|The first thing that I would highlight and that many people from the Catholic Church seem not to have paid much attention to is the subtitle of the Visit: “Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage to South Sudan” Both Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland came to South Sudan as peace pilgrims. That is why it is not surprising that Pope Francis, in the Juba Cathedral in front of Bishops, priests, nuns and other people of the Church, highlighted the value of a group of 60 people from the Diocese of Rumbek, with their bishop, who walked 400 km from Rumbek to Juba, without worrying about the heat and dust on the roads.
One of the great objectives of the trip was to pray and make people aware of peace. Both the Pope and the other religious leaders highlighted it at all times, particularly recalling the meeting in the Vatican in 2019 of the country’s political leaders, the Pope’s interest in peace in South Sudan and the Pope’s shocking gesture of humility to kiss the feet of all of them. An evangelical gesture that moved everyone, since it was not part of the protocol. This gesture was like a prelude to this trip and was remembered on various occasions by various people. The Pope himself, in the press conference on the plane, acknowledged that it was a gesture that came out of him spontaneously and that it was not prepared, so it is difficult for it to be repeated, according to the Pope’s words.
The Pope’s speeches were a true catechesis, for those who understood them, due to the language barrier, they were simple and profound. He was wise enough to use the Nile River as his background theme and the story of Moses in the Bible. He even went back to the Greek historian Herodotus, when he talks about the Nile and to the explorers of the 19th century, in search of the sources of the Nile. Of Moses, as leader of the people of Israel, speaking to the bishops, priests and other people of the Church, he highlighted his humility, being an instrument in the hands of God, his curiosity, which led him to the burning bush, his leadership as an intercessor between the people and God. He highlighted his action as a shepherd of his people who defends it, saves it from the Egyptian army, guides it through the desert to the promised land and always defending the people, even from God’s anger.
The Pope took advantage of the example of Moses to say that those who guide the people of God in South Sudan should not be afraid of getting their hands dirty to achieve peace and the well-being of the people. They are not tribal chiefs, said the Pope, but shepherds who give their lives for their sheep. He also stressed mutual aid and cooperation among religious leaders, ruling out rivalries, oppositions, and self-profit.
On Sunday Mass he reminded the people to be salt and light in their country. To be salt and light means to forgive every time and in every circumstance, not to hit back, to do good to the others even to those who don’t belong to my family or ethnic group.
For the Pope, making this visit was like a moral obligation towards the South Sudanese people. It was his personal contribution to the peace of the country. This visit was not easy for him. You could tell the tiredness in his voice, in his gestures, even in his humor. The image of the leader of the Catholic Church in a wheelchair was also a powerful symbol for the people.
Solidarity with South Sudan was actively involved in both the preparation and the presence. Members of Solidarity came from Malakal, Yambio, Riimenze, Wau and Kit. In addition to the economic contribution and collaboration in logistics. It has been a unique opportunity in the history of South Sudan and Solidarity.
Fr. Jim Greene was among the organizers and among those who could greet the Pope Francis personally.
Br. Felipe García
3 March 2023
Br. Felipe García, Juba Office
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