By Salvatore Cernuzio – Juba, South Sudan
The people of South Sudan must disarm evil with forgiveness, defuse violence with love, and resist oppression with meekness, because evil cannot be overcome by this world’s weapons and peace cannot be achieved through war.
The Vatican’s Secretary of State made that appeal in Juba on Thursday as he celebrated Mass in the John Garang Mausoleum Park.
As rain fell, Cardinal Parolin invoked God’s blessings upon South Sudan, calling it a land “rich in resources and possibilities” but one which is also “overshadowed by violence.”
President in attendance
The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, sat in the front row at the celebration, in the grandstand set up under a tent. First Vice President Riek Machar was seated beside him. On the penultimate day of his visit to the African nation, Cardinal Parolin told the roughly 15,000 people gathered for the Mass that they are a people “burdened by the yoke of oppression, poverty, and labor”, repeating the words of the prophet Isaiah, “but who desire to rejoice in freedom.”
The Mass was held in John Garang Mausoleum Park, the memorial dedicated to the late leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army and Sudan’s first vice president after the Peace Accords. The venue was the same as where Pope Francis was scheduled to celebrate Mass, before treatment for severe knee pain forced him to postpone his Apostolic Journey.
The colors of South Sudan’s flag surrounded the altar: white, red, green, and yellow. Rain, lightning, and wind did not dampen the spirits of the young people who sang and danced barefoot, wearing white T-shirts and tribal skirts and pants.
All the bishops of South Sudan were present, concelebrating with the Cardinal. The front row was also filled with Anglican, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and other Christian leaders who are members of the Council of Churches, and who met privately with the Cardinal before the Mass.
Booklets with the photograph of “His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin” were distributed, and the atmosphere was more reserved than that of the jubilation heard at Mass on Wednesday in the IDP camp in the northern town of Bentiu.
The Pope’s blessing
Yet, as in Bentiu, Cardinal Parolin began his homily by offering “the greeting and blessing of the Holy Father Pope Francis, who was very much desired to be here today for an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace and reconciliation in this young country, so full of opportunities and so gravely afflicted.”
Do not return evil for evil
The Cardinal reflected on both the present of the South Sudanese people—their difficulties and challenges—while looking to their future. He pointed the path forward, which he said is that of the Gospel which offers a “different” message, namely to “refuse to respond to evil with evil.”
“Renounce revenge… Always love and forgive,” the Cardinal told South Sudanese, who have endured years of civil war. “The flesh impels us to respond to evil in certain ways,” but Jesus invites us to open ourselves “to the courage of love.” Jesus invites us to a love that “is not imprisoned in the mentality of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ and does not respond to evil with vengeance, nor resolve conflicts with violence.”
However, the Cardinal stressed, “this does not mean becoming passive victims, or being weak, docile and resigned in the face of violence. On the contrary, it means disarming evil, defusing violence, and resisting oppression.”
Only path forward: living as brothers
“The evil of the world cannot be won with the weapons of the world,” Cardinal Parolin remarked, interrupted by applause. “If you want peace, you cannot get it with war. If you want justice, you cannot get it with unjust and corrupt methods. If you want reconciliation, you cannot use revenge. If you want to serve your brothers and sisters, you cannot treat them as slaves. If we want to build a peaceful future, then there is only one way to go: to love one another and live as brothers and sisters.”
Concrete actions for the peace process
“Now,” Parolin says, “is the time when God, who always hears the cry of His oppressed people, asks us to be artisans of a new future. Now is the time for responsibility and concrete action, the time to break down the walls of hatred, to break the yoke of all injustice, to wash in forgiveness and reconciliation the robes soaked in blood and violence.”
He also prayed that “the Lord may touch the hearts of all, and especially those in positions of authority and great responsibility, so that there may be an end to the suffering caused by violence and instability and that the process of peace and reconciliation may move forward quickly with concrete and effective actions.”
At the end of the Mass, there was also an impromptu greeting from President Salva Kiir, who reiterated his hope that the Pope could come to South Sudan soon and his desire for peace in the country: “People do not want wars again.”
Meeting with the national legislature
The desire for peace was also reiterated during Thursday morning’s meeting with members of the Revitalized Transitional National Legislative Assembly, the Transitional National Legislature.
Cardinal Parolin received the invitation to visit the assembly on Wednesday afternoon.
“I accepted immediately because I am aware of your importance for democracy,” the Cardinal said, as he met in the Blue Room with a group of the approximately 500 parliamentarians, of whom, the speaker stressed, more than 20 percent are women.
“You represent the people and their interests,” the Cardinal remarked, and for the people the demands of “justice, freedom and prosperity” imprinted on the Legislature’s coat of arms must be realized.
As in his private conversation with Salva Kiir, the Cardinal repeated to the parliamentarians the Pope’s words at the 2019 Vatican retreat with South Sudanese leaders: “We know there will be difficulties but please move forward. Do not get stuck in difficulties. You must strive ahead for the good and for the security of the people.”
Dialogue with ecumenical leaders
Ahead of the Mass, Cardinal Parolin also met with representatives of the Council of Churches, offering them three invitations.
The first: “Announce Christ who is the answer to all the expectations, desires, and dreams of people.”
Then, “unity” despite “differences.”
Finally, he urged them to “meet the people’s demands for justice, peace, freedom, and prosperity.”
“It is hard work” but it must be done and done together, said Cardinal Parolin, who spoke of his personal emotion during Wednesday’s visit to the camp of internally-displaced persons in Bentiu.
“I was really shaken by the experience. Here are people living in minimal conditions. Many children… They give us hope for the future. We have to work together and unite religious and political forces to give justice to these people.”