Juba – Pope Francis on Friday urged the leaders of South Sudan to make “a new start” for peace, warning that history would remember them based on their actions, as he began a three-day visit to the violence-wracked country.
“The process of peace and reconciliation requires a new start,” the 86-year-old pontiff said in a speech at the presidential palace in Juba, calling for intensified efforts to end conflict in the world’s newest nation.
“Future generations will either venerate your names or cancel their memory, based on what you now do,” he told an audience that included President Salva Kiir, his rival and deputy Riek Machar, as well as diplomats, religious leaders and traditional kings.
Since South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011, peace has eluded the impoverished country, with a five-year civil war between forces loyal to Kiir and Machar leaving 380,000 people dead and four million displaced.
I come to #SouthSudan as a pilgrim of peace, with two brothers: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. We stretch out our hands to you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. @JustinWelby @churchmoderator
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) February 3, 2023
“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,” Francis said.
The “pilgrimage of peace” is the first ever papal visit to South Sudan since the predominantly Christian nation gained independence from Muslim-majority Sudan after decades of war.
It follows a four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a brutal conflict in the mineral-rich east was high on the pope’s agenda.
As well as political leaders, the pontiff is also expected to meet victims of conflict, and church officials, between prayers and an outdoor mass that is expected to draw large crowds.
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