SOUTH SUDAN: Pope Francis Long Standing Interest for Peace in South Sudan

Sarah Pelaji

Pope Francis has been having a long interest for lasting peace in South Sudan.

One of the most remarkable gestures of his papacy, was in 2019 in the Vatican as he knelt to kiss the feet of the country’s previously warring leaders.

“I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward,” the pontiff said after he performed the rare gesture.

President Salva Kiir and his rival, the former rebel leader Riek Machar, clashed in 2013 leading to a civil war that left 400,000 people dead.

However, despite a 2018 peace deal signed by President Salva Kiir, his longtime rival Riek Machar and other opposition groups, violence has persisted in some parts of the country. Violence in the country’s Central Equatoria state between cattle herders and members of an armed group left 27 dead on Thursday, a day before the pope arrived.

In July 2022, The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited Africa in Congo and South Sudan to represent Pope Francis who was unable to make an Apostolic Journey previously scheduled for early July.

Vatican Secretary of State delivers a message of hope, peace and reconciliation to South Sudan on behalf of Pope Francis who had to postpone a July 5-7 visit to the country.

“Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope, you are so dear to me, think of how much more precious and loved you are in the eyes of God who never ignores all those who put their hope in him,” Cardinal Parolin said on behalf of the Holy Father during a meeting with President Salvar Kiir.

The Pope’s message which was full of affection, was meant to encourage South Sudan’s political leaders to continue their efforts for peace and reconciliation in the world’s youngest country, which declared independence on July 9, 2011.

During the closing Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum on Sunday, February 5, in Juba before returning to Rome, Pope Francis, in his last speech renounced once and for all the tendency to respond to ‘evil with evil’ and urged the warring factions to lay down arms and stop the revenge.

On his part, the President of the country His Excellency Salva Kiir Mayardit has publicly pledged to revive negotiations with the dissidents and resume peace agreements.

“In the name of Jesus, of His Beatitudes, let us lay down the weapons of hatred and vengeance to take up prayer and charity.

Let us overcome the antipathies and aversions that, over time, have become chronic and threaten to set tribes and ethnic groups against each other. Let us learn to put on the wounds the salt of forgiveness, which burns but heals,” Pope Francis said.

In a farewell address shortly before heading to the airport, Pope thanked the people of South Sudan for the affection they showed him.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I return to Rome with you even closer to my heart.

 Never lose hope. Lose no opportunity to build peace. May hope and peace dwell among you. May hope and peace dwell in South Sudan,” he insisted.

However the world is hoping for peace in South Sudan after the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit publicly pledged on 4th February 2023 to revive negotiations with dissidents and pardon 71 prisoners, 36 of them sentenced to death.

“In honor of the historic visit of the Holy Father Francis to our country, and our declaration of 2023 as the Year of Peace and Reconciliation, I officially announce the lifting of the suspension of the Rome Peace Dialogues with the resistance groups,” Salva Kiir Mayardit said in response to the Pope’s speech after their private meeting.

The visit marked the first time in Christian history that leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Reformed traditions conducted a joint foreign trip, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, leader of the global Anglican Communion, and Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland