Overcome by emotion, moved to tears at the hope that a small beacon of hope now shines on the Country that plunged into darkness for years. Father James Oyet Latansio, Secretary General of the Council of Churches of South Sudan, thus retraced the spiritual retreat that took place in the Vatican with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, attended by the highest civic and ecclesial authorities of South Sudan. “The fact that Pope Francis kissed the feet of the leaders of South Sudan who have been fighting against each other for years was deeply moving. I didn’t expect the Pope to go so far as to kiss their feet”, was the first comment of Father Latansio, contacted by phone in Juba by SIR.
Why go so far as to kiss their feet?
The Pope said with a clamorous gesture that the people can be served with humbleness and simplicity. That’s his message. The Pope imitated Jesus’ act of washing the feet as a sign that it’s not enough to be the leader of a Nation if there is no humble service towards the people. I was very impressed and deeply moved by that gesture.
How did people in Juba react when they saw those images on TV?
I arrived in Juba yesterday and people asked me: ‘why did the Pope do that?’ I answered: ‘It was a great gesture of humbleness to remind everyone that it is necessary to be humble and simple in everything we do.’ Many faithful told me that when they saw the Pope’s gesture they broke out in tears. Many of them said it could be read in two ways: as a blessing, that the leaders may bring happiness to the people of South Sudan, or as a warning if they should not put into practice what they experienced. Here it is largely believed that those leaders have bloodstained hands. They committed murder and now they hold these positions. The Pope’s gesture is an invitation to embrace his message of peace, to be humble servants of the Nation today. The Sudanese people are exhausted. They underwent painful years of conflicts and war. Now they are suffering from diseases and mourning more deaths.
What was the reaction of the three leaders?
The Pope kissed the feet of President Salva Kiir Mayardit first. He didn’t want the Pope to kiss his feet. He said ‘no’. ‘Your Holiness, you cannot kiss my feet,’ he said. But the Pope replied, he insisted, the Pope’s reply was translated to him until ultimately he gave in, ‘all right.’ As he spoke he was moved to tears. The same thing happened with Vice-President Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon. Now Salva Kiir has arrived in Juba and people’s attitude has changed. We see a positive climate. We are living the Holy Week. This is my faith. This is my hope and it is the last thing to die.
What did the political leaders do in Santa Marta?
They prayed. They were alone. There were no guards. There was nobody. They were alone in their rooms. They prayed, they had talks with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the heads of the Churches of South Sudan. Everything took place in a climate of intimacy. It was a veritable retreat of prayer without political speeches. A prayer that evoked their duty, their commitment, their vow to the people.
There is a peace agreement. The Pope said that agreements are always fragile. Do you truly believe that these days in Rome have rekindled lost hope?
In our capacities as representatives of the Council of Churches of South Sudan we hope and we believe that this agreement can be put into practice to the letter, in words, and in deeds. We believe that the conclusion will be successful also with the help of our friends in Italy, with the Community of Sant’Egidio that helps us in this journey of mediation, of encounter, so the hearts of these men may change. In this situation it’s hard to leave room for hope, it’s hard to overcome doubts. But we know that we are not alone. We have you. The Italian people, the Community of Sant’Egidio. Your help and your prayers reach out to people’s hearts, including the hearts of those in power. Your prayer has led these leaders to accept the invitation from the Vatican and face the truth. Your prayer has helped us rekindle hope. In this Holy Week we look ahead. Thank you for what you do, thank you for the many missionaries and lay people, our Italian angels who carry out their service even in dangerous situations, in places where there is nothing but suffering and death. They are there to assist in service and with smiles, not to leave their suffering sisters and brothers alone. No more death. No more.