Pilgrim Shares Moving Encounter with South Sudanese Communities Crying Out for Peace

Sr. Orla Treacy, IBVM (front center) along with other pilgrims during the seven-day pilgrimage for peace from Rumbek to Tonj. Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

A woman who knelt by the roadside with her children, praying for peace as pilgrims from South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Rumbek passed by was a sight to behold for the pilgrims who kept reflecting on the incident though their journey to Tonj, about 125 kilometers away.

Sr. Orla Treacy, a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), popularly known as Loreto Sisters, who accompanied the 96 youths from the Diocese of Rumbek on their seven-day peace pilgrimage, told ACI Africa that the pilgrimage that ended on Sunday, January 14 had many moving moments that deepened the pilgrims’ spirituality along the way.

Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

Recounting the incident of the kneeling woman, Sr. Orla said, “One day as we passed through one village a woman and her two children knelt down at the side of the road as we passed. When we asked her why, she talked of the troubles in her home and the desire for peace and prayers. The youths all greeted her and continued to pray for her and her family during the pilgrimage.”

She added in the Monday, January 15 interview that the pilgrims “were very moved by the experience of the woman kneeling before them all.”


Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

The Irish Catholic Sister who serves as Director of the Loreto Mission in the Diocese of Rumbek also recounted the generosity of the communities they visited, saying, “As we passed, many people stopped to chat and ask about the walk and why we were doing it; they were encouraging and welcoming.”

“There was a great welcome and hospitality in all the Parishes and outstations we slept in,” she said, and added, “Community members brought us bulls, goats and chickens; they also gave us their mattresses and carried water for us to bathe. There was a real welcome everywhere we went.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Catholic Diocese of Rumbek

Sr. Orla told ACI Africa that the pilgrims had periods of prayer and silence as they walked, an experience that punctuated the chaos in the East-Central African nation that is reeling from decades of violence.

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“The silence was powerful as many young people experienced silence among people for the first time in their lives,” she said.

Sr. Orla who coordinated the nine-day “walking for peace” pilgrimage that the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek organized to meet Pope Francis on his Ecumenical visit to the country last year said this year’s pilgrimage had offered new experiences for participants.

Sr. Orla Treacy, IBVM (front center) along with other pilgrims during the seven-day pilgrimage for peace from Rumbek to Tonj. Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese 

“This has been a very different experience for us. The most significant difference is that the youth proposed and organized much of the activities,” she said.

She recounted that pilgrims who met Pope Francis had kept their experiences with the Holy Father alive by meeting once in two months for prayer and reflection.


Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

“The youth have been requesting that we continue the pilgrimages and invite new youth to participate,” the award-winning Loreto Sister who has been in South Sudan since 2006 told ACI Africa in the January 15 interview.

She added, “Six youth from last year’s walk organized the activities; between them they each took responsibility for arranging one day of the pilgrimage each and taking overall responsibility for the activities and the centre that day.”

Credit: Sr. Orla Treacy

The youths decided, along with the Local Ordinary, Bishop Christian Carlassare, to focus on visiting three of the Parishes within the Diocese, Sr. Orla said, adding that the goal was to engage young people from across the Parishes to know the Diocese and to meet other youth from across the region.

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This year’s pilgrimage also focused on the visit of Pope Francis, she said, and added, “Our theme was ‘Be Seeds of Hope’, a phrase given by Pope Francis to the youth in Juba.”

Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

“Each day our reflections and themes centered around the words of Pope Francis in Juba last year,” the Loreto Sister told ACI Africa, and continued, “Peace is still at the centre of the pilgrimage and meeting new people from different areas remains key. The youth have formed friendships with other youth from different Parishes across the Diocese.”

Sr. Orla shared that the aspect of prayer and reflection was also deepened in the peace pilgrimage from Rumbek to Tonj.

Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese 

She said that she had observed a great desire among the young people in South Sudan to discern their future and where God is calling them in their lives. “There were many moments along the road when the youth were able to share with the Religious and Priests present some of their questions about their future,” she said.

According to the Catholic Nun, many of the young people who walked from Rumbek to Tonj had grown up with years of insecurity and had never travelled far beyond their own Parishes.

Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

The pilgrimage, therefore, had connected them to new places and people, the Catholic Sister said, and explained that the youths had acquired “a new confidence in the peace and also the beauty of places within the Diocese.”

Overall, the pilgrimage was an enriching experience for Sr. Orla who light-heartedly shared with ACI Africa that she was “nursing blisters” from the journey.

Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

“Walking with the youth has been a wonderful way for us to come closer together and share the life of prayer and community living with them,” she said, and added, “Over the week we live together as a community, taking our turns to cooking, cleaning, pray and serve one another in the group.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.