, 11 November, 2019 / 5:46 AM
Three days after the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Vice-President designate Dr. Riek Machar agreed, at a meeting in Uganda, to delay the formation of a unity government by one hundred days, Pope Francis has led the Catholic faithful in praying for peace and reconciliation in the world’s youngest nation and expressed the hope to visit the country.
“I address a special thought to the dear people of South Sudan, whom I will have to visit this year,” Pope Francis said Sunday, November 10 during the Angelus at the Vatican, an expression that has been widely interpreted to mean that the Holy Father hopes to visit South Sudan in 2020.
“I invite you all to pray together for this country, for which I have a special affection,” Pope Francis said and led Catholics at the Vatican in praying a “Hail Mary” for the intention of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.
In his Sunday Angelus address, the Holy Father recalled the Vatican spiritual retreat in April that brought together South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the country’s Vice-President designate, Dr. Riek Machar alongside other political leaders.
On the basis of the memory of the spiritual exercise, the Holy Father sought to renew his “invitation to all the actors in the national political process to seek what unites and to overcome what divides, in a true spirit of brotherhood.”
During the April retreat, the Holy Father knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudanese leaders, an act that leaders of Christian Churches in South Sudan have, in their collective November 9 statement, described as “a gesture of the purest humility.”
On November 8, President Kiir and Dr. Machar decided to extend the Pre-Transitional period by one hundred days effective November 12, the expiry date of the previous extension.
President Kiir has recently encouraged religious leaders in his predominantly Christian country to raise awareness of the September 2018 peace document called the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), which provides the roadmap for the formation of a unity government termed the “Revitalized Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU).
Various entities including the International Crisis Group have considered R-ARCSS significant because since it was signed in September 2018, the parties in South Sudan conflict have largely maintained the ceasefire, allowing people to more freely across areas close to the front lines.
Catholic Church leaders in South Sudan expressed their conditional support for R-ARCSS, advocating for the formation of a unity government “only when essential preconditions have been met, and only when it is truly inclusive, including non-signatories to … R-ARCSS.”
Dr. Machar has been reluctant to return to South Sudan until issues envisaged in R-ARCSS such as security arrangements, boundaries, and the number of States are resolved.
In his Angelus address Sunday, November 10, Pope Francis expressed his awareness of the challenges that the people of God in South Sudan have continually endured saying, “The South Sudanese people have suffered too much in recent years and await with great hope a better future, especially the definitive end of conflicts and lasting peace.”
“Therefore, I exhort the leaders to continue, without tiring, the commitment in favor of inclusive dialogue in the search for consensus for the good of the Nation,” the Holy Father said.
“Moreover, I express the hope that the international community will not neglect to accompany South Sudan in the path of national reconciliation. I invite you all to pray together for that country, for which I have particular affection,” Pope Francis said Sunday, November 10.
According to the Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Bert van Megen, Pope Francis has had the desire to visit South Sudan for some time.
“Well it is the intention of the Holy Father (to visit South Sudan), Archbishop van Megen told ACI Africa Sunday, November 10 and added in reference to South Sudan, “it depends very much on the political developments.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa