Giuba (South Sudan). From 3 to 5 February 2023, after leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pope Francis continued his 40th apostolic journey in the Republic of South Sudan, joining the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace, to make with them a pilgrimage of peace and reconciliation in this country oppressed by conflicts, poverty, and also from climatic disasters, which contribute to the increase in the number of displaced persons and internal refugees.
The great joy of finally being able to welcome the Holy Father was manifested, right from his arrival on the afternoon of 3 February in the dances and songs with which the people, including some volunteers and teachers in the works of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, followed his car along the road on his way to the Presidential Palace for the meeting with the Authorities, with the Civil Society, and with the Diplomatic Corps, even traveling kilometers under the scorching sun to see him and greet him.
Some FMA of Mary Help of Christians Preprovince (AES) of the three communities in this country, had ‘special assignments’ for this Visit: on 2 February, Sr. Dionisia Romero went to the Apostolic Nunciature to cook and coordinate the kitchen activities for the Pope and his entourage. For her it was an occasion to pray more for the Holy Father and for all those who welcomed him. As she herself testifies, the kitchen became “a sacred place”.
Sr. Viola Nichola, also at the Nunciature, served together with the team of catechists/liturgists who took care of the sacred vestments of the Bishops. For her “it was a moment of grace to participate in the reception of the Holy Father” and she feels grateful to God for this unique experience in her life.
Sr. Ravena Dominguez, missionary, collected the impressions of the participants summarizing everything in Pope Francis’ farewell sentence, at the end of the Holy Mass at the “John Garang” Mausoleum on the third day of the Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace, 5 February, before returning to Rome:
“Dearest brothers and sisters, each of us three will return to our sees, carrying you even more in our hearts. I repeat: you are in our hearts, you are in our hearts, you are in the hearts of Christians all over the world!”.
“This struck me, we are in their hearts”, says Sr. Ravena. “Not only me, but also the President, the Vice-Presidents, and all the government leaders. Not only them, but also internally displaced persons, the clergy, men and women religious, Jesuits, and the Salesian Family!”.
Their hearts beat for the promotion of women and children, recognizing what the Mazzarello Women’s Promotion Center of the FMA does for the women of Gumbo and of the whole Province of Giuba. Indeed, the Pope and his entourage brought back to Rome as souvenirs the biscuits and peanut butter prepared by the women of the Center. Their hearts beat for the dream of a quality education for all, which is why the Little Angels kindergarten, the St. Vincent de Paul elementary school, and the Laura school are concretely present here. They promote peace, which is why the communities of Wau and Tonj have existed since the arrival of the FMA 40 years ago, engaged in the front line in the education of children, with particular attention to girls, in rural development, in health protection.
Among the more than 60 people hosted by the FMA in Gumbo for the events with the Pope, some shared their resonances:
“I did not see it… But the homily of the Holy Mass touched me. It is our life, to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Here at the Salesian Sisters of Gumbo, small and older, we are treated in the same way and we feel like family!” (Sr. Catherine, Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth)
“Although I have not had the opportunity to get close to Pope Francis, I received blessings through the Salesian Family. We come from different Countries and communities, but I feel at home with our sisters and all the members. I think the visit of Pope Francis has strengthened hope and peace in me, and in all the people who welcomed him here.” (Anna, Vietnamese volunteer in Tonj)
“I was struck by the homily of the Pope and of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have attended other religious Congregations, but it is only with the Salesian Sisters that I have experienced true happiness.” (Fernando, Spanish Project Manager of Tonj)
“Even though the Pope was here in South Sudan for only two days, they were filled with emotion. I admire him, an elderly person who dares to speak on behalf of the poor and women, against war and injustice, the Vicar of Christ full of humility and sweetness.” (It Vy, Vietnamese volunteer in Tonj)
“You are in the hearts of Christians all over the world”
He will remain in the hearts of the thousands of people who attended this three-day pilgrimage: simple, punctual, with rigorous but gentle surveillance. No camera has been able to capture how people from all walks of life, boda-bodas (bicycles or motorcycles used as taxis), cars, and buses pulled up, only to glimpse him, across the great screen outside John Garang Mausoleum, about to depart from Juba airport.
Some FMA, including the Superior of the AES Preprovince, Sr. Marie Dominique Mwema Mukato, also had the joy of an ‘extraordinary’ meeting with the Pope, early in the morning, before the closing Mass. One of them expresses her gratitude thus, “Pope Francis, you are in my heart, you are in our hearts, of us FMA; you are in the hearts of every citizen of South Sudan, no longer ‘displaced’, but who has found their place in the world”.
“Together, let us renew our commitment to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, to become bearers of peace and communicators of hope!” concludes Sister Ravena on behalf of all.