Pope appeals to South Sudan’s leaders to halt the bloodshed
By Linda Bordoni
In his first official discourse after landing in South Sudan’s capital city, Pope Francis issued an appeal for peace and reminded those in power that their purpose is to serve the community.
Addressing the nation’s Authorities, Civil Society and Diplomatic Corps at the Presidential Palace of Juba on Friday afternoon, shortly after his arrival in the ravaged East African nation, the Pope reminded them he has come “as a pilgrim of reconciliation, in the hope of accompanying you on your journey of peace.”
Pilgrim of reconciliation and peace
He noted that his is an ecumenical pilgrimage undertaken in the company of two brothers: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
“We undertook this ecumenical pilgrimage of peace after hearing the plea of an entire people that, with great dignity, weeps for the violence it endures, its persistent lack of security, its poverty and the natural disasters that it has experienced,” he said.
The Pope decried the fact that the “years of war and conflict seem never to end,” and noted that, “even yesterday” lives were lost in bitter clashes.
He expressed his hope that the protracted suffering of the people is not in vain, that their patience and sacrifices challenge everyone and, “allow peace to blossom and bear fruit.”
Appeal to leaders
Pope Francis then directed a direct call to South Sudan’s belligerent political leaders saying that they, “the fathers and mothers of this young country”, are called to “renew the life of society as pure sources of prosperity and peace, so greatly needed for the sons and daughters of South Sudan.”
“May the time that followed the birth of the country, its painful childhood, lead to a peaceful maturity,” he said.
The Holy Father reminded the leaders “that those “sons and daughters”, and history itself, will remember you if you work for the benefit of this people that you have been called to serve.”
No more of this!
Developing his powerful appeal, Pope Francis directly addressed the President and Vice-President with the words: “In the name of God, in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say “No more of this”.
The purpose of power
The Pope invited them to see themselves as truly “public”, “of the people”. Those who are entrusted with the responsibility of presiding over and governing the state, he explained, “have the duty to place themselves at the service of the common good.”
He remarked on the temptation to use power for one’s own advantage, and warned against restricting the abundant resources of the land to few.
Those resources, he said, should be “recognized as the legacy of all, and plans for economic recovery should coincide with proposals for an equitable distribution of wealth.”
Pope Francis recalled that at the basis of democracy is the respect for human rights, upheld by law and the application of law, particularly the right to the freedom of self-expression, and said “there is no justice without freedom.”
He expressed the hope that the Republic’s path to peace will “not be bogged down by inertia”, and said “It is time to move from words to deeds. It is time to turn the page: it is the time for commitment to an urgent and much-needed transformation.”
The Holy Father noted that “In a world scarred by divisions and conflict,” the fact that the country is hosting an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, is something rare.”
“It represents a change of direction,” he said, “an opportunity for South Sudan to resume sailing in calm waters, taking up dialogue, without duplicity and opportunism.”
Dialogue and encounter
Calling on those present to undertake a path of respect, dialogue and encounter, the Pope said that “Behind every form of violence, there is anger and resentment, and behind every form of anger and resentment, there is the unhealed memory of wounds, humiliations and wrongs.”
Thus, “the only way to break free of these is through encounter: by accepting others as our brothers and sisters and making room for them, even if it means taking a step backwards.”
The role of young people and women
He said this attitude is essential for any peace process and for the cohesive development of society and noted that young people have a key role to play in the “passage from the barbarity of confrontation to a culture of vital encounter.”
Women also have a fundamental role, the Pope noted, and “need to be increasingly involved in political life and decision-making processes.”
In his untiring appeal for good governance, Pope Francis did not neglect to mention the need to care for creation “for the sake of future generations.”
Corruption, poverty, displacement
And he called for action against corruption noting “The inequitable distribution of funds, secret schemes to get rich, patronage deals, lack of transparency.”
“Before all else, there is a need to combat poverty, which serves as the fertile soil in which hatred, divisions and violence take root,” he said.
And reiterating the fact that "the pressing need of any civilized country is to care for its citizens, especially the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged, he said he thinks especially “of the millions of displaced persons who live here:
The arms trade
The Pope’s all-embracing vision on the problems and needs of the country even touched on the need “to control the flow of weapons that, despite bans, continue to arrive in many countries in the area, including South Sudan.”
He called for the development of suitable healthcare policies, the need for vital infrastructures and the promotion of literacy and education: “the only way that the children of this land will be able take their future into their own hands.”
Pope Francis wound down his speech shining the light on the fostering of positive relationships with other countries, and acknowledging “the precious contribution made by the international community to this country, (…) and expressing gratitude for the efforts made to promote reconciliation and development.”
“I realize that some of what I have had to say may appear blunt and direct,” he concluded, assuring those present that together with his brothers with whom he has undertaken this pilgrimage of peace, he offers “heartfelt prayers and support, so that South Sudan can experience reconciliation and a change of direction.”
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