Pope Francis has pledged to donate about half a million dollars to support Church-run education, healthcare and agricultural projects in South Sudan.
At a press conference in the Vatican on Wednesday 21 June, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the office for Integral Human Development, led a panel of speakers giving details of those humanitarian projects, run by Caritas and by missionaries from different religious institutes. The cardinal also outlined numerous initiatives that the Holy See has taken to stop the war, which flared across the country in 2013.
Pope Francis may have postponed a planned visit to war-torn South Sudan this year, but he’s clearly more determined than ever to raise awareness about the need to support those suffering from conflict and starvation.
Over half the population doesn’t have enough food to eat, a million and a half people have fled their homes, thousands are suffering from a cholera epidemic and untold numbers are victims of killings, rapes and other violent crimes.
Faces behind the statistics
But beyond the shocking statistics of this largely forgotten war, it’s vital to remember the individual victims – that’s why aid workers have started a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #southsudanwecare
Among those speaking at the Vatican press conference was Sr Yudith Pereira-Rico, from Solidarity with South Sudan, an organisation founded by male and female religious congregations over a decade ago. She said, “We don’t talk about numbers, we talk about individuals who are suffering….any time a young man or woman in South Sudan clicks this hashtag they will know how many people care…..this moral support is very important”
Part of the pope’s donation will go to support a college in Yambio run by Solidarity with South Sudan to train teachers, nurses, midwives, farmers and community leaders. As well as learning vital job skills, the students from many different ethnic groups learn about the values of diversity and collaboration, an important sign of hope for the country which gained independence in 2011.
Caritas and Comboni missionaries
Other beneficiaries of the initiative entitled ‘The Pope for South Sudan’ include two hospitals run by Comboni missionaries and an agricultural project, run by Caritas, to provide livelihoods for 2.500 families in the dioceses of Yei, Yambio and Torit. Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, told journalists that while peace must be the priority for South Sudan, the international community must also do more to save lives of those dying from hunger and disease. He said, “The UN has launched an appeal, right now it is half funded, there’s a real need for the international community to engage more, much more. This cannot be just another forgotten conflict, like Darfur…”
Holy See mediation efforts
Asked about Vatican initiatives to try and stop the fighting, Cardinal Turkson said he had been personally involved in two mediation efforts to bring together warring leaders President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Amid concerns that the conflict was spreading across the region, the nuncio in Kenya also met with Machar last December to urge the parties to come to the negotiating table.
So far, these attempts have failed to bring peace, but Cardinal Turkson stressed the Holy See continues to do all it can to stop the fighting in South Sudan. That’s a key condition before a planned visit to the region by Pope Francis and by Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, can take place. While they had hoped to travel together in October to endorse peace efforts of all Christians in the region, that trip has been postponed until at least 2018.