CHRISTIAN leaders from South Sudan have met Pope Francis, as the civil war between government troops and opposition forces continue to escalate.
In a private audience on Thursday of last week, the Pope told the Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng Bul, and his Roman Catholic and Presbyterian counterparts, that he wished to visit the country.
The RC Archbishop of Juba, the Most Revd Paulino Lukudu Loro, later told Vatican Radio that a visit from the Pope would raise awareness of the suffering of the people of South Sudan.
More than 2.5 million people have been displaced since the fighting began in 2013, two years after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan and became the world’s newest country.
Churches played a significant part in peace-building in the years preceding the creation of South Sudan, and that function has now been revived with the creation of an ecumenical Action Plan for Peace, led by Christian Aid’s partner, the South Sudan Council of Churches. The plan offers steps towards peace, including reconciliation, creating a safe space for dialogue, and countering hate speech.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned this week that a rise in incidences of hate speech in South Sudan would lead to mass atrocities if they were not curbed: “Hateful rhetoric in South Sudan — particularly if it is exploited for political purposes — can have devastating consequences for entire communities, quickly spiralling into a cycle of revenge attacks.”
He urged the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and political and community leaders, to “urgently and unambiguously” condemn the incitement to violence and take measures to reduce tensions.
He also called for investigation of the killing of an unconfirmed number of ethnic Dinka civilians who were travelling by bus to Juba in early October, as well as a separate attack on another three buses two days later. Social media was filled with rumours about the number of civilians killed, and calls for revenge against Equatorians, people from the upper reaches of the Nile.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to Uganda, which has taken in nearly 500,000 Sudanese, the UN High Commission for Refugees reported.
The diocese of Northern Uganda has helped to support refugees with food, water, and medical kits, and their humanitarian response has been praised by Uganda’s armed forces, who have escorted many refugees to safety.
The Christian charity World Vision is working in settlements for refugees in Uganda. The charity has set up its scheme Child Friendly Spaces (CFS), which helps children to make sense of their situation.
Stefanie Glinski, from World Vision, said: “The refugees from South Sudan are from many different peoples who’ve all had different experiences of the violence at home. One key part of healing for the children — and for their futures — is peace-building. We’re running sessions in the CFS where children can learn how to solve conflicts, and to understand and respect each other’s differences.”