A Catholic Nun who actively participated in the celebration of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sudan in 1993 had the opportunity to interact with a Pope for the second time when she served at the February 5 Papal Mass in South Sudan.
Sr. Agnes Leila Andrews, a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SHS), told ACI Africa that she served as a Liturgical dancer during the Pontiff’s visit before South Sudan and Sudan separated following a referendum.
For Pope Francis’ visit, Sr. Agnes was among the team of Priests and Religious who were selected to prepare the Holy Father’s sacristy.
Sharing her elation, the Catholic Nun said, “I am very happy to serve the Pope as a Sacristan. I was a liturgical dancer when Pope John Paul II came to the then Sudan in 1993. And now that Pope Francis has come, I happen to be among those that have been chosen to serve him in the sacristy.”
“I am very grateful because this is the second chance given to me by God to be a sacristan and a dancer,” the native of Nuba Mountains in Sudan’s El Obeid Diocese said, and added, “I may not be here the third time that the Pope visits, but I am happy that I have been of some service during the two times that Popes visited Sudan and South Sudan.”
Pope John Paul II visited Sudan at the height of the Second Sudanese Civil War, a 22-year conflict between the central government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
At the time, the country was characterized by atrocities and human rights abuses.
In his 10 February 1993 address in Khartoum, Pope Saint John Paul expressed his desire to bring the message of reconciliation to a country that was divided, where non-Muslims who lived in the North were punished by Sharia Law.
He underlined the need for the State “to respect and defend the differences existing among its citizens, and to permit their diversity to serve the common good.”
“Experience shows that peace and internal security can only be guaranteed through respect for the rights of all those for whom the State has responsibility,” Pope John Paul II said.
He added, “Freedom of conscience and freedom to seek the truth and to act according to one’s personal religious beliefs are so fundamentally human that any effort to restrict them almost inevitably leads to bitter conflict.”
In the interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Agnes echoed Pope Francis’ message of hope and peace for South Sudan, noting that it would only be through peace that the troubled country would find healing.
“Pope Francis brings hope and peace to us in South Sudan who are broken with war and violence and tribalism and hatred. He’s coming to give us hope, and my joy is to take that hope he brought to us to others because people are traumatized and they are sick, with no hope. Many see no future. I know that things are not easy but once you give people some little hope, they become happy,” Sr. Agnes said.
The Catholic Nun recalled that the Holy Father had embraced discomfort, including having to travel for a long distance despite his ill health to preach a message of love to the South Sudanese people.
“My message is especially directed to people in South Sudan,” she said, and added, “We need to realize that Pope Francis came all the way from Rome. He is over 80 years old. He came all the way to give us hope and peace so that this broken part of the world can be reconciled for us to live in harmony.”
The member of the Council of the SHS in South Sudan implored during the February 5 interview with ACI Africa, “Let us heed the Holy Father’s message and leave in peace. I pray that his coming here will touch all our hearts so that we live in peace, harmony, and love.”