By Fredrick Nzwili | Catholic News Service
NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — As the world prepares to mark Easter, Catholic bishops in South Sudan and Sudan have urged their faithful to pray for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, while welcoming the pilgrimage as a blessing in a difficult year.
The bishops made the call in an Easter pastoral letter, released April 11 after they met in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, to prepare for the visit. The trip is set for July 5-7 under the theme, “May all be one.”
“We celebrate Easter this year, while preparing to receive the Holy Father, Pope Francis,” said Bishop Tombe Trille Kuku, who signed the letter as president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference for Sudan and South Sudan. “We hope his visit will renew us, as we are still shaken by forces of violence, death and by the evil of ethnic divisions within our church and society.”
The pope’s trip coincides with the 11th anniversary of independence of South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. A civil war triggered two years later left an estimated 400,000 people dead before the government and opposing rebel groups signed a peace pact.
In their statement, the bishops said violent conflicts are still killing people, while others are displaced within the country or live in camps. Those in exile are living in the uncertainty of ever uniting with their families, according to the bishops, and as large areas suffer floods and the rainy season begins, fear looms in people’s hearts.
“We remain hopeful that our political leaders in both countries will not take us back to war so as to eliminate the humanitarian crisis and pave the way for justice, peace and reconciliation,” the bishops said.
“The pope is coming to confirm us in faith, as St. Peter did to his colleagues the apostles,” they added.
“We remember his touching gesture, the kissing of the feet of our political leaders, a humble but compassionate appeal for peace in our country,” they said, referring to Pope Francis’ gesture at the end of a two-day retreat for South Sudan’s leaders at the Vatican in 2019.
Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of Anglicans worldwide, and the Rev. Jim Wallace, moderator of the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, will join Pope Francis in Juba in July.