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Archbishop Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megan, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, says Pope Francis' visit to South Sudan on 5-7 July is part of a continuous effort to promote peace among the country’s rival parties.
As the faithful in South Sudan prepare to receive Pope Francis in their country in early July, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megan, describes the upcoming visit as a part of a continuous effort by the Pope to bring the parties in conflict within the country together for a peaceful reconciliation.
“Pope Francis is very serious about reconciliation for justice to prevail,” said the Nuncio in a recent interview with AMECEA online. “I think he intends to be that bridge between the opposing parties in South Sudan to bring people together.”
The Holy Father’s scheduled Apostolic Journey to South Sudan will see him visit the capital, Juba, from 5 – 7 July. Before that, the Pope will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2 – 5 July.
The Republic of South Sudan, located in east/central Africa, is the world’s newest country, having gained its independence from Sudan in July 2011. However, since independence, the country has struggled to set up a viable governing system and has been faced with a variety of challenges, including political conflicts, corruption, and communal violence.
In 2013, conflict erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and forces loyal to Vice-president Riek Machar. The fighting quickly spread throughout the country and unfolded along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands of people and creating a humanitarian crisis, with millions displaced and in need of assistance.
A peace agreement signed in 2015 provided for the creation of a Transitional Government of National Unity in a power-sharing arrangement that would include members of the current administration as well as members from among the rebels. However, in 2016, renewed fighting plunged the country back into conflict.
In 2018, a revitalized peace agreement, (R-ARCSS -Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan) was signed and the warring parties formed a coalition government in 2020.
As the country continues with efforts to overcome the hurdles that come with implementing the peace agreement, the Nuncio noted that there is still a lot more to be done.
“If you look at the peace agreement, which should bring the parties together, the agreement has only been implemented partly and there is not much progress,” he said.
Even Pope Francis has joined in efforts to contribute to peace in South Sudan. In April 2019, the Pope hosted South Sudanese leaders in a two-day spiritual retreat in the Vatican, and in an unprecedented gesture, kissed the feet of the rival leaders as he urged them to strengthen the African country’s faltering peace process.
The Nuncio explained, “The Papal visit is a follow-up on that same event of 2019 to show the people on the ground the need for reconciliation.”
Going to the peripheries
Archbishop van Megan went on to reiterate the Pope’s message of encouraging the faithful to go to the peripheries, to where Christ is most needed, especially in places where people suffer social exclusion or marginalization.
“South Sudan can be termed a country in the periphery and Pope Francis wants to be one with them and understand the reality of the people,” he said. “To get the real sense of things and to have a better understanding, one needs to be physically present to see the people in the eye, and to hear their stories.”
“There could be an inner voice, an urge, probably telling him to go to South Sudan so that as a Pope he shall have done everything he could to bring peace to the people of South Sudan,” he added.
Other religious leaders present
During the period of Pope Francis’ forthcoming 3-day July visit, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Moderator of Scotland Presbyterian Church, Lord Jim Wallace, will also be present in the country, showing what the Nuncio describes as a “real example of ecumenism in the Church.”
“With the Pope and the other church leaders visiting, I think Christianity wants to come to South Sudan as a united front, saying to the leaders of the country to be committed to serving the people,” he said.
“South Sudan is not just for the Catholic Church,” the Nuncio added. It is also for “a number of other churches who play an important role not only among the people but also at the level of government.”
Vatican News staff reporter
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