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Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 5, 2023. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I have been working in a school in Wau, South Sudan, for three years. It is a tough working environment with many trials and tribulations. The feeling deep inside me throughout this time has been that of exhaustion, despair and sometimes lamentation. When will the political difficulties of South Sudan ever pass away so that the people here can realize their potential?

The feet of our leading politicians have been kissed, peace conferences and retreats organized, peace agreements written but there have been no tangible results on the ground. The civil war has also led to an increase in the prices of goods in South Sudan, with our currency losing value with each day of fighting. This miserable picture is one we are sadly used to. This is our reality.

Peace efforts have been made over the years, but there have been no tangible results on the ground.

The late president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, often asked his people, “who is bewitching us?” I, too, have harbored in my mind that same question for South Sudan.

I have now internalized this tyranny. Whenever things do not work out, a sense of resignation sets in: “This is South Sudan.” It is as if we are a condemned people never meant to live in peace. For so long moments of pain have been regarded as normal. When something good happens in South Sudan, one tries as much as possible not to dwell on it. The bad is in the corner waiting to strike.

A friend of mine once urged me to go for holidays outside South Sudan. I told him that holidays do not help. When you come back from holidays, all the new energy gained disappears on arrival. I always said I would go for holidays on the day I get transferred from South Sudan, so that I would never think about this country again. It felt like a crime to be a human being in South Sudan.

The bad is in the corner waiting to strike.

On Feb. 3 of this year, Pope Francis arrived in our country. I was in Juba with a good number of other people who were filled with excitement and were heading to Juba International Airport to welcome him. I was touched by their enthusiasm and hope that finally peace had come to South Sudan.

Tears of joy flowed out of my eyes when, for the first time, I met people in South Sudan dressed in hope. Songs welcoming Pope Francis were being played on the nation’s broadcaster. People of all tribes were walking together waving the South Sudanese flag. This is what I had been waiting for, and finally it happened in my lifetime in South Sudan. For once, people overcame their differences and celebrated being South Sudanese.

The visit of Pope Francis was a rejuvenation of my spirit and a reminder that I am serving something bigger than what I see around me. The fatigue and exhaustion that had characterized my life in South Sudan disappeared. I started to feel a sense of normalcy. I celebrated being a human being again. One person in a wheelchair, Pope Francis, had changed my negative feelings. I started looking at other members as one giant family seeking only peace, unity, reconciliation and forgiveness.

People of all tribes were walking together waving the South Sudanese flag.

After my Juba experience I returned to my place of work in Wau with renewed vigor to carry on my ministry. Pope Francis’ visit had changed my perspective on life. Like the two disciples in Luke 24, who were hopelessly moving away from Jerusalem to Emmaus, meeting with Pope Francis was my Emmaus experience. A new feeling set in, I was no longer living in a difficult place. I started looking at my place of work as the right place for me in journeying with God’s people toward a promised land.

With Pope Francis, I see South Sudan as a place of hope and great possibilities. It is a place of work where the hand of God is not lost but quietly working for the salvation of the people. Pope Francis made me understand that amidst the daily challenges faced by our people, we can once again count on God who journeys with us always.

He brought hope to South Sudan again. Despite the challenges that have made life in South Sudan unbearable, we can once again dream of a future where all of us can live in peace and prosperity.

With Pope Francis, I see South Sudan as a place of hope and great possibilities.

Witnessing ecumenical prayers during the pope’s visit, I was touched by the reaction of women whenever their ordeals were mentioned. Women have been at the center of suffering in South Sudan, and peace in our country cannot be achieved without them. They are the hope of this country. Our Jesuit apostolate in Wau will always have a special place for girls and women.

Pope Francis believes that people are in the process of transformation. We are not finished articles. Given his own frailties, the last place Francis should have visited is South Sudan, but he put us at the center of the world as people working hard for peace.

 

In mid-April, in neighboring Sudan, the army and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces renewed their brutal battle, killing and injuring hundreds and displacing millions. More than a hundred thousand have fled into South Sudan, further disrupting our nation. We hope and pray for an amicable solution to these struggles. Nevertheless, the visit of Pope Francis showed us that we can live in peace with one another. We can find strength to carry on, even when the situation feels completely hopeless. It is that new strength in the Lord that we can bank on.

South Sudan is a frontier in the mission of the Society of Jesus. It also became my meeting place with Pope Francis. God has been gracious to us in South Sudan, sending us the Vicar of Christ in the world. Thank you, God, and thank you South Sudan. I am thinking of no other place but here.

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