“The Pope’s visit will be very important for peace”

A COMBONIAN MISSIONARY NUN BASED IN WAU, SOUTH SUDAN, BELIEVES Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the world’s youngest country, scheduled for July 5-7, could have a historic effect on the peace process.

“The Pope will play a very, very important role. The Pope, the Christian Churches and all local Christian leaders. We all have a very important role to play at this time in the history of South Sudan,” Sr. Beta Almendra said, speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“People are counting on us. When there is violence, they immediately ask where is the Church? Where are the leaders? They depend on us, on our support, our help, our prayers and all that we can do for peace in this country.

Almendra, 52, is originally from Portugal, and this is her second missionary experience in Africa, after serving for six years in Kenya. She arrived in Wau in early 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing. She says there is huge expectation for the Pope’s visit, adding to all that Pope Francis has already done to bring peace and end violence and war in this country.

“A lot of people in South Sudan have never known anything else. There are generations who were born in war. And the last war was terrible, so many things were destroyed. Schools, infrastructure , hospitals, churches, lives, many women and children, and there was also an attempt to eliminate people with a certain education, people who could become future leaders.

Sister Beta Almendra

In April 2019, Pope Francis stunned the world when he leaned down to kiss the feet of President Salva Kiir and his designated Vice Presidents Riek Machar and Rebecca Nyandeng, who were attending a spiritual retreat at the Vatican. The gesture is still remembered in South Sudan today. However, the peace remains fragile. “Just a few days ago,” reports the missionary. “We had a period of high tension and the war almost started again. One of our Church leaders went to the President and Vice President and asked them, “Don’t you remember what the Pope did for you? You have declared publicly that it has changed your lives, that there will be no more war in South Sudan. It is this memory, this gesture, which led these leaders to conclude a new agreement, to dialogue again, to take a further step towards a lasting peace.

The next papal visit in July comes at a very important time for the country, with elections scheduled for December. For the moment, however, all attention is focused on the Holy Father and on the smooth running of the trip. To see the pope, Sister Beta will have to travel to Juba, a “costly and dangerous” trip, but one that she will “willingly undertake”.

“My expectation for this trip is that people understand that peace is possible, that peace is something good, that it is the only way to develop this country, that schools and hospitals continue to function, that the South Sudanese people grow up as teachers. , doctors, pilots, engineers, and that they can take care of their own country, in peace.

The Pope’s visit will also highlight the difficulties of the local Church, the basic needs of the population and the urgent help required by many sectors of society. “The Church in South Sudan is very dependent on outside help. Speaking of the diocese of Wau, everything is to be built: seminaries, diocesan houses, convents, schools, hospitals. It is about investing in structures that existed but have been destroyed. We really are totally dependent on the outside. For this mission, as for all the other needs of the diocese of Wau, the Portuguese nun says she counts on the help of the ACN and its benefactors. ” We are counting on you !

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting South Sudan since 2015, funding the construction or reconstruction of churches and pastoral centres, the training of seminarians and the living expenses of priests and religious. For example, ACN is currently helping to build a residence for priests in the cathedral parish of Wau.

—Paulo Aido

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