Bishops of South Sudan say Pope Francis will likely visit the young nation bedevilled by war and famine later this year. “With great joy we wish to inform you that the Holy Father Pope Francis hopes to visit South Sudan later this year,” they write.
“You are already in his prayers, but his coming here would be a concrete symbol of his fatherly concern and his solidarity with your suffering. It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here,” the said in a pastoral message on 23 February.
In October the Sudanese Church leaders met with Pope Francis for an update on the situation in Sudan and requested a joint pastoral peace mission from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bishops hope that the visit by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury would have a similar peaceful influence that the Pope’s visit to the warn-torn Central African Republic had ahead of the country’s elections.
It is estimated that over 100,000 people are facing starvation in the country. The catholic bishops and diocesan leaders in the country are calling for an end to the protracted civil war in the nation. The churches in Sudan have been assisting vulnerable people whenever they can and mediating in a peace process to bring an end to the conflicts.
A visit like this may require an invitation by the President. Observers doubt that President Salva Kiir will extend such an invitation. Elements in the government are reported to be ‘suspicious’ of the Church.
Churches in South Sudan have been attacked and many burnt. Priests and religious leaders have been harassed.
“The ecumenical church leaders’ delegation which visited Pope Francis in Rome and Archbishop Justin Welby in London has been trying to obtain a meeting with President Salva Kiir since December 2016, but has so far been unsuccessful,” said the Bishops in their statement.
“We wish to inform all of you that the Church is not for or against anyone, neither the Government nor the opposition.” The Church leaders say they simply want the killing, rape, torture, beatings and destruction in the country to stop.”
Meanwhile at the end of the general meeting, Wednesday, at Piazza San Pietro, Pope Francis said the ‘painful news coming from South Sudan are calling great attention and causing particular concern’. He called for assistance to South Sudan urging that commitments made to the country should not remain only in statements but must be demonstrated in action.