The All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) in its historical involvement in Sudan and South Sudan peace processes and the attendant consequences of violent conflicts that have persisted in those countries, but with particular attention on the plights of the refugees in Uganda, considered it imperative to engage an Ecumenical Accompanier for South Sudan Refugees based in Uganda. This serves as an ecumenical pastoral response to the concerns of the South Sudanese refugees. In 2017, AACC requested the Emeritus Bishop Yona Katoneene to take up this responsibility in collaboration with Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC). The request came while Bishop Yona Katoneene was serving as the Anglican Bishop of West Ankole in the Church of the Province of Uganda. "I am committed to working for a just, peaceful and harmonious society where all people created in the image of God can live a life of dignity as brothers and sisters”. Bishop Katoneene said.
Since his involvement, Bishop Katoneene has been providing pastoral care and advocating for humanitarian Support for South Sudanese refugees. This has included pastoral solidarity visits to South Sudanese refugee settlements, engaging regional political leaders, campaigning against the use of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), observing and commemorating special days such as the Justice Week and International Day of Peace. This past September, Bishop Katoneene observed the International Day of Peace in partnership with Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) at Palorinya refugee settlement where he delivered a message of goodwill and Solidarity from AACC.
Pastoral Care and humanitarian support have been productive because of refugee involvement and participation. “We are tired of handouts” Bishop Katoneene echoes words from a refugee. The refugees were allowed to have a voice on what their needs are hence informing action points such as capacity building on resilience and trauma healing. They have been trained on different skills for instance mediation, urban farming and digital literacy.
Bishop Katoneene shares that working with South Sudanese refugees has had its share of challenges. “Some of the refugees bring the conflict to the settlement areas so much so that there are separate churches for the different tribes,” says Bishop Katoneene. This has necessitated addressing the unity of the church. In Lusaka during the South Sudan Church Leaders retreat in 2017, the church leaders issued a pastoral letter where they resolved to stand, speak and work together for peace through the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) Action Plan for Peace (APP).
The reception of refugees in host communities has also been a challenge especially when the number of refugees is more than residents, it raises tension. Bishop Katoneene has employed strategies such as engaging the local leaders of the host communities to more tolerant and hospitable given the refugees are traumatized people. “I urge them to take the refugees as their responsibility,” he says. In addition, there has been inter/intracommunity peace-building games such as what was held in Bidi-bidi refugee settlement in a bid to promote peaceful co-existence among the refugees and the community.
Bishop Yona Katoneene continues his role during a delicate time when South Sudan and her allies are hopeful for the implementation of the peace agreement that will lead to the formation of a transitional government of national unity.