Preparing for the Pope in South Sudan
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness, spoke to large audience of lay and religious during Mass in Juba, South Sudan, on 7 July 2022. Irish woman Noelle Fitzpatrick, Country Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service there, attended the celebration.
The cardinal’s visit was seen as a prelude to the postponed visit of Pope Francis and his companions from the Church of Scotland and Church of England. He conveyed greetings and blessings from the Pope who greatly desired to be present on an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace and reconciliation, but could not travel due to health problems.
During his time in South Sudan the cardinal fulfilled a number of the original engagements proposed for Pope Francis’s visit. This included a visit to Bentiu in Unity State on 6 July which is one of the highest areas of return of South Sudanese refugees, and also one of the places of the highest number of internally displaced persons.
Noelle Fitzpatrick said the Mass in Juba was “a wonderful event, warm hearted, strong messages delivered with kindness. This will add great momentum to preparations for the visit of Pope Francis. We delivered a JRS Souvenir t-shirt with the theme of the visit ‘I pray that all may be one’ (Jn 17) and some well-wishing notes to the Nunciature for him. We hope this encouraged him to get well, and helped him to know that people are really waiting to welcome him well this side, once a rescheduled date for the ecumenical visit is agreed.”
Noelle says they are all praying that the visit may happen soon, to give hope to the people of South Sudan and light some positive momentum under the peace initiative.”
During the Mass, Cardinal Parolin referred to Pope Francis’s video message to the Peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan five days earlier on 2 July 2022. The cardinal said:
“He told you that ‘you have a great mission, all of you, beginning with your political leaders: it is that of turning a page in order to blaze new trails, new paths of reconciliation and forgiveness, of serene coexistence and of development. A mission that entails looking together to the future, to the many young people in your lands, so rich in promise and yet so troubled, in order to offer them a brighter future.’
Cardinal Parolin drew from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in speaking of ‘the Christian difference’:
“It is the courage of a love that is not imprisoned in the mentality of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth’ (V. 38): It does not respond to evil with vengeance; it does not settle conflicts with violence; it does not love only its own, while standing aloof from others. Jesus asks us to be different: to be signs that run counter to the ways of a world torn by hatred and by violence. To love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (cf. v. 44).”
The JRS continues to prepare and support the pastoral preparation of the local Church in whatever way they can for this rescheduled visit, according to Noelle and this includes supporting the practical preparations in Juba, and also working as part of the Ecumenical Network in South Sudan.
“There was some disappointment at the postponement of this visit but it is also seen positively creating more time for widespread communications across the country, and practical preparations to be put in place for the visit.” she says, adding that “in a country where the road network is very poor, hampered more by the onset of rains, and other challenges such as pockets of insecurity and logistical challenges, then the additional time to prepare can be seen in a positive light.”
Speaking about the impact of food cuts in South Sudan Noelle notes that ” The JRS has joined our voices with other agencies in South Sudan including the World Food Programme (WFP) to raise concern to international donors about the impact cuts in food distribution will have on the humanitarian situation.”