"In some areas the Church has been able to mediate local peace deals, but these can easily be undermined if government officials are removed and replaced with hardliners who do not welcome Church efforts for peace. Priests, sisters and other personnel have been harassed."
They detailed that Catholic radio programs have been removed, and churches burnt down. In May 2016, a Slovak nun, Sister Veronika Terézia Racková, was killed by militants; a physician, she had been working at a hospital in Yei.
The bishops also noted that on Feb. 14 "security officers attempted to close down our Catholic bookshop. They harassed our personnel and confiscated several books … We hear people saying that 'the Church is against the government'."
"We wish to inform all of you that the Church is not for or against anyone, neither the government nor the opposition," the bishops stressed. "We are FOR all good things - peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance – and we are AGAINST evil - violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression – regardless of where they are and who is practising them. We are ready to dialogue with and between the government and the opposition at any time."
The bishops called on the international community to act to alleviate the country's humanitarian crisis, and said they will continue to make their people's extreme hardships better known across the world.
Speaking to the people of South Sudan, the bishops said: "We call upon you to remain spiritually strong, and to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and love. Work for justice and peace; reject violence and revenge. We are with you … We wish to give you hope that you are not abandoned and that we are working to resolve the situation at many different levels."
The bishops concluded by announcing that Pope Francis hopes to visit their country later this year.
"The Holy Father is deeply concerned about the sufferings of the people of South Sudan. You are already in his prayers, but his coming here would be a concrete symbol of his fatherly concern and his solidarity with your suffering. It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here. We call upon you to begin a programme of prayer for this visit to go ahead. Let us use the coming months fruitfully to begin the transformation of our nation."