Preparing to meet the Pope.
Noelle Fitzpatrick and the team at the Jesuit Refugee Service in South Sudan have been busy preparing for the imminent visit of Pope Francis to Juba, 3-5 February. Noelle recently travelled the newly opened Pope Francis Road which links the airport via the Catholic Nunciature, and is the main artery past various government ministries in the capital which the Pope will travel along when he visits. (See photo below)
Jesuits from various places are travelling to Juba to stay at the JRS guesthouse and office compound there. Noelle and her JRS colleagues welcomed the first group of Jesuits, who arrived on Saturday 28 January from Wau. They expect to welcome more Jesuits over the next few days including the Fr Provincial of the East African province.
Representatives from field teams in Western Equatoria, Maban and also representatives from the Parish Leadership in Maban as well as 3 leaders from the refugee communities in Maban who arrived on Wednesday 1 February and are now with the JRS team in Juba. “They are excited to be here and enjoying getting to know each other and planning the weekend ahead. We are very grateful to the Irish Jesuit Province for the support to make this happen,” says Nolle who has also been busy doing some DIY preparations for the visitors.
“We’ve had to repaint a few things, get some plumbing issues looked at, get extra mattresses, and some simple food, to accommodate our visitors,” says Noelle, adding that they are happy to do all these preparations so that the many visitors would feel supported and “be able to connect well with and experience deeply the public events and liturgies of these days ahead.”
One of the challenges facing the JRS was finding a way to ferry representatives from the refugee community and local Church in Maban, to Juba. Air travel is the only way and very expensive but Noelle reports that along with the Nunciature they have managed to solve the problem and so will be hosting the representatives in the JRS compound over those days of the Papal visit and Ecumenical Pilgrimage also.
“I believe we may be the only organization who fought to have refugee representation at the meeting with Pope Francis on Saturday afternoon – certainly from Maban, which is the biggest refugee hosting area in South Sudan. I’m happy about that,” says Noelle, adding, “There will be bodies everywhere, but, it will be great to be able to welcome people and enable their participation in these historic days to come!”
JRS South Sudan was also delighted to learn that two JRS representatives will have the opportunity to greet Pope Francis at the meeting with IDPs on Saturday afternoon. Then, a further 6 (being 1 male and 1 female from each of our 3 locations) will greet him after the meeting with the Jesuits on Saturday. “We have a few gifts from Western Equatoria and Maban to present and our team have asked that he will bless a big drum of water that will then be shared out amongst them! That request has also been granted”, says Noelle.
Commenting on the fact that JRS members and refugees will be meeting with the Pope Noelle added, “It will be an amazing experience for these team members, some of which are even coming to Juba for the first time. On Friday morning, Fr Kizito the Provincial of the Eastern African Province of Jesuits will lead us in a Mass all together to kick start the weekend. We pray for peace and for the Spirit to move amidst all the encounters, conversations and prayer in the days to come.”
When she’s not busy travelling or looking after visitors Noelle is speaking with journalists who are preparing to cover the papal visit, and says she really hopes the visit by Pope Francis will, among other things, help highlight the JRS pastoral work in Maban “for which we struggle at times to find adequate funding.” She has been assisting Irish journalist Gerry O’Connell who has covered many papal trips and will be on the papal plane to Juba.