by Catholic News Service
JUBA, South Sudan (CNS) — Even amid an economic crisis, political confusion and ongoing violent conflicts, Christians in South Sudan must live in hope and proclaim Christmas joy to the world, said the leaders of the South Sudan Council of Churches.
One major sign of hope, they said, is the first ever “ecumenical pilgrimage of peace” being led by Pope Francis, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, who are scheduled to visit Juba together Feb. 3-5.
“They come to support and encourage the continued unity of the church for the good of the nation across denominations, political and ethnic divides,” said the council’s Christmas message, which was released Dec. 16.
The council includes the leaders of the Presbyterian, Catholic and Anglican communities as well as representatives of four smaller churches in the country where about 60% of the population identifies as Christian.
The decision of the pope, the archbishop and the moderator to visit the country together will underscore “a unity that will portray a peaceful South Sudan; a unity that will show that reconciliation and forgiveness are possible — and that relationships can be transformed,” the council’s message said.
After years of civil war, the “Transitional Government of National Unity” took office in 2020, but tensions have continued. And, in early December, new violence broke out in the country’s Upper Nile State, causing the deaths of at least 150 civilians and causing more than 20,000 people to flee. The U.N. Refugee Agency in November estimated about 2 million South Sudanese already were displaced within the country.
In Upper Nile State, there is a “worsening humanitarian situation caused by the intense armed conflict that has displaced vulnerable people, killed innocent lives, destroyed communities in the ancestral villages,” the council statement said, adding there are “children unaccompanied without their parents who surely have been killed in the violent clashes.”
“Fleeing civilians are traumatized and report killings, injuries, gender-based violence, abductions, extortion, pillaging and the torching of property,” the church leaders said, calling on the government to act and on the international community to provide aid.
“Proclaiming joy is difficult work” amid such suffering, they said, but “our families and our communities surely need that ‘Joy to the world’ of the newborn savior.”
“Even in this darkness of our world, all of us should and ought to celebrate Christmas indeed, with all our hearts and with all our might,” the statement said. “This is because Christmas is the celebration of hope, peace, joy and love, and the coming of the light of Christ will dispel the darkness of evil in the world.”