He appealed to President Salva Kiir and other politicians in the East African country: “Let the people no longer thirst for peace. No more destruction. No more violence and mutual accusations and finger-pointing! It’s time to build up.”
Symbolic encounter already in 2019
He knows that his statements are “open and direct,” said the pontiff in the garden of the presidential palace. Also present were Kiir and his longtime rival, Vice President Riek Machar. The two were already guests at the Vatican in 2019. At that time she begged Francis for peace and kissed their feet. Kiir and Machar made a peace deal, but it’s crumbling. The violence stayed.
Now Francis warned of concrete steps “so that this country does not degenerate into a cemetery, but becomes a blooming garden again”. Francis also urged the politicians present to restrict the import of weapons. “A lot is needed here, but certainly no additional death instruments,” he said.
Notebooks and toys instead of weapons
In addition, health policy would have to be expanded, the infrastructure improved and education promoted “so that the children of this country can take their future into their own hands”. The Argentine added: “You have the right, like all children of this continent and the world, to grow up with notebooks and toys in your hands and not with work tools and weapons.”
South Sudan has been in a deep economic and political crisis since gaining independence from Sudan in 2011. The country still hasn’t recovered from a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people. According to estimates by the World Bank, 80 percent of the twelve million inhabitants of South Sudan live in extreme poverty. Two thirds of the population suffer from hunger.
For the Pope, it is the fifth trip to the African continent and his 40th trip abroad since he took office almost ten years ago. Before his trip to South Sudan, he had stayed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the capital, Kinshasa, he led a service at the capital’s airport. More than a million believers attended the ceremony.
haz/uh (dpa, afp)