Pope Francis has sent Cardinal Peter Turkson as his special envoy to pursue peace in war-torn South Sudan.
According to Vatican Radio, the Pontiff sent the Ghanaian president of the Pontifical Council to the African nation to urge for an end to violence in the country and to help establish dialogue and trust between the warring parties.
This week, the African prelate traveled to the nation’s capital of Juba to give support to the archbishop and to meet with the country’s leaders. He also carried with him a letter from Francis for President Salva Kiir and one for Vice President Riek Machar who are historic enemies and represent the different ethnic groups.
South Sudan, for almost a year, 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.
Despite a cease-fire currently in effect in Juba, the threat of more violence continues to loom large.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Turkson discussed the current situation and about the Church’s effort to push forward a peaceful process.
Mildly Said: ‘Situation Is Tough’
“To put it mildly: the situation is tough” the cardinal said.
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.
The Vatican official also lamented how hard it is 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 said.
Regardless, Cardinal Turkson affirms that the situation is desperate and security levels are low and noted that the authorities he has met with have promised to do their best to put a program 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”.
Stressing the urgent need for help, he noted that he already contacted the Vatican’s charity council, Cor Unum, to see what assistance can be organized in terms of medication.
Dire Health Concerns
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”.
Hence, he stressed the need for medication and food supplies,”
Cardinal Turkson concluded, 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”.