Cardinal Parolin in Bentiu: 'Unacceptable to live this way in today's world'
By Francesca Sabatinelli – Bentiu, South Sudan
The visit to the Bentiu camp on Wednesday "was a punch to the gut." It pricks our conscience, because “one cannot accept that in today’s world people live in conditions such as these.”
The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, returned to the South Sudanese capital, Juba, after a day spent inside the camp for displaced persons in Bentiu, just outside the city bearing the same name in Unity State, in the north of the country.
It was an intense moment, lived in stages among those who no longer have anything. They are those displaced by the 2013 civil war, which broke out only two years after South Sudan gained independence and which lasted until 2020. It is in Unity State that Vice President Riek Machar, one of the key players in the conflict against President Salva Kiir, was born, and this is one of the places that has seen the most intense fighting, which has consequently produced a staggering number of displaced people.
These people were later joined by those who have fled their homes due to floods, especially after 2019. In fact, in 2021, the state also experienced some of the worst floods in recent years. A record amount of rain flooded the entire territory, preventing its inhabitants from being able to live or farm, causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of livestock.
Everything on which the survival of the community depends has been destroyed. Terrifying levels of starvation have been reached, and the view that opens to the eyes of those arriving in the camp, as well as to those of Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, is that of a devastated land.
The terrain is submerged for long stretches, with some 150,000 displaced people living together in unimaginable sanitary conditions, without clean water, with open drains and with the constant threat of epidemics, from hepatitis to malaria to cholera, which periodically, even in recent weeks, hit the camp and then spread to the other South Sudanese states.
Pope's closeness to the people of God
"We are in the periphery of the peripheries," says Cardinal Parolin in an interview with Vatican News. He also denounces the living conditions of those who "do not even have the minimum necessary to survive,” noting that without the international aid of the UN "there would be no hope."
"These people wanted to live a dignified life and raise their children, but two disasters, one human - the war, and one natural - the rains, have made their lives vulnerable," explains Bishop Stephen Nyodho Ador Majwok, of Malakal, of which Bentiu with its refugee camp is a part.
“And the situation is getting worse. 90 percent of the population is under 40 years old. There are many children and there are no schools for them. What future will they have? It is something that is shocking,” he said.
According to the prelate, who remained beside Cardinal Parolin throughout the visit to the camp, his arrival was "a wonderful, historic moment for the diocese of Malakal.” He added that the Cardinal “came to defend our people.”
It is an unforgettable day for the people of Unity State and Bentiu which, the Bishop said, “will strengthen the faith in the Church of these people, who have been affected by atrocities, war and natural disasters. Cardinal Parolin here, signifies the closeness of the Pope to these people of God."