Pope Francis has accepted an invitation by church leaders in South Sudan to visit the country as parts of efforts aimed at preaching the message of peace.
The invitation was extended by three church leaders who were at the Vatican on the request of the Holy Father to discuss the situation in Africa’s youngest country. The head of the Catholic Church will however have to be given an invitation by the government.
Peter Gai Lual Marrow of the South Sudan’s Presbyterian Church, Paulino Lukudu Loro, Catholic Archbishop of the capital, Juba, and Episcopalian Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak held talks with the pope, who had asked them to come to the Vatican to discuss the situation in their country.
South Sudan is embroiled in inter-ethnic and political strife, the religious leaders said after talks with the pontiff on Thursday. “He accepted the invitation and said that in principle he really wants to come,” Rev. Marrow is quoted to have said.
“It [a visit] will mean unity. If the two leaders of the major faith groups could come and beg for peace – that would make a big impact on the country,” Archbishop Deng Bul Yak added.
The oil-producing country became independent in 2011, it however descended into civil war two years later when a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar ended with fighting, often occurring along ethnic lines. Both sides have targeted civilians, human rights groups say.
A peace pact in 2015 ostensibly ended the fighting but has frequently been violated. Major clashes broke out again in July. The Pope undertook a tour of Africa in November last year. He visited Kenya, Uganda and in the Central African Republic.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warned this week that South Sudan is suffering a rise in hate speech and incitement to violence against certain ethnic groups which could result in mass atrocities if the government does not act.