From December 21 to 23, the Secretary of State Relations was in Juba, to meet with South Sudanese political and religious authorities and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s collaborators.
By Paul Samasumo & Salvatore Cernuzio
“There is no perfect time for such a visit”, but it is not excluded that Pope Francis will visit South Sudan next year. It is a wish already expressed on several occasions by the Pope himself and which receives “strong support” so that it can be organized by the authorities.
So says Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, who paid a three-day visit to Juba – from December 21 to 23 – during which he met officials local politics and religion.
âWe think there is great support for a visitâ from the Holy Father, Archbishop John Gbemboyo, a contributor to the English for Africa section of Vatican News, told MbikÃ®treu: âAlthough like all these things, there is never a perfect time – so we have to move forward through the whole process of discernment, âArchbishop Gallagher said. “
The Pope’s wish
The Secretary of State Relations’ pre-Christmas visit to South Sudan had been planned for months, coordinated with Lambeth Palace, the organizational support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And it was with the Anglican Primate, Justin Welby, that Pope Francis in 2017 expressed his desire to lead an ecumenical mission in South Sudan.
Meeting with the Anglican community at All Saints Church in Rome, the Pope revealed his intention: âMy staff are studying the possibility of a trip to South Sudan. But why ? Because the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic bishops came to me and said, ‘Please come to South Sudan maybe just for a day. But don’t come alone, come with Justin Welby ‘. It’s from the young church in this country, and it made us think of a very bad situation there, and that they want peace, that they want to work together for peace. “
Already in October of that year, it seemed that the visit could take place, but the worsening of the political context and the escalation of clashes in different parts of the country, which resulted in a breakdown of the “ceasefire” and a serious humanitarian crisis, put the brakes on the initiative.
The Vatican retreat
On the occasion of the spiritual retreat in the Vatican of the highest religious and political authorities of South Sudan in April 2019, Pope Francis reiterated his desire to visit the nation.
The meeting, conceived by the Archbishop of Canterbury, brought together President Salva Kiir and the vice-presidents-designate, including Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, widow of South Sudanese leader John Garang, and Riek Machar, leader of the opposition. Pope Francis knelt down to kiss their feet imploring the gift of peace for a people disfigured by nearly six years of civil war.
This unexpected and symbolic gesture is recalled by Gallagher: âThe retreat to the Vatican attracted a lot of attention, in particular because of the extreme gesture of the Holy Father to plead with the leaders of South Sudan to advance the peace process for the good of the people. So we worked on it “during the days of the visit.
Listening to the people and leaders
Obviously, explains Gallagher, âthis is a visit that is affected by Covid-19, but in the end we decided that there was no perfect time for such a visit. We decided to come now. came with the objective of listening to the people; listening to the leaders, both political and ecclesiastical, in order to see what the situation is here and what contribution the Holy See, in particular Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, can bring to advance this cheeky process. “
Arrived in Juba in the early afternoon of December 21, accompanied by Bishop Andrea Piccioni from the Section for Relations with States, Gallagher was welcomed by the Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan, Bishop Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen (who resides in Nairobi), by Mgr. IonuÅ£ Paul Strejac, ChargÃ© d’Affaires at the Vatican Embassy in Juba, by the Archbishop of Juba and the Bishops of Malakal and Wau, as well as by a representation of religious serving in the country.
At the airport, he had a private meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mayiik Ayii Deng. In the afternoon, at the Nunciature, he met Anglican Bishop Precious Omuku and Martha Jarvis, representatives of Lambeth Palace, and some diplomats, with whom he discussed the current political, economic and social situation in South Sudan. South.
An interview followed with the bishops of South Sudan, who expressed their gratitude to the Pope “for his fatherly closeness” and renewed “the commitment of the local Church in favor of the country”.
In conversation with President Salva Kiir
On the morning of December 22, Gallagher, along with delegations from the Holy See and Lambeth Palace, were received by President Salva Kiir Mayardit at his residence. A cordial conversation, during which the Vatican’s support for the peace process was reaffirmed and the possibility of a visit to South Sudan next year by Pope Welby and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland has been discussed.
The proposal was greeted with great satisfaction by the Head of State, who reiterated the government’s commitment to the implementation of peace, while thanking the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury for promoting the unity and stability in South Sudan.
In particular, Salva Kiir thanked Pope Francis for the humanitarian aid offered to the populations affected by the recent floods, especially in the diocese of Malakal.
Gallagher’s trip continued with a meeting with representatives of the World Council of Churches of South Sudan and with representatives of civil society.
On the morning of December 23, the Archbishop presided over a Mass in Juba Cathedral – in the presence of the Third Vice-President, Taban Deng Gai – during which he encouraged the faithful to live the mystery of Christmas, in the constant search for unity, charity and forgiveness. After the celebration, the prelate met with religious men and women from South Sudan and visited the Saint Clare orphanage for children in Juba, where he offered a gift from Pope Francis.
A people of optimism and great faith
At the end of the trip, the Secretary for Relations with States said he was “optimistic” for Africa, despite the many challenges facing the continent: from insecurity to constant poverty through the devastation caused. by flooding.
“I believe a lot in Africa. I am optimistic for Africa. I understand the many issues and challenges, but I think that in the end there is energy and optimism. There is talent here. which will carry the African people forward, including the people of South Sudan, âArchbishop Gallagher said.
He concludes with a thought for Christmas: âIt is a country of great faith, with a great Christian tradition. And Christmas is a time when indeed Jesus Christ, in his fragility, comes among us. God chooses mankind. a great message of hope, a message of perseverance.