Pope Francis Urges South Sudan to Become a ‘Changed Nation’

A brutal war -- which broke out in December 2013 when South Sudan President Salva Kiir (R) accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup -- has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced many times that number to flee their homes
AFP/File Albert Gonzalez Farran

ROME — Pope Francis sent a Christmas message to South Sudan’s political leaders this week, inviting them to greater generosity and service of their people.

In a message cosigned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Reverend Martin Fair, the pope reminded the leaders of their commitment to achieve peace, while promising to visit the conflict-ridden nation as soon as things return to “normalcy.”

“We remain prayerfully mindful of the commitments made at the Vatican in April 2019 — yours to bring your country to a smooth implementation of the Peace Agreement, and ours to visit South Sudan in due course, as things return to normalcy,” the message reads.

“We have been glad to see the small progress you have made, but know it is not enough for your people to feel the full effect of peace,” it continued. “When we visit, we long to bear witness to a changed nation.”

South Sudan, which is mostly Christian, declared its independence from mostly Muslim Sudan in 2011, but strife has continued to rage between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, leading to a bloody civil war, which claimed the lives of approximately 400,000 people.

In April 2019, Pope Francis hosted a two-day spiritual retreat in the Vatican for the warring chieftains, after which Francis famously knelt to kiss the feet of the leaders.

Political rivals Salva Kiir Mayardit and Riek Machar finally achieved a unity deal in January 2020 and formed a national unity government the following month. One opposition group had continued opposing a 2018 peace agreement until last month, when it announced its adherence to the accord.

“We pray, this Christmas, that you will know greater trust among yourselves and a greater generosity of service to your people,” the pope said in his Christmas message. “We pray you know the peace that surpasses understanding in your own hearts and in the heart of your great nation.”

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