Pope Francis calls for end to bloodshed on visit to South Sudan

Pope Francis calls for end to bloodshed on visit to South Sudan

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Pope Francis on Friday called on South Sudan’s leaders to have a “new awakening” to peace. The statement was made on the first day of his visit to the youngest country in the world, torn apart by power struggles and extreme poverty.

“The process of peace and reconciliation requires a new beginning” and the “tortuous road” of peace “can no longer be postponed”, warned the Argentine pope during a speech before the authorities of the capital Juba.

From 2013 to 2018, this country of 12 million people was plagued by a bloody civil war between supporters of the two enemy leaders, President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, which left 380,000 dead and millions displaced. Despite a peace agreement signed in 2018, violence continues.

“Future generations will honor or erase your names from memory, depending on what you do now,” warned the 86-year-old pope, aware of his “direct” words.

“Enough of the bloodshed, enough of conflicts, enough of violence and reciprocal accusations against those who commit them. Enough of the abandonment of a people thirsting for peace. Enough of destruction, it’s time to build!”, he ordered.

The “pilgrimage for peace” is the first papal visit to South Sudan since the Christian-majority nation gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

In turn, President Salva Kiir announced the lifting of the suspension, decided in November, of the government’s participation in the negotiations, in Rome, with the rebel groups that did not sign the peace agreement. Meetings have been held since 2019.

Faithful walked nine days to see the pope

Shortly after the pope’s arrival, thousands of people, waving flags or branches of plants from the region, lined the roads to welcome him to the rhythm of songs and drums.

“I am very excited to see him,” 20-year-old Hanah Zachariah told AFP, among dozens of pilgrims who walked nine days from the town of Rumbek to Juba, a journey of about 400 kilometers in an attempt to see the pope.

On this unprecedented trip, the pontiff is accompanied by the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, representatives of the other two Christian confessions of this country of 12 million inhabitants and 60 ethnic groups. stricken with poverty and hunger.

The Church plays a replacement role in areas without any government service and where aid workers are often attacked or even killed.

The NGO Human Rights Watch on Friday called on religious leaders to put pressure on South Sudan’s leadership to “address the current human rights crisis in the country and widespread impunity”.

In 2019, a year after a peace agreement, Francis received Salva Kiir and Riek Machar at the Vatican and knelt down to kiss their feet, pleading for peace, a strong symbolic gesture.

This Thursday (2), the eve of the pope’s arrival, at least 21 people were murdered in a cattle robbery in the south of the country.


Many hope the pope’s trip will end the clashes. “We have suffered a lot. Now we want to achieve peace,” said Robert Michael, a 36-year-old businessman, standing under one of the many billboards welcoming the pope dotted around the city.

About 5,000 additional police and soldiers were deployed, security officials said, and Friday was declared a public holiday in the country.

This trip by Pope Francis follows a four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is facing an armed offensive by rebel groups in the east.

In Kinshasa, Francis celebrated a huge open-air mass, met victims of violence and condemned the “atrocious cruelties” in this country where abuses by armed groups have killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Initially scheduled for summer 2022 and later postponed, this visit is the Argentine pope’s 40th overseas visit since his election in 2013, and the third in sub-Saharan Africa.

(With information from AFP)


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