Pope Francis hosts a spiritual retreat for South Sudan leaders in the Vatican in April 2019 Pope Francis hosts a spiritual retreat for South Sudan leaders in the Vatican in April 2019  

South Sudan leaders: ‘How can we not bring peace if the Pope pushes us to do so?’

Warring South Sudanese parties credit Pope Francis's tireless efforts and prayers for peace in making a joint-Declaration happen. The Agreement was mediated by the Saint Egidio Community here in Rome.

By Linda Bordoni   

The “Rome Declaration” signed on Monday by South Sudan government representatives and the country’s Opposition Movements (SSOMA) is a concrete and constructive sign of hope in the nations’ troubled journey to peace and stability.

In the Declaration, the parties, who have set January 15th as the day in which a new ceasefire is to take effect, say they have been humbled and deeply motivated by the relentless “spiritual and moral appeal for peace, reconciliation and fraternity by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury” and other Church leaders.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has been tireless in pushing for peace in the world’s newest nation, even personally hosting its warring leaders in the Vatican last April.

Speaking to Vatican Radio immediately after the signing of the Agreement, the representative of the leadership Council of SSOMA, Pa'gan Amum Okiech, said that he could feel the very presence of the Pope in the room as the Agreement was being discussed, and that his influence has been decisive:   

 “It is very big. Here, today, we are responding to his humility to his love for the people of South Sudan and tireless effort to appeal to us to bring peace and end this war. As you can hear from both sides we are responding to that appeal, to that love and to that humility which actually has made us ashamed: how can we not bring peace if the peace pushes us to? And this is our peace. And who is fighting this war is South Sudanese among themselves. That is really his influence. I believe he was in the room. He was nudging us in the room while we were talking.”

Tackling the root causes of the conflict

Okiech explained that for the first time the root causes of the civil conflict in Sudan have been addressed, thanks also to the positive and free environment offered by the Saint Egidio Community that allowed those involved to tackle a series of fundamental issues without pressure or prejudice.  

 “Saint Egidio offered us a very good environment, no prejudices whatsoever for the parties to discuss the real issues. (…) We signed this Rome Declaration because the government of South Sudan accepted to discuss the root causes of the problem. Without discussing the root causes of any problem you don’t solve the problems. “

He explained that the aim is now to find solutions to crucial questions regarding elections, boundaries, good governance, accountability for crimes committed, transparency in the management of resources in the country, fighting corruption… all issues, he said, that were  not sufficiently addressed in the 2018 Agreement.

Responding to a question on why his delegation did not sign the 2018 Agreement in Khartoum, Okiech said those issues were mentioned but were not dealt with effectively.

He also said he felt the Sudan government was imposing its own agenda on the parties so that an agreement could be reached in a hurry regarding Juba’s oil resources.

The coming months will see the implementation of a Saint Egidio Community programme for the negotiators to continue to pave the way to lasting peace.

14 January 2020, 16:07