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.”
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”.