Christian cathedral provides refuge for thousands fleeing civil war in South Sudan

Civil war, intense famine and a refugee crisis have ravaged South Sudan in recent months. The situation is now so stark that thousands in the country have fled their homes and sought refuge in a Christian cathedral.

More than 10,000 are now seeking shelter at St Mary Help of Christian's Cathedral in Wau, South Sudan, according IRIN News, as Catholic News Agency reports.

ReutersMartin Andrea, 10, and a friend play with toy guns made from reeds at a displaced persons camp protected by UN peacekeepers in Wau, South Sudan.

'Those who flee believe that even rebels still fear God and would not slaughter civilians in the backyard of a church,' said Fr Moses Peter, a priest at St. Mary's, the largest church in the country.

He added that 'Many other churches have also taken in hundreds of people.'

The cathedral, partnering with local aid agencies, has been a haven for the homeless and needy for more than a year, but is currently running low on supplies. Meanwhile, South Sudan's violent civil war continues just 20 miles away. 'Between hunger and insecurity, people face a lot of pressure here,' Fr Peter said.

'Soldiers burned our houses, took our cattle, and almost murdered my whole village,' said Maria, a disabled and elderly woman who for a year has sought refuge at been living at St. Marys.

'I don't know why I was spared, but I was left alone and helpless,' she added.

Civil war between warring militias erupted in 2013. The violence, alongside severe and frequent droughts, has displaced 3.6 million people, wrought havoc on farming, blocked the passage of aid and provoked economic catastrophe. In October 2016, South Sudan's inflation rate reached 836 per cent, making it the highest in the world. The country only emerged from an official famine in June, but millions are still at risk of starvation.

As many as 700 child refugees flee South Sudan into bordering Uganda every week. International children's charity World Vision has said that 150,000 child refugees in mass settlements in northern Uganda require post-trauma therapy after fleeing South Sudan's violence.