(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has said he wishes to travel this year to war-ravaged South Sudan together with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Answering questions put to him on Sunday by parishioners of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Rome during his visit to the Anglican community, the Pope said his “staff is studying the possibility of a trip to South Sudan in response to an invitation from the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic bishops of the country whom, he said, “hope the presence of the Bishop of Rome and the Primate of the Anglican Communion can help pacification”.
Last week Pope Francis made a strong appeal for South Sudan asking for concrete aid for the population which is suffering a severe food crisis which, he said, “condemns to death by starvation millions of people, including many children”.
Vatican Radio’s Debora Donnini asked the South Sudanese Bishop of Yei, Erkolano Ludu Tombe, whether his people would be happy to welcome the Pope:
“Everybody, even the non-Christians, all South Sudanese, are delighted to hear that the Pope may come to South Sudan” Bishop Ludu Tombe said.
The bishop pointed out that the Pope did not promise, but ‘hopes’ to make the journey so the people are praying for the coming of the Holy Father to their country.
His coming would be “full of meaning for our faith and for our lives, even for non-Christians” he said.
Bishop Ludu Tombe describes a situation of ongoing civil war in the country, with killings and thousands of people fleeing to neighboring countries, with attacks and the destruction of churches.
However, highlighting the fact that the Church, the government and the people want the war to end he said there is hope that the violence will soon be stopped.
Independent since 2011, South Sudan in 2013 has become theater of a new and bloody civil war that, despite peace agreements, was reawakened in July 2016 among the groups that support President Salva Kiir belonging to Dinka ethnicity and those linked to former deputy, Riek Machar of the Nuer ethnic group.
The country has returned to be an area of "deliberate killings of civilians, rapes and looting," as denounced by international organizations and missionaries, while famine has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and almost 5 million people, more than 40% of the country's population, in need of urgent help.
Bishop Ludu Tombe spoke of the local Church’s first concern which, he said, is for the humanitarian crisis “which has gripped the country: famine is going on, insecurity is going on, there is economic hardship, people are struggling to survive – there have even been poor rainfalls in some areas”.
At the root of all this, he said, is economic mismanagement.
As regards the intervention of the Church, the Bishop said, first of all the Church is “looking into the suffering of the people.”
“The humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan needs to be responded to and we are asking the international community to come to the aid of the dying people of South Sudan of hunger. It is useless to talk about other things when you don’t, first of all, save lives” he said.
Bishop Ludu Tombe also spoke of the process of national dialogue and reconciliation launched by the South Sudanese President that encompasses all the country’s rival political parties and groups, and said it includes the Catholic Church which is taking an active part in the process for mediation and dialogue.
“It is part and parcel of the mission of the Church to contribute to peacebuilding and dialogue” he said.
He explained that the process includes ideas that are taken from the social doctrine of the Church and he said the Church in South Sudan welcomes the process of national dialogue for peace and reconciliation.
“This kind of process is not new to the Church, he said, that has been involved in peacemaking in the region many times before”.