If Pope Francis I honours an invitation from the South Sudan and Sudan Archbishops who visited him at the Vatican City this week, he will become the first reigning Pope to visit Africa twice during his tenure.
In November last year, the Pope visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR), and just last Wednesday the prelates from the two Sudans invited him to visit their respective countries: South Sudan which has a huge Catholic population and the predominantly Muslim Sudan.
Catholics make up over a third of the population in South Sudan and make up just over 3% of the population in Sudan, where the vast majority of the people are Muslims.
The bishops are in Rome for a meeting organized by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and according to Vatican Radio, the Pope and Sudanese prelates were joined by the Apostolic Nuncios in both countries, and they discussed variety of topics including among others, peace and poverty in the respective countries.
The Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Juba, Paulino Lukudu Loro, said Pope Francis accepted to visit the two countries at an appropriate time which was not fixed, however.
“He said I am ready. I want to. I want to. I want to. But we have to leave everything in the hands of the Lord,” Archbishop Paulino Lukudu quoted Pope Francis as saying.
He told Vatican Radio’s 105Live the ‘issue of peace’ is still a priority in both countries, especially South Sudan, ‘because we are at war’.
South Sudan, which split from the Sudan in 2011, has been embroiled in civil war for the last two years since December 2013, and the violence has led to more than a million refugees and internally displaced people. The new civil war has also led to the death of tens of thousands of people.
“Without peace, religion has difficulties,” Archbishop Loro said, adding that the Catholic Church must also address the issue of vacant dioceses as well as providing support for the local clergy.
“We must discuss with our superiors in the Congregation [for the Evangelization of People] about how to proceed and accomplish our goals,” the Archbishop said. “There are many questions from us on how to proceed.”
The Catholic Church in South Sudan has one archdiocese, and six Suffragan dioceses. The bishops are members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which includes the bishops from Sudan.
In 1993, at the height of the civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the animist and Christian south, Pope John Paul II visited Khartoum and denounced the use of violence in the name of religion.