It may be uncommon for a Catholic to receive an award from the Anglican Church, but 81-year-old Catholic Bishop Paride Taban’s work is exceptional in the area of peace and reconciliation in war-torn South Sudan. In honour of his lifelong work, on 9 June the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Awards presented Bishop Taban with the Hubert Walter Award for Reconciliation and Interfaith Cooperation.
Seventeen years ago, Bishop Paride had a radical dream to end tribalism in the Kuron region that had caused much hostility and violence. In 2005 he established the Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron with a host of programs to promote cooperation and peace, from sports and theater to agriculture and education. With tribal groups so deeply rooted in traditions that included cattle raiding, results were not fast or easy but over time the region changed.
'It’s a very peaceful area now,' described Bishop Taban, an MAF frequent flier, when he recently flew from Kapoeta to Juba to begin the process for the England trip to accept the award. 'You can drive 300 km from Boma to Kapoeta. You can travel even at midnight. It’s so peaceful. You can’t believe it. You can live without thinking of any security. At night you can walk through the forest without thinking of any danger. One can’t imagine that there’s such a place in South Sudan.'
Cattle raiding continues on occasion, but the value of peace is consistently taught. 'It happens because these are cattle raiders from neighboring states,' Bishop Taban says. 'We are working very hard, and if there is an invading, we tell them they shouldn’t go there to take revenge by shooting. We don’t have soldiers; we don’t have police in that area. So the community is the police to solve the problem, and the chiefs are supporting this.'
Bishop Taban worked toward peace and reconciliation for many years prior to his peace initiative in Kuron, founding the New Sudan Council of Churches in 1989 during the war comprising six churches that acted as a facilitator for peace negotiations. He believed that the church must stand as one body.
Now at age 81, Bishop Taban stays healthy by exercising regularly and sticking to a vegetarian diet. He lives in a small hut at the Kuron Peace Village where his dream of peace began. 'The people pray that God could give me another 100 years because I came too late to them when I was older,' he says.
He still travels periodically for work, often flying in MAF’s small Cessna 182 as he did recently with pilot Wim Hobo. 'I started flying MAF since more than 30 years,' the bishop says. 'It’s wonderful. When I’m in MAF, I feel that I’m safe. Thank you so much for all the service MAF has given us, especially since the time when I was dealing with the New Sudan Council of Churches during the 21 years of war. Your service is the one bringing peace for the suffering people of South Sudan. May God bless you and serve the people. Thank you very much for your support.'
Bishop Taban decided to attend the award ceremony in England for one reason. 'I have to tell the world that there is something good happening in South Sudan, not always just talk of war and death and something negative. South Sudan has something positive. We have an oasis of peace in Kuron.'
You can read more about the Kuron Peace Village in these two stories: Guns, Cattle, Food and Peace and Development is peace in South Sudan and a short report from MAF Pilot Eivind Lindtjørn about flying the small Cessna 182 to the Peace Village here.