Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan, has called for renewed prayer and support as independence from the North looks increasingly likely.
Official results of the long-awaited poll are not due until next month but early indications have already shown majority support for secession and the creation of a new country of South Sudan, independent from the North.
Reporting that South Sudanese people had strong “expectations of change for the better”, Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio stressed the need for continued international prayer and cooperation at a crucial moment in the country’s history.
In a message to Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop wrote: “As so many of you know, this is an historical time for us with noble and delicate decisions before us.
“I want to ask your prayers for permanent peace in the Sudan.”
Sudan analysts have predicted turbulent times ahead in the run-up to July 9th, the deadline for the declaration of independence for South Sudan.
Preparations are expected to be difficult with the country suffering massive under-investment, tribal tensions and the threat of violence from guerrilla fighters and terrorists.
Secession looks increasingly likely amid latest reports showing up to 99 percent support for independence among people who cast their vote in South Sudan.
Khartoum-based President Omar al Bashir of Sudan has pledged to accept the referendum result, noting that turn-out had exceeded the threshold needed for the vote to be considered valid.
Bishop Hiiboro went on to thank Aid to the Church in Need and other charities and agencies for keeping the international spotlight on South Sudan, saying that it put pressure on politicians to work for peace.
He stated: “I am thanking organisations like Aid to the Church in Need because the external pressure – the prayers of the international community of the charity – have made a real impact on the government and made it clear to the authorities that war is not an option.
“Nobody wants to be accused of starting a war.”
Last autumn, Bishop Hiiboro visited the UK as a guest of Aid to the Church in Need and in meetings involving other Catholic organisations including CAFOD and Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) held discussions with senior officials including the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In response to the visit, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh wrote to British Foreign Secretary William Hague warning of the threat of widespread violence unless international pressure was applied to ensure the referendum stayed on track.
Bishop Hiiboro and other bishops have paid tribute to the UN and other international organisations as well as leading countries which have had representatives in South Sudan monitoring the referendum, ensuring due process is followed.
Meanwhile, in recent interviews with Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Hiiboro has reiterated his call for people in South Sudan to remain calm.
He said: “Everybody here has high expectations as to what will happen next. But people must remain calm and the government has got to be disciplined.”
Reports from across Sudan indicate that the immediate run-up to the referendum triggered a widespread movement – many of them Christians – leaving shanty-towns in and around the capital, Khartoum, making their way to the South.
It follows growing fears that President Bashir’s regime is likely to shift radically towards Islamisation, thereby increasing intolerance towards Christians and other minorities.
But, amid concerns of possible chaos as thousands descend on the South, Bishop Hiiboro has said that in his diocese and elsewhere preparations are underway to greet the new arrivals and that local people were willing to make sacrifices to accommodate them.