“Special call”: Liturgical Coordinators on Preparing for Papal Mass in South Sudan

Fr. Matthew Pagan (left), Sr. Lily Grace (center) and Sr. Agnes Leila Andrewous (right). Credit: ACI Africa

The opportunity to serve Pope Francis during the February 5 Holy Mass in South Sudan was a fulfilling experience, those who were selected to coordinate the preparations for the Papal Mass in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba, have said.

Speaking to ACI Africa just before the celebration at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum, Fr. Matthew Pagan who served as the Deputy Chairperson of the Liturgical Committee for the Visit of the Holy Father to South Sudan described his selection to serve the Holy Father as a "special call".

"My role, with other members of the Liturgical Committee, has been to prepare all that is needed for the Holy Mass. I'm very grateful to have been part of this experience, something I never thought would happen," Fr. Pagan said.

Fr. Matthew Pagan. Credit: ACI Africa

He added, "It seemed like a special call for me and my colleagues to be part of this important occasion in our country."


The South Sudanese Catholic Priest who serves as the Vice Chancellor of the Catholic University of South Sudan (CUSS) described the opportunity to serve the Holy Father as "a historic moment" that he said would remain imprinted in his heart, mind, and life.

Fr. Pagan told ACI Africa that the Holy Father's visit to the East-Central African nation would also forever dwell in the lives of many people in the country.

"Pope Francis' first visit to South Sudan is something that will be told by many generations to come. Stories of a Pope who loves South Sudan, as he said in his homily, that he never forgets to pray for us, to mention us, and to keep us in his heart,” he said in reference to the multiple times the Holy Father has mentioned South Sudan in his addresses at the Vatican, including the 11 April 2019 dramatic gesture when Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar among other South Sudanese political leaders.

The member of the Clergy of South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese continued in reference to Pope Francis, “We also keep him in our hearts. We pray for his health. We pray that God may reward him for the good he has done for our country South Sudan.”

ACI Africa also gathered the thoughts of Sr. Lily Grace, a member of the Comboni Missionaries, and Sr. Agnes Leila Andrewous, a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SHS) who were involved in the preparation of the Papal Mass, particularly in the Sacristy of Pope Francis in Juba.

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Sr. Grace shared the joy of preparing the Sacristy for nearly a year, owing to the postponement of the Holy Father's visit to the country.

Sr. Lily Grace. Credit: ACI Africa

"This preparation has taken us almost one year. The Pope was to have come last year in July and we started our preparation early," Sr. Grace said.

The Ugandan-born Comboni Sister added, "We were all very excited. And when Cardinal Parolin came, we already felt the Holy Father's presence. We felt the spirit of His Holiness, and were happy. I am still very happy. And now that he is here with us, I am very excited."

Sr. Agnes who shared the joy of encountering a Pope twice in her life said, "I am very happy to serve the Pope as a Sacristan."


"I was a liturgical dancer when Pope John Paul II came to the then Sudan in 1993. And now that Pope Francis has come, I happen to be among those that have been chosen to serve him in the sacristy," the native of Nuba Mountains in Sudan’s El Obeid Diocese said.

Sr. Agnes Leila Andrewous. Credit: ACI Africa

The two Sacristans underscored the need for the people of God in South Sudan to reflect on the message of Pope Francis and to work for peace in the country.

Sr. Grace, a lecturer at the Catholic University in South Sudan said that the Holy Father's message in the Ecumenical Prayer, as well as his address to Bishops, members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Seminarians on February 4 was especially reassuring to the troubled African country.

"I am impressed with the Holy Father's message," Sr. Grace told ACI Africa just before the Holy Father arrived at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum for the Papal Mass. 

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She added, "The message in his address to the Religious, and when he came for the Ecumenical prayer and urged us not to be afraid but to love because we are all children of God was very powerful."

"All of us living in South Sudan have had our own experiences of conflicts, of violence, of hatred. The message of Pope Francis inviting us to pray for me is very important. We have to take this message very seriously, of love of prayer, of hope, and not to be afraid because God is with us," the native of Uganda’s Gulu Archdiocese said.

Sharing her love for young people in South Sudan, Sr. Grace said, "I saw them take a photo with Pope Francis and I was excited. Young people need to hear the message of the Pope, to be encouraged, and to take on leadership with humility as the Pope has encouraged."

"I'm going to work with our young people at the university, to deepen the aspect of loving everyone without discrimination, and having the spirit of forgiveness and working together in humility," she said.

Describing Pope Francis's trip to South Sudan as a "graceful moment" for South Sudan, Fr. Pagan, on his part, noted that the Holy Father's message was a call for a "change of heart and attitude".

"It has been a fulfilling and very graceful moment for me and also for my country fellows, and especially for our Church in South Sudan. We are very thankful to God that the Holy Father came to visit us, to share the word of God with us," Fr. Pagan said.

The South Sudanese Catholic Priest added during the February 5 interview, "The Ecumenical prayer he held with us (on February 4) was very touching and also calling for a change of heart and attitude. As the Holy Father's visit comes to an end, we remain with blessings of God upon us."

He appealed to the people of God in South Sudan to read the messages of Pope Francis and to reflect on them in their lives.

Fr. Pagan also called on the people of God to pay attention to the message in which Pope Francis calls people to concentrate on the call of Jesus, and be faithful to that call. 

"Let the visit of the Pope remain a mark in our lives. Let something change in our lives," the Catholic Priest said, and added, in his message of gratitude, "I say thank you to the Holy Father; thank you for making us know Jesus. Thank you for talking to us about Jesus. And thank you for directing us to Him."

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