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Many people turned to God after Pope Francis’ visit in South Sudan

Pope Francis became the first pope to visit South Sudan at the beginning of February. Amid an enthusiastic welcome, more than 100,000 people attended his papal mass on the 5th of February in the capital city of Juba. For workers at a relief agency that has supplied aid to the people of South Sudan for 25 years, the pope’s visit was a galvanizing event that shed an international spotlight on a beloved but severely ailing country

“There are times when you’re working in South Sudan where it just feels like you are living on another planet, or working on another planet; the challenges are just so drastically different than what people in the West conceive of,” said Matt Smith, vice president of strategic partnerships and development at the Washington, D.C.-based Sudan Relief Fund.

“And so having the pope go, and seeing major news publications talking about what’s happening in South Sudan, and the pope bringing attention to the plight of the people was really important and valuable, I think, for our work,”

Smith told CNA in an interview.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, making it the world’s newest country. Amid a series of civil wars, it is also one of the least-developed and poorest places in the world. In short, Smith said, there is almost no better place on earth to encounter and aid the proverbial “least of these” described in the Gospel of Matthew.

South Sudan consistently ranks near the very bottom on the list of most developed countries, and there exists widespread corruption among civil leaders, which leads to desperation on the part of its people. Despite the rich agricultural potential of the region, widespread famine is expected to strike the country this year amid drought and a recent cutback in food aid from the World Food Programme. Paired with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, life expectancy in South Sudan is a mere 59 years.

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