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“Enough violence!” Pope Francis in South Sudan, a pilgrim of peace

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“Enough violence!”  Pope Francis in South Sudan, a pilgrim of peace
An ecumenical pilgrimage of peace is the one starring Pope Francis together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. That today in Juba they asked the authorities for a concrete commitment to reconciliation

“I come as a pilgrim of reconciliation, with the dream of accompanying you on your path to peace, a tortuous path that can no longer be postponed”. This is how Pope Francis addressed the authorities of South Sudan a little while ago, whom he met upon his arrival in the capital Juba: «I did not come here alone – the Pontiff specified -, because in peace, as in life, we walk together. So here I am with two brothers, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, extending our hand, we present ourselves to you and to this people in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace”.

After the stop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marked by the warm welcome of the Congolese people, but also by the very strong speeches of Pope Francis – who has not made concessions to anyone: politicians, businessmen and exploiters, the international community and even the priests themselves – the trip to South Sudan is configured primarily as a ecumenical pilgrimage of peace which will also feature the Anglican Justin Welby and the Scotsman Iain Greenshilds, who bring closeness and solidarity to the South Sudanese people (60% Christian), still afflicted by too much violence and division after having experienced the horror for many years of the war against the north. L’independence, obtained in 2011However, it has not brought peace and reconciliation. In fact, since 2013, the country has been marked by a fratricidal conflict and many inter-ethnic violence which, together with the climatic changes, have caused a very serious humanitarian crisis. Currently, 7 of the 11 million inhabitants of South Sudan are at risk of starvation.

Pope Francis therefore addressed “an entire people who, with great dignity, mourn the violence they suffer, the perennial lack of security, the poverty that strikes them and the natural disasters that rage. Years of wars and conflicts do not seem to know an end and even recently there have been bitter clashes, while the reconciliation processes seem paralyzed and the promises of peace remain unfulfilled”.

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Faced with all this, he invited everyone and the authorities in particular to ensure that «this exhausting suffering is not in vain; may the patience and sacrifices of the South Sudanese people, of these young, humble and courageous people, question everyone and, like seeds that give life to the plant in the earth, may they see sprouts of peace blossom and bear fruit».

The time of responsibility

And if in RD Congo, Pope Francis had used the symbolic image of the diamond, in South Sudan he instead referred to that of the river, being the country crossed by the great White Nile, along which the first missionaries, some of whom continue to “find death while sowing life”. You are called to regenerate social life, as clear sources of prosperity and peace, because the children of South Sudan need this: of fathers, not of masters; of stable steps of development, not of continuous falls. The years following the birth of the country, marked by a wounded childhood, give way to a peaceful growth».

He recalled how violence causes the course of history to “reverse”, but he also strongly asked for do not reduce «this land to a cemetery». For this reason, he added, “I beg you, with all my heart, to accept a simple word: not mine, but Christ’s. He pronounced it right in a garden, in Gethsemane, when, in front of one of his disciples who had drawn his sword, he said: “Enough!” (Lc 22.51). Mr President, Dear Vice-Presidents, in the name of God, of the God we prayed together in Rome, of the meek and humble God of heart (cf. Mt 11.29) in which so many people of this dear country believe, it’s time to say it just iswithout ifs and buts”: no more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual accusations against those who commit them, no more leaving the people thirsting for peace. No more destruction, it’s time to build! Put the time of war behind you and let there be a time of peace!”

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Pope Francis – as well as President Sala Kiir – also recalled the gesture he had made in April 2019, when he kneeling to kiss feet to the head of state and his deputies Riek Machar and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, widow of John Garang: a disruptive gesture accompanied by a cry of supplication: ┌I ask you as a brother: remain in peace!». But, despite some attempts at dialogue, these same leaders have dragged the country back into war.

Today the Pontiff returns to their presence to recall that “those who hold greater responsibilities, by presiding over it and governing it, cannot but place themselves at the service of the common good. Here is the purpose of the power: serve the community. The temptation that is always lurking is instead to use it for one’s own interests». And he added: «Democratic development is fundamental for the life of a Republic. There democracy it also assumes the respect for human rights, protected by the law and its application, and in particular the freedom to express one’s ideas… It is time to move from words to deeds. It’s time to turn the page, it’s time forI commit for an urgent and necessary transformation. The peace and reconciliation process demands a new leap. May every citizen understand that it is no longer time to let ourselves be carried away by the unhealthy waters of hatred, tribalism, regionalism and ethnic differences; it’s time to sail Together to the future!”.

At the centre, young people and women

But to do this it is necessary to meet, respect, get to know each other and dialogue, welcome others as brothers. And “to move from the incivility of confrontation to the civilization of encounter – the Pope specified also in Juba, after having done so in Kinshasa – the role they can and want to play young people. Therefore, free spaces for meeting and discussing are ensured for them; and may they fearlessly take hold of the future that belongs to them! Women too should be involved more, also in political and decision-making processes, mothers who know how life is generated and preserved. May there be respect for them, because whoever commits violence against a woman commits it against God”.

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No to corruption and weapons

Returning to the metaphor of the river which, in order not to overflow – as unfortunately often and devastatingly happens in many regions of South Sudan – must keep its bed clean, «the cleaning that the course of social life needs is the fight against corruption». It is a theme on which the Pope also insisted a lot in the DR Congo and which he also took up again in Juba: «Unfair money laps, hidden schemes to get rich, patronage deals, lack of transparency: here is the polluted foundation of human society, which it lacks the necessary resources for what is most needed. Above all, to fight poverty, which is the fertile ground in which hatred, divisions and violence take root. The urgency of a civilized country is to take care of its citizens, especially the most fragile and disadvantaged. I think mostly of millions of displaced people who live here: how many have had to leave home and find themselves relegated to the margins of life following clashes and forced displacements!».

Pope Francis has also stigmatized the need to stem the arrival of weaponsrecalling how the country needs many things – especially in the humanitarian, educational and health fields – but certainly not instruments of death.

“I know that some of my expressions may have been frank and direct – concludes Pope Francis addressing the South Sudanese authorities – but please believe that this arises only from the affection and concern with which I follow your events, together with the brothers with whom I have come here, a pilgrim of peace. We wish to offer our heartfelt prayers and support for South Sudan to reconcile and change courseso that its vital course is no longer impeded by the flood of violence, impeded by the swamps of corruption and thwarted by the overflowing of poverty. May the Lord of heaven, who loves this land, give it a new time of peace and prosperity: God bless the Republic of South Sudan!».

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