Francis' visit to South Sudan was marked by signs of Christian unity, an ardent defense of women, and a stern call to stop delaying peace.
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Pope Francis visited South Sudan from February 3 to 5, after spending some days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the second leg of his 40th papal trip, the Pontiff was joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, on this unique pilgrimage to promote peace in a Christian country marked by violence and conflict.
Aleteia offers this round-up of the Pope’s main events and statements in Juba.
1The beginning of the first ecumenical pilgrimage
As soon as the Pope’s plane landed in Juba on Friday, February 3, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, came aboard to greet him. They then descended together and were met by the South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir, who has led the country since its independence in 2011. Pope Francis released a dove after getting off the plane, as a symbol of peace.
In 2019 the Pope, the Archbishop, and the Moderator had invited the South Sudanese leaders for a spiritual retreat in the Vatican to help them through this peace and reconciliation process.
To read Aleteia’s article on why the Pontiff went to South Sudan click here.
2“Future generations will either venerate your names or cancel their memory”
The Pope’s first stop on Friday afternoon was at the Presidential Palace where he had a private meeting with the President. He was then joined by the other religious leaders and the vice-presidents of South Sudan for a short meeting. After these exchanges, and with a serious expression on his face, the Pope went out into the gardens and gave a stern speech to the country’s authority and diplomats. The Archbishop and Moderator also spoke.
“Future generations will either venerate your names or cancel their memory, based on what you now do,” the Pope warned. After decades of conflict which resulted in South Sudan gaining its independence in 2011, the country erupted again in a civil war from 2013 to 2018 resulting in 400,000 deaths and 4 million displaced people (about a third of the whole population). Today it still finds itself in a fragile condition with sporadic violence between armed groups and a vulnerable economic situation.
“No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people athirst for peace,” the Pontiff said. He recalled the meaning of the word “Republic,” emphasizing that “the state belongs to everyone.”
3A young boy’s incredible gesture
The following morning on February 4, Pope Francis gave a speech to the bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women and seminarians of South Sudan, at St. Theresa’s Cathedral in Juba. He encouraged them to be “a Church that is willing to dirty its hands for people.”
Read Aleteia’s article on the meeting here.
As Pope Francis was leaving the Cathedral a photographer captured an incredibly touching moment. A young boy offered Pope Francis a banknote, recalling the parable of the poor widow who, with her two small coins, gives all she has as an offering.
Read Aleteia’s article here.