Pope Francis in South Sudan encourages priests and religious in their difficult ministry "among the tear-stained faces of the people."
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“We cannot remain neutral before the pain caused by acts of injustice and violence. To violate the fundamental rights of any woman or man is an offense against Christ himself,” said Francis in his second address in South Sudan. This February 4, 2023, the Pope met with bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminarians at St. Theresa’s Cathedral in Juba. About 5,000 people, with 1,000 inside the cathedral, welcomed the Bishop of Rome in a warm atmosphere.
The Pope wove the metaphor of the Nile, already sketched the day before in his speech to the political authorities, noting that “merged with those waters are the tears of a people immersed in suffering and pain, and tormented by violence.”
He therefore encouraged the clerics and consecrated persons in their attentiveness to the distress of a population marked by forced displacements inside or outside the country due to the successive conflicts that have plunged the country into chaos.
As they minister “along the banks of a river bathed in so much innocent blood, among the tear-stained faces of the people,” they must be pastors who have:
the ability to step into the middle of their sufferings and tears, into the middle of their hunger for God and their thirst for love. Our first duty is not to be a Church that is perfectly organized – any company can do this – but a Church that, in the name of Christ, stands in the midst of people’s troubled lives, a Church that is willing to dirty its hands for people.
Giving their lives for Africa
At the cathedral, where Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako, archbishop emeritus of Khartoum, was present, the Pope was welcomed by Bishop Yunan Tombe Trille Kuku Andali, president of the Sudanese Episcopal Conference, which groups together the bishops of the two states, Sudan and South Sudan.
Bishop Trille Kuku Andali, himself a bishop in El Obeid, Sudan, expressed his concern for South Sudan, criticizing “the unwillingness of political leaders to work together for peace.”
“May this visit touch the hearts of the Sudanese and bring us lasting peace,” he implored.
A nun also testified to the difficulties of the mission in South Sudan, paying tribute to two South Sudanese nuns murdered in 2021, Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba Luate. These nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who had both forged their vocation during their exile in Uganda, ministered in education and health.
Referring to the religious who lost their lives in the violence in South Sudan, the Pope recalled that “we need bold and generous souls who know how to suffer and die for Africa,” citing St. Daniel Comboni, the founder of the Comboni Congregation, which is very active in East Africa.
Many religious came to Juba for this meeting with the Pope, among them the Irish nun Orla Treacy, recipient in 2019 of the International Women of Courage Award, a prize awarded by the American diplomacy. This nun of the Congregation of the Congregation of Our Lady of Loreto, committed to the education of young people, walked 180 kilometers with students and volunteers, from the Diocese of Rumbek, in order to meet the Argentine Pontiff.
The bishop of this diocese, Christian Carlassare, an Italian national, was the victim of a violent armed attack on April 25, 2021, including by priests opposed to his appointment. He was able to regain the use of his legs after a long hospitalization and was finally installed in his office in 2022, one year after the date initially planned.
South Sudan is just over half Catholic, with another 16% of the population being Protestant. About 1/3 of the country following indigenous religions.