United for Peace in South Sudan in the Nine-day “walking for peace”: Bishop, Pilgrims

Credit: ACI Africa

Pilgrims in the nine-day “walking for peace” pilgrimage organized by the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek who arrived in Juba on Thursday, February 2, the eve of the arrival of Pope Francis in South Sudan, were united for peace and reconciliation in the country.

In an interview with ACI Africa as they arrived in Juba, Bishop Christian Carlassare shared, “We took a nine day's walk and the people that participated actually were 60 youth and 24 supporting staff 84 in all, but I think all people are participating in the pilgrimage.” 

Bishop Carlassare said they met people in “villages, in parishes and some came to welcome us and they took us to eat.”

“I think there are hundreds if not thousands of people that in one way or another participated in the pilgrimage,” he said, and added, “I think this welcoming in Juba can show how much this initiative will inspire the country, and will also show us the way to continue.”

Speaking about the challenges along the approximately 400-km road distance that combined walking and driving, the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries (MCCJ) said, “Walking is tiring. The legs are paining. There is temptation to get a car, a temptation to get a shortcut, but I think when we are together and we have an idea that makes us work together, we are also able to bear the pain.”


Local community members along the way showed solidarity with the pilgrims, he said, adding that some shared a cup of “water, a sweet and talk together, and of course when we talk about what is in our heart and share along the way, kilometers become short and hours of walk become pleasant.”

“Youth showed a lot of energy. They have a lot of positive hopes and desires,” the Catholic Church leader who was consecrated Bishop in March 2022 said, and added in reference to young people in South Sudan, “I think it is just to give us back to this positivity of the youth to give a new hope to the country, and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation.”

Speaking to ACI Africa Friday, February 3, Martha Achingak, one of the pilgrims said, “It’s very important that I come to Juba to share and pray with him (Pope Francis) for his blessings that will bring peace to our country.”

“We need his prayers and blessing because it’s very important for peace and reconciliation among ourselves through their messages of encouragement,” Ms. Achingak said in reference to the three church leaders spearheading the ecumenical visit to South Sudan: Pope Francis, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields

The youth from the Diocese of Rumbek continued, “I feel very privileged to walk from Rumbek to Juba to see the Holy Father at my age because most of the people in the country have not seen him at my age.”

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“I am calling on the people of South Sudan to come and witness this great event because it only happens once. The visit is going to give us blessing and remove away many evil things happening in our country,” Ms. Achingak told ACI Africa February 3.

Daniel Dut shared the purpose of the nine-day undertaking. “Our pilgrimage from Rumbek to Juba was for peace,” he said.

“This is the first time we are going to see the Pope and it’s important that I am going to be part of the people to pray with him for peace to come to our country,” Daniel Dut further said. 

He shared about the challenges of the journey, saying, “Some of us got wounds on our feet but we endure that because we want to see the Holy Father. We pray that the visit by the Holy Father and his colleagues will bring lasting peace in our country because we have been suffering for a long.”

“The Holy Father is coming to bring us peace and evangelization for the word of God; that’s why we have walked from Juba to Rumbek to meet the Holy Father,” Daniel Dut emphasized. 


Like other pilgrims from Rumbek, Ajak Deng expressed the hope that “the ecumenical visit will bring peace and reconciliation among our people.”

She attributed the violent conflict in South Sudan to tribalism, and said, “The visit of the Holy Father will bring peace and reconciliation in our country because they are the only hope for us to have stability in the country.”

“It’s time for us to forgive one another and to live as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Ms. Ajak told ACI Africa in Juba on February 3, and continued, “There will be no peace without forgiveness; without unity, there will not be love among ourselves. We need to be united and forgive each other to promote peace in our country for us to progress.”

She further said, “The South Sudanese leaders should ask for forgiveness among themselves during the visit of the Holy Father. Our country will not be at peace when our political leaders don’t forgive themselves.”

Also speaking to ACI Africa at St. Theresa’s Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese, Hayat Juma from South Sudan’s Torit Diocese expressed her joy about the coming of Pope Francis to the country.

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“I am happy the Holy Father has visited our country and I know peace will finally come because he’s going to encourage our leaders to talk about peace,” Hayat Juma said, added, “I want the Pope to tell our leaders that the people of South Sudan need peace.”

“We also want the Pope to pray for us, especially at this trying moment when things are not going in the right direction. What we want is peace in our country,” Hayat Juma further said, and expressed the hope that the presence of the Holy Father in the country “will bring peace in our hearts and finally to our beloved country.”

Pope Francis arrived in South Sudan on Friday, February 3 afternoon for the second leg of his two African nation trip, which began in the capital of DRC, Kinshasa, on January 31.

He was received at Juba international airport in a welcome ceremony before he proceeded to the Presidential Palace for a courtesy visit to the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir.

In his speech at the Presidential Palace, Pope Francis begged political leaders in South Sudan to work together to put an end to bloody conflict and violence in their country.

“In the name of God, of the God to whom we prayed together in Rome, of the God who is gentle and humble in heart, the God in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say ‘No more of this,’ we say no more, without ‘ifs’ or ‘buts,’” the Holy Father said, making reference to the April 2019 encounter that culminated in a dramatic gesture to President Kiir, and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar, among other South Sudanese politicians.

Pope Francis who was addressing South Sudan’s President and the country’s three Vice Presidents in the garden of the Presidential residence in Juba further said, “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people a thirst for peace.”

“No more destruction: It is time to build! Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!” the Holy Father said during his February 3 address.

On his part, President Kiir who spoke before Pope Francis addressed them pledged to focus on realizing peace for his country.

“In honor of the Holy Father Pope Francis’ historic visit to our country, and our declaration of 2023 as the year of peace and reconciliation, I am officially announcing the lifting of the suspension of the Rome peace talks with the holdout groups,” President Kiir said.

He continued, “I hope that my brothers from the Non-Signatories South Sudan Opposition Group will reciprocate this gesture and engage with us honestly to achieve an inclusive peace in our country.”

President Kiir also mentioned the September 2022 Road Map, a transitional period of 24 months for the implementation of the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

In his last official activity of his first day in South Sudan, Pope Francis alongside Archbishop Welby and Rt. Rev. Greenshields engaged with authorities and members of the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace.

On Saturday, February 4, Pope Francis is to meet with Bishops, members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Seminarians at St. Theresa's Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese.

He is then scheduled to meet privately with Jesuits in South Sudan in the Apostolic Nunciature. 

The Pope is also expected to visit internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Freedom Hall in Juba.

In the evening, the Holy Father has been scheduled to participate in an ecumenical prayer service alongside Archbishop Welby and Rev. Greenshields at the John Garang Mausoleum. 

The same venue is scheduled to host Holy Mass on the morning of the last day of the ecumenical trip, on Sunday, February 5, to be followed by a farewell ceremony at Juba international airport at midmorning before Pope Francis leaves for Rome.

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