Mr. President of the Republic,
Distinguished religious and civil authorities,
Dear brothers and sisters !
Numerous prayers have just risen to Heaven from this beloved and bruised land: different voices have united, forming a single voice. Together, as Holy People of God, we prayed for this wounded people. As Christians, prayer is the first and most important thing we are called to do in order to be able to do well and have the strength to walk. To pray, to act and to walk: let us reflect on these three verbs.
First of all, pray. The great commitment of Christian communities for human development, for solidarity and for peace would be in vain without prayer. Indeed, we cannot promote peace without having first invoked Jesus, “Prince-of-Peace” (Is 9:5). What we do for others and share with others is above all a free gift that, empty-handed, we receive from him: it is a grace, a pure grace. We are Christians because we are freely loved by Christ.
This morning I was inspired by the figure of Moses and now, precisely in relation to prayer, I would like to recall an episode that was decisive for him and for his people, which occurred when he had just begun to accompany on the path to freedom. Arrived near the shores of the Red Sea, a dramatic scene presents itself to his eyes and to those of all the Israelites: before them stands the impassable barrier of the waters; behind, the enemy army arrives, with chariots and horses. Doesn’t this recall the first steps of this country, assailed as much by the waters of death, like those of the disastrous floods which struck it, as by appalling warlike violence? Well, in this desperate situation, Moses said to the people: “Do not be afraid! Hold fast ! You will see today what the Lord will do to save you! (Ex 14:13). So I wonder: where did Moses come from with such certainty, when his people continued to complain in fear? This strength came to him from listening to the Lord (cf. 2-4) who had promised him to manifest his glory. Union with him, trust in him cultivated in prayer, is the secret by which Moses was able to accompany the people from oppression to freedom.
It is the same for us too: praying gives the strength to move forward, to overcome fears, to glimpse, even in the darkness, the salvation that God is preparing. Moreover, prayer draws God’s salvation to the people. The prayer of intercession, which characterized the life of Moses (cf. Ex 32, 11-14), is that to which we are bound, we above all, pastors of the Holy People of God. For the Lord of peace to intervene where men fail to build it, prayer is needed: tenacious prayer, of constant intercession. Brothers and sisters, let us support each other in this: in our various religious denominations, let us feel united among ourselves, as one family; and feel charged to pray for all. In our parishes, churches, assemblies of worship and praise, let us pray assiduously and unanimously (cf. Acts 1:14) that South Sudan “rejoin the promised land”, like the people of God in the Scriptures. May he dispose serenely and equitably of the fertile and rich land he possesses, and may he be filled with this promised peace but, unfortunately, not yet arrived.
We are specifically called, secondly, to to act for the cause of peace. For Jesus wants us to be “peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), he wants his Church not only to be a sign and instrument of intimate union with God, but also of the unity of all humankind (1) . Christ, in fact, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “is our peace” precisely in the sense of restoring unity. He is the one who “makes the two into a single reality, destroying the walls of separation, hatred” (cf. Eph 2:14). This is the peace of God: not only a truce between strife, but a fellowship, which comes from union, not from absorption; forgiveness, not domination; reconciliation, not imposition. Heaven’s desire for peace is so great that it was announced at the birth of Christ: “peace on earth to men whom he loves” (Lk 2:14). And the anguish of Jesus caused by the refusal of this gift which he had come to bring is so great, that he wept over Jerusalem, saying: “If you too had recognized on this day what gives peace! (Lk 19:42).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us work tirelessly for this peace that the Spirit of Jesus and of the Father invites us to build: a peace that integrates diversity, that promotes unity in plurality. This is the peace of the Holy Spirit which harmonizes differences, while the enemy spirit of God and of man relies on differences to divide. In this regard, the scripture says: “This is how the children of God and the children of the devil manifest themselves: whoever does not do justice is not of God, and neither is he who does not love his brother” ( 1 Jn 3, 10). Dear friends, whoever calls himself a Christian must choose his side. Those who follow Christ choose peace, always; he who unleashes war and violence betrays the Lord and denies his gospel. The style that Jesus teaches us is clear: to love everyone, because everyone is loved as children by the common Father who is in heaven. The Christian’s love is not only for loved ones, but for everyone, because everyone is our neighbor in Jesus, a brother, a sister, even the enemy (cf. Mt 5, 38-48); and all the more so those who belong to our same people, even if they are of different ethnic groups. “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12); this is the command of Jesus which contradicts any tribal view of religion. “Let all be one” (Jn 17:21): this is Jesus’ pressing prayer to the Father for all of us believers.
Let us work, brothers and sisters, for this fraternal unity among us Christians and help each other to spread the message of peace in society, to spread the style of non-violence of Jesus, so that there are no more room for a culture based on the spirit of revenge among those who profess themselves believers; so that the Gospel is not just a beautiful religious discourse, but a prophecy that becomes reality in history. Let us work on this: work for peace by weaving and sewing, never by cutting or tearing. Let us follow Jesus and, behind him, take common steps on the way to peace (cf. Lk 1:79).
Here then is the third verb: after praying and acting, to walk. Here, over the decades, Christian communities have been strongly committed to promoting paths of reconciliation. I would like to thank you for this luminous testimony of faith, born from the recognition, not only in words but in deeds, that before historical divisions there exists an immutable reality: we are Christians, we are of Christ. It is beautiful that, in the midst of so many conflicts, Christian belonging has never destroyed the population, but has been, and still is, a factor of unity. The ecumenical heritage of South Sudan is a precious treasure, a praise in the name of Jesus, an act of love to the Church his Bride, a universal example for the path of Christian unity. It is a heritage that must be preserved in the same spirit: the ecclesial divisions of past centuries must not affect those who are evangelized, but the seed of the Gospel must contribute to spreading greater unity. That the tribalism and sectarianism that fuel the violence in the country do not affect interfaith relations; on the contrary, that the testimony of unity of the believers is transferred to the people.
In this sense, to finish, I would like to suggest two key words for the rest of our journey: memory et engagement. Memory: the steps you take follow in the footsteps of your predecessors. Do not be afraid of not being up to it, on the contrary feel pushed by those who prepared the way for you. As in a relay, take the witness to hasten the realization of the objective of a full and visible communion. And then commitment: we walk towards unity when love is concrete, when we help together those who are on the margins, those who are wounded and rejected. You are already doing this in many areas, I am thinking in particular of health, education, charity: what urgent and indispensable aid you bring to the population! Thanks for all of this. Continue like this: never competitors, but close; brothers and sisters who, by their compassion for the suffering, the favorites of Jesus, give glory to God and bear witness to the communion he loves.
Dear friends, my brothers and I have come as pilgrims among you, Holy People of God on the move. Even if we are physically far away, we will always be close to you. Let us begin each day with prayer for each other and with each other, working together as witnesses and mediators of the peace of Jesus, walking on the same path, taking concrete steps of charity and unity. In everything, let us love each other intensely and wholeheartedly (cf. 1 Pet 1:22).
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