Planned Papal Visit to South Sudan Receiving “a real sense of expectation”: JRS Official

Noelle Fitzpatrick, speaking with people attending a JRS supported centre in South Sudan. Credit: JRS

The planned Apostolic journey of Pope Francis to South Sudan later this year is receiving “a real sense of expectation” in the East-Central African nation, an official of the of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has said.

In a Sunday, April 10 report, JRS South Sudan Country Director says, “There is a real sense of expectation” among the people of God in South Sudan ahead of the trip by Pope Francis, the first-ever Papal visit to the country that gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.

“South Sudan is a very Christian country, not necessarily Catholic, but different denominations. There is a real sense of this visit, even for a few days, what it means for peace, is giving people a real lift,” Noelle Fitzpatrick has been quoted as saying in The Anglo-Celt report.

The Holy Father is scheduled to arrive in South Sudan on July 5 in his two-African-nation pastoral trip that is to begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on July 2.

In the April 10 report, Irish-born Fitzpatrick says the news of the planned Papal visit has generated “great excitement” in Christian communities in South Sudan similar to the mood that characterized the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979.


She goes on to pledge the collaboration of JRS in the preparations toward the Papal trip saying, “We’ll do what we can to support the visit. We don’t have money for it, what little we have, but do have drivers and logistics people.”

“We don’t have discretionary money,” Ms. Fitzpatrick goes on to say, and adds, “The money [JRS] has is all tied to donor budgets. So, there will be a whip-round to try and raise a few bob to prepare for the visit and we want to be able to say ‘Yes’, we want to be able to contribute something.”

She continues, “It’s important we support the local church, the population, and government, and also to bring a few of our team members as well from differing locations.”

During the July 5-7 Papal visit to Juba, Ms. Fitzpatrick says she hopes to bring children drawn from displaced families in Ezo village, on the South Sudanese border with Central African Republic (CAR) and DRC, where JRS personnel are partnering with the local church to develop temporary learning spaces.

“I would love to be able to have some of them (children) there when Pope Francis arrives,” the JRS South Sudan Country Director says, and adds, “Anyone that remembers, especially Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland, or was there in the Phoenix Park and what that meant. It would be like that. That was massive and this will be the same for South Sudan.”

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Information about Pope Francis’ visit to South Sudan dates back to 2017 when the Holy Father expressed his desire to undertake an ecumenical visit to the world’s youngest nation alongside the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop Justin Welby.

“My collaborators are studying the possibility of a trip to South Sudan. But why? Because the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic Bishops came to tell me: 'Please come to South Sudan maybe just for one day. But don't come alone, come with Justin Welby'", Pope Francis was quoted as saying during a 2017 meeting with the Anglican community at All Saints Church in Rome.

That year, the initiative was halted reportedly amid heightened violent clashes in different parts of South Sudan and a serious humanitarian crisis.

In April 2019, Pope Francis reiterated his desire to visit the East-Central country during the spiritual retreat that brought together the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar, and the widow of South Sudanese leader John Garang, Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, among other political and religious leaders from South Sudan.

In February, Archbishop Welby confirmed the joint visit to South Sudan “in the next few months”, a couple of months after the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, had visited the country and remarked that Pope Francis’ desire to visit South Sudan had received “great support”.


“God willing, sometime in the next few months, perhaps a year, we will go and see them in Juba, not in Rome, and see what progress can be made,” Archbishop Welby said in the February 7 report.

When realized, the July 2-7 pastoral trip to the two African countries will mark the Pope’s third visit to sub-Saharan Africa.

The journey will be the first-ever Papal visit to South Sudan and the third Papal trip to DRC, which is home to Africa's largest Catholic population.

Patrick Juma Wani is a South Sudanese journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. Patrick holds a Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from Makerere Institute for Social Development (MISD) in Uganda. He has over 7 years of extensive experience in leading the development and implementation of media, advocacy, communication and multimedia strategy and operations, with an excellent track record of editorial leadership, budget management, and stakeholder outreach. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.