Pope Francis closed his visit to Africa on Sunday with an appeal to “Lay down your arms” during a mass in the capital of South Sudan, which marked the end of a six-day peace and reconciliation tour that began in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Violence is an everyday issue. We just saw it in South Sudan. It is painful to see how violence is provoked. One of the problems is the sale of arms (…) I think the sale of arms is the biggest plague in the world”, lamented the Pope in statements on board the plane that took him to Rome from South Sudan.
Francis left the capital Juba together with the heads of the churches of England and Scotland, representatives of the other two Christian denominations in South Sudan with whom he carried out the visit.
Throughout 48 hours, the pontiff made repeated calls for peace in the country with a Christian majority and 12 million inhabitants, which between 2013 and 2018 was immersed in a civil war between supporters of the two rival leaders, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, which left 380,000 dead and millions internally displaced.
“Let us lay down the weapons of hatred and revenge (…) let us overcome the antipathies and aversions that, over time, have become chronic and threaten to oppose tribes and ethnic groups,” the Pope said at the mass before some 70,000 faithful .
The war, the conflicts, marked the fifth trip of Francis to Africa, who reiterated to the journalists who accompanied him on the papal flight his message of peace.
“The whole world is at war, in self-destruction, let’s stop in time!”, said.
Francisco, 86, who usually uses a wheelchair, also spoke about his state of health and indirectly ruled out the possibility that he would resign as his predecessor Benedict XVI did in 2013.
“Weed never dies”, he joked, citing a very Latin American saying. “I am not like at the beginning of the pontificate. This annoying knee, but little by little it’s getting better. We’ll see,” he commented.
The pope instead confirmed his trip to Marseilles, France, on September 23 and announced that he has several visits planned for 2023, including one to India and Mongolia.
“We need peace”
With his trips and messages, Francis wants to rekindle hope in those forgotten countries, ravaged by wars and conflicts.
Like many South Sudanese, James Agiu, confessed that he hopes that the Pope’s visit “bring change to the country”.
“For many years we have been at war, but we need peace”declared to the news agency AFP the 24 year old.
“I have suffered in my life. That’s why I’m here, for the pope to bless me and my family,” said Josephine James, 32.
On Saturday, Francis called for a “dignified life” for internally displaced people in this landlocked East African country, which in December had some 2.2 million internally displaced persons, according to the UN.
Just arrived, the pope called on politicians to give “a new impetus” to peace and condemned corruption.
The UN and the international community accuse the South Sudanese leadership of fueling violence, stifling political freedoms and embezzling public funds.
The personal armies of Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are also accused of war crimes.
Despite the peace agreement signed in 2018 in the country that gained independence from Sudan in 2011, violence continues.
On Thursday, the eve of the pope’s arrival, at least 21 people were killed in a cattle raid in the south.
In 2019, Francis received the two enemies in the Vatican and knelt down to kiss their feet, begging them to make peace, a gesture that was not followed by concrete progress.
Before Juba, Francis spent four days in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he condemned the “heinous cruelties” of armed groups.
It was the 40th international trip of the Argentine pope since his election in 2013, and the third to sub-Saharan Africa.
(With information from AFP)
Pope Francis closed his tour in Africa with a massive mass in South Sudan: he called for the weapons of hatred and revenge to be laid down