In the midst of human suffering, spirituality seems to be the best means to cope with trauma and difficult situations. It is a dynamic and fundamental way for us to connect with something bigger than ourselves, helping us to have meaning and purpose in life, as well as hope for a tomorrow.

Catholic sisters are planting the seeds of faith, hope and love as they walk with the people of South Sudan — the youngest country in Africa — one step at Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Juba, South Sudan and met with Catholic sisters and people who are tirelessly working to transform South Sudan into a place of hope, aptly symbolised by the river Nile flowing through the city of Juba. But despite the fresh water provided by the river, many are starving and the sisters are working on the margins of society, creating schools, hospitals, social and pastoral care centres.

Both local and missionary sisters are serving hand in hand, building people’s faith and hope for the future yet to be realised. Trauma is one of the challenges they face each day as they support the communities there.

I keep wondering what keeps these sisters ministering there amid challenging uncertainties, but the answer is simple; it’s love. One sister told me that despite the fragile environment, walking out and leaving those who have nowhere else to call home is not an option. Daughter of Saint Paul Sister Ann observed, ‘You cannot know what is happening in someone’s mind, yet you have to keep hope alive; yes, hope that there is a future’.

I think having an open mind as we encounter and immerse ourselves in a new culture is important. The African proverb, ‘He who has not travelled widely thinks that his mother is the best cook,’ illustrates this well. It encourages us to travel, to be aware and to explore other cultures with an open mind and heart — and not to interpret or judge those cultures through our own cultural lenses.

If we have open minds and are ready to learn and engage effectively with the local people, new cultures will shape our opinions. It is easy for people who live in peaceful circumstances to tell others living in volatile and vulnerable regions to ‘just leave’ but for those working in those regions, providing essential services to the sick, poor, children, women and elderly is a priority.

I was deeply touched by the faith, hope and love demonstrated by the Catholic sisters as they navigated difficult terrain to provide desperately needed services. The sisters’ commitment and desire to make a difference in the society and lives of the people they serve is nourished by faith and hope for a better tomorrow. Above all, it is love that leads them to wake up each day to serve.

Each day that we travelled in the South Sudan, I thought of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘My children,’ he wrote, ‘I am going through the pain of childbirth all over again, until Christ is formed in you. I wish I could be there with you and find the right way of talking to you. I am quite at a loss with you’ (Galatians 4: 19-20).

We have a duty not only to pray but also to be active for these people — for the women, the girls, the boys and the elderly in this troubled country. Peace is indispensable for sustainable human development in South Sudan; and there is a dire need for humanitarian assistance.

The need for trauma healing cannot be underestimated. It is essential to develop mutual trust and to impart positive values to the next generation.

This article can be found in Mirror 0317.