Although South Sudan is one of the world’s most violence-plagued hotspots, Pope Francis has been vocal about his intention to visit as soon as security conditions allow. While peacemaking efforts are still in progress, one man close to the negotiations says it’s only a matter of time.
“I do not have dates for the visit. We only know that the will of His Holiness to visit the country is intact, that he’s paying close attention to the situation of the people…and to the developments on the ground. Sooner or later, it will happen,” Italian layman Mauro Garofalo said.
Garofalo, chief of international relations for the Sant’Egidio community, spoke to journalists at the end of a three-day series of meetings in Rome with members of the National Pre-Transitional Committee of South Sudan, tasked with implementing an October 2018 peace agreement.
He was among the signatories of a recent Memorandum of Understanding between Sant’Egidio and the United States Agency for International Development, committing the two parties to join forces for peace, interreligious dialogue and anti-poverty efforts in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Sant’Egidio, perhaps the pope’s favorite so-called “new movement,” organized the meeting. They have been an active go-between for the Vatican and South Sudan, which has long been a priority for Francis.
Eight years ago, South Sudan became the world’s newest country. Hopes ran high for the young nation after declaring its independence from Khartoum, which had ruled it for decades.
Those hopes were short-lived. Since 2013, a devastating civil war has claimed nearly 400,000 lives, driven some 4 million people from their homes, and caused over 2 million to flee to neighboring countries in search of food and safety.
There have been various attempts to revitalize peace in the region. After the signing of a peace agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in September 2018, dialogue between conflicting parties experienced a decisive moment during the spiritual retreat, organized by Pope Francis at the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican last April. That meeting brought together leaders of South Sudan’s government and members of the opposition.
Seek what unites you
Pope Francis urged the country’s leaders to find common ground: “Seek what unites you”, he said, “beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people”. The Pope told the leaders that God’s gaze is upon them, as is the gaze of their people. That gaze, he said, “expresses their ardent desire for justice, reconciliation and peace”. “People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts”, the Pope concluded. “Remember that with war, all is lost”, he said.
Further peace talks took place this week in Rome, under the auspices of the Sant’Egidio Community. Speaking at a press conference, the Vice President of the National Pre-Transitional Committee, Gabriel Chang, thanked the Community of Sant’Egidio “for hosting these days of reflection and dialogue on the future of our country, still marked by divisions and hostility”. He described the Rome meeting as “an important opportunity that has allowed us to work together for peace, between different political forces, and makes the impossible possible”.