African bishop brings message of peace to St. Cloud Diocese

Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban from the Diocese of Torit, South Sudan, and a longtime friend of St. Cloud Bishop Emeritus John Kinney, made a recent visit to the U.S. that began July 16 and extends through Aug. 16. This is his sixth trip to the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban talks about his work and the people of South Sudan as he visits Christ Our Light Church Aug. 4 in Princeton. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)
Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban talks about his work and the people of South Sudan as he visits Christ Our Light Church Aug. 4 in Princeton. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)

“One day there was a great hunger in India,” Bishop Taban told a group of diocesan staff Aug. 3 at the Pastoral Center in St. Cloud. “Mother Teresa was going around giving rice with some of the sisters. They came upon an old man who was weak and dying. Mother Teresa, instead of giving rice, held the hand of the man. The man began crying, crying, crying. She said to him, ‘Why do you cry? I have more rice.’ The man said, ‘I am not crying for rice. After many years, I have felt a warm hand.’”

Bishop Taban said this is the feeling he gets from the people of the Diocese of St. Cloud, who have not only contributed financially through Mass stipends via the St. Cloud Mission Office, but also have come to visit his people.

“The warm hand was more important than the rice. The presence of seeing the face of someone coming to visit, showing compassion, says, ‘I am recognized.’ That is more important than money. Money comes from warm hearts, warm hands,” he said.

Bishop Taban is the founder of the Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron, South Sudan — a dream, he said, for a “forgotten people.” His mission is to spread a message of Good News, one of nonviolence, forgiveness and peace through the development of health clinics, schools and agriculture. Soccer, which he says is a “sport for peace,” is also a method he uses among the youth to help heal the trauma of decades of war that plagued the region.

“Many of the neighbors … called themselves ‘enemies,’” he said. “They tried to steal cows from each other. We wanted to make them become friends. We bring the youth who are rustling cattle to play soccer together. We started training members of the community to ‘self-police,’ so that if anyone collects an animal from the community, community members who have received some training collect the animal and bring it back. We started also to sensitize them about education. You don’t need to steal cattle. Go to school. Afterward, you will learn and train yourselves so you can buy your cows.”

Development is peace; peace is development

According to Bishop Taban, Kuron was “untouched” by outside influences until about 20 years ago when he stumbled across the natives who were living as “Adam and Eve,” he said.

In 1999, he helped bring a road to Kuron, enabling him more freedom to work toward the goal of building an oasis of peace where people from all tribes can come together to build relationships, find forgiveness and work together to provide basic needs for the community.

The United States played a key role in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 — the same year the Peace Village officially began — after 40 years of struggle and civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan. In 2011, South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan, becoming the world’s newest country. Despite the peace agreement, the country remains a place of ethnically motivated unrest and escalating violence.

Pope Francis recently sent Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to South Sudan to urge a peaceful end to the escalating violence in the country. For nearly a year, South Sudan has been trying to emerge from a civil war caused by political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, who represent different ethnic groups. Violent clashes spread across the city and left tens of thousands of people dead since the beginning of their rivalry in December 2013.

“I feel Bishop Taban’s message is not just a message for Sudan and South Sudan,” said Rosanne Fischer, former director of the St. Cloud Mission Office and a supporter of the Peace Village. “I feel his message is for all of us, especially as we look at what has happened in our own country over the past months:  the division, the violence. This message and what the people in the Peace Village are doing is really a message that helps us all to live out our catholicity, our Christian faith and to take that stand for nonviolence and peace, which is really the example we have from Christ.”

Fischer, who has known Bishop Taban for 16 years, has been accompanying him on his travels throughout the U.S. For her, getting more actively involved in promoting the Peace Village was a “stirring of the Holy Spirit.” Last year, Fischer, who visited Kuron in 2013 with her husband Mark Trainor, presented information about the Peace Village through a mission presentation at the St. Cloud parishes of St. John Cantius, St. Anthony and Holy Spirit.

“That just started a whole calling. The Spirit kept nudging me and telling me to do more,” she said.

Last summer, Fischer resigned a position at Christ Our Light Parish in Princeton and Zimmerman and began reaching out to dioceses around the country. Through her efforts, Bishop Taban received invitations to speak in two parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as two parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Once word spread that he was going to be in the country, Fischer said she was flooded with requests.

“The whole trip has been a movement of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I never could have planned for all of the things to happen the way they did.”

His agenda included a visit with Cincinnati’s Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, an evening with Catholic Relief Services president and CEO Carolyn Woo, an impromptu trip to CRS headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and visits with the Comboni Missionaries in Cincinnati and Chicago and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Among his Minnesota activities are meetings with Bishop Donald Kettler; the St. Cloud Ecumenical Commission and Minnesota’s sixth district U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer; addresses to parish and church groups, diocesan priests and area religious communities; a visit to Wellsprings Farm in Annandale and some relaxation time in the northwoods of Minnesota before heading back to South Sudan.

28 words to becoming a peacemaker

Each day, Bishop Taban, who is 80 years old, rises to perform a vigorous exercise routine that includes 100 repetitions of several different motions. As part of his regimen, he recites a series of 28 words and phrases.

“If these words enter our hearts, we can each become peacemakers and bring peace to the whole world,” he said. The words and phrases are:

Vacation Bible School students give Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban a blessing as he ends his visit with them Aug. 4 at Christ Our Light Church in Princeton. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)
Vacation Bible School students give Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban a blessing as he ends his visit with them Aug. 4 at Christ Our Light Church in Princeton. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt)

Love, joy, peace, patience, compassion, sympathy, kindness, truthfulness, gentleness, self-control, humility, poverty, forgiveness, mercy, friendship, trust, unity, purity, faith, hope and the other are eight phrases: I love you, I miss you, thank you, I forgive, we forget, together, I am wrong, I am sorry.

Though he will return to an uncertain future in South Sudan, he has definite plans for the Peace Village, including the implementation of a Peace Academy. The initiative allows the principles of the village to be shared with others from outside its boundaries. Bishop Taban has been instrumental in inviting pastors, chiefs and other leaders from across the 28 South Sudanese states to witness firsthand his model for peace. His hope is that they will take back their stories of the Peace Village and establish peace villages in their own communities.

He said his message of peace can begin here, too.

“I am very grateful for the Diocese of St. Cloud,” Bishop Taban said. “In the community where I live, we have a small spring for water there which never dries. The big river dries but not this small spring. St. Cloud is for us like that.”

“It is so important that the people of South Sudan know that they are not forgotten, that they are not alone,” Fischer said. “To have that sense of accompaniment that the church in the U.S. has not forgotten them. And we may be just that small stream … but with our funds also come our love, our connection, our relationship and that means as much.”

This story contains information from Catholic News Service.


Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Leave a Reply