She said the idea for the peace pilgrimage had started with a group of students in 2018, when they heard Pope Francis wanted to visit South Sudan.
“The visit at that time never materialized but we started an annual peace walk in Loreto; each year we would walk to a different county, parish and meet the people on the way,” she explained.
When Francis’ visit was officially announced, they started to organize the walk to see him in Juba; they were happy to be joined by other Catholics from the diocese, including Bishop Christian Carlassare.
Treacy said the stable situation in the Diocese of Rumbek — where a new governor has helped promote peace in the state — helped them to feel secure planning the walk.
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At night, they slept in Catholic parishes in villages along their path.
“We were warmly welcomed in every village and parish as we passed through; we had no fear,” she said.
“It has been incredible experience for all of us on pilgrimage,” the sister said, “to be united in such a way to one another and to the Church, to be joined and supported by so many people on the walk, to see that the world has not forgotten South Sudan and that young people are important and can bring about change.”
“The youth have also realized that in every village the people are the same, everyone is friendly and open, they have a new confidence in their own country,” she added. “They have moved to new parts where they never imagined they could visit or stay.”
Treacy told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, on the ground in Juba on Feb. 4 that the peace walk was “more than anyone could have expected.”
Many of the young people on the pilgrimage had never left their hometown, let alone the county or state. So it was a big deal for them to go to “the big city” of Juba, she said.
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“Everywhere we went people were coming out to greet us, to sing with us, to dance with us. The welcome was incredible,” she said. “It’s become much more than just meeting the pope; it’s been about discovering the love, the warmth, the hospitality that South Sudan can offer us.”
“It started out very small. We thought we were just going to go and see the pope. But actually it has turned in to something life-changing for all of us who have taken part in it,” she said.
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.