June 7, 2013

Nobel Peace Prize nominee speaks at Marian University

Marian University student and global studies minor Kelly Hoehn speaks with Bishop Paride Taban of South Sudan at a reception following the retired bishop’s lecture as part of Marian University’s Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies Speaker Series at Marian University in Indianapolis on April 17. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Marian University student and global studies minor Kelly Hoehn speaks with Bishop Paride Taban of South Sudan at a reception following the retired bishop’s lecture as part of Marian University’s Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies Speaker Series at Marian University in Indianapolis on April 17. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

On a grassy field in South Sudan, boys from various tribes hustle after a ball in a friendly game of soccer.

Less than 10 years ago, this scene would have been unimaginable. The boys would have been sworn enemies, potentially killing each other for crossing a tribal boundary.

One man changed all that—in addition to helping end a 22-year civil war.

He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and in March received the United Nation’s most prestigious humanitarian award.

That man is Bishop Paride Taban, a Sudanese prelate with a vision of a Sudan where people of different tribes, ethnicities and faiths could live in peace.

The 77-year-old retired bishop spoke of his efforts as a peace advocate as part of Marian University’s Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies Speaker Series at the Marian University Theater in Indianapolis on April 17.

He was joined by John Ashworth, the Kroc-Catholic Relief Services Fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and an advisor to the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Bishop Taban spoke of his life as a priest and bishop through two civil wars in Sudan, his efforts to mediate peace, and the realization of his dream to create an “oasis of peace”—a village where people live together regardless of tribe, ethnicity or faith.

Years of war

For most of Bishop Taban’s ordained life, Sudan has been at war with itself.

Some cite 1955 as the start of Sudan’s first civil war between the north and the south. Others mark 1962 as the beginning, two years before Paride Taban was ordained.

“From ‘62 to ‘72, I was with the people the whole time. Many were killed, and many fled. In my area, there were only three priests left after the government expelled all the missionaries, thinking the Church would collapse,” Bishop Taban told the audience at Marian. “But we kept getting stronger.”

The war ended in 1972, but the peace did not last long. The second civil war between the northern and southern regions began in 1983.

Again, Bishop Taban—who was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1980—stayed with the people of his war-torn country.

“Many Church leaders, myself included, stayed with the people, living in caves, sleeping in tents, using bomb shelters,” he recounted.

Bishop Taban founded the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), an organization comprised of representatives from the Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, African Inland, Sudan Pentecostal and Sudan Interior Churches. The group sought to facilitate peace negotiations among the warring factions.

“I came with Church leaders to America five or six times during this period. We went all over the world lobbying—to New Zealand, Germany, all over—working together as one body for our community,” the bishop said.

He was imprisoned once by the Khartoum government and once by forces of the liberation movement.

“We suffered, but our work in [the prison] was to forgive, to say like Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do,’ [Lk 23:34]” Bishop Taban said. “I think that was the spirit of the Church in Sudan—and when I say Sudan, I mean all of the original country.”

War ends, a dream begins

With the help of Bishop Taban and other peace advocates, a peace agreement was reached in 2005—after 22 years of fighting had taken an estimated 2 million lives and displaced more than 4 million people.

A referendum was held, and in 2011 Sudan became two nations—the Republic of Sudan to the north, often referred to as North Sudan, and the Republic of South Sudan to the south, often referred to as South Sudan.

With the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, Bishop Taban had time to pursue his dream of establishing a place in South Sudan where people of all faiths and tribes could come to live and work side by side in peace.

“During these years of war, I saw that our people of South Sudan were pitted one against another. Because there are so many groups—tribes, ethnic groups, south and north—the [Khartoum] government used this. They called all the black people ‘slave.’ So they adopted a saying in Arabic, ‘Kill a slave through a slave,’ ” he explained. “So to see that such a thing doesn’t happen, I founded this village.”

Bishop Taban said the idea came to him when he was travelled to Israel.

“During the [second] war, I was exhausted. I went to Israel to rest and pray for my country and gain my strength back. I found a small village where Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together as a cooperative village. I said, ‘Wow! Let the war end, and I will found a village like this.’ ”

“An oasis of peace”

When Bishop Taban saw the war drawing to a close in 2004, he petitioned the Vatican for early retirement. It was granted to him later that year. Bishop Taban was free to start building his dream, a place he named Holy Trinity Peace Village.

The village—which he calls “an oasis of peace”—is located in a remote area of southeastern South Sudan near the border with Ethiopia.

The area near the village includes four tribes and other communities. For decades, the livestock-raising tribes—especially youths with too much time on their hands—participated in cattle raiding. Such actions led to killing among the tribes.

“We brought leaders of villages from different places, and we taught them how to keep security in their area. … Before, they could not travel three kilometers beyond their borders for fear they would be killed,” said Bishop Taban.” But now that has ended. The chiefs are working together. [If there is] any stealing of cattle, the community police gather all the cattle, the thieves are punished and the cattle are returned. This has become an example in South Sudan.”

He started a demonstration farm, where the local tribes who had been raiding cattle were trained how to grow fast-maturing crops and shown better farming methods. By introducing improved agricultural techniques, Bishop Taban was able to promote food production, helping the primarily livestock-raising tribes shift into agro-pastoralist communities. And with more work for the youth to do in the fields, the cattle raiding ceased.

According to Bishop Taban, more than 3,000 people live in or near the village, which now boasts a school and a medical clinic.

For his efforts at creating peace in this region, the United Nations bestowed upon Bishop Taban this year’s Sergio Vieira de Mello Peace Prize, the organization’s most prestigious humanitarian award.

In an interview with The Criterion after his talk, Bishop Taban asked members of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to pray for the success of the village and especially for true peace to spread throughout South and North Sudan.

“They should visit us so they can see what we do,” he said. “We need to build a bridge with archdioceses and parishes so we can share in full our experience, our suffering and our faith.

“We have a lot to give to each other.”
 

(For more information on Holy Trinity Peace Village, log on to www.kuronvillage.net, or e-mail Bishop Paride Taban at BishopTabanParide@yahoo.com.)

 

Related story: Indianapolis native observes South Sudan after 2011 independence

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