Pope Francis held a moment of silence Saturday for priests and religious who have been killed in South Sudan.
“Let us think in silence of these brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in this pastoral ministry,” he said in St. Theresa Cathedral in Juba on Feb. 4.
The pope met with the bishops, priests, and religious of South Sudan on the second day of his historic trip to the war-torn country.
Approximately 1,000 people were present in the cathedral for the meeting, and another 5,000 were outside the cathedral, according to local authorities.
During the encounter, Francis heard testimony about the lives and ministries of Sister Mary Daniel Abud and Sister Regina Roba, who were killed in a violent attack in South Sudan in 2021.
Many priests and religious, he said, “have been victims of violence and attacks in which they lost their lives. In a very real way, they offered their lives for the sake of the Gospel.”
“Their closeness to their brothers and sisters is a marvelous testimony that they bequeath to us, a legacy that invites us to carry forward their mission,” he said.
Pope Francis also highlighted the example of St. Daniele Comboni, a missionary and the first Catholic bishop of central Africa, who died in Sudan in 1881.
With his missionary brothers, Comboni “carried out a great work of evangelization in this land,” the pope said. “He used to say that a missionary must be ready to do anything for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. We need courageous and generous souls ready to suffer and die for Africa.”
According to the Vatican, there are 7 million Catholics, 300 priests, and 253 religious brothers and sisters in South Sudan. The ratio of Catholics to priests is more than 24,000 Catholics for every one priest.
In his speech, Francis encouraged the priests, seminarians, and religious brothers and sisters of South Sudan to intercede for their people.
He quoted from a 1991 speech by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini to explain that interceding “does not mean simply ‘praying for someone,’ as we so often think. Etymologically it means ‘to step into the middle,’ to be willing to walk into the middle of a situation.”
“To intercede is thus to come down and place ourselves in the midst of our people, to act as a bridge that connects them to God,” Francis added.
Pope Francis said stepping into the midst of God’s people is something the Church’s pastors need to cultivate.
We need to have “the ability to step into the middle of their sufferings and tears, into the middle of their hunger for God and their thirst for love,” he said. “Our first duty is not to be a Church that is perfectly organized, but a Church that, in the name of Christ, stands in the midst of people’s troubled lives, a Church that is willing to dirty its hands for people.”
He thanked those present for their dedication to the Church, and for their courage, sacrifices, and patience.
“I pray that you will always be generous pastors and witnesses, armed only with prayer and love; that you allow yourselves, in meekness, to be constantly surprised by God’s grace; and that you may become a means of salvation for others, prophets of closeness who accompany the people, intercessors with uplifted arms,” he said.
On Feb. 4, Pope Francis will also meet South Sudanese refugees, people who have been internally displaced due to the war, before leading an ecumenical prayer service.
On his final day on Feb. 5, the pope will celebrate Sunday Mass in English at the John Garang Mausoleum. He will then lead the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, before flying back to Rome.
Pope Francis arrived in South Sudan after almost four days in the Democratic Republic of Congo.