Pope Francis visits South Sudan in October
Bishop Erkolano Tombe of Yei has announced that Pope Francis will visit the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan in October this year.
Bishop Tombe told Reuters that the details of the visit to the troubled country were still to be finalised. “It depends on the security situation between now and October. If it remains as it is now, he will come,” he added.
The request to have the Pope visit the war torn country was first raised when the 73-year-old Bishop Tombe was recently in Rome for meetings with senior figures from Caritas, the Church’s global charitable arm, who have been helping deliver food to starving communities in South Sudan.
The Vatican has however not confirmed any papal trip to South Sudan. Earlier this month, Pope Francis casting doubts over the trip said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to go.”
Bishop Tome, also the President of Caritas South Sudan, said, “We are told it [the visit] should take place in October, but the dates are not fixed.”
He added that the visit is critical in making a difference in the country. “If the war-makers listen then it should bring peace. Our problem is that these people don’t like to listen because they are attracted to power.”
Bishop Tombe declared: “One thing is clear for about the South Sudanese leadership: power – economic power – is at the base of all these quarrels… Instead of using this power at the service of people, they want to serve their own groups; it is a closed kind of power, not inclusive of everyone.”
The ongoing war in South Sudan has targeted civilians in rural areas making farming very difficult. “Many people have died. They were shot while trying to harvest their crops … There are over 100,000 people trapped in Yei,” Tombe told a meeting in Rome. Aid agencies say over five million people are likely to face starvation.
“I don’t want to lose hope but this hope has to be based on negotiations. If these warmongers don’t come and sit together the war will continue,” he added.
According to reports last month, the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury had been invited to visit the country together.
The Catholic Church has the largest single Christian body in Sudan since 1995, with 2.7 million Catholics. “Most of us are Catholics, followed by the Anglicans who are the second largest group,” Bishop Tombe explained. “They are Christian people of faith and they want the Pope to come, they want the Archbishop of Canterbury to come.”
He added: “This is something worthwhile, it’s very important, it’s encouraging people to realise that in their suffering they are not alone. Even the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are with them. The whole world is with us, and it encourages us.”