Pope Francis ended his visit to South Sudan on Sunday with an open-air mass in the capital Juba, during which he called for the “lay down of arms” in a country torn apart by poverty and violence. airport, capital Juba, flight to Rome around 12:00 (10:00 GMT). On the plane, he will hold his traditional press conference with the heads of churches in England and Scotland and representatives of two other Christian communities in South Sudan who accompanied him on this visit.
During the 48-hour visit, the Pope doubled down on calls for peace in South Sudan, a nation of 12 million that saw a civil war between opposing leaders Salva Kiir and Riek Machar from 2013 to 2018 that left 380,000 dead. and moving millions out of their homes. He told about seventy thousand believers: “Let’s lay down the weapons of hatred and revenge (…) and overcome the feelings of hatred and disgust, which over time have become chronic and can dominate between tribes and ethnic groups.”
Before Mass, the Pope greeted the crowd and blessed them as they rode in his car (the Popemobile) to the sound of yelling and drumming. “Welcome to South Sudan!” the crowd chanted in English, waving the flags of the youngest country in the world and the flags of the Vatican.
Several residents spent the night at the grave of John Garang, the historic leader of the southern uprising who died in a mysterious helicopter crash in 2005 and called for a unified, secular and democratic federal Sudan. Others walked through the night along the dusty roads of the city, dressed in traditional clothing. Some wear crosses or images of the Pope around their necks.
“need in the world”
Like many in South Sudan, 24-year-old James Ague expects the visit to lead to “change in the country.” “For years we have been at war, but we need peace,” he told AFP. Regarding 32-year-old Josephine James, she said: “I have suffered in my life. That’s why I’m here so that the Pope can bless me and my family.” On Saturday, Pope Francis called for the restoration of a “dignified life” for displaced people inside this landlocked country located in East Africa. Their number reached 2.2 million in December, according to the UN, due to armed clashes and bad weather.
Since his arrival, the Pope has not hesitated to call on the political class to “wake up” to peace and fight the scourge of corruption in South Sudan, a country that Transparency International consistently ranks at the bottom of its list. The United Nations and the international community constantly accuse the leaders of South Sudan of maintaining the status quo, fueling violence, suppressing political freedoms and wasting public funds. The armies loyal to Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are also accused of war crimes. Despite a peace agreement signed in 2018 in the country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, violence continues. On the eve of the Pope’s arrival on Thursday, a cattle raid in the south of the country killed at least 21 people.
In 2019, Francis received Kiir and Machar at the Vatican and knelt down to kiss their feet, imploring them to achieve peace, in a stride that has yet to be followed by tangible progress. Prior to Juba, Pope Francis made a four-day visit to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he specifically denounced the “horrible atrocities” committed by armed groups in the east of the country. The visit is the Argentine pope’s 40th trip abroad since his election in 2013, and the third in sub-Saharan Africa.