Sister Beta Almendra, a Portuguese Comboni missionary in Wau, South Sudan, can hardly hide her excitement at the visit of Pope Francis, which begins this Friday, 3 February.
In a message sent to the national office of Aid to the Church in Need in Portugal, she explains that she is already on her way to cover the 800km between Wau and the capital, Juba. Luckily, she says, it is dry season, which makes things easier, as the dirt roads will be easier to drive on.
“We are on our way to Juba. We are so happy to be preparing to welcome the Pope. We are travelling in a convoy, and it should take us two days to reach Juba. We are well prepared”, she says.
This visit is a landmark in the history of the youngest country on earth, a country which only gained its independence in 2011. Nobody wants to be left out, Sister Beta explains. “Everybody is paying close attention to the news, expectations are high, there is much joy and hope. Lots of hope!”
“Those who are travelling to Juba want to participate, they want to see the Pope and to pray with the other Christians, and those who stayed behind will be following on the radio, or television, if they can. They don’t want to miss out on anything that is happening during these days that are so important for South Sudan.”
Peace is not yet a reality
Pope Francis is travelling to South Sudan with a message of unity and of peace, which is vital to a country split between tribal loyalties and which has been at war for most of the past 50 years, including the decade after independence.
“Fighting continues in some parts of the country, peace is not yet a reality. It is something we are trying to achieve, and that is why the Pope is coming on this pilgrimage, along with other Christian leaders. They are coming to ask, they are coming to promote dialogue so that peace might become a concrete reality, that has to be won bit by bit”, the Portuguese nun stresses.
In this spirit, she adds that if she should be fortunate enough to get to exchange some words with the Pope, she knows what she will say. “The first thing I will do is say thank you. Thank you for coming to South Sudan to visit these people, to pray with us, and to give us real hope, in the name of the whole Church and of the world. It is good to know we are united, that we stand together, and that this is a synodal Church that walks together, and where people help each other to achieve their goals.”
Pope Francis will be in South Sudan from 3 to 5 February.