Pope Francis departs from Juba aboard the papal plane bound for Rome, marking the conclusion of his 6-day Apostolic Journey to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By Devin Watkins
“You are in my heart, you are in our hearts, you are in the hearts of Christians around the world! Never lose hope. And lose no opportunity to build peace.”
Those words of encouragement were the final public comments which Pope Francis spoke on South Sudanese soil at the end of his 40th Apostolic Journey abroad.
The papal plane departed from Juba’s International Airport at 11:56 AM local time, carrying the Pope and over 70 journalists for the return trip to Rome.
The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Rome at around 5:15 PM local time.
Overarching call to peace
Over the past six days, Pope Francis has sought to bring a message of consolation and hope for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
He spoke forcefully and frequently about the need for every person to foster peace in their own lives and in their nations.
His first public words in DR Congo set the tone for the rest of his visit, as he spoke to the country’s civil authorities.
“This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath.”
Though each speech was destined for a different audience, Pope Francis laced them together with an exhortation to cease all violence in the two nations, reinforcing his public words with gestures of closeness.
Turning message into action
Huge crowds turned out for his public Masses: over a million people celebrated with him in DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, and some 100,000 faithful gathered with him in Juba, around a fifth of the population of South Sudan’s capital.
As the papal plane took off from Juba, Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba told SSBC, the national public service broadcaster, that Pope Francis has left a message of hope and a call for the people of South Sudan to remain together and strive toward peace.
“It is only by caring about our brothers and sisters that we can really realize this peace,” he said. “We hope that our political leaders will listen to the message of the Holy Father properly, and the message of His Grace Archbishop Justin Welby and Rev. Iain Greenshields.”