.- On the day the Republic of South Sudan becomes the worldâs newest country, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., recalled Pope John Paul IIâs historic visit to the troubled nation nearly 18 years ago.
âIt was February 10, 1993, and John Paul II was at the end of an intense and extraordinary day in Khartoum,â Fr. Lombardi said in his weekly editorial as General Manager of Vatican Radio July 9.
âWith his usual and extraordinary courage, he addressed the dramatic themes of justice and freedom in the presence of the governing authorities and was greeted with incredible enthusiasm by an immense crowd of Sudanese Catholics, for the most part displaced people from the south, fleeing from the violence of a civil war without end.â
The civil war that gripped Sudan was fought over two decades between a Muslim Arab-dominated north and a mainly Christian and animist south. It was a conflict that cost over two million lives, mainly civilians. Fr. Lombardiâs editorial quoted the words Pope John Paul II spoke that night in Sudanâs capital city of Khartoum in 1993.
âThe immense suffering of millions of innocent victims impels me to voice my solidarity with the weak and defenseless,â said Pope John Paul, âwho cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect for their Godâgiven dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights, for the freedom to believe and practice their faith without fear or discrimination. I earnestly hope that my voice will reach you, Brothers and Sisters of the South.â
South Sudanâs independence is the end result of a 2005 peace agreement that began a partitioning of Sudan into two states. The split was finally ratified earlier this year in a referendum that saw over 98 percent of southern Sudanese vote for secession.
Attendees at todayâs independence celebrations in South Sudanâs capital of Juba include dignitaries from around the globe, including a papal delegation sent by Pope Benedict XVI. The head of that delegation is Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya.
Fr. Lombardi sees todayâs events as a fulfillment of a hope expressed by Pope John Paul II in February 1993 when he prayed that âthe Sudanese, with the freedom to choose, will succeed in finding a constitutional formula which will make it possible to overcome contradictions and struggles, with proper respect paid to the specific characteristics of each community.â
Fr. Lombardi concludes his editorial by expressing hope that the people of South Sudan can âbuild a future of freedom and peaceâ despite being âone of the poorest countries in the worldâ which faces âvery difficult problems for its internal unity.â
âThe mysterious and extraordinary vitality of the people of Sudan â which exploded that night in Khartoum before John Paul II â has not yet been exhausted, but in order to flourish, it is in need of concrete and strong international and ecclesial solidarity. We cannot let them down.â