Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to the East African nation on Sunday, 5th February. He ended the long-awaited and postponed journey with words of encouragement and hope for the impoverished and war-ravaged people, telling them never to forget that Jesus knows their pain and loves them.

During his stay in Juba, he also had strong words for the country’s leadership, openly expressing his disappointment for not having honoured the pledges they had made to cement peace and work for reconciliation and development.

In his homilies, woven around the themes of peace, unity, reconciliation and mutual forgiveness for past wrongs, the Holy Father appealed to South Sudanese to shun the temptation of hatred and revenge, and any other acts that may trigger violence between tribes and ethnic groups, stressing that such attitudes and actions are obstacles to peace and prosperity.

The Pope made an appeal for an end to tribalism, financial wrongdoing and the practice of favouring one’s close friends in political appointments, which he said are at the root of the many problems the country is facing. He called upon the faithful to build good human relationships as a way of curbing division, corruption, and injustices. He also pleaded with South Sudan’s leaders to focus on ending conflict and intercommunal violence in the country.

At the end of Holy Mass, before heading to the airport to return to Rome, the Pope delivered a farewell address and thanked the people of South Sudan for the affection they had shown him. He encouraged them not to lose hope, and to lose no opportunity to build peace. He prayed that hope and peace may dwell among them and in their country.

Ecumenical pilgrimage unites South Sudan

His voice wasn’t a solitary one: his visit took the form of an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace in the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Together they prayed with the people and called for unity; the three voices were one issuing a powerful appeal for peace and reconciliation in the divided nation. Together they challenged the country’s political leaders to stand true to their pledges to work for the common good, and to shy away from corruption and personal benefits.

The three visited South Sudan to give support to the peace process and specially to encourage South Sudanese and their leaders to work for peace. They received a warm welcome from both the public, the faithful and the state.

On Saturday afternoon, they met with the victims of the civil conflict which broke out in 2013, who were brought to Juba from various camps for Internally Displaced Persons.

The three religious leaders urged the government to resume the peace process and restore dignity to the millions who have been affected by the conflict.

On Saturday evening they hosted an ecumenical prayer service at the John Garang Mausoleum, and called for Christian unity and also urged the faithful to work and pray for peace. They thanked South Sudanese Christians for their deep commitment to promote reconciliation, noting that that gesture was a shining testimony of faith. The three Church leaders prayed for peace together as a sign of unity. They also left South Sudan on the same plane. This was the first time in Christian history that leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and the Presbyterian Churches conducted a joint ecumenical foreign visit.

A complex history of conflict

South Sudan became independent in 2011, but two years later it was plunged into a civil conflict which has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million others, with some crossing into neighbouring countries. A peace agreement was signed in 2018.

The main objective of the visit of the three church leaders was to strengthen the agreement.

Credit: Vatican News