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The photo of the S. Sudan trip: A poor boy and the widow’s mite

Pape François au Soudan


Hugues Lefèvre - published on 02/05/23

The humanitarian needs in South Sudan are colossal, and this little boy has a message for the world.

We don’t know his name or his age. Smaller than the other children crowding behind him, the boy in the worn red shirt managed to slip through a crack in the gray gate of St. Teresa’s Cathedral. How long did he stay like that, waiting under the hot sun of Juba? With his arm outstretched and his eyes closed, he touched the Argentine Pontiff with his fingertips. Francis also extends his arm. His gaze is fixed on the child’s hand. A bill. It is a banknote that the boy is holding out to him. In the photo, the Pope seems to understand — seems to see the generous heart of the poor which he so often invites us to contemplate — the generous heart of Jesus himself.

“Who is poor and gives everything he has?” This is how Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Holy See’s communications department, commented on Twitter about the “photo of the trip,” comparing it to the parable of the poor widow: the one who, with her two small coins, gives all she has as an offering to the Temple.

Visting a battered people

On Friday, Pope Francis arrived in the capital of South Sudan and was greeted with fervor by crowds lining the roads along which he travelled. Behind the smiles and joyful cheering, the Pope knows he is visiting a battered people. The country is in last place on the United Nations Human Development Index. And the future could be much worse.

The drama of conflict has displaced a total of 4 million people in recent decades, one-third of the country’s total population. In South Sudan, weather-related disasters are adding to the security chaos. It is “the biggest refugee crisis in Africa,” Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the UN representative in South Sudan, warned the Pope during a meeting with 2,300 internally displaced people in central Juba. According to her, two-thirds of the population are affected by “extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.”

Faced with this emergency situation, the humanitarian needs are colossal. In 2023, it is estimated that humanitarian organizations will need 1.7 billion dollars to meet the needs of 6.8 million people, at a time when the war in Ukraine is severely affecting allocations.

It was because they are aware of the appalling prognosis that the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of Scotland were keen to visit the country together, to once again shake the conscience of the country’s authorities, who continue to be torn apart by ethnic strife.

After having harshly lectured them during his first speech on South Sudanese soil, Pope Francis reached out to the people, especially the youth and women, whom he considers to be the “key to transforming the country.”

By coming to this country where blood is still flowing, the Pope may only be sowing seeds in a desert. But we can also hope that little boys in red shirts will keep in their hearts this message that the 86-year-old Pope has come to bring to them: “I would like to tell you: The seed of a new South Sudan is you.”

Pope Francis
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