Pope to displaced South Sudanese: be seeds of hope and rebirth

Pope Francis meets South Sudanese internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Juba with Archbishop Justin Welby and Rev. Iain Greenshields, and reiterates his heartfelt appeal to end all conflict in South Sudan so as to bring a better future for its people.

By Lisa Zengarini

“The future of South Sudan cannot lie in refugee camps.”

Meeting on Saturday with a group of South Sudanese internally displaced persons (IDPs), along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Scottish Presbyterian Moderator Rev. Dr Iain Greeshields, Pope Francis renewed his “forceful and heartfelt” appeal to end all conflict in South Sudan, and to resume the peace process “in a serious way”, so that “violence can end and people can return to living in dignity”. 

“Only with peace, stability and justice can there be development and social reintegration”, he said.

The meeting took place on Saturday afternoon at the “Freedom Hall” in Juba, on the second day of the three Christian leaders’ Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Peace aimed at restarting the young country’s stalled peace process and at drawing international attention to continued fighting and a worsening humanitarian crisis. 

Testimonies by 3 displaced children and presentation by UN representative  

Pope Francis’ remarks came after the testimonies of  three displaced children from the Bentiu, Malakal and Juba Camps, and an introductory intervention by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, who presented an overview of the current humanitarian situation and of the international efforts to support the war-torn nation.

In her presentation, the Liberian UN representative highlighted how insecurity, fuelled by inter-communal violence, crime, and impunity, continues to hamper national and international efforts to bring peace in South Sudan which has been experiencing internal war since 2013. 

She explained that the ten year-conflict has displaced two million people and caused an additional two million refugees outside the country, making South Sudan the fourth in the list of the world’s most neglected displacement crises and the country with the largest refugee crisis in Africa. 

Also, extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition affect two-thirds of its population, making it one of the worst food emergencies globally. Women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities are the ones who suffer the most.

Women key to transformation in South Sudan

However, in this dire situation, said Nyanti, there still are opportunities to support the affected communities in achieving their potential and transforming their country, and in particular women. Indeed, she said, women are the key to this transformation.

Pope Francis shared that view: “If mothers and women receive the proper opportunities, through their industriousness and their natural gift of protecting life – he said – they will have the ability to change the face of South Sudan, to give it a peaceful and cohesive development!”.

“I ask all the people of these lands, to ensure that women are protected, respected, valued and honoured. Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honour every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother. Otherwise, there will be no future.”

I suffer for you and with you

In his remarks, the Holy Father expressed his “closeness and affection” to all people suffering displacement in South Sudan due to violence, but also natural calamities.

“I am here with you, and I suffer for you and with you”, he said.

Referring to the testimonies of the three displaced children who shared their hardships and their hopes for the future, the Pope insisted on the urgency of restoring long-term peace so they can enjoy a normal childhood in an open and integrated society “discovering the beauty of a reconciled fraternity”.

“There is a need for you to grow as an open society, for different groups to mingle and to form a single people by embracing the challenges of integration, even learning the languages spoken throughout the country and not just those in your particular ethnic group. (…) It is absolutely essential to avoid ostracizing groups and ghettoizing human beings. To meet all these challenges, however, there is a need for peace.”

Be seeds of hope choosing fraternity and forgiveness

After thanking Nyanti for her informative insight into the current situation and challenges in South Sudan, Pope Francis noted that despite their painful past and the present hardships of displacement, faith and hope for a better future haven’t been lost. He encouraged them to be seeds of this hope by choosing “fraternity and forgiveness” and weaving “webs of communion and paths of reconciliation” with people of other ethnicities and origins.

“Be seeds of hope, which make it possible for us already to glimpse the tree that one day, hopefully in the near future, will bear fruit. (…) True, right now you are 'planted' where you don’t want to be, but precisely from this situation of hardship and uncertainty, you can reach out to those around you and experience that you all are rooted in the one human family.”

Call to the young to rewrite the history of their country

The Pope appealed in particular to the youths of South Sudan to rewrite the history of their country “as a history of peace”, by learning from the experience of the elderly who, he said, are their roots.

“May you, young people of different ethnicities, write the first pages of this new chapter! Although conflict, violence and hatred have replaced good memories on the first pages of the life of this Republic, you must be the ones to rewrite its history as a history of peace!”

Gratitude to Church, UN and humanitarian organizations

Bringing his address to a close, Pope Francis expressed gratitude to all those helping displaced people and in emergency situations in South Sudan: ecclesial communities, missionaries and humanitarian and international organizations, in particular the United Nations. He also remembered the many humanitarian workers who have lost their lives while carrying out relief work in South Sudan.

In this regard, Pope Francis further stressed the need for long-term international support by accompanying the population on the path of development so as to make it self-sufficient.

Finally, Pope Francis turned his thoughts to the many South Sudanese refugees living outside the country and to those who cannot return because their territories have been occupied. “I am close to them and I trust that they can once again take an active role in shaping the future of their land and contribute to its development in a constructive and peaceful manner”, he said.

The Pope concluded the meeting by imparting a special blessing along with Archbishop Welby and Reverend Greeshields.

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04 February 2023, 15:32