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JUBA - 2 Dec 2022

South Sudan bishop calls for ‘dialogue’ as Pope revives visit

Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juba Stephen Ameyu (File photo)
Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juba Stephen Ameyu (File photo)

As Pope Francis plans to visit war-torn South Sudan early next year, a Catholic bishop urged all political parties to seek peace.

On Thursday, the Vatican said Pope Francis would go to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

This comes after Pope Francis cancelled a scheduled trip to the two countries in July because of health problems.

"Dialogue should continue between the parties. We urge the Community of Sant'Egidio to continue with the peace mediation so that the holdout opposition groups can join the peace process," Stephen Ameyu, the Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juba, told Radio Tamazuj in an interview on Thursday.

The Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic association with ties to the Vatican, has been mediating peace talks between the South Sudan government and holdout rebel groups.

Negotiations between both sides began in 2019 but have failed to stop violence in some parts of the country, despite a ceasefire signed in January 2020.

Bishop Ameyu revealed that the Pope’s visit to South Sudan aims to push for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan, saying there is a need for all parties in South Sudan to embrace dialogue to end crises.

"The Pope, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, are coming to meet the people of South Sudan to push for peace," Ameyu said.

According to the religious leader, the church in South Sudan is unified and ready to receive the three church leaders in the capital Juba, calling on South Sudanese to work for peace and unity.

"Our country needs peace because people are suffering in most parts of the country; we have a lot of crises, such as floods, hunger and conflict. We hope that the situation we are in now will change," he said.

South Sudan is governed by a transitional coalition government formed under a 2018 peace agreement signed in neighbouring Ethiopia. However, key provisions of the agreement remain largely unimplemented.

On 4 August 2022, parties to the 2018 peace agreement signed on to a further two-year extension of the governance arrangements, postponing elections until late 2024. 

Last month, the United Nations warned that hunger and malnutrition are on the rise across the flood, drought, and conflict-affected areas of South Sudan, with some communities likely to face starvation if humanitarian assistance is not sustained and climate adaptation measures are not scaled-up.