JUBA – On his final day in South Sudan on Sunday, Pope Francis reiterated an appeal for peace in the country.
As he celebrated Mass on Sunday in front of a congregation of thousands, Francis begged South Sudanese people to lay down their weapons and forgive one another.
In an address he said: “Even if our hearts bleed for the wrongs we have suffered, brothers and sisters, let us refuse, once and for all, to repay evil with evil and we will grow healthy within.
“Let us accept one another and love one another with sincerity and generosity, as God loves us. Let us cherish the good that we are, and not allow ourselves to be corrupted by evil!”
The Pontiff urged people in South Sudan -the world’s youngest country, to lay down their weapons and forgive one another. The nation continues to be affected by the civil war which led to its independence in 2011.
“This country, so beautiful yet ravaged by violence, needs the light that each one of you has, or better, the light that each one of you is,” said Francis.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I pray that you will be salt that spreads, dissolves and seasons South Sudan with the fraternal taste [of the Gospel].”
President Salva Kiir – his long-time rival Riek Machar and other opposition groups signed a peace agreement in 2018, but the deal’s provisions – including the formation of a national unified army, remain largely unimplemented and fighting has continued to flare.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, who joined Pope Francis in South Sudan – accompanied him on the flight back to Rome.
The Pope had on Saturday called for peace as he met a group of several hundred South Sudanese people internally displaced by war at an event in the country’s capital Juba.
“I want to renew my forceful and heartfelt appeal to end all conflict and to resume the peace process in a serious way,” the Pope told the crowd that gathered in the Freedom Hall.
“There is no room for delay,” Francis said to applause. His words echoed his message to the country’s leaders Friday evening when he criticised the ‘stagnant’ peace process.
The pope’s visit to South Sudan came days after the 86-year-old held Mass for 1 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC, another country grappling with poverty and strife. Francis’ trip to the DRC – the first papal visit since 1985 – came as the African nation is beset by armed fighting and a worsening refugee crisis.
South Sudan has been in a civil war since 2013, and a 2018 peace agreement has yet to be fully implemented. The war has led to more than 4 million South Sudanese people – 65% of them aged under 18 – either fleeing the country or being internally displaced, according to the UNHCR.
“The future cannot lie in refugee camps,” said the Pontiff on Saturday.