Message from Sister Joan Mumaw, IHM
I was left speechless as I viewed the video of Pope Francis kissing the feet of the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and four of the five designated vice-presidents of the interim government of South Sudan which is scheduled to assume leadership in May.
Riek Machar, the opposition leader, and the other members of the interim national government, together with eight members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, were invited by Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to a two-day retreat at the home of the Pope, Domus Sanctae Marthae (Vatican), preached by Archbishop John Baptist Odama, the Archbishop of Gulu (Uganda) and Rev. A. Orobator, SJ, President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar.
This event, both ecumenical and diplomatic, was offered as an opportunity for reflection and prayer, encounter and reconciliation, to leaders who have the responsibility to bring about peace in South Sudan, a newly independent nation wracked by civil war since December 2013.
Important to note is the hostility that exists between the president and the first vice-president, Riek Machar, who belong to the two major ethnic groups of South Sudan, the Dinka and the Nuer. These two men and their tribes have been at war with one another for decades and are the cause of the most recent civil war in which nearly 400,000 people have died.
This unusual act of humility in the service of peace concluded the two-day retreat. Each participant was also offered a Bible signed by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Rev. John Chalmers, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. These three Christian denominations represent the major religious traditions in South Sudan. The inscription in the Bible: “Seek that which unites, overcome that which divides.”
One South Sudan expert, Payton Knopf, said, “It would literally take a miracle from God for Riek and Salva to ever be part of the solution here.” Perhaps we have witnessed this miracle.
Let us join with Pope Francis and the other religious leaders and continue to pray for peace in South Sudan.
Sister Joan is president and chief administrative officer of Friends in Solidarity. Photo credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters