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In South Sudan, Pope lectures leaders, saying ‘path of peace’ can no longer be ‘postponed’


Pope Francis left the interview with a closed face. The meeting, Friday, February 3, with the leaders of South Sudan in Juba, their capital, perhaps demanded more than the smiles he had displayed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), during the first stage of his stay. African. Was Jorge Bergoglio, 86, also feeling the effects of the previous four particularly intense days spent in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital? Was he still under the influence of the emotion aroused by listening to the testimonies of victims of abuses in eastern DRC?

Read also: In South Sudan, a “peace industry” with still fragile results

Still, he seemed very tired after his meeting with Salva Kiir, the President of South Sudan, and his vice-presidents – including his rival Riek Machar – during the second stage of his fortieth apostolic journey. A trip that took on an ecumenical character, due to the presence alongside the pontiff of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Iain Greenshields, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, all two at the head of their respective institutions. All three Christian denominations – Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian – are represented in South Sudan.

“Enough bloodshed”

The country holds a special place for the pope. Receiving the two feuding South Sudanese leaders at a spiritual retreat in 2019 at the Vatican, he knelt down before President Salva Kiir and his later vice-president, Riek Machar, urging them to make the peace. Independent since 2011 after a violent two-decade conflict with the north, from which it seceded, South Sudan has been plagued since 2013 by a civil war between mainly two factions of which the two men are the respective leaders. Each is at the head of a military force anchored in his ethnic group. The conflict, which died out and then reignited on several occasions, could have led to the death of several hundred thousand people and caused four million to be displaced.

Read also (2019): South Sudan: President and rebel leader on ‘spiritual retreat’ at Vatican

In vain did the pope say to himself ” happy “ to be ” on this earth “ that he “carries in his heart”, he did not hide his annoyance at the current stalemate in the peace process between the Sudanese leaders, delivering a speech that amounted to admonishment. For almost half an hour, François reminded Salva Kiir and Riek Machar of their responsibilities towards their young country. “I come as a pilgrim of reconciliation, with the dream of accompanying you on your path to peace, a tortuous path that can no longer be postponed”, warned the pope. Later, he will admit that “some of [s]are expressions [puissent] to have been frank and direct”.

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