During an ecumenical prayer service in South Sudan, Pope Francis called for Christian unity amid the violence in the country and urged the faithful to work and pray for peace to settle ongoing political conflicts.
Pope Francis spoke alongside Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields during the event. The three faith leaders prayed for peace together as a sign of unity. About 50,000 people attended the ecumenical prayer service, according to estimates from local authorities.
“Dear friends, those who would call themselves Christians must choose which side to take,” the pope said. “Those who choose Christ choose peace, always; those who unleash war and violence betray the Lord and deny his Gospel. What Jesus teaches us is clear: we are to love everyone, since everyone is loved as a child of our common Father in heaven. The love of Christians is not only for those close to us, but for everyone, for in Jesus each person is our neighbor, our brother or sister — even our enemies.”
The pontiff said that South Sudanese Christians have been deeply committed to promoting reconciliation during these conflicts and thanked them for “this radiant testimony of faith.” Despite divisions, “there remains one unchanging fact, namely, that we are Christians; we belong to Christ.” He said that Christianity continues to be a “factor of unity” and praised South Sudan’s ecumenical tradition as “a precious treasure” and an example “for the advancement of Christian unity” for everyone.
“Those who claim to be believers should have nothing more to do with a culture based on the spirit of vengeance,” Pope Francis said. “The Gospel must not be just a beautiful religious philosophy, but a prophecy that becomes reality in history. Let us work for peace by weaving and mending, not by cutting and tearing. Let us follow Jesus, and in following him, let us walk together on the path to peace.”
Pope Francis discussed the importance of working toward peace but also emphasized the importance of prayer as a valuable means to foster peace.
“Prayer gives us the strength to go forward, to overcome our fears, to glimpse, even in the darkness, the salvation that God is even now preparing,” the pope said. “Moreover, prayer brings down God’s salvation upon the people.”
The pontiff cited the Exodus story of the parting of the Red Sea. When the Israelites fled Egypt, he said they “found themselves at a dramatic impasse” upon reaching the shores of the Red Sea with a wall of water in front of them and the enemy forces behind them.
Yet, amid this challenge the pope explained that Moses turned to God and told the people: “Fear not, stand firm, and you will see the salvation of the Lord.” He said Moses’ certainty “amid the constant fears and laments of his people” came from “listening to the Lord, who had promised him that he was about to manifest his glory.”
Moses’ ability “to lead the people from oppression to freedom” came from his union with God and his trust in God, which was “cultivated by prayer,” the pope said, adding that the same holds true for South Sudan.
“The prayer of intercession that marked the life of Moses is the type of prayer that we, as shepherds of God’s holy people, are especially called to practice,” Pope Francis said. “Prayer for the Lord of peace to intervene where men and women are powerless to bring about peace: a tenacious and constant prayer of intercession.”
The pope said South Sudanese Christians already help “the outcast, the wounded and the disenfranchised” in many ways. He said they should “continue to assist them, never acting as competitors but as members of a family, brothers and sisters.” He said “the beloved of Jesus give glory to God and bear witness to the fellowship he loves” with their compassion for the suffering.
“Even if distance separates us physically, we always remain close to you,” Pope Francis closed. “Let us set out each day by praying for one another, by working together as witnesses and mediators of the peace of Jesus, and by persevering in the same journey by our practical acts of charity and unity. In all things, let us love one another constantly, from the heart.”