of reality...

 

 

 

d.

 

 

 

Dialogue demands OPENNESS that is, willingness and readiness to consider and recongnize the real pronlems as the other party expresses them, a consideration of the differences that exist, and the specific nature of the other party: that is what makes the other party different from us, think differently from us and act differently from us...

 

 

 

e.

 

 

 

Dialogue demands MUTUAL RESPECT. The parties to dialogue must respect one another. Such a respect must be unconditional: respect for the other, for his opinions, his behaviour. Only such an conditional respect can help us understand the diversity of the others, appreciate their view point, respect their legitimate hopes and aspirations, even if they seem "strange" to us...

 

 

 

f.

 

 

 

Dialogue demands that we RESPECT DIFFERENCES. It is such differences that cause frictions and misunderstandings. Unless they are handled carefully, and treated respectfully, they cannot be smoothed out or rendered less harmful to the common good of all...

 

 

 

g.

 

 

 

Where there is good measure of the virtue of dialogue, we will not only frankly and humbly acknowledge past and present failings, errors and, for charitable judgement of the stranger of opponent while requiring of ourselves a severer judgement. Each one of us has his or her limitations, only a honest acknowledgement of them can pave the way to open dialogue and real search for light and truth...

 

 

 

h.

 

 

 

Dialogue, particulary dialogue for peace, aims at removing suspicion, division and confrontation; it strives to defend the fragile treasure of trust that still lingers between opposing parties. It furthermore aims at promoting solidarity and cooperation among people. We must repeat: the object of dialogue is the COMMON GOOD OF ALL, AND THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF EVERY HUMAN BEING...

 

 

 

i.

 

 

 

Partners in dialogue must be their AUTHENTIC AND TRUE SELVES, this excludes any pretensions, or personification of others. We present ourselves in our true identity precisely because dialogue is for mutual knowledge and understanding, for learning and unlearning, for what is right and true. We have however to keep in mind that our real identity includes our identity in solidarity with the others: the community, society, or group we belong to make up our identity...

 

 

 

j.

 

 

 

Dialogue is for ACTION. Dialogue that remains for ever on the level of theory, discussions and exchange of ideas cannot be called meaningful. It simply because tensions, quarrels, wars do not happen only at the level of words: sooner or latter the hard words will turn into blows and other undesirable acts. Only action will undo action...

 

 

 

DIALOGUE IS NOT EASY

 

 

 

It should be clear from all we have said that dialogue is not easy. Some people annoued at having to recognize or concede some reasonable proposition, prefer to reject it, or furnish it with conditions that render it impossible or delay it indefinitely. Often there is a feeling of real and sometimes justified insecurity. "This leads in turn to ever higher levels of tension aggravated by the inevitable search by every means and by all sides, to ensure military superiority - even to gain the upper hand by acts of naked terrorism ... or preponderance through economic and idealogical control." (The Pope in Korea, 1984). - Dialogue demands clear-headedness, firmness and preseverance. An atmosphere of fear, suspicion, distrust and uncertainty is extremely difficult to dispel, and so can render constructive dialog almost impossible.

 

 

 

It is necessary therefore that persons engaging in dialogue, begin with a firm will and determination to dicover and hold on to the truth, to what is genuinely conducive to the common good of all, to what unites the different parties in the dialogue, and to what is just and right. They must be resolute in their wish to adhere solely to peaceful means. - Dialogue is for men and women of good will.

 

 

 

Persons in dialogue should not allow themselves to be discouraged by real and apparent failures. They should consent to begin again ceselessly to propose true dialogue, - by removing obstacles and by eliminating the defects of dialogue ... and to travel to the end this single road which leads to peace, with all its demands and conditions.

 

 

 

To give up on dialogue is to lose faith in man - the human being. We must continue to preserve "enough confidence in man, in his capasity of being reasonable, in his sense of what is good, of justice, of fairness, in his possibility of brotherly love and hope, ..."

 

 

 

DIALOGUE: EVERYONE'S RESPONSIBILITY, BUT SOME ARE MORE RESPONSIBLE

 

 

 

We begin to focus our attention more on dialogue of peace. This is the dialogue we need most in the Sudan where a savage civil war is in progress, and where religious and ethnic conflicts are like volcanoes that can erupt at any moment. These situations call for immediate steps to dialogue. But who shoud take the first step?

 

 

 

The Government

 

 

 

The Government has a crucial role and responsibility to pave the way for the dialogue of peace. We reproduce here the appeal the Pope addressed to Government Officials and Diplomats in Paraguay in 1982: "Your task of governing will be facilitated immensely and will be more effective than you ever thought possible if you always try to facilitate dialogue and the greater participation of all in public affairs. A just government, zealous in its functions, will complete your (i.e. of the officials and the diplomats) work, by seeing to it that the rights of the neglected are protected", - and in Red Horn: "The fundamental duty is solicitude for the common good of society ... The fundamental duty of power can only be understood on the basis of respect for the objective and inviolable rights of man ... The lack of this leads to the dissolution of society, opposition by citizens to authority, or a situation of oppresion, intimidation, violence and terrorism."

 

 

 

It is easy for a government to block the way to dialogue, particularly if it sets itself as the ultimate measure of justice and right. This attitude often simply conceals the will to power of the leaders. Sometimes it is an attitude that coincides with an exaggerated and out-of-date concept of the sovereignty and security of the State. "The State then runs the risk of becoming the object of a so to speak unquestionable worship. It runs the risk of justifying the most questionable undertaking." (Pope's message for Peace 1983).

 

 

 

It is certainly the Government's task and responsibility to establish dialogue on the national level in order to resolve social conflicts, in order to seek the common good. "While bearing in mind the interests of different groups, the common effort for peace must be made ceaselessly, in the exercise of freedoms and duties which are democratic for all, thanks to the structures of participation and thanks to many means of reconciliation (e.g.) between employers and workers, in the manner of respecting and associating the cultural, ethnic and religious groups which make up the nation. - When unfortunately dialogue between government and people is absent, social peace is threatened or absent; it is like a state of war." (Ibid.).

 

 

 

The government cannot bring about peace and understanding among the Sudanese People singlehanded. It needs the support of every citizen, each one according to his or her capabilities. Such a cooperation must however be sought and called for, because the Sudanese people easily tend to consider the government as a know-all.

 

 

 

The Media: (Press, Radio, Television)

 

 

 

These are the instruments that shape public opinion. Public opinion can put brakes on warlide tendencies or support these same tendencies. Those who work in the social communications media should realize that they play a great educational role in society.

 

 

 

If they express everything in terms of relations of force, of group and class struggles, and of friends and enemies, they create a propitious atmosphere for social barriers, contempt, hatred, terrorism and underhanded or open support for them...

 

 

 

The social communications media can play a great role in unshering in the new era of peace and dialogue for peace. For they promote mutual information so that all may understand better not only what is happening but also what the happenings mean. In their communication, the consciences of all people should be united for the search of what is true, good and beautiful. They do not feed the people eith ready made decisions and opinions, but rather gather up different views and compare them and transmit them so that the people can understand and make a proper decision.

 

 

 

In many cases the media fail in their mission. Perhaps they are under strict security control, or too much influenced by the ideologies or political colours to which they belong or which finance them. The fact however is that their contribution to peace and to better understanding among the Sudanese people leaves too much to be desired. There is little objectivity, comments on events are often biassed. For instance no paper or television programme has ever portrayed the actual living condition of the displaced people, or of the horrors of the civil war. If these had been objectively portrayed to the Sudanese people, they would have long since arisen in protest against what is happening.

 

 

 

This new era of dialogue requires more professional ethics on the part of journalist and the radio or the television programme managers. They need to calmly asses the good they could accomplish if they paid more attention to what could unite the Sudanese People, what could bring greater understanding among the people, and make them respect one another, rather than pitching one race or religion or tribe against the other ... in the name of what? War, brutality, destruction, division, falsehood and instability.

 

 

 

Religious Leaders

 

 

 

Religious leaders, whether Christian or Muslim, have a great responsibility to promote dialogue and to educate the people to it. We recognize that because of the political manipulation and polarisations of these last years, also religious leaders have become hardliners, and experts in monologue. We wish to state that such a stance is a serious obstacle to what all the so called heavenly religious claim to be: religions of dialogue, understanding, respect for human dignity and rights, love, compassion, mercy and tolerance.

 

 

 

We, religious leaders, should be experts in the art of dialogue. For it is an integral part of our mission.

 

 

 

  • We believe in God who is the God of dialogue. We all believe that God did not come to reveal himself or his laws by shoving his revelation down man's throat. He did that very gradually with attention to man's capacity to assimilate divine truth. The God we believe in does not use force or violence against the human being who does not or refuses to understand or obey his laws. In fact the contrary seems to be the rule: that those we consider to be wicked have far more easy and "happy" lives in this world than those who try to live strictly according to God's law.

 

 

 

  • We all believe that God created human beings to his own image and likeness. We thus have a firm foundation for respecting each and every human being. Who are we to dispise a person whom God has to highly honored?

 

 

 

  • We believe that God is the truth, and that no human being has the fullness of truth; rather we know that we, in spite of our higher studies in theology have only a very partial knowledge of the truth. For this reason we are in constant search for truth. We would not be the kind of people to close our minds against the others who like us claim to possess some share of the truth. We would rather open our minds and heart to add what they give us to our treasury to truth.

 

 

 

  • We feel we have a vocation to being God's truth and salvation to all the human race. This is why we preach, not to make followers but to lead human beings to God. We, more than anybody else, should be concerned for the common good of all. We would be false to our call if we set certain people apart for destruction, and others for salvation as if we were their God. Persons who have a universal good cannot become partisan in thier own mentality and goals.

 

 

 

  • We are people who know that faith in God is an interior assent of the mind and the heart than originates from God himself, and that such a faith cannot be induced by force or by manipulation. We believe in the freedom of conscience, and in fact we base all our work on persuasion rather than on coercion. So we are the sort of people who would respect and even support the ritht of people to dissent and to oppose even God's ordinances, because that freedom has been given them by God himself.

 

 

 

  • We proclaim that God is merciful and compassionate. Because of this we preach repentance even to the most hardened sinners. Our mission does not at all authorize us to sentence anybody to hell. All are in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. We need to bring the good news to all people. We possess all that is needed for good dialogue. It is our task to promote it!

 

 

 

CHRISTIANS AND DIALOGUE

 

 

 

We exhort you, the Christians, to take your part in this dialogue, the dialogue of peace, the dialogue for the promotion of greater understanding, mutual respect and cooperation, among the Sudanese People, between Christians and Muslims and between the various tribes and cultures that make up our nation. In the Pope's words: "pursue your responsibilities for dialogue with that qualith of openness, frankness and justice that is called for by the charity of Christ, to take them up again ceaselessly, with the tenacity and hope which faith enables you to have."

 

 

 

Christians must become more aware of their vocation to be the humble messengers of Peace.. that goes beyond the walls that separate people, beyond the diversity of languages and cultures.
...We entrust this letter in a special way to you Christians, that is everyone of you who professes faith in Christ. It is our duty to make peace our way of life!

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

 

 

May all sudanese people of good will take up this challenge of dialogue. We know that the situation is often extremely difficult, that after several attempts, we find ourselves just beginning. But if we enter dialoque, any type of dialogue, united and with a determined will to continue up to the very end, we will reap the fruits of our efforts. We will make of ourselves a nation of civilized and reasonable people, a politically mature people and a people who reject any attempts at self-destruction through war, religious and cultural conflicts, and divisions.

 

 

 

Who of us can fail to appreciate a new vision of the Sudan - a Country where justice and peace prevail, where the various tribes and races know and respect one another, where all the citizens are united in common endeavours because they all feel part and parcel of this nation? May God who inspires every good deed, bring to completion the good work he has begun among us.

 

 

 

The Catholic Bishops of Sudan,

 

 

 

M. Rev. Gabriel Zubeir Wako Archbishop of Khartoum
M. Rev. Paulino Lukudu Loro Archbishop of Juba
Rt. Rev. Vincent Mojwok Nyiker Bishop of Malakal
Rt. Rev. Erkolano Lodu Tombe Bishop of Yei
Rt. Rev. Daniel Adwok Kur Aux. Bishop of Khartoum
Msgr. Deng Majak Rudolph Apostolic Administrator of Wau
Msgr. Antonio Menegazzo Apostolic Administrator of El Obeid