Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for peace to the leaders of South Sudan during his visit to the ravaged East African nation last month.
Vatican News reported that Pope Francis reminded those in power that “their purpose is to serve the community”.
Addressing the nation’s authorities, community leaders and diplomats at the Presidential Palace of Juba, the Pope said he came as “a pilgrim of reconciliation, in the hope of accompanying you on your journey of peace”.
The historic ecumenical pilgrimage was undertaken with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
“Together, stretching out our hands, we present ourselves to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace,” he said.
“We undertook this ecumenical pilgrimage of peace after hearing the plea of an entire people that, with great dignity, weeps for the violence it endures, its persistent lack of security, its poverty and the natural disasters that it has experienced.”
Just days before his arrival, seven civilians were killed and several others injured in a cattle-related attack in the African country’s Kajo-Keji County in Lire Payam on Thursday.
The Pope decried the fact that the “years of war and conflict seem never to end,” and noted that, “even yesterday” lives were lost in bitter clashes.
“At the same time, the process of reconciliation seems stagnant and the promise of peace unfulfilled,” he said.
Pope Francis expressed his hope that the protracted suffering of the people is not in vain, that their patience and sacrifices challenge everyone and, “allow peace to blossom and bear fruit.”
He made a direct call to South Sudan’s belligerent political leaders saying that they, “the fathers and mothers of this young country”, are called to “renew the life of society as pure sources of prosperity and peace, so greatly needed for the sons and daughters of South Sudan.”
“They need fathers, not overlords; they need steady steps towards development, not constant collapses,” he said.
“May the time that followed the birth of the country, its painful childhood, lead to a peaceful maturity.
“Future generations will either venerate your names or cancel their memory, based on what you now do.”
Developing his powerful appeal, Pope Francis directly addressed the President and Vice-President with the words: “In the name of God, in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say “no more of this”.
“No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people athirst for peace. No more destruction: it is time to build! Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!
The Pope invited them to see themselves as truly “public”, “of the people”. Those who are entrusted with the responsibility of presiding over and governing the state, he explained, “have the duty to place themselves at the service of the common good.”
“That is the purpose of power: to serve the community.”
He remarked on the temptation to use power for one’s own advantage, and warned against restricting the abundant resources of the land to few.
Those resources, he said, should be “recognized as the legacy of all, and plans for economic recovery should coincide with proposals for an equitable distribution of wealth.”
Pope Francis recalled that at the basis of democracy is the respect for human rights, upheld by law and the application of law, particularly the right to the freedom of self-expression, and said “there is no justice without freedom.”
He expressed the hope that the Republic’s path to peace will “not be bogged down by inertia”, and said “It is time to move from words to deeds. It is time to turn the page: it is the time for commitment to an urgent and much-needed transformation.”
“The process of peace and reconciliation requires a new start. May an understanding be reached and progress be made in moving forward with the Peace Accord and the Road Map!”
The Holy Father noted that “In a world scarred by divisions and conflict,” the fact that the country is hosting an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, is something rare.”
“It represents a change of direction,” he said, “an opportunity for South Sudan to resume sailing in calm waters, taking up dialogue, without duplicity and opportunism.”
“May it be for everyone an occasion to revive hope. Let each citizen understand that the time has come to stop being carried along by the tainted waters of hatred, tribalism, regionalism and ethnic differences. It is time to sail together towards the future!”
Calling on those present to undertake a path of respect, dialogue and encounter, the Pope said: “Behind every form of violence, there is anger and resentment, and behind every form of anger and resentment, there is the unhealed memory of wounds, humiliations and wrongs.”
“The only way to break free of these is through encounter: by accepting others as our brothers and sisters and making room for them, even if it means taking a step backwards.”
He said this attitude was essential for any peace process and for the cohesive development of society and noted that young people have a key role to play in the “passage from the barbarity of confrontation to a culture of vital encounter”
Women also have a fundamental role, the Pope noted, and “need to be increasingly involved in political life and decision-making processes.”
In his untiring appeal for good governance, Pope Francis did not neglect to mention the need to care for creation “for the sake of future generations”.
“I think, in particular, of the need to combat the deforestation caused by profiteering,” he said.
And he called for action against corruption, referring to “the inequitable distribution of funds, secret schemes to get rich, patronage deals, lack of transparency”.
“Before all else, there is a need to combat poverty, which serves as the fertile soil in which hatred, divisions and violence take root,” he said.
“The pressing need of any civilized country is to care for its citizens, especially the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged…how many people have had to flee their homes, and now find themselves consigned to the margins of life as a result of conflicts and forced displacement!”
The Pope’s all-embracing vision on the problems and needs of the country even touched on the need “to control the flow of weapons that, despite bans, continue to arrive in many countries in the area, including South Sudan.”
“Many things are needed here, but surely not more instruments of death!”
He called for the development of suitable healthcare policies, the need for vital infrastructures and the promotion of literacy and education, saying it was “the only way that the children of this land will be able take their future into their own hands”.
“Like all the children of this continent and of the world, they have the right to grow up holding in their hands notebooks and toys, not weapons and tools for labour,” he said.
Pope Francis wound down his speech shining the light on the fostering of positive relationships with other countries, and acknowledging “the precious contribution made by the international community to this country, (…) and expressing gratitude for the efforts made to promote reconciliation and development.”
“I realise that some of what I have had to say may appear blunt and direct,” he concluded, assuring those present that together with his brothers with whom he has undertaken this pilgrimage of peace, he offers “heartfelt prayers and support, so that South Sudan can experience reconciliation and a change of direction.”
“May its vital course no longer be overwhelmed by the flood of violence, mired in the swamps of corruption and blocked by the inundation of poverty. May the Lord of heaven, who loves this land, grant it a new season of peace and prosperity,” he said.
Source: Vatican News