On Friday, February 3rd, just a little over a week after Pope Francis made worldwide headlines by calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, the pontiff will land in South Sudan, one of the 67 nations which criminalizes same-sex relationships.
What will Pope Francis do or say? Christianity is the largest religion in the country, with Roman Catholicism being the largest denomination. The nation has 31 bishops in six dioceses and one archdiocese. The current president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, is Catholic.
The Sudanese government is well aware of Pope Francis’ recent statement, but at least from one official’s response, it seems that they do not understand the pope’s message. Michael Makuei Lueth, the National Minister of Information, Communication and Postal Service, offered some remarks after a cabinet meeting last week. Radio Tamazuj, a South Sudan independent station, reported the comments:
“ ‘If he (Pope Francis) is coming here and he tells us that marriage of the same sex, homosexuality is legal, we will say no,’ Makuei said. ‘But this is not what he is coming for.’
The minister stressed that same-sex marriage is ungodly and that God create a man and a woman to multiply and fill the world.
“ ‘God was not mistaken. He created man and woman and he told them to marry one another and go and fill the world. Do same-sex partners give birth?’ Makuei mused. ‘Our constitution is very clear and says marriage is between the opposite sex and any same-sex marriage is a crime, is a constitutional crime.’
“He said the main objective of the papal visit to South Sudan is to preach peace and ask the people to forgive one another and live in peace and harmony so that the country moves forward.
“ ‘He is coming to bless us so that we change our behaviors because at times we behave abnormally. So, he is coming here to pray for us so that peace prevails in South Sudan,’ Makuei said.”
Clearly, Mr. Makuei either was misinformed about what the pope said (Pope Francis spoke against criminalization and not for same-gender marriage) or he reveals a mistake often made by those who oppose LGBTQ+ rights: equating even the most basic civil rights protections with expansive equality that includes marriage.
But he did get one thing right: “He [Pope Francis] is coming to bless us so that we change our behaviors because at times we behave abnormally. So, he is coming here to pray for us so that peace prevails in South Sudan.” According to Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Pope Francis called criminalization laws “unjust.”
I hope Pope Francis is able to find some way to remind the South Sudanese government, Catholic Church leaders, and people that for peace to prevail, there needs to be justice for all.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 1, 2023