11 April 2019, The Tablet

View from Rome

View from Rome

For five years they were at war with each other, a bloody conflict that has killed an estimated 400,000 people, left six million starving, four million displaced from their homes and a devastated economy. By any worldly measure, South Sudan’s problems seem insurmountable and best left to the intercession of St Jude.

But not everyone has given up hope. This week the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, a Catholic, and the man he was at war with – one of his vice-presidents, Riek Machar, a Presbyterian – were expected to come together for a spiritual retreat at Pope Francis’ residence, the Casa Santa Marta.

The Pope is encouraging the warring leaders to find a way past their conflicts and differences and to persevere with the peace agreement they signed at the end of last year, which has created a fragile truce. The idea for the retreat came from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has years of on-the-ground experience of nurturing reconciliation in Africa. He and the South Sudanese leaders were due to join the retreat on Wednesday and Thursday; at the end each participant was to be given a Bible with the following message: “Seek that which unites. Overcome that which divides.”

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