South Sudan Prepares for Pope Francis’ Visit

South Sudan Prepares For Pope Francis Visit (News Central TV)
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Pope Francis will arrive in South Sudan later this week, and while many people are hoping his visit will help the nation achieve sustainable peace, others are skeptical.

The pontiff will meet with President Salva Kiir at the presidential palace after being welcomed at Juba International Airport on Friday. During his visit, Francis will hold meetings with representatives of civil society, government officials, and the diplomatic community.

Ter Manyang, a Center for Peace and Advocacy worker, told reporters that the pope’s presence will rekindle optimism for peace in the nation.

“It is a sign of peace. It’s going to give hope to the South Sudanese citizens and I hope our leaders change their minds from unwillingness to implement the peace agreement. Because now when you look at the roadmap, the time has already elapsed,” said Manyang referring to the 2018 peace deal that ended the country’s civil war.

“If I were pope I would ask just one question to the leaders: ‘Are you now happy that you have come back from the retreat and I have found the situation this way? You have all the tools, you have all the international support, you have everything you want to change the lives of your people, but the situation still remains like this. Is it okay with you?'” Bol Deng Bol, chairperson of the civil society group Intrepid South Sudan, told South Sudan in Focus.

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Francis’ visit to Juba, according to United South Sudan Party head Paulino Lukudu, demonstrates his devotion to the nation. However, he expressed displeasure that representatives of political parties not in power were barred from a meeting with the pope.

“It is the political parties that form the government, it is the political parties that will implement the revitalized peace agreement and it is the political parties that will put down their ammunition and restore peaceful ways of addressing challenges,” Lukudu said.

To ensure that the peace agreement is carried out and South Sudanese “have an opportunity to choose the leaders they think are the right people to govern them,” Peter Lomude, a member of the National Democratic Movement, the umbrella organisation for the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, hopes Francis will find time to meet with other political leaders of the nation.

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According to South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei, the administration plans to invite representatives of political parties to the pope’s welcome at the presidential palace, but there will be “no political talks allowed here.”

Two months ago, Kiir claimed he left the Rome negotiations and charged that rebel groups still holding out were using the peace initiative to gain time.

As the nation gets ready to meet Francis and other church officials, South Sudan’s Minister for Presidential Affairs Barnaba Marial Benjamin stated last week that the government is open to resume political dialogue “with hold-out factions like Thomas Cirilo, Pagan Amum, and Paul Malong.” He didn’t indicate when the negotiations would pick up.

The pontiff hosted the president and First Vice President Riek Machar in the Vatican in 2019, which was the last time he and Kiir interacted.

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Francis will meet with bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians in South Sudan on Saturday at St. Therese Cathedral following a meeting with Kiir on Friday.

He also anticipated meeting with members of the Society of Jesus, which would be followed by a meeting at Freedom Hall with South Sudanese who had been internally displaced.

On Sunday, Francis will say Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum before bidding farewell at the Juba International Airport.

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