Rome Newsroom, Apr 22, 2022 / 03:45 am (CNA).
A bishop of South Sudan said on Thursday that during this summer’s expected papal visit, Pope Francis will see that the country is still working to implement peace.
Pope Francis will travel to South Sudan’s capital city of Juba from July 5-7, following a July 2-5 visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The trip motto comes from John 17: “I pray that all may be one.”
Bishop Christian Carlassare, who was consecrated bishop of South Sudan’s Diocese of Rumbek on March 25, said in the north African country, Pope Francis will not find “peace realized, but peace persisting.”
Carlassare told a group of about two dozen journalists via video call from South Sudan on April 21 that the logistics of the pope’s trip will be difficult, but the national security authorities are prepared to handle it. “There are no major risks” to Pope Francis’ safety, he added.
The bishop noted that there is a “great appreciation” for Pope Francis in South Sudan, even if Catholics make up less than half of the country’s Christian majority. The pope, he added, “is not seen as a proselytizing figure.”
South Sudan’s Christians see in Pope Francis a figure of peace, fraternity, and hope, he said. They also value the fact that the pope’s presence in South Sudan will give a “reflection” of their country to the rest of the world.
A member of the Comboni Missionaries, Carlassare said he has made almost a full recovery after being shot in both legs in April 2021. The shooting happened just over a month after Pope Francis had named him bishop of Rumbek, filling a vacancy that had lasted for almost a decade.
The bishop said on Thursday that four people charged with the attack against him are now standing trial, and as early as next week a verdict could be given.
The 44-year-old Italian had served as a missionary priest in South Sudan’s Malakal diocese since 2005.
Carlassare said he believes people hurt others because they are wounded in some way themselves. He said he does not close his eyes to what happened, but forgives his attackers, and is ready to listen to the fears, needs, and wounds of the people of his diocese.
“I would look at South Sudan with optimism,” the bishop said. Since the 2018 signing of the peace agreement, the country has made significant progress, he said, including the recent announcement by the president that a united national army is being formed.
“There is no open war” in South Sudan, Carlassare stressed, but he expressed concern for “worrying violence” which continues in certain places, including the sexual assault of women and girls.
The country is also facing economic problems, conflicts connected to the control of resources such as oil, and farming issues caused by hard rains and flooding.
Another problem contributing to ongoing conflict is the large number of South Sudanese people still internally displaced and living in camps.
Until they return home, we can’t say there is real peace, he said.
Peace has been achieved among the country’s high level powers, he said, but this peace has not yet spread to all the territories.