An appeal for self-reflection in the aftermath of the Peace Pilgrimage in the Vatican

By Lucy Ayak Malek

Last week, the much anticipated and widely publicized peace pilgrimage to the Vatican by warring South Sudan leaders, at the invitation of His Holiness Pope Francis I, happened. The Vatican has, for the recent past, been very active in engaging various parties for peace around the world, and for that I wish to extend my gratitude to the Papacy for its relentless effort to bring peace to countries like ours, fractured by war.

I also wish to thank all the South Sudan leaders for honoring the Pope’s invitation. The pilgrimage delegation included mostly the same faces that have been involved in the peace effort over the years, and it’s the fact that the Vatican saw it fit to invite all of them as a recognition of their abilities to bring peace to our country and more importantly, to implement the revitalized peace agreement in a good faith.

The Vatican, being a spiritual institution with no coercive power anywhere in the world, the Papacy cannot forcefully compel the leaders of South Sudan to pursue peace. But it can only make an appeal and/or even facilitate whatever it can for the peace to reign in that fractured country by the war. However, I wish to look at this appeal for peace not merely as an effort by the Vatican but rather as an appeal from the voiceless South Sudanese people.

Since His Holiness, Pope Francis I became the Pope, he has unreservedly dedicated his papal ministry as a voice of the voiceless, and the question that asks itself is: who is more voiceless right now in the word than the people of South Sudan, suffering under the burden of this avaricious war? Definitely, no one and that’s why the Pope had invited you, the leaders, to appeal to your humanity and political sanity that South Sudanese need peace and you should bring it now to them. Therefore, in that pilgrimage, my dear leaders, you were not just hearing an appeal from the Pope, but rather, it was an appeal from the voiceless people of South Sudan, being echoed by the Papacy. For this matter, I appeal to you; I beg of you coaxingly, to listen to the cries of your people and do what the leaders do to better the lives of their people.

Unlike the imperial institutions that dictate their wishes on the third world leaders forcefully, the Vatican only offers spiritual guidance. But like all spiritual matters, it’s upon each and every one in their individual capacity, to either adhere to that guidance or reject it. It’s undeniable that our country has and continues to suffer immeasurably because of this war; it’s equally undeniable that you, the various parties to this fighting, can absolutely do something to stop it if you honestly decided to put your personal interest below our collective interest. And that’s why the Pope invited you to the Vatican and emotionally kissed your feet for that rare wisdom in you to prevail and stop the war for good.

Believe you me; it’s not costly to bring peace. It only needs you to forsake your own political interests and take a step of selflessness, patriotism, and leadership aplomb for the sake of the nation and her people, and the war will definitely stop.

As you have all returned now from the Vatican, will you heed to the people’s cries, echoed through the Pope’s appeal, or will you continue to pretend not to hear/see the people’s suffering? Yes, we can’t hold you to account if you do what you didn’t promise Pope of, but remember this, you will never escape a curse from God in the Heaven for lying.

All of you, my dear leaders, very well know how this war has devastated our people, and you certainly know the part you have played in entrenching that devastation, or at the very least what you have not done to stop it. Therefore, it’s wholesomely incumbent on you to stop it now.

This is not to point fingers at anyone, for none of us is a saint. The Bible says “for all have sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom of God”, am merely appealing to the humanity in all of us to do whatever we can at our individual capacities to bring and maintain the peace. What separates human beings from other mammals is our spiritual presence, the ability to empathize with the pain of others. If that’s still the case for us, then we must be compelled to empathize with the suffering people in country and outside, especially since as our leaders, it’s your political blunders coupled with impromptu decisions that have brought this suffering upon us. Bearing that in mind, shouldn’t it therefore be your responsibility to try your best to rectify it, and give us a chance to prosper and enjoy all the rights and privileges of citizenry? As a very young nation with countless resources and a vibrant young population, nothing can hold us from realizing a future that our people desperately yearning for and rightfully deserving if you the leaders set aside your individual interests and collectively work for the welfare of South Sudanese people.

It will only take a spirited conviction to set aside our own personal interests and focus on the aspirations of our dear motherland. The aim of the peace pilgrimage, in my understanding, was to re-invigorate this spiritual conviction upon us. But I must recognize that as human beings, we are naturally selfish and introverts. So let me put it in this way; right now the war has brought the country to a standstill. We cannot expand oil exploration (the lifeblood of our economy) nor can we usefully utilize and/or increase our current bpd capacity because of war. We cannot also create jobs because of war, people cannot trade because of war, and government cannot collect taxes because of war. As it stands, government is even struggling to meet the salaries of civil servants. Because of war, our people cannot cultivate the food they need to feed themselves with, nor can they afford to import it. Therefore, as leaders, can you rise above your individual egos and do something to alleviate the suffering of your people? No side can squarely win this war. For it’s evident that whichever side one stands, this war is a lose-lose for all.

To jog your memories for a second about our happy hours before all hell broke loose in Dec 15th 2013; despite some couples of challenges, our economy was thriving in superlative, our people were trading, investing and earning a living unrestrictedly. Juba and other state capitals were growing at an agronomical speed; we were sending thousands of our young people for further studies all over East Africa and beyond, we had a bright future to look out for as a nation. Unfortunately, everything has gone with the speed of a blinking eye when our leaders disagreed over who eats what and horribly, landed us into this unimaginable insolvency and destitution state and worse of all, in a polarized country where we see ourselves as enemies.

So I ask again, who is this war benefiting? Is it a planned or accidental war? Yes, for the suffering masses in all our states as well as in the refugee camps in neighboring countries, it’s certainly not benefiting them, by any calculus. What I can’t testify for is whether or not this war is benefiting you, our dear leaders, and the shareholders of this crisis. Even though you are satisfactorily benefiting from it, by a perverse logic, don’t you think that one swallow doesn’t make a summer? Did you forget what the history teaches? What legacy are you leaving behind as the liberators of this country as well as her first leaders?

We need a country where everyone feels wanted and proud of. A country that’s exactly opposite of our former country, Sudan, a country where our diversity is a blessing rather than a curse, is what we all want. Methinks if we pulled ourselves back to the trajectory we were taking prior to the unfortunate occurrence of December 2013 crisis, we could get back to the win-win for all.

So as I conclude, I will again re-emphasize what I started with, the peace pilgrimage, being an attempt by the Pope to echo the voice of a population that has been rendered voiceless because of war. I would want to directly appeal to your humanity, my dear leaders, to listen and hear the voices of your people and end this war unconditionally now. But if you would rather not, how can you listen to your own personal interests then when thousands of people are dying? Because a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan definitely serves you better and treasures your legacies very well than a war-ravaged one, it serves all of us better, as a matter of fact.

Welcome back from the Holy See but don’t forget what you have promised the Pope of. Please, stick to your words you uttered in the Vatican and the Pope and we, shall be happy.

The writer is an activist for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan. She can be reached via

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