SOUTH SUDAN: Pope Francis remarked in South Sudan, where he and two other Christian leaders were on a peace mission, that churches “cannot remain neutral” and must speak out against injustice and abuse of power.
Francis spoke to Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns in Juba’s St. Theresa Cathedral on his first full day in South Sudan, while the archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Church of Scotland conducted services nearby.
South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011, but a civil conflict broke out in 2013 as ethnic groupings started to turn against one another. Even after the two main adversaries reached a peace agreement in 2018, interethnic conflicts have continued to claim many civilian lives and force them to flee their homes.
Out of a total population of around 11.6 million, 2.2 million people in South Sudan are internally displaced, and another 2.3 million have fled the nation as refugees, according to the UN.
Two-thirds of the population requires humanitarian aid as a result of fighting and three years of devastating flooding, and there is a severe lack of food and extreme poverty.
Later on Saturday, the pope, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Iain Greenshields, the moderator of the Church of Scotland, were scheduled to meet with refugees from war and hear their testimonies.
The three Christian leaders will later participate in an open-air ecumenical prayer vigil at a tomb for South Sudan’s liberation hero, John Garang, with 50,000 people scheduled to attend as part of an unprecedented “pilgrimage of peace.” The united trip represents a first for Christianity.
The majority of the population in South Sudan is Christian, and on Friday when the pope returned from a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Juba to greet him with singing, drumming, and ululations.
Francis pleaded with the authorities of South Sudan, including its formerly at war president Salva Kiir and vice president Riek Machar, in a stern speech to give up violence, racism, and corruption.
Welby expressed his regret that bloodshed had persisted following the 2018 peace agreement and a 2019 summit at the Vatican, where the pope knelt to kiss the warring leaders’ feet and begged them to bring peace to South Sudan, at the same occasion.
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