Working for peace among cattle herders - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2022 newsletter


Gabe Hurrish, South Sudan

October 2021: Six of 12 stolen cows recovered.

Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock. So when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that it was indeed a place suitable for livestock. (Numbers 32:1)

This is Toposa land in the far eastern part of South Sudan; a harsh, semi-arid climate with little water, and every plant has thorns. This time of year, people are returning from the hills as the rains turn everything lush green. There are countless animals roaming all around Toposa land, passing this way and that. Like Reuben in the Bible, they are looking for greener pastures.

Only recently arrived cellphone communication is impacting the Toposa lifestyle.

This culture is mainly pastoralist, and the cows are most cherished by the Toposa, Murle, Jie, Kachipo and Nyanyangatom. These herds are always accompanied by youth, many of whom look like schoolboys. Others with etched faces and dark eyes darting from side to side. Every one of them carries these AK-47 Russian-made rifles, which are like a badge of manhood. These older youth are young men with dreams of cattle. Their whole life revolves around herds of cattle. As they move their herds, conflicts over land and water rights can occur. It also can lead to cattle raiding, which causes so many unfortunate deaths.

Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron has been working in this Toposa area for 22 years. The project was begun by a retired bishop by the name of Paride Taban. Bishop Taban is famous in South Sudan for his peace efforts during the war and since independence. He started this project because this area was neglected by the government. It is operated under the Catholic Diocese of Torit but is registered as an NGO under the government.

Peace Village is the only permanent presence among these peoples and many times is seen as the de facto government. Practically, Peace Village is providing services that should come under the mandate of the government of South Sudan. One of those is Peace Initiatives.

Peace meeting outside Kuron Peace Village in August

Working for peace and reconciliation is very difficult work. It requires delicate and firm engagement with those who are prone to aggression and fighting. What is needed for peace is a consistent and persistent presence. The Peace Department is constantly moving to villages to motivate the people toward peace in discussions, workshops, trainings, and awareness raising. They hold rallies, sports activities and gatherings to support the peace efforts.

The major lesson learned is that these types of interventions take time. The Toposa people have a long history of cattle raiding, and it won’t transform overnight.

The main perpetrators of violence are single, male youth between the ages of 16 to 32. As there is no work, formal education is not valued, and there are no diversions in this area, cattle raiding is a common occurrence. Many young people have died for no reason other than stealing cows. Peace Village has targeted this population. Progress is slow, and there are many setbacks throughout the years. However, general trends do show that there is a reduction in cattle raiding and associated violence. This could be attributed to the patient and determined efforts of the Peace Team here in Kuron Peace Village.

As a Maryknoll lay missioner, I was invited to come to this isolated place and help with these programs. For two decades Kuron Peace Village has tried to mediate and resolve cattle rustling issues. Maryknoll Lay Missioners is also committed to promoting and encouraging nonviolence in this world. This is a great challenge, but I feel it is the will of God.

Life is not easy in this isolated and undeveloped area but the staff are devoted to peace. My task is to write up articles and reports about the progress and lessons learned from the peace initiatives for the donors and supporters of this essential endeavor. What I enjoy most is the honor of interviewing many of the people and visiting them in their villages and kraals.

All people deserve dignity and the right to live in peace. Holy Trinity Peace Village is working for this peace with great diligence and trust in God. I am honored to be a part of their efforts.

Blessings to all the peacemakers in the world,

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

Gabe Hurrish
Gabe Hurrish works in parish ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Riwoto in the South Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria. He has served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in South Sudan since 2018.