Youth walk 9 days and 250 miles across South Sudan to see Pope Francis

A group of 60 young people and 24 adults traveled across South Sudan by foot for nine days to see Pope Francis and to pray for peace in their country.

The peace pilgrimage, an initiative of the Diocese of Rumbek in central South Sudan, began from Holy Family Cathedral on Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

After nine days and approximately 250 miles, the pilgrimage arrived in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, on Feb. 2, one day before Pope Francis’ historic visit to the war-torn country.

A screen shot of the path taken by the walk for peace pilgrimage from Rumbek to Juba Jan. 25 to Feb. 2, 2023.
A screen shot of the path taken by the walk for peace pilgrimage from Rumbek to Juba Jan. 25 to Feb. 2, 2023.

The students on the pilgrimage “showed a lot of energy,” Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek told ACI Africa, CNA’s African partner agency, after their arrival in Juba.

The young people “have a lot of positive hopes and desires. I think [the pilgrimage] is just to give a spark to the positivity of the youth and to give a new hope to the country to open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation,” the bishop said.

Sister Orla Treacy, an Irish Loreto sister who runs a boarding school in Rumbek, documented every day of the pilgrimage on Twitter.

Leading up to the departure, Treacy took practice walks with some of her students to prepare for the intense journey.

Bishop Carlassare, 45, has worked as a missionary in South Sudan since 2005. In 2022, he became bishop of Rumbek, a diocese that covers about 23,000 square miles and has approximately 200,000 Catholics.

Though it was just 84 people who walked the more than 255 miles to Juba, Carlassare said he thinks the overall participation in the peace initiative was greater.

“The people we met in the villages, in the parishes, some came to welcome us and they took us in,” he said. “So I think there are hundreds, hundreds, if not thousands of people who, in one way or another, participated in the pilgrimage.”

He said that people they met along the way were “really overjoyed to see youth.”

“And also, I think this welcoming in Juba can show how much this initiative inspired the country, and will also show us the way to continue,” he added.

More in Middle East - Africa

South Sudan’s civil war resulted in the deaths of an estimated more than 400,000 people. And while the country reached a formal peace agreement nearly three years ago, violent conflicts are rising in certain parts of the country.

The growing violence and four years of unprecedented flooding have contributed to the 2 million people displaced across South Sudan, according to the World Food Program.

The WFP said food insecurity in the country also continues to increase, as South Sudan faces its hungriest year since independence.

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