NAIROBI, Kenya OSV News – Pope Francis' top diplomat has ended a four-day visit to South Sudan Aug. 17 with a call on the people of the world's youngest nation to unite for peace.
"We know what it means to live in a continual state of insecurity and fear. Violence can erupt so easily and for no apparent reason," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican's Secretary of State said in his homily in Rumbek on Aug. 17.
"Whereas we long to sit untroubled in the shade of the vine and fig tree, as the prophet says, to enjoy peace and security in our country," – it is not always easy, the cardinal said. "It requires the commitment of everyone."
"People place more trust in their guns than in the power of forgiveness!" he stressed.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's Secretary of State, visited South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, Aug. 14-17, 2023. He is welcomed in Rumbek, South Sudan, by Bishop Christian Carlassare. Pope Francis' top diplomat called on the people to unite for peace. OSV News photo/Father Wanyonyi Eric Simiyu, courtesy Diocese of Rumbek
Father Wanyonyi Eric Simiyu
Cardinal Parolin arrived in Juba, the capital of the African country, on Aug. 14, carrying the Pope's message to the people and authorities of Sudan.
"It is time to turn the page: it is the time for commitment to an urgent and much-needed transformation," Cardinal Parolin ended his homily in Rumbek with exactly the same words that Pope Francis said on Feb. 3 during his apostolic trip to the country, urging the South Sudanese to "move from words to deeds."
Pope Francis' visit to South Sudan followed "extensive efforts on the part of the church to seek peace among the rival factions," Vatican News wrote. The cardinal's visit is seen as a continuation of those efforts.
On Aug. 15, Cardinal Parolin traveled to the northern city of Malakal, where he celebrated Mass for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and met United Nations peacekeepers.
Only in the week preceding the cardinal's visit, a clash at a UN Protection of Civilians Site (PoC) run by UNMISS, the UN's peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, killed at least 13 people and injured over 20 others.
Over 37,000 internally-displaced persons (IDPs) resided in the Malakal camp as of December 2022, Vatican News said.
Also in Malakal, on Aug. 16, the Vatican's Secretary of State welcomed refugees escaping the ongoing war in Sudan.
At least 42,000 refugees, fleeing the war in Sudan between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, have arrived in Malakal.
The cardinal accompanied refugees in a boat full of people on the final stretch of their journey to the reception center Aug. 16.
Bishop Stephen Nyodho Ador Majwok of Malakal said the cardinal's visit inspired hope among the people as it demonstrated the love, closeness and solidarity of the Catholic Church.
"The people here in South Sudan have been suffering and continue to suffer," Bishop Majwok said, according to South Sudanese Eye Radio. "Like today it rains since the morning up to now and there are people who have nothing to cover themselves with."
The bishop had appealed to the international community, partners and individuals to help the displaced persons in the region. "Children and the elderly people … need a lot of assistance, we went yesterday with the cardinal to see their situation and he saw for himself," Bishop Majwok said of Cardinal Parolin's visit to his diocese.
Cardinal Parolin confirmed his visit to the country seeks to convey "the communion and solidarity of the universal church" and to remind South Sudanese they are not alone, since "if one member suffers, he or she has a greater right than the others to attention, care, love," he said Aug. 15. "I would like you to feel the attention, care and love of the whole church this morning!"
Cardinal Parolin was visiting the country for the third time. First, in the summer of 2022, after Pope Francis' apostolic trip was rescheduled, he had visited the country to reassure the people that the visit would still happen. When finally the 'pilgrimage of peace,' as it was called, occurred from February 3-5, the cardinal was accompanying the Holy Father.
"As I visit South Sudan for the third time, I can tell you that I see your enthusiasm and joyful faith. I recognize your great potential, and I assure you of my prayers," Cardinal Parolin said in Rumbek.
Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek said the top Vatican diplomat had come to the country to see how the peace process was progressing and to visit Upper Nile state, where a humanitarian crisis is unfolding following the arrival of refugees from Sudan and those that took refuge to Sudan before, and now return due to civil war that broke in the northern-neighbor's territory.
"He wanted to see how the church could respond to the humanitarian crisis," Bishop Carlassare told OSV News. "This visit is a blessing. It is really a grace to receive him. It shows us the church is united and it gathers people from any nation and it's universal."
"The visit encourages us to turn a new page from the past and journey in the process of synodality – the communion of being together and collaborating," he added.
As he departed Rumbek, the cardinal had left the people of Rumbek with three words: "dialogue," "commitment" that words become actions and "togetherness," Bishop Carlassare said.
Frederick Nzwili writes for OSV News from Nairobi, Kenya.