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Bishops ask for prayers to allow South Sudan cease-fire to take hold
Catholic News Service photo
Jesuit Father Michael Schultheis distributes Communion during Mass held in a camp for internally displaced families inside a U.N. base in Juba, South Sudan. The camp holds Nuer families who took refuge there in December 2013 after a political dispute wit hin the country's ruling party quickly fractured the young nation along ethnic and tribal lines.
Catholic News Service photo
Jesuit Father Michael Schultheis distributes Communion during Mass held in a camp for internally displaced families inside a U.N. base in Juba, South Sudan. The camp holds Nuer families who took refuge there in December 2013 after a political dispute wit hin the country's ruling party quickly fractured the young nation along ethnic and tribal lines.
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Religious leaders, including a Catholic archbishop, called for prayers for peace while urging government and rebel forces in South Sudan to lay down their arms and allow a tenuous cease-fire to take effect.

Fighting between forces loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, Kiir's former vice president, flared May 12, two days after the parties agreed to the cease-fire.

The renewed clashes in the oil-producing Upper Nile state dashed hopes for a swift end to five months of violence that has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than 1 million people to flee the conflict.

Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba was among several religious leaders who were present at the signing of the agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As the agreement was signed, Archbishop Luduku Loro offered prayers for peace and said that "all South Sudanese have been waiting for this day for the last five months."

Joining the call for peace was Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio. He called on the South Sudanese to continue praying for peace, Anisa Radio reported. During Mass May 11 at St. Mary Yambio Parish, the bishop stressed that all citizens were responsible for working for peace and to support the cease-fire.

Despite the agreement, both sides accused each other of launching ground attacks and artillery barrages. Kuol Manyang, South Sudan's defense minister, said government troops had been ordered only to fight in self-defense.

Kiir told crowds in Juba May 11 that government forces have been ordered "not to lift a foot from where they are to attack rebels."

Since fighting erupted in December, thousands of people have died and as many as 1.2 million people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. While the violence began as a rivalry between Kiir and Machar, ethnic loyalties soon took root, leading one U.N. official to say in a report earlier in May that "many of the precursors of genocide" were present. Typhoon Haiyan survivors organize to push demands for emergency relief
By Simone Orendain Catholic News Service
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Six months after Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to vast stretches of the central Philippines, some survivors like subsistence farmer Marissa Cavaljao still need emergency relief.

Cavaljao, 27, joined with other farmers from a small town in Samar  province April 28 to demand that their local mayor distribute government aid packages containing a 14-day supply of staple goods. Only twice, she said, had her family received emergency rations, good for three to five days.

But, she told Catholic News Service, the mayor claimed he had never heard of the program and promised to look into it. A week later, Cavaljao said, she still had not heard from anyone.

"I just keep borrowing money so we can have something to eat," Cavaljao said.

A single mother with two small children, Cavaljao also cares for her elderly parents. She said that when the storm blew by Nov. 8 with its 195-mph winds, the family's hut was covered in soil but otherwise survived intact. The root crops and the red rice she sold for a living were ruined though.

Some farmers in the village received seeds through a nongovernment program, allowing them to replant a red rice crop. Without proper tools, the farmers could not plant other crops, Cavaljao said.

Frustrated by the lack of government response, Cavaljao joined People Surge, an advocacy group led by Benedictine Sister Edita Espolor, that was organized to pursue help for storm survivors in far-flung areas of the Philippines.

Sister Edita, a survivor herself from the hard-hit city of Tacloban in  the central Philippines, said that while city residents have received  regular deliveries of relief goods, outlying communities have not.

"The people tried to ask for the help of the local government, but they were told to go to the national government, so we went to Manila to ask for help," Sister Edita told CNS. "But they were saying, 'Why don't you go to local government?' So it was like that. We were like a basketball, (being passed) from one government official to another. So we feel like there's no relief, there's no help from the government."

Sister Edita said the group, which gained more than 17,000 members through a petition-signing campaign, wanted a one-time government payment of $900 in emergency assistance and the continuation of relief deliveries to families.

Jessica Darantinao, 25, from a small mountain town in northern Leyte province, also joined People Surge. Darantinao, a single mother, told CNS her house and the coconut trees whose kernels she sold for making oil were leveled by Haiyan, but that assistance for recovery was sparse.

"It'll take three years to grow back those trees," she said. "Since we can't count on copra (kernels) we have to shift to other fast-growing crops like mung beans. ... But we don't have any of the right tools to plant those types of crops."

From the end of January through early April, People Surge rallied outside the presidential palace. Members also met with Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman.

Soliman said 14-day relief packages were being distributed and that she also gave the group a hotline number that individuals could text to let her department know they had not received aid.

"And we asked them to please give us the specific place and if you have a name so that we can go and check and provide what is needed," Soliman told CNS. "They have not given it to us and they said to us that it's our job to look for those families that we cannot reach."

Sister Edita said the group has grown leery of the government and does not want to provide contact information, especially after some people complained of being "harassed" by the Philippine military after pressing local governments for assistance.

The Benedictine nun said People Surge had all but given up on looking to government for assistance and it sought help from Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in early April. She said the cardinal brought the petition to President Benigno Aquino and promised that he would follow up.

People Surge member Darantinao said the nun's talk with the cardinal was significant.

"It really gave us a boost, knowing that Cardinal Tagle passed our  petition on to the government," she said. "They'll have to listen to us and we're really putting our hopes on that."

"I am a religious and a sister and I know it's through prayers that we can get what we ask, especially for these people. And if we organize ourselves and we believe ... in the God who is helping these poor people, simply the grace of God will strengthen these people," she said.

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