Cardinal Czerny: South Sudan visit seeks to renew Pope’s message of hope

As Cardinal Michael Czerny departs for South Sudan, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development tells Vatican News that his visit marks the first anniversary of Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey and seeks to renew the Church's closeness to the nation, especially to victims of human trafficking.

By Francesca Merlo and Christopher Wells

Due to travel to South Sudan on 2-9 February to mark one year since Pope Francis’s Apostolic Visit to the African nation, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, says he hopes to bring with him a message of hope.

“In a sense”, he says in an interview with Christopher Wells ahead of his departure, “it’s a repetition of the message brought by Pope Francis one year ago.”

Cardinal Czerny expresses his hope that his presence and words will show South Sudanese that they must not give up hope, even when things are not going well.

“I think the bishops invited me because they felt that this all-important message of a year ago needs to be restated, at least with as much vigour as we can,” he says.

Hopes for the visit

Since the Holy Father often speaks of concrete actions, Cardinal Czerny describes some of the tangible outcomes he hopes will come from his visit.

“One of the concrete outcomes is support for the millions—10 million people—displaced on the other side of the border, the border with Sudan.”

Cardinal Czerny mentions the hope that comes with the inauguration and blessing of a new boat, during his visit to the town of Renk, which lies on the border with Sudan.

The boat will help transport migrants across the perilous Nile River separating the two countries.

“That should make it possible and less dangerous,” he explains. Many Sudanese have sought refuge in South Sudan as their country continues to face terrible violence and war.

He also hopes the visit will remind countries to make peace for the good of their people.

“We do not make peace by raising walls and by making it difficult and dangerous for those who, for every good reason on earth, are seeking the minimum security; we then make their access difficult,” stresses Cardinal Czerny. On the contrary, he continues, “we should open our doors, our hearts, and also our capacities, so that they can find safety, without which human life is basically impossible.”

At home with Saint Josephine Bakhita

Cardinal Czerny is due to celebrate Mass in the Church of Saint Josephine Bakhita on the World Day of Prayer and Reflection Against Human Trafficking (February 8).

The Cardinal says he has been devoted to St. Bakhita “for all these years that I’ve been working with my colleagues on human trafficking and modern slavery,” adding, “I feel like I’m going to meet her at home for the first time, and it makes me very happy.”

Born in Sudan sometime around the year 1869 (before South Sudan became an independent nation), St. Josephine Bakhita was sold into slavery at an early age. After being taken to Italy, she eventually gained her freedom with the help of the Canossian Sisters. She went on to become a nun, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000.

Cardinal Czerny notes that the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, of which he is the Prefect, works closely with Talitha Kum, an international alliance of religious sisters involved in the rescuing and healing of victims of human trafficking.

“This is a most admirable mission and ministry,” says Cardinal Czerny. “They do what many other people talk about, but they actually do it without much fanfare, publicity, or resources.”.

So, Cardinal Czerny says it is a great honour to work alongside these women and help fight the scourge of modern-day slavery.

Hope, always

Finally, Cardinal Czerny asks for prayers “that this will be a pilgrimage of peace, in the footsteps of the Holy Father.”

Please, he concludes, “join me in renewing our hope in not giving up. May we never lose hope: hope for peace.”