PROFILE AND CAREER OF BISHOP EMERITUS PARIDE TABAN
Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban of the Catholic Church Diocese of Torit in Eastern Equatoria State of the Republic of South Sudan was born in Katire, in the then Southern Sudan in 1936. Bishop Taban grew up in Katire, a forestry sawmill town up in the Imatong Mountains of Eastern Equatoria amongst South Sudanese of diverse tribes, cultures and religious persuasions, hailing from all parts of the country, earning the town, the name of ‘United Nations’, English became the compromise language of instruction for education for all. Bishop Taban started his primary education in Katire and later in Loa Catholic Mission in 1950.He joined the Minor Seminary in Okaru in 1951 completing his studies there in 1956. He completed the Major Seminary in Tore in 1964 coinciding with the expulsion of the missionaries from the southern Sudan and the Church was experiencing severe persecution.
The Bishop was ordained as a priest on 24th May 1964 and appointed as the Rector of the Minor Seminary in Okaru in 1966, Following the closing of the Seminary he moved to Juba and opened a new Minor Seminary there in 1967.Starting in 1969 during the civil war, he became a parish priest in Torit mission. In 1972,following the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement, he became a parish priest of the Palotaka mission. in 1976, He was appointed a parish priest of the Loa mission and in 1980 and an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Juba in February 1980. During this same year on the 4th May 1980,he was consecrated a Bishop in Kinshasa, Zaire by Pope John Paul II.
In 1983, he was appointed the first Bishop of Torit. After two decades of clergy service in the war-torn country, the Bishop was compelled to escape to Uganda in 1984 then to Kenya and Central African Republic. He returned to South Sudan from exile after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.He retired from the Administration of the Catholic Diocese of Torit, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the SPLM/SPLA and the Government of the Sudan was being reached in Naivasha in Kenya.In 2004 during the month of February 7th, he started the Order of the Holy Trinity Peace Village Kuron (HTPVK). This was what he was dreaming of it during the civil war and now it is no more a dream but a reality.
HOLY TRINITY PEACE VILLAGE, KURON
Speaking of his major achievement, the Holy Trinity Peace Village,Bishop Paride Taban said, “The peace village dream didn’t come out of nowhere. I have spent a great deal of time searching for peace in this country. I travelled all over the world: to Europe, Australia, America, and Jerusalem. My own life experience has led me to found Holy Trinity Peace Village. My growing-up experience is part of the dream of the peace village. I have been dreaming of a community where people with different ethnicity and different religious backgrounds can live side by side with confidence in harmony and fellowship”.
The vision of the Holy Trinity Peace Village is premised on the aspiration to build an Oasis of Peace where communities live in full harmony exploring their full potential to transform their lives and their villages to form a true Sudan. Its core values include a strong belief in team building; mutual support and respect for all communities and properties; commitment to uphold the interest of the Peace Village ahead of personal interest and love for all; commitment to aim at providing high quality services that satisfy the community requirements; commitment to seek institutional and financial sustainability; commitment for continuous improvement of delivery of services as well as evangelization and spiritual growth and respect for all cultures and religions.
Bishop Taban was inspired to establish the Peace Village by his two visits to Jerusalem,Israel when he discovered a cooperative peace village called Neve Shalom where Christian, Muslim and Jewish people lived together in harmony. They had a big hall with a mosque in the corner where the Muslim could pray. The Jews would gather to pray in a synagogue on the corner and Christians would pray in another corner. They lived as one body. The Bishop concluded, “Wow! I will retire from the administration of the diocese and start the peace village as soon as the peace is signed.” After his retirement in 2004, he moved from Torit to a remote area in south-eastern South Sudan and in 2005 founded the Holy Trinity Peace Village Kuron, a place where people of different ethnicities and faiths tried to survive in a country then torn by ethnic and religious violence exacerbated by tribal conflicts.
The people in Kuron area comprise the Toposa, the Jie, the Nyangatom and the Kachipo tribes and other communities in the surrounding areas. They are pastoralists who have been in conflict with one another over cattle raiding for decades. In most cases cattle rustling is conducted during the rainy season when there is water along the routes and when the communities see no access of others. Traditionally, livestock is kept for prestige and marriages, which are some of the main reasons why youth are so much involved in raiding neighboring communities. The youth are not involved productively and therefore use the free time to engage in cattle raiding.
People also came from the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, where people raid cattle and call each other enemies. These people call each other brothers now. There was a hospital in one nearby region that was on the route between Kenya and Juba; people could not go there for medical treatment because of cattle raiding. It was difficult for people from one tribe to cross that area. The other tribe would take them from the vehicle and kill them. Now that has ended. We The youth cattle raiders now play football together and they have workshops together.
In 1999, the Bishop started a demonstration farm near Kuron River where the local communities (the Toposa, Jie, Murle, Kachipo, Buya, Nyangatom and others) who had been fighting over cattle (rustling) were trained how to grow fast maturing crops like cassava, fruits (paw paws) and vegetable, use of improved variety of seeds and better farming methods like ox-ploughing and use of animal draught power. The main purpose of introducing agriculture in Kuron village was to promote food production among a people who were predominantly pastoral communities and to gradually transform them into agro-pastoralists. Coupled with this, it was hoped that once these communities embrace farming, conflicts that had been a problems between them would eventually be reduced and food security ensured.
Looking back the Bishop remarked, “Now the people can go even on foot 75 kilometers to the nearby hospital. We made the place so peaceful. In that small peace village we have people from different denominations, Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal. We have Seventh Day Adventists. That is what I started in that area. It is not only for that area; it has impact even for Ethiopia. The people who come from Ethiopia use that route to go to Juba, to other parts of Sudan. The people in my region use that route to go to Kenya. We had a conference with people from Uganda, Kenya and other parts. We look like a small place, but the concept has gone beyond that small place. In the wilderness they go on the Internet and send e-mails. They say, ‘Bishop, we are broke here. Have you anything?’ I’ve got my satellite telephone. The village] brings communication to all people”.
Since his retirement the Bishop has led an effort to translate his vision of unity and peace by establishing the Kuron Peace Village in a remote part of Eastern Equatoria State. An area of tribal conflict related to cattle raiding the Bishop managed to reconcile 4 warring tribes, set up Peacemaking team to resolve conflicts peacefully. These 4 diverse communities now live together in peace and engaged in constructive development activities.
In 2000, a bridge was constructed with the assistance of Dutch friends (retired military engineers) to facilitate movement between Equatorial and Upper Nile regions. With the bridge in place, 81 families consisting of 160 males and 159 females from different ethnic groups, decided to settle around the bridge to protect it. It was at this point when the Bishop took the opportunity to develop Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron to transform the 81 families into peace homes. Holy Trinity Peace Village, Sudan was officially registered in the year 2005.The Peace Village is involved in a number of programmes and activities with the ultimate goal of socio-economic development of the local community. These are carried out by promoting greater socialization, development of opportunities for multi-ethnic equitable distribution through formal education, agriculture,Health,Sports for Youth and Seminars bringing together people of various communities together to address the issue of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.
The Kuron Trinity Peace Village which the Bishop conceived and established is a resounding success story in mediation and reconciliation built around a development programme providing much needed service and benefits to a much deprived isolated community in South Sudan. The four tribes who were once bitter hostile enemies are now reconciled and living together in harmony in Kuron enjoying the dividends of reconciliation and peace. It is a testimony of one person’s effort and stands out as a unique shining historical milestone in reconciliation and peace-building.
The Bishop’s opinion is frequently sought by the President and Government of South Sudan on peace mediation and negotiations of disputes and conflicts. He has established a reputation as a trusted mediator and enjoys the confidence and respect of the government as well as the people. He commands courage and advocates for the voiceless.
The Bishop co-founded the Sudan Council of Churches in 1989 and reorganized in 2007.This ecumenical group encompasses the majority of the churches of South Sudan and Sudan and engages them in cultivating goodwill, advocating for peace, justice, equality and human rights and in pursuing peace mediation and reconciliation among communities in conflict in the country.
The Bishop reconciled the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) in 2004 and averted a split in the Movement which would have cost the South Sudanese people the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (PCA),Self-Determination and an independent sovereign country and state.
BISHOP EMERITUS PARIDE TABAN TESTIMONY : DREAM COME TRUE
The peace village dream didn’t come out of nowhere. I have spent a great deal of time searching for peace in this country. I travelled all over the world: to Europe, Australia, America, and Jerusalem. My own life experience has led me to found Holy Trinity Peace Village.
My father worked in a cotton ginnery. He was formerly a shopkeeper. He accused Arabs of stealing money from him and was then imprisoned. After release he went to Katire and found that his wife, my mother, was pregnant with me but he hadn’t known about it. He beat her to try to abort the child, but she prayed for the child and it survived. When the child was born, he (I) was named Taban, which means “poor” or “tired”.
I grew up in Katire. People came to Katire from all over Sudan, so people born there grew up like a “United Nations”. We didn’t know tribalism. At first there was no church. Sometimes an Anglican pastor would come, sometimes a Catholic priest. During Ramadan we would all go to pray together, Christians and Muslims.
South Sudanese were usually taken to different places for school depending on their tribe. However at school the people from Katire were looked on as foreigners because they didn’t know their own mother tongue (vernacular), only English, as they had grown up amongst so many different tribes. The highest mark I ever got in my own Madi language was only 40%! But I did well in English-medium courses, including catechism. I asked the seminarians which school they went to; I wanted to join the seminary.
So my growing-up experience is part of the dream of the peace village.
During the war, I co-founded the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) with Episcopal Bishop Nathaniel Garang. We were the ones who started the reconciliation process after the split within the SPLA. I travelled on a convoy delivering food from Juba to Torit which was attacked every day and took a whole month to cover the short distance. I have been a prisoner of both sides in the war. I stood with the late Fr Mathew Haumann MHM to welcome South Sudanese returnees from Ethiopia after the fall of Mengistu. Each one came with something in their hands; each one had a cross. They brought great faith from Ethiopia. I was often seen as the bishop of all the Catholics in the liberated territory and was wanted everywhere. I could visit any part of liberated territory; nobody could touch me.
During all this time, I heard southerners talking against each other. This gave me the incentive to retire from being a diocesan bishop and to found a peace village. People fight amongst themselves because they are traumatized. Children are taken to war at a young age. I founded a school for them instead of letting them be taken as soldiers, a school for unaccompanied Sudanese children, including Nuba. I was helped by Sr Emmanuelle of garbage-picker fame in Cairo. I encouraged children from different places to live together. I also had a school for girls; 1,000 girls from 24 tribes.
I visited a cooperative village where Palestinians and Israelis live together. I decided to retire and found a village like this. When I asked Rome to allow me to retire, they first checked my sanity and then released me. I led the prayer for the signing of peace in Naivasha, then I retired to open Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron.
Q: How many people live in the village now?
We started with 81 families. Now we have over 3,000 people, but not all as members of the village. They came because of the services we brought to the area where before there were no services at all.
People also came from the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, where people raid cattle and call each other enemies. These people call each other brothers now. There was a hospital in one nearby region that was on the route between Kenya and Juba; people could not go there for medical treatment because of cattle raiding. It was difficult for people from one tribe to cross that area. The other tribe would take them from the vehicle and kill them. Now that has ended. We collected the cattle raiders, the youth. They play football together; they have workshops together.
Now the people can go even on foot 75 kilometers to the nearby hospital. We made the place so peaceful. In that small peace village we have people from different denominations, Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal. We have Seventh Day Adventists. That is what I started in that area.
Q: Do you have Muslim families and religious traditionalist families at the village?
We have many traditional people, because they come for the services we provide. During the war this part of the Sudan was a safe haven where many people took refuge because the government didn’t know the area. It was not on their map. [We brought] a school to this area, and everybody wanted to come. One day when I came [to visit the school] some women made a statement saying, “At last we are human beings.” They didn’t know that they were human beings. We started a school; we started a health center, hygiene and sanitation in the area.
We also teach them how to plant new crops. They were living mostly on milk and blood from the animals. The women were the ones cultivating. The women were the ones building houses made out of bushes and grass. Very simple, done by women while the men go after cattle. The men are warriors; they keep their strength for defending. Those are the traditional people.
People from different tribes come here. We have teachers who are Kenyan, Ugandan and some Sudanese. My daily occupation is to teach, pray and give conferences. I hardly stay long in the peace village. I go to Juba, to Torit and Rwanda. We have a literacy campaign. We have gotten vaccinations to the people. We teach them how they can keep close to one another.
Pope Paul VI said that development is peace. We are [literally] building bridges. During the war we built 10 bridges in the area because the roads were all broken. That makes the government in southern Sudan respect the church. The president of southern Sudan is in church every Sunday.
Q: I understand that you get up very early, you exercise and you eat vegetarian. In what ways are your personal practices important to your role as a leader?
I don’t eat meat because people in the area raid cattle. When I went [to visit], the people would kill a goat for me. I said, “No, I don’t eat this meat because I don’t know whether it is raided or not.” Also sometimes I would go to visit a poor family. Because I am bishop, they would kill their only goat or their one chicken for me. I said, “No, I eat what you eat.” They have green vegetables; they have beans. Their goat is very precious. Why should they kill it because of me?
I don’t take sugar; I sometimes take honey because you can get honey even in the bush, in the forest. I miss nothing, and I live happy.
Q: Do you hope to serve as an example to others in your personal habits?
No, I don’t. I want just to live my life for God and for people. When I studied Latin in school, I read de gustibus non est disputandum: Don’t dispute the tastes of another person.
Q: So you don’t judge the meat eaters.
No, no, no. I like them. When you come I kill a chicken, cook meat, bring beer for you. Anything, tea, coffee you will find on the table. I have my porridge every morning made out of sorghum or millet, and honey and vegetables, but the visitor must have everything that the visitor needs.
Q: You mentioned that you travel outside the village a great deal. While you’re gone, who takes over the leadership?
We have a board. We have council members. The parish priest is also the member of the board. The bishop is also involved. We are not cut away from the diocese. I am a church person. [The village] is registered as a nonprofit church organization. It is not my own, it is for the people. People live there like a cooperative, looking at the project as their own.
Q: Your village is called Holy Trinity. Do you ever worry that the name might make people suspicious because they fear that it’s evangelizing — in a Muslim area, for example, would people be afraid of this?
When we look at Trinity, it is the unity [we see]. In Africa we have a stove. You put three stones at the bottom. These stones are all equal and the pot can rest on them. When you remove one, that pot cannot stand. It will fall. But when the three are in the three corners equally, the same level, and you put the pot there; it remains steady. That’s the meaning of the Trinity, equally supporting one thing, Unity. The unity is equality, respect for one another and love for one another. That is what we stress in our belief in the Trinity.
Q: Have other peace villages been created?
There have been some ghost peace villages created, but not in practice. Many people get money in the name of creating a peace village, but in reality where is the money for that peace project going? I don’t know. Peace conferences. They’re holding one conference and all the money is used.
Q: In some ways, a peace village is a tiny solution to a huge problem — 20 years of war and millions dead and all the issues that you face in Sudan. Why choose a small village project as opposed to a broader project?
God made a very small start; you see that start everywhere. It is even living there, in the sheep. In the morning star. I read a book, which says small is beautiful. Once you start something very small, it can hold practice that is solid. People can see it. How small is that moon? But the light is spread all over.
Many people are still angry with me. They say, “You should be bishop over the whole southern Sudan.” I say, “If I make myself like that I also create enmity. I don’t like such posts, which are really ambitious and so why don’t I start with something humble.”
Q: It sounds like your village has had influence within your area.
It is not only for that area; it has impact even for Ethiopia. The people who come from Ethiopia use that route to go to Juba, to other parts of Sudan. The people in my region use that route to go to Kenya. We had a conference with people from Uganda, Kenya and other parts. We look like a small place, but the concept has gone beyond that small place.
In the wilderness they go on the Internet and send emails. They say, “Bishop, we are broke here. Have you anything?” I’ve got my satellite telephone. [The village] brings communication to more people.
Q: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you would like to address?
At the Kuron Peace Village we want to build more bridges through relationships. That’s how Jesus got his disciples: “Come and see.” Financially, even this year, people are dying there from hunger. I went there a few days ago in a small plane somebody chartered for me. People ran to me. People were suffering in the whole area. “Bishop, if you are here we shall not die. We want food; we want food. Please go out and ask.” I sat weeping with them.
We need people who can see that the peace village is a hope for the dying people. The eyes of the government, the church and the international community can be brought to the people through the peace village.
During the war I went all over knocking on the doors of the governments, lobbying for peace in Sudan. I went out to New Zealand. In Washington I went about many times, knocking on offices.
Now through the peace village I knock on the doors of the world, especially now that election is going to happen in the southern Sudan. Now they are going to think of self-determination. We have been looking for a modern federation since 1947. We would not like this to be abandoned.
In the past, Christians in Sudan had no contact with the world. The Islamic fundamentalist regime — not the people, but the regime in Khartoum — said, “Who are you? You are toothless barking wolves.” Their teeth are the worldwide Islamic fundamentalist community. Since we had no one on our side supporting us, where were our teeth?
I’m sitting here; you are our teeth. Not in biting people, but you are our mouths. You are to speak out; you are the voice of the voiceless. We need to have more voices of the voiceless; our voice alone in the Sudan will not be enough for supporting the voiceless.
+ Award acceptance speech [PDF – 52 ko]