Cardinal Parolin in Malakal Cardinal Parolin in Malakal 

Nuncio to South Sudan: We need to stand with our people who suffer

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, offers his thoughts on Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin's recent visit to the country, and says Christians need to incarnate our faith and stand with our sisters and brothers who are suffering.

By Christopher Wells

With his recent visit to South Sudan, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has once again drawn the world’s attention to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in South Sudan.

“We need to be there,” said Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, referring specifically to the northern city of Malakal, which was the focus of Cardinal Parolin’s visit. Speaking via phone with Vatican News, the Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan explained that since the outbreak of violence in neighbouring Sudan earlier this year, tens of thousands of refugees have fled across the border to South Sudan. Crossing into the small border town of Renk, refugees continue on by river barge to Malakal, a journey of two to three days.

The Nuncio explained that Cardinal Parolin wanted to visit Malakal precisely to be present with the people there, but also “to attract once again the attention of the world to this disaster, to what is happening, the suffering of the people,” and to make clear “that we as humanity and as Church… need to stand with these people, with these least of our brothers.”

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey

Cardinal Parolin’s visit to South Sudan follows six months on from the historic Apostolic Journey undertaken by Pope Francis in February.

Archbishop van Megen said the success of the visit by Pope Francis, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, was already a major achievement by the government and the Church. “It helped the Church, the state also, to organize its structures and put things together from a very practical point of view.”

However, the papal journey also looked toward a longer-term perspective, fostering hopes that it “might be the beginning of a renewed engagement” in the peace process. “Actually, what I see happening, also in my contacts with the government, is that people are really still talking about it,” the Nuncio said. He added that there seems to be “a more serious effort… to come to some kind of dialogue and peace.”

He expressed his hopes that various positive factors might help the country so that leaders might be able “to really be of service to its people, who have suffered more than enough.”

Incarnating our faith

This week’s visit by the Cardinal Secretary of State especially highlighted the suffering of the people of Malakal, which has suffered from tribal conflicts over the course of the past decades.

“So, Cardinal Parolin came here, first of all, also to be a sign of hope and encouragement to the people who lived there,” either in the city itself or in the UN-run “Protection of Civilians” (PoC) camp established near the city.

Archbishop van Megen noted that, in addition to the ongoing ethnic conflicts, the region has also been struck by devastating flooding, which still covers large swaths of the countryside. A third humanitarian crisis involves the influx of refugees, especially those fleeing the “terrible war” in Sudan.

The Nuncio insisted on the need to “incarnate” our faith in response to the suffering of the people of South Sudan. “Prayer is good, to speak about Jesus is beautiful,” he said. “But at a certain point, your faith needs to be encouraged, incarnated, needs to become flesh. And [it] becomes flesh in helping these people, and being with them. And that is what the Cardinal did.”

He added that focusing attention on the humanitarian crises in South Sudan “is already fulfilling the purpose of [the Cardinal’s] visit, namely that the cry for help from these people and their suffering reaches into the whole world, and that people start to reach into their wallets and say, 'I want to help in order that this human suffering may finally come to an end'."

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18 August 2023, 12:49