Pope Francis tells leaders of troubled South Sudan: Enough!


JUBA, South Sudan — Pope Francis has waited years to visit one of the world’s most troubled countries, with one planned trip halted by the coronavirus pandemic, another by knee pain. . And when he finally disembarked Friday — to a marching band, to cheering crowds, to a city where roads were paved just for him — Francis said that in the heart of South Sudan, a is a “special place”.

But this is also a country prone to destruction.

Conflict, poverty and climate change have combined to create a bewildering array of traumas and obstacles – unresolved despite years of international mediation and the personal attention of the Pope, who in 2019 visited rival South Sudanese at the Vatican. Hosted the leaders, kissing their feet and pleading for a “new era of peace and prosperity”.

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For a pope who has prioritized outreach to the developing world, majority-Catholic South Sudan presents the ultimate test of the church’s ability to help build the nation. With his 48-hour visit, Francis is trying to use his personal power to highlight the plight of a country where foreign leaders rarely visit and are sometimes seen as a lost cause. is rejected as such.

Francis’ most immediate goal on Friday was to suggest otherwise — to urge the South Sudanese people to envision a country without permanent conflict, especially to pressure its leaders to run the country responsibly. , and put an end to bloodshed and mutual recriminations. “bag!” He spoke repeatedly in Italian while speaking to dignitaries and South Sudanese officials. enough!

Francis said there would be no more destruction. “It’s time to build.”

“History itself will remember you if you work for the benefit of those you are called to serve,” he said. “Future generations will either honor your name or blot out their memory, based on what you do now.”

A young Pope Francis is enjoying the energy of the Congo.

South Sudan has oil and fertile land, but is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with officials accused of using oil revenues for personal gain. The United Nations says humanitarian indicators are at their “worst point” since independence in 2011. Three-quarters of the country depends on the World Food Program for food. Six journalists were arrested last month after a video surfaced showing President Salva Kiir urinating on himself during a public event.

The uproar raised the stakes for Francis, who is visiting with leaders of two other Christian denominations: the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Presbyterian Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

They are calling it “Pilgrimage of Peace”.

Speaking Friday evening, seated with other Christian leaders and Kerr, Francis said he made the trip “after listening to the plea of ​​the whole people to weep, with great dignity, for the violence that they enduring, its continued lack of protection, its poverty and the natural disasters it has experienced. Years of war and conflict “never end,” he said.

He particularly emphasized the “fight against corruption”, saying that society is at risk of being contaminated by “unfair distribution of funds, secret get-rich schemes, patronage deals, lack of transparency”.

While Francis has been criticized over the past year for going easy on Russian President Vladimir Putin, this time his diplomacy had an edge.

“I realize that what I had to say may appear blunt and direct, but please know that it only comes from love and concern,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis’ refusal to condemn Putin has fueled debate in the Catholic Church.

In an interview, the mayor of Juba, Michael Allah-Jabu, said the pope’s visit would, above all, give South Sudanese people a “feeling of love.”

He said that this could be a historical event in the history of the country. “I think over time — over time — people can change.”

For Francis, South Sudan is the second leg of a challenging — but so far exciting — journey through Africa, which began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Kinshasa, excited crowds filled the stadium and airport grounds, or lined the roadside just to catch a glimpse. But in a sense, that part of the journey was easy. While Congo also has deep and widespread problems, the epicenter of its violence is about 900 miles east of the capital, where Francis limited his visit.

In South Sudan, the upheaval is close to shock, with spasms. Either because of the conflict or the recent floods, nearly 1 in 3 South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes.

The result is particularly disappointing given the brief period of euphoria and hope a decade ago when South Sudan held a referendum to secede from Muslim-majority Sudan. Under Kiir’s leadership, complete with his trademark 10-gallon cowboy hat, South Sudan became Africa’s 54th state, encouraged by the West.

More than a million people gather in a joyous Kinshasa to hear Pope Francis’ homily.

From the beginning, South Sudan had some of the lowest standards for living standards in the world. But soon the situation took a turn for the worse. Two highly relevant political figures—Kir and his deputy Riek Machar—turned against each other, a power struggle that triggered an all-out war between the two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer.

The civil war is over, and Kiir and Machar – who met the pope together in 2019 – have forged a tenuous peace while presiding over a unity government. But key elements of the peace deal remain incomplete, most importantly the creation of a unified army integrating forces loyal to Machar and Kiir.

Kiir said on Friday that, “in honor of the Pope’s visit,” his government would renegotiate with the parties, after earlier saying that opponents used the talks as a stalling tactic to prepare for war. are using

Horrible war-torn generations continue to fight in a constellation of small, complex conflicts – the guns the country mourns. Some smaller parties have not signed the peace agreement.

“The situation in South Sudan is dire, and it looks like it’s going to get worse despite the peace deal,” said Alan Boswell, Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group think tank. He said the deal had created a ceasefire among the elites, “but the rest of the country has created a different kind of conflict and insecurity, with a staggering death toll anywhere.” which was not in South Sudan.”

Climate change is also contributing to the conflict, as cattle herders, in the wake of flooding, seek dry land, sparking battles over territory.

The capital itself has stabilized, and people familiar with Juba say it has seen rapid, if uneven, growth over the past few years. It has few luxury hotels and more paved roads. But the situation does not worsen beyond the city limits. Even as the pope was arriving, South Sudanese media reported that 20 people had been killed 70 miles from Juba, in what one outlet described as a “cattle-related attack.”

The World reported from Nairobi.

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