Writing a New Chapter for South Sudan

Students Walk for Peace in Historic Pilgrimage to Meet Pope

Students from different tribes and regions of South Sudan came together in a nine-day pilgrimage called “Walking for Peace,” a journey led by Bishop of Rumbek, Christian Carlassare, that culminated in the opportunity to greet Pope Francis during his historic visit to the nation February 3-5.

Sixty students ranging from 18 to 20 years old, and 24 support staff, traveled on foot from Rumbek to South Sudan’s capital city of Juba – a distance equivalent to walking from New York City to Washington, DC. Among the support staff was Sister Orla Treacy, Principal of Loreto Schools, a Sudan Relief Fund partner and a leading force for girls’ education in the nation. 

From January 25th to February 2nd, the group walked through towns and villages as a demonstration of unity and peace, a startling and encouraging entourage in a nation that’s been plagued by political turmoil and tribal divides since its independence in 2011.

Bishop Carlassare described the journey as “a beautiful experience of encountering different Christian communities, because every evening…we were praying, celebrating, passing on the message of reconciliation and peace.” He told how each night as they stayed in a different parish, the hosts as well as local people would join their group and come together to pray.

“I think we were the hope, somehow, for all the people who were seeing us, and a hope for the country,” said the bishop. “People responded by joining us…walking together and joining us for prayer. The pilgrimage was really done by hundreds, if not thousands, of people who felt like we need to join together…We felt a common humanity.”

The bishop described the experience’s impact on the students – most who had never been to Juba or traveled that far within their country. “It empowered them and exposed them to the idea that…together we can do great things and bring change. So it was a powerful encouragement and hope for them.”

Pope Francis had heard of the students’ pilgrimage and asked to meet the young people who made the journey. Meeting the students on the steps outside the cathedral in the capital city, he told them, “You are a great witness to me and to the Church. Please continue on this way.” The pope then blessed the students and gave each of the participants a rosary.

The students’ portrayed a powerful message of reconciliation in each town they passed through, by representing a peaceful and diverse group themselves – young adults from different tribes and villages in South Sudan who come together harmoniously each day in pursuit of their studies and a more positive future for their country.

“People were full of joy to see young people — 
who used to fight, marching with guns — instead 
marching with crosses and banners of peace.”

Bishop Carlassare

If children are the future, these young adults are ambassadors for a different South Sudan – a nation whose future is marked by change from its history of divisiveness, and replaced by a yearning for a people who simply see themselves as South Sudanese. 

As Pope Francis said so poignantly to Bishop Carlassare, “Thank you for the witness of these youth; they are writing a new chapter for South Sudan.” Read more about this story here.