Roosevelt Foundation ‘Freedom of Worship’ Laureate Bishop Paride Taban: A Story
Photo: Pax for Peace

Roosevelt Foundation ‘Freedom of Worship’ Laureate Bishop Paride Taban: A Story

Bishop Paride Taban.

A long life full of war. And yet still devoting that long life to one goal: freedom

Bishop Taban’s right hand woman Teody Lotto at Award ceremony

and peace, each and every day. Remaining humane in inhuman conditions. Each and every day. Who in this world can manage that? responding to ceaselessly depressing violence, prison and death threats with indomitable patience, tact, reconciliation, optimism and impressive, inspirational energy. Doing this for decades. That is only granted to the giants among us.

One of those giants is the relatively unknown peacemaker Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban of South Sudan. An indefatigable bridge builder at the local, national and international levels. In 2018, a prelate in the model peace village that he founded, complete with its Peace Academy.

Freedom and peace can be learnt. This is the message Paride Taban gives us with Kuron Peace Village, an island of peace functioning as a wonderful, enlightening beacon in a sea of renewed violence and war flaring up.

Bishop Paride Taban, a long life devoted to freedom and peace. Setting an example to us all. And especially to those whom he cherishes most — his people, the long-suffering people of South Sudan, “My people”.

A Story

When the rebels laid siege to his town, bishop Taban sneaked through the lines to fetch help in the capital, Juba.

On 31 May 1988, a food convoy with 100 lorries left Juba for the famished town of Torit, accompanied by an escort of government soldiers. It became a descent into hell. “We were continually being shot at, there were ambushes, the lorries rode over mines. There were one or two fatalities every day. There were many Muslims among the soldiers. They said, ‘Bishop, pray for us’. I tried to hurry the convoy along but we were surrounded by the rebels. They bombarded us with grenades. On one day, we lost 40 lorries and 50 people were killed. I buried the victims along the side of the road. Then we drove the convoy into the bush. We created a road where there was no road. The rebels, who wanted the food, kept on shooting. It was night-time, it was raining grenades and we only had 50 lorries left, but the rebels didn’t know where we were. The commander of the government troops escorting us said, ‘Don’t shoot back because that will give away our position’.

We were only 12 kilometres from Torit. People came up to my car in tears: ‘Bishop, we won’t make it’. The next morning, soldiers came from the town to relieve us. It had taken us 31 days to cover over 130 kilometres. The food we had brought ran out in November. People sold their clothes to have something to eat. They sold their matrasses, I sold my shoes. Soldiers shot into the water to catch fish. They exchanged their weapons for 20 litres of cereal and placed bullets in the collection plate during Mass. The government organised food airdrops but the rebels shot the parachutes to pieces. The food fell in the rebel territory. That was at the end of January 1989, when you came on the radio. You were the last person I spoke to before I disappeared. It was my last radio contact with the outside world. Torit fell on 26 February. The rebels captured me. I spent 100 days in a bush prison. On the 25th anniversary of my ordination as a priest, 24 May 1989, they took me to Torit and put me under house arrest. The world thought I was dead. I was only freed one year later.”

I recorded the radio conversation and often listened to the tape again afterwards. I wanted to see the face that belonged with that voice. Who was the man who had led a food convoy through grenades and minefields to a besieged town? The man who had kept the people going in the starving town of Torit, who had squatted above a group latrine to do his business every day for 100 days in a bush prison.

Years later, he came on a visit to friends in Brabant. While he dug into a Bossche bol (a kind of local profiterole), I gave him a copy of the tape and played it to him. He was moved to tears.

Source: Pax for Peace

(Story recorded by Mathew Haumann mhm and here retold by Paul de Schipper)

In the plane going to Kinshasa for his ordination as bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1980, his mother, who was flying for the first time, taught him as lesson that Paride Taban would always follow from that point on: “She taught me how you can avoid your own fear and neutralise your instinct for self-preservation by concentrating on the suffering of other who need help and comfort more than you yourself. That lessen has always helped me to overcome my fear in risky situations”.

Pax for Peace Netherlands made this short video with interviews in Dutch and English.

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