Like other pilgrims from Rumbek, Ajak Deng expressed the hope that “the ecumenical visit will bring peace and reconciliation among our people.”
She attributed the violent conflict in South Sudan to tribalism, and said, “The visit of the Holy Father will bring peace and reconciliation in our country because they are the only hope for us to have stability in the country.”
“It’s time for us to forgive one another and to live as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Ms. Ajak told ACI Africa in Juba on February 3, and continued, “There will be no peace without forgiveness; without unity, there will not be love among ourselves. We need to be united and forgive each other to promote peace in our country for us to progress.”
She further said, “The South Sudanese leaders should ask for forgiveness among themselves during the visit of the Holy Father. Our country will not be at peace when our political leaders don’t forgive themselves.”
Also speaking to ACI Africa at St. Theresa’s Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese, Hayat Juma from South Sudan’s Torit Diocese expressed her joy about the coming of Pope Francis to the country.
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“I am happy the Holy Father has visited our country and I know peace will finally come because he’s going to encourage our leaders to talk about peace,” Hayat Juma said, added, “I want the Pope to tell our leaders that the people of South Sudan need peace.”
“We also want the Pope to pray for us, especially at this trying moment when things are not going in the right direction. What we want is peace in our country,” Hayat Juma further said, and expressed the hope that the presence of the Holy Father in the country “will bring peace in our hearts and finally to our beloved country.”
Pope Francis arrived in South Sudan on Friday, February 3 afternoon for the second leg of his two African nation trip, which began in the capital of DRC, Kinshasa, on January 31.
He was received at Juba international airport in a welcome ceremony before he proceeded to the Presidential Palace for a courtesy visit to the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir.
In his speech at the Presidential Palace, Pope Francis begged political leaders in South Sudan to work together to put an end to bloody conflict and violence in their country.
“In the name of God, of the God to whom we prayed together in Rome, of the God who is gentle and humble in heart, the God in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say ‘No more of this,’ we say no more, without ‘ifs’ or ‘buts,’” the Holy Father said, making reference to the April 2019 encounter that culminated in a dramatic gesture to President Kiir, and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar, among other South Sudanese politicians.
Pope Francis who was addressing South Sudan’s President and the country’s three Vice Presidents in the garden of the Presidential residence in Juba further said, “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people a thirst for peace.”
“No more destruction: It is time to build! Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!” the Holy Father said during his February 3 address.
On his part, President Kiir who spoke before Pope Francis addressed them pledged to focus on realizing peace for his country.
“In honor of the Holy Father Pope Francis’ historic visit to our country, and our declaration of 2023 as the year of peace and reconciliation, I am officially announcing the lifting of the suspension of the Rome peace talks with the holdout groups,” President Kiir said.
He continued, “I hope that my brothers from the Non-Signatories South Sudan Opposition Group will reciprocate this gesture and engage with us honestly to achieve an inclusive peace in our country.”
President Kiir also mentioned the September 2022 Road Map, a transitional period of 24 months for the implementation of the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).
In his last official activity of his first day in South Sudan, Pope Francis alongside Archbishop Welby and Rt. Rev. Greenshields engaged with authorities and members of the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace.
On Saturday, February 4, Pope Francis is to meet with Bishops, members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Seminarians at St. Theresa's Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese.
He is then scheduled to meet privately with Jesuits in South Sudan in the Apostolic Nunciature.
The Pope is also expected to visit internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Freedom Hall in Juba.
In the evening, the Holy Father has been scheduled to participate in an ecumenical prayer service alongside Archbishop Welby and Rev. Greenshields at the John Garang Mausoleum.
The same venue is scheduled to host Holy Mass on the morning of the last day of the ecumenical trip, on Sunday, February 5, to be followed by a farewell ceremony at Juba international airport at midmorning before Pope Francis leaves for Rome.