Having returned from his journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, Pope Francis dedicated his General Audience address today to reflect on the pilgrimage. We have already discussed his time in the DRC, so let’s fast forward to his reflections on his ecumenical trip to the young, war-torn nation of South Sudan. Francis said:

The second part of the journey took place in Juba, capital of South Sudan, a state that was born in 2011. This visit had a very special character, expressed by the motto that echoed the words of Jesus: “I pray for all to be one” (cf. Jn 17:21). Indeed, it was an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, made together with the leaders of two Churches historically present in that land: the Anglican Communion and the Church of Scotland. It was the culmination of a journey undertaken some years ago, when we gathered in Rome in 2019, with the South Sudanese leaders, to take on the commitment to overcome conflict and to build peace. In 2019 there was a spiritual retreat here, in the Curia, with all these politicians, with all these people aspiring to positions, some of them enemies, but they were all at the retreat. And this gave the strength to go forward. Unfortunately, the reconciliation process has not advanced much, and the nascent South Sudan is a victim of the old logic of power and rivalry, which produces war, violence, refugees and internally displaced persons. I am very thankful to Mr. President for the welcome he gave me and for how he is trying to manage this path, which is not at all easy, say “no” to corruption and to arms trafficking, and “yes” to encounter and dialogue. And this is shameful: many so-called “civilized” countries offer aid to South Sudan, and this aid consists of weapons, weapons, weapons, to foment war. This is shameful. And yes, pushing forward saying “no” to corruption and to arms trafficking, and “yes” to encounter and dialogue. Only in this way will there be development, will people be able to work in peace, the sick be cured, and children go to school.

The ecumenical nature of the visit to South Sudan was manifested in particular in the prayer meeting held together with our Anglican brothers and those of the Church of Scotland. Together we listened to the Word of God, together we raised prayers of praise, supplication and intercession. In a reality as highly conflictual as that of South Sudan, this sign is fundamental, and not to be taken for granted, because unfortunately there are those who abuse the name of God to justify violence and oppression.

He discussed the horrors that the people of South Sudan have endured:

Brothers and sisters, South Sudan is a country of around eleven million inhabitants – it is tiny! – of whom, as a result of the armed conflicts, two million are internally displaced and as many have fled to neighbouring countries. Therefore, I wished to meet a large group of internally displaced persons, to listen to them and to make them feel Christ’s closeness. Indeed, the Churches and organizations of Christian inspiration are on the first line next to these poor people, who have lived for years in IDP camps. In particular I addressed women – there are good women there! – who are the force that can transform the country, and I encouraged everyone to be seeds of a new South Sudan, without violence, reconciled and pacified.

In a farewell address, Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, the Archbishop of Juba spoke of the growth and hope and saints found in the Church in South Sudan, despite all the difficulties they’ve faced:

Your Holiness, despite the above-mentioned challenges of civil war, the Church in Sudan and South Sudan has grown: indeed, though we have lived through tough historic periods, we have celebrated one hundred years of faith in this country. On the one hand, our Church has produced two Saints: St. Daniel Comboni and St. Josephine Bakhita, and on the other hand, the local Church has witnessed to the faith through martyrdom. Among those martyred during the first war, known as “Anyanya One” (which lasted from 1956-1972 ), were Mr. William Deng, Fr. Saturlino Ohure and Fr. Leopoldo Anyuar. There have been martyrs of the current civil war as well. Sr. Veronika Teresa Rackova, SSpS, a Slovak sister and medical doctor, was killed on May 16, 2016, while serving in the Catholic Diocese of Yei. Sr. Mary Abbud and Sr. Regina Roba, from the local congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were also killed, on August 16, 2021, while they were on their way back to Juba from the centenary celebration of Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Loa in the Catholic Diocese of Torit.

Your Holiness, our country is truly suffering due to the civil war. Therefore, we are looking for peace and reconciliation. However, the peace which our country so badly needs is not a purely human peace based on personal interest, but rather the peace of Jesus, who says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27). This is a peace that must be guided by truth and love.

I hope to spend more time discussing this nation, and I would also like to request prayers for its people. I would also like to recommend one more  extraordinary intercessor for South Sudan — the late Fr. John Lee, a Korean priest, a missionary of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, a medical doctor, and a talented musician who used his faith and God-given talent to minister to the people entrusted to him in South Sudan. Sadly he died of cancer at 48 years old in 2010.

My father stumbled upon this documentary about Fr. Lee’s life in 2016 when he was suffering with terminal cancer himself and was deeply moved by it. I recently found it on the internet. Maybe you will find inspiration in this priest’s life as well:

Image: Vatican Media

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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