Cardinal Parolin with Bishop Christian Carlassare in Rumbek Cardinal Parolin with Bishop Christian Carlassare in Rumbek 

Bishop of Rumbek: South Sudan leaders must choose peace

In the wake of Cardinal Pietro Parolin's visit to South Sudan, Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek says there can be no peace in the country "if we are not able to change pace and restore dignity to the people".

By Francesca Sabatinelli

Dialogue, commitment, all: three words addressed to the people of South Sudan by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, just as the Pope had indicated during his apostolic visit last February.

The Bishop of Rumbek, Christian Carlassare, after having accompanied Pope Francis on his trip to Juba, welcomed the Secretary of State on his recent visit to South Sudan, his third trip to the African country. The four-day journey took him to Juba and Malakal, and, finally, to Rumbek, the capital of the Lakes State, where he celebrated Mass for peace and reconciliation before returning to Rome on 17 August.

South Sudan is a country where fear is deep-rooted, part of the trauma caused by so many years of conflict and so much violence. So, when one talks about dialogue in South Sudan, Carlassare explains in an interview with Vatican Radio, it signifies “national dialogue, where all the parties can finally come together and be able to dialogue and talk in order to change all the negative narratives – such as those of injustice and violence – that are holding the country back”.

Today it is necessary to make room for solidarity and forgiveness, to be ready to “turn the page”, Bishop Carlassare insisted. Alongside dialogue are the words commitment, which is needed to move from words to deeds; and the collective participation of all, the third word, “because only all together can succeed”.

Conversion and reconciliation

Cardinal Parolin's trip to South Sudan follows in the wake of the journey by Pope Francis, the prelate continued, because “there is a profound harmony and there is a particular solicitude for the peripheries and the peoples who suffer situations of inequality”.

The Secretary of State's visit to Rumbek was a visit to the Christian and civil communities, with a strong representation also of the government authorities, who saw this visit as a sign of continued attention. The presence of Cardinal Parolin, Bishop Carlassare noted, “showed how much Rumbek, how much South Sudan, is in the heart of the universal Church, of the Church of Rome, of the Pope and of Cardinal Parolin.

“It was an encouragement to continue to walk together in communion with each other and with the whole Church”, overcoming divisions and destructive dynamics, in order to arrive at reconciliation, “which is part of the Church's mission, because we cannot evangelize if we are not first reconciled with ourselves, with the past, with history, in the communities, and then also reconciled with God”.

There is therefore a need for conversion and an effort to change the negative dynamics that have developed over the years in South Sudanese society. “There will be no peace; or rather, there can be no peace unless we really know how to change, convert, turn around, and create community,” the Bishop said.

A social pact for justice and peace

The road to justice and peace in South Sudan does not pass only through a political agreement, which, although it is indeed important and necessary, is not sufficient.

“We need to work for a social pact,” the Bishop explained, “so that people can live with dignity and have access to services – especially those primary goods that they need most, but also to education and health – so that they can get out of the state not only of poverty, but I would even say of misery in which they live.

“And so we need to start from the bottom, from the communities, to give them hope and confidence in the future, to start setting processes in motion, so that we can live in the peace that we all want. But that requires courage and great effort, it requires putting aside self-interest to look instead to a greater good, which would be for all”.

Great Poverty in South Sudan

South Sudan is experiencing great and dramatic challenges, from the influx of refugees, the growing number of internally displaced persons; the very high cost of living; poverty that sees two-thirds of the population suffering from hunger; and the impossibility for most people to have access to basic services; not to mention climate change, which has a serious impact on the country's economy.

The Pope’s visit in February, Bishop Carlassare said, “gave a new impetus to those in power to make room for dialogue – and not only within the government of national unity but also with those parties that are not part of this government”.

Pope Francis’ words, he continued, “urged us to be more attentive to listen to all the local communities and their needs, learning to reason at the level of the nation all together and not each one for its own interests”.

Peace, concluded the bishop of Rumbek, depends above all on the people who must make choices for peace. And for this, he said, it is necessary “to begin with disarmament, first of all of the heart, and then also a very real disarmament of weapons, which unfortunately are very numerous in the country”.

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19 August 2023, 11:29