Pope Francis will officiate an open-air mass this Sunday before thousands of faithful in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, ending a tour that previously took him to the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries marked by the atrocities of war.
The massive mass will be held at the John Garang mausoleum, named in honor of the independence leader who died in 2005, shortly after the signing of the peace accords that led South Sudan to secede from Sudan in 2011.
But the war of independence was quickly followed by a civil war, from 2013 to 2018, between followers of leaders Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, which left 380,000 dead and millions displaced.
A peace agreement was signed in 2018, but violence persists and in December the UN counted 2.2 million internally displaced persons.
The 86-year-old Argentine pope, who arrived in Juba on Friday, urged South Sudanese leaders on Saturday to put an end to this spiral of hatred and violence, so that millions of displaced people can “return to a dignified life.”
After the Sunday mass, the pontiff will return to Rome, around 11:30 local time (09:30 GMT).
On the plane, he will offer his traditional press conference together with the heads of the Churches of England and Scotland, representatives of the other two Christian denominations in South Sudan, who accompanied him during the journey.
– “That the woman be protected” –
Francis advocated on Saturday for the protection of women, one of the populations most affected by violence in South Sudan.
The holy father asked that the woman “be protected, respected, valued and honored.”
A report commissioned by the UN and published in 2022 underlines that sexual violence against the female population in South Sudan is “generalized and systematic”.
In the morning, he gave a speech at the Cathedral of Santa Teresa, in the presence of 5,000 faithful, where he asked bishops and priests to “walk in the midst of suffering and tears” and “get their hands dirty for the people.”
Thousands of people traveled to Juba to listen to the Pope. On Friday, he urged a “new impetus” for peace in a country where the personal armies of Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are accused of committing war crimes.
The United Nations and the international community regularly accuse South Sudanese leaders of maintaining the status quo, fueling violence, suppressing political freedoms and embezzling public funds.
In 2019, a year after the peace agreement was signed, the pope welcomed Kiir and Mashar to the Vatican and knelt down to kiss their feet, begging them to make peace.
The gesture, symbolic, had a great impact in the country, without being able to stop the violence.
South Sudan is the second and final stage of this third tour of Francis through sub-Saharan Africa.
The journey began on Tuesday in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he condemned the “cruel atrocities” perpetrated for decades by armed groups, which left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.
In his first speech, in Kinshasa, Francis denounced “economic colonialism” which prevents the DRC from “benefiting sufficiently from its immense” natural resources.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.