Pope Francis on Sunday expressed worries over the violent armed encounters in South Sudan that started in August in the Upper Nile state. The recent clashes have reportedly led to the deaths of an unknown number of unarmed civilians.
During his Angelus message, Francis lamented the recent deadly clashes in the region, saying he prays for an end to the hostilities.
"I follow with sorrow and concern the news from South Sudan about the violent clashes of the past few days. Let us pray to the Lord for peace and national reconciliation, so that the attacks may cease and that civilians may always be respected," Catholic World Report quoted the pope saying.
Spate of Fatal Clashes
The news outlet said UN agencies had disclosed the displacement of more than 9,000 residents. However, the exact number of civilian deaths remains unknown.
The pontiff is scheduled to visit Juba, South Sudan's capital, on Jan. 31 to Feb. 5, 2023. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, will be with Pope Francis during his South Sudan trip from Feb. 3-5. Church of Scotland's moderator, Ian Greenshields, is also expected to accompany Francis and Welby in what is called the "pilgrimage of peace."
He will first make a three-day trip to Kinshasha in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where reports of the rape of Congolese women by M23 rebels have been making the headlines.
Catholic World Report said disputes over access to grazing land and water often ignite the deadly clashes in various parts of South Sudan.
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Details of Pope Francis's Trip
The news outlet disclosed the motto of the pope's trip to South Sudan as "I pray that all may be one," which was taken from John 17:21. It added that the pope's trip to the two countries was initially scheduled for July this year but had to be moved to a later date because of the pope's knee problem.
A report by Catholic News Agency quoted Diocese of Rumbek Bishop Christian Carlassare disclosing in an April 21 video interview that national security authorities had plans in anticipation of some difficulties connected with the pope's scheduled visit.
"There are no major risks," Carlassare initially said concerning Francis's safety during the original schedule.
The South Sudan bishop added that the country faces several significant problems, including clashes over oil control and other resources. South Sudan also deals with economic instability and hardships in its farming caused by flooding and violent rains.
Carlassare likewise told journalists that South Sudan is exerting efforts to achieve peace in the country. The bishop said Francis should not expect to find peace during his South Sudan trip but to see "peace persisting."
The same report added South Sudanese people have "great appreciation" for Francis despite Catholics making up not even half of the population.
Caralassare explained that South Sudanese do not consider the pope "proselytizing." He added that Christians in the country view the pope as someone who embodies 'hope, peace, and fraternity.'
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