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Pope Francis is now in South Sudan

Pope Francis arrived in South Sudan Friday evening from the Democratic Republic of Congo to start a long-awaited ecumenical pilgrimage for peace in South Sudan.

John Baptist Tumusiime, Vatican News staffer – Juba, South Sudan.

President Salva Kiir welcomed the Pope at Juba International airport. Also at the airport were First Vice President Riek Machar; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby;  Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields as well as other religious leaders of the Catholic and Protestant faiths.  

The three Church leaders are in South Sudan to deliver a message of peace and reconciliation in continuation of a process that began in 2019 when Pope Francis, with support from Archbishop Justin Welby and the retired Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Very Rev Dr John Chalmers came together to encourage peace in South Sudan.

The Vatican Retreat

Those who took part in the 2019 retreat at the Vatican were members of the Presidency of the Republic of South Sudan who, according to the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, included Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Republic; Vice-Presidents designate, Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, Taban Deng Gai, and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabio, widow of the Sudanese leader, John Garang.

Others who participated were ecumenical members of the Council of Churches of South Sudan. The preachers at the retreat were Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, and Nigerian Jesuit Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator.

At the end of the retreat, Pope Francis kissed the feet of South Sudan’s leaders and challenged them to end the war and commit to peace.

The post-independence crisis

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 amidst joy and great expectations for a promising future for the citizens of the new nation. This joy was, however, short-lived because the country was plunged into civil conflict in 2013 following a power struggle between President Kiir and Riek Machar, whom Kiir had earlier removed from the position of Vice President. The ensuing armed conflict killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced more than two million others, with some seeking safety in Internally Displaced People’s camps and others fleeing to neighbouring countries as refugees.

A peace agreement was signed between the two men in 2018; although shaky, it still holds.

Three Wisemen

Many South Sudanese believe that the coming of Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and the Rt. Rev. Dr Greenshields will strengthen the peace agreement and bring the plight of the people of South Sudan to international attention. The majority of south Sudanese have much hope in the three visiting Church leaders and have taken to referring to them as the “three wise men.”

Listen to the audio version of John Baptist’s report here.

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