The world's youngest country has known nothing but war, with as much as a third of its population displaced.
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After spending three days in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pope Francis is traveling to South Sudan, a country founded in 2011 and which has since known nothing but war. It’s a trip with a new format: Francis will be accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the head of the Anglican Church, and by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The image went around the world: Pope Francis on his knees, going so far as to kiss the feet of the two Christian political opponents – Salva Kiir, Catholic, and Riek Machar, Protestant – to beg them to make peace. In April 2019, the Vatican had opened its doors to offer a spiritual retreat to South Sudan’s president and vice president. It was a truce in an internal struggle between two ethnic groups – Dinka and Nuer – that has plunged the world’s youngest country into a bloody war that has left 400,000 dead and thousands displaced. These figures are in addition to the 2 million deaths caused by the two successive wars of independence that took place there in the second half of the 20th century.
“It’s estimated that refugees in neighboring countries and internally displaced persons represent about 4 million South Sudanese out of a total of 12 million, i.e. a third of the South Sudanese population,” says Paolo Impagliazzo, secretary general of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic movement that is very involved in conflict resolution and is playing the role of mediator in the South Sudanese crisis.
The scale of the disaster in this Christian country has prompted church leaders to innovate and set up ecumenical diplomacy. In this English-speaking East African country, the Pope is not coming alone but will walk alongside Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Iain Greenshields.
Just a few hours before their arrival, there were more deaths: