The bishops of South Sudan have said Pope Francis is hoping to visit the famine and conflict stricken country later this year, a move aimed at highlighting the intense suffering taking place there.
In a pastoral message to the country on 23 February, where 100,000
people are currently facing starvation, the catholic bishops and
diocesan leaders in South Sudan have called for an end to the protracted
civil war devastating their nation.
“With great joy we wish to inform you that the Holy Father Pope
Francis hopes to visit South Sudan later this year,” they write. “You
are already in his prayers, but his coming here would be a concrete
symbol of his fatherly concern and his solidarity with your suffering.
It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here.”
On 22 February, the Pope called for urgent humanitarian aid for the
starving people and has taken a close interest in the crisis gripping
Last October Francis met with Church leaders from South Sudan who
urged him to make a joint peace mission with the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Justin Welby, to the war-torn country.
The meeting took
place in the Vatican after Francis called the South Sudanese bishops to
Rome for an update on the situation in their homeland.
The famine is the first to be declared since 2011 in Somalia, where
more than a quarter of a million people are estimated to have
died between October 2010 and April 2012.
The churches are playing a vital role in offering emergency help to
people, while also attempting to mediate a peace to bring an end to the
conflict that started in 2013.
Only becoming a state in 2011, the country has been riven with
inter-ethnic fighting as government forces led by President Salva Kiir
clashed with rebels loyal to Riek Machar, who Kiir dismissed as his
deputy in 2013.
Bishops in South Sudan believe a visit by the Pope would bring a
moment of peace, in the way Francis’ trip to the war-torn Central
African Republic helped ease tensions ahead of the country’s elections.
But a papal visit normally requires a formal invitation from the
country’s head of state and it is unclear where President Salva Kiir is
ready to issue one. He and Francis met in Uganda at the end of last
In their statement, witnessed by the papal ambassador to Kenya and
South Sudan, the bishops say they are concerned that “some elements” in
the Government are “suspicious” of the Church, adding that churches have
been burned down and priests and religious people harassed.
add that they are still “waiting for justice” in the case of the
Slovakian missionary, Sister Veronica, who was gunned down by
anti-government forces in the South Sudanese city of Yei last May while
driving an ambulance.
“The ecumenical church leaders’ delegation which visited Pope Francis
in Rome and Archbishop Justin Welby in London has been trying to obtain
a meeting with President Salva Kiir since December 2016, but has so far
been unsuccessful,” reads the bishops' statement.
It goes on: “we wish to inform all of you that the Church is not for
or against anyone, neither the Government nor the opposition.”
Instead they are calling for an end to the killing, rape, torture,
beatings and destruction that are taking place while calling for an end
to the war and for an end to the “humanitarian crisis.”