The Pope will meet with the victims of the war, talk about the plight of women in South Sudan News

Pope Francis said churches in South Sudan “cannot remain neutral” but must raise their voices against injustice and abuse of power, as he and two other Christian leaders led a peacekeeping mission in the world’s newest country.

After arriving in the world’s newest country on Friday for his first papal visit, Francis spent Saturday serving first the church staff and then the South Sudanese who were forced to leave their homes due to fighting, floods and other crises.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 but descended into civil war in 2013 with ethnic groups turning on each other. Despite a 2018 peace agreement between the two arch-enemies, inter-ethnic fighting has continued to kill and displace large numbers of civilians.

Francis particularly emphasized the suffering of South Sudanese women, half of whom married before the age of 18, were exposed to sexual violence, and then faced the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

“Let us ask ourselves what it means for us to be servants of God in a country scarred by war, hatred, violence and poverty,” Francis said at the Cathedral of Saint Teresa in the capital, Juba.

“How can we do our service in this country, along the banks of a river bathed in so much innocent blood, among the tear-stained faces of the people entrusted to us?”

There are 2.2 million internally displaced persons in South Sudan, out of a total population of about 11.6 million, and another 2.3 million have fled the country as refugees, according to the United Nations.

Extreme poverty and hunger have become widespread, with two-thirds of the population in need of humanitarian aid due to the conflict, as well as three years of catastrophic flooding.

Joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Presbyterian head of the Church of Scotland, Francis seeks to draw global attention to the state of affairs in the country.

The visit was aimed at encouraging South Sudan’s political leaders to implement the 2018 peace deal that ended the civil war.

The accord and many of its key provisions, including the formation of a national unified army, have stalled due to political strife and continued clashes across the country that have forced the first presidential election to be postponed for another two years.

At the cathedral on Saturday, Francis called on South Sudanese bishops, priests, nuns and seminarians not to join religious life for social prestige, but to serve their flocks by accompanying them.

“It is precisely this art of walking in the midst of our brothers and sisters that church pastors should cultivate: the ability to walk in the midst of their suffering and tears, in the midst of their hunger for God and their thirst for love. ,” He said.

Francis heard about the terrible sacrifices made by some nuns. Sisters Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba Luate of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart were killed in an ambush in 2021 along with two other people.

“Thank you, on behalf of the entire Church, for your commitment, your courage, your sacrifices and your patience,” Francis said.

Women and girls in South Sudan live a “hellish existence,” the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said in a report last year based on several years of interviews.

“Women in South Sudan are physically assaulted while being raped at gunpoint, usually held by men while being abused by others. They were told not to offer the slightest resistance and not to report what happened or they would be killed,” the report said.

“It is difficult to convey the level of trauma of the women of South Sudan whose bodies are literally a war zone,” commission president Yasmin Sooka said late last year.

In his speech upon his arrival on Friday, Francis highlighted the position of women and called for their protection and promotion.

Among those present for his visit to the cathedral on Saturday was Sister Regina Achan, who said Francis’ visit would encourage other sisters to continue serving.

“We stand with them because we are their voices, we don’t run away in difficult times,” Achan said.

Francis’ visit, she added, will awaken “calm and peace in our hearts so that we can work for peace and justice in this country.”

On Friday, Francis issued an open warning to President Salva Kiir and his former rival, now deputy Riek Machar, that history will judge them harshly if they continue to delay the implementation of the peace accord.

Kiir, for his part, committed the government to returning to peace talks – suspended last year – with groups that did not sign the 2018 accord.

The Pope’s visit to South Sudan followed a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, another resource-rich country plagued by ongoing conflict.

The visit, Francis’ fifth to Africa, was originally planned for 2022, but had to be postponed due to problems with the pope’s knee.

The disease made him dependent on a wheelchair and shortened his journey in both countries.

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