Pope Francis shakes hands with the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Pope Francis shakes hands with the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir 

Pope urges South Sudanese leaders to renew peace process in Christmas message

Pope Francis signs an ecumenical Christmas message to the political leaders of South Sudan, and urges them to make greater strides along the path of peace and service to the nation.

By Devin Watkins

Pope Francis has sent Christmas greetings to the political leaders of South Sudan once again this year.

As with last year’s message, the Pope was joined by Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Reverend Martin Fair, in signing the Christmas message.

Servants of all

The three begin their greetings with a reminder of the humble earthly beginnings of the Son of God.

“In this Christmas season, we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world among the least—in a dusty stable with animals,” they write. “Later, he called those who wish to be great in His kingdom to be the servant of all.”

At their historic meeting in the Vatican in April 2019, Pope Francis offered South Sudan’s leaders a concrete example of humble service, when he knelt to kiss their feet.

Plea to speed up peace process

Referencing that encounter in their message, the Pope with the other Christian leaders urged the African nation’s politicians to remember their commitments “to bring your country to a smooth implementation of the Peace Agreement.”

They also recalled their pledge to “visit South Sudan in due course, as things return to normalcy.”

“We have been glad to see the small progress you have made, but know it is not enough for your people to feel the full effect of peace,” they caution.

Greater trust, generosity

Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby, and Reverend Fair repeated their desire to visit the country in order “to bear witness to a changed nation, governed by leaders who… ‘hold hands, united… as simple citizens’ to ‘become Fathers (and Mothers) of the Nation.’”

They concluded their Christmas greetings praying that South Sudan’s political leaders might “know greater trust among yourselves and a greater generosity of service to your people.”

“We pray you know the peace that surpasses understanding in your own hearts and in the heart of your great nation.”

Long-running conflict

South Sudan fell into civil war not long after it gained independence from Sudan, which came in July 2011.

The conflict raged from 2013 until September 2018, and pitted the forces of President Salva Kiir—an ethnic Dinka—against those of his Vice President, Riek Machar—an ethnic Nuer.

Over 400,000 people died in the civil war, another 250,000 fled their homes, and around half of the population of 11 million were left in dire poverty.

In September 2018, the peace process was restarted with the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

However, the situation remains complicated. The UN’s head of mission, David Shearer, recently reported to the UN Security Council that the peace accord is not being implemented as it should. He said violence still afflicts large portions of the nation.

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24 December 2020, 12:02