Vatican City, Holy See | AFP | Pope Francis on Friday met representatives of the South Sudan Council of Churches and discussed how to promote peace in a country ravaged by a bloody four-year civil war.
“The Pope holds the suffering people of South Sudan in his heart,” said Council Secretary James Oyet Latansio following the Vatican meeting with Francis.
Father Oyet Latansio said the delegation and the pontiff debated ways of resolving the Sudanese conflict that has raged since December 2013 — just two-and-a-half years after gaining independence from Sudan.
Tens of thousands have been killed in the war, with estimates ranging between 50,000 and 300,000. Another four million have been displaced, with over two million fleeing the country.
In February, a UN commission identified 41 senior South Sudanese officials responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including gang-rapes, castrations and ethnic violence.
The commission’s report on human rights abuses outlined how South Sudan’s conflict was becoming ever more chaotic, with what began as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar has mushroomed into a conflict involving 40 armed groups.
Oyet Latansio said that Francis reiterated his desire to travel to South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church Justin Welby, a trip that the Vatican has said is not possible for security reasons.
“When he comes, we will welcome him,” he said. “The pope can go wherever he wants … South Sudan has security issues, but we have come from there and we live in it. Anywhere in the world someone can pick up a gun and shoot.”
Asked about the fact that almost all of the political and military leaders responsible for atrocities that have scarred the country call themselves Christians, Oyet Latansio replied: “We would like know whether they are full-time or part-time Christians… they might go to mass and pray, but what are they praying for?”
“Our leaders are Christians but man remains a man, and when the sense of faith and humanity runs out, he becomes a kind of devil.”