The Catholic religious congregations of South Sudan have urged their countrymen to reject violence, calling on the country's leaders to honor the terms of a recent peace agreement.

"We say 'No!' to all kind of violence or whatever action that degrades human life and its dignity," the religious congregations' leaders said in a May 15 message. "Too much blood has been shed in this land. Too many lives have been lost. Too much destruction has taken place. We want peace, stability and development to all citizens of our young nation."

Father Daniele Moschetti, a Comboni Missionary and chairman of the Religious Superiors' Association of South Sudan, signed the message. The association represents 29 Catholic religious congregations who serve in Church schools, hospitals, parish pastoral work and missionary work.

South Sudan became an independent country in 2011, breaking from the Republic of Sudan eight years after the 2005 conclusion of a 20-year-long civil war. Violence in the new country broke out in mid-December 2013, intensifying a power struggle between forces loyal to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and those allied behind former vice president Riek Machar.

Violence has continued in the country despite a peace accord signed May 9.

Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1 million have been displaced by the violence. Almost 5 million people are in severe need of humanitarian assistance, the British newspaper The Independent reports.

Fr. Moschetti said the religious leaders "wish to send a message of solidarity, peace and hope to the people of South Sudan in this time of crisis and violence."

They voiced prayers for the victims of violence and support for the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes and are "still lacking what is basic for a decent life."

Members of Catholic religious congregations have also been affected by the violence, especially in the towns and cities of Malakal, Leer, Ayod and Renk. Some suffered harassment, while others "narrowly escaped death" and had their homes, churches, hospitals and radio stations attacked, looted or destroyed. Clergy and other church staff have suffered similar injustices.

"I have witnessed the affliction of my people... and have heard their cry... I know well what they are suffering," the religious congregation leaders said, quoting the Book of Exodus.

They condemned all violence and atrocities committed by government forces and rebel troops. They also rejected looting and the supplying of weapons for the violence.

"The blood of thousands of innocent people cries for justice," Fr. Moschetti said. "We cannot remain indifferent to the cry of the poor and the innocent who have lost their lives or are going through deep suffering and pain."

The message voiced appreciation and gratitude to churches and humanitarian agencies who are helping the afflicted. They also praised efforts to make peace and to secure access for humanitarian aid to those "desperately in need."

The message called on President Kiir and Riek Machar to honor the peace agreement and to "seek sustainable peace and reconciliation through political dialogue," while keeping their military forces "disciplined and under full control."

"We remind all South Sudanese that God created people of every clan, tribe and nationality to live in peace, harmony and unity. We ask God to forgive our sins for the times we failed to live in peace and to heal our wounds and help us to be reconciled with one another," the message said.

"Let us refrain from violence and seek justice, peace and reconciliation through the right channels and in a non-violent way"

The religious congregation leaders promised their full collaboration to help secure "justice, peace and true reconciliation," asking God to bless South Sudan.