Pope Francis is about to leave for a pastoral visit to South Sudan. This news website has compiled an overview of the Catholic Church in South Sudan.
(Vatican News Network)South Sudan’s Christian history is closely linked to Sudan’s. South Sudan seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011, becoming a young African nation.
Local Christianity was first introduced by the Byzantine Church in the sixth century. Afterwards, the local church was incorporated into the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria. After the demise of the Nubian kingdom where Christianity flourished in the early 14th century, the local Christianity almost completely disappeared, leaving only a few Franciscan orders remaining in the area.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Italian missionary St. Daniel Comboni brought Christianity to this land again and rebuilt the church in Sudan, especially in South Sudan. The active missionary work of the Goldbone members contributed to the vigorous development of the Christian faith from 1901 to 1964. The people of South Sudan thus have a strong sense of national identity, aware of their differences from the Arabs and Muslims living in the north.
After Sudan broke away from the rule of British Egypt, the people of South Sudan strongly resisted the Islamization and Arabization policies implemented by Khartoum. Two civil wars broke out there from 1955 to 1972, and again from 1983 to 2005, and South Sudan finally became an independent state after a referendum in 2011.
Today, more than half of the people in South Sudan are considered Christians, with Catholics accounting for 52% of the total population, followed by Anglicans, Presbyterians and other Protestant groups; Less than one percent. In addition, there are also a large number of residents who believe in traditional African religions. According to some sources, most of the people in the country actually follow traditional African religions.
Since South Sudan’s independence, local churches have enjoyed complete religious freedom, and there are no restrictions on reorganizing church groups and promoting pastoral work. South Sudan’s constitution clearly recognizes freedom of worship and equality among religions, and South Sudan has diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
Furthermore, local politicians have on some occasions praised the church’s support for peace and nation-building, and appreciated the church’s contribution to the human, social and civic development of South Sudan. However, there have been occasional frictions over the years, with authorities trying to silence critical voices from the Church. In 2014, the then-ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Army ordered the temporary closure of several Catholic radio stations, accusing them of meddling in the country’s political affairs for their commentary on a renewed civil war that broke out in 2013.
Peace is a constant focus of the Church in South Sudan. The Catholic Church and the South Sudan Christian Council (SSCC) collaborate to this day to advance dialogue, promoting healing and reconciliation amidst current political and ethnic conflicts.
Pope Francis has repeatedly shown his continued concern for the suffering people of South Sudan. Over the years, he has made numerous calls for peace in the country and pushed for many far-reaching initiatives. For example: on November 23, 2017, the Pope presided over the liturgical prayers for South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in St. Peter’s Basilica; and, on February 23, 2018, he invited people to pray for the country.
In the summer of 2017, Pope Francis launched the “Pontifical Support South Sudan” program, which provides about US$500,000 in support of health, education and agricultural projects in the country. On April 11, 2019, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Welby invited the top civil and church leaders of South Sudan to attend a retreat in the Vatican. At the end of the retreat, the pope made a momentous gesture at Casa Santa Marta: he leaned down and kissed the feet of President Kiir and his political opponent Machar, pleading for peace .
On 9 July 2021, Pope Francis, Archbishop of Welby of the Anglican Church and leader of the Church of Scotland Jim Wallace issued a joint statement to South Sudanese leaders, expressing gratitude for the progress made in the peace process , and reiterated the need for “greater efforts” so that the people of South Sudan can “enjoy the full fruits of independence”.
On 2 July 2022, after announcing the postponement of his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, Pope Francis issued a video message to the peoples of these two countries, urging them not to let people “steal away hope”.
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