Sudanese bishops’ president expresses hope Francis will still visit South Sudan

The leader of the Sudanese bishops’ conference is expressing hope that Pope Francis will still travel to South Sudan at some point in the future, and is calling on people in the country to work for peace there in order to ensure the pontiff is able to safely visit.

Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala, president of the bishops’ conference for Sudan and South Sudan, said in a statement Tuesday that his group and all South Sudanese “were eagerly awaiting for the historic event of the visitation of His Holiness Pope Francis.”

“It is our great desire, hope and expectation … that the visit of the Holy Father hasn’t been put off completely but the pastoral visit will be reconsidered and that South Sudan as a new nation will be graced by His Holiness,” says Kussala in the statement, which the bishop released following an inquiry from NCR.

“We … urge all our faithful and entire people within the country to strive and promote peace in his or her own capacity!” the bishop exhorts in the statement. “It is only such activities which can bring the Holy Father to South Sudan in no distant period.”

Kussala, who heads the diocese of Tombura-Yambio in South Sudan, released his letter following news May 30 that Francis has postponed his trip to the country, which was originally expected to occur in October.

The pope had hoped to travel to South Sudan together with Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in what would have been the first such joint foreign visit of the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, forming after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. A political struggle broke out in the country in 2013, leading to a civil war in which an estimated 300,000 people have died and some 3 million have been displaced.

Kussala acknowledges the difficult situation in his country at the beginning of his statement Tuesday, saying it has been beset by “tribal/regional conflict, political instability and differences.”

“From 2013 to date, South Sudan has been very unstable,” states the bishop. “Nearly everybody is traumatised.”

“Pope Francis is very particularly [concerned] about the welfare of the suffering people in the world, and so is he for South Sudan,” Kussala states. “So he calls on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the centre of our concerns.”

“He reminds us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by power or wealth or station or celebrity, but by how well we attend to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity,” he continues.

“Due to the uncontrolled on-going insecurity and the many challenges mentioned above the visit has sadly been altered,” says Kussala. “All we need to do now is embark on a very serious spiritual self-discernment, Peace Building and Material consolidation in order to create [a] conducive atmosphere for the possibility of the visitation of the Holy Father in due course.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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