Friends and neighbours of Caritas partner Solidarity with Southern Sudan gathered at their residence on Friday, July 8, 2011. The event including children singing the new national anthem, and "Happy Birthday," to their new nation. It also included a seder dinner and a gift of saplings to help remind each family in attendance that as their country grows it will need care and cultivation to make sure that it prospers. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services

By Kim Pozniak

Just six months after Southern Sudanese voted with an overwhelming majority to secede from the North, the new nation of South Sudan was born. Southern Sudanese turned out in the hundreds of thousands to witness the declaration of Independence of the Republic of South Sudan, and to celebrate a milestone they had been waiting for since a 2005 peace agreement that gave them the right to vote on whether to stay united with the north or form their own nation.

People from all over Southern Sudan came to see first-hand the birth of a new nation this July 9. Some said they traveled for days to make it to the capital in time for the celebrations.

“I’m very happy today,” said Alfred Gore Dimitri, who had come with his family to witness the celebration in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. “I’ve been celebrating since yesterday.”

Also in attendance at the celebration was Michel Roy, Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary General, who was seated with a delegation of Caritas partners. “There was no need for security because everyone was very happy,” he observed. “The peacefulness of the independence day celebrations is a very good sign for the future.”

Roy says he was impressed with the Southern Sudanese: “I witnessed a lot of dignity and hope for the future in their celebrations.”

Prior to the official ceremony, people gathered around the John Garang Memorial in Juba to celebrate. Dance troupes from as far as Aweil performed dances wearing traditional dress, and the sound of drums and trumpets could be heard throughout. Many had come wearing their best dresses and suits and waited patiently for hours under the blazing sun. Some cried tears of joy, and the words ‘happy’ and ‘excited’ were a common refrain.

“I’m very, very happy,” said Joseph Duku, who lost both parents during the civil war. “Today is a very historical moment. We’ve been waiting for this day. I feel at last we’re released from everything, and we’re going to gain a lot. We can see now that we’re really citizens of South Sudan. I’m now a full citizen of this nation.”

When the ceremony started, throngs of people tried to make their way to the front of the memorial where hundreds of dignitaries and heads of states were seated. When South Sudan’s first president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, made his entrance, the stadium exploded in cheer and applause, and police and military units had a hard time holding people back.

The only thing that got more applause than his appearance was the raising of the flag over South Sudan for the first time. The ceremony continued with both Christian and Muslim blessings, and when the declaration of Independence was read, the crowd erupted once again and people rejoiced at the birth of their new nation.

This blog post was written by Kim Pozniak, Communications Officer for Catholic Relief Services, a Caritas member, who will be blogging for CI on South Sudan’s Independence.