By HOMELAND MEDIA TEAM
Vice President Alupo meets Pope Francis in South Sudan
Pope Francis has held a historic peace mission in South Sudan’s capital Juba. The first people to greet Pope Francis when he arrived in the South Sudanese capital were Archbishop Justin Welby and Moderator Rev Iain Greenshields, who both boarded the papal plane moments after it landed.
All three religious leaders were greeted with fanfare at Juba’s airport before travelling through singing, cheering and ululating crowds to the Presidential Palace.
“I have come with two brothers, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, stretching out our hands, we present ourselves to you and to this person in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace,” the Pope said.
But this trip comes at a time when long-term peace and stability in South Sudan seem a distant prospect. It’s people are suffering crushing poverty and have little hope in their political leaders.
Uganda’s Vice President, Jessica Alupo was among the regional signatories that met with the Pope at Statehouse Juba. Alupo was representing President Yoweri Museveni in a meeting at State House Juba on peace and security in South Sudan. The meeting was attended by all 5 (five) vice presidents of South Sudan, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the moderator general of the Church of Scotland, the moderator general of the council of the presbyterian church of America, several cardinals, and Bishops and H.E Salva Kiir the president of South Sudan.
The youngest nation of the world has been ravaged by a bloody civil war since its leaders disagreed over control of the oil-rich country in 2013, just two years after its independence from Sudan.
More than 400,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the conflict and though a peace deal in 2018 created a unity government, some of its key provisions have not been implemented.
More than 60% of the population of South Sudan is estimated to be Christian, mainly belonging to Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian traditions, though the war has been fought along ethnic and not religious lines.
Despite the deal, and the fact that they are working together, relations between the two men remain strained and there appears to be a lack of trust.
Violence continues in parts of the country driven by ethnic tensions as well as a splinter group from Mr. Machar’s party – at least 20 people were killed during a cattle raid on the eve of the religious leaders’ visit.
In 2019, in one of the most dramatic moments of his papacy, Pope Francis kissed the feet of the leaders at the end of a retreat at the Vatican, at a time when it looked like the fragile peace agreement was about to collapse.
It was then that a commitment was made for the three Christian leaders to visit South Sudan.
“Pope Francis knelt to kiss the feet of each politician. Almost five years later, we come to you in this way again: on our knees to wash feet, to listen, serve and pray with you,” Archbishop Welby said in Juba.
There is considerable anticipation in South Sudan at what is a sensitive time.
“After the 2019 retreat, our political leaders made a pledge that they will never take the country back to war,” said Father James Oyet Latansio, general secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches.
Fr Oyet referred to the visit as an “ecumenical pilgrimage of peace” and feels the three religious leaders are uniquely placed to influence South Sudan’s politicians, most of whom are church-going Christians: Mr Kiir, a Catholic and Mr Machar, Presbyterian.
“It will be a strong voice, a moral voice calling on the leaders of South Sudan telling them: ‘Please now, give the people of South Sudan the peace they deserve,’” Fr Oyet said.
In an ugly, bloody battle for control of resources that morality has often been devastatingly absent.
“We are a majority Christian country, but what we are practising is not in keeping with Christian values,” said Father John Gbemboyo Mbikoyezu of the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“The conflict has brought so many brutal experiences to the people, it affects the spiritual life of the people and battles their hope and their trust in God,” he said.
Fr Gbemboyo said he was looking for a message of peace from the three visiting religious leaders but he, like Fr Oyet, also wants the Pope to directly tell South Sudan’s leaders to focus on implementing peace for the sake of the country’s people.
With the capital’s notoriously pot-holed roads fixed and the way that Juba has been spruced up, there is no doubt about the significance the leaders attach to this visit.
Additional reporting BBC