SOUTH SUDAN – “Everyone hopes that Pope Francis’ visit will promote peace”

“We have been waiting for some time for the good news of the confirmation of the visit of Pope Francis to South Sudan”, says to Fides Sr. Elena Balatti, Comboni missionary in the province of South Sudan. “This is a positive moment for South Sudan and the Pope’s visit is definitely linked to peace”, says Sr. Elena. “Unfortunately, however, the war in Ukraine is keeping the whole world in suspense, and although in South Sudan there is much joy and many positive expectations for this visit, the specter of war in another part of the world, which can potentially have negative effects on other continents, including Africa, takes away some of our joy”.

This is how the nun describes the reaction of the South Sudanese to the announcement of the visit of Pope Francis. “As soon as the visit of the sovereign Pontiff and other religious leaders was announced, the comments rocketed among the population. Some recalled the strong gesture of Pope Francis kissing the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, President Salva Kiir, the opposition leader who is now part of the transitional government, Riek Machar, and the other members of the South Sudanese delegation (see Fides, 9/4/2019).

And now people are saying that the pope is coming see what the fruits of this revolutionary gesture are”. These are popular comments”, says Sr. Elena, “but I read the comment by Edward Yakani, President of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), the best known local civil society organization, that took into account the vox populi. Now, he said, our political and military leaders must live up to the task the Pope gave them in the Vatican and the responsibilities they assumed with the Holy Father when they promised to do their best to restore peace in their country. A commitment not to be taken lightly because, as the nun reminds us, “conflict studies show that if a peace agreement is not well drafted and well implemented, it is always possible that conflict will reignite. Therefore, the visit of Pope Francis and other religious leaders is a strong signal to continue resolutely on the path of peace”.

Sr. Elena recalls that “there is a peace agreement signed by the government with the main opposition group, but several other factions have not yet laid down their arms. We hope that the visit of Pope Francis will give impetus to peace talks with these other factions, some of which are taking place in Rome with the mediation of the Community of Sant’Egidio”. “I would like to conclude with a small episode that happened to me a few days ago, when I visited, with a delegation from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Malakal, a guerrilla outpost which is in talks with the government”, says the nun.

“Their military doctor asked us to carry out psychological and spiritual trauma healing activities for their men, so that in view of peace, they could come to terms with a difficult past and the terrible events of the war. During the visit, a suffrage mass was celebrated for their fallen comrades in the fighting in recent months. In his homily, the celebrant recalled the ongoing war in Ukraine. Here we pray for the eternal rest of the recently fallen soldiers and, at the same time, in Ukraine, other soldiers and many civilians are dying. During mass, we remembered the fallen South Sudanese and the victims of the war in Ukraine. Let us continue to pray for peace so that the Lord will help us at this extraordinary time of crisis for humanity”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 10/3/2022)