To politicians: “It is time to move from words to deeds. It’s time to move on, it’s time to commit to an urgent and necessary transformation”. To refugees: “You are the seed of a new South Sudan”. To the church: “We cannot remain neutral in the face of the pain caused by injustice and violence”. From Juba, Helen Khalida
Ajou left Rumbek for Juba nine days ago to meet the Pope together with sixty young people and his bishop Msgr. Christian Carlassare. He travelled a total of 400 km. He then walked the last 5 kilometres from the city centre to the airport. He is very emotional and he no longer feels tired.In the blue sky you can see the outline of the aircraft small at first and then slowly becoming larger. The plane lands on the
only runway of the airport.
It will be an ecumenical visit: Pope Francis, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Moderator General of the Church of Scotland, Pastor Iain Greenshields.
The Pope was welcomed by President Salva Kiir and a group of bishops. At a distance, a group of women are calling loudly and excitedly. This is the first time for a Pope to visit the land of South Sudan.
After the formal greetings, the Pope sets off by car on the road named His Holiness Pope Francis Road in his honour. People lining the road watch the large convoy as it moves. All of them want to see, greet and sing for the visitors.
The cortege heads for the Presidential Palace for a courtesy visit to the President which is also attended by Archbishop Welby and Pastor Greenshields. Subsequently, Pope Francis will meet the Vice-Presidents of the Republic and lastly, in the garden of the Presidential Palace, he will meet with the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps.
In his first official speech, Francis says that South Sudan is a land that he carries in his heart, where he arrives on an ecumenical pilgrimage. On the book of honour signed during the courtesy visit to the presidential palace, he writes: “Coming here as a pilgrim, I pray that rivers of peace may flow in this dear country, the gift of the Nile; may the inhabitants of South Sudan, a land of great abundance, see reconciliation blossom
and prosperity germinate”.
The Nile will be the backdrop for the broad discourse. The image that inspired him to launch an unequivocal, frank, and direct message of peace is that of the watercourse that crosses the African country. The Pope’s wish is that South Sudan “be reconciled and change course”: “Its vital course will no longer be impeded by the flood of violence, hindered by the swamps of corruption or thwarted by overflowing poverty”.
“It is time to say enough, with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’: enough bloodshed, enough conflict, enough violence and mutual accusations against those who commit them, enough of leaving the people thirsting for peace. No more destruction, it’s time to build! Put the time of war behind you and let there be a time of peace!”
“It is time to move from words to deeds. It’s time to move on, it’s time to commit to an urgent and necessary transformation. The peace and reconciliation process demands a new leap. Let us understand each other and carry forward the Peace Agreement, as well as the Road Map!”
In his greeting to the Pope, the President of the South Sudanese Republic defines the visit as a ‘historic milestone’ and announces his willingness to resume talks mediated by the Community of Saint Egidio with non-signatory opposition groups.
The Church in South Sudan
In the cathedral of Saint Teresa in Juba, the Pope meets the bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women and seminarians. “I had long desired to meet you; I want to thank the Lord for this today”, are the first words of Pope Francis. Saying that he wants to look at the waters of the Nile from the biblical perspective that often associates water with God’s action on behalf of his people, the Pope then observes how these waters today represent “the tears of a people immersed in suffering and in pain, tortured by violence”.
The Pope explains: “The waters of the great river, in fact, collect the suffering cries of your communities, they collect the cries of pain of so many broken lives, they collect the drama of a fleeing people, the affliction of women’s hearts and the fear imprinted in children’s eyes. At the same time, however, the waters of the great river take us back to the story of Moses and, therefore, are a sign of liberation and salvation: in fact, Moses was saved from those waters and, leading his family into the middle of the Red Sea, it has become an instrument of liberation, an icon of God’s help who sees the affliction of his children, hears their cry and comes down to free them”.
Pope Francis continues: Pastors are asked to “develop precisely this art of walking in the midst of suffering and tears, in the midst of the hunger for God and the thirst for love of brothers and sisters”.
The pope recalls that as pastors “we are called to intercede on behalf of our people and we are called to raise our voices against injustice and the abuse of power, things that crush people and use violence to manage affairs under the cover of conflict”.
And finally, “We can recall – said the Pope at the end of his speech – St. Daniel Comboni, who with his missionary brothers carried out a great work of evangelization in this land: he said that the missionary must be willing to do everything for Christ and for the Gospel, and that there is a need for daring and generous souls who know how to suffer and
die for Africa”.
Hope and peace for refugees
The next day, under a large white tent at the Freedom Hall, a crowd in white T-shirts, representing the over 4 million displaced people in front of the Pope, the Anglican Archbishop and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, listened to the moving testimony of children speaking out on behalf of the thousands of suffering refugees. “My name is Johnson Juma Alex. I belong to the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. I’m 14 years old. I live in a refugee camp. I came in 2014 due to the destruction that happened in my hometown of Malakal. Peace is good, problems are not. We want peace so that people can return to the city of Malakal, to their homes. I want to have a good future, where peace reigns and
children can go to school”.
And then a little girl spoke: “My name is Nyakuor Rebecca. I am a parishioner of Holy Trinity and I live in the refugee camp of Juba. I am very happy to meet you. On behalf of the children of South Sudan, I want to thank you for visiting. We know that you love children and that you always say that we are important for our country and for the Church. In the name of Jesus, I want to ask you to give us a special blessing for all the children of South Sudan, so that we can grow up together in peace and love”. “I am here, together with the brothers with whom I share this pilgrimage of peace to tell you how close we are to you … We are with you; we suffer for you and with you. In meeting you today – said Pope Francis – we would like to give wings to your hope”. And he continued: “We would like to tell you: you are the seed of a new South Sudan… It is you, of all the different ethnic groups, who have suffered and are suffering, but who do not want to respond to evil with more evil”.
The ecumenical meeting
It is already evening when the three religious leaders move to the park of the mausoleum of John Garang for ecumenical prayer in the presence of over 50,000 people.The Christian Churches are still today the only national institutions working for reconciliation and peace. “There is a strong legacy of Churches working together for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan that have played a vital role in achieving the nation’s independence in a peaceful way. We hope to encourage the continued unity of the Churches for the common good in South Sudan, for justice and fullness of life for all the people”, underlined the moderator
of the Church of Scotland.
“The ecumenical heritage of South Sudan is a precious treasure, a praise to the name of Jesus, an act of love for the Church his spouse, a universal example for the journey of Christian unity – the Pope continued – It is a heritage that it must be kept in the same spirit: the ecclesial divisions of past centuries do not affect those who are evangelized, but the sowing of the Gospel contributes to spreading greater unity”. “That “all may be one”; this is Jesus’ heartfelt prayer to the Father for us believers. Those who choose to follow Christ enter a new community, where there are no divisions. They enter into new relationships and a completely new way of living – said the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury Welby – because being a Christian brings everyone into the communion of believers”.
The next day before boarding his flight to Rome on the large square and in the area adjacent to the John Garang mausoleum, the pope was welcomed by over 100,000 people for Mass. In his homily, the Pope renewed his appeal: “Put down the weapons of hatred and revenge”. May everyone become “salt and light” to bring hope and peace to South Sudan. That peace of God which is not “just a truce between conflicts, but a fraternal communion, which comes from uniting, not from absorbing; from forgiving, not from overcoming; from reconciling and not from imposing oneself”.
At the airport, together with the Anglican primate Welby and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland Greenshields, he said: “We have come here and we will continue to accompany your steps, all three together, doing everything we can so that they are steps of peace, steps towards peace. You are in our hearts; you are in the hearts of Christians all over the world. Never lose hope. And do not miss the opportunity to build peace”. (Open Photo: Vatican Media)