(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a special envoy to South Sudan to urge for an end to violence in the country and to help establish dialogue and trust between the warring parties.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, travelled to the capital Juba this week to give support to the Archbishop and to meet with the country’s leaders.
He carried with him a letter from the Pope for President Salva Kiir and one for Vice President Riek Machar who are historic enemies and represent the different ethnic groups.
For almost a year, South Sudan has been trying to emerge from a civil war caused by political rivalry between the Vice President and the President. Violent clashes across the city have left tens of thousands of people dead since December 2013 and a recent flare-up of fighting has caused more casualties, scores of displaced people and a serious humanitarian crisis.
Although a cease-fire is currently in effect in Juba, the threat of more violence continues to loom large.
Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni asked Cardinal Turkson to illustrate the current situation and talk about the Church’s effort to push forward a peaceful process.
Cardinal Peter Turkson says he arrived in Juba last Sunday early enough to celebrate Mass with the faithful, the Archbishop, the priests and the religious.
“To put it mildly: the situation is tough” he says.
He says the violence which flared on the 5th anniversary of the country’s independence recurs intermittently between the warring forces causing a lot of deaths.
And, he explained, it is also very hard on the civilian population who flee the violence to save their lives leaving their homes to be looted. occupied or destroyed.
“A lot of the women and children and even boys have sought refuge in Churches and in schools – and that is where they live – and the priests and brothers and nuns try to take care of them as best as they can” he says.
But Turkson says the situation is desperate and security levels are low.
He says the authorities he has met with have promised to do their best to put a programme of reform on course towards elections in 2018.
Turkson explains that the process has been derailed by recent events but the President maintains the course can be resumed.
“We brought them the greetings of the Pope, his solidarity, two letters he had addressed to the President and to the Vice President – the two protagonists of the conflict” he says.
The Cardinal says his own effort was “to try to get them to come together at some point, to see if we could facilitate a reconciliation, to help them build some trust and confidence in each other”.
Turkson also speaks of the urgent need for help and says he has already contacted Cor Unum in Rome to see what assistance can be organized in terms of medication.
He explains that the displaced population is living in the open and in classrooms and are victims of mosquito bites so there is malaria, dysentery, “there’s even talk about cholera in some areas”.
“So there’s a need for medication and there’s a need for food supplies” he says.
Cardinal Turkson concludes expressing his hope that upon his return to Rome later this week it will be possible to send some concrete aid back to the archbishop “as a help from the side of the Holy See”.