Church in South Sudan still wants Pope Francis to visit

Church in South Sudan still wants Pope Francis to visit

Church in South Sudan still wants Pope Francis to visit

A South Sudanese girl is seen at the Nguenyyiel refugee camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, in late October. (Credit: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters via CNS.)

Pope Francis had planned to visit South Sudan in October, but cancelled citing security concerns caused by the country's civil war.

JUBA, South Sudan — The leaders of South Sudan’s Catholic Church are calling on the pope to visit this war-torn nation.

“We know his heart is in South Sudan,” Samuel Abe, secretary general for the archdiocese of Juba told The Associated Press on Monday. “My wish is if he comes he can be a voice for the voiceless.”

Pope Francis had planned to visit the country in October, but cancelled citing security concerns caused by the country’s civil war.

He has donated 25 million euros to help feed the country’s most vulnerable citizens ahead of the upcoming dry season. The money was given to the United Nations’ agricultural arm, to alleviate a period of “grave food insecurity and major displacement,” said the Vatican in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley last week warned South Sudan’s government and rival forces that the United States is ready to pursue additional measures if they don’t take action to end violence, start negotiations, and ease the humanitarian crisis in the conflict-wracked country.

Haley told the U.N. Security Council that “words are no longer sufficient” and it’s time for action now, especially by President Salva Kiir.

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the world’s newest nation plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to his former vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer who now lives in South Africa.

An August 2015 peace agreement has not stopped the fighting, and clashes in July 2016 between supporters of Kiir and Machar set off further violence. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.

Francis had planned to go to South Sudan with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby as an ecumenical gesture. When the visit was cancelled, both Churches said it was merely postponed. Welby later visited Sudan and Uganda, where he met with South Sudanese refugees.

On Nov. 23, the pope held a prayer service for both South Sudan and Congo.

Though he was unable to go, Francis said in his homily that “we know that prayer is more important, because it is more powerful: prayer works by the power of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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