Home Christian News Cardinal Parolin Brings Pope Francis’ Message for Peace to South Sudan

Cardinal Parolin Brings Pope Francis’ Message for Peace to South Sudan

Pietro Parolin
South Sudan President Salva Kiir, center, and opposition leader Riek Machar, right, shake hands during peace talks at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis’ No. 2 official at the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, visited the African nation of South Sudan on Monday (Aug. 14) to promote the pontiff’s peace efforts in a country that has been embroiled in a bloody civil war.

Parolin landed in the capital of Juba, where he met with President Salva Kiir and his foreign minister, Deng Dau Deng, to bring “a message of goodwill from Pope Francis.” The cardinal also met with the opposition leader, Vice President Riek Machar, and the archbishop emeritus of Khartoum, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako.

Parolin, who is the Vatican secretary of state, “invited the people of South Sudan to embrace the spirit of peace and reconciliation in order to build a harmonious society in the country.”

His efforts have been aided by the Community of St. Egidio, a Catholic lay-led movement based in Rome that has become a fundamental ally of Pope Francis in international diplomacy issues, from helping immigrants travel via legal and humanitarian corridors to negotiating peace talks.

On Tuesday, Parolin visited Malakal, a town in the Upper Nile that has been at the center of the war and has been alternatively under the control of one faction or the other in the conflict. The city has also suffered natural disasters, including flooding. In his homily at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, Parolin reassured locals, many of them displaced by the war, of the pope’s concern for them and warned against “the plague of revenge that is destroying their communities.”

In Malakal, Parolin met with church members and Upper Nile traditional chiefs. He also met with representatives of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

On Thursday, he will visit the Diocese of Rumbek, led by the missionary Bishop Christian Carlassare, where Parolin is expected to celebrate a Mass for Peace and Reconciliation.

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, since it gained its independence from Sudan in July 2011. In 2013, Kiir accused his deputy Machar of conspiring in an attempted coup d’état to depose him from power. Machar denied the accusations and created the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, or SPLM-IO, launching a bloody civil war that continues to this day.

In 2020, the rival forces agreed to form a coalition government, thanks to a peace treaty known as the “Revitalised transitional government of national unity.”

The civil war also has ethnic undertones since Kiir is of the Dinka tribe and Machar from the Nuer tribe. The conflict is worsened by a civil war in neighboring Sudan, which has led to thousands of immigrants seeking refuge in the young nation.

While the total number of dead remains unclear, some estimate that nearly half a million people have died in the country due to the war and the famine and devastation that followed. According to the United Nations, over 4 million people, most of them women and children, have been displaced in the country.

According to local Catholic authorities, around 8% of South Sudanese are Muslim and roughly half are Catholic, leading to the church’s keen interest in promoting a cease-fire between the warring factions. Pope Francis invited Kiir and Machar to a retreat at the Vatican in October and November of 2019, where he knelt and kissed their feet and asked them to keep to the peace treaty.