Pope Francis’ “pure presence” in South Sudan is Beautiful: Catholic Missionary Nun

Sr. Orla Treacy, a member of the Loreto Sisters who coordinated the nine-day “walking for peace” pilgrimage organized by the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek to meet Pope Francis. Credit: ACI Africa

A Catholic missionary Nun working in South Sudan has expressed elation at meeting Pope Francis who is in the East-Central African country for an Ecumenical visit, noting that the Holy Father’s “pure presence” in Africa’s youngest nation means a lot for the country.

Pope Francis landed in Juba, 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.

In his telegram message that was addressed to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi of DRC, Pope Francis said, “As I depart from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I wish to express my deep gratitude to your excellency and to all the beloved Congolese people for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to me during my visit.”

“With the assurance of my prayers, I invoke upon the nation the divine blessings of peace, joy, and prosperity,” the Holy Father added aboard the Papal plane to Juba, South Sudan.

In a Saturday, February 4 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Orla Treacy, a member of the Loreto Sisters who coordinated the nine-day “walking for peace” pilgrimage organized by the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek to meet Pope Francis said that meeting the Holy Father, without him saying anything, was already “beautiful”.


Sr. Orla Treacy. Credit: ACI Africa

“It is just his pure presence, about him being with us. Hospitality is a big thing for us here in South Sudan. So, for the Pope to come into our house and for us to be able to welcome him, and for him to give us that time, it's beautiful,” Sr. Treacy said.

The Catholic Sister who serves as Director of the Loreto Mission in South Sudan’s Diocese of Rumbek said that traveling to meet the Holy Father in Juba had transitioned into a “life-changing experience” for all the pilgrims from the South Sudanese Catholic Diocese and those they encountered along the 400-km journey. 

“The walk was more than incredible, more than anybody could ever have expected. It started as something very small. We thought we would just go to see the Pope; but it has turned into something life-changing for all of us who have taken part in it,” the Irish-born Catholic Nun told ACI Africa at St. Theresa’s Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese.

Credit: ACI Africa

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She said that the group of over 80 people who traveled to meet Pope Francis in the capital Juba, including 60 young people and 24 support staff, had been met with love and hospitality throughout their journey.

“Coming here, we slept in different Parishes and met people in different villages everywhere we went. People were coming out to greet us, to sing with us, to dance with us. The welcome was incredible. It has become much more than just meeting the Pope. It's been about discovering the love, the warmth, the hospitality that South Sudan can offer us,” Sr. Treacy said.

She added, “Most of our young people have never been outside Rumbek. So, to move into the big city and to see the welcome and the joy it has just been incredible.”

Credit: ACI Africa

The award-winning Loreto Sister who has been in South Sudan since 2006 said that after taking a photo with Pope Francis at St. Theresa’s Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese, the pilgrims from Rumbek Diocese had developed a sense of solidarity with the whole Church.


“We just had our photograph here with the Pope a few minutes ago and everybody is feeling part of the whole Universal Church and feeling that sense of love and joy and hope that goes with it,” she said. 

Crediit: ACI Africa

After arriving in South Sudan in the afternoon of Friday, February 3, Pope Francis 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.

“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,” the Holy Father said, addressing himself to South Sudan’s President and the country’s three Vice Presidents in the garden of the Presidential residence in Juba.

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

President Kiir 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 the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields engaged with authorities and members of the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace.

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

He listened to a testimony about the lives and ministries of Sr. Mary Daniel Abud and Sr. Regina Roba, the two members of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SHS) who were killed in a road ambush along the Juba-Nimule highway that links South Sudan and Uganda in August 2021

In his address, the Holy Father held a moment of silence for members of the Clergy and Religious who have been killed in South Sudan, saying, “Let us think in silence of these brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in this pastoral ministry.”

Many members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, Pope Francis said, “have been victims of violence and attacks in which they lost their lives. In a very real way, they offered their lives for the sake of the Gospel.”

“Their closeness to their brothers and sisters is a marvelous testimony that they bequeath to us, a legacy that invites us to carry forward their mission,” he said at St. Theresa’s Cathedral where local authorities reported the presence of approximately 1,000 inside the Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese, and another 5,000 outside.

Pope Francis went on to highlighted the example of St. Daniel Comboni (1831-1881), the Italian-born missionary and the first Catholic Bishop of Central Africa, who died in Khartoum, Sudan.

Alongside his missionary brothers, the Pope said, Comboni “carried out a great work of evangelization in this land.”

“He used to say that a missionary must be ready to do anything for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. We need courageous and generous souls ready to suffer and die for Africa,” the Holy Father said.

He encouraged the Bishops, members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Seminarians to intercede for their people, explaining, “To intercede is thus to come down and place ourselves in the midst of our people, to act as a bridge that connects them to God.”

Stepping into the midst of God’s people is something the Church’s Pastors need to cultivate, Pope Francis emphasized, adding that Pastors of the people of God need to have “the ability to step into the middle of their sufferings and tears, into the middle of their hunger for God and their thirst for love.”

“Our first duty is not to be a Church that is perfectly organized, but a Church that, in the name of Christ, stands in the midst of people’s troubled lives, a Church that is willing to dirty its hands for people,” he said.

Pope Francis thanked Church personnel in South Sudan for their dedication to the Church, and for their courage, sacrifices, and patience.

“I pray that you will always be generous pastors and witnesses, armed only with prayer and love; that you allow yourselves, in meekness, to be constantly surprised by God’s grace; and that you may become a means of salvation for others, prophets of closeness who accompany the people, intercessors with uplifted arms,” he said during the February 4 morning event.

He proceeded to meet privately with members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) ministering in South Sudan in the Apostolic Nunciature. 

The Pope visited internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Freedom Hall in Juba.

In the evening, the Holy Father participated 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 in midmorning before Pope Francis leaves for Rome.

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