During his meeting with representatives of internally displaced persons on Saturday, 4 February, Pope Francis listened to the testimonies of three young people living in different idp camps in South Sudan. Accompanying the Pope at Juba’s Freedom Hall were Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.
Sixteen-year-old Joseph Lat Gatmai, a Presbyterian Christian at North Western Upper Nile Presbyterian Church, began by telling the Pope that he and his parents arrived at the Protection of Civilian Camp in Bentiu in May 2015, when he was eight years old. “I have been living in the camp for more than eight years”, he said. “I completed my primary education, and my dream is to continue school through University, in Jesus’ name”, he added. “My life in the Camp is not pleasant”, the teenager stated, “and I am worried about how my life and the life of the other children will be in the future. Throughout these years, my parents and I, as well as other displaced families, have been able to survive because of humanitarian aid. If there had been peace”, he said, “I would have been in my home of origin, lived a better life, and enjoyed my childhood”.
He continued, “Why are we suffering in the idp Camp? Because of the ongoing conflicts in our country, the youngest independent country. We have been also affected by floods since 2020, and thousands of families have been displaced from their villages and towns, losing their livestock and crops”.
Gatmai concluded with an appeal to the leaders of “this great nation of South Sudan to bring lasting peace, love, unity and prosperity to our country”. Then, addressing the country’s Religious Leaders, he asked that they “continue praying for lasting peace in South Sudan”.
Another testimony was offered by 14-year-old Johnson Juma Alex, a member of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. “I live in Block B, Sector 2 of Malakal Protection of Civilians Camp (PoC)”, he said, introducing himself. “I am a student in Primary 3. I live in the PoC with my mother and my father. They do not have jobs, but one of my uncles sends them help from Juba. When he sends a little money, I can buy some clothes”, he explained.
“I came to the PoC in 2014 because of the problems in Malakal town. Peace is good, problems are not. We want peace so that people can go back to Malakal, to their homes”. He went on to explain that “life in the PoC is not good because the area is small and crowded. There is not enough space to play football”, he noted. “Many children do not go to school because there are not enough teachers and schools for all of us”.
The teenager then shared his wish with the Pope: “I want to have a good future”, he said, “where there is peace and children can go to school. Life in the PoC is not good, but we thank the un because they give us protection and food”.
Concluding, Alex said, “We want people in the Church to pray so that God gives us peace and we can go back to Malakal town”.
The final testimony was that of Nyakuor Rebecca, a young girl living in the refugee camp of Juba. “I am a member of Holy Trinity Parish”, she told the Pope. “I am very happy to meet you and it is an honour to be here with you”. On behalf of the children of South Sudan, she expressed her gratitude for the Holy Father’s visit, acknowledging his ongoing problem with his knee. “We know that you are a great leader because despite your bad knee you have come to be with us, bringing hope and a message of peace. We know that you love children, and that you always say we children are important to our country and to the church. Pope Francis, we also love you. Thank you for the love you have for us”.
She added that “the children of South Sudan like dancing and singing very much. This is how we praise God who is always with us”. Then she presented the Pope with two requests. The first: “Continue to teach us to be friends of Jesus and continue to speak to our people so we can all be together in peace”.
The second: “In the name of Jesus, I want to ask you to give a special blessing for all the children of South Sudan so we can grow together in peace and love”.
Rebecca concluded by reiterating her gratitude to Pope Francis “for being a great messenger of God”, and assured him that they would “never forget this day”.