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Chairman Kerry Delivers Speech On The Referendum At Church Service In Southern Sudan

Juba, Southern Sudan – At a church service this morning with President Salva Kiir of Southern Sudan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) delivered the following remarks as voters in Southern Sudan began casting ballots in a referendum to determine whether to secede from the North. Chairman Kerry has been in Sudan this week in advance of today’s start of the referendum. This is Chairman Kerry’s fourth trip to Sudan.

Below the full text of Chairman Kerry’s speech as prepared for delivery:

Your Eminence, Cardinal Napier.  Your Excellency, Archbishop Lukudu Loro.  President Kiir: What a pleasure it is --an honor-- to share this moment here at this service, with the people of Juba, and with my friend President Salva Kiir, who has done so much to make this historic moment possible.

Beginning this morning at Dr. John Garang’s Mausoleum was very moving and reminded us all of his tireless efforts on behalf of his country and his people.  I know how much he is missed today.  And what we have seen thus far has been magnificent.  People waiting on long lines for the privilege of voting for their freedom.  When I mentioned o some voters the need to be patient, they said we have waited 55 years, we can wait a few more hours.

It is fitting that we have come together in this remarkable time -- in a place where we give thanks and reflect on faith. After all, it has been faith that has brought the people of Southern Sudan to the brink of nationhood. And it is faith that will carry you through the coming months and into a future that is at the same time, bright with promise and filled with challenge. 

As Scripture reminds us, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  There were many occasions where your faith could have faltered, where doubt could have led to despair -- but your own convictions never wavered. And I feel truly blessed to be here to share this day with you.  

The voting that starts today marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another. And what an extraordinary journey it has been. You have persevered through slavery, through colonialism and through oppression.  The road to the referendum has taken many years and claimed far too many lives. Nobody here today can ever forget the more than two million of your countrymen who perished in the war to determine the future of Sudan. 

Today, with this beginning, we honor all their sacrifices. We remember and build on their hopes for your country. And we rejoice that finally, the moment has arrived where the hard work of preparing can become the hard work of turning dreams into reality.

As you know, America’s history is marked by its own struggle for independence. And today I can assure you, President Obama, the Congress and the American people share your hope for the future and your faith in the values that will lead you there. I am proud to convey to you the unwavering support of the United States for your efforts to build your new nation. 

And as you embark on this new chapter filled with so much promise and guided by faith, here at the end of a Mass, we would do well to remember the words of the Epistle of St. James:  “It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith when there are no deeds… Faith without works is dead.”  As the old adage states:  “sometimes you have to pray by moving your feet”.

You’ve already heard the sermon for the day and I know you don’t need another.  But, as a Catholic and person of faith, and person in public life, I can’t help but feel the relevance of what brings us here to this place of worship and what brings us to the challenge of building a nation. The challenge is to produce deeds in keeping with the values that define our faith and if that is achieved you will succeed beyond all measure in the days ahead in creating a nation that reflects those values.

One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Mark, Chapter 10 which tells us something about translating faith into deeds. The Apostles James and John ask their teacher Jesus if they can sit, one at his right hand and one at his left hand, and bask in his glory.  They want to be seen as first among the disciples.  And Jesus tells them, while they can drink from his cup and share in the baptism, the special position they want isn’t his to grant – it’s only for those whose deeds earn the privilege.

When the other ten disciples heard about James and John’s request, they were angry.  So Jesus gathered them all together and said to them,” You know that among the gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be first among you must be servant of all. For the Son of Man came not be served but to serve…”

I suppose you could say that James and John were trying to become the first political appointees in the New Testament – trying to get special favors for their proximity to power.  But Jesus responds with an essential lesson.  He reminds them that while greatness in the Roman Empire is based on brute force…. greatness in the kingdom of God is based on humble service.”

Those lines in Mark have always had a profound impact on me.  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”  The task ahead of us here, in building this nation, in righting the wrongs of the past, in making real your dreams, has to be part of our expression of faith. In short, it is not enough to just say you have faith, it is not enough to just say one believes in Jesus --- doing so requires action—a bona fide effort to live in his example.

We can start with remembering the example of Nelson Mandela.  When years of apartheid ended in long lines of liberty as his people waited to cast their votes for freedom – he reminded everyone that there was no place for bitterness and vengeance. He had even befriended his jailer.  Forgiveness is a central tenet of our faith. In fact, every organized religion on Earth and every philosophy or way of life shares a common commitment to the Golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those concepts have never been more vital to your future than they are today. If you see beyond the sins of the past and move together with your brothers and sisters in the North, you can create a partnership that will leave violence and hatred and war behind and work together to benefit all the peoples of Sudan.

Today, you are not only the brink of nationhood. You are on the brink of a new era. You can show the way to stability and prosperity. There is so much work to do, so many deeds to be performed, in resolving the tough issues with the North,  meeting the enormous challenges of building a new country and in resolving the humanitarian crisis of Darfur.

This morning marked the end of a long march—a journey that began decades ago when 7 year old Valentino Achok Deng started walking across a continent to flee the terrors of civil war. He and thousands of other lost boys were chased by troops, hunted like animals and by animals – always walking to escape the savagery of militias that killed many of their families and drove them from their homes. 7 years old!  Today, some thirty years later, many of those lost boys of Sudan came back to walk hand in hand to cast their votes.  No longer lost.  No longer boys.  Valentino’s walk of thousands of miles ended today as he walked his final one hundred yards to cast his vote for freedom.  No one should understate the meaning of this moment for the people of Sudan. Good luck to you all and Godspeed on the journey ahead.


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