Renewed Hope for South Sudan

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

On September 30, Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals in Saint Peter’s Square. Three African cardinals received the scarlet biretta, including Cardinal Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, a South Sudanese prelate who has served as Archbishop of Juba since 2020. 

Cardinal Ameyu will be an important voice for the faithful in South Sudan, a nation fraught with tumultuous challenges.

Despite being a country that is just over a decade old, South Sudan has endured violence, turmoil, and conflict for decades. After nearly 40 years of rebellion against the Sudanese government in the north and the establishment of an independent South Sudan in 2011, the new country descended into another civil war in 2013. The brutal war brought an onslaught of mass killings, sexual violence, and other atrocities, forcing many South Sudanese refugees to flee to Sudan.

Though a peace agreement was signed in 2018, the terms have not been fully implemented and the fragile peace process has stalled. In April 2023, hostilities between rival armed factions erupted into open warfare in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, worsening the already dire humanitarian crisis in the south. 

Since the start of the latest conflict, nearly 300,000 people have fled to South Sudan, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program. Most of these arrivals are Sudanese and have reached the East African nation in a state of extreme need. According to the World Food Program, at least one in five children escaping to South Sudan are malnourished and more than 90 percent of those arriving haven’t had anything to eat for days.

As the World Food Program’s country director in South Sudan, Mary-Ellen McGroarty, said, “We are seeing families leave one disaster for another as they flee danger in Sudan only to find despair in South Sudan.”

Tragically, out of a population of more than 11 million, the United Nations reported that more than 9 million South Sudanese depend on humanitarian assistance, and 6.3 million suffer from acute hunger. 

In February, Pope Francis participated in an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace in South Sudan and brought a message of hope and reconciliation to the nation. A group of 60 young people and 24 adults from the Diocese of Rumbek walked more than 255 miles over nine days to Juba to bear witness to the Holy Father’s motto of the papal visit that “all may be one.”

Speaking about these pilgrims from different states, various ethnicities, and numerous church groups, Sister Orla Treacy, who made the journey to Juba and leads the Loreto Rumbek Mission, said, “This is becoming a very important theme for all of us, and the young people want to model it.” 

Pope Francis’s call for a new phase of enthusiastic evangelization and his emphasis on synodality has revitalized the world’s faithful, especially those on the margins. 

While speaking to Crux about the significance of his appointment, Cardinal Ameyu highlighted the impact of Pope Francis’s outreach and said, “I really thank the Holy Father for his important initiative for bringing people together, people from the marginalized part of the world, he wants us to bring people inside. I think that my appointment as a cardinal is like bringing people, our people, from the margins to the mainstream Church.”

Cardinal Ameyu plans to “work tirelessly” to bring South Sudan toward peace and reconciliation amidst a crisis that he has experienced first-hand. 

Born in Sudan in 1964, Ameyu was ordained a priest in 1991. He studied at the Pontifical Urbaniana University of Rome and attained a doctorate in dogmatic theology, where he wrote a thesis titled, “Towards Religious Dialogue and Reconciliation in Sudan.”

Ameyu has done pastoral work in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and taught at the seminary of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Torit in January 2019 and, in December, appointed him archbishop of Juba. 

His appointment to the College of Cardinals has given him hope for the future of peace in the country. Speaking to Crux, Cardinal Ameyu said, “I have already been working there for local peace initiatives … I’ve always been working in order to bring people together. I hope that this time, with the office of a cardinal, I will give more service to bringing peace to our people, among our people, in our nation, and also in our neighbors.”

The creation of Cardinal Ameyu as the first cardinal posted in South Sudan is a clear sign of closeness between Pope Francis and the nation’s faithful and is a beacon of hope for peace.