By Kim Pozniak

A day after the people of South Sudan came together to declare their independence, they converged on St. Teresa Cathedral of Juba, South Sudan’s capital, on July 10th to celebrate a special Mass dedicated to their new nationhood.

Standing in the shade of large trees on the church compound, they waited patiently for the Mass to begin. Hundreds of people then filed into the church, taking their seats in old wooden pews, while those who arrived too late for a seat crowded the doors to get a glimpse of the Mass.

Inside, the Church was packed with people still in a celebratory mood from the weekend’s historic events. Hundreds were seated in the pews, and dozens more lined the walls of the church while the bright light of another hot day flooded the building through the open doors and stained glass windows.

Concelebrants from around the world, including a papal representative from Kenya and Bishop John Ricard of Florida, were present for the services. They walked in pairs in a processional when the women’s choir, dressed in shiny blue and orange satin robes, started singing a solemn but cheerful song, reflecting the mood that could be felt throughout the Cathedral.

When Cardinal John Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi and the Holy See’s representative to Sudan, got up to say the homily and bless the new nation of South Sudan, the crowd inside the Church erupted in cheer and applause.

“This does not mean the end of the road,” the Cardinal said. “But instead, the beginning of building a new nation.” He then went on to explain that the Holy See formally recognizes the new nation of the Republic of South Sudan as an independent nation, and once again, the faithful seated under colorful banners adorning the walls of the church cheered and rejoiced.

“We have come from far,” the Cardinal continued. “We are still far, and we are going far,” referring to the challenges that lie ahead for this newborn nation and the hope that Southern Sudanese will take on the challenge of building a country that was plagued by decades of war.

He then appealed to the new country’s leaders, urging them to put the interest of their citizens first. “Every child who comes into this new nation, remember that you will be accountable,” he said. “Do not fall into the trap that many before you have fallen into,” he appealed. “Be instruments of unity and be instruments of peace.”

He then turned his attention to the congregation and urged them to “be productive, and to continue to build this new nation.”

As the voice of the Cardinal, the Archbishop and the other celebrants reverberated from loudspeakers mounted to the church walls, the faithful in the pews applauded and cheered to the rhythm of lively choir songs, which were accompanied by handmade drums and tambourines.

The Mass then proceeded with parishioners, many of whom don’t have much to offer themselves, offering tithes to the common good of the community. After more than three hours, the ceremony drew to a close with the Cardinal once again blessing the new nation of South Sudan and the congregation singing the new national anthem.

Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, who had come to Sudan to represent the Caritas network at this historic moment, was also present for the Mass.

“I could feel the spirit of unity among Christians here. I could feel the call to unity as something very strong,” he said. “We know that in the past, the differences between tribes have been used by the powers to fuel the conflict. And now it’s really time, and everyone wants it. It’s time for unity, and to bring this diversity of the Southern Sudanese as a strength to his new nation.”

“This was one of the main messages that I heard in this Mass. It’s a good start for this new nation. All Christians, especially Catholics, together united and giving inspiration to their leaders, so that they will go the right way, away from conflict.”

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.