Pope Francis says Christ is an example for South Sudan’s leaders as nation marks 10th anniversary

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Pope Francis greets South Sudanese president Salva Kiir at the Vatican, April 11, 2019. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jul 9, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis and two other Christian leaders have sent a message to the political leaders of South Sudan on the 10th anniversary of the country’s independence.

In the July 9 message, they said that “much more needs to be done in South Sudan to shape a nation that reflects God’s kingdom, in which the dignity of all is respected and all are reconciled.”

“This may require personal sacrifice from you as leaders — Christ’s own example of leadership shows this powerfully — and today we wish you to know that we stand alongside you as you look to the future and seek to discern afresh how best to serve all the people of South Sudan,” the letter said.

South Sudan, a landlocked country of 11 million people in east-central Africa, gained independence from the Republic of the Sudan following a referendum in January 2011.

The message, which was signed by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Church of Scotland moderator Jim Wallace, noted that in a letter sent at Christmas, they had prayed for greater trust among South Sudanese leaders, and encouraged them to be more generous in service to their people.

“Since then, we have been glad to see some small progress,” they added. “Sadly, your people continue to live in fear and uncertainty, and lack confidence that their nation can indeed deliver the ‘justice, liberty and prosperity’ celebrated in your national anthem.”

The letter also recalled the April 2019 meeting at the Vatican between political and religious leaders of South Sudan.

The Vatican-hosted “spiritual retreat” for the South Sudanese leaders brought together President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the then opposition leader (and now Vice President) Riek Machar following a five-year civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

On that occasion, Pope Francis encouraged the leaders to “seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you.”

The pope told them that he was praying for them to become peacemakers, who “build peace through dialogue, negotiation, and forgiveness.”

In the July 9 message, Pope Francis, Welby, and Wallace noted that “weighty promises” were made during the 2019 retreat.

“We pray that those promises will shape your actions, so that it will become possible for us to visit and celebrate with you and your people in person, honoring your contributions to a nation that fulfills the hopes of July 9, 2011,” they said, referring to the day the country was founded.

The three leaders invoked God’s blessings upon the leaders and all the people of South Sudan.

“Your nation is blessed with immense potential,” the message said, “and we encourage you to make even greater efforts to enable your people to enjoy the full fruits of independence.”

Caritas Internationalis also released a statement for South Sudan’s independence anniversary.

Quoting Aloysius John, the organization’s secretary general, the statement said that “the 10th anniversary of independence could be a starting point for a new South Sudan moving towards political stability, ensuring integral human development through community-based development activities put in place by civil society organizations.”

“But for this to happen, there is a need for strong support from the international community,” it said.

Gabriel Yai, the director of Caritas South Sudan, said that a peace agreement has been signed and supported by the major parties, the armies have been combined and are being trained to form a national army, and the state council and legislative councils have been formed and the members of parliament sworn in.

“This is the golden opportunity for the international community to help in nation-building,” Yai underlined. “Our country is more than ever in need of international political support to consolidate the political emancipation of leaders and to build a state army that will protect the people.”

According to the statement, “the Caritas Confederation has accompanied the peace process during these 10 years, which were unfortunately deeply marked by serious conflicts.”

The Catholic charitable organization has both helped people be able to return to the country and improved the living conditions of those living in poverty there.

“With a network of several Caritas member organizations helping Caritas South Sudan, a vast emergency and rehabilitation program was put in place in the seven dioceses to respond to the needs of the poorest,” it said.

The Catholic Church and Caritas were at the forefront of helping internally displaced people, and during the war, Caritas undertook disaster response activities all over the country, “without any distinction of tribal belongingness or other differences,” Yai said.

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