© Reuters. Pope Francis greets people during Holy Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum, during his apostolic journey, in Juba, South Sudan, February 5, 2023. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
By Philip Pullella and Simon Wudu
JUBA (Reuters) – Pope Francis ended a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan on Sunday, urging people to become immune to the “poison of hatred” to achieve the peace and prosperity that have eluded them through years of bloody ethnic conflict.
Francis led a mass on the grounds of a mausoleum for South Sudan’s liberation hero John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash in 2005 before the majority Christian country gained independence from Muslim Sudan in 2011.
The 86-year-old pope wove his sermon around the themes that dominated his trip to the world’s newest nation – reconciliation and mutual forgiveness for past mistakes. The crowd sang, drummed and roared when Francis entered the dusty space.
He implored the crowd of around 70,000 people to shun the “blind fury of violence”.
“Today I would like to thank you, because you are the salt of the earth in this country. Yet when you consider its many wounds, the violence that increases the poison of hatred and the injustice that causes misery and poverty, you may feel small and powerless,” he said. , speaking from a large altar platform overlooking the crowd in the capital, Juba.
Two years after independence, South Sudan descended into civil war in which 400,000 people died. Despite a 2018 peace deal between the two arch-enemies, the fighting has continued to kill and displace large numbers of civilians.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, leader of the global Anglican Communion, and Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, attended the mass.
The three religious leaders are on an unprecedented joint “pilgrimage of peace” to a nation that has so far failed to quell a deadly inter-ethnic conflict.
“This country, so beautiful and yet ravaged by violence, needs the light that each of you has, or better yet, the light that each of you is,” said Francis, who was due to return to Rome on Sunday with Welby and Greenshields.
His trip to Africa included a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
‘TURNING POINT FOR PEACE’
Ferida Modon, 72, who lost three of her children in the conflict, sat at the back of the field to attend mass in Juba.
“I want peace to come to South Sudan. Yes, I believe his visit will change the situation. Now we are tired of the conflict,” she said. “We want God to answer our prayers.”
Jesilen Gaba, 42, a widow with four children, said: “The fact that three Churches have united for the benefit of South Sudan, this is a turning point for peace. I want the visit to be a blessing for us. We have been in war, we have lost many people.”
Francis made another appeal to end tribal relations, financial misdeeds and political cronyism, which are the root of many problems in the country.
He urged people to build “good human relations as a way to combat the corruption of evil, the disease of division, the filth of fraudulent business and the scourge of injustice.”
South Sudan has some of the largest reserves in sub-Saharan Africa, but a 2021 UN report said the country’s leaders diverted “unbelievable amounts of money and other wealth” from public coffers and resources.
The government dismissed the report and denied allegations of widespread corruption.