Marin Independent Journal

Pope in South Sudan warns leaders as peace process stalls

- By Nicole Winfield and Deng Machol

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN >> Pope Francis, on a novel ecumenical peace mission to the world's youngest country, warned South Sudan's political leaders on Friday that history will judge them harshly if they continue to drag their feet implementi­ng a 2018 peace accord.

Accompanyi­ng him to the overwhelmi­ngly Christian country were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshiel­ds. They hope to cast a spotlight on what Francis has called a “forgotten crisis.”

South Sudan gained independen­ce from the majority Muslim Sudan in 2011, but has been beset by civil war and conflict.

Thousands of people ululated and sang in 96-degree Fahrenheit (35.5-degree Celsius) heat as President Salva Kiir greeted the religious leaders at the airport in the capital, Juba. Francis' motorcade route was lined with Christians, Muslims, and traditiona­l dancers waving Vatican, South Sudanese and British flags.

“The pope is closest to God,” said Poni Jadalla, 45, as she waited to welcome Francis on the first-ever papal visit to the country. “Let the pope give us peace so that this country can develop and no more bloodshed.”

The Catholic, Anglican and Presbyteri­an leaders have called for the country's political leaders to put aside their difference­s and work for the good of their people.

In his first address on South Sudanese soil, Francis addressed former rivals Kiir and deputy Riek Machar, who were gathered in the garden of the presidenti­al palace.

“Future generation­s will either venerate your names or cancel their memory, based on what you now do,” Francis said. “For just as the Nile leaves its sources to begin its course, so the course of history will leave behind the enemies of peace and bring renown to those who are true peacemaker­s.”

Kiir, Machar and other opposition groups signed the peace agreement in 2018 ending five years of civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people. But the deal's provisions, including the formation of a national unified army, remain largely unimplemen­ted. The delays have forced the postponeme­nt of the country's first presidenti­al election for another two years.

Meanwhile, clashes have continued, including attacks this week in the south that killed 27 people. Combined with flooding last year, the number of internally displaced people has topped 2 million and the U.N. has warned that humanitari­an needs are soaring.

Francis and Welby first announced plans to visit

South Sudan in 2017, but security concerns repeatedly thwarted the trip. In an effort to move the process forward, Francis presided in 2019 over a joint prayer in the Vatican, and famously got down on hands and knees and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders, begging them to make peace.

“That gesture of humility did not go in vain,” Kiir, a Catholic, told Francis in welcoming him to Juba Friday and recommitti­ng himself to the process. He recalled that at the time of that extraordin­ary gesture, Machar was living in exile, but that today the two of them “are seated here, working collective­ly to implement” the provisions of the accord.

Francis urged the leaders to put aside personal quests for power. Using the Italian exhortatio­n “Basta!” (Enough!), he said: “Now is the time to say `Enough' without any ifs, ands or buts.”

“Enough bloodshed. Enough conflicts. Enough violence and mutual recriminat­ions about who is responsibl­e for it. Enough leaving your people athirst for peace,” he said. “Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!”

He called for an end to corruption, and for particular attention to be paid to women and to involving them in decision-making. “Anyone who commits an act of violence towards a woman commits it towards God,” Francis said.

 ?? BEN CURTIS — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Pope Francis talks to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, center-right, after arriving at the airport in Juba, South Sudan, on Friday.
BEN CURTIS — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Pope Francis talks to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, center-right, after arriving at the airport in Juba, South Sudan, on Friday.

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